A GUARDIAN

It was Jack who hurried his sister down the avenue in obedience to that
peremptory summons. The effects of the fresh air and rapid movement
roused her, as we have said, and nobody but herself had been aware that
her strength had ever failed her. Jack was wound up to the last pitch of
suspense and agitation; but he could not say a word to her–would not
tell her what she was to do. “How can I tell till I see what is wanted
of you?” he said, savagely. She did not know what might be laid upon
her, or why she was sent for; but she was left to accept the office
alone. He gave her no help except his arm to support her down the
avenue–a support which was not of much use to Sara, for her brother
walked at such a pace that she was scarcely able to keep up with him. He
was walking a great deal more rapidly than he was at all aware. Things
had come to a climax in Jack’s mind. He was burning with feverish
irritation, anxiety, eagerness, and panic. He had thought that his mind
was made up, and that nothing farther would disturb him. But in a moment
he had become more disturbed than ever. The end that must decide every
thing had come.

There was a certain air of excitement about Swayne’s cottages as they
approached. Old Betty’s lodge was closed and vacant for one thing, and
the gates set wide open; and the blinds were down in Mrs. Swayne’s
windows, and her neighbor stood in the little garden outside watching,
with her hand on the door. She was waiting for their coming; and Betty
within, who was utterly useless so far as the patient was concerned,
flitted up and down stairs looking for the arrival of the visitor who
was so anxiously expected. They received Sara with a mixture of eager
curiosity and deference. “She’s been a-calling for you, Miss,” said Mrs.
Swayne’s neighbor, “as if she would go out of her mind.” “She’s
a-calling for you now,” cried old Betty; “she don’t seem to have another
thought in her head–and the rector by the bedside all the same, and her
so near her latter end!” Even Mr. Swayne himself, with his wife’s shawl
round him, had come to the kitchen door to join in the general
sentiment. “The Lord be praised as you’ve come, Miss Sara,” he said. “I
thought as she’d have driven me wild.” This preface was not of a kind to
calm Sara’s nerves. She went up stairs confused with all the salutations
addressed to her, and full of awe, almost of fear. To be sent for by a
woman on her death-bed was of itself something alarming and awful. And
this woman above all.

As for Jack, all that he heard of this babble was the intimation that
the rector was there. It added another spark, if that were possible, to
the fire in his heart. The doctor knew all about it–now here was
another, yet another, to be taken into the dying woman’s confidence.
Though nobody asked for him, and though his presence seemed little
desirable, he went up after his sister without saying a word to any one.
They could hear the voice of the patient as they approached–a voice
almost unintelligible, thick and babbling, like the voice of an idiot,
and incessant. Mrs. Preston’s eyes still blazing with wild anxiety and
suspicion met Sara’s wondering, wistful gaze as she went timidly into
the room. Pamela stood by like a ghost with utter weariness and a kind
of dull despair in her pallid face. She could not understand what it all
meant. To her the _mot_ of the enigma, which had been wanting at the
commencement, could now never be supplied, for she was too completely
worn out in body and mind to be able to receive a new idea. She beckoned
to Sara almost impatiently as she opened the door. “Yes, mamma, she has
come–she has come,” said Pamela. Mr. Hardcastle was standing behind her
with his prayer-book in his hand, looking concerned and impatient. He
was amazed at the neglect with which he was being treated in the first
place, and, to do him justice, he also felt strongly that, as Betty
said, she was near her latter end, and other interests should be
foremost in her mind. Old Betty herself came pressing in after Jack, and
Mrs. Swayne followed her a few minutes later, and the neighbor stood
outside on the landing. Their curiosity was roused to such a pitch that
it eclipsed every other feeling–not that the women were hard-hearted or
indifferent to the solemn moment which was at hand, they all wanted to
know what she could have to say to Sara, and they were all curious to
witness the tragedy about to be enacted and to see whether she made a
good end.

“Ah, she’s come,” said Mrs. Preston in her thick voice. “Bring her here
to me. Not _him_–I don’t want him. Sara! come here! It’s you I can
speak to–only you. Give me something. I have a dozen words to say, and
I must say them strong.”

“Here, mamma,” said Pamela, who watched with a sort of mechanical
accuracy every indication of her mother’s will; and she put her soft arm
under Mrs. Preston’s head and raised her with a strain of her slight
girlish form, which at another moment would have been impossible. Jack
made a step forward involuntarily to help her, but stopped short,
arrested by the dying woman’s eyes, which she fixed upon him over
Pamela’s shoulder as the cordial which was to give her strength to speak
was put to her lips. She stopped even at that moment to look at him.
“Not you,” she said, hoarsely–“not you.” It was not that he cared what
she said, or even understood it, in his own excitement; but Pamela had
her back turned upon him as she supported her mother; and Jack felt with
a pang of poignant humiliation that there was no place for him there.
Even her interests, the charge of her, seemed to be passing out of his
hands.

“If you are going to speak to me–about–any thing,” cried Sara, “I
don’t know what it is–nor why you should send for _me_; but do you want
all these people too?”

Mrs. Preston looked at them vaguely–but she took no notice of what Sara
said. “I have sent for you,” she cried, uttering two or three words at a
time, as if making a last effort to be intelligible, “because you saved
me. I leave her to you; you’re only a girl; you will not kill her; for
the sake of her money. My mother’s money! And to think we might all have
been–comfortable–and happy! and now, I’m going to die!”

“Oh, mamma!” cried Pamela, clasping her hands wildly, “if you would but
put away every thing from your mind–if you would but stop, thinking,
and do what the doctor says, you might get better yet.”

The dying woman made an attempt as it were to shake her head–she made a
dreadful attempt to smile. “Poor child!” she said, and something like a
tear got into her dilated eyes, “she don’t know. That’s life; never to
know–till the very last–when you might have been happy–and
comfortable; and then to die–”

“Mrs. Preston,” cried Sara, going up to the bed, “I don’t know what you
mean or what I can do; but, oh, if you will only listen to Pamela! You
are strong–you can speak and remember every thing. Oh, can’t you try to
live for her sake? We will all pray,” she cried with tears, “every one
of us–if you will only try! Oh, Mr. Hardcastle, pray for her–why
should she die, and she so strong? and to leave Pamela like this!”

“Hush,” said Mr. Hardcastle, almost sternly, “Sara, you forget there are
things more important than life.”

“Not to Pamela!” cried Sara, carried away by the vehemence of her
feelings. “Oh, Mrs. Preston, try! You are strong yet–you could live if
you were to try.”

A kind of spasm passed over the poor woman’s face. Perhaps a momentary
hope of being able to make that effort crossed her mind–perhaps it was
only a terrible smile at the vanity of the proposal. But it passed and
left her eyes more wild in their passionate entreaty than before, “You
don’t–answer,” she said; “you forsake me–like the rest. Sara! Sara!
you are killing me. She is killing me. Give me an answer. Oh, my God,
she will not speak!”

Sara looked round upon them all in her dismay. “You should have the
doctor,” she said: her inexperienced mind had seized upon Pamela’s
incoherent remonstrance. “Where is the doctor? Oh, could not something
be done for her if he was here?”

Then Pamela gave a low cry. Her mother, who had been motionless for
hours, after a wild struggle turned her head round upon the pillow. Her
palsied fingers fluttered on the coverlid as if with an attempt to
stretch themselves out toward Sara. Her eyes were ready to start from
their sockets. “She will not speak to me!” she cried–“although she
saved me. I make her guardian of my child. Do you hear?–is there any
one to hear me? She is to take care of my Pamela. She is killing me.
Sara, Sara! do you hear? I am speaking to you. You are to take care of
my Pamela. I leave her to you–”

“Do what she says,” said a low voice at Sara’s shoulder. “Promise any
thing–every thing. She must not be thwarted now.”

Sara did not know who it was that spoke. She made a step forward,
recovering her native impetuosity. She laid her warm living hand upon
the cold half-dead one of the dying woman and left it there, though the
touch thrilled to her heart. “I will take care of her,” she said, “I
promise, as if she was my sister. Do you hear me now, Mrs. Preston? I
promise with all my heart. Oh, Pamela, I don’t think she hears me! I
have said it too late–she is going to die.”

The doctor, who had spoken to Sara, came forward and drew her softly
from the bedside. “Take her away,” he said to Jack, who all this while
had been looking on. “Take them both away–they can do no good here–”

Sara, who was trembling in every limb, fell back upon her brother’s
supporting arm; but when Jack held out his other hand to Pamela she made
him no reply. She was weaker than Sara, but she was a hundred times
stronger. She gave him one pitiful look and returned to her mother. That
was her place, come what might; and she was so young, that even now she
could not recognize that there was no hope.

Then Jack took his sister down stairs. They went into the little parlor,
which was full to his mind of so many associations. Sara had not, like
Pamela, the support of intense and overwhelming emotion. She was shaken
to the very depths by this extraordinary trial. As soon as it was over
she fell into hysterical sobbing like a child. She could not restrain
herself. She sunk upon the little black sofa in the parlor, where Mrs.
Preston had so often rested, and hid her face in her hands to keep down
as far as she could the irrepressible sobs. Jack had begun to walk about
the room and seemed to take no notice; but he was thinking in his heart
how small a matter it was to her in comparison with what it was to
Pamela, though it was she and not Pamela who indulged in this show of
sorrow. He was unkind to his sister; he was bitter against her, and
against all the world. It was his natural charge that had been
transferred to her hands; and who was Sara that she should have such a
guardianship given to her? He vowed to himself that it was he and only
he who should take care of Pamela. Sara? a girl who knew nothing about
it–a child with no power to take care of herself–the woman must be
mad. He went to the door with a little excitement as the sound became
audible of other people coming down stairs. The spectators who had
crowded into Mrs. Preston’s sick room were being sent away, and old
Betty, thus deprived of one source of interest, came in courtesying to
make herself useful to Sara. “Poor soul, she’s awful bad;” said Betty,
“but, Miss Sara, don’t you take on; you’ve been a comfort to her. She’s
a deal easier in her mind; she’s found friends for her girl, as was
always her great thought. Don’t you take on–”

“Oh, Betty, is she dead?” cried Sara, to whom the sympathy even of this
old woman was a consolation, excited as she was.

“No, Miss,” said Betty, shaking her head. “It ain’t so easy getting shut
o’ this life. She ain’t dead, nor won’t be not yet awhile–judging by
all as I’ve seen in my day.”

“Then she is getting better,” cried Sara, clasping her hands. “Oh, Jack,
thank God! she is going to live.”

Old Betty again shook her head. “Miss Sara, you’re young,” she said;
“you don’t know no better. She ain’t a-going to live. But them things
take more nor a minute. This world had need to be a better place than it
is to most on us; for it’s hard work a-getting in and it’s harder work
a-getting out. She may lie like that for days and days. Most folks get
to be glad at last when it’s over. It’s weary work, both for them as is
nursin’ and them as is dyin’; but it’s what we all has to go through,”
said Betty, with a conventional sigh.

This time, however, Betty, with all her experience, was not a true
prophet. The strength of the dying woman was fictitious. As soon as she
had got beyond the point at which her mind could still work, her body
went down like so much dead weight; consciousness and intelligence had
failed her while Sara was in the act of making her promise, and in a few
minutes the rector, excited and rather angry, joined the others down
stairs. “You should have waited, Sara,” he said, severely; “no worldly
affairs could be so important as to justify–And then what can you do
for the poor girl? I would humor the fancies of the dying as much as any
one; but if the poor thing is left destitute, unless you take her into
your service–”

“Mr. Hardcastle,” exclaimed Jack, furious, “do you know whom you are
speaking of? Miss Preston is my betrothed wife.”

The rector fell back in dismay for a moment. Then he recovered himself
with a certain dignity. “My dear Jack,” he said, “this is not a moment
to discuss any act of youthful folly. Your good father ought to know of
this. Don’t, I beg of you, don’t say any thing more to me.”

“And all that we have in the world belongs to Pamela,” said Sara, with a
sigh. Mr. Hardcastle looked at the brother and sister, and his usual
discrimination forsook him. He thought they were both out of their
senses. As there was nobody else to communicate with, he looked round at
old Betty, who stood listening eagerly; and Betty, too, elevated her
eyebrows, and shook her head. Were they going mad? Was there some idiocy
in the air which affected every body? The rector went to the window, and
turned his back upon them, and looked out in his bewilderment. He felt
very sorry for poor Mr. Brownlow. Then he seemed to get a glimmering of
the meaning of it all. It was for Sara’s aid in securing this marriage
that the poor creature up stairs had been so anxious. Her mind had been
passionately occupied about merely worldly interests to the last; and
for this he and his higher consolation had been thrust away. Poor
Brownlow! Mr. Hardcastle thought of his own dutiful Fanny, who never
gave way to any vagaries. And he buttoned his coat with a friendly
instinct. “I am going to see your father, as I can be of no farther use
here,” he said; and there was a world of disapproval in his tone.

But just then there were some hurried movements above, and a cry. It was
Pamela, who was calling on her mother, appealing to an ear which no
longer heard. They all knew instinctively what it meant. Sara started
up, trembling and clasping her hands. She had never been in the same
house with death before–never that she knew of; and a dreadful sense
that Mrs. Preston had suddenly become a spiritual presence, and was
everywhere about her, seized upon the girl. “I promise,” she said,
wildly, with lips that gave forth very little sound. As for Jack, he too
started as if something had struck him. He went up to his sister, though
he had been angry with her, and took her into his arms for a moment.
“Sara, go to her,” he said. He forgot all about secondary things–his
heart bled for his Pamela. “Go to her!” he cried; and something like a
sob came from his breast. Not for the poor soul that was gone–not for
her to whom at last the trouble and toil were over; for the young
creature who remained behind to profit by all the mother’s unrewarded
pains–for the living, not for the dead.

The doctor came down stairs shortly after; and though he was grave,
there was a professional tone about him which dispelled the awe of the
group below. “It is all over,” he said, “and a very good thing too for
that poor girl. She could not have stood it much longer. I am very glad
Miss Brownlow has gone to her. It’s excessively good of your sister. I
was obliged to interfere, you know. Nobody need hold themselves bound,
unless they please, by a promise extorted like that; but in such a case
one never can tell what might have happened. The patient must be
humored. I feared–”

“No more,” said Jack–“don’t say any more; you did what was quite right.
It is Miss Preston who must be considered now. Could she be removed at
once? Would it be safe to take her away at once? for my sister, of
course, I mean.”

“Miss Preston?” said the doctor, a little puzzled. “Oh, the daughter,
you mean, poor thing! It would be the very best plan to take her away;
but she is a good little thing, and she wouldn’t go.”

“Never mind your opinion of her,” cried Jack, keeping his temper with
difficulty. “Tell me if we can take her away?”

“She will not go,” said the doctor, offended in his turn. “As for
opinions, I have a right to my opinion if she was the queen. She’s not
the sort of girl to be taken away. After the funeral it may be done,
perhaps. Good-morning. I shall see her to-morrow. Mr. Hardcastle, if you
like I can set you down at the rectory–I am going that way.”

“Thanks, I have to go somewhere else first,” said the rector; and the
other parish functionary departed accordingly, going softly for the
first dozen steps out of respect for the dead. Then Mr. Hardcastle put
on his hat, and looked at Jack.

“I am going to Brownlows,” he said. “I am very sorry to have such an
office to fulfill; but your father must know, Jack, what has been going
on here to-day.”

Jack was in no merry mood, but he was unable to retain a short hard
laugh which relieved him as well as any other expression of feeling.
“Yes, you are free to tell him,” he said, and he felt disposed to laugh
again loudly when he looked at the rector’s severe and disapproving
face. It gave him a certain cynical and grim amusement to see it. How
blind and stupid every body was! What immovable, shallow dolts, to look
on at all those mysteries of death and ruin, and never to be a whit the
wiser! He could have laughed, but his laughter, such as it was, was
internal–that too might be misunderstood. He waved old Betty
impatiently away, and he turned his back on Mr. Hardcastle who was
going. When he turned round again both were gone. He even paused to
think they were not so unlike each other; Betty perhaps on the whole had
most understanding of the two. He went to the window and watched the old
woman cross reluctantly to the lodge, and the rector enter the avenue.
Betty, however, could not stay away. She came stealing back again, not
perceiving Jack, looking cautiously round to make sure that both the
rector and the doctor were out of sight. She stopped to speak to the
neighbor who was at her door, and they shook their heads over the sad
story, and then Betty crept into Mrs. Swayne’s cottage and stole up
stairs. Jack took the pains to watch all this, but it was not because he
was interested in old Betty. He was reluctant to go back to his own
thoughts–to face the situation in which he found himself. When he could
delay no longer, he sat down at the table as if he had work to do, and
buried his head in his hands. Yes, she was dead, poor woman! The fortune
which had excited her almost to madness, which had changed her from an
humble, tender creature anxious to serve every body, into an elated
tyrant eager to tramp the world under foot, had never reached her grasp.
Poor soul! At the very last moment of her life to undergo this awful
temptation and to fall under it, and give the lie to all her dutiful and
pious existence! Instead of pondering over his own difficulty, these
were the reflections in which Jack’s mind plunged itself. She had gone
where money could do her no good, and yet at the very end she had
agitated and even stained her spotless life for it, leaving painful
recollections behind her, though she had been a good woman, perhaps even
shortening her own days. What a hard fate it was! how cruel to have had
the irresistible temptation so late, and to have no time left her to
efface the recollection of her momentary frenzy. Jack’s heart grew soft
toward her as it all came before him. Poor soul! Poor woman! no time
even to say her prayers and ask God’s pardon before she died; perhaps,
however, on the whole, though Mr. Hardcastle might be of a different
opinion, God, who knew all, was less likely to be deceived by that
ebullition than man. When he tried to think of his own course of action
at this difficult moment, his mind went off at a tangent. It was in vain
that he attempted to consider what he was to do. The quiet of death had
fallen over the agitated house in which he sat, and his own agitation
died out in that chilly calm. Then he got up with a kind of dull
composure in his mind to go home. Every thing must be postponed now
until the few first days of darkness were over. It was the only tribute
that could be paid to the dead.

Before he went away Sara came to him for a moment. Her eyes were red
with crying, but she had recovered herself. “Tell papa I must stay with
her,” said Sara. “I can not leave her. I don’t think she could have
borne it much longer; and there is only me to take care of her now.”

“You? to take care of her?” cried Jack. “How long is this folly to last?
Am not I to see her?” and then his flash of resentment died away. “Sara,
if you are not good to her, tender to her!” he said with tears coming
into his eyes in spite of him. “And she so young! not much more than a
child. Why can’t I bring down the carriage for her, and take her home?”

“And leave her mother here!” said Sara, turning away with the impatience
of excitement. As for Jack, he was walking about in the passage while
she spoke to him from the stair. He could have cried like one of the
girls–he could have taken his sister in his arms, or have stormed at
her. A hundred contradictory contending feelings were in his heart.

“Her mother is dead,” he said. “What good can she do here now? why can’t
you show her the reason of it? she would be much better at Brownlows.
The doctor said so. She will come with you.”

“Never while her mother lies there,” cried Sara–“her poor mother who
loved her so! I know what is in her heart; and she shall do as she
pleases. Tell papa, unless he wants me, that I must stay here.”

And she stayed, and Jack went up the avenue alone. He met two carriages
coming down, and had to stop and tell why he had not been present to say
good-bye, and what had detained Sara. The ladies in the carriages stared
very strangely at his few brief words of apology. And they gazed at each
other in consternation as they passed on. It might be very good of Sara
to go and watch by a sick-bed, but to leave her guests for it, to let
them all depart without a word as if it had been a hotel–altogether it
was a strange family. Mr. Brownlow had told them he expected to be
ruined, though there was no visible appearance of it. And Sara had
rushed away from them, from the head of the table without a word, on the
very last day, to attend a poor woman’s death-bed. Not very much like
Sara, they said; and they began to give each other significant looks and
to ask if the Brownlows had “any thing wrong” in their blood. They were
so new as a county family. People had no information about their
grandfathers and grandmothers; but they looked as if they were all
mad–that was the fact. It was the strangest way to treat their guests.

And there were some of the guests, as Jack found on returning to the
house, who were not going to leave till the next day. They were sulky
and offended, as was natural. To make arrangements for a pleasant visit,
and to be all but turned out before the time you had yourself fixed–and
then to have your mind confused by vague stories about ruin and loss,
and somebody who was dying! It was not to be supposed that any one could
be pleased. Mr. Hardcastle had been there, and he had not mended
matters. He had told one or two men how sorry he was for poor
Brownlow–how he feared Jack had got entangled somehow, and had been so
foolish as to involve his sister–and how things were in a bad way. All
sorts of vague rumors were floating about the house–the servants were
prepared for any thing, from the reduction of their wages to the arrest
of their master. They watched the door anxiously, and cast furtive looks
down the avenue, that they might not be taken unprepared; and Mr. Willis
secretly removed a good deal of the plate into a dark corner of the wine
cellar. “Master might want it,” he said to himself–judging it not off
the cards that master might be obliged to run away, and might be glad of
a silver tea-pot or so to pay his expenses.

How they could have got through the evening it is impossible to tell,
had not Sara appeared before dinner, very pale, with red eyes, and a
melancholy face. Every body rushed at her when she appeared–in a kind
of consternation. And for a moment it seemed to both her father and
brother that their adversary had come alive, and that the struggle was
to begin again. Sara’s explanation, however, was the simple one that
Pamela had fallen asleep, and that she had thought they would want her
at home for dinner. So she went and dressed herself, like a martyr, and
carried them through the embarrassed meal. It was she upon whom the
chief burden fell, and she took up the weight and carried it without
flinching. So the long confused eventful day came to an end. When it was
late and all the bewildered people had retired to their rooms, Mr.
Brownlow and Jack took her down the avenue, guarding her tenderly, one
on either side. There was little said between them, but their hearts
were full–a kind of gratitude, a kind of sorrow, a certain pervading
sense of union and sympathy had come into their minds; and the two men
regarded with a half wondering, half pitying enthusiasm, a waking up of
all the springs of natural love, the soft creature between them, the
indulged, petted, faulty girl who now had every thing to do. They both
kissed her when they left her, with an overflowing of their hearts, and
stood and looked at the dark cottage with the faint lights in its
windows, saying nothing. In the upper window was the dim glow of the
light in the chamber of the dead–the needless pathetic glimmer which
shone faintly over the covered face and closed eyes; below, in the
little parlor, where a bed had been hastily prepared for her, Pamela was
sleeping in her profound exhaustion, almost as pale as her mother,
shaded from the dim candlelight. The father and son did not speak, but
they grasped each other’s hands closely as they looked at the house, and
turned away and walked home in silence. A certain confusion,
consolation, and calm, all mingled with wonder and suspense, had come
over them–words were of no use at that moment. And Sara went in and
took up her guardianship–and slept and waked and watched all night long
in the weakness and strength of her youth.

Continue Reading

SIR CHARLES MOTHERWELL

The guests at Brownlows next morning got up with minds a little
relieved. Notwithstanding the evident excitement of the family, things
had passed over quietly enough, and nothing had happened, and
indifferent spectators easily accustom themselves to any atmosphere, and
forget the peculiarities in it. There might still be a smell of
brimstone in the air, but their organs were habituated, and failed to
perceive it. After breakfast Sir Charles Motherwell had a little talk
with Mr. Brownlow, as his smoked his morning cigar in the avenue; but
nobody, except perhaps his mother, who was alive to his movements, took
any notice of what he was doing. Once more the men in the house were
left to themselves; but it did not strike them so oddly as on the day
before. And Sara, for her part, was easier in her mind. She could not
help it. It might be wicked even, but she could not help it. She was
sorry Mrs. Preston should die; but since Providence had so willed it, no
doubt it was the best for every body. This instinctive argument came to
Sara as to all the rest. Nobody was doing it. It was Providence, and it
was for the best. And Jack would marry Pamela, and Sara would go with
her father to Masterton, and, but for the shock of Mrs. Preston’s death,
which would wear off in the course of nature, all would go merry as a
marriage bell. This was how she had planned it all out to herself; and
she saw no difficulty in it. Accordingly, she had very much recovered
her spirits. Of course, the house at Masterton would not be so pleasant
as Brownlows; at least–in some things it might not be so
pleasant–but–And so, though she might be a little impatient, and a
little preoccupied, things were decidedly brighter with Sara that
morning. She was in the dining-room as usual, giving the housekeeper the
benefit of her views about dinner, when Sir Charles came in. He saw her,
and he lingered in the hall waiting for her, and her vengeful project of
the previous night occurred to Sara. If she was to be persecuted any
more about him, she would let him propose; charitably, feelingly, she
had staved off that last ceremony; but now, if she was to be threatened
with him–if he was to be thrown in her face–And he looked very
sheepish and awkward as he stood in the hall, pulling at the black
mustache which was so like a respirator. She saw him, and she prolonged
his suspense, poor fellow. She bethought herself of a great many things
she had to say to the housekeeper. And he stood outside, like a faithful
dog, and waited. When she saw that he would not go away, Sara gave in to
necessity. “Lady Motherwell is in the morning-room, and all the rest,”
she said, as she joined him; and then turned to lead the way up stairs.

“I don’t want to see my mother,” he said, with a slight shudder, she
thought; and then he made a very bold effort. “Fine morning,” said Sir
Charles; “aw–would you mind taking a little walk?”

“Taking a walk?” said Sara, in amaze.

“Aw–yes–or–I’d like to speak to you for ten minutes,” said Sir
Charles, with growing embarrassment; “fact is, Miss Brownlow, I don’t
want to see my mother.”

“That is very odd,” said Sara, tempted to laughter; “but still you might
walk by yourself, without seeing Lady Motherwell. There would not be
much protection in having me.”

“It was not for–protection, nor–nor that sort of thing,” stammered Sir
Charles, growing very red–“fact is, Miss Brownlow, it was something I
had to say–to you–”

“Oh!” said Sara: she saw it was coming now; and fortified by her
resolution, she made no farther effort to smother it. This, at least,
she could do, and nobody had any right to interfere with her. She might
be in her very last days of sovereignty; a few hours might see her
fallen–fallen from her high estate; but at least she could refuse
Charley Motherwell. That was a right of which neither cruel father nor
adverse fortune could deprive her. She made no farther resistance, or
attempt to get away. “If it is only to speak to me, we can talk in the
library,” she said; “it is too early to go out.” And so saying she led
the way into Mr. Brownlow’s room. Notwithstanding the strange scenes she
had seen in it, it did not chill Sara in her present mood. But it
evidently had a solemnizing effect on Sir Charles. She walked across to
the fire, which was burning cheerfully, and placed herself in one of the
big chairs which stood by, arranging her pretty skirts within its heavy
arms, which was a troublesome operation; and then she pointed graciously
to the other. “Sit down,” she said, “and tell me what it is about.”

It was not an encouraging opening for a bashful lover. It was not like
this that she had received Powys’s sudden wild declarations, his
outbursts of passionate presumption. She had been timid enough then, and
had faltered and failed to herself, somewhat as poor Sir Charles was
doing. He did not accept her kind invitation to seat himself, but stood
before her in front of the fire, and looked more awkward than ever. Poor
fellow, he had a great deal on his mind.

“Miss Brownlow,” he burst out, all at once, after he had fidgeted about
for five minutes, pulling his mustache and looking at her, “I am a bad
fellow to talk. I never know what to say. I’ve got into heaps of scrapes
from people mistaking what I mean.”

“Indeed, I am sure I am very sorry,” said Sara; “but I think I always
understand what you mean.”

“Yes,” he said, with relief, “aw–I’ve observed that. You’re one that
does, and my mother’s one; but never mind my mother just now,” he went
on precipitately. “For instance, when a fellow wants to ask a girl to
marry him, every thing has to be understood–a mistake about that would
be awful–would be dreadful–I mean, you know, it wouldn’t do.”

“It wouldn’t do at all,” said Sara, looking at him with terrible
composure, and without even the ghost of a smile.

“Yes,” said Sir Charles, revolving on his own axis, “it might be a
horrid mess. That’s why I wanted to see you, to set out with, before I
spoke to my mother. My mother’s a little old-fashioned. I’ve just been
talking to Mr. Brownlow. I can make my–aw–any girl very comfortable.
It’s not a bad old place; and as for settlements and that sort of
thing–”

“I should be very glad to give you my advice, I am sure,” said Sara,
demurely; “but I should like first to know who the lady is.”

“The lady!” cried Sir Charles–“aw–upon my word, it’s too bad. That’s
why I said every thing must be very plain. Miss Brownlow, there’s not a
girl in the world but yourself–not one!–aw–you know what I mean. I’d
go down on my knees, or any thing; only you’d laugh, I know, and I’d
lose my–my head.” All this he said with immense rapidity, moving up and
down before her. Then he suddenly came to a stand-still and looked into
her face. “I know I can’t talk,” he said; “but you know, of course, it’s
you. What would be the good of coming like this, and–and making a fool
of myself, if it wasn’t you?”

“But it can’t be me, Sir Charles,” said Sara, growing, in spite of
herself, out of sympathy, a little agitated, and forgetting the humor of
the situation. “It can’t be me–don’t say any more. If you only knew
what has been happening to us–”

“I know,” cried Sir Charles, coming a step closer; “that’s why–though I
don’t mean that’s why from the commencement, for I only heard this
morning; and that’s why I don’t want to see my mother. You need not
think it matters to me–I’ve got plenty, and we could have your father
to live with us, if you like.”

Sara stood up with the intention of making him a stately and serious
answer, but as she looked at his eager face, bent forward and gazing
down at her, a sudden change came over her feelings. She had been
laughing at him a moment before; now all at once, without any apparent
provocation, she burst into tears. Sir Charles was very much dismayed.
It did not occur to him to take advantage of her weeping, as Powys had
done. He stared, and he drew a step farther back, and fell into a state
of consternation. “I’ve said something I ought not to have said,” he
exclaimed; “I know I’m a wretched fellow to talk; but then I thought you
would understand.”

“I do understand,” cried Sara, in her impulsive way; “and papa was quite
right, and I am a horrid wretch, and you are the best man in the world!”

“Not so much as that,” said Sir Charles, with a smile of satisfaction,
which showed all his teeth under his black mustache; “but as long as you
are pleased–Don’t cry. We’ll settle it all between us, and make him
comfortable; and as for you and me–”

He made a step forward, beaming with content as he spoke, and poor Sara,
drying her eyes hastily, and waking up to the urgency of the situation,
retreated as he advanced.

“But, Sir Charles,” she cried, clasping her hands–“oh! what a wretch I
am to take you in and vex you. Stop! I did not mean that. I meant–oh! I
could kill myself–I think you are the best and kindest and truest man
in the world, but it can never be me!”

Sir Charles stopped short. That air of flattered vanity and imbecile
self-satisfaction with which most men receive the idea of being loved,
suddenly yielded in his face to intense surprise. “Why? how? what? I
don’t understand,” he stammered; and stood amazed, utterly at a loss to
know what she could mean.

“It can never be me!” cried Sara. “I am not much good. I don’t deserve
to be cared for. You will find somebody else a great deal nicer. There
are girls in the house even–there is Fanny. Don’t be angry. I don’t
think there is any thing particular in me.”

“But it is only you I fancy,” cried Sir Charles, deluded, poor man, by
this humility, and once more lighting up with complaisance and
self-satisfaction. “Fact is, we could be very comfortable together. I
don’t know about any other girls. You’re nice enough for me.”

Then Sara sank once more into the chair where a few minutes before she
had established herself with such state and dignity. “Don’t say any
more,” she cried again, clasping her hands. “Don’t! I shall like you and
be grateful to you all my life; but it can never be me!”

If Sara had been so foolish as to imagine that her unimpassioned suitor
would be easily got rid of, she now found out her error. He stared at
her, and he took a little walk around the table, and then he came back
again. The facts of the case had not penetrated his mind. Her delicate
intimations had no effect upon him. “If you like me,” he said, “that’s
enough–fact is, I don’t see how any girl could be nicer. They say all
girls talk like this at first. You and I might be very comfortable; and
as for my mother–you know if you wanted to have the house to
yourself–”

“Would you be so wicked as to go and turn out your mother?” cried Sara,
suddenly flashing into indignation, “and for a girl you know next to
nothing about? Sir Charles, I never should have expected this of you.”

Poor Sir Charles fell back utterly disconcerted. “It was all to make you
comfortable,” he said. “Of course I’d like my mother to stay. It was all
for you.”

“And I told you it could never be me,” cried Sara–“never! I am going to
Masterton with papa to take care of him. It is he who wants me most. And
then I must say good-bye to every body; I shall only be the attorney’s
daughter at Masterton; we shall be quite different; but, Sir Charles, I
shall always like you and wish you well. You have been so very good and
kind to me.”

Then Sara waved her hand to him and went toward the door. As for Sir
Charles, he was too much bewildered to speak for the first moment. He
stood and stared and let her pass him. It had never entered into his
mind that this interview was to come to so abrupt an end. But before she
left the room he had made a long step after her. “We could take care of
him at Motherwell,” he said, “just as well. Miss Brownlow, look here. It
don’t make any difference to me. If you had not a penny, you are just
the same as you always were. If you like me, that is enough for me.”

“But I don’t like you!” said Sara, in desperation, turning round upon
him with her eyes flashing fiercely, her mouth quivering pathetically,
her tears falling fast. “I mean I like somebody else better. Don’t,
please, say any more–thanks for being so good and kind to me; and
good-bye–good-bye!”

Then she seized his hand like the vehement creature she was, and clasped
it close in her soft hands, and turned and fled. That was the only word
for it. She fled, never pausing to look back. And Sir Charles, utterly
bewildered and disconcerted, stayed behind. The first thing he did was
to walk back to the fire, the natural attraction of a man in trouble.
Then he caught a glimpse of his own discomfited countenance in the
glass. “By George!” he said to himself, and turned his back upon the
rueful visage. It was the wildest oath he ever permitted himself, poor
fellow, and he showed the most overwhelming perturbation. He stood there
a long time, thinking it over. He was not a man of very fine feelings,
and yet he felt very much cast down. Though his imagination was not
brilliant, it served to recall her to him with all her charms. And his
honest heart ached. “What do I care for other girls?” he said to
himself. “What good is Fanny to me?” He stood half the morning on the
hearth-rug, sometimes turning round to look at his own dejected
countenance in the glass, and sometimes to poke the fire. He had no
heart to put himself within reach of his mother, or to look at the other
girls. When the bell rang for luncheon he rushed out into the damp
woods. Such a thing had never happened in his respectable life before:
and this was the end of Sir Charles Motherwell’s little romance.

Sara, though she did not regret Sir Charles, was more agitated than she
could have supposed possible when she left the library; there are young
ladies, no doubt, who are hardened to it; but an ordinary mortal feels a
little sympathetic trouble in most cases, when she has had to decide (so
far) upon another creature’s fate. And though he was not bright, he had
behaved very well; and then her own affairs were in such utter
confusion. She could not even look her future in the face, and say she
had any prospects. If she were to live a hundred years, how could she
ever marry her father’s clerk? and how could he so much as dream of
marrying her–he who had nothing, and a family to maintain? Poor Sara
went to her own room, and had a good cry over Sir Charles in the first
(but least) place, and herself in the second. What was to become of her?
To be the attorney’s daughter in Masterton was not the brightest of
fates–and beyond that–She cried, and she did not get any satisfaction
from the thought of having refused Sir Charles. It was very, very good
and nice of him–and oh, if it had only been Fanny on whom he had set
his fancy! Her eyes were still red when she went down stairs, and it
surprised her much to see her father leaving the morning-room as she
approached. Lady Motherwell was there with a very excited and pale face,
and one or two other ladies with a look of consternation about them. One
who was leaving the room stopped as she did so, took Sara in her arms,
though it was quite uncalled for, and gave her a hasty kiss. “My poor
dear!” said this kind woman. As for Lady Motherwell, she was in quite a
different state of mind.

“Where is Charley?” she cried. “Miss Brownlow, I wish you would tell me
where my son is. It is very strange. He is a young man who never cares
to be long away from his mother; but since we have been in this house,
he has forsaken me.”

“I saw him in the library,” said Sara. “I think he is there now. I will
go and call him, if you like.” This she said because she was angry; and
without any intention of doing what she said.

“I am much obliged to you, I am sure,” said the old lady, who, up to
this moment, had been so sweet to Sara, and called her by every
caressing name. “I will ring and send a servant, if you will permit me.
We have just been hearing some news that my dear boy ought to know.”

“If it is something papa has been telling you, I think Sir Charles knows
already,” said Sara. Lady Motherwell gave her head an angry toss, and
rang the bell violently. She took no farther notice of the girl whom she
had professed to be so fond of. “Inquire if Sir Charles Motherwell is
below,” she said. “Tell him I have ordered my carriage, and that his man
is putting up his things. We are going in half an hour.”

It was at this moment the luncheon bell rang, and Sir Charles plunged
wildly out into the woods. Perhaps the sound of the bell mollified Lady
Motherwell. She was an old lady who liked luncheon. Probably it occurred
to her that to have some refreshment before she left would do nobody any
harm. Her son could not make any proposals at table under her very eyes;
or perhaps a touch of human feeling came over her. “I meant to say we
are going directly after luncheon,” she said, turning to Sara. “You will
be very glad to get rid of us all, if Mr. Brownlow really means what he
says.”

“Oh, yes, he means it,” said Sara, with a little smile of bitterness,
“but it is always best to have luncheon first. I think you will find
your son down stairs.”

“You seem to know,” said Lady Motherwell; “perhaps that is why we have
had so little of your company this morning. The society of young men is
pleasanter than that of old ladies like me.”

“The society of _some_ young men is pleasant enough,” said Sara, unable
to suppress the retort; and she stood aside and let her guest pass,
sweeping in her long silken robes. Lady Motherwell headed the
procession; and of the ladies who followed, two or three made little
consoling speeches to Sara as they clustered after her. “It will not
turn out half so bad as your papa supposes,” said one. “I don’t see that
he had any need to tell. We have all had our losses–but we don’t go and
publish them to all the world.”

“And if it should be as bad, never mind, Sara,” said another. “We shall
all be as fond of you as ever. You must not think it hard-hearted if we
go away.”

“Oh, Sara dear, I shall be so sorry to leave you; but he would not have
told us,” said a third, “if he had not wanted us to go away.”

“I don’t know what you all mean,” said Sara. “I think you want to make
me lose my senses. Is it papa that wants you to go away?”

“He told us he had lost a great deal of money, and perhaps he might be
ruined,” said the last of all, twining her arm in Sara’s. “You must
come to us, dear, if there is any breaking-up. But perhaps it may not be
as bad as he says.”

“Perhaps not,” said Sara, holding up her head proudly. It was the only
answer she made. She swept past them all to her place at the head of the
table, with a grandeur that was quite unusual, and looked round upon her
guests like a young queen. “Papa,” she said, at the top of her sweet
young voice, addressing him at the other end of the table, “when you
have unpleasant news to tell, you should not tell it before luncheon. I
hope it will not hurt any body’s appetite.” This was all the notice she
took of the embarrassing information that had thrown such a cloud of
confusion over the guests. Mr. Brownlow, too, had recovered his calm. He
had meant only to tell Lady Motherwell, knowing at the moment that her
son was pleading his suit with Sara down stairs. He had told Sir
Charles, and the news had but made him more eager; and, with a certain
subtle instinct that came of his profession, Mr. Brownlow, that nobody
might be able to blame him, went and told the mother too. It was Lady
Motherwell’s amazed and indignant exclamations that spread the news. And
now both he and the old lady were equally on tenter-hooks of
expectation. They wanted to know what had come of it. Sara, for any
thing they knew, might be Sir Charley’s betrothed at this moment. Mr.
Brownlow, with a kind of hope, tried to read what was in his child’s
face, and Lady Motherwell looked at her with a kind of despair. Sara,
roused to her full strength, smiled and baffled them both.

“Sir Charles is in the library,” she said. “Call him, Willis; he might
be too much engaged–he might not hear the bell.”

But at this moment another bell was heard, which struck strangely upon
the excited nerves of the company. It was the bell at the door, which,
as that door was always open, and there was continually some servant or
other in the hall, was never rung. On this occasion it was pulled
wildly, as by some one in overwhelming haste. The dining-room door was
open at the moment, and the conversation at table was so hushed and
uncomfortable, that the voice outside was clearly audible. It was
something about “Miss Sara,” and “to come directly.” They all heard it,
their attention being generally aroused. Then came a rush which made
every one start and turn round. It was Mrs. Swayne, with her bonnet
thrust over her eyes, red and breathless with running. “She’s
a-dying–she’s a-dying,” said the intruder. “And I’m ready to drop. And,
Miss Sara, she’s a-calling for you.”

Sara rose up, feeling her self-command put to the utmost test. But
before she could even ask a question, Jack, who had been sitting very
silently at the middle of the table, started up and rushed to the door.
Mrs. Swayne put him back with her hand. “It’s Miss Sara,” she
said–“Miss Sara–Miss Sara–that’s who she’s a-calling of. Keep out of
her sight, and don’t aggravate her. Miss Sara, it’s you.”

And then the room seemed to reel round poor Sara, who had come to the
end of her powers. She knew no more about it until she felt the fresh
air blowing in her face, as she was half led, half carried, down the
avenue. What she was to do, or what was expected from her, she knew not.
The fate of the house and of all belonging to it had come into her
innocent hands.

Continue Reading

JACK’S LAST TRIAL

The dinner passed over without, so far as the guests were aware, any
special feature in it. Jack might look out of sorts, perhaps, but then
Jack had been out of sorts for some time past. As for Sara, the roses on
her cheeks were so much brighter than usual, that some people went so
far as to suppose she had stooped to the vulgar arts of the toilet. Sir
Charles Motherwell was by her side, and she was talking to him with more
than ordinary vivacity. Mr. Brownlow, for his part, looked just as
usual. People do not trouble themselves to observe whether the head of
the house, when it is a man of his age, looks pale or otherwise. He
talked just as usual; and though, perhaps, it was he who had suffered
most in this crisis, it did not cost him so much now as it did to his
son and daughter. And the new people who came only for the evening, and
knew nothing about it, amused the people who were living at Brownlows,
and had felt in the air some indication of the storm. Every thing went
on well, to the amazement of those who were principally concerned–that
is to say, every thing went on like a dream; the hours and all the
sayings and doings in them, even those which they themselves did and
said, swept on, and carried with them the three who had anxieties so
much deeper at heart. Sara’s cheeks kept burning crimson all the night;
and Mr. Brownlow stood apart and talked heavily with one or other of his
guests; and Jack did the best he could–going so far as to dance, which
was an exercise he did not much enjoy. And the guests called it “a very
pleasant evening,” with more than ordinary sincerity. When the greater
part of those heavy hours had passed, and they began to see the end of
their trial, a servant came into the room and addressed himself to Jack,
who was just then standing with his partner in the pause of a waltz.
Sara, though she was herself flying round the room at the moment, saw
it, and lost breath. Mr. Brownlow saw it from the little inner
drawing-room. It seemed to them that every eye was fixed upon that one
point, but the fact was nobody even noticed it but themselves and Jack’s
partner, who was naturally indignant when he gave up her hand and took
her back to her seat. Somebody wanted to see him, the servant
said–somebody who would not take any answer, but insisted on seeing Mr.
John–somebody from the cottages at the gate. It was Willis himself who
came, and he detracted in no way from the importance of the
communication. His looks were grave enough for a plenipotentiary. His
master, looking at him, felt that Willis must know all; but Willis, to
tell the truth, knew nothing. He felt that something was wrong, and,
with the instinct of a British domestic, recognized that it was his duty
to make the most of it–that was all. Jack went out following him, but
the people who did not know there was any thing significant in his
going, took very little notice of it. The only visible consequence was,
that thenceforward Sara was too tired to dance, and Mr. Brownlow forgot
what he was saying in the middle of a sentence. Simple as the cause
might be, it was alarming to them.

Jack asked the man no questions as he went down stairs; he was himself
wound-up and ready for any thing. Whatever additional hardship or burden
might come, his position could scarcely be made worse. So he was in a
manner indifferent. What could it matter? In the hall he found Mrs.
Swayne standing wrapped up in a big shawl. She was excited, and
fluttered, and breathless, and almost unable to speak, and the shawl
which was thrown over her head showed that she had come in haste. She
put her hand on jack’s arm, and drew him to a side out of hearing of the
servants, and then her message burst forth.

“It’s not what I ever thought I’d come to. It ain’t what I’d do, if e’er
a one of us were in our right senses,” she cried. “But you must come
down to her this very moment. Come along with me, Mr. John. It’s that
dark I’ve struck my foot again’ every tree, and I’ve come that fast I
ain’t got a bit of breath left in my body. Come down to her this very
moment. Come along with me.”

“What is the matter?” said Jack.

“Matter! It’s matter enough,” gasped Mrs. Swayne, “or it never would
have been me to come leaving my man in his rheumatics, and the street
door open, and an old shawl over my head. And there ain’t one minute to
be lost. Get your hat and something to keep you warm, and I’ll tell you
by the way. It’s bitter cold outside.”

In spite of himself Jack hesitated. His pride rose up against the
summons. Pamela had left him and gone over to her mother’s side, and her
mother was no longer a nameless poor woman, but the hard creditor who
was about to ruin him and his. Though he had vowed that he would never
give her up, yet somehow at that moment his pride got the better of his
love. He hesitated, and stood looking at the breathless messenger, who
herself, in her turn, began to look at him with a certain contempt.

“If you ain’t a-coming, Mr. John,” said Mrs. Swayne, “say so–that’s all
as I ask. Not as I would be any way surprised. It’s like men. When you
don’t want ’em, they’ll come fast enough; but when you’re in need, and
they might be of some use–Ugh! that ain’t my way. I wouldn’t be the
wretch as would leave that poor young critter in her trouble, all
alone.”

“All alone–what do you mean?” said Jack, following her to the door, and
snatching his hat as he passed. “How can she be alone? Did she send you?
What trouble is she in? Woman, can’t you tell me what you mean?”

“I won’t be called woman by you, not if you was ten times as grand–not
if you was a duke or a lord,” said Mrs. Swayne, rushing out into the
night. Beyond the circle of the household lights, the gleaming lamp at
the door and lighted windows, the avenue was black as only a path in the
heart of the country can be. The night was intensely dark, the rain
drizzling, and now and then a shower of leaves falling with the rain.
Two or three long strides brought Jack up with the indignant Mrs.
Swayne, who ran and stumbled, but made indifferent progress. He took
hold of her arm, and in his excitement unconsciously gave her a shake.

“Keep by me and I’ll guide you,” he said; “and tell me in a word what is
the matter, and how she happens to be alone.”

Then Mrs. Swayne’s passion gave way to tears. “You’d think yourself
alone,” she cried, “if you was left with one as has had a shock, and
don’t know you no more than Adam, and ne’er a soul in the house, now I’m
gone, but poor old Swayne with his rheumatics, as can’t stir, not to
save his life. You’d think it yourself if it was you. But catch a man
a-forgetting of hisself like that; and the first thought in her mind was
for you. Oh me! oh me! She thought you’d ha’ come like an arrow out of a
bow.”

“A shock?” said Jack vaguely to himself; and then he let go his hold of
Mrs. Swayne’s arm. “I can’t wait for you,” he said; “I can be there
quicker than you.” And he rushed wildly into the darkness, forsaking
her. He was at the gate before the bewildered woman, thus abandoned,
could make two steps in advance. As he dashed past old Betty’s cottage,
he saw inside the lighted window a face he knew, and though he did not
recognize who it was, a certain sense of help at hand came over him.
Another moment and he was in Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, so far recollecting
himself as to tread more softly as he rushed up the dark and narrow
stair. When he opened the door, Pamela gave but one glance round to
greet him. She was alone, as Mrs. Swayne had said. On the bed by which
she stood lay a marble figure, dead to all appearance except for its
eyes. Those eyes moved in the strangest, most terrible way, looking
wildly round and round, now at the ceiling, now at the window, now at
Pamela, imperious and yet agonized. And poor little Pamela, soft girlish
creature, stood desperate, trying to read what they said. She had not a
word to give to Jack–not even a look, except for one brief moment.
“What does she want–what does she want?” she cried. “Oh, mamma! mamma!
will you not _try_ to speak?”

“Is there no one with you?” said Jack. “Have you sent for the doctor?
How long has she been like this? My darling! my poor little darling! Has
the doctor seen her yet?”

“I sent for you,” said Pamela, piteously. “Oh, what does she want? I
think she could speak if she would only try.”

“It is the doctor she wants,” cried Jack. “That is the first thing;” and
he turned and rushed down stairs still more rapidly than he had come up.
The first thing he did was to go across to old Betty’s cottage, and send
the old woman to Pamela’s aid, or at least, if aid was impossible, to
remain with her. There he found Powys, who was waiting till the guests
went away from Brownlows. Him Jack placed in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor, to be
ready to lend any assistance that might be wanted, or to call succor
from the great house if necessary; and then he himself buttoned his coat
and set off on a wild race over hedge and field for the doctor. The
nearest doctor was in Dewsbury, a mile and a half away. Jack knew every
step of the country, and plunged into the unseen by-ways and across the
ploughed fields; in so short a time that Mrs. Swayne had scarcely
reached her own house before he dashed back again in the doctor’s gig.
Then he went into the dark little parlor to wait and take breath. He was
in evening-dress, just as he had been dancing; his light varnished boots
were heavy with ploughed soil and wet earth, his shirt wet with rain,
his whole appearance wild and disheveled. Powys looked at him with the
strange mixture of repugnance and liking that existed between the young
men, and drew forward a chair for him before the dying fire.

“Why did not you let me go?” he said. “I was in better trim for it than
you.”

“You did not know the way,” said Jack; “besides there are things that
nobody can do for one.” Then he added, after a pause, “Her daughter is
going to be my wife.”

“Ah!” said Powys, with a sigh, half of sympathy, half of envy. He did
not think of Jack’s circumstances in any speculative way, but only as
comparing them with his own hard and humble fate, who should never have
a wife, as he said to himself–to whom it was mere presumption, madness,
to think of love at all.

“Yes,” said Jack, putting his wet feet to the fire; and then he too gave
forth a big sigh from his excited breast, and felt the liking grow
stronger than the repugnance, and that he must speak to some one or die.

“It is a pretty mess,” he said; “I thought they were very poor, and it
turns out she has a right to almost all my father has–trust-money that
was left to him if he could not find her; and he was never able to find
her. And, at last, after all was settled between us, she turns up; and
now, I suppose, she’s going to die.”

“I hope not,” said Powys, not knowing what answer to make.

“It’s easy to say you hope not,” said Jack, “but she will–you’ll see
she will. I never saw such a woman. And then what am I to do?–forsake
my poor Pamela, who does not know a word of it, because she is an
heiress, or marry her and rob my father? You may think yours is a hard
case, but I’d like to know what you would do if you were me?”

“I should not forsake her, anyhow,” said Powys, kindling with the
thought.

“And neither shall I, by Jove,” said Jack, getting up in his vehemence.
“What should I care for fathers and mothers, or any fellow in the world?
It’s all that cursed money–that’s what it always is. It comes in your
way and in my way wherever a man turns–not that one can get on without
it either,” said Jack, suddenly sitting down and leaning over the fire
with his face propped up in his two hands.

“Some of us have got to do without it,” said Powys, with a short laugh,
though he did not see any thing amusing in it. Yet there was a certain
bitter drollery in the contrast between his own little salary and the
family he had already to support on it, and Jack’s difficulties at
finding that his Cinderella had turned into a fairy princess. Jack gave
a hasty glance at him, as if fearing that he himself was being laughed
at. But poor Powys had a sigh coming so close after his laugh that it
was impossible to suspect him of mockery. Jack sighed too, for company.
His heart was opened; and the chance of talking to any body was a
godsend to him in that moment of suspense.

“Were you to have been with us this evening?” he said. “Why did not you
come? My father always likes to see you.”

“He does not care to see me now,” said Powys, with a little bitterness;
“I don’t know why. I went up to carry him some papers, against my will.
He took me to your house as first against my own judgment. It would have
been better for me I had walked over a precipice or been struck down
like the poor lady up stairs.”

“No,” said Jack, pitying, and yet there was a touch of condescension in
his voice. “Don’t say so–not so bad as that. A man may make a mistake,
and yet it need not kill him. There’s the doctor–I must hear what he
has to say.”

The doctor came in looking very grave. He said there were signs of some
terrible mental tumult and shock she had received; that all the symptoms
were of the worst kind, and that he had no hope whatever for her life.
She might recover her faculties and be able to speak; but it was almost
certain she must die. This was the verdict pronounced upon Mrs. Preston
as the carriage lamps of the departing guests began to gleam down the
avenue, and old Betty rushed across to open the gates, and the horses
came prancing out into the road. Pamela caught a momentary glimpse of
them as she moved about the room, and it suddenly occurred to her to
remember her own childish delight at the sight when she first came. And
oh, how many things had happened since then! And this last of all which
she understood least. She was sick with terror and wonder, and her head
ached and her heart throbbed. They were her mother’s eyes which looked
at her so, and yet she was afraid of them. How was she ever to live out
the endless night?

It was a dreadful night for more people than Pamela. Powys went up to
the great house very shortly after to carry the news to Mr. Brownlow,
who was so much overcome by it that he shivered and trembled and looked
for the moment like a feeble old man. He sank down into his chair, and
could not speak at first. “God forgive me,” he said when he had
recovered himself. “I am afraid I had ill thoughts of her–very ill
thoughts in my head. Sara, you heard all–was I harsh to her? It could
not be any thing I said?”

“No, papa,” said Sara, trembling, and she came to him and drew his head
for a moment to her young, tremulous, courageous breast. And Powys stood
looking on with a pang in his heart. He did not understand what all this
meant, but he knew that she was his and yet could not be his. He dared
not go and console her as he had done in his madness when they were
alone.

Mr. Brownlow would not go to bed; he sat and watched, and sent for news
through the whole long night. And Powys, who knew only by Jack’s short
and incoherent story what important issues were involved, served him
faithfully as his messenger coming and going. The thoughts that arose in
Mr. Brownlow’s mind were not to be described. It was not possible that
compunction such as that which moved him at first could be his only
feeling. As the hours went on, a certain strange mixture of satisfaction
and reproach against Providence came into his mind. He said Providence
in his mind, being afraid and ashamed to say God. If Providence was
about to remove this obstacle out of his way, it would seem but fitting
and natural; but why, then why, when it was to be, not have done it a
few days sooner? Two days sooner?–that would have made all the
difference. Now the evil she had done would not die with her, though it
might be lessened. In these unconscious inarticulate thoughts, which
came by no will of his, which haunted him indeed against his will, there
rose a certain upbraiding against the tardy fate. It was too late. The
harm was done. As it was, it seemed natural that his enemy should be
taken out of his way, for Providence had ever been very kind to him–but
why should it be this one day too late?

Jack sat down stairs in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor all the night. The fire
went out, and he had not the heart to have it lighted: one miserable
candle burned dully in the chill air. Now and then Powys came in from
the darkness without, glowing from his rapid walk; sometimes Mrs. Swayne
came creaking down stairs to tell him there was no change; once or twice
he himself stole up to see the same awful sight. Poor Pamela, for her
part, sat by the bedside half stupefied by her vigil. She had not spirit
enough left to give one answering look to her lover. Her brain was
racking with devices to make out what her mother meant. She kept talking
to her, pleading with her, entreating–oh, if she would but try to
speak! and ever in desperation making another and another effort to get
at her meaning. Jack could not bear the sight. The misery, and darkness,
and suspense down stairs were less dreadful at least than this. Even the
doctor, though he knew nothing of what lay below, had been apparently
excited by the external aspect of affairs, and came again before
day-break to see if any change were perceptible. It was that hour of all
others most chilling and miserable; that hour which every watcher knows,
just before dawn, when the darkness seems more intense, the cold more
keen, the night more lingering and wretched than at any other moment.
Jack in his damp and thin dress walked shivering about the little black
parlor, unable to keep still.

She might die and make no sign; and if she did so, was it possible still
to ignore all that had happened, and to bestow her just heritage on
Pamela only under cover as his wife? This was the question that racked
him as he waited and listened; but when the doctor went up just before
day-break a commotion was heard in the room above. Jack stood still for
a moment holding his breath, and then he rushed up stairs. Before he got
into the room there arose suddenly a hoarse voice, which was scarcely
intelligible. It was Mrs. Preston who was speaking. “What was it? what
was it?” she was crying wildly. “What did I tell you, child?” and then,
as he opened the door, a great outcry filled the air. “Oh, my God, I’ve
forgotten–I’ve forgotten!” cried the dying woman. She was sitting up in
her bed in a last wild rally of all her powers. Motion and speech had
come back to her. She was propping herself up on her two thin arms,
thrusting herself forward with a strained and excessive muscular action,
such as extreme weakness sometimes is equal to. As she looked round
wildly with the same eager impotent look that had wrung the beholders’
hearts while she was speechless, her eye fell on Jack, who was standing
at the door. She gave a sudden shriek of mingled triumph and entreaty.
“You can tell them,” she said–“you can tell me–come and tell me–tell
me! Pamela, there is one that knows.”

“Oh, mamma, I don’t want to hear,” cried Pamela; “oh, lie down and take
what the doctor says; oh, mamma, mamma, if you care for me! Don’t sit up
and wear out your strength, and break my heart.”

“It’s for you–it’s all for you!” cried the sufferer; and she moved the
hands on which she was supporting herself, and threw forward her ghastly
head, upon which Death itself seemed to have set its mark. “I’ve no time
to lose–I’m dying, and I’ve forgotten it all. Oh, my God, to think I
should forget! Come here, if you are a man, and tell me what it was!”

Jack stepped forward like a man in a dream. He saw that she might fall
and die the next moment; her worn bony arms began to tremble, her head
fell forward, her eyes staring at him seemed to loosen in their sockets.
Perhaps she had but half an hour longer to live. The strength of death
was in her no less than its awful weakness. “Tell me,” she repeated, in
a kind of babble, as if she could not stop. Pamela, who never thought
nor questioned what her mother’s real meaning was, kept trying, with
tears and all her soft force, to lay her down on the pillows; and the
doctor, who thought her raving, stood by and looked on with a calm
professional eye, attributing all her excitement to the delirium of
death. In the midst of this preoccupied group Jack stood forward, held
by her eye. An unspeakable struggle was going on in his mind. Nobody
believed there was any meaning in her words. Was it he that must give
them a meaning, and furnish forth the testimony that was needed against
himself? It was but to be silent, that was all, and no one would be the
wiser. Mrs. Swayne, too, was in the room, curious but unsuspicious. They
all thought it was she who was “wandering,” and not that he had any
thing to tell.

Then once more she raised her voice, which grew harsher and weaker every
moment. “I am dying,” she cried; “if you will not tell me I will speak
to God. I will speak to him–about it–he–will send word–somehow. Oh
my God, tell me–tell me–what was it?–before I die.”

Then they all looked at him, not with any real suspicion, but wondering.
Jack was as pale almost as the dying creature who thus appealed to him.
“I will tell you,” he said, in a broken voice. “It was about money. I
can’t speak about legacies and interest here. I will speak of
it–when–you are better. I will see–that she has her rights.”

“Money!” cried Mrs. Preston, catching at the word–“money–my mother’s
money–that is what it was. A fortune, Pamela! and you’ll have
friends–plenty of friends when I’m gone. Pamela, Pamela, it’s all for
you.”

Then she fell back rigid, not yielding, but conquered; for a moment it
seemed as if some dreadful fit was coming on; but presently she relapsed
into the state in which she had been before–dumb, rigid, motionless,
with a frame of ice, and two eyes of fire. Jack staggered out of the
room, broken and worn out; the very doctor, when he followed, begged for
wine, and swallowed it eagerly. It was more than even his professional
nerves could bear.

“She ought to have died then,” he said; “by all sort of rules she ought
to have died; but I don’t see much difference in her state now; she
might go on like that for days–no one can say.”

Jack was not able to make any answer; he was worn out as if with hard
work; his forehead was damp with exhaustion; he too gulped down some of
the wine Mrs. Swayne brought them, but he had no strength to make any
reply.

“Mr. Brownlow, let me advise you to go home,” said the doctor; “no one
can do any good here. You must make the young lady lie down, Mrs.
Swayne. There will be no immediate change, and there is nothing to be
done but to watch her. If she should recover consciousness again, don’t
cross her in any thing: give her the drops if possible, and
watch–that’s all that can be done. I shall come back in the course of
the day.”

And in the grey dawning Jack too went home. He was changed; conflict and
doubt had gone out of him. In their place a sombre cloud seemed to have
taken him up. It was justice, remorseless and uncompromising, that thus
overshadowed him. Expediency was not to be his guide–not though it
should be a thousand times better, wiser, more desirable, than any other
course of action. It was not what was best that had now to be
considered, but only what was right. It never occurred to him that any
farther struggle could be made. He felt himself no longer Pamela’s
betrothed lover, whose natural place was to defend and protect her, but
her legal guardian and adviser, bound to consider her interests and make
the best of every thing; the champion, not of herself, but of her
fortune–that fortune which seemed to step between and separate them
forever. When he was half-way up the avenue it occurred to him that he
had forgotten Powys, and then he went back again to look for him. He had
grown as a brother to him during this long night. Powys, however, was
gone. Before Jack left the house he had set off for Masterton with the
instinct of a man who has his daily work to do, and can not indulge in
late hours. Poor fellow! Jack thought in his heart. It was hard upon him
to be sacrificed to Mr. Brownlow’s freak and Sara’s vanity. But though
he was himself likely to be a fellow-sufferer, it did not occur to Jack
to intercede for Powys, or even to imagine that now he need not be
sacrificed. Such an idea never entered into his head. Every thing was
quiet in Brownlows when he went home. Mr. Brownlow had been persuaded to
go to his room, and except the weary and reproachful servant who
admitted Jack, there was nobody to be seen. He went up to his own room
in the cold early day-light, passing by the doors of his visitors with a
certain bitterness, and at the same time contempt. He was scornful of
them for their ignorance, for their indifference, for their faculty of
being amused and seeing no deeper. A parcel of fools! he said to
himself; and yet he knew very well they were not fools, and was more
thankful than he could express that their thoughts were directed to
other matters, and that they were as yet unsuspicious of the real state
of affairs. Every body was quite unsuspicious, even the people who
surrounded Pamela. They saw something was amiss, but they had no idea
what it was. Only himself, in short, knew to its full extent the trouble
which had overwhelmed him. Only he knew that it was his hard fate to be
his father’s adversary, and the legal adviser of his betrothed bride;
separated from the one by his opposition, from the other by his
guardianship. He would win the money away from his own flesh and blood,
and he would lose them in doing so; he would win it for his love, and in
the act he would lose Pamela. Neither son nor lover henceforward,
neither happy and prosperous in taking his own will, nor beloved and
cherished in standing by those who belonged to him. He would establish
Pamela’s rights, and secure her in her fortune, but never could he share
that fortune. It was an inexorable fate which had overtaken him. Just as
Brutus, but with no praise for being just; this was to be his destiny.
Jack flung himself listlessly on his bed, and turned his face from the
light. It was a cruel fate.

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