A DOUBLE HUMILIATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And then?” said Mr. Brownlow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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