A NEW CONSPIRATOR

“I don’t say as you’re to take my advice,” said Mrs. Swayne. “I’m not
one as puts myself forward to give advice where it ain’t wanted. Ask any
one as knows. You as is church folks, if I was you, I’d send for the
rector; or speak to your friends. There ain’t one living creature with a
morsel of sense as won’t say to you just what I’m saying now.”

“Oh please go away–please go away,” said Pamela, who was standing with
crimson cheeks between Mrs. Preston and her would-be counselor; “don’t
you see mamma is ill?”

“She’ll be a deal worse afore all’s done, if she don’t listen in time;
and you too, Miss Pamela, for all so angry as you are,” said Mrs.
Swayne. “It ain’t nothing to me. If you like it, it don’t do me no harm;
contrairaways, it’s my interest to keep you quiet here, for you’re good
lodgers–I don’t deny it–and ain’t folks as give trouble. But I was
once a pretty lass myself,” she added, with a sigh; “and I knows what it
is.”

Pamela turned with unfeigned amazement and gazed upon the big figure
that stood in the door-way. Once a pretty lass herself! Was this what
pretty lasses came to? Mrs. Swayne, however, did not pause to inquire
what were the thoughts that were passing through the girl’s mind; she
took a step or two farther into the room, nearer the sofa on which Mrs.
Preston lay. She was possessed with that missionary zeal for other
people’s service, that determination to do as much as lay in her power
to keep her neighbors from having their own way, or to make them very
uncomfortable in the enjoyment of the luxury, which is so common a
development of virtue. Her conscience was weighted with her
responsibility: when she had warned them what they were coming to, then
at least she would have delivered her own soul.

“I don’t want to make myself disagreeable,” said Mrs. Swayne; “it ain’t
my way; but, Mrs. Preston, if you go on having folks about, it’s right
you should hear what them as knows thinks of it. I ain’t a-blaming you.
You’ve lived in foreign parts, and you’re that silly about your child
that you can’t a-bear to cross her. I’m one as can make allowance for
that. But I just ask you what can the likes of that young fellow want
here? He don’t come for no good. Poor folks has a deal of things to put
up with in this world, and women folks most of all. I don’t make no
doubt Miss Pamela is pleased to have a gentleman a-dancing after her. I
don’t know one on us as wouldn’t be pleased; but them as has respect
for their character and for their peace o’ mind–”

“Mrs. Swayne, you must not speak like this to me,” said Mrs. Preston,
feebly, from the sofa. “I have a bad headache, and I can’t argue with
you; but you may be sure, though I don’t say much, I know how to take
care of my own child. No, Pamela dear, don’t cry; and you’ll please not
to say another word to me on this subject–not another word, or I shall
have to go away.”

“To go away!” said Mrs. Swayne, crimson with indignation. But this
sudden impulse of self-defense in so mild a creature struck her dumb.
“Go away!–and welcome to!” she added; but her consternation was such
that she could say no more. She stood in the middle of the little dark
parlor, in a partial trance of astonishment. Public opinion itself had
been defied in her person. “When it comes to what it’s sure to come to,
then you’ll remember as I warned you,” she said, and rushed forth from
the room, closing the door with a clang which made poor Mrs. Preston
jump on her sofa. Her visit left a sense of trouble and dismay on both
their minds, for they were not superior women, nor sufficiently
strong-minded to laugh at such a monitor. Pamela threw herself down on
her knees by her mother’s side and cried–not because of Mrs. Swayne,
but because the fright and the novelty overwhelmed her, not to speak of
the lively anger and disgust and impatience of her youth.

“Oh, mamma, if we had only some friends!” said Pamela; “everybody except
us seems to have friends. Had I never any uncles nor any thing? It is
hard to be left just you and me in the world.”

“You had brothers once,” said Mrs. Preston, with a sigh. Then there was
a pause, for poor Pamela knew and could not help knowing that her
brothers, had they been living, would not have improved her position
now. She kept kneeling by her mother’s side, but though there was no
change in her position, her heart went away from her involuntarily–went
away to think that the time perhaps had come when she would never more
want a friend–when somebody would always be at hand to advise her what
to do, and when no such complications could arise. She kept the gravity,
even sadness of her aspect, with the innocent hypocrisy which is
possible at her age; but her little heart went out like a bird into the
sunny world outside. A passing tremor might cross her, ghosts might
glide for a moment across the way, but it was only for a moment, and she
knew they were only ghosts. Her mother was in a very different case.
Mrs. Preston had a headache, partly because of the shock of last night,
partly because a headache was to her, as to so many women, a kind of
little feminine chapel, into which she could retire to gain time when
she had any thing on her mind. The course of individual history stops
when those headaches come on, and the subject of them has a blessed
moment to think. Nothing could be done, nothing could be said, till Mrs.
Preston’s head was better. It was but a small matter had it been
searched to its depths, but it was enough to arrest the wheels of fate.

“Pamela,” she said, after a while, “we must be doubly wise because we
have no friends. I can’t ask any body’s advice, as Mrs. Swayne told me
to do. I am not going to open up our private affairs to strangers: but
we must be wise. I think we must go away.”

“Go away!” said Pamela, looking up with a face of despair–“away! Mamma,
you don’t think of–of–_him_ as she does? _You_ know what he is. Go
away! and perhaps never, never see him again. Oh, mamma!”

“I did not mean that,” said Mrs. Preston; “but we can’t stop here, and
live at his father’s very door, and have him coming under their eyes to
vex them. No, my darling; that would be cruel, and it would not be
wise.”

“Do you think they will mind so very much?” said Pamela, looking
wistfully in her mother’s face. “What should I do if they hated me? Miss
Brownlow, you know–Sara–she always wanted me to call her Sara–she
would never turn against me. I know her too well for that.”

“She has not been here for a long time,” said Mrs. Preston; “you have
not noticed it, but I have, Pamela. She has never come since that day
her father spoke to you. There is a great difference, my darling,
between the sister’s little friend and the brother’s betrothed.”

“Mamma, you seem to know all about those wretched things,” cried Pamela,
impulsively. “Why did you never tell me before? I never, never would
have spoken to him–if I had known.”

“How was _I_ to know, Pamela?” said Mrs. Preston. “It appears you did
not know yourselves. And then, when you told me what Mr. Brownlow said,
I thought I might find you a friend. I think yet, if I could but see
him; but when I spoke last night of seeing Mr. Brownlow, _he_ would not
hear of it. It is very hard to know what to do.”

Then there ensued another pause–a long pause, during which the mother,
engaged with many thoughts, did not look at her child. Pamela, too, was
thinking; she had taken her mother’s long thin hand into her own, and
was smoothing it softly with her soft fingers; her head was bent over
it, her eyes cast down; now and then a sudden heaving, as of a sob about
to come, moved her pretty shoulders. And her voice was very tuneless and
rigid when she spoke. “Mamma,” she said, “speak to me honestly, once for
all. Ought I to give it all up? I don’t mean to say it would be easy. I
never knew a–a–any one before–never any body was like _that_ to me.
You don’t know–oh, you don’t know how he can talk, mamma. And then it
was not like any thing new–it felt natural, as if we had always
belonged to each other. I know it’s no use talking. Tell me, mamma, once
for all, would it really be better for him and–every body, if I were to
give him quite up?”

Pamela held herself upright and rigid as she asked the question. She
held her mother’s hand fast, and kept stroking it in an intermittent
way. When she had finished she gave her an appealing look–a look which
did not ask advice. It was not advice she wanted, poor child: she wanted
to be told to do what she longed to do–to be assured that that was the
best; therefore she looked not like a creature wavering between two
opinions, but like a culprit at the bar, awaiting her sentence. As for
Mrs. Preston, she only shook her head.

“It would not do any good,” she said. “You might give him up over and
over, but you would never get him to give you up, Pamela. He is that
sort of a young man; he would not have taken a refusal from me. It would
be of no use, my dear.”

“Are you sure?–are you quite sure?” cried Pamela, throwing her arms
round her mother’s neck, and giving her a shower of kisses. “Oh you
dear, dear mamma. Are you sure, you are quite sure?”

“You are kissing me for his sake,” said Mrs. Preston, with a little
pang; and then she smiled at herself. “I never was jealous before,” she
said. “I don’t mean to be jealous. No, he will never give in, Pamela; we
shall have to make the best of it; and perhaps,” she continued, after a
pause, “perhaps this was the friend I was always praying for to take
care of my child before I die.”

“Oh, mamma,” said Pamela, “how can you talk of dying at such a time as
this? when, perhaps, we’re going to have–every thing we want in the
world; when, perhaps, we are going to be–as happy as the day is long!”
she said, once more kissing the worn old face which lay turned toward
her, in a kind of sweet enthusiasm. The one looked so young and the
other so old; the one so sure of life and happiness, the other so nearly
done with both. Mrs. Preston took the kiss and the clasp, and smiled at
her radiant child; and then she closed her eyes, and retreated into her
headache. _She_ was not going to have every thing she wanted in the
world, or to be as happy as the day was long; so she retreated and took
to her handy domestic little malady. The child could not conceive that
there were still a thousand things to be thought over, and difficulties
without number to be overcome.

As for Pamela, she sprang to her feet lightly, and went off to make the
precious cup of tea which is good for every feminine trouble. As she
went she fell into song, not knowing it. She was as near dancing as
decorum would permit. She went into the kitchen where Mr. Swayne was,
and cheered him up more effectually than if he had been well for a week.
She made him laugh, though he was in low spirits. She promised him that
he should be quite well in three months. “Ready to dance if there was
any thing to dance at,” was what Pamela said.

“At your wedding, Miss Pamela,” said poor Swayne, with his shrill little
chuckle. And Pamela too laughed with a laugh that was like a song. She
stood by the fire while the kettle boiled, with the fire-light
glimmering in her pretty eyes, and reddening her white forehead under
the rings of her hair. Should she have to boil the kettle, to spread the
homely table for _him_? or would he take her to Brownlows, or some other
such house, and make her a great little lady like Sara? On the whole
Pamela thought she would like the first best. She made the tea before
the bright fire in such perfection as it never was made at Brownlows,
and poured it out hot and fragrant, like one who knew what she was
about. But the tea was not so great a cordial as the sight of her own
face. She had come clear out of all her perplexities. There was no
longer even a call upon that anxious faculty for self-sacrifice which
belongs to youth. In short, self-sacrifice would do no good–the idol
would simply decline to receive the costly offering. It was in his
hands, and nothing that she could do would make any difference. Perhaps,
if Pamela had been a self-asserting young woman, her pride would have
suffered from this thought; but she was only a little girl of seventeen,
and it made her as light as a bird. No dreadful responsibility rested on
her soft shoulders–no awful question of what was best remained for her
to consider. What use could there be in giving up when he would not be
given up? What end would it serve to refuse a man who would not take a
refusal? She had made her tragic little effort in all sincerity, and it
had come to the sweetest and most complete failure. And now her part had
been done, and no farther perplexity could overwhelm her. So she
thought, flitting out and in upon a hundred errands, and thinking
tenderly in her heart that her mother’s headache and serious looks and
grave way of looking at every thing was not so much because there was
any thing serious in the emergency, as because the dear mother was
old–a fault of nature, not of circumstances, to be mended by love and
smiles, and all manner of tender services on the part of the happy
creature who was young.

When Mrs. Swayne left the parlor in the manner which we have already
related, she rushed out, partly to be relieved of her wrath, partly to
pour her prophecies of evil into the ears of the other Cassandra on the
other side of the road, old Betty of the Gates. The old woman was
sitting before her fire when her neighbor went in upon her. To be sure
it was summer, but Betty’s fire was eternal, and burned without
intermission on the sacred hearth. She was mending one of her gowns, and
had a whole bundle of bits of colored print–“patches,” for which some
of the little girls in Miss Brownlow’s school would have given their
ears–spread out upon the table before her. Bits of all Betty’s old
gowns were there. It was a parti-colored historical record of her life,
from the gay calicoes of her youth down to the sober browns and olives
of declining years. With such a gay centre the little room looked very
bright. There was a geranium in the window, ruby and emerald. There were
all manner of pretty confused cross-lights from the open door and the
latticed window in the other corner and the bright fire; and the little
old face in its white cap was as brown and as red as a winter apple.
Mrs. Swayne was a different sort of person. She came in, filling the
room with shadows, and put herself away in a big elbow-chair, with blue
and white cushions, which was Betty’s winter throne, but now stood
pushed into a corner out of reach of the fire. She uttered a sigh which
blew away some of the patches on the table, and swayed the ruby blossoms
of the big geranium. “Well,” she said, “I’ve done my best–I can say
I’ve done my best. If the worst comes to the worst, there’s none as can
blame me.”

“What is it?–what is it, Mrs. Swayne?” said Betty, eagerly, dropping
her work, “though I’ve something as tells me it’s about that poor child
and our Mr. John.”

“I wash my hands of them,” said the visitor, doing so in a moist and
demonstrative way. “I’ve done all as an honest woman can do. Speak o’
mothers!–mothers is a pack o’ fools. I’d think o’ that child’s
interest if it was me. I’d think what was best for her character, and
for keeping her out o’ mischief. As for cryin’, and that sort, they all
cry–it don’t do them no harm. If you or me had set our hearts on
marryin’ the first gentleman as ever was civil, what would ha’ become of
us? Oh the fools as some folks is! It’s enough to send a woman with a
bit of sense out o’ her mind.”

“Marryin’?” said Betty, with a little shriek; “you don’t mean to say as
they’ve gone as far as that.”

“If they don’t go farther afore all’s done, it’ll be a wonder to me,”
said Mrs. Swayne; “things is always like that. I don’t mean to take no
particular credit to myself; but if she had been mine, I’d have done my
best for her–that’s one thing as I can say. She’d not have got into no
trouble if she had been mine. I’d have watched her night and day. _I_
know what the gentlemen is. But that’s allays the way with Providence. A
woman like me as has a bit of experience has none to be the better of
it; and the likes of an old stupid as don’t know her right hand from her
left, it’s her as has the children. I’d have settled all that different
if it had been me. Last night as ever was, I found the two in the open
road–in the road, I give you my word. It’s over all the parish by this,
as sure as sure; and after that what does my gentleman do but come to
the house as bold as brass. It turns a body sick–that’s what it does;
but you might as well preach to a stone wall as make ’em hear reason;
and that’s what you call a mother! much a poor girl’s the better of a
mother like that.”

“All mothers is not the same,” said Betty, who held that rank herself.
“For one as don’t know her duty, there’s dozens and dozens–”

“Don’t speak to me,” said Mrs. Swayne, “I know ’em–as stuck up as if it
was any virtue in them, and a shuttin’ their ears to every one as gives
them good advice. Oh, if that girl was but mine! I’d keep her as snug as
if she was in a box, I would. Ne’er a gentleman should get a chance of
so much as a look at her. It’s ten times worse when a girl is pretty;
but, thank heaven, I know what the gentlemen is.”

“But if he comed to the house, he must have made some excuse,” said
Betty. “_I_ see him. He come by himself, as if it was to see your good
gentleman, Mrs. Swayne. Knowing as Miss Pamela was out, I don’t deny as
that was my thought. And he must have made some excuse.”

“Oh, they find excuses ready enough–don’t you be afeard,” said Mrs.
Swayne; “they’re plenty ready with their tongues, and don’t stick at
what they promise neither. It’s all as innocent as innocent if you was
to believe them; and them as believes comes to their ruin. I tell you
it’s their ruin–that and no less; but I may speak till I’m hoarse,”
said Cassandra, with melancholy emphasis–“nobody pays no attention to
me.”

“You must have knowed a deal of them to be so earnest,” said old Betty,
with the deepest interest in her eyes.

“I was a pretty lass mysel’,” said Mrs. Swayne; and then she paused;
“but you’re not to think as I ever give in to them. I wasn’t that sort;
and I had folks as looked after me. I don’t say as Swayne is much to
look at, after all as was in my power; but if Miss Pamela don’t mind,
she’ll be real thankful afore she’s half my age to take up with a deal
worse than Swayne; and that’s my last word, if I was never to draw a
breath more.”

“Husht!” said Betty. “Don’t take on like that. There’s somebody
a-coming. Husht! It’s just like as if it was a child of your own.”

“And so I feel,” said Mrs. Swayne; “worse luck for her, poor lass. If
she was mine–”

“Husht!” said Betty again; and then the approaching steps which they had
heard for the last minute reached the threshold, and a woman presented
herself at the door. She was not a woman that either of them knew. She
was old, very tall, very thin, and very dusty with walking. “I’m most
dead with tiredness. May I come in and rest a bit?” she said. She had a
pair of keen black eyes, which gleamed out below her poke bonnet, and
took in every thing, and did not look excessively tired; but her scanty
black gown was white with dust. Old Betty, for her own part, did not
admire the stranger’s looks, but she consented to let her come in,
“manners” forbidding any inhospitality, and placed her a chair as near
as possible to the door.

“I come like a stranger,” said the woman, “but I’m not to call a
stranger neither. I’m Nancy as lives with old Mrs. Fennell, them young
folks’ grandmamma. I had summat to do nigh here, and I thought as I’d
like to see the place. It’s a fine place for one as was nothing but an
attorney once. I allays wonder if they’re good folks to live under, such
folks as these.”

“So you’re Nancy!” said the old woman of the lodge. “I’ve heard tell of
you. I heard of you along of Stevens as you recommended here. I haven’t
got nothing to say against the masters; they’re well and well enough;
Miss Sara, she’s hasty, but she’s a good heart.”

“She don’t show it to her own flesh and blood,” said Nancy,
significantly. “Is this lady one as lives about here?”

Then it was explained to the stranger who Mrs. Swayne was. “Mr. Swayne
built them cottages,” said Betty; “they’re his own, and as nice a
well-furnished house and as comfortable; and his good lady ain’t one of
them that wastes or wants. She has a lodger in the front parlor, and
keeps ’em as nice as it’s a picture to see, and as respected in the
whole parish–”

“Don’t you go on a-praising me before my face,” said Mrs. Swayne,
modestly; “we’re folks as are neither rich nor poor, and can give our
neighbors a hand by times and times. You’re a stranger, as is well seen,
or you wouldn’t be cur’ous about Swayne and me.”

“I’m a stranger sure enough,” said Nancy. “We’re poor relations, that’s
what we are; and the likes of us is not wanted here. If I was them I’d
take more notice o’ my own flesh and blood, and one as can serve them
yet, like _she_ can. It ain’t what you call a desirable place,” said
Nancy; “she’s awful aggravating sometimes, like the most of old women;
but all the same they’re her children’s children, and I’d allays let
that count if it was me.”

“That’s old Mrs. Fennell?” said Betty; “she never was here as I can
think on but once. Miss Sara isn’t one that can stand being interfered
with; but they sends her an immensity of game, and vegetables, and
flowers, and such things, and I’ve always heard as the master gives her
an allowance. I don’t see as she’s any reason to complain.”

“A woman as knows as much as she does,” said Nancy, solemnly, “she ought
to be better looked to;” and then she changed her tone. “I’ve walked all
this long way, and I have got to get back again, and she’ll be as cross
as cross if I’m long. And I don’t suppose there’s no omnibus or nothing
going my way. If it was but a cart–”

“There’s a carrier’s cart,” said Betty; “but Mrs. Swayne could tell you
most about that. Her two lodgers come in it, and Mrs. Preston, that time
she had something to do in Masterton–”

“Who is Mrs. Preston?” said Nancy quickly. “I’ve heard o’ that name. And
I’ve heard in Masterton of some one as came in the carrier’s cart. If I
might make so bold, who is she? Is she your lodger? I once knew some
folks of that name in my young days, and I’d like to hear.”

“Oh yes, she’s my lodger,” said Mrs. Swayne, “and a terrible trouble to
me. I’d just been a-grumbling to Betty when you came in. She and that
poor thing Pamela, they lay on my mind so heavy, I don’t know what to
do. You might give old Mrs. Fennell a hint to speak to Mr. John. He’s
a-running after that girl, he is, till it turns one sick; and a poor
silly woman of a mother as won’t see no harm in it. If the old lady was
to hear in a sort of a side way like, she might give Mr. John a talking
to. Not as I have much confidence in his mending. Gentlemen never does.”

“Oh,” said Nancy, with a strange gleam of her dark eyes, “so she’s got a
daughter! and it was her as came into Masterton in the carrier’s cart? I
just wanted to know. May be you could tell me what kind of a looking
woman she was. There was one as I knew once in my young days–”

“She ain’t unlike yourself,” said Mrs. Swayne, with greater brevity than
usual; and she turned and began to investigate Nancy with a closeness
for which she was not prepared. Another gleam shot from the stranger’s
black eyes as she listened. It even brought a tinge of color to her gray
cheek, and though she restrained herself with the utmost care, there was
unquestionably a certain excitement in her. Mrs. Swayne’s eyes were
keen, but they were not used to read mysteries. A certain sense of
something to find out oppressed her senses; but, notwithstanding her
curiosity, she had not an idea what secret there could be.

“If it’s the same person, it’s years and years since I saw her last,”
said Nancy; “and so she’s got a daughter! I shouldn’t think it could be
a very young daughter if it’s hers; she should be as old as me. And it
was her as came in to Masterton in the carrier’s cart! Well, well! what
droll things does happen to be sure.”

“I don’t know what’s droll about that,” said Mrs. Swayne; “but I don’t
know nought about her. She’s always been quiet and genteel as a
lodger–always till this business came on about Mr. John. But I’d be
glad to know where her friends was, if she’s got any friends. She’s as
old as you, or older, and not to say any thing as is unpleasant–it’s an
awful thing to think of–what if folks should go and die in your house,
and you not know their friends?”

“If it’s that you’re thinking of, she’s got no friends,” said Nancy,
with a vehemence that seemed unnatural and uncalled-for to her
companions–“none as I know of nowheres–but may be me. And it isn’t
much as I could do. She’s a woman as has been awful plundered and
wronged in her time. Mr. John! oh, I’d just like to hear what it is
about Mr. John. If that was to come after all, I tell you it would call
down fire from heaven.”

“Goodness gracious me!” said Mrs. Swayne, “what does the woman mean?”
And Betty too uttered a quavering exclamation, and they both drew their
chairs closer to the separated seat, quite apart from the daïs of
intimacy and friendship, upon which the dusty stranger had been
permitted to rest.

Nancy, however, had recollected herself. “Mean?” she said, with a look
of innocence; “oh, I didn’t mean nothing; but that I’ve a kind of
spite–I don’t deny it–at them grand Brownlows, that don’t take no
notice to speak of their own flesh and blood. That’s all as I mean. I
ain’t got no time to-day, but if you’ll say as Nancy Christian sends her
compliments and wants badly to see Mrs. Preston, and is coming soon
again, I’ll be as obliged as ever I can be. If it’s her, she’ll think on
who Nancy Christian was; and if it ain’t her, it don’t make much
matter,” she continued, with a sigh. She said these last words very
slowly, looking at neither of her companions, fixing her eyes upon the
door of Swayne’s cottage, at which Pamela had appeared. The sun came in
at Betty’s door and dazzled the stranger’s eyes, and it was not easy for
her at first to see Pamela, who stood in the shade. The girl had looked
out for no particular reason, only because she was passing that way; and
as she stood giving a glance up and a glance down the road–a glance
which was not wistful, but full of a sweet confidence–Nancy kept
staring at her, blinking her eyes to escape the sunshine. “Is that the
girl?” she said, a little hoarsely. And then all the three looked out
and gazed at Pamela in her tender beauty. Pamela saw them also. It did
not occur to her whose the third head might be, nor did she care very
much. She felt sure they were discussing her, shaking their heads over
her imprudence; but Pamela at the moment was too happy to be angry. She
said, “Poor old things,” to herself. They were poor old things; they had
not the blood dancing in their veins as she had; they had not light
little feet that flew over the paths, nor light hearts that leaped in
their breasts, poor old souls. She waved her hand to them half kindly,
half saucily, and disappeared again like a living bit of sunshine into
the house which lay so obstinately in the shade. As for Nancy, she was
moved in some wonderful way by this sight. She trembled when the girl
made that half-mocking, half-sweet salutation; the tears came to her
eyes. “She could never have a child so young,” she muttered half to
herself, and then gazed and gazed as if she had seen a ghost. When
Pamela disappeared she rose up and shook the dust, not from her feet,
but from her skirts, outside old Betty’s door. “I’ve only a minute,”
said Nancy, “but if I could set eyes on the mother I could tell if it
was her I used to know.”

“I left her lyin’ down wi’ a bad headache,” said Mrs. Swayne. “If you
like you can go and take a look through the parlor window; or I’ll ask
if she’s better. Them sort of folks that have little to do gets
headaches terrible easy. Of an afternoon when their dinner’s over, what
has the likes of them to take up their time? They takes a sleep on my
sofa, or they takes a walk, and a headache comes natural-like when folks
has all that time on their hands. Come across and look in at the window.
It’s low, and if your eyes are good you can just see her where she
lays.”

Nancy followed her new companion across the road. As she went out of the
gates she gave a glance up through the avenue, and made as though she
would have shaken her fist at the great house. “If you but knew!” Nancy
said to herself. But they did not know, and the sunshine lay as
peacefully across the pretty stretch of road as if there had been no
dangers there. The old woman crossed over to Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, and
went into the little square of garden where Pamela sometimes watered the
flowers. Nancy stooped over the one monthly rose and plucked a bit of
the homely lads’-love in the corner which flourished best of all, and
then she drew very close to the window and looked in. It was an alarming
sight to the people within. Mrs. Preston had got a second cup of tea,
and raised herself up on her pillow to swallow it, when all at once this
gray visage, not unlike her own, surrounded with black much like her own
dress, looked in upon her, a stranger, and yet somehow wearing a
half-familiar aspect. As for Pamela, there was something awful to her in
the vision. She turned round to her mother in a fright to compare the
two faces. She was not consciously superstitious, but yet dim thoughts
of a wraith, a double, a solemn messenger of doom, were in her mind. She
had heard of such things. “Go and see who it is,” said Mrs. Preston; and
Pamela rushed out, not feeling sure that the strange apparition might
not have vanished. But it had not vanished. Nancy stood at the door, and
when she was looked into in the open day-light she was not so dreadfully
like Mrs. Preston’s wraith.

“Good-day, miss,” said Nancy; “I thought as may be I might have had a
few words with your mother. If she’s the person I take her for, I used
to know her long, long ago; and I’ve a deal that’s very serious to say.”

“You frightened us dreadfully looking in at the window,” said Pamela.
“And mamma has such a bad headache; she has been a good deal–worried.
Would you mind coming back another time?–or is it any thing I can say?”

“There’s something coming down the road,” said Nancy; “and I am tired
and I can’t walk back. If it’s the carrier I’ll have to go, miss. And I
can’t say the half nor the quarter to you. Is it the carrier? Then I’ll
have to go. Tell her it was one as knew her when we was both young–knew
her right well, and all her ways–knew her mother. And I’ve a deal to
say; and my name’s Nancy Christian, if she should ask. If she’s the
woman I take her for, she’ll know my name.”

“And you’ll come back?–will you be sure to come back?” asked Pamela,
carelessly, yet with a girl’s eagerness for every thing like change and
news. The cart had stopped by this time, and Mrs. Swayne had brought
forth a chair to aid the stranger in her ascent. The place was roused by
the event. Old Betty stood at her cottage, and Swayne had hobbled out
from the kitchen, and even Mrs. Preston, forgetting the headache, had
stolen to the window, and peeped out through the small Venetian blind
which covered the lower part of it to look at and wonder who the figure
belonged to which had so strange a likeness to herself. Amid all these
spectators Nancy mounted, slowly shaking out once more the dust from her
skirts.

“I’ll be late, and she’ll give me an awful talking to,” she said. “No; I
can’t stop to-day. But I’ll come again–oh yes, I’ll come again.” She
kept looking back as long as she was in sight, peeping round the hood of
the wagon, searching them through and through with her anxious gaze;
while all the bystanders looked on surprised. What had she to do with
them? And then her looks, and her dress, and her black eager eyes, were
so like Mrs. Preston’s. Her face bore a very doubtful, uncertain look as
she was thus borne solemnly away. “I couldn’t know her after such a long
time; and I don’t see as she could have had a child so young,” was what
Nancy was saying to herself, shaking her head, and then reassuring
herself. This visit made a sensation which almost diverted public
attention from Mr. John; and when Nancy’s message was repeated to Mrs.
Preston, it was received with an immediate recognition which increased
the excitement. “Nancy Christian!” Mrs. Preston repeated all the evening
long. She could think of nothing else. It made her head so much worse
that she had to go to bed, where Pamela watched her to the exclusion of
every other interest. This was Nancy’s first visit. She did not mean,
even had she had time, to proceed to any thing more important that day.