AN IMPOSTOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“C. I. POWYS.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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