COMPOUND INTEREST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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