DESPAIR

It was nearly two hours after this when Jack Brownlow met Powys at the
gate. It was a moonlight night, and the white illumination which fell
upon the departing visitor perhaps increased the look of excitement and
desperation which might have been apparent even to the most indifferent
passer-by. He had been walking very quickly down the avenue; his boots
and his dress gleamed in the moonlight as if he had been burying himself
among the wet grass and bushes in the park. His hat was over his brows,
his face haggard and ghastly. No doubt it was partly the effect of the
wan and ghostly moonlight, but still there must have been something more
in it, or Jack, who loved him little, would not have stopped as he did
to see what was the matter. Jack was all the more bent upon stopping
that he could see Powys did not wish it, and all sorts of hopes and
suspicions sprang up in his mind. His father had dismissed the intruder,
or he had so far forgotten himself as to betray his feelings to Sara,
and she had dismissed him. Once more curiosity came in Powys’s way. Jack
was so resolute to find out what it was, that, for the first time in his
life, he was friendly to his father’s clerk. “Are you walking?” he said;
“I’ll go with you a little way. It is a lovely night.”

“Yes,” said Powys; and he restrained his headlong course a little. It
was all he could do–that, and to resist the impulse to knock Jack down
and be rid of him. It might not have been so very easy, for the two were
tolerably well matched; but poor Powys was trembling with the force of
passion, and would have been glad of any opportunity to relieve himself
either in the way of love or hatred. Nothing of this description,
however, seemed practicable to him. The two young men walked down the
road together, keeping a little apart, young, strong, tall, full of
vigor, and with a certain likeness in right of their youth and strength.
There should even have been the sympathy between them which draws like
to like. And yet how unlike they were! Jack had taken his fate in his
hand, and was contemplating with a cheerful daring, which was half
ignorance, a descent to the position in which his companion stood. It
would be sweetened in his case by all the ameliorations possible, or so
at least he thought; and, after all, what did it matter? Whereas Powys
was smarting under the miserable sense of having been placed in a false
position in addition to all the pangs of unhappy love, and of having
betrayed himself and the confidence put in him, and sacrificed his
honor, and cut himself off forever from the delight which still might
have been his. All these pains and troubles were struggling together
within him. He would have felt more keenly still the betrayal of the
trust his employer had placed in him, had he not felt bitterly that Mr.
Brownlow had subjected him to temptations which it was not in flesh and
blood to bear. Thus every kind of smart was accumulated within the poor
young fellow’s spirit–the sense of guilt, the sense of being hardly
used, the consciousness of having shut himself out from paradise, the
knowledge, beyond all, that his love was hopeless and all the light gone
out of his life. It may be supposed how little inclination he had to
enter into light conversation, or to satisfy the curiosity of Jack.

They walked on together in complete silence for some minutes, their
footsteps ringing in harmony along the level road, but their minds and
feelings as much out of harmony as could be conceived. Jack was the
first to speak. “It’s pleasant walking to-night,” he said, feeling more
conciliatory than he could have thought possible; “how long do you allow
yourself from here to Masterton? It is a good even road.”

“Half an hour,” said Powys, carelessly.

“Half an hour! that’s quick work,” said Jack. “I don’t think you’ll
manage that to night. I have known that mare of mine do it in twenty
minutes; but I don’t think you could match her pace.”

“She goes very well,” said the Canadian, with a moderation which nettled
Jack.

“Very well! I never saw any thing go like her,” he said–“that is, with
a cart behind her. What kind of cattle have you in Canada? I suppose
there’s good sport there of one kind or another. Shouldn’t you like to
go back?”

“I _am_ going back,” said Powys. He said it in the depth of his despair,
and it startled himself as soon as it was said. Go back? yes! that was
the only thing to do–but how?

“Really?” said Jack with surprise and no small relief, and then a
certain human sentiment awoke within him. “I hope you haven’t had a row
with the governor?” he said; “it always seemed to me he had too great a
fancy for you. I beg your pardon for saying so just now, especially if
you’re vexed; but look here–I’m not much of a one for a peace-maker;
but if you don’t mind telling me what it’s about–”

“I have had no row with Mr. Brownlow; it is worse than that,” said
Powys; “it is past talking of; I have been both an ass and a knave, and
there’s nothing for me but to take myself out of every body’s way.”

Once more Jack looked at him in the moonlight, and saw that quick heave
of his breast which betrayed the effort he was making to keep himself
down, and a certain spasmodic quiver in his lip.

“I wouldn’t be too hasty if I were you,” he said. “I don’t think you can
have been a knave. We’re all of us ready enough to make fools of
ourselves,” the young philosopher added, with a touch of fellow-feeling.
“You and I haven’t been over-good friends, you know, but you might as
well tell me what it’s all about.”

“You were quite right,” said Powys, hastily. “I ought never to have come
up here. And it was not my doing. It was a false position all along. A
man oughtn’t to be tempted beyond his strength. Of course I have nobody
to blame but myself. I don’t suppose I would be a knave about money or
any thing of that sort. But it’s past talking of; and besides I could
not, even if it were any good, make a confidant of you.”

It was not difficult for Jack to divine what this despair meant, and he
was touched by the delicacy which would not name his sister’s name. “I
lay a hundred pounds it’s Sara’s fault,” he said to himself. But he gave
no expression to the sentiment. And of course it was utterly beyond
hope, and the young fellow in Powys’s position who should yield to such
a temptation must indeed have made an ass of himself. But in the
circumstances Jack was not affronted at the want of confidence in
himself.

“I don’t want to pry into your affairs,” he said. “I don’t like it
myself; but I would not do any thing hastily if I were you. A man mayn’t
be happy, but, so far as I can see, he must live all the same.”

“Yes, that’s the worst,” said Powys; “a fellow can’t give in and get
done with it. Talk is no good; but I shall have to go. I shall speak to
your father to-morrow, and then–Good-night. Don’t come any farther.
I’ve been all about the place to say good-bye. I am glad to have had
this talk with you first. Good-night.”

“Good-night,” said Jack, grasping the hand of his fellow. Their hands
had never met in the way of friendship before. Now they clasped each
other warmly, closely, with an instinctive sympathy. Powys’s mind was so
excited with other things, so full of supreme emotion, that this
occurrence, though startling enough, did not have much effect upon him.
But it made a very different impression upon Jack, who was full of
surprise and compunction, and turned, after he had made a few steps in
the direction of Brownlows, with a reluctant idea of “doing something”
for the young fellow who was so much less lucky than himself. It was a
reluctant idea, for he was prejudiced, and did not like to give up his
prejudices, and at the same time he was generous, and could not but feel
for a brother in misfortune. But Powys was already far on his way, out
of hearing, and almost out of sight. “He will do it in the half-hour,”
Jack said to himself, with admiration. “By Jove! how the fellow goes!
and I’ll lay you any thing it’s all Sara’s fault.” He was very hard upon
Sara in the revulsion of his feelings. Of course she could have done
nothing but send her presumptuous admirer away. But, then, had she not
led him on and encouraged him? “The little flirt!” Jack said to himself;
and just then he was passing Swayne’s cottage, which lay in the deep
blackness of the shadow made by the moonlight. He looked up tenderly at
the light that burned in the upper window. He had grown foolish about
that faint little light, as was only natural. There was one who was no
flirt, who never would have tempted any man and drawn him on to the
breaking of his heart. From the height of his own good fortune Jack
looked down upon poor Powys speeding along with despair in his soul
along the Masterton road. Something of that soft remorse which is the
purest bloom of personal happiness softened his thoughts. Poor Powys!
And there was nothing that could be done for him. He could not compel
his fate as Jack himself could do. For him there was nothing in store
but the relinquishment of all hope, the giving up of all dreams. The
thought made Jack feel almost guilty in his own independence and
well-being. Perhaps he could yet do or say something that would smooth
the other’s downfall–persuade him to remain at least at Masterton,
where he need never come in the way of the little witch who had beguiled
him, and afford him his own protection and friendship instead. As Jack
thought of the little house that he himself, separated from Brownlows
and its comforts, was about to set up at Masterton, his benevolence
toward Powys grew still stronger. He was a fellow with whom a man could
associate on emergency; and no doubt this was all Sara’s fault. He went
home to Brownlows disposed to stand Powys’s friend if there was any
question of him. But when Jack reached home there was no question of
Powys. On the whole it was not a cheerful house into which he entered.
Lights were burning vacantly in the drawing-room, but there was nobody
there. Lights were burning dimly down stairs. It looked like a deserted
place as he went up and down the great staircase, and through the silent
rooms, and found nobody. Mr. Brownlow himself was in the library with
the door shut, where, in the present complexion of affairs, Jack did not
care to disturb him; and Miss Sara had gone to bed with a headache, he
was told, when, after searching for her everywhere, he condescended to
inquire. Sara was not given to headaches, and the intimation startled
her brother. And he went and sat in the drawing-room alone, and stared
at the lights, and contrasted this solitary grandeur with the small
house whose image was in his mind. The little cozy, tiny, sunshiny
place, where one little bright face would always smile; where there
would always be some one ready to listen, ready to be interested, ready
to take a share in every thing. The picture looked very charming to him
after the dreariness of this great room, and Sara gone to bed, and poor
Powys banished and broken-hearted. That was not to be his own fate, and
Jack grew pious and tender in his self-gratulations. After all, poor
Powys was a very good sort of fellow; but as it happened, it was Jack
who had drawn all the prizes of life. He did think at one time of going
down stairs notwithstanding the delicate state of his own relations with
his father, and making such excuses as were practicable for the
unfortunate clerk, who had permitted himself to be led astray in this
foolish manner. “Of course it was a great risk bringing him here at
all,” Jack thought of saying, that Mr. Brownlow might be brought to a
due sense of his own responsibility in the matter; but after long
consideration, he wisely reflected that it would be best to wait until
the first parties to the transaction had pronounced themselves. If Sara
did not mean to say any thing about it, nor Powys, why should he
interfere? upon which conclusion, instead of going down stairs, he went
to bed, thinking again how cheerless it was for each member of the
household to start off like this without a single good-night, and how
different it would be in the new household that was to come.

Sara came to breakfast next morning looking very pale. The color had
quite gone out of her cheeks, and she had done herself up in a warm
velvet jacket, and had the windows closed as soon as she came into the
room. “They never will remember that the summer’s over,” she said, with
a shiver, as she took her place; but she made no farther sign of any
kind. Clearly she had no intention of complaining of her rash lover;–so
little, indeed, that when Mr. Brownlow was about to go away, she held
out a book to him timidly, with a sudden blush. “Mr. Powys forgot to
take this with him last night; would you mind taking it to him, papa?”
she said, very meekly; and as Jack looked at her, Sara blushed redder
and redder. Not that she had any occasion to blush. It might be meant as
an olive-branch or even a pledge of hope; but still it was only a book
that Powys had left behind him. Mr. Brownlow accepted the charge with a
little surprise, and he, too, looked at her so closely that it was all
she could do to restrain a burst of tears.

“Is it such a wonder that I should send back a book when it is left?”
she cried, petulantly. “You need not take it unless you like, papa; it
can always go by the post.”

“I will take it,” said Mr. Brownlow; and Jack sat by rather grimly, and
said nothing. Jack was very variable and uncertain just at that moment
in his own feelings. He had not forgotten the melting of his heart on
the previous night; but if he had seen any tokens of relenting on the
part of his sister toward the presumptuous stranger, Jack would have
again hated Powys. He even observed with suspicion that his father took
little notice of Sara’s agitation; that he shut his eyes to it, as it
were, and took her book, and evaded all farther discussion. Jack himself
was not going to Masterton that day. He had to see that every thing was
in order for the next day, which was the 1st of September. So far had
the season wheeled round imperceptibly while all the variations of this
little domestic drama were ripening to their appointed end.

Jack, however, did not go to inspect his gun, and consult with the
gamekeeper, immediately on his father’s departure. He waited for a few
minutes, while Sara, who had been so cold, rushed to the window, and
threw it open. “There must be thunder in the air–one can scarcely
breathe,” she said. And Jack watched her jealously, and did not lose a
single look.

“You were complaining of cold just now,” he said. “Sara, mind what you
are about. If you think you can play that young Powys at the end of your
line, you’re making a great mistake.”

“Play whom?” cried Sara, blazing up. “You are a nice person to preach to
me! I am playing nobody at the end of my line. I have no line to play
with; and you that are making a fool of that poor little simple
Pamela–”

“Be quiet, will you?” said Jack, furious. “That poor little simple
Pamela, as you call her, is going to be my wife.”

Sara gazed at him for a moment thunderstruck, standing like something
made into stone, with her velvet jacket, which she had just taken off,
in her hands. Then the color fled from her cheeks as quickly as it had
come to them, and her great eyes filled suddenly, like crystal cups,
with big tears. She threw the jacket down out of her hands, and rushed
to her brother’s side, and clasped his arm. “You don’t mean it,
Jack?–do you mean it?” she cried, piteously, gazing up into his face;
and a crowd of different emotions, more than Jack could discriminate or
divine, was in her voice. There was pleasure and there was sorrow, and
sharp envy and pride and regret. She clasped his arm, and looked at him
with a look which said–“How could you?–how dare you?–and, oh, how
lucky you are to be able to do it!”–all in a breath.

“Of course I mean it,” said Jack, a little roughly; but he did not mean
to be rough. “And that is why I tell you it is odious of you, Sara, to
tempt a man to his destruction, when you know you can do nothing for him
but break his heart.”

“Can’t I?” said Sara, dropping away from his arm, with a faint little
moan; and then she turned quickly away, and hid her face in her hands.
Jack, for his part, felt he was bound to improve the occasion, though
his heart smote him. He stood secure on his own pedestal of virtue,
though he did not want her to copy him. Indeed, such virtue in Sara
would have been little short of vice.

“Nothing else,” said Jack, “and yet you creatures do it without ever
thinking of the sufferings you cause. I saw the state that poor fellow
was in when he left you last night; and now you begin again sending him
books! What pleasure can you have in it! It is something inconceivable
to me.”

This Jack uttered with a superiority and sense of goodness so lofty that
Sara’s tears dried up. She turned round in a blaze of indignation, too
much offended to trust herself to answer. “You may be an authority to
Pamela, but you are not an authority to me,” she cried, drawing herself
up to her fullest state. But she did not trust herself to continue the
warfare. The tears were lying too near the surface, and Sara had been
too much shaken by the incident of the previous night. “I am not going
to discuss my own conduct; you can go and talk to Pamela about it,” she
added, pausing an instant at the door of the room before she went out.
It was spiteful, and Jack felt that it was spiteful; but he did not
guess how quickly Sara rushed up stairs after her dignified progress to
the door, nor how she locked herself in, nor what a cry she had in her
own room when she was safe from all profane eyes. She was not thinking
of Pamela, and yet she could have beaten Pamela. _She_ was to be happy,
and have her own way; but as for Sara, it was an understood duty that
the only thing she could do for a man was to break his heart! Her tears
fell down like rain at this thought. Why should Jack be so free and she
so fettered? Why should Pamela be so well off? Thus a sudden and wild
little hail-storm of rage and mortification went over Sara’s head, or
rather heart.

Meanwhile Mr. Brownlow went very steadily to business with the book in
his pocket. He had been a little startled by Sara’s look, but by this
time it was going out of his mind. He was thinking that it was a lovely
morning, and still very warm, though the child was so chilly; and then
he remembered, with a start, that next day was the 1st of September.
Another six weeks, and the time of his probation was over. The thought
sent the blood coursing through his veins, as if he had been a young
man. Every thing had gone on so quietly up to that moment–no farther
alarms–nothing to revive his fears–young Powys lulled to indifference,
if indeed he knew any thing; and the time of liberation so near. But
with that thrill of satisfaction came a corresponding excitement. Now
that the days were numbered, every day was a year in itself. It occurred
to him suddenly to go away somewhere, to take Sara with him and bury
himself in some remote corner of the earth, where nobody could find him
for those fated six weeks; and so make it quite impossible that any
application could reach him. But he dismissed the idea. In his absence
might she not appear, and disclose herself? His own presence somehow
seemed to keep her off, and at arm’s length; but he could not trust
events for a single day if he were gone. And it was only six weeks.
After that, yes, he would go away, he would go to Rome or somewhere, and
take Sara, and recover his calm after that terrible tension. He would
need it, no doubt;–so long as his brain did not give way.

Mr. Brownlow, however, was much startled by the looks of Powys when he
went into the office. He was more haggard than he had ever been in the
days when Mr. Wrinkell was suspicious of him. His hair hung on his
forehead in a limp and drooping fashion–he was pale, and there were
circles round his eyes. Mr. Brownlow had scarcely taken his place in his
own room when the impatient young man came and asked to speak to him.
The request made the lawyer’s hair stand up on his head, but he could
not refuse the petition. “Come in,” he said, faintly. The blood seemed
to go back on his heart in a kind of despair. After all his
anticipations of approaching freedom, was he to be arrested after all,
before the period of emancipation came?

As for Powys, he was too much excited himself to see any thing but the
calmest composure in Mr. Brownlow, who indeed, throughout all his
trials, though they were sharp enough, always looked composed. The young
man even thought his employer methodical and matter of fact to the last
degree. He had put out upon the table before him the book Sara had
intrusted him with. It was a small edition of one of the poets which
poor Powys had taken with him on his last unhappy expedition to
Brownlows; and Mr. Brownlow put his hand on the book, with a constrained
smile, as a school-master might have put his hand on a prize.

“My daughter sent you this, Powys,” he said, “a book which it appears
you left last night; and why did you go away in such a hurry without
letting me know?”

“Miss Brownlow sent it?” said Powys, growing crimson; and for a minute
the poor young fellow was so startled and taken aback that he could not
add another word. He clutched at the book, and gazed at it hungrily, as
if it could tell him something, and then he saw Mr. Brownlow looking at
him with surprise, and his color grew deeper and deeper. “That was what
I came to speak to you about, sir,” he said, hot with excitement and
wretchedness. “You have trusted me, and I am unworthy of your trust. I
don’t mean to excuse myself; but I could not let another day go over
without telling you. I have behaved like an idiot–and a villain–”

“Stop, stop!” said Mr. Brownlow. “What is all this about? Don’t be
excited. I don’t believe you have behaved like a villain. Take time and
compose yourself, and tell me what it is.”

“It is that you took me into your house, sir, and trusted me,” said
Powys, “and I have betrayed your trust. I must mention her name. I saw
your daughter too often–too much. I should have had the honor and
honesty to tell you before I betrayed myself. But I did not mean to
betray myself. I miscalculated my strength; and in a moment, when I was
not thinking, it gave way. Don’t think I have gone on with it,” he
added, looking beseechingly at his employer, who sat silent, not so much
as lifting his eyes. “It was only last night–and I am ready at the
moment, if you wish it, to go away.”

Mr. Brownlow sat at his table and made no reply. Oh, those hasty young
creatures, who precipitated every thing! It was, in a kind of way, the
result of his own scheming, and yet his heart revolted at it, and in six
weeks’ time he would be free from all such necessity. What was he to do?
He sat silent, utterly confounded and struck dumb–not with surprise and
horror, as his young companion in the fullness of his compunction
believed, but with confusion and uncertainty as to what he ought to say
and do. He could not offend and affront the young man on whose quietness
and unawakened thoughts so much depended. He could not send Powys away,
to fall probably into the hands of other advisers, and rise up against
himself. Yet could he pledge himself, and risk Sara’s life, when so
short a time might set him free? All this rushed through his mind while
he sat still in the same attitude in which he had listened to the young
fellow’s story. All this pondering had to be done in a moment, for Powys
was standing beside him in all the vehemence of passion, thinking every
minute an hour, and waiting for his answer. Indeed he expected no
answer. Yet something there was that must be said, and which Mr.
Brownlow did not know how to say.

“You betrayed yourself?” he said, at last; “that means, you spoke. And
what did Sara say?”

The color on Powys’s face flushed deeper and deeper. He gave one wild,
half-frantic look of inquiry at his questioner. There was nothing in the
words, but in the calm of the tone, in the naming of his daughter’s
name, there was something that looked like a desperate glimmer of hope;
and this unexpected light flashed upon the young man all of a sudden,
and made him nearly mad. “She said nothing,” he answered, breathlessly.
“I was not so dishonorable as to ask for any answer. What answer was
possible? It was forced out of me, and I rushed away.”

Mr. Brownlow pushed his chair away from the table. He got up and went to
the window, and stood and looked out, he could not have told why. There
was nothing there that could help him in what he had to say. There was
nothing but two children standing in the dusty road, and a pale, swarthy
organ-grinder, with two big eyes, playing “_Ah, che la morte_” outside.
Mr. Brownlow always remembered the air, and so did Powys, standing
behind, with his heart beating loud, and feeling that the next words he
should listen to might convey life or death.

“If she has said nothing,” said Mr. Brownlow at last from the window,
speaking with his back turned, “perhaps it will be as well for me to
follow her example.” When he said this he returned slowly to his seat,
and took his chair without ever looking at the culprit before him. “Of
course you were wrong,” he added; “but you are young. You ought not to
have been placed in such temptation. Go back to your work, Mr. Powys. It
was a youthful indiscretion; and I am not one of those who reject an
honorable apology. We will forget it for ever–we, and every body
concerned–”

“But, sir–” cried Powys.

“No more,” said Mr. Brownlow. “Let by-gones be by-gones. You need not go
up to Brownlows again till this occurrence has been forgotten. I told
you Sara had sent you the book you left. It has been an unfortunate
accident, but no more than an accident, I hope. Go back to your work,
and forget it. Don’t do any thing rash. I accept your apology. Such a
thing might have happened to the best of us. But you will be warned by
it, and do not err again. Go back to your work.”

“Then I am not to leave you?” said Powys, sorely tossed between hope and
despair, thinking one moment that he was cruelly treated, and the next
overwhelmed by the favor shown him. He looked so wistfully at his
employer, that Mr. Brownlow, who saw him though he was not looking at
him, had hard ado not to give him a little encouragement with his eyes.

“If you can assure me this will not be repeated, I see no need for your
leaving,” said Mr. Brownlow. “You know I wish you well, Powys. I am
content that it should be as if it had never been.”

The young man did not know what to say. The tumult in his mind had not
subsided. He was in the kind of condition to which every thing which is
not despair is hope. He was wild with wonder, bewilderment, confusion.
He made some incoherent answer, and the next moment he found himself
again at his desk, dizzy like a man who has fallen from some great
height, yet feels himself unhurt upon solid ground after all. What was
to come of it all? And Sara had sent him his book. Sara? Never in his
wildest thoughts had he ventured to call her Sara before. He did not do
it wittingly now. He was in a kind of trance of giddiness and
bewilderment. Was it all real, or had it happened in a dream?

Meanwhile Mr. Brownlow too sat and pondered this new development. What
was it all to come to? He seemed to other people to be the arbiter of
events; but that was what he himself asked, in a kind of consternation,
of time and fate.