HOW A MAN CAN DO WHAT HE LIKES WITH HIS OWN

It was not for some days that the clerks in Mr. Brownlow’s office found
out the enormity of which their employer had been guilty–which was
almost unfortunate, for he gave them full credit for their disapproval
all the time. As it was, Mr. Wrinkell embodied within his own person all
the disapprobation on a grand scale. It was not that he disapproved of
Powys’s advancement. Without being overwhelmingly clever or fascinating,
the young Canadian was one of those open-hearted open-eyed souls who
find favor with most good people. There was no malice nor envy nor
uncharitableness about him; he was ready to acknowledge every body’s
good qualities, ready to appreciate whatever kindness might be offered
to him, open to see all that was noble or pleasant or of good
report–which is the quality of all others most generally wanting in a
limited community, from an office up to–even a University. Mr. Wrinkell
was a head clerk and a Dissenter, and not a tolerant man to speak of,
but he liked the more generous breadth of nature without very well
knowing why; and he was glad in his heart that the young fellow had “got
on.” But still, for all that, he disapproved–not of Powys, but of Mr.
Brownlow. It was caprice, and caprice was not to be supported–or it was
from consideration of capability, apart from all question of standing in
the office, which was, it must be allowed, more insupportable still. Mr.
Wrinkell reflected that he had himself been nearly forty years in the
employment of the Brownlows of Masterton without once having his salary
doubled. And he felt that if such a dangerous precedent were once
established, the consequences might be tremendous. Such a boy, for
example, if he but happened to be clever and useful, might be put over
every body’s head, before any body was aware. Mr. Wrinkell, who was
grand vizier, was not afraid for his own place, but he felt that it was
an example to be summarily discouraged. After all, when a man is not
clever it is not his fault; whereas, when he is respectable and steady,
the virtue and praise is purely his own. “It’s revolutionary,” he said
to his wife. “There is Brown, who has been years and years in the
office–there never was a steadier fellow. I don’t remember that he ever
lost a day–except when he had that fever, you know; but twenty pound a
year increase was as much as ever was given to him.”

“When he had the fever they were very kind to him,” said Mrs. Wrinkell;
“and, after all, Mr. Brownlow has a right to do what he likes with his
own.”

“He may have a right,” said Mr. Wrinkell, doubtfully, “but it’s a thing
that always makes a heart-burning, and always will.”

“Well, William, we may be thankful it can’t make any difference to us,”
said his wife. This was the sum of the good woman’s philosophy, but it
answered very well. It was always her conviction that there will be
peace in our day.

As for Brown, when he first heard the news, he went home to the bosom of
his family with bitterness in his heart. “I can’t call to mind a single
day I ever missed, except that fever, and the day Billy was born,” he
said to Mrs. Brown, despondingly; “and here’s this young fellow that’s
been six months in the office–”

“It’s a shame,” said that injured woman; “it’s a black burning shame. A
bit of a lad picked up in the streets that don’t know what money is; and
you a married man with six–not to say the faithful servant you have
been. I wonder for my part how Mr. Brownlow dares to look you in the
face.”

“He don’t mind much about that. What he thinks is, that the money’s his
own,” said poor Brown, with a sigh.

“But it ain’t his own,” said the higher spirited wife. “I would just
like to know who works hardest for it, him or you. If I saw him every
day as you do, I would soon give him a piece of my mind.”

“And lose my place altogether,” said the husband. But, notwithstanding,
though he did not give Mr. Brownlow a piece of his mind, Brown did not
hesitate to express his feelings a little in the tone of his voice, and
the disapproval in his eye.

All this, however, was as nothing to the judgment which Mr. Brownlow
brought upon himself on the following Sunday. The fact that his father
had doubled any clerk’s salary was a matter of great indifference to
Jack. He smiled in an uncomfortable sort of way when he heard it was
young Powys on whom this benefit had fallen; but otherwise it did not
affect him. On Sunday, however, as it happened, something occurred that
brought Mr. Brownlow’s favoritism–his extraordinary forgetfulness of
his position and of what was due to his children–home in the most
striking way to his son. It was a thing that required all Mr. Brownlow’s
courage; and it can not be said that he was quite comfortable about it.
He had done what never had been done before to any clerk since the days
of Brownlows began. He had invited young Powys to dinner. He had even
done more than that–he had invited him to come early, to ramble about
the park, as if he had been an intimate. It was not unpleasant to him to
give the invitation, but there is no doubt that the thought of how he
was to communicate the fact to his children, and prepare them for their
visitor, did give him a little trouble. Of course it was his own house.
He was free to ask any one he liked to it. The choice lay entirely with
himself; but yet–He said nothing about it until the very day for which
his invitation had been given–not that he had forgotten the fact, but
somehow a certain constraint came over him whenever he so much as
approached the subject. It was only Thursday when he asked young Powys
to come, and he had it on his mind all that evening, all Friday and
Saturday, and did not venture to make a clean breast of it. Even when
Jack was out of the way, it seemed to the father impossible to look into
Sara’s face, and tell her of the coming guest. Sunday was very bright–a
midsummer day in all its green and flowery glory. Jack had come to the
age when a young man is often a little uncertain about his religious
duties. He did not care to go and hear Mr. Hardcastle preach. So he
said; though the Rector, good man, was very merciful, and inflicted only
fifteen minutes of sermon; and then he was very unhappy, and restless,
and uneasy about his own concerns; and he was misanthropical for the
moment, and disliked the sight and presence of his fellow-creatures. So
Jack did not go to church. And Sara and her father did, walking across
the beautiful summer park, under the shady trees, through the paths all
flecked with sunshine. Sara’s white figure gave a centre to the
landscape. She was not angelic, notwithstanding her white robes, but she
was royal in her way–a young princess moving through a realm that
belonged to her, used to homage, used to admiration, used to know
herself the first. Though she was as sweet and as gracious as the
morning, all this was written in her face; for she was still very young,
and had not reached the maturer dignity of unconsciousness. Mr.
Brownlow, as he went with her, was but the first subject in her kingdom.
Nobody admired her as he did. Nobody set her up above every competitor
with the perfect faith of her father; and to see her clinging to his
arm, lifting up her fresh face to him, displaying all her philosophies
and caprices for his benefit, was a pretty sight. But yet, all through
that long walk to Dewsbury and back, he never ventured to disclose his
secret to her. All the time it lay on his heart, but he could not bring
himself to say it. It was only when they were all leaving the table,
after luncheon, that Mr. Brownlow unburdened himself. “By the way,” he
said suddenly, as he rose from his chair, “there is some one coming out
to dinner from Masterton. Oh, not any body that makes much difference–a
young fellow–”

“Some young fellows make a great deal of difference,” said Sara. “Who is
it, papa?”

“Well–at present he is–only one of my clerks,” said Mr. Brownlow, with
an uneasy and, to tell the truth, rather humble and deprecating
smile–“one you have seen before–he was out here that day I was ill.”

“Oh, Mr. Powys,” said Sara; and in a moment, before another word was
spoken, her sublime indifference changed into the brightest gleam of
malice, of mischief, of curiosity, that ever shone out of two blue eyes.
“I remember him perfectly well–all about him,” she said, with a touch
of emphasis that was not lost on her father. “Is there any body else,
papa?”

“Powys!” said Jack, turning back in amaze. He had been going out not
thinking of any thing; but this intimation, coming just after the news
of the office about Powys’s increase of salary, roused his curiosity,
and called him back to hear.

“Yes, Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow, standing on his defense like a guilty
man. “I hope you have not any objection.”

“Objection, sir?” said Jack; “I don’t know what you mean. It is your
house, to ask any body you like. I never should have thought of making
any objection.”

“Yes, it is my own house,” said Mr. Brownlow. It made him feel a little
sore to have the plea about doing what he liked with his own thus taken,
as it were, out of his very mouth.

“But I don’t remember that you ever asked any of the clerks before,”
said Jack. It was not that he cared much about the invitation to the
clerk; it was rather because he was disagreeable himself, and could not
resist the chance of being disagreeable to others, being in a highly
uncomfortable state of mind.

“I don’t regard Powys as a mere clerk–there are circumstances,” said
Mr. Brownlow. “It is useless to explain at this moment; but I don’t put
him on the same level with Brown and Robinson. I should be glad if you
could manage to be civil to him, Jack.”

“Of course I shall be civil,” said Jack. But he said, “That beggar
again!” through his clenched teeth. Between himself and Powys there was
a natural antagonism, and just now he was out of sorts and out of
temper. Of course it was his father’s house, not his, that he should
make any pretension to control it, and of course he would be civil to
his father’s guests; but he could not help repeating, “_That_ beggar!”
to himself as he went out. Was his father bewitched? He had not the
slightest idea what there could be to recommend this clerk, or to
distinguish him from other clerks; and as for the circumstances of
difference of which Mr. Brownlow spoke, Jack did not believe in them. He
would be civil, of course; but he certainly did not undertake to himself
to be any thing more cordial. And he went away with the determination
not to be visible again till dinner. Powys!–a pretty thing to have to
sit at table and make conversation for the junior clerk.

“Never mind, papa,” said Sara. “Jack is dreadfully disagreeable just
now; but you and I will entertain Mr. Powys. He is very nice. I don’t
see that it matters about his being one of the clerks.”

“I was once a clerk myself,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I don’t know what
difference it should make. But never mind; I have not come to that pitch
that I require to consult Jack.”

“No,” said Sara, a little doubtfully. Even she, though she was a dutiful
child, was not quite so clear on this subject. Mr. Brownlow had a right
to do what he would with his own–but yet–Thus Sara remonstrated too.
She did not give in her whole adhesion, right or wrong. She was curious
and mischievous, and had no objection to see Powys again; but she was
not quite clear in her mind, any more than the other people, about a
man’s utter mastery over his own. Mr. Brownlow saw it, and left her with
something of the same feeling of discomfort which he had in the presence
of Mr. Wrinkell and Mr. Brown. Was there any thing in this world which a
man could really call his own, and of which he was absolutely free to
dispose? It seemed to the lawyer, thinking it over, that there was no
such absolute personal possession. After all, he of the vineyard settled
the matter in a quite arbitrary way; and nowadays, amid all the
intricacies of extreme civilization, such a simple way of cutting the
knot was impracticable. Nobody knew that Mr. Brownlow’s house, and
money, and goods were not entirely and honestly his own property; and
yet nobody would consent that he should administer them absolutely in
his own way. He could not but smile at the thought as he went into the
library, where he always felt himself so little at home. His position
and relationship to every thing around him seemed to have changed in
these days. He had been a just man all his life; but now it seemed to
him that justice stood continually in his way. It was a rigid,
unmanageable, troublesome principle, which did harm by way of doing
right, and forbade the compromises which were essential in this world.
Justice to Brown denied him the liberty to advance his clever junior.
Justice to Jack forbade him his natural right to entertain whomsoever he
pleased at his table. In fact, it was vain to use the possessive pronoun
at all; nothing was his–neither his office, nor his money, nor his
house–unless under the restriction of every body else’s rights, and of
public opinion beyond all. So Mr. Brownlow mused as he left Sara and
retired to his solitude. “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” But then
in the days of the parable there were fewer complications, and a man was
more confident in his own power.

As for Sara, in her reflections on the subject, it occurred to her as
very probable that Mr. Powys was coming early, and she stayed in-doors
accordingly. She put herself into her favorite corner, by the
window–that window which was close to the Claude–and took a little
pile of books with her. Sunday afternoon, especially when one is very
young, is a difficult moment. One never knows exactly what one ought to
read. Such at least was Sara’s experience. Novels, except under very
rare and pressing circumstances, were clearly inadmissible–such
circumstances, for instance, as having left your heroine in such a
harrowing position that common charity required you to see her through
it without delay. And real _good_ books–those books which it is a merit
to read–were out of Sara’s way. I should be afraid to tell which were
the special volumes she carried with her to the window, in case it might
convey to some one, differently brought up perhaps, a false impression
of the soundness of her views. She had Eugenie de Guerin’s Letters in
her hand, which ought to cover a multitude of sins; but she was not
reading them. There was the ghost of a smile, a very ghost, appearing
and disappearing, and never taking bodily shape, about her pretty mouth.
What she was thinking was, who, for instance, this Mr. Powys could be?
She did not believe he was a mere clerk. If he were a mere clerk, was it
possible that he would be brought here and presented to her like this?
That was not to be thought of for a moment. No doubt it was a prince in
disguise. He might be an enchanted prince, bewitched out of his proper
shape by some malignant fairy; but Sara knew better than to believe for
a moment that he could be only a clerk. And he was very nice–he had
nice eyes, and a nice smile. He was not exactly what you would call
handsome, but he had those special gifts which are indispensable. And
then poor papa was in a way about him, afraid to tell his secret,
compelled to treat him as if he were only a clerk, afraid Jack should be
uncivil. Jack was a bear, Sara concluded to herself, and at this moment
more a bear than ever; but she should take care that the enchanted
prince should not be rendered uncomfortable by his incivility. Sara’s
musings were to this effect, as she sat in her corner by the window,
with Eugenie de Guerin in her hand. A soft, warm, balmy, sunny
afternoon, one of those days in which the very air is happiness, and
into which no trouble seems capable of entering–nineteen years old–a
fairy prince in disguise, coming to test her disposition under his
humble incognito. Do you think the young creature could forget all that,
and enter even into Mademoiselle de Guerin’s pure virginal world of
pensive thoughts and world-renunciation, because it was Sunday? But Sara
did all she could toward this end. She held that tender talisman in her
hand; and, no doubt, if there were any ill spirits about, it kept them
out of the way.

Powys for his part was walking up the avenue with a maze of very
pleasant thoughts in his mind. He was not thinking particularly of Miss
Brownlow. He was too sensible not to know that for him, a junior clerk
just promoted to the glory of a hundred and twenty pounds a year, such
an idea would have been pure madness. He was thinking, let us say, of
the Claude, of how it hung, and all the little accessories round it, and
of the sunshine that fell on Sara’s dress, and on her hair, and how it
resembled the light upon the rippled water in the picture, and that he
was about to witness all that again. This is what he was thinking of. He
was country bred, and to breathe the fresh air, and see the trees waving
over his head, was new life to him; and warm gratitude, and a kind of
affection to the man who generously gave him this pleasure, were in his
mind. And notwithstanding the horrible effect that the burden of debt
had so recently had upon him, and the fact that a hundred and twenty
pounds a year are far, very far, from being a fortune, there was no
whiteness now visible at his seams. He was as well dressed as he could
be made in Masterton, which was a commencement at which Mr. Wrinkell, or
any other good economist, would have frowned. Mr. Brownlow went to join
his daughter in the drawing-room as soon as he heard that his visitor
had come to the door, and met him in the hall, to Powys’s great comfort
and satisfaction. And they went up stairs together. The sunshine crossed
Mr. Brownlow’s grizzled locks, just as it had crossed the ripply shining
hair, which glistened like the water in Claude’s picture. But this time
Powys did not take any notice of the effect. Sara was reading when they
went in, and she rose, and half closed her book, and gave the guest a
very gracious majestic welcome. It was best to be in-doors just then,
while it was so hot, Sara thought. Yes, that was the Claude–did he
recollect it? Most likely it was simply because he was a backwoodsman,
and entirely uncivilized, that Powys conducted himself so well. He did
not sit on the edge of his chair, as even Mr. Wrinkell did. He did not
wipe his forehead, nor apologize for the dust, as Mr. Brown would have
done. And he was grateful to Mr. Brownlow, and not in the least anxious
to show that he was his equal. After a while, in short, it was the
master of the house who felt that he was set at ease, as it was he who
had been the most embarrassed and uncomfortable, and whose mind was much
more occupied than that of his visitor was by thinking of the effect
that Powys might produce.

At dinner, however, it was more difficult. Jack was present, and Jack
was civil. It is at such a moment that breeding shows; any body, even
the merest pretender, can be rude to an intruder, but it requires
careful cultivation to be civil to him. Jack was so civil that he all
but extinguished the rest of the party. He treated Mr. Powys with the
most distinguished politeness. He did not unbend even to his father and
sister. As for Willis, the butler, Jack behaved to him as if he had been
an archbishop; and such very fine manners are troublesome when the party
is a small one and disposed to be friendly and agreeable. Under any
circumstances it would have been difficult to have kept up the
conversation. They could not talk of their friends and ordinary doings,
for Powys knew nothing about these; and though this piece of courtesy is
by no means considered needful in all circles, still Mr. Brownlow was
old-fashioned, and it was part of his code of manners. So they had to
talk upon general subjects, which is always difficult; about books, the
universal resource; and about the park, and the beauties of nature, and
the difference of things in Canada; and about the music in Masterton
church, and whether the new vicar was High or Low, which was a very
difficult question for Powys, and one to which he did not know how to
reply.

“I am sure he is High,” said Sara. “The church was all decorated with
flowers on Ascension Day. I know, for two of the maids were there and
saw them; and what does it matter about a sermon in comparison with
that?”

“Perhaps it was his wife’s doing,” said Mr. Brownlow, “for I think the
sermon the best evidence. He is Low–as Low as you could desire.”

“As I desire!” cried Sara. “Papa, you are surely forgetting yourself. As
if I could be supposed to like a Low Churchman! And Mr. Powys says they
have good music. That is proof positive. Don’t you think so, Jack?”

This was one of many little attempts to bring back Jack to common
humanity; for Sara, womanlike, could not be contented to leave him
disagreeable and alone.

“I think Mr. Powys is extremely good to furnish you with information;
but I can’t say I am much interested in the question,” said Jack, which
brought the talk to a sudden pause.

“Mr. Powys has not seen our church, papa,” Sara resumed. “It is such a
dear old place. The chancel every body says is pure Norman, and there
are some bits of real old glass in the west window. You should have gone
to see it before dinner. Are you very fond of old glass?”

“I am afraid I don’t know,” said Powys, who was bright enough to see
the manufactory of conversation which was being carried on, and was half
amused by it and half distressed. “We have no old churches in Canada. I
suppose they could scarcely be looked for in such a new world.”

“Tell me what sort of churches you have,” said Sara. “I am very fond of
architecture. _We_ can’t do any thing original nowadays, you know. It is
only copying and copying. But there ought to be a new field in a new
world. Do tell me what style the people there like best.”

“You strain Mr. Powys’s powers too far,” said Jack. “You can not expect
him to explain every thing to you from the vicar’s principles upward–or
downward. Mr. Powys is only mortal, I presume, like the rest of us. He
can’t know every thing in heaven or earth.”

“I know a little of that,” said Powys. “Out there we are
Jacks-of-all-trades. I once made the designs for a church myself. Miss
Brownlow might think it original, but I don’t think she would admire it.
We have to think less of beauty than of use.”

“As if use and beauty could not go together,” said Sara, with a little
indignation. “Please don’t say those things that every body says. Then
you can draw if you have made designs? and I want some cottages so much.
Papa, you promised me these cottages; and now Mr. Powys will come and
help me with the plans.”

“There is a certain difference between a cottage and a church,” said Mr.
Brownlow; but he made no opposition to the suggestion, to the intense
amazement and indignation of Jack.

“You forget that Mr. Powys’s time is otherwise engaged,” he said;
“people can’t be Jacks-of-all-trades here.”

Mr. Brownlow gave his son a warning glance, and Sara, who had been very
patient, could bear it no longer.

“Why are you so disagreeable, Jack?” she said; “nobody was speaking to
you. It was to Mr. Powys I was speaking. He knows best whether he will
help me or not.”

“Oh, it was to Mr. Powys you were speaking!” said Jack. “I am a very
unimportant person, and I am sorry to have interposed.”

Then there came a very blank disagreeable pause. Powys felt that offense
was meant, and his spirit rose. But at the same time it was utterly
impossible to take offense; and he sat still and tried to appear
unconscious, as people do before whom the veil of family courtesy is for
a moment blown aside. There are few things which are more exquisitely
uncomfortable. He had to look as if he did not observe any thing; and he
had to volunteer to say something to cover the silence, and found it
very hard to make up his mind as to what he ought to say.

Perhaps Jack was a little annoyed at himself for his freedom of speech,
for he said nothing farther that was disagreeable, until he found that
his father had ordered the dog-cart to take the visitor back to
Masterton. When he came out in the summer twilight, and found the mare
harnessed for such an ignoble purpose, his soul was hot within him. If
it had been any other horse in the stable–but that his favorite mare
should carry the junior clerk down to his humble dwelling-place, was
bitterness to Jack. He stood and watched in a very uncomfortable sort of
way, with his hands in his pockets, while Powys took his leave. The
evening was as lovely as the day had been, and Sara too had come out,
and stood on the steps, leaning on her father’s arm. “Shall you drive,
sir?” the groom had asked, with a respect which sprang entirely from his
master’s cordiality. It was merely a question of form, for the man
expected nothing but a negative; but Powys’s countenance brightened up.
He held out his hands for the reins with a readiness which perhaps
savored more of transatlantic freedom than ought to have been the case;
but then he had been deprived of all such pleasures for so long. “Good
heavens!” cried Jack, “Tomkins, what do you mean? It’s the bay mare you
have in harness. He can’t drive _her_. If she’s lamed, or if she lames
you–”

And he went up to the side of the dog-cart, almost as if he would have
taken the reins out of Powys’s hand. The Canadian grew very red, and
grasped the whip. They were very ready for a quarrel–Jack standing pale
with anger, talking with the groom; Powys red with indignation, holding
his place. But it was the latter who had the most command of himself.

“I shall not lame her,” he said quietly, “nor let any one be lamed; jump
up.” He was thus master of the situation. The groom took his place; the
mare went off straight and swift as an arrow down the avenue. But Jack
knew by the look, as he said, of the fellow’s wrist, by the glance in
his eye, that he knew what he was about, though he did not at this
moment confess the results of his observation. They stood all three on
the steps when that fiery chariot wheeled away; and Jack, to tell the
truth, did not feel very much satisfied with himself.

“Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly, “when I have any one here again, I
must require of you to keep from insulting them. If you do not care for
the feelings of the stranger, you may at least have some regard for
yourself.”

“I had no intention of insulting any one, sir,” said Jack, with a little
defiance; “if you like him to break his neck or the horse’s knees it is
not my affair; but for a fellow who probably never had the reins in his
hand before, to attempt with that mare–”

“He has had the reins in his hand oftener than either I or you,” said
Mr. Brownlow. The fact was he said it at hazard, thinking it most likely
that Powys could drive, but knowing nothing more about it, while Jack
knew by sight and vision, and felt himself in his heart a snob as he
strolled away from the door. He was uncomfortable, but he succeeded in
making his father more uncomfortable still. The mare, too, was his own,
though it was Jack’s favorite, and if he liked to have it he might. Such
was the Parthian arrow which Mr. Brownlow received at the end of the
day. Clearly that was a distant land–a land far removed from the
present burden of civilization–a primitive and blessed state of
existence, in which a man could be permitted to do what he liked with
his own.