HOW SARA REGARDED THE MOTE IN HER BROTHER’S EYE

A few days after these events, caprice or curiosity led Sara to Swayne’s
cottage. She had very much given up going there–why, she could scarcely
have explained. In reality she knew nothing about the relationship
between her brother and her friend; but either that, unknown to herself,
had exercised some kind of magnetic repulsion upon her, or her own
preoccupation had withdrawn Sara from any special approach to her little
favorite. She would have said she was as fond of her as ever; but in
fact she did not want Pamela as she had wanted her. And the consequence
was that they had been much longer apart than either of them, occupied
with their own concerns, had been aware. The motive which drew Sara
thither after so long an interval was about as mysterious as that which
kept her away. She went, but did not know why; perhaps from some impulse
of those secret threads of fate which are ever being drawn unconsciously
to us into another and another combination; perhaps simply from a
girlish yearning toward the pleasant companion of whom for a time she
had made so much. Mrs. Preston had not recovered when Sara went to see
her daughter–she was still lying on the sofa with one of her nervous
attacks, Pamela said–though the fact was that neither mother nor
daughter understood what kind of attack it was. Anxiety and excitement
and uncertainty had worn poor Mrs. Preston out; and then her headache
was so handy–it saved her from making any decision–it excused her to
herself for not settling immediately what she ought to do. She was not
able to move, and she was thankful for it. She could not undergo the
fatigue of finding some other place to live in, of giving Mr. John his
final answer. To be sure he knew and she knew that his final answer had
been given–that there could be no doubt about it; but still every
practical conclusion was postponed by the attack, and in this point of
view it was the most fortunate thing which could have occurred.

Things were thus with them when Sara, after a long absence, one day
suddenly lighted down upon the shady house in the glory of her summer
attire, like a white dove lying into the bosom of the clouds. Perhaps it
would be wrong to say that Pamela in her black frock stood no chance in
the presence of her visitor; but it is certain that when Miss Brownlow
came floating in with her light dress, and her bright ribbons and her
shining hair, every thing about her gleaming with a certain reflection
from the sunshine, Pamela and her mother could neither of them look at
any thing else. She dazzled them, and yet drew their eyes to her, as
light itself draws every body’s eyes. Pamela shrank a little from her
friend’s side with a painful humility, asking herself whether it was
possible that this bright creature should ever be her sister; while even
Mrs. Preston, though she had all a mother’s admiration for her own
child, could not but feel her heart sink as she thought how this
splendid princess would ever tolerate so inferior an alliance. This
consciousness in their minds made an immediate estrangement between
them. Sara was condescending, and she felt she was condescending, and
hated herself; and as for the mother and daughter, they were constrained
and stricken dumb by the secret in their hearts. And thus there rose a
silent offense on both sides. On hers because they were so cold and
distant; on theirs because it seemed to them that she had come with the
intention of being affable and kind to them, they who could no longer
accept patronage. The mother lay on the sofa in the dark corner, and
Sara sat on the chair in the window, and between the two points Pamela
went straying, ashamed of herself, trying to smooth over her own secret
irritation and discontent, trying to keep the peace between the others,
and yet at the same time wishing and longing that her once welcome
friend would leave them to themselves. The circumstances of their
intercourse were changed, and the intercourse itself had to be organized
anew. Thus the visit might have passed over, leaving only an impression
of pain on their minds, but for an accident which set the matter in a
clearer light. Pamela had been seated at the window with her work before
Sara entered, and underneath the linen she had been stitching lay an
envelope directed to her by Jack Brownlow. Jack had not seen his little
love for one entire day, and naturally he had written her a little
letter, which was as foolish as if he had not been so sensible a young
man. It was only the envelope which lay thus on the table under Pamela’s
work. Its enclosure was laid up in quite another sanctuary, but the
address was there, unquestionably in Jack’s hand. It lay the other way
from Sara’s eyes, tantalizing her with the well-known writing. She tried
hard–without betraying herself, in the intervals of the
conversation–to read the name on it upside down, and her suspicion had
not, as may be supposed, an enlivening effect upon the conversation.
Then she stooped and pretended to look at Pamela’s work; then she gave
the provoking envelope a little stealthy touch with the end of her
parasol. Perhaps scrupulous honor would have forbidden these little
attempts to discover the secret; but when a sister perceives her
brother’s handwriting on the work-table of her friend, it is hard to
resist the inclination to make sure in the first place that it is his,
in the second place to whom it is addressed. This was all that Sara was
guilty of. She would not have peeped into the note for a kingdom, but
she did want to know whom it was written to. Perhaps it was only some
old scrap of paper, some passing word about mendings or fittings to Mr.
Swayne. Perhaps–and then Sara gave the envelope stealthily that little
poke with her parasol.

A few minutes after she got up to go: her complexion had heightened
suddenly in the strangest way, her eyes had taken a certain rigid look,
which meant excitement and wrath. “Will you come out with me a little
way? I want to speak to you,” she said, as Pamela went with her to the
door. It was very different from those old beseeching, tender,
undeniable invitations which the one had been in the habit of giving to
the other; but there was something in it which constrained Pamela,
though she trembled to her very heart, to obey. She did not know any
thing about the envelope; she had forgotten it–forgotten that she had
left it there, and had not perceived Sara’s stealthy exertions to secure
a sight of it. But nevertheless she knew there was something coming. She
took down her little black hat, trembling, and stole out, a dark little
figure, beside Sara, stately in her light flowing draperies. They did
not say a word to each other as they crossed the road and entered at the
gates and passed Betty’s cottage. Betty came to the door and looked
after them with a curiosity so great that she was tempted to follow and
creep under the bushes, and listen; but Sara said nothing to betray
herself as long as they were within the range of old Betty’s eye. When
they had got to the chestnut-trees, to that spot where Mr. Brownlow had
come upon his son and his son’s love, and where there was a possibility
of escaping from the observation of spectators at the gate, Sara’s
composure gave way. All at once she seized Pamela’s arm, who turned
round to her with her lips apart and her heart struggling up into her
mouth with terror. “Jack has been writing to you,” said Sara; “tell me
what it has been about.”

“What it has been about!” said Pamela, with a cry. The poor little girl
was so taken by surprise that all her self-possession forsook her. Her
knees trembled, her heart beat, fluttering wildly in her ears; she sank
down on the grass in her confusion, and covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, Miss Brownlow!” was all that she was able to say.

“That is no answer,” said Sara, with all her natural vehemence.
“Pamela, get up, and answer me like a sensible creature. I don’t mean to
say it is your fault. A man might write to you and you might not be to
blame. Tell me only what it means. What did he write to you about?”

Then Pamela bethought herself that she too had a certain dignity to
preserve; not her own so much as that which belonged to her in right of
her betrothed. She got up hastily, blushing scarlet, and though she did
not meet Sara’s angry questioning eyes, she turned her downcast face
toward her with a certain steadfastness. “It is not any harm,” she said,
softly, “and, Miss Brownlow, you are no–no–older than me.”

“I am two years older than you,” said Sara, “and I know the world, and
you don’t; and I am his sister. Oh, you foolish little thing! don’t you
know it is wicked? If you had told me, I never, never would have let him
trouble you. I never thought Jack would have done any thing so dreadful.
It’s because you don’t know.”

“Mamma knows,” said Pamela, with a certain self-assertion; and then her
courage once more failed her. “I tried to stop him,” she said with the
tears coming to her eyes, “and so did mamma. But I could not force him;
not when he–he–would not. What I think of,” cried Pamela, “is him, not
myself; but if he won’t, what _can_ I do?”

“If he won’t what?” said Sara, in her amazement and wrath.

But Pamela could make no answer; half with the bitterness of it, half
with the sweetness of it, her heart was full. It was hard to be
questioned and taken to task thus by her own friend; but it was sweet to
know that what she could do was nothing, that her efforts had been vain,
that _he_ would not give up. All this produced such a confusion in her
that she could not say another word. She turned away, and once more
covered her face with her hand; not that she was at all miserable–or if
indeed it was a kind of misery, misery itself is sometimes sweet.

As for Sara, she blazed upon her little companion with an indignation
which was splendid to behold. “Your mamma knows,” she said, “and permits
it! Oh, Pamela! that I should have been so fond of you, and that you
should treat me like this!”

“I am not treating you badly–it is you,” said Pamela, with a sob which
she could not restrain, “who are cruel to me.”

“If you think so, we had better part,” said Sara, with tragic grandeur.
“We had better part, and forget that we ever knew each other. I could
have borne any thing from you but being false. Oh, Pamela! how could you
do it? To be treacherous to me who have always loved you, and to
correspond with Jack!”

“I–don’t–correspond–with Jack,” cried Pamela, the words being wrung
out of her; and then she stopped short, and dried her eyes, and grew
red, and looked Sara in the face. It was true, and yet it was false; and
the consciousness of this falsehood in the spirit made her cheeks burn,
and yet startled her into composure. She stood upright for the first
time, and eyed her questioner, but it was with the self-possession not
of innocence but of guilt.

“I am very glad to hear it,” said Sara–“very glad; but you let him
write to you. And when I see his handwriting on your table, what am I to
think? I will speak to him about it to-night; I will not have him tease
you. Pamela, if you will trust in me, I will bring you through it safe.
Surely it would be better for you to have me for a friend than Jack?”

Poor Pamela’s eyes sank to the ground as this question was addressed to
her. Her blush, which had begun to fade, returned with double violence.
Such a torrent of crimson rushed to her face and throat that even Sara
took note of it. Pamela could not tell a lie–not another lie, as she
said to herself in her heart; for the fact was she did prefer
Jack–preferred him infinitely and beyond all question; and such being
the case, could not so much as look at her questioner, much less breathe
a word of assent. Sara marked the silence, the overwhelming blush, the
look which suddenly fell beneath her own, with the consternation of
utter astonishment. In that moment a renewed storm of indignation swept
over her. She stamped her foot upon the grass in the impatience of her
thoughts.

“You prefer Jack,” she cried, in horror–“you prefer Jack! Oh, heaven!
but in that case,” she added, gathering up her long dress in her arms,
and turning away with a grandeur of disdain which made an end of Pamela,
“it is evident that we had better part. I do not know that there is any
thing more I can say. I have thought more of you than I ought to have
done,” said Sara, making a few steps forward and then turning half round
with the air of an injured princess, “but now it is better that we
should part.”

With this she waved her hand and turned away. It was in her heart to
have turned and gone back five-and-twenty times before she reached the
straight line of the avenue from which they had strayed. Before she got
to the first laurel in the shrubberies her heart had given her fifty
pricks on the subject of her cruelty; but Sara was not actually so moved
by these admonitions as to go back. As for Pamela, she stood for a long
time where her friend had left her, motionless under the chestnut-trees,
with tears dropping slowly from her downcast eyes, and a speechless yet
sweet anguish in her heart. Her mother had been right. The sister’s
little friend and the brother’s betrothed were two different things.
This was how she was to be received by those who were nearest in the
world to him; and yet he was a man, and his own master; all she could do
was in vain, and he could not be forced to give up. Pamela stood still
until his sister’s light steps began to sound on the gravel; and when it
was evident the parting had been final, and that Sara did not mean to
come back, the poor child relieved her bosom by a long sob, and then
went home very humbly by the broad sunny avenue. She went and poured her
troubles into her mother’s bosom, which naturally was so much the worse
for Mrs. Preston’s headache. It was very hard to bear, and yet there was
one thing which gave a little comfort; Jack was his own master, and
giving him up, as every body else adjured her to do, would be a thing
entirely without effect.

The dinner-table at Brownlows was very grave that night. Mr. Brownlow,
it is true, was much as usual, and so was Jack; they were very much as
they always were, notwithstanding that very grave complications
surrounded the footsteps of both. But as for Sara, her aspect was
solemnity itself; she spoke in monosyllables only; she ate little, and
that little in a pathetic way; when her father or her brother addressed
her she took out her finest manners and extinguished them. Altogether
she was a very imposing and majestic sight; and after a few attempts at
ordinary conversation, the two gentlemen, feeling themselves very
trifling and insignificant personages indeed, gave in, and struggled no
longer against an influence which was too much for them. There was
something, too, in her manner–something imperceptible to Mr. Brownlow,
perceptible only to Jack–which made it clear to the latter that it was
on his account his sister was so profoundly disturbed. He said “Pshaw!”
to himself at first, and tried to think himself quite indifferent; but
the fact was he was not indifferent. When she left the room at last,
Jack had no heart for a chat with his father over the claret. He too
felt his secret on his mind, and became uncomfortable when he was drawn
at all into a confidential attitude; and to-day, in addition to this,
there was in his heart a prick of alarm. Did Sara know? was that what
she meant? Jack knew very well that sooner or later every body must
know; but at the present moment a mingled sense of shame and pride and
independence kept him silent. Even supposing it was the most prudent
marriage he could make, why should a fellow go and tell every body like
a girl? It might be well enough for a girl to do it–a girl had to get
every body’s consent, and ask every body’s advice, whereas he required
neither advice nor consent. And so he had not felt himself called upon
to say any thing about it; but it is nervous work, when you have a
secret on your mind, to be left alone with your nearest relative, the
person who has the best right to know, and who in a way possesses your
natural confidence and has done nothing to forfeit it. So Jack escaped
five minutes after Sara, and hastened to the drawing-room looking for
her. Perhaps she had expected it–at all events she was there waiting
for him, still as solemn, pathetic and important as it is possible to
conceive. She had some work in her hands which of itself was highly
significant. Jack went up to her, and she looked at him, but took no
farther notice. After that one glance she looked down again, and went on
with her work–things were too serious for speech.

“What’s the matter?” said Jack. “Why are you making such a tragedy-queen
of yourself? What has every body done? My opinion is you have frightened
my father to death.”

“I should be very sorry if I had frightened papa,” said Sara, meekly;
and then she broke forth with vehemence, “Oh, how can you, Jack? Don’t
you feel ashamed to look me in the face?”

“_I_ ashamed to look you in the face?” cried Jack, in utter
bewilderment; and he retired a step, but yet stared at her with the most
straightforward stare. His eyes did not fall under the scrutiny of hers,
but gradually as he looked there began to steal up among his whiskers an
increasing heat. He grew red, though there was no visible cause for it.
“I should like to know what I have done,” he said, with an affected
laugh. “Anyhow, you take high ground.”

“I couldn’t take too high ground,” said Sara solemnly. “Oh, Jack! how
could you think of meddling with that innocent little thing? To see her
about so pretty and sweet as she was, and then to go and worry her and
tease her to death!”

“Worry and tease–whom?” cried Jack in amaze. This was certainly not the
accusation he expected to hear.

“As if you did not know whom I mean!” said his sister. “Wasn’t it
throwing themselves on our kindness when they came here? And to make her
that she dares not walk about or come out anywhere–to tease her with
letters even! I think you are the last man in the world from whom I
should have expected that.”

Jack had taken to bite his nails, not well knowing what else to do. But
he made no direct reply even to the solemnity of this appeal. A flush of
anger sprang up over his face, and yet he was amused. “Has she been
complaining to you?” he said.

“Complaining,” said Sara. “Poor little thing! No, indeed. She never said
a word. I found it out all by myself.”

“Then I advise you to keep it all to yourself,” said her brother. “She
don’t want you to interfere, nor I either. We can manage our own
affairs; and I think, Sara,” he added, with an almost equal grandeur,
“if I were you I would not notice the mote in my brother’s eye till I
had looked after the beam in my own.”

The beam in her own! what did he mean? But Jack went off in a lofty way,
contenting himself with this Parthian arrow, and declining to explain.
The insinuation, however, disturbed Sara. What was the beam in her own?
Somehow, while she was puzzling about it, a vision of young Powys
crossed her mind, papa’s friend, who began to come so often. When she
thought of that, she smiled at her brother’s delusion. Poor Jack! he did
not know that it was in discharge of her most sacred duty that she was
civil to Powys. She had been very civil to him. She had taken his part
against Jack’s own refined rudeness, and delivered him even from the
perplexed affabilities of her father, though he was her father’s friend.
Both Mr. Brownlow and Jack were preoccupied, and Sara had been the only
one to entertain the stranger. And she had done it so as to make the
entertainment very amusing and pleasant to herself. But what had that to
do with a beam in her eye? She had made a vow, and she was performing
her vow. And he was her father’s friend; and if all other arguments
should be exhausted, still the case was no parallel to that of Pamela.
He was not a poor man dwelling at the gate. He was a fairy prince, whom
some enchantment had transformed into his present shape. The case was
utterly different. Thus it was with a certain magnificent superiority
over her brother’s weakness that Sara smiled to herself at his delusion.
And yet she was grieved to think that he should take refuge in such a
delusion, and did not show any symptom of real sorrow for his own sin.

Jack had hardly gone when Mr. Brownlow came up stairs. And he too asked
Sara why it was that she sat apart in such melancholy majesty. When he
had heard the cause, he was more disturbed than either of his children
had been. Sara had supposed that Jack might be trifling with her poor
little friend–she thought that he might carry the flirtation so far as
to break poor Pamela’s heart, perhaps. But Mr. Brownlow knew that there
were sometimes consequences more serious than even the breaking of
hearts. To be sure he judged, not with the awful severity of a woman,
but with the leniency of a man of the world; but yet it seemed to him
that worse things might happen to poor Pamela than an innocent
heart-break, and his soul was disturbed within him by the thought. He
had warned his son, with all the gravity which the occasion required;
but Jack was young, and no doubt the warning had been ineffectual. Mr.
Brownlow was grieved to his soul; and, what was strange enough, it never
occurred to him that his son could have behaved as he had done, like a
Paladin. Jack’s philosophy, which had so little effect upon himself, had
deceived his father. Mr. Brownlow felt that Jack was not the man to
sacrifice his position and prospects and ambitions to an early marriage,
and the only alternative was one at which he shuddered. For the truth
was, his eye had been much attracted by the bright little face at the
gate. It recalled some other face to him–he could not recall whose
face. He had thought she was like Sara at first, but it was not Sara.
And to think of that fresh sweet blossoming creature all trodden down
into dust and ruin! The thought made Mr. Brownlow’s heart contract with
positive pain. He went down into the avenue, and walked about there for
hours waiting for his son. It must not be, he said to himself–it must
not be! And all this time Jack, not knowing what was in store for him,
was hearing over and over again, with much repetition, the story of the
envelope and Sara’s visit, and was drying Pamela’s tears, and laughing
at her fright, and asking her gloriously what any body could do to
separate them?–what could any body do? A girl might be subject to her
parents; but who was there who could take away his free will from a Man?
This was the scope of Jack’s conversation, and it was very charming to
his hearer. What could any one do against that magnificent force of
resolution? Of course his allowance might be taken from him; but he
could work. They had it all their own way in Mrs. Swayne’s parlor,
though Mrs. Swayne herself did not hesitate to express her disapproval;
but as yet Mr. John knew nothing about the anxious parent who walked up
and down waiting for him on the other side of the gate.