MOMENTARY MADNESS

It would be difficult to describe the looks of the assembled party in
the library at Brownlows at this moment. Jack, to whom every thing was
doubly complicated by the fact that the intruder was Pamela’s mother,
and by the feeling that his own affairs must be somehow in question,
made a step forward, thinking that her business must be with him, and
fell back in double consternation when she passed him, looking only at
his father. Sara stood aghast, knowing nothing–not even aware that
there could be any thing to be anxious about–an impersonation of mere
wonder and surprise. The two elder people were not surprised. Both of
them knew what it meant. Mr. Brownlow in a moment passed from the shock
of horror and dismay which had prostrated him at first, into that
perfect calm which is never consistent with ignorance or innocence. The
wonder of his children would have convinced any observer of their
perfect unacquaintance with the matter. But he knew all about it–he was
perfectly composed and master of himself in a second. Life goes fast at
such a crisis. He felt at once as if he had always known it was to end
like this–always foreseen it–and had been gradually prepared and wound
up by degrees to meet the blow. All his uncertainty and doubt and
self-delusions vanished from him on the spot. He knew who his visitor
was without any explanation, and that she had come just in time–and
that it was all over. Somehow he seemed to cease on the moment to be the
principal in the matter. By the time Mrs. Preston had come up to him, he
had become a calm professional spectator, watching the case on behalf of
a client. The change was curious to himself, though he had no time just
then to consider how it came about.

But the intruder was not calm. On the contrary, she was struggling with
intense excitement, panting, trembling, compelled to stop on her way
across the room to put her hand to her side, and gasp for the
half-stifled breath. She took no notice of the young people who stood
by. It is doubtful even whether she was aware of their presence. She
went up gasping to the man she thought her enemy. “I am in time,” she
said. “I have come to claim my mother’s money–the money you have robbed
us of. I am in time–I know I am just in time! I have been at Doctors’
Commons; it’s no use telling me lies. I know every thing. I’ve come for
my mother’s money–the money you’ve robbed from me and mine!”

Jack came forward bewildered by these extraordinary words. “This is
frenzy,” he said. “The Rector is right. She must be mad. Mrs. Preston,
come and I’ll take you home. Don’t let us make any row about it. She is
Pamela’s mother. Let me take her quietly away.”

“I might be mad,” said the strange apparition, “if wrong could make a
woman mad. Don’t talk to me of Pamela. Sir, you understand it’s you I
come to–it’s you! Give me my mother’s money! I’ll not go away from here
till I have justice. I’ll have you taken up for a robber! I’ll have you
put in prison! It’s justice I want–and my rights.”

“Be quiet, Jack,” said Mr. Brownlow; “let her alone. Go away–that is
the best service you can do me. Mrs. Preston, you must explain yourself.
Who was your mother, and what do you want with me?”

Then she made a rush forward to him and clutched his arm. He was
standing in his former position leaning against the mantle-piece, firm,
upright, pale, a strong man still, and with his energies unbroken. She
rushed at him, a tottering, agitated woman, old and weak and
half-frantic with excitement. “Give me my mother’s money!” she cried,
and gasped and choked, her passion being too much for her. At this
instant the clock struck: it was a silvery, soft-tongued clock, and made
the slow beats of time thrill into the silence. Mr. Brownlow laughed
when he heard it–laughed not with triumph, but with that sense of the
utter futility of all calculations which sometimes comes upon the mind
with a strange sense of the humor of it, at the most terrible crisis.
Let it strike–what did it matter?–nothing now could deliver him from
his fate.

“I take you to witness I was here and claimed my money before it
struck,” cried the woman. “I was here. You can’t change that. You
villain give me my mother’s money! Give me my money: you’ve had it for
five-and-twenty years!”

“Compose yourself,” said Mr. Brownlow, speaking to her as he might have
done had he been the professional adviser of the man who was involved;
“sit down and take your time; you were here before twelve, you shall
have all the benefit of that; now tell me what your name is, and what is
your claim.”

Mrs. Preston sat down as he told her, and glared at him with her wild
bright eyes; but notwithstanding the overwrought condition in which she
was, she could not but recognize the calm of the voice which addressed
her: a certain shade of uncertainty flickered over her countenance–she
grew confused in the midst of her assurance–it seemed impossible that
he could take it so quietly if he knew what she meant. And then her
bodily fatigue, sleeplessness, and exhaustion were beginning to tell.

“You are trying to cheat me,” she said, with difficulty restraining the
impulse of her weakness to cry. “You are trying to cheat me! you know it
better than I do, and I read it with my own eyes: you have had it for
five-and-twenty years: and you try to face it out and cheat me now!”

Then the outburst came which had been kept back so long; she had eaten
nothing all day; she had not slept the previous night; she had been
traveling and rushing about till the solid earth seemed to be going
round and round with her; she burst into sobbing and crying as she
spoke; not tears–she was not capable of tears. When Mr. Brownlow, in
his extraordinary self-possession, went to a side-table to bring a
decanter of sherry which had been placed there, she made an effort to
rise to stop him, but even that she was unable to do. He walked across
the room while his astonished children still stood and looked on. He
alone had all his wits about him, and sense enough to be compassionate.
He filled out a glass of wine with a steady hand and brought it to her.
“Take this,” he said, “and then you will be more able to tell me what
you mean.”

Mrs. Preston looked up at him, struck dumb with wonder in the midst of
her agitation. She was capable of thinking he meant to poison
her–probably that was the first idea in her mind; but when she looked
up and saw the expression in his face, it calmed her in spite of
herself. She took the glass from him as if she could not help it, and
swallowed the wine in an unwilling yet eager way–for her bodily
exhaustion craved the needful support, though her mind was against it.
She began to shake and tremble all over as Mr. Brownlow took the glass
from her hand: his quietness overwhelmed her. If he had turned her out
of the room, out of the house, it would have seemed more natural than
this.

“Father,” said Jack, interposing, “I have seen her like this before–I
don’t know what she has in her head, but of course I can’t stand by and
see her get into trouble: if you will go away I will take her home.”

Mr. Brownlow smiled again, a curious smile of despair, once more seeing
the humor, as it were, of the situation. “It will be better for you to
take Sara away,” he said; “go both of you–it does not matter.” Then,
having fallen into this momentary incoherence, he recovered himself and
turned round to his visitor. “Now tell me,” he said gently, “who you are
and what you mean?”

But by this time it did not seem as if she were able to speak–she sat
and stared at him, her dark eyes shining wildly out of her old pallid
face. “I have seen the will–I have been at Doctors’ Commons,” she
gulped out by degrees; “I know it must be true.”

“Who are you?” said Mr. Brownlow.

The poor trembling creature got up and made a rush toward him again.
“You know who I am,” she said, “but that don’t matter, as you say: I was
Phœbe Thomson; give me my mother’s money–ah! give me the money that
belongs to my child! give me my fortune! there’s witnesses that I came
in time; I came in time–I came in time!” screamed forth the exhausted
woman. She had lost all command of herself by this time, and shrieked
out the words, growing louder and louder; then all at once, without any
warning, she fell down at the feet of the man she was defying–fell in a
dead bundle on the floor, in a faint–almost, as it seemed for the
moment, dead.

Mr. Brownlow, for one dreadful second, thought she was dead. The moment
was terrible beyond all description, worse than any thing that had yet
befallen him; a thrill of hope, an awful sickening of suspense came over
him; for the first time he, too, lost his senses: he did not stoop to
raise her, nor take any means for her restoration, but stood looking
down upon her, watching, as a man might watch the wild beast which had
been about to kill him, writhing under some sudden shot. A man would not
interpose in such a case with surgical aid for the wounded lion or
tiger. Neither did Mr. Brownlow feel himself moved to interfere. He only
stood and looked on. But his children were not wound up to the same
state of feeling. Jack rushed forward and lifted his Pamela’s mother
from the floor, and Sara flew to her aid with feminine succors. They
laid her on the sofa, and put water on her face, and did every thing
they knew to restore her. Mr. Brownlow did not interfere; he could not
bid them stop; it never even occurred to him to attempt to restrain
their charitable offices. He left them to themselves, and walked heavily
up and down the room on the other side, waiting till she should come to
herself. For of course she would come to herself–he had no doubt of
that. After the first instant it was clearly enough apparent to him that
such a woman at such a moment would not die.

When Mrs. Preston came to herself, she tried to get up from the sofa,
and looked at them all with a piteous look of terror and helplessness.
She was a simply uneducated woman, making little distinction between
different kinds of crime–and it seemed to her as if a man who had
defrauded her (as she thought) all these years, might very well mean to
murder her when he was found out. She did not see the difference. She
shuddered as she fell back on the cushions unable to rise. “Would you
like to kill me?” she said faintly, looking in their faces. She was
afraid of them, and she was helpless and alone. She did not feel even
as if she had the strength to cry out. And there were three of
them–they could put out her feeble flickering flame of life if they
pleased. As for the two young people whom she addressed in the first
place, they supposed simply that she was raving. But Mr. Brownlow, who
was, in his way, as highly strained as she was, caught the words. And
the thought flashed through his mind as if some one had held up a
picture to him. What would it matter if she were to die? She was
old–she had lived long enough–she was not so happy that she should
wish to live longer; and her child–others might do better for her child
than she could. It was not his fault. It was her words that called up
the picture before him, and he made a few steps forward and put his
children away, and came up to the sofa and looked at her. An old, faint,
feeble, worn-out woman. A touch would do it;–her life was like the last
sere leaves fluttering on the end of the branches; a touch would do it.
He came and looked at her, not knowing what he did, and put his children
away. And there was something in his eyes which made her shrink into the
corner of her couch and tremble, and be silent. He was looking to see
how it could be done–by some awful unconscious impulse, altogether
apart from any will or thought of his. And a touch would do it. This was
what was in his eyes when he told his children to go away.

“Go–go to bed,” he said, “I will take care of Mrs. Preston.” There was
a horrible appearance of meaning in his voice, but yet he did not know
what he meant. He stood and looked down upon her gloomily. Yes, that was
all that stood between him and peace; a woman whom any chance touch–any
blast bitterer than usual–any accidental fall, might kill. “Go to bed,
children,” he repeated harshly. It seemed to him somehow as if it would
be better, as if he would be more at liberty, when they were away.

“Oh, no–no,” said Mrs. Preston, moaning. “Don’t leave me–don’t leave
me. You wouldn’t see any harm come to me, for my Pamela’s sake!”

And then both his children looked into Mr. Brownlow’s face. I can not
tell what they saw there. I doubt whether they could have told
themselves; but it was something that thrilled them through and through,
which came back to them from time to time all their lives, and which
they could never forget. Jack turned away from his father with a kind of
horror, and went and placed himself beside Mrs. Preston at the head of
the sofa. But Sara, though her dismay was still greater, went up to him
and clasped his arm with both her hands. “Papa,” she said, “come away.
Come with me. I don’t know what it means, but it is too much for you.
Come, papa.”

Mr. Brownlow once more put her away with his hand. “Go to bed, Sara,” he
said; and then freeing himself, he went across the room to the curtained
windows, and stared out as if they were open, and came back again. The
presence of his children was an oppression to him. He wanted them away.
And then he stood again by the side of the sofa and looked at his
visitor. “We can talk this over best alone,” he said; and at the sound
of his voice, and a movement which she thought Jack made to leave her,
she gave a sudden cry.

“He will kill me if you go away!” she said. “Oh, don’t leave me to him!
I–don’t mean to injure you–I–But you’re in league with him,” she
exclaimed rising suddenly with the strength of excitement, and rushing
to the other end of the room; “you are all against me. I shall be
killed–I shall be killed! Murder! murder!–though I don’t want to hurt
you. I want nothing but my rights.”

She got behind the writing-table in her insane terror, and threw herself
down there on her knees, propping herself up against it, and watching
them as from behind a barricade, with her pallid thin face supported on
the table. With her hands she drew a chair to each side of her. She was
like a wild creature painfully barricading herself–sheltering her
feeble strength within intrenchments, and turning her face to the foe.
Mr. Brownlow stood still and looked at her, but this time with a
stupefied look which meant nothing; and as for Jack he stood aghast,
half frightened, half angry, not knowing if she were mad, or what it
was. When either of them moved, she crouched together and cried out,
thinking they were about to rush upon her. For the moment she was all
but mad–mad with excitement, fright, evil-thinking, and
ignorance–ignorance most of all–seeing no reason why, if they had done
one wrong, they should not do another. Kill or defraud, which did it
matter?–and for the moment she was out of her senses, and knew not what
she did or said.

Sara was the only one who retained her wits at this emergency. She
stepped behind the screen made by the table without pausing to think
about it. “Mrs. Preston,” she said, “I don’t know what is the matter
with you. You look as if you had gone mad; but I am not frightened. What
do you mean by calling murder here? Come with me to my room and go to
bed. It is time every body was in bed. I will take care of you. You are
tired to death, and not fit to be up. Come with me.”

“You!” cried Mrs. Preston–“you! You that have had every thing my Pamela
ought to have had! You that have been kept like a princess on my money!
You!–but don’t let them kill me,” she cried out the next moment,
shuddering and turning toward the other woman for protection. “You’re
but a girl. Come here and stand by me, and save me, and I’ll stand by
you. You shall always have a home. I’ll be as good to you–but save me!
don’t let them kill me!” she cried, frantically throwing her arms round
Sara’s waist. It was a curious sight. The girl stood erect, her slight
figure swaying with the unusual strain upon it, her face lit up with
such powerful emotions as she had never known before, looking wistful,
alarmed, wondering, proud, upon her father and her brother at the other
side, while the old woman clung to her, crouching at her feet, hiding
her face in her dress, clasping her waist as for life and death. Sara
had accepted the office thrust upon her, whatever it was. She had become
responsible for the terrified, exhausted claimant of all Mr. Brownlow’s
fortune–and turned round upon the two astonished men with something new
to them, something that was almost defiance, in her eyes.

“I don’t know what it means,” she said, laying her long, soft, shapely
hand upon Mrs. Preston’s shoulder like the picture of a guardian angel;
“but it has gone past your managing, and I must take charge of her.
Jack, open the door, and keep out of the way. She must come with me.”

And then, indeed, Mr. Brownlow within himself in the depths of his
heart, uttered a groan, which made some outward echo. He was in the last
crisis of his fate, and his cherished child forsook him and took his
adversary’s part. He withdrew himself and sank down into a chair,
clearing the way, as she had bidden. Sara had taken charge of her. Sara
had covered the intruder for ever and ever with the shield of her
protection; and yet it was for Sara alone that he could have found in
his heart to murder this woman, as she said. When Sara stood forth and
faced him in her young strength and pride, a sudden Lady of Succor, it
cast him to the earth. And he gave that groan, and sank down and put
himself aside, as it were. He could not carry on the struggle. When Sara
heard it her heart smote her; she turned to him eagerly, not to comfort
him but to defend herself.

“Well!” she said, “if it was nothing, you would not have minded. It must
be something, or you would not have looked–” And then she stopped and
shuddered. “I am going to take charge of her to-night,” she added, low
and hurriedly. “I will take her to my room, and stay with her all night.
To-morrow, perhaps, we may know what it means. Jack, she can walk, if
you will clear the way.”

Then Mr. Brownlow looked up, with an indescribable pang at his heart,
and saw his daughter lead, half carrying, his enemy away. “I will take
her to my room, and stay with her all night.” He had felt the emphasis
and meaning that was in the words, and he had seen Sara’s shudder. Good
heavens! what was it for? Was he a man to do murder? What was it his
child had read in his eye? In this horrible confusion of thought he sat
and watched the stranger out. She had made good her lodgment, not only
in the house, but in the innermost chamber, in Sara’s room–in Sara’s
protecting presence, where nothing could get near her. And it was
against him that his child had taken up this wretched woman’s defense!
He neither moved nor spoke for some minutes after they had left the
room. The bitterness had all to be tasted and swallowed before his
thoughts could go forward to other things, and to the real final
question. By degrees, however, as he came to himself, he became aware
that he was not yet left free to think about the final question. Jack
was still beside him. He did not say any thing, but he was moving and
fidgeting about the room with his hands in his pockets in a way which
proved that he had something to say. As Mr. Brownlow came to himself he
gradually woke to a perception of his son’s restless figure beside him,
and knew that he had another explanation to make.

“I don’t want to trouble you,” said Jack at last, abruptly, “but I
should very much like to know, sir, what all this means. If Mrs. Preston
is mad–as–God knows I don’t want to think it,” cried the young man,
“but one must believe one’s eyes–if she is mad, why did you give in to
her, and humor her? Why did not you let me take her away?”

“I don’t think she is mad,” said Mr. Brownlow, slowly.

Upon which Jack came to a dead stop, and stared at his father–“Good
heavens, sir,” he said, “what can you mean?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Brownlow, getting up in his turn. “My head is
not quite clear to-night. Leave me now. I’ll tell you after. I’ll tell
you–sometime;–I mean in the morning.” Then he walked once more across
the room, and threw himself into the big easy-chair by the dying fire.
One of the lamps had run down, and was flickering out, throwing strange
quivers of light and shade about the room. An indescribable change had
come over it; it had been bright, and now it looked desolate; it had
been the home of peace, and now the very air was heavy with uncertainty
and a kind of hovering horror. Mr. Brownlow threw himself wearily into
the big chair, and covered his face with his hands. A moment after he
seemed to recollect himself, and looked up and called Jack back. “My
boy,” he said, “something has happened to-night which I did not look
for. You must consider every thing I said to you before as cancelled. It
appears I was premature. I am sorry–for you, Jack.”

“Don’t be sorry for me,” cried Jack, with a generous impulse. “It could
not have made much matter anyhow–my life is decided, come what may.”

Then his father looked up at him sharply, but with a quiver in his lip.
“Ah!” he said; and Jack perceived somehow, he did not know how, that he
had unwittingly inflicted a new wound. “It could not have made much
matter–true,” he said, and rose up and bowed to his son as if he had
been a stranger. “That being the case, perhaps the less we say to each
other the better now–”

“What have I said, sir?” cried Jack in amaze.

“Enough, enough,” said Mr. Brownlow, “enough”–whether it was in answer
to his question, or by way of putting an end to the conversation, Jack
could not tell; and then his father waved him away, and sat down again,
once more burying his face in his hands. Again the iron had entered his
soul. Both of them!–all he had in the world–his fortune, his position,
his son, his daughter, must all go? It seemed to him now as if the
external things were nothing in comparison of these last. Sara, for
whose sake alone he feared it–Jack, whom he had not petted–whom
perhaps he had crossed a little as fathers will, but whom at
bottom–never mind, never mind! he said to himself. It was the way of
the world. Sons did not take up their father’s cause nowadays as a
matter of course. They had themselves to think of–in fact, it was right
they should think of themselves. The world was of much more importance
to Jack than it could be to himself, for of course a young man had twice
the length of time to provide for that his father could possibly have.
Never mind! He said it to himself with his head bowed down in his hands.
But he did mind. “It would not make much matter anyhow”–no, not much
matter. Jack would have it instead of Sara and Powys. It was the same
kind of compromise that he had intended–only that the persons and the
motive were changed.

Poor Jack in the mean time went about the room in a very disconsolate
state. He was so startled in every way that he did not know what to
think, and yet vague shadows of the truth were flickering about his
mind. He knew something vaguely of the origin of his father’s fortune,
and nothing but that could explain it; and now he was offended at
something. What could it be that he was offended at? It never occurred
to Jack that his own words might bear the meaning that was set upon
them; he was disconcerted and vexed, and did not know what to do. He
went wandering about the room, lifting and replacing the books on the
tables, and finally, after a long pause, he went up to his father again.

“I wish you’d have some confidence in me,” he said. “I don’t pretend to
be wise, but still–And then if there is any thing hanging over us, it
is best that a fellow should know–”

“There is nothing hanging over _you_,” said Mr. Brownlow, raising his
head, almost with bitterness. “It will not matter much anyhow, you know.
Don’t think of waiting for me. I have a good deal to think over. In
short, I should be very glad if you would leave me to myself and go–”

“As you please,” said Jack, who was at last offended in his turn; and
after he had made a discontented promenade all round the room, he
lounged toward the door, still hoping he might be called back again. But
he was not called back. On the contrary, his father’s head had sunk
again into his hands, and he had evidently retired into himself, beyond
the reach of all fellowship or sympathy. Jack veered gradually toward
the door and went out of the room, with his hands in his pockets and
great trouble and perplexity in his mind. It seemed to him that he saw
what the trouble must be, and that of itself was not pleasant. But bad
as it might be, it was not so bad as the way his father was taking it.
Good heavens, if he should hurt the old woman!–but surely he was not
capable of that. And then Jack returned upon his own case and felt
wounded and sore. He was not a baby that his father should decline to
take him into his confidence. He was not a fool that he should be
supposed unequal to the emergency. Sleep was out of the question under
the circumstances; and besides he did not want to meet any of the
fellows who might have been disturbed by Mrs. Preston’s cry, and might
have come to his room for information. “Hang it all!” said Jack, as he
threw himself on a sofa in the smoking-room, and lighted a dreary cigar.
It was not a very serious malediction, but yet his mind was serious
enough. Some terrible crisis in the history of his family was coming on,
and he could only guess what it was. Something that involved not only
his own prospects, but the prospects of his future wife. And yet nobody
would tell him what was the meaning of it. It was hard lines for Jack.

When his son left the room, Mr. Brownlow lifted his head out of his
hands. He looked eagerly round the room and made sure he was alone. And
then his countenance relaxed a little. He could venture to look as he
felt, to throw off every mask when he was alone. Then he got up and
walked heavily about. Was it all true? Had she come at the last moment
and made her claim? Had she lighted down upon him, tracked him out, just
as he was saying, and at last permitting himself to think, that all was
over? A strange confusion swept over him as he sat and looked around the
empty room. Was it possible that all this had happened since he was last
alone in it? It was only a few hours since; and he had been scarcely
able to believe that so blessed a state of things could be true. He had
sat there and planned every kind of kindness and bounty to every body by
way of expressing his gratitude to God. Was it possible? Could every
thing since then be so entirely changed? Or had he only dreamt the
arrival of the sudden claimant, the striking of the clock too late, all
the miseries of the night? As he asked himself these questions, a sudden
shuddering came over him. There was one thing which he knew could be no
dream. It was the suggestion which had come into his mind as he stood by
the sofa. He seemed to see her before him, worn, old, feeble, and
involuntarily his thoughts strayed away again to that horrible thought.
What was the use of such a woman in the world? She had nothing before
her but old age, infirmities, a lingering illness most likely, many
sufferings and death–only death at the end; that was the best, the only
event awaiting her. To the young, life may blossom out afresh at any
moment, but the old can only die–that is all that remains for them. And
a touch would do it. It might save her from a great deal of
suffering–it would certainly save her from the trial of a new position,
the difficult transition from poverty to wealth. If he was himself as
old, Mr. Brownlow thought vaguely (all this was very vague–it was not
breathed in articulate thought, much less in words) that he would be
glad to be put quietly out of the way. Heaven knows he would be grateful
enough to any one even at that moment who would put him out of the way.

And it would be so easy to do it; a touch would do it. The life was
fluttering already in her pulses; very likely the first severe cold
would bring her down like the leaves off the trees; and in the mean time
what a difference her life would make. Mr. Brownlow got up and began to
walk about, not able to keep still any longer. The second lamp was now
beginning to flicker for want of oil, and the room was darkening, though
he did not perceive it. It would be the kindest office that could be
done to an old woman; he had often thought so. Suddenly there occurred
to him a recollection of certain unhappy creatures in the work-house at
Masterton, who were so old that nothing was any pleasure to them. He
thought of the life-in-death he had seen among them, the tedious blank,
the animal half-existence, the dead, dull doze, out of which only a bad
fit of coughing or some other suffering roused them; and of his own
passing reflection how kind it would be to mix them a sleeping potion
only a little stronger, and let them be gone. It would be the best thing
any one could do for them. It would be the best thing any one could do
for _her_; and then all the trouble, all the vexation, all the misery
and change that it would save!

As for the child, Mr. Brownlow said to himself that all should go well
with the child. He would not interfere. Jack should marry her if he
pleased–all should go well with her; and she would not have the
difficult task of reconciling the world to her mother. In every way it
seemed the desirable arrangement. If Providence would but
interpose!–but then Providence never did interpose in such emergencies.
Mr. Brownlow went slowly up and down the darkening room, and his
thoughts, too, went into the darkness. They went on as it were in a
whisper and hid themselves, and silence came–hideous silence, in which
the heart stood still, the genial breath was interrupted. He did not
know what he was doing. He went to the medicine-chest which was in one
corner, and opened it and looked at it. He did not even make a pretense
of looking for any thing; neither would the light have enabled him to
look for any thing. He looked at it and he knew that death was there,
but he did not put forth his hand to touch it. At that moment all at
once the flickering flame went out–went out just as a life might do,
after fluttering and quivering and making wild rallies, again and again.
Mr. Brownlow, for his part, was almost glad there was no light. It made
him easier–even the lamp had seemed to look at him and see something in
his eye!

Five minutes after, he found himself, he could not have told how, at the
door of Sara’s room. It was not in his way–he could not make that
excuse to himself–to tell the truth he did not make any excuse to
himself. His mind was utterly confused, and had stopped thinking. He was
there, having come there he did not know how; and being there he opened
the door softly and went in. Perhaps, for any thing he could tell, the
burden might have been too much for Sara. He went in softly, stealing so
as not to disturb any sleeper. The room was dark, but not quite dark.
There was a night-light burning, shaded, on the table, and the curtains
were drawn at the head of the white bed: nothing stirred in the silence:
only the sound of breathing, the irregular disturbed breathing of some
one in a troubled sleep. Mr. Brownlow stole farther in, and softly put
back one of the curtains of the bed. There she lay, old, pallid,
wrinkled, worn out, breathing hard in her sleep, even then unable to
forget the struggle she was engaged in, holding the coverlet fast with
one old meagre hand, upon which all the veins stood out. What comfort
was her life to her? And a touch would do it. He went a step nearer and
stooped over her, not knowing what he did, not putting out a finger,
incapable of any exertion, yet with an awful curiosity. Then all at once
out of the darkness, swift as an angel on noiseless pinions, a white
figure rose and rushed at him, carrying him away from the bed out to the
door, unwitting, aghast, by the mere impetus of its own sudden motion.
When they had got outside it was Sara’s face that was turned upon him,
pale as the face of the dead, with her hair hanging about it wildly, and
the moisture standing in big beads on her forehead. “What were you going
to do?” she seemed to shriek in his ear, though the shriek was only a
whisper. He had left his candle outside, and it was by that faint light
he could see the whiteness of her face.

“Do?” said Mr. Brownlow, with a strange sense of wonder. “Do?–nothing.
What could I do?”

Then Sara threw herself upon him and wept aloud, wept so that the sound
ran through the house, sobbing along the long listening passages. “Oh,
papa, papa!” she cried, clinging to him. A look as of idiocy had come
into his face. He had become totally confused–he did not know what she
meant. What could he do? Why was she crying? And it was wrong to make a
noise like this, when all the house was hushed and asleep.

“You must be quiet,” he said. “There is no need to be so agitated; and
you should have been in bed. It is very late. I am going to my room
now.”

“I will go with you,” said Sara, trembling. Already she began to be
ashamed of her terror, but her nerves would not calm down all at once.
She put her hand on his arm and half led, half followed him through the
corridor. “Papa, you did not mean–any thing?” she said, lifting up a
face so white and tremulous and shaken with many emotions that it was
scarcely possible to recognize it as hers. “You did not mean–any
thing?” Her very lips quivered so that she could scarcely speak.

“Mean–what?” he said. “I am a little confused to-night. It was all so
sudden. I don’t seem to understand you. And I’m very tired. Things will
be clearer to-morrow. Sara, I hope you are going to bed.”

“Yes, papa,” she said, like a child, though her lips quivered. He looked
like a man who had fallen into sudden imbecility, comprehending nothing.
And Sara’s mind too was beginning to get confused. She could not
understand any longer what his looks meant.

“And so am I,” said Mr. Brownlow, with a sigh. Then he stooped and
kissed her. “My darling, good-night. Things will be clearer to-morrow,”
he said. They had come to his door by this time. And it was there he
stooped to kiss her, dismissing her as it seemed. But after she had
turned to go back, he came out again and called her. He looked almost as
old and as shaken as Mrs. Preston as he called her back: “Don’t forsake
me–don’t _you_ forsake me,” he said hurriedly; “that was all–that was
all: good-night.”

And then he went in and shut his door. Sara, left to herself, went back
along the corridor, not knowing what to think. Were they all mad, or
going mad? What could the shock be which had made Pamela’s humble mother
frantic, and confused Mr. Brownlow’s clear intellect? She lay down on
her sofa to watch her patient, feeling as if she too was becoming
idiotic. She could not sleep, young as she was: the awful shadow that
had come across her mind had murdered sleep. She lay and listened to
Mrs. Preston’s irregular, interrupted breathing, far into the night. But
sleep was not for Sara’s eyes.

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