MOTHER AND LOVER

Jack followed his father down stairs, and did not say a word. It had
been an exciting morning; and now that he knew all, though the
excitement had not as yet begun to flag, care came along with it.
Suspense and mystery were hard, and yet at the same time easier to bear
than reality. The calamity might have loomed larger while it was
unknown, but at least it was unaccompanied by those real details from
which there is no escape. When Mr. Brownlow and his son reached the
bottom of the stair, they stopped, and turned and looked at each other.
A certain shade of apology was in Mr. Brownlow’s tone. “I thought it was
all over last night,” he said; “I thought you were all safe. You know my
meaning now.”

“Safe, sir, safe!” said Jack, “with this always hanging over our heads?
I don’t understand why we were not allowed to know; but never mind. I am
glad it has come, and there is nothing more to look for. It bears
interest, I suppose.”

“That may be a matter of arrangement. I suppose it does,” said Mr.
Brownlow, with a sigh.

Jack gave vent to his feelings in a low, faint, prolonged whistle. “I’ll
go and tell them about the carriage,” he said. This was all the
communication that passed between the father and the son; but it was
enough to show Mr. Brownlow that Jack was not thinking, as he might very
naturally have thought, of his new position as the future son-in-law of
the woman who had wrought so much harm. Jack’s demeanor, though he did
not say a word of sympathy to his father, was quite the contrary of
this. He did not make any professions, but he took up the common family
burden upon his shoulders. The fifty thousand pounds was comparatively
little. It was a sum which could be measured and come to an end of; but
the interest, that was the dreadful thought. Jack was practical, and his
mind jumped at it on the moment. It was as a dark shadow which had come
over him, and which he could not shake off. Brownlows was none of hers,
and yet she might not be wrong after all in thinking that all was hers.
The actual claim was heavy enough, but the possible claim was
overwhelming. It seemed to Jack to go into the future and overshadow
that as it overshadowed the present. No wonder Mr. Brownlow had been in
despair–no wonder almost–The young man gave a very heavy sigh as he
went into the stable-yard and gave his instructions. He stood and
brooded over it with his brow knitted and his hands buried in his
pockets, while the horses were put into the carriage. As for such
luxuries, they counted for nothing, or at least so he thought for the
moment–nothing to _him_; but a burden that would lie upon them for
years–a shadow of debt and difficulty projected into the future–that
seemed more than any man could bear. It will be seen from this that the
idea of his own relations with Pamela making any difference in the
matter had not crossed Jack’s mind. He would have been angry had any one
suggested it. Not that he thought of giving up Pamela; but in the mean
time the idea of having any thing to do with Mrs. Preston was horrible
to him, and he was not a young man who was always reasonable and
sensible, and took every thing into consideration, any more than the
rest of us. To tell the truth, he had no room in his thoughts for the
idea of marriage or of Pamela at that moment. He strode round to the
hall door as the coachman got on the box, and went up to Sara’s room
without stopping to think. “The carriage is here,” he said, calling to
Sara at the door. He would have taken the intruder down stairs, and put
her into the carriage as courteously as if she had been a duchess; for,
as we have already said, there was a certain fine natural politeness in
the Brownlow blood. But when he heard the excited old woman still raving
about her rights, and that they wanted to kill her, the young man became
impatient. He was weary of her; and when she fell into threats of what
she would do, disgust mingled with his impatience. Then all at once,
while he waited, a sudden thought struck him of his little love. Poor
little Pamela! what could she be thinking all this time? How would she
feel when she heard that her mother had become their active enemy? In a
moment there flitted before Jack, as he stood at the door, a sudden
vision of the little uplifted face, pale as it had grown of late, with
the wistful eyes wide open and the red lips apart, and the pretty rings
of hair clustering about the forehead. What would Pamela think when she
knew? What was to be done, now that this division, worse than any unkind
sentence of a rich father, had come between them? It was no fault of
hers, no fault of his; fate had come between them in the wildest
unlooked-for way. And should they have to yield to it? The thought gave
Jack such a sudden twinge in his own heart, that it roused him
altogether out of his preoccupation. It roused him to that fine
self-regard which is so natural, and which is reckoned a virtue
nowadays. What did it matter about an old mother? Such people had had
their day, and had no right to control the young whose day was still to
come. Pamela’s future and Jack’s future were of more importance than any
thing that could happen at the end, as it were, of Mrs. Preston’s life,
or even of Mr. Brownlow’s life. This was the consideration that woke
Jack up out of the strange maze he had fallen into on the subject of his
own concerns. He turned on his heel all at once, and left Mrs. Preston
arguing the matter with Sara, and went off down the avenue almost as
rapidly as his own mare could have done it. No, by Jove! he was not
going to give up. Mrs. Preston might eat her money if she liked–might
ruin Brownlows if she liked; but she should not interfere between him
and his love. And Jack felt that there was no time to lose, and that
Pamela must know how matters stood, and what he expected of her, before
her mother went back to poison her mind against him. He took no time to
knock even at the door of Mrs. Swayne’s cottage, but went in and took
possession like an invading army. Probably, if he had been a young man
of very delicate and susceptible mind, the very knowledge that Pamela
might now be considered an heiress, and himself a poor man, would have
closed up the way to him, and turned his steps forever from the door.
But Jack was not of that fine order of humanity. He was a young man who
liked his own way, and was determined not to be unhappy if he could help
it, and held tenaciously by every thing that belonged to him. Such
matter-of-fact natures are seldom moved by the sentimentalisms of
self-sacrifice. He had not the smallest idea of sacrificing himself, if
the truth must be told. He strode along, rushing like the wind, and went
straight in at Mrs. Swayne’s door. Nobody interrupted his passage or
stood in his way; nobody even saw him but old Betty, who came out to her
door to see who had passed so quickly, and shook her head over him. “He
goes there a deal more than is good for him,” Betty said, and then, as
it was cold, shut the door.

Pamela had been sitting in the dingy parlor all alone; and, to tell the
truth, she had been crying a little. She did not know where her mother
was; she did not know when she was coming back. No message had reached
her, nor letter, nor any sign of life, and she was frightened and very
solitary. Jack, too, since he knew she was alone and could be seen at
any hour, did not make so many anxious pilgrimages as he had done when
Mrs. Preston was ill and the road was barred against him. She had no one
to tell her fears to, no one to encourage and support her, and the poor
child had broken down dreadfully. She was sitting at the window trying
to read one of Mrs. Swayne’s books, trying not to ask herself who it was
that came so late to Brownlows last night? what was her mother doing?
what was Jack doing? The book, as may be supposed, had small chance
against all these anxieties. It had dropped upon the table before her,
and her innocent tears had been dropping on it, when a sudden shadow
flitted past the window, and a footstep rang on the steps, and Jack was
in the room. The sight of him changed wonderfully the character of
Pamela’s tears, but yet it increased her agitation. Nobody in her small
circle except herself had any faith in him; and she knew that, at this
present moment, he ought not to come.

“No, I am not sorry to see you,” she said, in answer to his accusation.
“I am glad; but you should not come. Mamma is away. I am all alone.”

“You have the more need of me,” said Jack. “But listen, Pamela. Your
mother is not away. She is here at Brownlows. She is coming directly. I
rushed off to see you before she arrived. I must speak to you first.
Remember you are mine–whatever happens, you are mine, and you can not
forsake me.”

“Forsake you?” cried Pamela, in pitiful accents. “Is it likely? If there
is any forsaking, it will be you. You know–oh, you know you have not
much to fear.”

“I have every thing to fear,” said Jack, speaking very fast; “your
mother is breathing fire and flame against us all. She is coming back
our enemy. She will tell you I have had a mercenary meaning from the
beginning, and she will order you to give me up. But don’t do it,
Pamela. I am not the sort of man to be given up. We were going to be
poor, and marry against my father’s will; now we shall be poor, and
marry against your mother’s–that is all the difference. You have chosen
me, and you must give up her and not me. That is all I have to say.”

“Give up mamma?” cried Pamela, in amazement. “I don’t know what you
mean. You promised I was to have her with me, and take care of her
always. She would die without me. Oh, Jack, why have you changed so
soon?”

“It is not I that have changed,” said Jack; “every thing has changed.
This is what it will come to. It will be to give up her or me. I don’t
say I will die without you,” said the young man–“no such luck;
but–Look here, Pamela, this is what it will come to. You will have to
choose between her and me.”

“Oh no, no!” cried Pamela; “no! don’t say so. I am not the one to
choose. Don’t turn away from me! don’t look so pale and dreadful it is
not me to choose.”

“But it is you, by heavens!” cried Jack, in desperation. “Here she is
coming! It is not your old mother who was to live with us–it is a
different woman–here she is. Is it to be her or me?”

“Oh, Jack!” Pamela cried, thinking he was mad; and she submitted to his
fierce embrace in utter bewilderment, not knowing what to imagine. To
see the Brownlows carriage dash down the avenue and wheel round at the
door and open to let Mrs. Preston forth was as great a wonder as if the
earth had opened. She could not tell what was going to happen. It was a
relief to her to be held fast and kept back–her consternation took her
strength from her. She was actually unable to follow her first impulse
and rush to the door.

Mrs. Preston came in by herself, quiet but tremulous. Her head shook a
little, but there was no sign of weakness about her now. She had been
defeated, but she had got over the bitterness of her defeat and was
prepared for a struggle. Jack felt the difference when he looked at her.
He had been contemptuous of her weak passion and repetition about her
rights; but he saw the change in a moment, and he met her, standing up,
holding Pamela fast, with his arm round her. Mrs. Preston had carried
the war into her enemy’s camp, and gone to his house to demand, as she
thought, every thing he had in the world. These were Jack’s
reprisals–he came to her citadel and claimed every thing _she_ had in
the world. It was his, and, more than that, it was already given to
him–his claim was allowed.

“You are here!” cried Mrs. Preston, passionately. “I thought you would
be here! you have come before me to steal her from me. I knew how it
would be!”

“I have come to claim what is mine,” said Jack, “before you interfere. I
know you will try to step between us; but you are not to step between
us–do what you like, she is mine.”

“Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston, still, notwithstanding her late defeat,
believing somehow strangely in the potency of the new fortune for which
she felt every body should fall at her feet, “things have changed. Stand
away from him, and listen to me. We’re rich now–we shall have
everything that heart ever desired; there is not a thing you can think
of but what I can give it you. You’ve thought I was hard upon you, dear,
but it was all for your sake. What do I care for money, but for your
sake?–Every thing you can think of, Pamela–it will be like a fairy
tale.”

Pamela stood still for one moment, looking at her mother and her lover.
She had disengaged herself from him, and stood, unrestrained, to make
her election. “If it is so, mamma,” she said, “I don’t know what you
mean–you know I don’t understand; but if it is, there’s no more
difficulty. It does not matter so much whether Mr. Brownlow consents or
not.”

“Mr. Brownlow!” cried her mother; “Mr. Brownlow has been your enemy,
child, since long before you were born. He has taken your money to bring
up his own fine lady upon. He has sent his son here when he can’t do any
better, to marry you and keep the money. Sir, go away from my child.
It’s your money he wants; your money, not you.”

Pamela turned round with surprise and terror in her face, and looked at
Jack; then she smiled softly and shook her head. “Mamma, you are
mistaken,” she said in her soft little voice, and held out her hand to
him. Mrs. Preston threw up her arms above her head wildly, and gave an
exceeding bitter cry.

“I am her mother,” she cried out, “her own mother, that have nursed her
and watched over her, and given up every thing to her–and she chooses
him rather than me–him that she has not known a year–that wants her
for her money, or for her pretty face. She chooses him before me!”

She stood up alone, calling upon heaven and earth, as it were, to see;
while the two clung together dismayed and pitiful, yet holding fast by
each other still. It was the everlasting struggle so continually
repeated; the past against the present and the future–the old love
against the new–and not any question of worldly interest. It was the
tragic figure of disappointment and desolation and age in face of hope
and love and joy. What she had been doing was poor and mean enough. She
had been intoxicated by the vision of sudden wealth, and had expected
every body to be abject before her; but now a deeper element had come
in. She forgot the fortune, the money, though it was still on her lips,
and cried out, in the depth of her despair, over the loss of the only
real wealth she had in the world. No tears came to her old eyes–her old
meagre arms rose rigid, yet trembling. “She chooses him before me!” she
said, with a cry of despair, which came from the bottom of her heart.

“Mamma,” cried poor little Pamela, tearing her hand from that of her
lover, and coming doubtfully into the midst between the two, “I don’t
choose! oh, mamma, how can I choose? I never was away from you in my
life–he promised we never were to be parted. How am I to give him up?
Oh, why, why should you ask me to give him up?” cried the poor child.
Floods of tears came to her aid. She put her pretty hands together like
a child at prayer–every line in her sweet face was in itself a
supplication. Jack, behind her, stood and watched and said nothing.
Perhaps he saw, notwithstanding, that it was against his interests–and
in his heart had a certain mournful pity for the despair in the old
woman’s terrible face.

“But I expect you to choose,” she said wildly; “things have come to
that. It must be him or me–him or me; there’s no midway between us. I
am your old mother, your poor old mother, that would pluck my heart out
of my breast to give it you. I’ve survived them all, and done without
them all, and lived for your sake. And he is a young man that was taken
with your pretty face–say it was your pretty face–say the best that
can be said. If you were like death–if you lost all your beauty and
your pretty ways–if you were ugly and ailing and miserable,–it would
be all the same to me; I would love you all the more–all the more; and
he–he would never look at you again. That’s nature. I require you to
choose. It must be him or me.”

As she stood listening, a change came over Pamela’s face. Her first
appeal to her mother had been full of emotion, but of a gentle, hopeful,
almost superficial kind. She had taken tears to her aid, and pleading
looks, and believed in their success now as always. But as Mrs. Preston
spoke, Pamela’s little innocent soul was shaken as by an earthquake. She
woke up and opened her eyes, and found that she was in a world new to
her–a world no longer of prayers, and tears, and sweet yielding, and
tender affection. It was not tender affection she had to do with now; it
was fierce love, desperate and ruthless, ready to tear her asunder. Her
tears dried up, her pretty checks grew pale as death, she looked from
one to the other with a wild look of wonder, asking if it was true. When
her mother’s voice ceased, it seemed to Pamela that the world stood
still for the moment, and every thing in heaven and earth held its
breath. She looked at Jack; he stood motionless, with his face clouded
over, and made no answer to her pitiful appeal. She looked at Mrs.
Preston, and saw her mother’s eager face hollow and excited, her eyes
blazing, her cheeks burning with a strange hectic heat. For one moment
she stood irresolute. Then she made one tottering step to her mother’s
side, and turned round and looked at her lover. Once more she clasped
her hands, though she had no longer any hope in pleading. “I must stay
here,” she said, with a long-drawn sobbing sigh–“I must stay here, if I
should die.”

They stood thus and looked at each other for one of those moments which
is as long as an age. The mother would have taken her child to her arms,
but Pamela would not. “Not now, not now!” she said, putting back the
embrace. Jack, for his part, stood and watched with an intensity of
perception he had never exercised before–all power of speech seemed to
have been taken from him. The struggle had ascended into a higher region
of passion than he knew of. He turned and went to the door, with the
intention, so far as he had any intention, of retiring for the moment
from the contest. Then he came back again. Whatever the pressure on him
might be, he could not leave Pamela so.

“Look here,” he said abruptly; “I am going away. But if you think I
accept this as a choice or decision, you are much mistaken. You force
her to give in to you, and then you think I am to accept it! I’ll do no
such thing. She could not say any thing else, or do any thing else–but
all the same, she is mine. You can’t touch that, do what you like.
Pamela, darling, don’t lose heart; it’s only for a little while.”

He did not stop to listen to what her mother said; he turned at once and
went out, unconsciously, in his excitement, thrusting Mrs. Swayne out of
his way, who was in the passage. He went off up the avenue at a stretch
without ever drawing breath. A hundred wild thoughts rose in his mind;
her mother! what was her mother to him? He was ready to vow with Hamlet,
that twenty thousand mothers could not have filled up his sum of love;
and yet he was not blaming his Pamela. She could not have done
otherwise. Why had he never been told? why had not he known that this
downfall was hanging over him? Why had he been such a fool as to give in
at all to the sweet temptation? Now, of course, when things had come
this length, he would as soon have cut his own throat as given Pamela
up. And what with love and rage, and the sudden calamity, and the
gradual exasperation, he was beside himself, and did not well know what
he was about. He was almost too much absorbed in his own affairs to be
able to understand Sara, who came to him as he entered the house, and
drew him aside into the dining-room to speak to him. Sara was pale
enough to justify her pretext of headache, but otherwise she was full of
energy and spirit, and met the emergency with a courageous heart.

“We must face it out as well as we can, Jack,” she said, with her eyes
shining out large and full from her white face. “We must keep up before
all these people. They must not be able to go away and say that
something went terribly wrong at Brownlows. We must keep it up to the
last.”

“Pshaw! what does it matter what they think or what they say?” said
Jack, sitting down with a sigh of weariness. As for Sara, who was not
tired, nor had any personal complication to bow her down, she blazed up
at his indifference.

“It matters every thing!” she cried. “We may not be a county family any
more, nor fine people, but we are always the Brownlows of Masterton.
Nobody must have a word to say about it–for papa’s sake.”

“Every body will soon be at liberty to say what they please about it,”
said Jack. “Where is he? I had better go and talk to him, I suppose?”

“Papa is in the library,” said Sara. “Jack, he wants our support. He
wants us to stand by him–or, I mean, he wants you; as for me,” she
continued, with a flash of mingled softness and defiance, “he knows _I_
would not forsake him; he wants you.”

“Why shouldn’t you forsake him?” said Jack, with a momentary growl; “and
why should he be doubtful of me?”

But he did not wait for any answer. He took the decanter of sherry from
the sideboard, and swallowed he did not know how much; and then he went
off to the library to seek out his father. There was a certain
stealthiness about the house–a feeling that the people belonging to it
were having interviews in corners, that they were consulting each other,
making solemn decisions, and that their guests were much in the way.
Though Sara rushed away immediately to the room where her friends were,
after waylaying her brother, her appearance did not alter the strong
sense every body had of the state of affairs. The very servants slunk
out of Jack’s way, and stood aside in corners to watch him going into
the library. He called the footman out of his hiding-place as he passed,
and swore at him for an impertinent fool. The man had been doing nothing
that was impertinent, and yet he did not feel that there was injustice
in the accusation. Something very serious had happened, and the
consciousness of it had gone all through the house.

Mr. Brownlow was sitting in the library doing nothing. That, at least,
was his visible aspect. Within himself he had been calculating and
reckoning up till his wearied brain whirled with the effort. He sat
leaning his arms on the table and his head in his hands. By this time
his powers of thought had failed him. He sat looking on, as it were, and
saw the castle of his prosperity crumbling down into dust before him.
Every thing he had ever aimed at seemed to drop from him. He had no
longer any thing to conceal; but he knew that he had stood at the bar
before his children, and had been pardoned but not justified. They would
stand by him, but they did not approve him; and they had seen the veil
of his heart lifted, and had looked in and found darker things there
than he himself had ever been conscious of. He was so absorbed in this
painful maze of thought that he did not even look up when Jack came in.
Of course Jack would come; he knew that. Jack was ruined; they were all
ruined. All for the advantage of a miserable woman who would get no
comfort out of her inheritance, whose very life was hanging on a thread.
It seemed hard to him that Providence, which had always been so kind to
him, should permit it. When his son came in and drew a chair to the
other side of the table he roused himself. “Is it you, Jack?” he said;
“I am so tired that I fear I am stupid. I was very hard driven last
night.”

“Yes,” said Jack, with a little shudder; and Mr. Brownlow looked at him,
and their eyes met, and they knew what each had meant. It was a hard
moment for the father who had been mad, and had come to his senses
again, but yet did not know what horrible suspicion it was under which
for a moment he had lain.

“I was hard driven,” he repeated, pathetically–“very hard put to it. I
had been standing out for a long time, and then in a moment I broke
down–that is how it was. But I shall be able to talk it all over with
you–by and by.”

“That was what I came for, sir,” said Jack. “We must know what we are to
do.”

And then Mr. Brownlow put down his supporting hands from his head, and
steadied himself in a wearied wondering way. Jack for the moment had the
authority on his side.

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