SARA

Mr. Brownlow had one son and one daughter–the boy, a very good natured,
easy-minded, honest sort of young fellow, approaching twenty-one, and
not made much account of either at home or abroad. The daughter was
Sara. For people who know her, or indeed who are at all acquainted with
society in Dartfordshire, it is unnecessary to say more; but perhaps the
general public may prefer a clearer description. She was the queen of
John Brownlow’s house, and the apple of his eye. At the period of which
we speak she was between nineteen and twenty, just emerging from what
had always been considered a delicate girlhood, into the full early
bloom of woman. She had too much character, too much nonsense, too many
wiles, and too much simplicity in her, to be, strictly speaking,
beautiful; and she was not good enough or gentle enough to be lovely.
And neither was she beloved by all, as a heroine ought to be. There were
some people who did not like her, as well as some who did, and there
were a great many who fluctuated between love and dislike, and were
sometimes fond of her, and sometimes affronted with her; which, indeed,
was a very common state of mind with herself. Sara was so much a girl of
her age that she had even the hair of the period, as the spring flowers
have the colors of spring. It was light-brown, with a golden tint, and
abundant as locks of that color generally are; but it can not be denied
that it was darker than the fashionable shade, and that Sara was not
above being annoyed by this fact, nor even above a vague and shadowy
idea of doing something to bring it to the correct tint; which may rank
as one of the constantly recurring proofs that young women are in fact
the least vain portion of the creation, and have less faith in the
efficacy of their natural charms than any other section of the race. She
had a little rosebud mouth, dewy and pearly, and full eyes, which were
blue, or gray, or hazel, according as you looked at them, and according
to the sentiment they might happen to express. She was very tall, very
slight and flexible, and wavy like a tall lily, with the slightest
variable stoop in her pretty shoulders, for which her life had been
rendered miserable by many well-meaning persons, but which in reality
was one of her charms. To say that she stooped is an ugly expression,
and there was nothing ugly about Sara. It was rather that by times her
head drooped a little, like the aforesaid lily swayed by the softest of
visionary breezes. This, however, was the only thing lily-like or
angelic about her. She was not a model of any thing, nor noted for any
special virtues. She was Sara. That was about all that could be said for
her; and it is to be hoped that she may be able to evidence what little
bits of good there were in her during the course of this history, for
herself.

“Papa,” she said, as they sat together at the breakfast-table, “I will
call for you this afternoon, and bring you home. I have something to do
in Masterton.”

“Something to do in Masterton?” said Mr. Brownlow; “I thought you had
got every thing you could possibly want for three months at least when
you were in town.”

“Yes,” said Sara, “every thing one wants for one’s bodily
necessities–pins and needles and music, and all that sort of thing–but
one has a heart, though you might not think it, papa; and I have an idea
that one has a soul.”

“Do you think so?” said her father, with a smile; “but I can’t imagine
what your soul can have to do in Masterton. We don’t cultivate such
superfluities there.”

“I am going to see grandmamma,” said Sara. “I think it is my duty. I am
not fond of her, and I ought to be. I think if I went to see her oftener
perhaps it might do me good.”

“O! if it’s only for grandmamma,” said young John, “I go to see her
often enough. I don’t think you need take any particular trouble to do
her good.”

Upon which Sara sighed, and drooped a little upon its long stem her lily
head. “I hope I am not so stupid and conceited as to think I can do any
body good,” she said. “I may be silly enough, but I am not like that;
but I am going to see grandmamma. It is my duty to be fond of her, and
see after her; and I know I never go except when I can’t help it. I am
going to turn over a new leaf.”

Mr. Brownlow’s face had been overshadowed at the first mention of the
grandmother, as by a faint mist of annoyance. It did not go so far as to
be a cloud. It was not positive displeasure or dislike, but only a shade
of dissatisfaction, which he expressed by his silence. Sara’s
resolutions to turn over a new leaf were not rare, and her father was
generally much amused and interested by her good intentions; but at
present he only went on with his breakfast and said nothing. Like his
daughter, he was not fond of the grandmamma, and perhaps her sympathy
with his own sentiments in this respect was satisfactory to him at the
bottom of his heart; but it was not a thing he could talk about.

“There is a great deal in habit,” said Sara, in that experienced way
which belongs to the speculatist of nineteen. “I believe you can train
yourself to any thing, even to love people whom you don’t love by
nature. I think one could get to do that if one was to try.”

“I should not care much for your love if that was how it came,” said
young John.

“That would only show you did not understand,” said Sara, mildly. “To
like people for a good reason, is not that better than liking them
merely because you can’t help it? If there was any body that it suited
papa, for instance, to make me marry, don’t you think I would be very
foolish if I could not make myself fond of him? and ungrateful too?”

“Would you really do as much for me, my darling?” said Mr. Brownlow,
looking up at her with a glimmer of weakness in his eyes; “but I hope I
shall never require to put you to the test.”

“Why not, papa?” said Sara, cheerfully. “I am sure it would be a much
more sensible reason for being fond of any body that you wished it, than
just my own fancy. I should do it, and I would never hesitate about it,”
said the confident young woman; and the father, though he was a man of
some experience, felt his heart melt and glow over this rash statement
with a fond gratification, and really believed it, foolish as it was.

“And I shall drive down,” said Sara, “and look as fine as possible;
though, of course, I would far rather have Meg out, and ride home with
you in the afternoon. And it would do Meg a world of good,” she added,
pathetically. “But you know if one goes in for pleasing one’s
grandmamma, one ought to be content to please her in her own way. _She_
likes to see the carriage and the grays, and a great noise and fuss. If
it is worth taking the trouble for at all, it is worth doing it in her
own way.”

“_I_ walk, and she is always very glad to see me,” said John, in what
must be allowed was an unpleasant manner.

“Ah! you are different,” said Sara, with a momentary bend of her
graceful head. And, of course, he was very different. He was a mere man
or boy–whichever you prefer–not in the least ornamental, nor of very
much use to any body–whereas Sara–But it is not a difference that
could be described or argued about; it was a thing which could be
perceived with half an eye. When breakfast was over, the two gentlemen
went off to Masterton to their business; for young John had gone into
his father’s office, and was preparing to take up in his turn the
hereditary profession. Indeed, it is not clear that Mr. Brownlow ever
intended poor Jack to profit at all by his wealth, or the additional
state and grandeur the family had taken upon itself. To his eyes, so far
as it appeared, Sara alone was the centre of all this magnificence;
whereas Jack was simply the heir and successor of the Brownlows, who
had been time out of mind the solicitors of Masterton. For Jack, the
brick house in the High Street waited with all its old stores; and the
fairy accessories of their present existence, all the luxury and grace
and beauty–the grays–the conservatories–the park–the place in the
country–seemed a kind of natural appanage to the fair creature in whom
the race of Brownlow had come to flower, the father could not tell how;
for it seemed strange to think that he himself, who was but a homely
individual, should have been the means of bringing any thing so fair and
fine into the world. Probably Mr. Brownlow, when it came to making his
will, would be strictly just to his two children; but in the mean time,
in his thoughts, that was, no doubt, how things stood; and Jack
accordingly was brought up as he himself had been, rather as the heir of
the Brownlows’ business, their excellent connection and long-established
practice, than as the heir of Brownlows–two very different things, as
will be perceived.

When they went away Sara betook herself to her own business. She saw the
cook in the most correct and exemplary way. Fortunately the cook was
also the housekeeper, and a very good-tempered woman, who received all
her young mistress’s suggestions with amiability, and only complained
sometimes that Miss Brownlow would order every thing that was out of
season. “Not for the sake of extravagance,” Mrs. Stock said, in answer
to Sara’s maid, who had made that impertinent suggestion; “oh, no,
nothin’ of the sort–only out of always forgettin’, poor dear, and
always wantin’ me to believe as she knows.” But as Sara fortunately paid
but little attention to the dinner when produced, making no particular
criticism–not for want of will, but for want of knowledge–her
interview with the cook at least did no harm. And then she went into
many small matters which she thought were of importance. She had an
hour’s talk, for instance, with the gardener, who was, like most
gardeners, a little pig-headed, and fond of having his own way; and Sara
was rather of opinion that some of her hints had done him good; and she
made him, very unwillingly, cut some flowers for her to take to her
grandmother. Mrs. Fennell was not a woman to care for flowers if she
could have got them for the plucking; but expensive hothouse flowers in
the depth of winter were a different matter. Thus Sara reasoned as she
carried them in her basket, with a ground-work of moss beneath to keep
them fresh, and left them in the hall till the carriage should come
round. And she went to the stables, and looked at every thing in a
dainty way–not like your true enthusiast in such matters, but with a
certain gentle grandeur, as of a creature to whom satin-skinned cattle
and busy grooms were vulgar essentials of life, equally necessary, but
equally far off from her supreme altitude. She cared no more for the
grays in themselves than she did for Dick and Tom, which will be
sufficient to prove to any body learned in such matters how imperfect
her development was in this respect. All these little occupations were
very different from the occupations of her father and brother, who were
both of them in the office all day busy with other people’s wills and
marriage-settlements and conveyances. Thus it would have been as evident
to any impartial looker-on as it was to Mr. Brownlow, that the fortune
which had so much changed his position in the county, and given him such
very different surroundings, all centered in, and was appropriated to,
his daughter, while his old life, his hereditary business, the prose and
plain part of his existence, was to be carried out in his son.

When all the varieties of occupation in this useful day were about
exhausted, Sara prepared for her drive. She wrapped herself up in fur
and velvet, and every thing that was warmest and softest and most
luxurious; and with her basket of flowers and another little basket of
game, which she did not take any personal charge of, rolled away out of
the park gates to Masterton. Brownlows had belonged to a very
unsuccessful race before it came to be Brownlow’s. It had been in the
hands of poor, failing, incompetent people, which was, perhaps, the
reason why its original name had dropped so completely out of
recollection. Now, for the first time in its existence, it looked really
like “a gentleman’s place.” But yet there were eye-sores about. One of
these was a block of red brick, which stood exactly opposite the park
gates, opposite the lodge which Mr. Brownlow had made so pretty. There
were only two cottages in the block, and they were very unpretending and
very clean, and made the life of the woman in the lodge twice as
lightsome and agreeable; but to Sara’s eyes at least, Swayne’s Cottages,
as they were called, were very objectionable. They were two-storied
houses, with windows and doors very flush with the walls; as if, which
indeed was the case, the walls themselves were of the slightest
construction possible; and Swayne himself, or rather Mrs. Swayne, who
was the true head of the house, let a parlor and bedroom to lodgers who
wanted country air and quiet at a cheap rate. “Any body might come,”
Sara was in the habit of saying; “your worst enemy might come and sit
down there at your very door, and spy upon every thing you were doing.
It makes me shudder when I think of it.” Thus she had spoken ever since
her father’s entrance upon the glories of his “place,” egging him up
with all her might to attack this little Naboth’s vineyard. But there
never was a Naboth more obstinate in his rights than Mr. Swayne, who was
a carpenter and builder, and had put the two houses together himself,
and was proud of them; and Sara was then too young and too much under
the sway of her feelings to take upon her in cold blood Jezebel’s
decisive part.

She could not help looking at them to-day as she swept out, with the two
grays spurning the gravel under foot, and the lodge-woman at the gate
looking up with awe while she made her courtesy as if to the queen. Mrs.
Swayne, too, was standing at her door, but she did not courtesy to Sara.
She stood and looked as if she did not care–the splendor and the luxury
were nothing to her. She looked out in a calm sort of indifferent way,
which was to Sara what, to continue a scriptural symbolism, Mordecai was
to another less fortunate personage. And Mrs. Swayne had a ticket of
“Lodgings” in her window. It could do her no good, for nobody ever
passed along that road who could be desirous of country lodgings at a
cheap rate, and this advertisement looked to Sara like an intentional
insult. The wretched woman might get about eight shillings a week for
her lodgings, and for that paltry sum she could allow herself to post up
bills opposite the very gate of Brownlows; but then some people have so
little feeling. This trifling incident occupied Sara’s mind during at
least half her drive. The last lodger had been a consumptive patient,
whose pale looks had filled her with compassionate impulses, against
which her dislike of Mrs. Swayne contended vainly. Who would it be next?
Some other invalid most likely, as pale and as poor, to make one
discontented with the world and ashamed of one’s self the moment one
issued forth from the park gates, and all because of the determination
of the Swaynes to annoy their wealthy neighbors. The thought made Sara
angry as she drove along; but it was a brisk winter afternoon, with
frost in the air, and the hoofs of the grays rang on the road, and even
the country waggons seemed to move along at an exhilarated pace. So Sara
thought, who was young, and whose blood ran quickly in her veins, and
who was wrapped up to the throat in velvet and fur. Now and then another
carriage would roll past, when there were people who nodded or kissed
their hands to Sara as they passed, with all that clang of hoofs and
sweep of motion, merrily on over the hard road beneath the naked trees.
And the people who were walking walked briskly, as if the blood was
racing in their veins too, and rushing warm and vigorous to healthy
cheeks. If any cheeks were blue rather than red, if any hearts were sick
with the cold and the weary way, if any body she met chanced to be going
heavily home to a hearth where there was no fire, or a house from which
love and light had gone, Sara, glowing to the wind, knew nothing of
that; and that the thought never entered her mind was no fault of hers.

The winter sky was beginning to dress itself in all the glories of
sunset when she got to Masterton. It had come to be the time of the year
when the sun set in the rectory garden, and John Brownlow’s windows in
the High Street got all aglow. Perhaps it brought associations to his
mind as the dazzling red radiance flashed in at the office window, and
he laid down his pen. But the fact was that this pause was caused by a
sound of wheels echoing along the market-place, which was close by. That
must be Sara. Such was the thought that passed through Mr. Brownlow’s
mind. He did not think, as the last gleam came over him, how he used to
look up and see Bessie passing–that Bessie who had come to be his
wife–nor of any other moving event that had happened to him when the
sun was coming in at his windows aslant in that undeniable way. No; all
that he thought was, There goes Sara; and his face softened, and he
began to put his papers together. The child in her living importance,
little lady and sovereign of all that surrounded her, triumphed thus
even over the past and the dead.

Mrs. Fennell had lodgings in a street which was very genteel, and opened
off the market-place. The houses were not very large, but they had
pillars to the doors and balconies to all the first-floor windows; and
some very nice people lived there. Mrs. Fennell was very old and not
able to manage a house for herself, so she had apartments, she and her
maid–one of the first floors with the balconies–a very comfortable
little drawing-room, which the care of her friends had filled with every
description of comfortable articles. Her paralytic husband was dead ages
ago, and her daughter Bessie was dead, and her beloved but
good-for-nothing son–and yet the old woman had lived on. Sometimes,
when any thing touched her heart, she would mourn over this, and ask why
she had been left when every thing was gone that made life sweet to her;
but still she lived on; and at other times it must be confessed that she
was not an amiable old woman. It is astonishing how often it happens
that the sweet domestic qualities do not descend from mother to
daughter, but leap a generation as it were, interjecting a passionate,
peevish mother to bring out in full relief the devotion of her child–or
a selfish exacting child to show the mother’s magnanimity. Such
contrasts are very usual among women–I don’t know if they are visible
to the same extent as between father and son. Mrs. Fennell was not
amiable. She was proud and quarrelsome and bitter–exacting of every
profit and every honor, and never contented. She was proud to think of
her son-in-law’s fine house and her granddaughter’s girlish splendor;
and yet it was the temptation of her life to rail at them, to tell how
little he had done for her, and to reckon up all he ought to have done,
and to declare if it had not been for the Fennells and their friends, it
was little any body would ever have heard of John Brownlow. All this
gave her a certain pleasure; and at the same time Sara’s visit with the
grays and the state equipage and the tall footman, and her entrance in
her rich dress with her sables, which had cost nobody could tell how
much, and her basket of flowers which could not have been bought in
Dartfordshire for their weight in gold, was the triumph of her life. As
soon as she heard the sound of the wheels in the street–which was not
visited by many carriages–she would steal out into her bedroom and
change her cap with her trembling hands. She never changed her cap for
Jack, who came on foot, and brought every kind of homely present to
please her and make her comfortable. But Sara was different–and Sara’s
presents added not to her comfort, but to her glory, which was quite
another affair.

“Well, my dear,” she said, with a mixture of peevishness and pleasure,
as the girl came in, “so this is you. I thought you were never coming to
see me any more.”

“I beg your pardon, grandmamma,” said Sara. “I know I have been
neglecting my duty, but I mean to turn over a new leaf. There are some
birds down below that I thought you would like, and I have brought you
some flowers. I will put them in your little vases if I may ring for
Nancy to bring some water. I made Pitt cut me this daphne, though I
think he would rather have cut off my head. It will perfume the whole
room.”

“My dear, you know I don’t like strong smells,” said Mrs. Fennell. “I
never could bear scents–a little whiff of musk, and that was all I ever
cared for–though your poor mamma was such a one for violets and trash.
And I haven’t got servants to be running up and down stairs as you have
at your fine place. One maid for every thing is considered quite enough
for me.”

“Well, grandmamma,” said Sara, “you have not very much to do, you know.
If I were you, I would have a nice _young_ maid that would look pleasant
and cheerful instead of that cross old Nancy, who never looks pleased at
any thing.”

“What good do you think I could have of a young maid?” said Mrs.
Fennell–“nasty gossiping tittering things, that are twenty times more
bother than they’re worth. I have Nancy because she suits me, and
because she was poor old Mrs. Thomson’s maid, as every body has
forgotten but her and me. The dead are soon out of mind, especially when
they’ve got a claim on living folks’ gratitude. If it wasn’t for poor
Mrs. Thomson where would your grand carriage have been, and your
daphnes, and your tall footmen, and all your papa’s grandeur? But
there’s nobody that thinks on her but me.”

“I am sure _I_ have not forgotten her,” said Sara. “I wish I could. She
must have been a horrible old wretch, and I wish she had left papa
alone. I’d rather not have Brownlows if I am always to hear of that
wretched old woman. I suppose Nancy is her ghost and haunts you. I hate
to hear her horrid old name.”

“You are just like all the rest,” said the grandmother–“ashamed of your
relations because you are so fine; and if it had not been for your
relations–she was your poor mamma’s cousin, Miss Sairah–if it was only
that, and out of respect to me–”

“Don’t call me Sairah, please,” said the indignant little visitor. “I do
hate it so; and I have not done any thing that I know of to be called
Miss for. What is the use of quarreling, grandmamma? Do let us be
comfortable a little. You can’t think how cold it is out of doors. Don’t
you think it is rather nice to be an old lady and sit by the fire and
have every body come to see you, and no need to take any trouble with
making calls or any thing? I think it must be one of the nicest things
in the world.”

“Do you think _you_ would like it?” the old woman said grimly from the
other side of the fire.

“It is different, you know,” said Sara, drooping her pretty head as she
sat before the fire with the red light gleaming in her hair. “You were
once as young as me, and you can go back to that in your mind; and then
mamma was once as young as me, and you can go back to that. I should
think it must feel like walking out in a garden all your own, that
nobody else has any right to; while the rest of us, you know–”

“Ah!” said the old woman with a cry; “but a garden that you once tripped
about, and once saw your children tripping about, and now you have to
hobble through it all alone. Oh child, child! and never a sound in it,
but all the voices gone and all the steps that you would give the world
to hear!”

Sara roused herself up out of her meditation, and gave a startled
astonished look into the corner where the cross old grandmother was
sobbing in the darkness. The child stumbled to her feet, startled and
frightened and ashamed of what she had done, and went and threw herself
upon the old woman’s neck. And poor old Mrs. Fennell sobbed and pushed
her granddaughter away, and then hugged and kissed her, and stroked her
pretty hair and the feather in her hat and her soft velvet and fur. The
thoughtless girl had given her a stab, and yet it was such a stab as
opens while it wounds. She sobbed, but a touch of sweetness came along
with the pain, and for the moment she loved again, and grew human and
motherlike, warming out of the chills of her hard old age.

“_You_ need not talk of cold, at least,” she said when the little
_accès_ was over, and when Sara, having bestowed upon her the first real
affectionate kiss she had given her since she came to woman’s estate,
had dropped again into the low chair before the fire, feeling a little
astonished, yet rather pleased with herself for having proved equal to
the occasion–“you need not talk of cold with all that beautiful fur. It
must have cost a fortune. Mrs. Lyon next door will come to see me
to-morrow and she will take you all to pieces, and say it isn’t real.
And such a pretty feather! I like you in that kind of hat–it is very
becoming; and you look like a little princess just now as you sit before
the fire.”

“Do I?” said Sara. “I am very glad you are pleased, grandmamma. I put on
my very best to please you. Do you remember the little cape you made for
me, when I was a tiny baby, out of your great old muff? I have got it
still. But oh, listen to that daphne how it tells it is here! It is all
through the room, as I said it would be. I must ring for some water, and
your people, when they come to call, will never say the daphne is not
real. It will contradict them to their face. Please, Nancy, some water
for the flowers.”

“Thomas says it’s time for you to be a-going, Miss,” said Nancy, grimly.

“Oh, Thomas can say what he pleases; papa will wait for me,” cried Sara;
“and grandmamma and I are such friends this time. There is some cream in
the basket, Nancy, for tea; for you know our country cream is the best;
and some of the grapes of my pet vine; don’t look sulky, there’s an old
dear. I am coming every week. And grandmamma and I are such friends–”

“Anyhow, she’s my poor Bessie’s own child,” said Mrs. Fennell, with a
little deprecation; for Nancy, who had been old Mrs. Thomson’s servant,
was stronger even than herself upon the presumption of Brownlows, and
how, but for them as was dead and gone and forgotten, such splendor
could never have been.

“Sure enough,” said Nancy, “and more people’s child as well,” which was
the sole but pregnant comment she permitted herself to make. Sara,
however, got her will, as she usually did. She took off her warm cloak,
which the two old women examined curiously, and scorned Thomas’s
recommendations, and made and shared her grandmother’s tea, while the
grays drove up and down the narrow street, dazzling the entire
neighborhood, and driving the coachman desperate. Mr. Brownlow, too, sat
waiting and wondering in his office, thinking weakly that every cab that
passed must be Sara’s carriage. The young lady did not hurry herself.
“It was to please grandmamma,” as she said; certainly it was not to
please herself, for there could not be much pleasure for Sara in the
society of those two old women, who were not sweet-tempered, and who
were quite as like, according to the mood they might happen to be in, to
take the presents for insults as for tokens of love. But, then, there
was always a pleasure in having her own way, and one of which Sara was
keenly susceptible. When she called for her father eventually, she
complained to him that her head ached a little, and that she felt very
tired. “The daphne got to be a little overpowering in grandmamma’s small
room,” she said; “I dare say they would put it out of window as soon as
I was gone; and, besides, it _is_ a little tiring, to tell the truth.
But grandmamma was quite pleased,” said the disinterested girl. And John
Brownlow took great care of his Sara as they drove out together, and
felt his heart grow lighter in his breast when she recovered from her
momentary languor, and looked up at the frosty twinkling in the skies
above, and chattered and laughed as the carriage rolled along, lighting
up the road with its two lamps, and dispersing the silence with a brisk
commotion. He was prouder of his child than if she had been his
bride–more happy in the possession of her than a young man with his
love. And yet John Brownlow was becoming an old man, and had not been
without cares and uncomfortable suggestions even on that very day.

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