SARA’S OWN AFFAIRS

Sara’s affairs were perhaps not so interesting, as indeed they were far
from being so advanced, as those of Jack; but still all this time they
were making progress. It was not without cause that the image of Powys
stole across her mental vision when Jack warned her to look at the beam
in her own eye. There could be little doubt that Mr. Brownlow had
encouraged Powys. He had asked him to come generally, and he had added
to this many special invitations, and sometimes, indeed, when Jack was
not there, had given the young man a seat in the dog-cart, and brought
him out. All this was very confusing, not to Sara, who, as she thought,
saw into the motives of her father’s conduct, and knew how it was; but
to the clerk in Mr. Brownlow’s office, who felt himself thus singled
out, and could not but perceive that no one else had the same privilege.
It filled him with many wondering and even bewildered thoughts. Perhaps
at the beginning it did not strike him so much, semi-republican as he
was; but he was quick-witted, and when he looked about him, and saw that
his neighbors did not get the same advantages, the young Canadian felt
that there must be something in it. He was taken in, as it were, to Mr.
Brownlow’s heart and home, and that not without a purpose, as was told
him by the angry lines in Jack’s forehead. He was taken in and admitted
into the habits of intimacy, and had Sara, as it were, given over to
him; and what did it mean? for that it must mean something he could not
fail to see.

Thus young Powys’s position was very different from that of Jack. Jack
had been led into his scrape unwittingly, having meant nothing. But it
would have been impossible for Powys to act in the same way. To him
unconsciousness was out of the question. He might make it clear to
himself, in a dazzled self-conscious way, that his own excellence could
have nothing to do with it; that it must be accident, or good fortune,
or something perfectly fortuitous; but yet withal the sense remained
that he and no other had been chosen for this privilege, and that it
could not be for nothing. He was modest and he had good sense, more than
could have been expected from his age and circumstances; but yet every
thing conspired to make him forget these sober qualities. He had not
permitted himself so much as to think at his first appearance that Miss
Brownlow, too, was a young human creature like himself. He had said to
himself, on the contrary, that she was of a different species, that she
was as much out of his reach as the moon or the stars, and that if he
suffered any folly to get into his head, of course he would have to
suffer for it. But the folly had got into his head, and he had not
suffered. He had been left with her, and she had talked to him, and made
every thing very sweet to his soul. She had dropped the magic drop into
his cup, which makes the mildest draught intoxicating, and the poor
young fellow had felt the subtle charm stealing over him, and had gone
on bewildered, justifying himself by the tacit encouragement given him,
and not knowing what to think or what to do. He knew that between her
and him there was a gulf fixed. He knew that of all men in the world he
was the last to conceive any hopes in which such a brilliant little
princess as Sara could be involved. It was doubly and trebly out of the
question. He was not only a poor clerk, but he was a poor clerk with a
family to support. It was all mere madness and irredeemable folly; but
still Mr. Brownlow took him out to his house, and still he saw, and was
led into intimate companionship with his master’s daughter. And what
could it mean, or how could it end? Powys fell into such a maze at last,
that he went and came unconsciously in a kind of insanity. Something
must come of it one of these days. Something;–a volcanic eruption and
wild blazing up of earth and heaven–a sudden plunge into madness or
into darkness. It was strange, very strange to him, to think what Mr.
Brownlow could mean by it; he was very kind to him–almost paternal–and
yet he was exposing him to this trial, which he could neither fly from
nor resist. Thus poor Powys pondered to himself many a time, while, with
a beating heart, he went along the road to Brownlows. He could have
delivered himself, no doubt, if he would, but he did not want to deliver
himself. He had let all go in a kind of desperation. It must end, no
doubt, in some dreadful sudden downfall of all his hopes. But indeed he
had no hopes; he knew it was madness; yet it was a madness he was
permitted, even encouraged in; and he gave himself up to it, and let
himself float down the stream, and said to himself that he would shut
his eyes, and take what happiness he could get in the present moment,
and shut out all thoughts of the future. This he was doing with a kind
of thrill of prodigal delight, selling his birthright for a mess of
pottage, giving up all the freshness of his heart, and all its force of
early passion, for what?–for nothing. To throw another flower in the
path of a girl who trod upon nothing but flowers; this was what he felt
it to be in his saner moments. But the influence of that sanity never
stopped him in what he was doing. He had never in his life met with any
thing like her, and if she chose to have this supreme luxury of a man’s
heart and life offered up to her all for nothing–what then? He was not
the man to grudge her that richest and most useless gift. It was not
often he went so deep as this, or realized what a wild cause he was
embarked on: but when he did, he saw the matter clearly enough, and knew
how it must be.

As for Sara, she was very innocent of any such thoughts. She was not the
girl to accept such a holocaust. If she had known what was in his heart,
possibly she might have scorned him for it; but she never suspected what
was passing in his heart. She did not know of that gulf fixed. His real
position, that position which was so very true and unquestionable to
him, was not real at all to Sara. He was a fairy prince, masquerading
under that form for some reason known to himself and Mr. Brownlow; or if
not that, then he was the man to whom, according to her father’s will,
she was to give herself blindly out of pure filial devotion. Anyhow
something secret, mysterious, beyond ordinary ken, was in it; something
that gave piquancy to the whole transaction. She was not receiving a
lover in a commonplace sort of way when she entertained young Powys, but
was instead a party to an important transaction, fulfilling a grand
duty, either to her father menaced by some danger, or to a hero
transformed whom only the touch of a true maiden could win back to his
rightful shape. As it happened, this fine devotion was not disagreeable
to her; but Sara felt, no doubt, that she would have done her duty quite
as unswervingly had the fairy prince been bewitched into the person of
the true Beast of the story instead of that of her father’s clerk.

It was a curious sort of process to note, had there been any spectator
by sufficiently at ease to note it; but there was not, unless indeed Mr.
Hardcastle and Fanny might have stood in that capacity. As for the
rector, he washed his hands of it. He had delivered his own soul just as
Mrs. Swayne had delivered hers in respect to the other parties. He had
told Mr. Brownlow very plainly what his opinion was. “My dear fellow,”
he had said, “you don’t know what you are doing. Be warned in time. You
don’t think what kind of creatures girls and boys are at that age. And
then you are compromising Sara with the world. Who do you think would
care to be the rival of your clerk? It is very unfair to your child. And
then Sara is just one of the girls that are most likely to suffer. She
is a girl that has fancies of her own. You know I am as fond of her
almost as I am of my Fanny, but there could not be a greater difference
than between the two. Fanny _might_ come safely through such an ordeal,
but Sara is of a different disposition; she is capable of thinking that
it doesn’t matter, she is capable, though one does not like even to
mention such an idea, of falling in love–”

Mr. Brownlow winced a little at this suggestion. I suppose men don’t
like to think of their womenkind falling in love. There is a certain
desecration in the idea. “No,” he said, with something in his voice that
was half approval and half contempt, “you need not be afraid of Fanny;
and as for Sara, I trust Providence will take care of her–as you seem
to think she has so poor a guardian in me.”

“Ah, Brownlow, we must both feel what a disadvantage we are at,” said
Mr. Hardcastle, with a sigh, “with our motherless girls; and theirs is
just the age at which it tells.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, shaping his face a little, unawares, into the
right look. The rector had had two mothers for Fanny, and was used to
this kind of thing; indeed it was never off the cards, as Fanny herself
was profoundly aware, that there might be a third; and accordingly he
had a right to be effusive about it: whereas Mr. Brownlow had had but
one love in his life, and could not talk on the subject. But he knew his
duty sufficiently to look solemn, and assent to his pastor’s proposition
about the motherless girls.

“On that account, if on no other, we ought to give them our double
attention,” the rector continued. “You know I can have but one motive.
Take my word for it, it is not fit that your clerk should be brought
into your daughter’s society. If any foolish complication should come of
it, you would never forgive yourself; and only think of the harm it
would do Sara in the world.”

“Softly, Hardcastle,” said Mr. Brownlow, “don’t go too far. Sara and the
world have nothing to do with each other. That sort of thing may answer
well enough for your hackneyed girls who have gone through a few seasons
and are up to every thing; but to the innocent–”

“My dear Brownlow,” said the rector, with a certain tone of patronage
and compassion, “I know how much I am inferior to you in true knowledge
of the world; but perhaps–let us say–the world of fashion–may be a
little better known to me than to you.”

Mr. Brownlow was roused by this. “I don’t know how it should be so,” he
said, looking very steadily at the rector. Mr. Hardcastle had a second
cousin who was an Irish peer. That was the chief ground of his social
pretensions, and the world of fashion, to tell the truth, had never
fallen much in his way; but still a man who has a cousin a lord, when he
claims superior knowledge of society to that possessed by another man
who has no such distinction, generally, in the country at least, has his
claim allowed.

“You think not?” he said, stammering and growing red. “Oh, ah–well–of
course–in that case I can’t be of any use. I am sorry to have thrust my
opinion on you. If you feel yourself so thoroughly qualified–”

“Don’t take offense,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I have no such high opinion of
my qualifications. I don’t think we are, either of us, men of fashion to
speak of, but, as it happens, I know my own business. It suits me to
have my clerk at hand–and he is not just an ordinary clerk; and I hope
Sara is not the sort of girl to lose her head and go off into silly
romances. I have confidence in her, you see, as you have in
Fanny–though perhaps it may not be so perfectly justified,” Mr.
Brownlow added, with a smile. Fanny was known within her own circle to
be a very prudent little woman, almost too prudent, and this was a point
which the rector always felt.

“Well, I hope you will find it has been for the best,” Mr. Hardcastle
answered, and he sighed in reply to his friend’s smile: evidently he did
not expect it would turn out for the best–but at all events he had
delivered his soul.

And Fanny, in the mean time, was delivering her little lecture to Sara.
They had been dining at Brownlows, and there were no other guests, and
the two girls were alone in the drawing-room, in that little half-hour
which the gentlemen spent over their temperate glass of claret. It is an
hour much bemoaned by fast young women, but, as the silent majority are
aware, it is not an unpleasant hour. Fanny Hardcastle and Sara Brownlow
were great friends in their way. They were in the habit of seeing each
other continually, of going to the same places, of meeting the same
people. It was not exactly a friendship of natural affinity, but rather
of proximity, which answers very well in many cases. Probably Fanny, for
her part, was not capable of any thing more enthusiastic. They told each
other every thing–that is, they each told the other as much as that
other could understand. Fanny, by instinct, refrained from putting
before Sara all the prudences and sensible restrictions that existed in
her own thoughts; and Sara, equally by instinct, was dumb about her own
personal feelings and fancies, except now and then when carried away by
their vehemence. “She would not understand me, you know,” both of them
would have said. But to-night Fanny had taken upon herself the prophetic
office. She, too, had her burden of warning to deliver, and to free her
own soul from all responsibility in her neighbor’s fate.

“Sara,” she said, “I saw you the other day when you did not see me. You
were in the park–down there, look, under that tree; and _that_ Mr.
Powys was with you. You know I once saw him here.”

“I do not call that the park–I call that the avenue,” said Sara; but
she saw that her companion spoke with _intention_, and a certain
quickening of color came to her face.

“You may call it any thing you please, but I am sure it _is_ the park,”
said Fanny, “and I want to speak to you about it. I am sure I don’t know
who Mr. Powys is–I dare say he is very nice–but _do_ you think it is
quite right walking about with him like that? You told me yourself he
was in your papa’s office. You know Sara, dear, I wouldn’t say a word to
you if it wasn’t for your good.”

“What is for my good?” said Sara–“walking in the park? or having you to
speak to me? As for Mr. Powys, I don’t suppose you know any thing about
him, so of course you can’t have any thing to say.”

“I wish you would not gallop on like that and take away one’s breath,”
said Fanny. “Of course I don’t know any thing about him. He may be very
nice–I am sure I can’t say; or he may be very amusing–they often are,”
Fanny added, with a sigh, “when they are no good. But don’t go walking
and talking with him, Sara; don’t, there’s a dear; people will talk; you
_know_ how they talk. And if he is only in your papa’s office–”

“I don’t see what difference that can possibly make,” said Sara with a
little vehemence.

“But it does make a difference,” said Fanny, once more with a sigh. “If
he were ever so nice, it could be _no good_. Mr. Brownlow may be very
kind to him, but he would never let you marry him, Sara. Yes, of course,
that is what it must come to. A girl should not stray about in the park
with a man unless he was a man that she could marry if he asked her. I
don’t mean to say that she _would_ marry, but at least that she could.
And, besides, a girl owes a duty to herself even if her father would
consent. You, in your position, ought to make a very different match.”

“You little worldly-minded wretch,” cried Sara, “have you nearly done?”

“Any body would tell you so as well as me,” said Fanny. “You might have
had that big Sir Charles if you had liked. Papa is only a poor
clergyman, and we have not the place in society we might have; but you
can go everywhere, you who are so rich. And then the gentlemen always
like you. If you were to make a poor marriage it would be a shame.”

“When did you learn all that?” said Fanny’s hearer, aghast. “I never
thought you were half so wise.”

“I always knew it, dear,” said little Fanny, with complacency. “I used
to be too frightened to speak, and then you always talked so much
quicker and went on so. But when I was at my aunt’s in spring–”

“I shall always hate your aunt;” cried Sara–“I did before by instinct:
did she put it all into your head about matches and things? You were ten
thousand times better when you had only me. As if I would marry a man
because he would be a good marriage! I wonder what you take me for, that
you speak so to me!”

“Then what should you marry him for!” said little Fanny, with a toss of
her pretty head.

“For!” cried Sara, “not for any thing! for nothing at all! I hate
marrying. To think a girl can not live in this world without having
_that_ thrust into her face! What should I marry any body for? But I
shall do what I like, and walk when I like, and talk to any body that
pleases me,” cried the impetuous young woman. Her vehemence brought a
flush to her face and something like tears into her eyes; and Fanny, for
her part, looked on very gravely at an appearance of feeling of which
she entirely disapproved.

“I dare say you will take your own way,” she said–“you always did take
your own way; but at least you can’t say I did not warn you; and I hope
you will never be sorry for not having listened to me, Sara. I love you
all the same,” said Fanny, giving her friend a soft little kiss. Sara
did not return this salutation with the warmth it deserved. She was
flushed and angry and impatient, and yet disposed to laugh.

“You don’t hope any thing of the sort,” she said; “you hope I shall live
to be very sorry–and I hate your aunt.” This was how the warning ended
in the drawing-room. It was more elegantly expressed than it had been by
Mrs. Swayne and old Betty; but yet the burden of the prophecy was in
some respects the same.

When Sara thought over it at a later period of the night, she laughed a
little in her own mind at poor Fanny’s ignorance. Could she but know
that the poor clerk was an enchanted prince! Could she but guess that it
was in pure obedience to her father’s wishes that she had given him such
a reception! When he appeared in his true shape, whatever that might be,
how uncomfortable little Fanny would feel at the recollection of what
she had said! And then Sara took to guessing and wondering what his true
shape might be. She was not romantic to speak of in general. She was
only romantic in her own special case; and when she came to think of it
seriously, her good sense came to her aid–or rather not to her aid–to
her hindrance and confusion and bewilderment. Sara knew very well that
in those days people were not often found out to be princes in disguise.
She knew even that for a clerk in her father’s office to turn out the
heir to a peerage or even somebody’s son would be so unusual as to be
almost incredible. And what, then, could her father mean? Neither was
Mr. Brownlow the sort of man to pledge his soul on his daughter in any
personal emergency. Yet some cause there must be. When she had come this
length, a new sense seemed suddenly to wake up in Sara’s bosom, perhaps
only the result of her own thoughts, perhaps suggested, though she
would not have allowed that, by Fanny Hardcastle’s advice–a sudden
sense that she had been coming down from her natural sphere, and that
her father’s clerk was not a fit mate for her. She was very generous,
and hasty, and high-flown, and fond of her father, and fond of
amusement–and moved by all these qualities and affections together she
had jumped at the suggestion of Mr. Brownlow’s plan; but perhaps she had
never thought seriously of it as it affected herself that night. Now it
suddenly occurred to her how people might talk. Strangely enough, the
same thought which had been bitterness to her father, stung her also, as
soon as her eyes were opened. Miss Brownlow of Brownlows, who had
refused, or the same thing as refused, Sir Charles Motherwell–whom
young Keppel had regarded afar off as utterly beyond his reach–the
daughter of the richest man, and herself one of the most popular (Sara
did not even to herself say the prettiest; she might have had an inkling
of that too, but certainly she did not put it into articulate thought)
girls in the county–she bending from her high estate to the level of a
lawyer’s clerk; she going back to the hereditary position, reminding
every body that she was the daughter of the Masterton attorney, showing
the low tastes which one generation of higher culture could not be
supposed to have effaced! How could she do it? If she had been a duke’s
daughter it would not have mattered. In such a case nobody could have
thought of hereditary low tastes; but now–As Sara mused, the color grew
hotter and hotter in her cheeks. To think that it was only now, so late
in the day, that this occurred to her, after she had gone so far in the
way of carrying out her father’s wishes! To think that he could have
imposed such a sacrifice upon her! Sara’s heart smarted and stung her in
her breast as she thought of that. And then there suddenly came up a big
indignant blob of warm dew in either eye, which was not for her father
nor for her own dignity, but for something else about which she could
not parley with herself. And then she rushed at her candles and put them
out, and threw herself down on her bed. The fact was that she did sleep
in half an hour at the farthest, though she did not mean to, and thus
escaped from her thoughts; but that was not what she calculated upon.
She calculated on lying awake all night and saying many very pointed and
grievous things to her father when in the morning he should ask her the
meaning of her pale face and heavy eyes; but unfortunately her cheeks
were as fresh as the morning when the morning duly came, and her eyes as
bright, and Mr. Brownlow, seeing no occasion for it, asked no questions,
but had himself to submit to inquiries and condolences touching a bad
night and a pale face. He too had been moved by Mr. Hardcastle’s
warning–moved, not of course to any sort of acceptance of the rector’s
advice, but only to the length of being uncomfortable, while he took his
own way, which is at all times the only one certain result of good
advice. And he was depressed too about Jack’s communication which had
been made to him only two nights before, and of which he had spoken to
nobody. The thought of it was a humiliation to him. His two children
whom he had brought up so carefully, his only ones, in whom he had
expected his family to make a new beginning–and yet they both meant to
descend far below the ancestral level which he had hoped to see them
leave utterly behind! He was not what is called a proud man, and he had
never been ashamed of his origin or of his business. But yet, two such
marriages in one family, and one generation–! It was a bitter thought.

As for Sara, she would have said, had she been questioned, that she
thought of nothing else all day; and in fact it was her prevailing
pre-occupation. All the humiliations involved in it came gleaming across
her mind by intervals. Her pride rose up in arms. She did not know as
yet about the repetition or rather anticipation of her case which her
brother had been guilty of. But she did ponder over the probable
consequences. The hardest thing of all was that they would say it was
the fault of her race, that she was only returning to her natural level,
and that it was not wealth nor even admiration which could make true
gentlefolks; all which were sentiments to which Sara would have
subscribed willingly in any but her own case. When Powys arrived with
Mr. Brownlow in the evening, she received him with a stateliness that
chilled the poor young fellow to his heart. And he too had so many
thoughts, and just at that moment was wondering with an intensity which
put all the others to shame how it could possibly end, and what his
honor required of him, and what sort of a grey and weary desert life
would be after this dream was over. It seemed to him absolutely as if
the dream was coming to an end that night. Jack, who was never very
courteous to the visitor, left them immediately after dinner, and Mr.
Brownlow retired to the library for some time, and Powys had no choice
but to go where his heart had gone before him, up to the drawing-room
where Sara sat alone. Of course she ought to have had a chaperone; but
then this young man, being only a clerk from the office, did not count.

She was seated in the window, close to the Claude, which had been the
first thing that brought these two together; but to-night she was in no
meditative mood. She had provided herself with work, and was laboring at
it fiercely in a way which Powys had never seen before. And he did not
know that her heart too was beating very fast, and that she had been
wondering and wondering whether he would have the courage to come up
stairs. He had really had that courage, but now that he was there, he
did not know what to do. He came up to her at first, but she kept on
working and did not take any notice of him, she who up to this moment
had always been so sweet. The poor young fellow was cast down to the
very depths; he thought they had but taken him up and played upon him
for their amusement, and that now the end had come. And he tried, but
ineffectually, to comfort himself with the thought that he had always
known it must come to an end. Almost, when he saw her silence, her
absorbed looks, the constrained little glance she gave him as he came
into the room, it came into his mind that Sara herself would say
something to bring the dream to a distinct conclusion. If she had told
him that she divined his presumption, and that he was never more to
enter that room again, he would not have been surprised. It had been a
false position throughout–he knew that, and he knew that it must come
to an end.

But, in the mean time, a fair face must be put upon it. Powys, though he
was a backwoodsman, knew enough of life, or had sufficient instinct of
its requirements, to know that. So he went up to the Claude, and looked
at it sadly, with a melancholy he could not restrain.

“It is as you once said, Miss Brownlow,” said Powys–“always the same
gleam and the same ripples. I can understand your objections to it now.”

“The Claude?” said Sara, with unnecessary vehemence, “I hate it. I think
I hate all pictures; they are so everlastingly the same thing. Did Jack
go out, Mr. Powys, as you came up stairs?”

“Yes; he went out just after you had left us,” said Powys, glad to find
something less suggestive on which to speak.

“Again?” said Sara, plunging at the new subject with an energy which
proved it to be a relief to her also. “He is so strange. I don’t know if
papa told you; he is giving us a great deal of trouble just now. I am
afraid he has got fond of somebody very, very much below him. It will be
a dreadful thing for us if it turns out to be true.”

Poor Powys’s tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He gave a wistful
look at his tormentor, full of a kind of dumb entreaty. What did she say
it for? was it for him, without even the satisfaction of plain-speaking,
to send him away for ever?

“Of course you don’t know the circumstances,” said Sara, “but you can
fancy when he is the only son. I don’t think you ever took to Jack; but
of course he is a great deal to papa and me.”

“I think it was your brother who never took to me,” said Powys; “he
thought I had no business here.”

“He had no right to think so, when papa thought differently,” said Sara;
“he was always very disagreeable; and now to think he should be as
foolish as any of us.” When she had said this, Sara suddenly recollected
herself, and gave a glance up at her companion to see if he had observed
her indiscretion. Then she went on hastily with a rising color–“I wish
you would tell me, Mr. Powys, how it was that you first came to know
papa.”

“It is very easy,” said Powys; but there he too paused, and grew red,
and stopped short in his story with a reluctance that had nothing to do
with pride. “I went to him seeking employment,” he continued, making an
effort, and smiling a sickly smile. He knew she must know that, but yet
it cost him a struggle; and somehow every thing seemed to have changed
so entirely since those long-distant days.

“And you never knew him before?” said Sara–“nor your father?–nor any
body belonging to you?–I do so want to know.”

“You are surprised that he has been so kind to me,” said Powys, with a
pang; “and it is natural you should. No, there is no reason for it that
I know of, except his own goodness. He meant to be very, very kind to
me,” the young fellow added, with a certain pathos. It seemed to him as
he spoke that Mr. Brownlow had in reality been very cruel to him, but he
did not say it in words. Sara, for her part, gave him a little quick
fugitive glance; and it is possible, though no explanation was given,
that she understood what he did not speak.

“That was not what I meant,” she said, quickly; “only I thought there
was something–and then about your family, Mr. Powys?” she said, looking
up into his face with a curiosity she could not restrain. Certainly the
more she thought it over the more it amazed her. What could her father
mean?

“I have no family that I know of,” said Powys, with a momentary smile,
“except my mother and my little sisters. I am poor, Miss Brownlow, and
of no account whatever. I never saved Mr. Brownlow’s life, nor did any
thing he could be grateful to me for. And I did not know you nor this
house,” he went on, “when your father brought me here. I did not know,
and I could live without–Don’t ask me any more questions, please; for I
fear I don’t know what I am saying to-day.”

Here there was a pause, for Sara, though fearless enough in most cases,
was a little alarmed by his suppressed vehemence. She was alarmed, and
at the same time she was softened, and her inquisitiveness was stronger
than her prudence. His very prayer that she would ask him no more
questions quickened her curiosity; and it was not in her to refrain for
fear of the danger–in that, as in most other amusements, “the danger’s
self was lure alone.”

“But I hope you don’t regret having been brought here,” she said softly,
looking up at him. It was a cruel speech, and the look and the tone were
more cruel still. If she had meant to bring him to her feet, she could
not have done any thing better adapted to her purpose, and she did not
mean to bring him to her feet. She did it only out of a little personal
feeling and a little sympathy, and the perversity of her heart.

Powys started violently, and gave her a look under which Sara,
courageous as she was, actually trembled; and the next thing he did was
to turn his back upon her, and look long and intently at the nearest
picture. It was not the Claude this time. It was a picture of a woman
holding out a piece of bread to a beggar at her door. The wretch, in his
misery, was crouching by the wall and holding out his hand for it, and
within were the rosy children, well-fed and comfortable, looking
large-eyed upon the want without. The young man thought it was
symbolical, as he stood looking at it, quivering all over with emotion
which he was laboring to shut up in his own breast. She was holding out
the bread of life to him, but it would never reach his lips. He stood
struggling to command himself, forgetting every thing but the
desperation of that struggle, betraying himself more than any words
could have done–fighting his fight of honor and truth against
temptation. Sara saw all this, and the little temptress was not
satisfied. It would be difficult to tell what impulse possessed her. She
had driven him very far, but not yet to the farthest point; and she
could not give up her experiment at its very height.

“But you do not answer my question,” she said, very softly. The words
were scarcely out of her lips, the tingle of compunction had not begun
in her heart, when her victim’s strength gave way. He turned round upon
her with a wild breathlessness that struck Sara dumb. She had seen more
than one man who supposed he was “in love” with her; but she had never
seen passion before.

“I would regret it,” he said, “if I had any sense or spirit left; but I
have not, and I don’t regret. Take it all–take it!–and then scorn it.
I know you will. What could you do but scorn it? It is only my heart and
my life; and I am young and shall have to live on hundreds of years, and
never see your sweetest face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” said Sara in consternation, turning very pale.

“Yes,” he said, melting out of the momentary swell of excitement, “I
think I am mad to say so. I don’t grudge it. It is no better than a
flower that you will put your foot on; and now that I have told you, I
know it is all over. But I don’t grudge it. It was not your doing; and I
would rather give it to you to be flung away than to any other woman.
Don’t be angry with me–I shall never see you again.”

“Why?” said Sara, not knowing what she said–“what is it?–what have I
done? Mr. Powys, I don’t think you–either of us–know what you mean.
Let us forget all about it. You said you did not know what you were
saying to-day.”

“But I have said it,” said the young man in his excitement. “I did not
mean to betray myself, but now it is all over. I can never come here
again. I can never dare look at you again. And it is best so; every day
was making it worse. God bless you, though you have made me miserable. I
shall never see your face again.”

“Mr. Powys!” cried Sara, faintly. But he was gone beyond hearing of her
voice. He had not sought even to kiss her hand, as a despairing lover
has a prescriptive right to do, much less the hem of her robe, as they
do in romances. He was gone in a whirlwind of wild haste, and misery,
and passion. She sat still, with her lips apart, her eyes very wide
open, her face very white, and listened to his hasty steps going away
into the outside world. He was gone–quite gone, and Sara sat aghast.
She could not cry; she could not speak; she could but listen to his
departing steps, which echoed upon her heart as it seemed. Was it all
over? Would he never see her face again, as he said? Had she made him
miserable? Sara’s face grew whiter and whiter as she asked herself these
questions. Of one thing there could be no doubt, that it was she who had
drawn this explanation from him. He had not wished to speak, and she had
made him speak. And this was the end. If a sudden thunder-bolt had
fallen before her, she could not have been more startled and dismayed.
She never stirred for an hour or more after he had left her. She let the
evening darken round her, and never asked for lights. Every thing was
perfectly still, yet she was deafened by the noises in her ears, her
heart beating, and voices rising and contending in it which she had
never heard before. And was this the end? She was sitting still in the
window like a thing in white marble when the servant came in with the
lamp, and he had almost stumbled against her as he went to shut the
window, and yelled with terror, thinking it was a ghost. It was only
then that Sara regained command of herself. Was it all over from
to-night?

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