THE DOWNFALL OF PHILOSOPHY

Jack Brownlow was having a very hard time of it just at that moment.
There had been a lapse of more than a week, and he had not once seen the
fair little creature of whom every day he had thought more and more. It
was in vain that he looked up at the window–Pamela now was never there.
He never saw her even at a distance–never heard so much as her name.
Sara, who had been ready enough to speak of her friend–even Sara,
indiscreet, and hasty, and imprudent–was silent. Poor Jack knew it was
quite right–he recognized, even though he hated it, the force that was
in his father’s arguments. He knew he had much better never see
her–never even speak of her again. He understood with his intelligence
that utter separation between them was the only prudent and sensible
step to be taken; but his heart objected to understand with a curious
persistency which Jack could scarcely believe of a heart of his. He had
found his intellect quite sufficient to guide him up to this period; and
when that other part of him, with which he was so much less acquainted,
fought and struggled to get the reins in hand, it would be difficult to
express the astonishment he felt. And then he was a young man of the
present day, and he was not anxiously desirous to marry. A house of his
own, with all its responsibilities, did not appear to him the crown of
delight which perhaps it ought to have done. He was content to go on
with his life as it had been, without any immediate change. It still
appeared to him, I am sorry to admit, that for a young man, who had a
way to make in the world, a very early marriage was a sort of suicidal
step to take. This was all very well for his mind, which wanted no
convincing. But for his heart it was very different. That newly
discovered organ behaved in the most incomprehensible sort of way. Even
though it possibly gave a grunt of consent to the theory about marriage,
it kept on longing and yearning, driving itself frantic with eagerness
just to see her, just to hear her, just to touch her little hand, just
to feel the soft passing rustle of her dress. That was all. And as for
talking reason to it, or representing how profitless such a
gratification would be, he might as well have preached to the stones. He
went back and forward to the office for a whole week with this conflict
going on within him, keeping dutifully to his work, doing more than he
had done for years at Masterton, trying to occupy himself with former
thoughts, and with anticipations of the career he had once shaped out
for himself. He wanted to get away from the office, to get into public
life somehow, to be returned for the borough, and have a seat in
Parliament. Such had been his ambition before this episode in his life.
Such surely ought to be his ambition now; but it was amazing,
incredible, how this new force within him would break through all his
more elevated thoughts with a kind of inarticulate cry for Pamela. She
was what he wanted most. He could put the other things aside, but he
could not put her aside. His heart kept crying out for her, whatever his
mind might be trying to think. It was extraordinary and despicable, and
he could not believe it of himself; but this was how it was. He knew it
was best that he should not see her; yet it was no virtue nor
self-denial of his that kept them apart. It was she who would not be
visible. Along the roads, under the trees, at the window, morning or
evening, there was no appearance of her. He thought sometimes she must
have gone away. And his eager inquiries with himself whether this
separation would make her unhappy gradually gave way to irritation and
passionate displeasure. She had gone away, and left no sign; or she was
shutting herself up, and sacrificing all that was pleasant in his
existence. She was leaving him alone to bear the brunt; and he would
gladly have taken it all to spare her–but if he bore it, and was the
victim, something at least he ought to have had for his recompense. A
last meeting, a last look, an explanation, a farewell–at least he had a
right to that. And notwithstanding his anger he wanted her all the
same–wanted to see her, to speak to her, to have her near him, though
he was not ready to carry her off or marry her on the spot, or defy his
father and all the world on her account. This was the painful struggle
that poor Jack had to bear as he went back and forward all those days to
Masterton. He held very little communication with his father, who was
the cause of it all. He chose to ride or to walk rather than have those
_tête-à-tête_ drives. He kept his eyes on every turn of the way, on
every tree and hedge which might possibly conceal her; and yet he knew
he must part from her, and in his heart was aware that it was a right
judgment which condemned him to this sacrifice. And it was not in him,
poor fellow, to take it cheerfully or suffer with a good grace. He kept
it to himself, and scorned to betray to his father or sister what he was
going through. But he was not an agreeable companion during this
interval, though the fact was that he gave them very little of his
society, and struggled, mostly by himself, against his hard fate.

And probably he might have been victorious in the struggle. He might
have fought his way back to the high philosophical ground from which he
was wont to preach to his friend Keppel. At the cost of all the first
freshness of his heart, at the cost of many buds of grace that never
would have bloomed again, he might have come out victor, and
demonstrated to himself beyond all dispute that in such matters a strong
will is every thing, and that there is no love or longing that may not
be crushed on the threshold of the mind. All this Jack might have done,
and lived to profit by it and smart for it, but for a chance meeting by
which fate, in spite of a thousand precautions, managed to balk his
philosophy. He had gone home early in the afternoon, and he had been
seen by anxious eyes behind the curtains of Mrs. Swayne’s window–not
Pamela’s eyes, but those of her mother–to go out again dressed, about
the time when a man who is going to dinner sets out to fulfill his
engagement. And Jack was going out to dinner; he was going to Ridley,
where the family had just come down from town. But there had come that
day a kind of crisis in his complaint, and when he was half way to his
friend’s house a sudden disgust seized him. Instead of going on he
jumped down from the dog-cart, and tore a leaf out of his pocket-book,
on which he scribbled a hasty word of apology to Keppel. Then, while the
groom went on with his note, he turned and went sauntering home along
the dusty road in his evening coat. Why should he go and eat the
fellow’s dinner? What did he care about it? Go and make an ass of
himself, and laugh and talk when he would much rather run a tilt against
all the world! And what could she mean by shutting herself up like this,
and never so much as saying good-bye? It could harm nobody to say
good-bye. Thus Jack mused in pure despite and contrariety, without any
intention of laying a snare for the object of his thoughts. He had gone
a long way on the road to Ridley before he changed his mind, and
consequently it was getting late when he drew near Brownlows coming
back. It was a very quiet country road, a continuation of that which led
to Masterton. Here and there, was a clump of great trees making it
sombre, and then a long stretch of hedgerow with the fragrant meadow on
the other side of it, and the cows lowing to go home. There was nobody
to be seen up or down the road except a late carter with his horse’s
harness on his shoulder, and a boy and a girl driving home some cows. In
the distance stood Swayne’s Cottages, half lost in the twilight, with
two faint curls of smoke going up into the sky. All was full of that
dead calm which chafes the spirit of youth when it is in the midst of
its troubles–that calm which is so soothing and so sweet when life and
we have surmounted the first battles, and come to a moment of truce. But
there was no truce as yet in Jack Brownlow’s thoughts. He wanted to have
his own way and he could not have it; and he knew he ought not to have
it, and he would not give it up. If he could have kicked at the world,
and strangled Nature and made an end of Reason, always without making a
fool of himself, that would have been the course of action most in
consonance with his thoughts.

And it was just then that a certain flutter round the corner of the lane
which led to Dewsbury caught his eye–the flutter of the soft evening
air in a black dress. It was not the “_creatura bella vestita in
bianca_” which comes up to the ideal of a lover’s fancy. It was a little
figure in a black dress, with a cloak wrapped round her, and a broad hat
shading her face, all dark among the twilight shadows. Jack saw, and his
heart sprang up within him with a violence which took away his breath.
He made but one spring across the road. When they had parted they had
not known that they were lovers; but now they had been a week apart and
there was no doubt on the subject. He made but one spring, and caught
her and held her fast. “Pamela!” he cried out; and though there had been
neither asking nor consent, and not one word of positive love-making
between them, and though no disrespectful or irreverent thought of her
had ever entered his mind, poor Jack, in his ardor and joy and surprise
and rage, kissed her suddenly with a kind of transport. “Now I have you
at last!” he cried. And this was in the open road, where all the world
might have seen them; though happily, so far as was apparent, there was
nobody to see.

Pamela, too, gave a cry of surprise and fright and dismay. But she was
not angry, poor child. She did not feel that it was unnatural. Her poor
little heart had not been standing still all this time any more than
Jack’s. They had gone over all those tender, childish, celestial
preliminaries while they were apart; and now there could not be any
doubt about the bond that united them. Neither the one nor the other
affected to believe that farther preface was necessary–circumstances
were too pressing for that. He said, “I have you at last,” with eyes
that gleamed with triumph; and she said, “Oh, I thought I should never,
never see you again!” in a voice which left nothing to be confessed. And
for the moment they both forgot every thing–fathers, mothers, promises,
wise intentions, all the secondary lumber that makes up the world.

When this instant of utter forgetfulness was over, Pamela began to cry,
and Jack’s arm dropped from her waist. It was the next inevitable stage.
They made two or three steps by each other’s side, separate, despairing,
miserable. Then it was the woman’s turn to take the initiative. She was
crying, but she could still speak–indeed, it is possible that her
speech would have been less natural had it been without those breaks in
the soft voice. “I am not angry,” she said, “because it is the last
time. I shall never, never forget you; but oh, it was all a mistake, all
from the beginning. We never–meant–to grow fond of each other,” said
Pamela through her sobs; “it was all–all a mistake.”

“I was fond of you the very first minute I saw you,” said Jack; “I did
not know then, but I know it now. It was no mistake;–that time when I
carried you in out of the snow. I was fond of you then, just as I am
now–as I shall be all my life.”

“No,” said Pamela, “oh no. It is different–every day in your life you
see better people than I am. Don’t say any thing else. It is far better
for me to know. I have been a–a little–contented ever since I thought
of that.”

These words once more put Jack’s self-denial all to flight. “Better
people than you are?” he cried. “Oh, Pamela! I never saw any body half
as sweet, half as lovely, all my life.”

“Hush! hush! hush!” said Pamela; they were not so separate now, and she
put her soft little hand up, as if to lay it on his lips. “You think so,
but it is all–all a mistake!”

Then Jack looked into her sweet tearful eyes, nearer, far nearer than he
had ever looked before–and they were eyes that could bear looking into,
and the sweetness and the bitterness filled the young man’s heart. “My
little love!” he cried, “it is not you who are a mistake.” And he
clasped her, almost crushed her waist with his arm in his vehemence.
Every thing else was a mistake–himself, his position, _her_ position,
all the circumstances; but not Pamela. This time she disengaged herself,
but very softly, from his arm.

“I do not mind,” she said, looking at him with an innocent, wistful
tenderness, “because it is the last time. If you had not cared, I should
have been vexed. One can’t help being a little selfish. Last time, if
you had said you were fond of me, I should have been frightened; but now
I am glad, very glad you are fond of me. It will always be something to
look back to. I shall remember every word you said, and how you looked.
Mamma says life is so hard,” said Pamela, faltering a little, and
looking far away beyond her lover, as if she could see into a long
stretch of life. So she did; and it looked a desert, for he was not to
be there.

“Don’t speak like that,” cried Jack; “life shall not be hard to
you–not while I live to take care of you–not while I can work–”

“Hush, hush!” said the girl, softly. “I like you to say it, you know.
One feels glad; but I know there must be nothing about that. I never
thought of it when–when we used to see each other so often. I never
thought of any thing. I was only pleased to see you; but mamma has been
telling me a great deal–every thing, indeed: I know better now–”

“What has she been telling you?” said Jack. “She has been telling you
that I would deceive you; that I was not to be trusted. It is because
she does not know me, Pamela. You know me better. I never thought of any
thing either,” he added, driven to simplicity by the force of his
emotions, “except that I could not do without you, and that I was very
happy. And Pamela, whatever it may cost, I can’t live without you now.”

“But you must,” said Pamela: “if you could but hear what mamma says! She
never said you would deceive me. What she said was, that we must not
have our own way. It may break our hearts, but we must give up. It
appears life is like that,” said Pamela, with a deep sigh. “If you like
any thing very much, you must give it up.”

“I am ready to give up every thing else,” said Jack, carried on by the
tide, and forgetting all his reason; “but I will not give you up. My
little darling, you are not to cry–I did not know I was so fond of you
till that day. I didn’t even know it till now,” cried the young man.
“You mustn’t turn away from me, Pamela–give me your hand; and whatever
happens to us, we two will stand by each other all our lives.”

“Ah, no,” said Pamela, drawing away her hand; and then she laid the same
hand which she had refused to give him on his shoulder and looked up
into his face. “I like you to say it all,” she went on–“I do–it is no
use making believe when we are just going to part. I shall remember
every word you say. I shall always be able to think that when I was
young I had some one to say these things to me. If your father were to
come now, I should not be afraid of him; I should just tell him how it
was. I am glad of every word that I can treasure up. Mamma said I was
not to see you again; but I said if we were to meet we had a right to
speak to each other. I never thought I should have seen you to-night. I
shouldn’t mind saying to your father himself that we had a right to
speak. If we should both live long and grow old, and never meet for
years and years, don’t you think we shall still know each other in
heaven?”

As for poor Jack, he was driven wild by this, by the sadness of her
sweet eyes, by the soft tenderness of her voice, by the virginal
simplicity and sincerity which breathed out of her. Pamela stood by him
with the consciousness that it was the supreme moment of her existence.
She might have been going to die; such was the feeling in her heart. She
_was_ going to die out of all the sweet hopes, all the dawning joys of
her youth; she was going out into that black desert of life where the
law was that if you liked any thing very much you must give it up. But
before she went she had a right to open her heart, to hear him disclose
his. Had it been possible that their love should have come to any thing,
Pamela would have been shy and shamefaced; but that was not possible.
But a minute was theirs, and the dark world gaped around to swallow them
up from each other. Therefore the words flowed in a flood to Pamela’s
lips. She had so many things to say to him–she wanted to tell him so
much; and there was but this minute to include all. But her very
composure–her tender solemnity–the pure little white martyr that she
was, giving up what she most loved, gave to Jack a wilder thrill, a more
headlong impulse. He grasped her two hands, he put his arm round her in
a sudden passion. It seemed to him that he had no patience with her or
any thing–that he must seize upon her and carry her away.

“Pamela,” he cried, hoarsely, “it is of no use talking–you and I are
not going to part like this. I don’t know any thing about heaven, and I
don’t want to know–not just now. We are not going to part, I tell you.
Your mother may say what she likes, but she can’t be so cruel as to take
you from a man who loves you and can take care of you–and I will take
care of you, by heaven! Nobody shall ever come between us. A fellow may
think and think when he doesn’t know his own mind: and it’s easy for a
girl like you to talk of the last time. I tell you it is not the last
time–it is the first time. I don’t care a straw for any thing else in
the world–not in comparison with you. Pamela, don’t cry; we are going
to be together all our life.”

“You say so because you have not thought about it,” said Pamela, with an
ineffable smile; “and I have been thinking of it ever so long–ever so
much. No; but I don’t say you are to go away, not yet. I want to have
you as long as I can; I want to tell you so many things–every thing I
have in my heart.”

“And I will hear nothing,” said Jack–“nothing except that you and I
belong to each other. That’s what you have got to say. Hush, child! do
you think I am a child like you? Pamela, look here–I don’t know when it
is to be, nor how it is to be, but you are going to be my wife.”

“Oh, no, no,” said Pamela, shrinking from him, growing red and growing
pale in the shock of this new suggestion. If this was how it was to be,
her frankness, her sad openness, became a kind of crime. She had
suffered his embrace before, prayed him to speak to her, thought it
right to take full advantage of the last indulgence accorded to them;
and now the tables were turned upon her. She shrank away from him, and
stood apart in the obscure twilight. There had not been a blush on her
cheek while she opened her innocent young heart to him in the solemnity
of the supposed farewell, but now she was overwhelmed with sudden shame.

“I say yes, yes, yes,” said Jack vehemently, and he seized upon the
hands that she had clasped together by way of safeguard. He seized upon
them with a kind of violence appropriating what was his own. His mind
had been made up and his fate decided in that half hour. He had been
full of doubts up to this moment; but now he had found out that without
Pamela it was not worth while to live–that Pamela was slipping through
his fingers, ready to escape out of his reach; and after that there was
no longer any possibility of a compromise. He had become utterly
indifferent to what was going on around as he came to this point. He had
turned his back on the road, and could not tell who was coming or
going. And thus it was that the sudden intrusion which occurred to them
was entirely unexpected, and took them both by surprise. All of a
sudden, while neither was looking, a substantial figure was suddenly
thrust in between them. It was Mrs. Swayne, who had been at Dewsbury and
was going home. She did not put them aside with her hands, but she
pushed her large person completely between the lovers, thrusting one to
one side and the other to the other. With one of her arms she caught
Pamela’s dress, holding her fast, and with the other she pushed Jack
away. She was flushed with walking and haste, for she had seen the two
figures a long way off, and had divined what sort of meeting it was; and
the sight of her fiery countenance between them startled the two so
completely that they fell back on either side and gazed at her aghast,
without saying a word. Pamela, startled and overcome, hid her face in
her hands, while Jack made a sudden step back, and got very hot and
furious, but for the moment found himself incapable of speech.

“For shame of yourself!” said Mrs. Swayne, panting for breath; “I’ve
a’most killed myself running, but I’ve come in time. What are you a
persuadin’ of her to do, Mr. John? Oh for shame of yourself! Don’t tell
me! I know what young gentlemen like you is. A-enticin’ her and
persuadin’ her and leading her away, to bring her poor mother’s gray
hairs with sorrow to the grave. Oh for shame of yourself! And her mother
just as simple and innocent, as would believe any thing you liked to
tell her; and nobody as can keep this poor thing straight and keep her
out o’ trouble but me!”

While she panted out this address, and thrust him away with her extended
hand, Jack stood by in consternation, furious but speechless. What could
he do? He might order her away, but she would not obey him. He might
make his declaration over again in her presence, but she would not
believe him, and he did not much relish the idea; he could not struggle
with this woman for the possession of his love, and at the same time his
blood boiled at her suggestions. If she had been a man he might have
knocked her down quietly, and been free of the obstruction, but women
take a shabby advantage of the fact that they can not be knocked down.
As he stood thus with all his eloquence stopped on his lips, Pamela,
from across the bulky person of her champion, stretched out her little
hand to him and interposed.

“Hush,” she said; “we were saying good-bye to each other, Mrs. Swayne. I
told mamma we should say good-bye. Hush, oh hush, she doesn’t
understand; but what does that matter? we must say good-bye all the
same.”

“I shall never say good-bye,” said Jack; “you ought to know me better
than that. If you must go home with this woman, go–I am not going to
fight with her. It matters nothing about her understanding; but, Pamela,
remember it is not good-bye. It shall never be good-bye–”

“Understand!” said Mrs. Swayne, whose indignation was furious, “and why
shouldn’t I understand? Thank Providence I’m one as knows what
temptation is. Go along with you home, Mr. John; and she’ll just go with
this woman, she shall. Woman, indeed! And I don’t deny as I’m a
woman–and so was your own mother for all so fine as you are. Don’t you
think as you’ll lay your clutches on this poor lamb, as long as Swayne
and me’s to the fore. I mayn’t understand, and I may be a woman,
but–Miss Pamela, you’ll just come along home.”

“Yes, yes,” said Pamela; and then she held up her hand to him
entreatingly. “Don’t mind what she says–don’t be angry with me; and I
will never, never forget what you have said–and–good-bye,” said the
girl, steadily, holding out her hand to him with a wonderful glistening
smile that shone through two big tears.

As for Jack, he took her hand and gave it an angry loving grasp which
hurt it, and then threw it away. “I am going to see your mother,” he
said, deigning no reply. And then he turned his back on her without
another word, and left her standing in the twilight in the middle of the
dusty road, and went away. He left the two women standing amazed, and
went off with quick determined steps that far outstripped their
capabilities. It was the road to the cottage–the road to Brownlows–the
road anywhere or everywhere. “He’s a-going home, and a blessed
riddance,” said Mrs. Swayne, though her spirit quaked within her. But
Pamela said nothing; he was not going home. The girl stood and watched
his quick firm steps and worshiped him in her heart. To her mother! And
was there any thing but one thing that her mother could say?