THE LIGHT OF COMMON DAY

Next morning Mr. Brownlow resumed his regular habits, and went down to
the office, reassuring the household a little by this step, which seemed
a return to ordinary life. He looked wistfully and with a certain
solemnity at the closed windows of Mrs. Swayne’s cottage as he passed.
The chief point of interest to him was that Sara was there; and yet it
was impossible not to think at the same time of the woman who had
crossed his path so fatally, and now had been taken out of his way. In
one sense she was taken out of his way. It was not to be supposed that
the lawyer could look at the situation in which he found himself with
any sentimental or superlative resolutions. His mind was quieted out of
all the terrors which had at first overwhelmed him. It was no longer
ruin that stared him in the face. The mother could have exacted interest
and compound interest; the daughter, who was Jack’s betrothed bride,
could, of course, be dealt with in a different way. Jack’s sense that he
was no longer her lover, but the guardian of her interests–that his
business was to win every penny of her fortune for her, and then leave
her to its enjoyment–did not, of course, affect Mr. Brownlow. He was
thinking of nothing fantastical, nothing exaggerated. Pamela was Jack’s
betrothed. She was in Sara’s guardianship. From this day he considered
her as a member of his family; and after all the troubles he had
undergone, this solution on the whole seemed to Mr. Brownlow a very
easy, a very seemly and becoming one. She should have, as Jack’s wife,
her mother’s fifty thousand pounds; and when he himself died, every
thing except a moderate portion for Sara should go into his son’s hands.
It was an arrangement which made his heart ache; for Sara would have to
come down from all her grandeur, to become only what her father’s
daughter had a right to be in the Masterton house, to have but an humble
provision made for her, and to relinquish all her luxurious habits and
ambitions. If it had been Jack upon whom such a necessity had fallen,
Mr. Brownlow could have borne it; but Sara! Nevertheless it was just and
right and necessary. There was nothing else to be done, nothing else to
be thought of. And both Sara and her father would have to submit,
unless, indeed, Sir Charles Motherwell–Mr. Brownlow’s eye kindled a
little as he thought of his late visitor, and then he shook his head
sadly in a kind of self-communing. If any thing had come of that, could
Sara have been silent on the subject? Would Sir Charles himself have
gone away without a sign? Yet every moment since then had been so full
of excitement and occupation, that he still retained a hope. In the
midst of the awe and agitation attending Mrs. Preston’s death his child
could scarcely have paused to tell him of a love-tale. When he entered
the familiar office and saw every thing going on just as it had done,
Mr. Brownlow felt like a man fallen from the skies. It seemed to him
years since he had been there, and he could not but feel a thrill of
wonder to find all his papers in their places, and to listen to Mr.
Wrinkell’s questions about business matters which seemed to have stood
still while his own destiny was getting decided. “Are you still at that
point?” he said, almost peevishly. “I should have thought that would
have been decided long ago.”

“It is only three days, if you recollect, since I consulted you about
it,” Mr. Wrinkell replied, with offended dignity, “and you gave me no
distinct answer.” Only three days! It might have been three centuries,
for any thing Mr. Brownlow knew.

Then he sat down at his desk and addressed himself very heartily to his
business. A mass of work had accumulated of course, and he took it up
with an energy he had not felt for ages. He had been working in the dark
all this time, working languidly, not knowing who might be the better
for it. Now his whole soul was in his occupation; every additional
shilling he could make would be so much for his child. More and more as
he became accustomed to the thought his mind cleared and courage and
steadiness returned to him. It was true that he was at the age when men
think of retiring from work, but he was a strong and vigorous man still,
in possession of all his powers. Jack would withdraw, would marry, would
enter on his independent career, and carry out probably the very
programme his father had drawn out for him before that midnight visitor
arrived whose appearance had changed every thing. Poor creature, after
all she had not changed every thing. She had changed but little. Sara
only had lost by her appearance. That was the sting of the whole matter;
and Mr. Brownlow applied himself with double energy, with the eager
impulse and vigor of a young man, to the work before him. Every thing he
could add to his store would be the better for Sara, and he felt that
this was motive sufficient for any man worthy of the name.

When it came to be time for luncheon he went out–not to refresh himself
with food, for which he had little appetite, but to make a visit which
perhaps was a kind of ill-natured relief to him amid the pressure of his
many thoughts. He went to Mrs. Fennell’s lodgings to pay one of his
generally unwilling but dutiful visits. This time he was not unwilling.
He went with an unaffected quietness which was very different from the
forced calm of his last appearance there. Mrs. Fennell was seated as
usual in her great chair, but she had not on her best cap, and was
accordingly cowed and discouraged to begin with; and Nancy, who was with
her, made a pretense of leaving the room. “Stay,” said Mr. Brownlow, “I
want you. It is best that you too should hear what I am going to say.”

“At your service, sir,” said Nancy, dropping him a defiant courtesy. As
for Mrs. Fennell, she had begun to tremble immediately with excitement
and curiosity.

“What is it, John Brownlow?” she said. “What’s happened? It’s a sight to
see you so soon again. It isn’t for nothing, we may be sure. What do you
want of me and Nancy now?”

“I want nothing of you,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I came to tell you
something you ought to know. Phœbe Thomson is found, Mrs. Fennell.
She came to me the other night.”

“Good Lord!” cried the old woman; and then a wild light got up in her
eyes and she looked at him fiercely. “Came to you?–and you let her
come, and let her go, and owned her, you coward! Tell me next you have
given her up the children’s money–my Bessie’s children? That’s what you
call a man! Oh, good Lord–good Lord! You owned her, and you tell it to
my very face!”

Then there was a little pause. The two old women looked at him, one with
impotent fury, the other with suppressed exultation. “I always said so!”
said Nancy. His simple words had produced effect enough, if that was
what he wanted. He looked at them both, and a faint smile came over his
face, a smile in which there was no mirth and which lasted but a moment.
He felt ashamed of himself next minute that he could have been tempted
to smile.

“John Brownlow,” said Mrs. Fennell, rising in her exasperation, “I’m an
old poor failing woman, and you’re a fine strong man, but I’d have
fought different for my Bessie’s children. Didn’t I tell you she came to
me, that you might be on your guard. And you a lawyer? Oh, good
Lord–good Lord! I’d have kept it safer for them if it had been me. I’d
have turned her out of my door for an impostor and a vagabond! I’d have
hunted her to death first if it had been me. And you to tell me her name
clean out as quiet as a judge and look me in the face! Oh you coward!
you poor creature! Never, if she had torn me with wild horses, would she
have got it out of me.”

“He could not have acted different,” said Nancy, with suppressed
excitement. “Sit down, mistress, or you’ll do yourself a harm. The best
lawyer in the world couldn’t turn a woman away as knowed her rights.”

Mr. Brownlow held up his hand to prevent the angry exclamation that was
on Mrs. Fennell’s lips. “Hush,” he said, “my story is not done. It is a
very sad story. Poor soul, she will never get much good of the money.
Phœbe Thomson is dead.”

They both turned on him with a look which all his life he never forgot.
Would they themselves have been capable of such a deed? Was it the
natural suggestion of the crisis? The look made him sick and faint. He
turned so as to confront both the old women. “I don’t know who her
counselor was,” he said, with unconscious solemnity, “but it must have
been some one who believed me a knave and a liar. Had she come to me and
proved to me who she was, she might have been living now. Poor soul, she
did not do that. She was sent to London instead to find out for herself
about her mother’s will, and she came down in haste, finding there was
not a moment to lose. And she was driven mad with fright and suspicion
and fatigue; an old woman too–she could not bear it. And now, instead
of enjoying what was hers, she is dead. This is what comes of evil
counsel. She might have lived and had some comfort of her life had she
been honest and straightforward and come to me.”

Mr. Brownlow said this with the conviction and fervor of an upright man.
All the evil thoughts he had himself entertained, all his schemes to
baffle his unknown adversary, had faded from his mind. It was not a
fictitious but a real forgetfulness. He spoke in the superiority of high
principle and of a character above reproach. He did not remember that he
had tacitly conspired with Mrs. Fennell, or that he had willfully
rejected the opportunity of finding Phœbe Thomson out after her visit
to his mother-in-law. Perhaps his excuse to himself was that, at the
moment, his suspicions were all directed to a wrong point. But I don’t
think he felt any occasion to excuse himself–he simply forgot. If she
had lived she should have had all, every penny, though it cost him his
ruin; and now she was dead by the visitation of God, and every thing was
changed. It is strange and yet it was true. He looked at them both with
a superiority which was not assumed, and he believed what he said.

As for his hearers, they were both stunned by this solemn address. Mrs.
Fennell dropped into her chair, and in her surprise and relief and
consternation began to cry. As for Nancy, she was completely cowed and
broken down for some minutes. It was she who had done all this, and
every word told upon her. She was overwhelmed by Mr. Brownlow’s
rectitude, by his honor and truth, which owing to her had been thus
fatally distrusted. And she was struck at the same time by a cruel
disappointment which gave force to every word. She stood and looked at
Mr. Brownlow, quailing before him. Then a faint gleam of returning
courage came over her. She drew a deep breath to give herself the power
of speech. “There is her child still,” she said, with a gasp, and faced
him with a certain bravado again.

“Ah, I see you know!” he said; “that is the strangest part of all. For a
long time past, before we knew who they were, and much against my will,
her child had taken Jack’s fancy; he was determined to marry her, though
I told him he should have nothing from me; now in the strange
arrangements of Providence–” said Mr. Brownlow. But there he stopped;
something seemed to stifle him; he could not go on speaking about the
dispensations of Providence; he got up when he had reached this point,
with a sudden sense that after all he had no right to speak as if God
and himself–or Providence, as he preferred to say–were in partnership;
his hands were not clean enough for that. He stopped, and asked after
Mrs. Fennell, if she had all the comforts she wanted, and then he made
what haste he could away. He even felt half ashamed of himself as he
went down stairs. His mother-in-law, excited as she had been by the
first piece of news he told her, had but half understood the second. He
left her sobbing weakly over her Bessie’s children who were being robbed
and ruined. Nancy went to the door with him in a servile despair. She
understood it all well enough. There was no more hope for her, no more
dazzling expectations of such a retirement as Betty’s lodge and its ease
and independence. To serve old Mrs. Fennell’s whims all the rest of her
days; to be pensioned on some pittance, or turned out upon the world for
her misdeeds in her old age when Mrs. Fennell should die–this was all
that she had before her now.

When Mr. Brownlow went back after having fulfilled this duty, he went up
stairs into the house instead of going to the office, and with a caprice
which he himself scarcely understood, called Powys, who was standing at
the door, to follow him. It seemed to him as if, it was so long ago,
Powys too must have recovered from his heart-break. He took the young
man with him over the silent, empty, echoing house. “This is where I
began my married life,” he said, stopping on the cold hearth in the
drawing-room, and looking round him. It was a pretty old-fashioned room,
running all the breadth of the house, with windows at each end, and a
perpetual cross-light, pale at one side, rosy and full of sunshine at
the other. It was not a lofty room, like the drawing-room at Brownlows,
nor was it rich with gold and dainty colors; but yet there was something
in the subdued tone of the old curtains, the old Turkey carpet, the
japanned screens and little tables, the old-world look of every thing,
which was neither ungraceful nor unrefined. “I am coming back to live
here,” he said after an interval, with a sigh. He could not tell why he
made this confidential communication to the young man, who grew pale,
and gazed at him eagerly, and could not find a word to say in reply. Mr.
Brownlow was not thinking of Powys’s looks, nor of his feelings; he was
occupied with himself, as was natural enough; he took the young fellow
into his confidence, if that could be called confidence, because he
liked him, and had seen more of him than any body else near. What the
intelligence might be to Powys Mr. Brownlow did not stop to think; but
he went over the house in his company, consulting him about the
alterations to be made. Somehow he had returned to his first feeling
toward Powys–and he wanted to be kind to him, to make up to him for not
being Phœbe Thomson’s son; they were fellow-sufferers so far as that
was concerned–at least such was the feeling in Mr. Brownlow’s mind,
though he could not well have explained how.

Later in the afternoon he had some visitors. Altogether it was an
exciting day. The first who came to him was Sir Charles Motherwell, who
had ridden in from Ridley, where he was staying, to see him, and whose
appearance awoke a certain surprise and expectation in Mr. Brownlow’s
mind; he thought Sara must have accepted him after all. But the
baronet’s looks did not justify his hope; Sir Charles was very glum,
very rueful, and pulled at his mustache more than ever. He came in, and
held out his hand, and put down his hat, and then pulled off his gloves
and threw them into it, as if he were about to perform some delicate
operation; when he had got through all these ceremonies, he sank into
the chair which stood ready for Mr. Brownlow’s clients, and heaved a
profound sigh.

“I thought I’d come and tell you,” he said, “though it ain’t pleasant
news; I tried my luck, as I said I would–not that I’ve got any luck.
She–she–wouldn’t hear of it, Brownlow. I’d have done any thing in the
world she liked to say–you know I would; she might have sold the old
place, or done what she pleased; but she wouldn’t, you know, not if I’d
gone down on my knees–it was all of no use.” He had never uttered so
many sentences all on end in his life before, poor fellow. He got up
now, and walked as far as the office wall would let him, and whistled
dolefully, and then he returned to his chair, and breathed another deep
sigh. “It was all of no use.”

“I am very sorry,” said Mr. Brownlow–“very sorry; she would have chosen
a good man if she had chosen you; but you know I can’t interfere.”

“Do you think I want any one to interfere?” said Sir Charles, with
momentary resentment. “Look here, Brownlow, I’ll tell you how it is; she
said she liked some one else better than me–I’d like to wring the
fellow’s neck!” said the disappointed lover, with a little outburst;
“but if there’s money, or any thing in the way, I thought I might lend
him a hand–not in my own name, you know. I suppose a girl ain’t the
master to like whom she ought to like, no more than I am,” said Sir
Charles, disconsolately, “but she’s got to be given in to, Brownlow. I’d
lend him a hand, if that was what was wanting. As long as she’s happy
and has her way, a man can always pull through.”

Mr. Brownlow started a little at this strange speech, but in the end the
confused generosity of the speaker carried him out of himself. “You are
a good fellow, Motherwell,” he said heartily, holding out his hand–“you
are the best fellow I know.”

“Ah, so she said,” said poor Sir Charles, with a hoarse little laugh–he
was not bright, poor fellow, but he felt the sarcasm; “I’d a deal rather
she had praised me less and liked me more–”

And he ended with another big sigh. Mr. Brownlow had to make himself
very uncomfortable by way of discouraging Sir Charles’s generosities. He
had to protest that he knew no one whom Sara could prefer. He had to say
at last peremptorily that it was a matter which he could not discuss,
before his anxious and melancholy visitor could be got rid of. It was
not a pleasant thought to Mr. Brownlow. He did not like to hear of Sara
preferring any man. He could have given her to Charley Motherwell, who
would have been her slave, and could have assured her position, and
endowed her with a title such as it was; but Sara in love was not an
idea pleasant to her father, besides the uneasy wonder who could be the
object of her preference. He tried to go back and recollect, but his
memory failed him. Then there came a dim vision to his mind of a moment
when his child had turned from him–when she had wept and rejected his
embrace and his sympathy. How long was that ago? But he did not seem
able to tell. It was before–that was all he knew. Every thing had
happened _since_. He had told her she was free, and she had turned upon
him and upbraided him–for what? Years seemed to lie between him and
that half-forgotten scene. He tried in vain to resume the thread of his
plans and arrangements. In spite of himself his reluctant yet eager
thoughts kept going back and back to that day. How long was it since he
had thought Powys the heir? How long since the moment of unlooked-for
blessedness when he believed himself free? It was on that day that Sara
had turned from him and cried–that day when he was so full of comfort,
so anxious to show his gratitude to God–when he had drawn that check
for the Masterton charities, which–by, the way, how had he distributed
the money? Catching at this point of circumstance, Mr. Brownlow made an
effort to escape from his recollections. He did not want to recall that
foolish premature delight. It might have been years ago, to judge by his
feelings; but he knew that could not be the case. It had become late in
the afternoon by this time, and the clerks were mostly gone. There was
nobody whom he could ask what had been done about the check for the
charities; and he had just drawn toward him the dispatch-box with his
papers which had been brought from Brownlows with him, to ascertain for
himself, when the office-boy came pulling his forelock to ask if he
would see a lady who was waiting. Mr. Brownlow said No, at first, for it
was past office hours, and then he said Yes, no longer feeling any
tremor at the prospect of a strange visitor. He could believe it was a
simple client now, not a messenger of fate coming to ruin and betray, as
for a long time he had been in the way of feeling. Such ease of mind
would be cheaply purchased even with fifty thousand pounds. The lady
came in, accordingly, and Mr. Brownlow received her with his usual
courtesy, which was, however, a little disturbed when he looked at her.
Not that he had any real occasion to be disturbed. A far-off flutter of
his past anxieties, a kind of echo, came over him at the sight of her
pleasant homely face. He had thought she was Phœbe Thomson the last
time he had seen her. He had shrunk from her, and lost his
self-possession altogether. Even now a minute had elapsed before he
could quite command himself, and remember the real condition of affairs.

“Good day, Mrs. Powys,” he said; “I am sorry to have’ kept you waiting.
Why did not you send me word who it was?”

“I thought you might have been engaged, sir,” said Mrs. Powys; “I wasn’t
sure if you would remember me, Mr. Brownlow. I came to you once before,
when I was in trouble, and you were very kind–too kind,” she added,
with a sigh. “No, no, it is not the same thing. If my poor boy has
troubles still, he does not hide his heart from me now.”

“That is well,” said Mr. Brownlow, coldly. He thought some appeal was
going to be made to him on behalf of Powys and his folly. Though he was
in reality fond of Powys, he stiffened instinctively at the thought. “It
is growing late,” he went on; “I was just going. Is there any thing in
which I can be of use to you?” He laid his hand on his dispatch-box as
he spoke. His manner had been very different when he was afraid of her;
and yet he was not unkind or unreasonable. She was his clerk’s mother;
he would have exerted himself, and done much to secure the family any
real benefit; but he did not mean that they should thrust themselves
into his affairs.

“It is something my poor boy didn’t like to ask,” said Mrs. Powys, with
a little timidity. “He had offended you that day, or he thought he had
offended you; and he would not do any thing to bring it back to your
mind. I am sure if he went wrong, Mr. Brownlow, he didn’t mean
to–There’s nothing in this world he would not do for you.”

“Went wrong–offended me?” said Mr. Brownlow; “I don’t think he ever
offended me. What is it he wants? There are certain subjects which I can
not enter upon either with him or you–”

“Oh, not that–not that,” said Mrs. Powys, with tears. “If he’s been
foolish he’s punished for it, my poor boy! And he would not ask you for
his papers, not to bring it back to your mind.” ‘Mother,’ he said, ‘he’s
worried, and I can’t vex him.’ He would lose all his own hopes for that.
But I’m his mother, Mr. Brownlow. I have a feeling for my son’s
interests as you have for yours. His papers, poor boy, are no good to
you.”

“His papers?” said Mr. Brownlow, with amaze, looking at her. For the
moment his old confusion of mind came back to him; he could not quite
feel yet that Powys’s papers could be innocent of all reference to
himself.

“My poor husband’s letters, sir,” said Mrs. Powys, drying her eyes; “the
papers he took to you when he thought–; but that is neither here nor
there. I’ve found my poor Charley’s mother, Mr. Brownlow; she’s living,
though she’s an old woman. I have been tracing it out to the best of my
ability, and I’ve found her. Likely enough she’ll have nothing to say to
me. I am but a poor woman, never brought up to be a lady; but it’s
different with my boy.”

“Ah, his papers!” said Mr. Brownlow. This, too, belonged to his previous
stage of existence. It was clear that he had to be driven back to that
day of vain terror and equally vain relief. It came back to him now in
every particular–the packet he had found on his writing-table; his long
confused poring over it; his summons to Powys in the middle of the
night, and discovery of the mistake he had been making; even the blue
dawn of the morning through the great window in the staircase as he went
up to bed, a man delivered. All this rushed back on his memory. He took
his keys and opened the dispatch-box, which he had been about to open
when Mrs. Powys came in. Probably the papers would be there. He began
even to recollect what these papers were as he opened the box. “So you
have found your husband’s family?” he said; “I hope they are in a
position to help you. I should be very glad to hear that, for your son’s
sake.”

“You are very kind, Mr. Brownlow,” said Mrs. Powys. “I have found my
poor Charley’s mother. She’s old now, poor lady, and she’s lost all her
children: and at long and last she’s bethought herself of us, and wrote
a letter to Canada to inquire. I got it sent on this morning–only this
morning. I don’t know what she can do for my boy; but she’s Lady Powys,
and that counts for something here.”

“Lady Powys?” cried Mr. Brownlow, looking up with a handful of papers in
his hand, and struck with consternation. “She used to live near
Masterton; if you knew she was your husband’s mother, why did not you
apply to her before? Are you sure you are making no mistake? Lady Powys!
I had no idea your relations were–”

“My husband was a gentleman, sir,” said Mrs. Powys proudly. “He gave up
his friends and his family, poor fellow, for me. I don’t pretend I was
his equal–and it might have been better for him if he’d thought more of
himself; but he was always known for a gentleman wherever he went; and
my boy is his father’s son,” said the proud mother. She would have been
glad to humble the rich lawyer who had sent her boy away from his house,
and forbidden him, tacitly at least, his daughter’s presence. “We did
not know that his grandmamma was a lady of title,” she added, with
candor. “My poor Charley used to say it was in the family; but his folks
have come to it, poor fellow, since his time.”

“Lady Powys!” Mr. Brownlow said to himself, with a curious confusion of
thoughts. He knew Lady Powys well enough, poor old woman. She had
accumulated a ghostly fortune by surviving every body that belonged to
her. He remembered all about her, and the look of scared dismay and
despair that came into her eyes as death after death among her own
children made her richer, and left her more desolate. And what if this
was an heir for her–this young fellow whom he had always liked even in
spite of himself? He had always liked him. He was glad to remember
that. He sought out his papers with his heart softening more and more.
Lady Powys’s grandson was a very different person from his nameless
Canadian clerk.

“Here they are,” he said. “I have been much occupied, and I have never
had time to look at them; but I am very glad to hear you have friends
who can be of use to you. I know Lady Powys. You should send your boy to
her, that would be the best way. And, by the bye, he told me your name
was Christian. If you are the same as I suppose, we are a kind of
connections too.”

Mrs. Powys was so utterly amazed by this statement, that Mr. Brownlow
had to enter deeply into details to satisfy her. Possibly he would not
have mentioned it at all but for Lady Powys. Such inducements work
without a man being aware of them. He said afterward, and he believed,
that his reference to the family connection between them was drawn out
“in the course of conversation.” When she went away, he felt as if there
could never cease to be something extraordinary raining down upon him
out of heaven. Lady Powys! that was different. And before he closed his
dispatch-box, he looked at his check-book which was there, to see if
there were any particulars about the charities on the counter-foil. The
first thing that met his eyes was the check itself, left there, never so
much as torn out of the book; and, could it be possible, good heavens?
it was dated only four days before. When he had mastered this
astonishing fact, Mr. Brownlow paused over it a minute, and then tore it
into little pieces with a sigh. He could not afford such benefactions
now.

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