There is nothing in my heart that is worth opening

Next morning Mr. Brownlow was not well enough to go to business. He was
not ill. He repeated the assurance a score of times to himself and to
his children. He had not slept well, that was all–and perhaps a day’s
rest, a little quiet and tranquillity, would do him good. He had got up
at his usual hour, and was down to breakfast, and read his paper, and
every thing went on in its ordinary way; but yet he was indisposed–and
a day’s rest would do him good. Young John assented heartily, and was
very willing to take his father’s place for the day and manage all his
business. It was a bright morning, and the room was full of flowers and
the young leaves fluttered at the windows in the earliest green of
spring. It was exhilarating to stand in the great recesses of the
windows and look out upon the park, all green and budding, and think it
was all yours and your children’s–a sort of feeling which had little
effect upon the young people, but was sweet yet overwhelming to their
father as he stood and looked out in the quiet of the morning. All
his–all theirs; yet perhaps–

“I don’t think I shall go down to-day,” he said. “You can tell Wrinkell
to send me up the papers in the Wardell case. He knows what I want. He
can send the–the new clerk up with them–Powys I mean.”

“Powys?” said Jack.

“Well, yes, Powys. Is there any reason why he should not send Powys?”
said Mr. Brownlow peremptorily, feeling hot and conscious, and ready to
take offense.

“No, certainly,” said Jack, with some surprise. He did not take to
Powys, that was unquestionable; yet the chances are he would never have
remarked upon Mr. Brownlow’s choice of him but for the curious
impatience and peremptoriness in his father’s tone.

“I like him,” said Mr. Brownlow–“he knows what he has to do and–he
does it. I like a man who does that–it gives one confidence for the
time to come.”

“Yes,” said Jack. “I never cared for him, sir, as you know. He is not my
ideal of a clerk–but that is nothing; only I rather think Wrinkell has
changed his opinion lately. The young fellow gets on well enough–but
there is a difference. I suppose that sort of extra punctuality and
virtue can only last a certain time.”

“I dare say these are very fine notions, Jack,” said his father; “but I
am not quite such an accomplished man of the world, I suppose, as if I
had been brought up at Eton. I believe in virtue lasting a long time.
You must bear with my old-fashioned prejudices.” This Mr. Brownlow said
in a way which puzzled Jack, for he was not a man given to sneers.

“Of course, if you take it like that, sir, I have not another word to
say,” said the young man, and he went away feeling bitterly hostile to
Powys, who seemed to be the cause of it all. He said to himself that to
be snubbed on account of a clerk was a new experience, and lost himself
in conjectures as to the cause of this unexplained partiality–“a fellow
who is going to the bad and all,” Jack said to himself; and his feeling
was somewhat vindictive, and he did not feel so sorry as he ought to
have done that Powys was going to the bad. It seemed on the whole a kind
of retribution. Mr. Wrinkell himself had been sent for to Brownlows on
various occasions, but it was not an honor that had been accorded to any
of the clerks; and now this young fellow, whose appearance and conduct
had both begun to be doubtful, was to have the privilege. Jack did not
comprehend it; uneasy unexpressed suspicions came into his mind, all
utterly wide of the mark, yet not the less uncomfortable. The mare was a
comfort to him as she went off in one of her long dashes, without ever
taking breath, like an arrow down the avenue; and so was the momentary
glimpse of a little face at the window, to which he took off his hat;
but notwithstanding these consolations, he was irritated and somewhat
disturbed. On account of a cad! He had no right to give such a title to
his father’s favorite; but still it must be allowed that it was a little
hard.

“Who is Powys?” said Sara, when her brother was gone. “And why are you
angry, papa? You are cross, you know, and that is not like you. I am
afraid you must be ill.”

“Cross, am I?” said Mr. Brownlow. “I suppose I am not quite well–I told
you I had a bad night.”

“Yes–but what has Powys to do with it? and who is he?” said Sara
looking into his face.

Then various possibilities rushed into her father’s mind; should he tell
her what he was going to ask of her? Should he claim her promise and
hold her to her word? Should he make an attempt, the only one possible,
to secure for himself a confidante and counselor? Ah, no! that was out
of the question. He might sully his own honor, but never, never his
child’s. And he felt, even with a certain exultation, that his child
would not have yielded to the temptation–that she would balk him
instead of obeying him, did she know why. He felt this in his inmost
mind, and he was glad. She would do what he asked her, trusting in him,
and in her it would be a virtue–only his should be the sin.

“Who is he?” he said, with a doubtful smile which resulted from his own
thoughts, and not from her question. “You will know who he is before
long. I want to be civil to him, Sara. He is not just like any other
clerk. I would bring him, if you would not be shocked–to lunch–”

“Shocked!” said Sara, with one of her princess airs–“I am not a great
lady. You are Mr. Brownlow the solicitor, papa–I hope I know my proper
place.”

“Yes,” said John Brownlow; but the words brought an uneasy color to his
face, and confounded him in the midst of his projects. To keep her from
being merely Mr. Brownlow the solicitor’s daughter, he was going to soil
his own honor and risk her happiness; and yet it was thus that she
asserted her condition whenever she had a chance. He left her as soon as
he could, taking no such advantage of his unusual holiday as Sara
supposed he would. He left the breakfast-room which was so bright, and
wandered away into the library, a room which, busy man as he was, he
occupied very seldom. It was of all the rooms in Brownlows the one which
had most appearance of having been made by a new proprietor. There were
books in it, to be sure, which had belonged to the Brownlows, the
solicitors, for generations, but these were not half or quarter part
enough to fill the room, which was larger than any two rooms in the High
Street–and consequently it had been necessary to fill the vacant space
with ranges upon ranges of literature out of the bookseller’s, which had
not mellowed on the shelves, nor come to belong to them by nature. Mr.
Brownlow did not think of this, but yet he was somehow conscious of it
when, with the prospect of a long unoccupied day before him, he went
into this room. It was on the other side of the house, turned away from
the sunshine, and looking out upon nothing but evergreens, sombre
corners of shrubberies, and the paths which led to the kitchen and
stables. He went in and sat down by the table, and looked round at all
the shelves, and drew a blotting-book toward him mechanically. What did
he want with it? he had no letters to write there–nothing to do that
belonged to that luxurious leisurely place. If there was work to be
done, it was at the office that he ought to do it. He had not the habit
of writing here–nor even of reading. The handsome library had nothing
to do with his life. This, perhaps, was why he established himself in it
on the special day of which we speak. It seemed to him as if any moment
his fine house might topple down about his ears like a house of cards.
He had thought over it in the High Street till he was sick and his head
swam; perhaps some new light might fall on the subject if he were to
think of it here. This was why he established himself at the table,
making in his leisure a pretense to himself of having something to do.
If he had been used to any sort of guile or dishonorable dealing, the
chances are it would have been easier for him; but it is hard upon a man
to change the habits of his life. John Brownlow had to maintain with
himself a fight harder than that which a man ordinarily has to fight
against temptation; for the fact was that this was far, very far from
being his case. He was not tempted to do wrong. It was the good impulse
which in his mind had come to be the thing to be struggled against. What
he wanted was to do what was right; but with all the steadiness of a
virtuous resolution he had set himself to struggle against his impulse
and to do wrong.

Here was the state of the case: He had found, as he undoubtedly
believed, the woman whom more than twenty years ago he had given himself
so much trouble to find. She was here, a poor woman–to whom old Mrs.
Thomson’s fifty thousand pounds would be equal to as many millions–with
a son, whose every prospect would be changed, whose life would begin on
a totally different level, if his legitimate inheritance came to him as
it ought: this was all very distinct and clear. But, on the other hand,
to withdraw that fifty thousand pounds from his own affairs at this
moment, would be next to ruin to John Brownlow. It would be a loss to
him of almost as much more. It would reduce him again hopelessly to the
character of the country solicitor–a character which he had not
abandoned, which he had, in short, rather prided himself in keeping up,
but which was very different, in conjunction with his present standing
in the county, from what it would be were he Brownlow the solicitor
alone. And then there was the awful question of interest, which ought to
have been accumulating all these five-and-twenty years. He thought to
himself as he reflected, that his best course would have been to reject
young Powys’s application and throw him off, and leave him to find
occupation where he could. Then, if the young man had discovered any
thing, it would at least have been a fair fight. But he had of his own
will entered into relations with him; he had him under his eyes day by
day, a standing temptation, a standing reproach; he had kept him close
by him to make discoveries that otherwise he probably never would have
made; and he had made discoveries. At any moment the demand might come
which should change the character of the position altogether. All this
was old ground over which he had gone time after time. There was nothing
new in it but the sudden remedy which had occurred to him on the
previous night as he walked home. He had not as yet confessed to himself
that he had accepted that suggestion, and yet only half voluntarily he
had taken the first steps to bring it about. It was a remedy almost as
bad as the original danger–very unpalatable, very mortifying–but it
was better than utter downfall. By moments Mr. Brownlow’s heart revolted
altogether against it. It was selling his child, even though it was for
her own sake–it was taking advantage of her best instincts, of her rash
girlish readiness to put her future in his hands. And there were also
other questions involved. When it came to the point, would Sara hold by
her promise–had she meant it, in earnest, as a real promise when she
made it? And then she was a girl who would do any thing, every thing for
her father’s sake, in the way of self-sacrifice, but would she
understand sacrificing herself to save, not her father, but Brownlows?
All these were very doubtful questions. Mr. Brownlow, who had never
before been in any body’s power, who knew nothing about mysteries, found
himself now, as it were, in every body’s power, threading a darkling
way, from which his own efforts could never deliver him. He was in the
power of young Powys, who any day could come to his door and demand–how
much? any sum almost–his whole fortune–with no alternative but that of
a lawsuit, which would take his good name as well. He was in the power
of his son, who, if he heard of it, might simplify matters very
summarily, and the chances were would do so; and he was in the power of
Sara, who could save him if she would–save him not only from the
consequences but from the sin–save his conscience and his credit, and
her own position. Why should not she do it? Young Powys was poor, and
perhaps not highly educated; but he was pleasanter to look at, more
worth talking to, than Sir Charles Motherwell. If he gave his daughter
to this youth, John Brownlow felt that he would do more than merely make
him amends for having taken his inheritance. It would be restoring the
inheritance to him, and giving him over and above it something that was
worth more than compound interest. When he had come to this point,
however, a revulsion occurred in his thoughts. How could he think of
marrying his child, his Sara, she of whom he had made a kind of
princess, who might marry any body, as people say–how could he give her
to a nameless young man in his office? What would the world say? What
inquiries, what suspicions would arise, if he gave up his house and all
its advantages to a young fellow without a penny? And then Sara herself,
so delicate in all her tastes, so daintily brought up, so difficult to
please! If she were so little fastidious at the end, what would be
thought of it? She had refused Sir Charles Motherwell, if not actually
yet tacitly–and Sir Charles had many advantages, and was very nearly
the greatest man in the county–refused him and was going to take her
father’s uncultivated clerk. Would she, could she do it? was it a thing
he ought to ask of her? or was it not better that he should take it upon
his conscience boldly to deceive and wrong the stranger than to put such
a burden on the delicate shoulders of his child?

Thus he passed the morning, driven about from one idea to another and
feeling little comfort in any, longing for Powys’s arrival, that he
might read in his eyes how much he knew, and yet fearing it, lest he
might know too much. If any of his clients had come to him in such a
state of mind, John Brownlow would have looked upon that man with a
certain pity mingled with contempt, and while advising him to his best,
would have said to himself, How weak all this shilly-shally is! one way
or other let something be decided. But it is a very different matter
deciding on one’s own affairs and on the affairs of other people. Even
at that moment, notwithstanding his own agitation and mental distress,
had he been suddenly called upon for counsel, he could have given it
clearly and fully–the thing was, that he could not advise himself.

And to aggravate matters, while he sat thus thinking it all over and
waiting for Powys, and working himself up almost to the point of
preparing for a personal contest with him, the Rector chanced to call,
and was brought triumphantly into the library. “Papa is so seldom at
home,” Sara had said, with a certain exultation; “come and see him.” And
Mr. Hardcastle was exultant too. “How lucky that I should have come
to-day of all others,” he said. “One never sees you by day-light.”

“Well, yes,” said Mr. Brownlow, who was cross and out of temper in spite
of himself; “I am visible by day-light to every body on the road between
this and Masterton. I don’t think I shut myself up.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” said the Rector; “but you have been
overdoing it, Brownlow. You’re ill. I always told you you ought to give
yourself more leisure. A man at your time of life is not like a young
fellow. We can’t do it, my dear sir–we can’t do it. I am up to as much
as most men of my age; but it won’t do morning and night–I have found
that out.”

“It suits me very well,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I am not ill, thank you. I
had a restless night–rather–”

“Ah, that’s just it,” said Mr. Hardcastle. “The brain is fatigued–that
is what it is. And you ought to take warning. It is the beginning of so
many things. For instance, last year when my head was so bad–”

“Don’t speak of it,” said Mr. Brownlow. “My head is not bad; I am all
right. I have a–a clerk coming with some papers; that is what I am
waiting for. Is Fanny with you to-day?”

“No,” said Mr. Hardcastle. “They have begun to have her up at Ridley
more than I care to see her. And there is that young Keppel, you know.
Not that he means any thing, I suppose. Indeed, I thought he was devoted
to Sara a short time ago. Ah, my dear Brownlow, it is a difficult matter
for us, left as we both are with young girls who have never known
maternal care–”

It was not a moment when Mr. Brownlow could enter upon such a subject.
But he instinctively changed his expression, and looked solemn and
serious, as the occasion demanded. Poor Bessie!–he had probably been a
truer lover to her than the Rector had been to the two Mrs. Hardcastles,
though she had not been in his mind just then; but he felt bound to put
on the necessary melancholy look.

“Yes,” he said; “no doubt it is difficult. My clerk is very late. He
ought to have been here at twelve. I have a good many pressing matters
of business just now–”

“I see, I see; you have no time for private considerations,” said the
Rector. “Don’t overdo it, don’t overdo it,–that is all I have got to
say. Remember what a condition I was in only two years since–took no
pleasure in any thing. Man delighted me not, nor woman either–not even
my little Fanny. If ever there was a miserable state on earth, it is
that. I see a fine tall young fellow straying about there among the
shrubberies. Is that your clerk?”

Mr. Brownlow got up hastily and came to the window, and there beyond all
question was Powys, who had lost his way, and had got involved in the
maze of paths which divided the evergreens. It was a curious way for him
to approach the house, and he was not the man to seek a back entrance,
however humble his circumstances had been. But anyhow it was he, and he
had got confused, and stood under one of the great laurels, looking at
the way to the stables, and the way to the kitchen, feeling that neither
way was his way, and not knowing where to turn. Mr. Brownlow opened the
window and called to him. Many a day after he thought of it, with that
vague wonder which such symbolical circumstances naturally excite. It
did not seem important enough to be part of the symbolism of Providence
at the moment. Yet it was strange to remember that it was thus the young
man was brought into the house. Mr. Brownlow set the window open, and
watched him as he came forward, undeniably a fine tall young fellow, as
Mr. Hardcastle said. Somehow a kind of pride in his good looks, such as
a father might have felt, came into John Brownlow’s mind. Sir Charles,
with his black respirator, was not to be named in the same day with
young Powys, so far as appearance went. He was looking as he did when he
first came to the office, fresh, and frank, and open-hearted. Those
appearances which had so troubled the mind of Mr. Wrinkell and alarmed
Mr. Brownlow himself, were not visible in his open countenance. He came
forward with his firm and rapid step, not the step of a dweller in
streets. And Mr. Hardcastle, who had a slight infusion of muscular
Christianity in his creed, could not refrain from admiration.

“That is not much like what one looks for in a lawyer’s clerk,” said the
Rector. “What a chest that young fellow has got! Who is he,
Brownlow?–not a Masterton man, I should think.”

“He is a Canadian,” said Mr. Brownlow, “not very long in the office, but
very promising. He has brought me some papers that I must attend to–”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” said Mr. Hardcastle–“always business; but I
shall stay to luncheon as you are at home. I suppose you mean to allow
yourself some lunch?”

“Surely,” said Mr. Brownlow; but it was impossible to reply otherwise
than coldly. He had wanted no spy upon his actions, nobody to speculate
on what he meant in the strange step he was about to take. He could not
send his neighbor away; but at the same time he could not be cordial to
him as if he desired his company. And then he turned to speak to his
clerk, leaving the Rector, who went away in a puzzled state of mind,
wondering whether Mr. Brownlow meant to be rude to him. As for young
Powys, he came in by the window, taking off his hat, and looking at his
employer with an honest mixture of amusement and embarrassment. “I beg
your pardon, sir,” he said; “I had lost my way; I don’t know where I was
going–”

“You were going to the stables,” said Mr. Brownlow, “where I dare say
you would have found something much more amusing than with me. Come in.
You are later than I expected. How is it you did not come up in the
dogcart? My son should have thought of that.”

“He did not say any thing about it,” said Powys, “but I liked the walk.
Mr. Wrinkell told me to bring you these, sir. They are the papers in the
Wardell case; and he gave me some explanations which I was to repeat to
you–some new facts that have just come out–”

“Sit down,” said Mr. Brownlow. He gave the young man a seat at his
table, and resumed his own, and drew the papers to him. But he was not
thinking of the papers or of the Wardell case. His attention was fixed
upon his young companion. Perhaps it was the walk, perhaps some new
discovery, perhaps because he began to see his way to the recovery of
that which John Brownlow was determined not to give up, but certainly
his eye was as bright and his color as fresh as when he had first come
to the office innocent and unsuspecting. He sat down with none of the
affectation either of humility or of equality which a Masterton youth of
his position would have shown. He was not afraid of his employer, who
had been kind to him, and his transatlantic ideas made him feel the
difference between them, though great in the mean time, to be rather a
difference of time than of class. Such at least was the unconscious
feeling in his mind. It is true that he had begun to learn that more
things than time, or even industry and brains, are necessary in an old
and long-constituted social system, but his new and hardly purchased
knowledge had not affected his instincts. He was respectful, but he did
not feel himself out of place in Mr. Brownlow’s library. He took his
seat, and looked round him with the interest of a man free to observe or
even to comment, which, considering that even Mr. Wrinkell was rather
disposed at Brownlows to sit on the edge of his chair, was a pleasant
variety. Mr. Brownlow drew the papers to him, and bent over them,
leaning his head on both his hands; but the fact was, he was looking at
Powys from under that cover, fixing his anxious gaze upon him, reading
what was in the unsuspicious face–what was in it, and most likely a
great deal which was not in it. When he had done this for some minutes
he suddenly raised his head, removed his hands from his forehead to his
chin, and looked steadily at his young companion.

“I will attend to these by-and-by,” he said, abruptly; “in the mean
time, my young friend, I have something to say to you.”

Then Powys, whose eyes had been fixed upon a dark picture over and
beyond, at some distance, Mr. Brownlow’s head, came to himself suddenly,
and met the look fixed upon him. The elder man thought there was a
little defiance in the glance which the younger cast upon him; but this
is one of the things in which one sees always what one is prepared to
see. Powys, for his part, was not in the least defiant; he was a little
surprised, a little curious, eager to hear and reply, but he was utterly
unconscious of the sentiments which the other read in his eyes.

“I thought a little while ago,” said Mr. Brownlow, in his excitement
going farther than he meant to go, “that I had found in you one of the
best clerks that ever I had.”

Here he stopped for a moment, and Powys regarded him open-mouthed,
waiting for more. His frank face clouded over a little when he saw that
Mr. Brownlow made a pause. “I was going to say Thank you, sir,” said the
young man; “and indeed I do say Thank you; but am I to understand that
you don’t think so now?”

“I don’t know what to think,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I take more interest
in you than–than I am in the habit of taking in a–in a stranger; but
they tell me at the office there is a change, and I see there is a
change. It has been suggested to me that you were going to the bad,
which I don’t believe; and it has been suggested to me that you had
something on your mind–”

The young man had changed color, as indeed he could scarcely help doing;
his _amour propre_ was still as lively and as easily excited as is
natural to his age. “If you are speaking of my duties in the office,
sir,” he said, “you have a perfect right to speak; but I don’t suppose
they could be influenced one way or another by the fact that I had
something on my mind–”

“I am not speaking to you so much as your employer as–as your friend,”
said Mr. Brownlow. “You know the change has been visible. People have
spoken about it to me–not perhaps the people you would imagine to have
interfered. And I want to speak to you as an old man may speak to a
young man–as I should wish, if the circumstances make it needful, any
one would speak to my son. Why do you smile?”

“I beg your pardon, sir; but I could not but smile at the thought of Mr.
John–”

“Never mind Mr. John,” said Mr. Brownlow, discomfited. “He has his way,
and we have ours. I don’t set up my son as an example. The thing is,
that I should be glad if you would take me into your confidence. If any
thing is wrong I might be able to help you; and if you have something on
your mind–”

“Mr. Brownlow,” said young Powys, with a deep blush, “I am very sorry to
seem ungrateful, but a man, if he is good for any thing, must have
something he keeps to himself. If it is about my work, I will hear
whatever you please to say to me, and make whatever explanations you
require. I am not going to the bad; but for any thing else I think I
have a right to my own mind.”

“I don’t deny it–I don’t deny it,” said Mr. Brownlow, anxiously. “Don’t
think I want to thrust myself into your affairs; but if either advice or
help–”

“Thank you,” said the young man. He smiled, and once more Mr. Brownlow,
though not imaginative, put a thousand meanings into the smile. “I will
be more attentive to my work,” he said; “perhaps I have suffered my own
thoughts to interfere with me. Thank you, sir, for your kindness. I am
very glad that you have given me this warning.”

“But it does not tempt you to open your heart,” said Mr. Brownlow,
smiling too, though not with very pleasurable feelings.

“There is nothing in my heart that is worth opening,” said Powys;
“nothing but my own small affairs–thank you heartily all the same.”

This is how Mr. Brownlow was baffled, notwithstanding his superior age
and prudence and skill. He sat silent for a time with that curious
feeling of humiliation and displeasure which attends a defeat even when
nobody is to be blamed for it. Then by way of saving his dignity, he
drew once more toward him the Wardell papers, and studied them in
silence. As for the young man, he resumed, but with a troubled mind, his
examination of the dark old picture. Perhaps his refusal to open his
heart arose as much from the fact that he had next to nothing to tell as
from any other reason, and the moment the conversation ceased his heart
misgave him. Young Powys was not one of the people possessed by a
blessed certainty that the course they themselves take is the best. As
soon as he had closed his mouth a revulsion of feeling came upon him. He
seemed to himself hard-hearted, ungrateful, odious, and sat thinking
over all Mr. Brownlow’s kindness to him, and his detestable requital of
that kindness, and asking himself how he could recommence the
interrupted talk. What could he say to show that he was very grateful,
and a devoted servant, notwithstanding that there was a corner of his
heart which he could not open up? or must he continue to lie under this
sense of having disappointed and refused to confide in so kind a friend?
A spectator would have supposed the circumstances unchanged had he seen
the lawyer seated calmly at the table looking over his papers, and his
clerk at a little distance respectfully waiting his employer’s pleasure;
but in the breast of the young man, who was much too young to be sure of
himself, there was a wonderful change. He seemed to himself to have made
a friend into an enemy; to have lost his vantage ground in Mr.
Brownlow’s good opinion, and above all to have been ungrateful and
unkind. Thus they sat in dead silence till the bell for luncheon–the
great bell which amused Pamela, bringing a lively picture before her of
all that was going on at the great house–began to sound into the
stillness. Then Mr. Brownlow stirred, gathered his papers together, and
rose from his chair. Powys sat still, not knowing what to do; and it may
be imagined what his feelings were when his employer spoke.

“Come along, Powys,” said Mr. Brownlow,–“you have had a long walk, and
you must be hungry–come and have some lunch.”

You may also like