TREATING HIS OWN CASE

It may be imagined after this with what sort of feelings the unhappy
Jack turned up the avenue in cold blood, and walked home to dinner. He
thought he knew what awaited him, and yet he did not know, for up to
this moment he had never come seriously in collision with his father. He
did not know what was going to be said to him, what line of reproach Mr.
Brownlow would take, what he could reply; for in reality he himself had
made as great or a greater discovery than his father had done. He was as
totally unaware what he meant as Mr. Brownlow was. What did he mean?
Nothing–to be happy–to see the other fair little creature happy, to
praise her, to admire her, to watch her pretty ways–to see her look up
with her dewy eyes, tender and sweet, into his face. That was all he had
meant; but now that would answer no longer. If he had been a little less
brave and straightforward, Jack would have quailed at the prospect
before him. He would have turned his back upon the awful dinner-table,
the awful hour after dinner, which he felt awaited him. But at the same
time his spirit was up, and he could not run away. He went on doggedly,
seeing before him in the distance his father still walking slowly, very
slowly he thought, up to the house. Jack had a great respect for his
father, but he had been so differently educated, his habits and ways of
thinking were so different, that perhaps in ordinary cases the young man
was a little impatient of paternal direction; and he did not know now
how he could bear it, if Mr. Brownlow took matters with a high hand.
Besides, even that was not the most urgent question. How could he answer
any one? what could he say for himself? He did not know what he meant.
He could not acknowledge himself a fool, and admit that he meant
nothing. His thoughts were not pleasant as he went slowly after his
father up the avenue. Perhaps it would convey but an uncomfortable
impression of Jack were I to say that he had been quite sincere, and was
quite sincere even now in what he had said about marriage. He had no
particular desire to change his own condition in any way. The idea of
taking new responsibilities upon him had not entered into his mind. He
had simply yielded to a very pleasurable impulse, meaning no harm; and
all at once, without any warning, his pleasure had turned into something
terrible, and stood staring at him with his father’s eyes–with eyes
still more severe and awful than his father’s. In an hour or two,
perhaps even in a minute or two, he would be called to account; and he
could not tell what to answer. He was utterly confounded and stupefied
by the suddenness of the event, and by the startling revelation thus
made to him; and now he was to be called up to the bar, and examined as
to what he meant. These thoughts were but necessary companions as he
went home, where all this awaited him; and he did not know whether to be
relieved or to feel more disconcerted still, when he met a messenger at
the door, who had just been sent in hot haste to the Rectory to ask Mr.
Hardcastle to join the Brownlows party–a kind of thing which the
Rector, in a general way, had no great objection to do. Was Mr.
Hardcastle to be called in to help to lecture him? This was the thought
that crossed Jack’s mind as he went–it must be acknowledged, very
softly and quietly–up stairs to his own room. He met nobody on the way,
and he was glad. He let the bell ring out, and made sure that every body
was ready, before he went down stairs. And he could not but feel that he
looked like a culprit when finally he stole into the drawing-room, where
Mr. Hardcastle was waiting along with his father and sister. Mr.
Brownlow said, “You are late, Jack,” and Jack’s guilty imagination read
volumes in the words; but nothing else was said to him. The dinner
passed on as all dinners do; the conversation was just as usual. Jack
himself was very silent, though generally he had his own opinion to give
on most subjects. As he sat and listened, and allowed the talk to float
over his head, as it were, a strong conviction of the nothingness of
general conversation came over him. He was full to brimming with his own
subject, and his father at least might be also supposed to be thinking
more of that than of any thing else. Yet here they were talking of the
most trifling matters, feeling bound to talk of any thing but the one
thing. He had known this before, no doubt, in theory, but for the first
time it now appeared to him in reality. When Sara left the room, it is
not to be denied that his heart gave a jump, thinking now perhaps they
would both open upon him. But still not a word was said. Mr. Hardcastle
talked in his usual easy way, and with an evident unconsciousness of any
particular crisis. Mr. Brownlow was perhaps more silent than usual, and
left the conversation more in the hands of his guest. But he did not
speak _at_ his son, or show him any displeasure. He was grave, but
otherwise there was no difference in him. Thus the evening passed on,
and not a word was said. When Mr. Hardcastle went away Jack went out
with him to walk part of the way across the park, and then only a
certain consciousness showed itself in his father’s face. Mr. Brownlow
gave his son a quick warning look–one glance, and no more. And when
Jack returned from his walk, which was a long and not a comfortable one,
his father had gone to his room, and all chances of collision were over
for that evening at least. He had escaped, but he had not escaped from
himself. On the contrary, he sat half the night through thinking over
the matter. What was he to do?–to go away would be the easiest, perhaps
in every way the best. But yet, as he sat in the silence of the night, a
little fairy figure came and stood beside him. Could he leave her, give
her up, let her remain to wake out of the dream, and learn bitterly by
herself that it was all over? He had never seen any one like her. Keppel
might rave about his beauties, but not one of them was fit to be named
beside Pamela. So sweet too, and fresh and innocent, with her dear
little face like a spring morning. Thinking of that, Jack somehow glided
away from his perplexities. He made a leap back in his mind to that
frosty, icy day on which he had seen her in the carrier’s cart–to the
moment when she sprained her ankle–to all the trifling pleasant events
by which they had come to this present point. And then all at once, with
a start, he came back to their last meeting, which had been the sweetest
of all, and upon which hard fate, in the shape of Mr. Brownlow, had so
solemnly looked in. Poor Jack! it was the first time any thing of the
kind had ever happened to him. He had gone through a little flirtation
now and then before, no doubt, as is the common fate of man; but as for
any serious crisis, any terrible complication like this, such a thing
had never occurred in his life; and the fact was, after all, that the
experienced-man-of-the-world character he was in the habit of putting on
did him no service in the emergency. It enabled him to clear his brow,
and dismiss his uncomfortable feelings from his face during the evening,
but it did him no good now that he was by himself; and it threw no light
upon his future path. He could talk a little polite cynicism now and
then, but in his heart he was young, and fresh, and honest, and not
cynical. And then Pamela. It was not her fault. She had suffered him to
lead her along those primrose paths, but it was always he who had led
the way, and now was he to leave her alone to bear the disappointment
and solitude, and possibly the reproach? She had gone home confused, and
near crying, and probably she had been scolded when she got home, and
had been suffering for him. No doubt he too was suffering for her; but
still the sternest of fathers can not afflict a young man as a
well-meaning mother can afflict a girl. Poor little Pamela! perhaps at
this moment her pretty eyes were dim with tears. And then Jack melted
altogether and broke down. There was not one of them all that was fit to
hold a candle to her–Sara! Sara was handsome, to be sure, but no more
to be compared to that sweet little soul–So he went on, the foolish
young fellow. And if he did not know what he meant at night, he knew
still less in the morning, after troublous hours of thought, and a great
deal of discomfort and pain.

In the morning, however, what he had been dreading came. As bad luck
would have it he met his father on the stairs going down to breakfast;
and Mr. Brownlow beckoned his son to follow him into the library, which
Jack did with the feelings of a victim. “I want to speak to you, Jack,”
Mr. Brownlow said; and then it came.

“When I met you yesterday you were walking with the–with Mrs. Swayne’s
young lodger,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and it was evidently not for the
first time. You must know, Jack, that–that–this sort of thing will
not do. It puts me out as much–perhaps more than it can put you out–to
have to speak to you on such a subject. I believe the girl is an
innocent girl–”

“There can be no doubt about that, sir,” cried Jack, firing up suddenly
and growing very red.

“I hope not,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and I hope–and I may say I
believe–that you don’t mean any harm. But it’s dangerous playing with
edge-tools; harm might come of it before you knew what you were doing.
Now look here, Jack; I know the time for sermons is passed, and that you
are rather disposed to think you know the world better than I do, but I
can’t leave you without warning. I believe the girl is an innocent girl,
as I have said; but there are different kinds of innocence–there is
that which is utterly beyond temptation, and there is that which has
simply never been tempted.”

“It is not a question I can discuss, sir,” cried Jack. “I beg your
pardon. I know you don’t mean to be hard upon me, but as for calling in
question–her–innocence, I can’t have it. She is as innocent as the
angels; she doesn’t understand what evil means.”

“I am glad you think so,” said Mr. Brownlow; “but let me have out my
say. I don’t believe in seduction in the ordinary sense of the word–”

“Sir!” cried Jack, starting to his feet with a countenance flaming like
that of an angry angel. Mr. Brownlow only waved his hand and went on.

“Let me have out my say. I tell you I don’t believe in seduction; but
there are people in the world–and the most part of the people in the
world–who are neither good nor bad, and to such a sudden impulse one
way or other may be every thing. I would not call down upon a young
man’s foolish head all the responsibility of such a woman’s misery,”
said Mr. Brownlow, thoughtfully, “but still it would be an awful thought
that somebody else might have turned the unsteady balance the right way,
and that your folly had turned it the wrong. See, I am not going into it
as a question of personal vice. That your own heart would tell you of;
but I don’t believe, my boy–I don’t believe you mean any harm. I say
this to you once for all. You could not, if you were a hundred times the
man you are, turn one true, good, pure-hearted girl wrong. I don’t
believe any man could; but you might develop evil that but for you would
only have smouldered and never come to positive harm. Who can tell
whether this poor child is of the one character or the other? Don’t
interrupt me. You think you know, but you can’t know. Mind what you are
about. This is all I am going to say to you, Jack.”

“It is too much,” cried Jack, bursting with impatience, “or it is not
half, not a hundredth part enough. I, sir–do you think I would harm
her? Not for any thing that could be offered me–not for all the world!”

“I have just said as much,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly. “If I had thought
you capable of a base intention, I should have spoken very differently;
but intention is one thing and result another. Take care. You can’t but
harm her. To a girl in her position every word, every look of that kind
from a young man like you is a kind of injury. You must know that. Think
if it had been Keppel–ah, you start–and how is it different, being
you?”

“It may not be different, sir,” exclaimed Jack, “but this I know, I
can’t carry on this conversation. Keppel! any man in short–that is what
you mean. Good heavens, how little you know the creature you are talking
of! She talk to Keppel or to any one! If it was not you who said it–”

Mr. Brownlow’s grave face relaxed for one half moment. It did not come
the length of a smile, but it had unawares the same effect upon his son
which a momentary lightening of the clouds has, even though no break is
visible. The atmosphere, as it were, grew lighter. The young man stopped
almost without knowing it, and his indignation subsided. His father
understood better than he thought.

“If all you say is true,” said Mr. Brownlow, “and I am glad to see that
you believe it at least, how can you reconcile yourself to doing such a
girl such an injury? You and she belong to different spheres. You can do
her nothing but harm, she can do you no good. What result can you look
for? What do you mean? You must see the truth of what I say.”

Upon which Jack fell silent, chilled in the midst of his heat, struck
dumb. For he knew very well that he had not meant any thing; he had no
result to propose. He had not gone so far as to contemplate actual
practical consequences, and he was ashamed and had nothing to say.

“This is the real state of the case,” said Mr. Brownlow, seeing his
advantage. “You have both been fools, both you and she, but you the
worst, as being a man and knowing better; and now you see how matters
stand. It may give you a little pang, and I fear it will give her a pang
too; but when I say you ought to make an immediate end of it, I know I
advise what is best for both. I am not speaking to you as your judge,
Jack. I am speaking to you as your friend.”

“Thanks,” said Jack, briefly; his heart was full, poor fellow, and to
tell the truth, he said even that much reluctantly, but honesty drew it
out of him. He felt that his father was his friend, and had not been
dealing hardly with him. And then he got up and went to the window, and
looked out upon the unsuspicious shrubberies full of better thoughts.
Make an end of it! make an end of the best part of his life–make an end
of her probably. Yes, it was a very easy thing to say.

“I will not ask any answer or any promise,” said Mr. Brownlow. “I leave
it to your own good sense and good feeling, Jack. There, that is enough;
and if I were you I would go to the office to-day.”

This was all he said. He went out of the library leaving his son there,
leaving him at liberty to follow out his own reflections. And poor
Jack’s thoughts were not pleasant. When his father was gone he came from
the window, and threw himself into the nearest chair. Make an end of it!
Yes, that was it. Easy to say, very easy to advise, but how to do it?
Was he simply to skulk away like a villain, and leave her to pine and
wonder–for she would wonder and pine, bless her! She believed in him,
whatever other people might do. Keppel, indeed! as if she would look at
Keppel, much less talk to him, walk with him, lift her sweet eyes to him
as she had begun to do. And good heavens, this was to end! Would it not
be better that life itself should end? That, perhaps, would please every
body just as well. Poor Jack! this was the wild way he got on thinking,
until the solemn butler opened the door and begged his pardon, and told
him breakfast was ready. He could have pitched something at poor
Willis’s head with pleasure, but he did not do it. He even got up and
thrust back his thoughts into the recesses of his brain, as it were, and
after a while settled his resolution and went to breakfast. That was one
good of his higher breeding. It did not give him much enlightenment as
to what he should do, but it taught him to look as if nothing was the
matter with him and to put his trouble in his pocket, and face the
ordinary events of life without making a show of himself or his
emotions, which is always a triumph for any man. He could not manage to
eat much, but he managed to bear himself much as usual, though not
entirely to conceal from Sara that something had happened; but then she
was a woman, and knew every change of his face. As for Mr. Brownlow, he
was pleased by his son’s steadiness. He was pleased to see that he bore
it like a man, and bore no malice; and he was still more pleased when
Jack jumped into the dogcart and took the reins without saying any thing
about his intention. It is true the mare had her way that morning, and
carried them into Masterton at the speed of an express train, scattering
every body on her route as if by magic. Their course was as good as a
charge of cavalry through the streets of the suburb they had to go
through. But notwithstanding his recklessness, Jack drove well, and
nobody came to any harm. When he threw the reins to the groom the mare
was straining and quivering in every muscle, half to the admiration,
half to the alarm of her faithful attendant, whose life was devoted to
her. “But, bless you, she likes it,” he said in confidence to his
friends, when he took the palpitating animal to her stable at the Green
Man. “Nothing she likes better, though he’s took it out of her this
morning, he have. I reckon the governor have been a-taking it out of
’im.”

The governor, however, was a man of honor, and did not once again recur
to the subject-matter on the way, which would have been difficult, nor
during the long day which Jack spent in the office within his father’s
reach. In the afternoon some one came in and asked him suddenly to
dinner, somewhere on the other side of Masterton, and the poor young
fellow consented in a half despair which he tried to think was prudence.
He had been turning it over and over in his mind all day. Make an end of
it! These words seemed to be written all over the office walls, as if it
was so easy to make an end of it! And poor Jack jumped at the invitation
in despairing recklessness, glad to escape from himself anyhow for the
moment. Mr. Brownlow thus went home alone. He was earlier than usual,
and he found Sara at Mrs. Swayne’s door, praying, coaxing and teasing
Pamela to go up the avenue with her. “Oh, please, I would rather not,”
Mr. Brownlow heard her say, and then he caught the quiet upward glance,
full of a certain wistful disappointment, as she looked up and saw that
Jack was not there. Poor Pamela did not know what to say or what to
think, or how to look him in the face for confusion and shame, when he
alighted at the gate and came toward the two girls. And then for the
first time he began to talk to her, though her mind was in such a
strange confusion that she could not tell what he said. He talked and
Sara talked, drawing her along with them, she scarcely could tell how,
to the other side of the road, to the great open gates. Then Mr.
Brownlow gave his daughter suddenly some orders for old Betty; and
Pamela, in utter consternation and alarm, found herself standing alone
by his side, with nobody to protect her. But he did not look unkind. He
looked down upon her, on the contrary, pitifully, almost tenderly, with
a kind of fatherly kindness. “My poor child,” he said, “you live with
your mother, don’t you? I dare say you must think it dull sometimes. But
life is dull to a great many of us. You must not think of pleasure or
amusement that is bought at the expense of better things.”

“I?” said Pamela, in surprise; “indeed I never have any amusement;” and
the color came up hotly in her cheeks, for she saw that something was in
the words more than met the ear.

“There are different kinds of amusement,” said Mr. Brownlow. “Does not
your mother come out with you when you come to walk? You are too young
to be left by yourself. Don’t be vexed with me for saying so. You are
but a child;–and I once knew some one who was like you,” he said,
looking at her again with friendly compassionate eyes. He was thinking
as he looked at her that Jack had been right. He was even sorry in an
inexorable way for her disappointment, her inevitable heart-break, which
he hoped, at her age, would be got over lightly. Yes; no doubt she was
innocent, foolish, poor little thing, and it was she who would have to
pay for that–but spotless and guileless all through, down to the very
depths of her dewy eyes.

Pamela stood before her mentor with her cheeks blazing and burning and
her eyes cast down. Then she saw but too well what he had meant. He had
seen her yesterday with his son, and he had sent Mr. John away, and it
was all ended forever. This was what it meant, as Pamela thought. And it
was natural that she should feel her heart rise against him. He was very
kind, but he was inexorable. She stood by him with her heart swelling so
against her bosom that she thought it would burst, but too proud to make
any sign. This was why he had addressed her, brought her away from her
mother’s door, contrived to speak to her alone. Pamela’s heart swelled,
and a wild anger took possession of her; but she stood silent before
him, and answered not a single word. He had no claim upon her that she
should take his advice or obey him. To him at least she had nothing to
say.

“It is true, my poor child,” he said again, “there are some pleasures
that are very costly, and are not worth the cost. You are angry, but I
can not help it. Tell your mother, and she will say the same thing as I
do–and go with her when you go out. You are very young, and you will
find this always the best.”

“I don’t know why you should speak to me so,” said Pamela, with her
heart beating, as it were, in her very ears. “Miss Brownlow goes out by
herself–I–I–am a poor girl–I can not be watched always–and, oh, why
should I, why should I?” cried the girl, with a little burst of
passion. Her cheeks were crimson, and her eyes were full, but she would
not have dropped the tears that were brimming over her eyelids, or let
him see her crying–not for the world.

“Poor child!” said Mr. Brownlow. It was all he said; and it gave the
last touch to her suppressed rage and passion–how did he dare call her
poor child? But Sara came out just then from old Betty’s, and stood
stock-still, confounded by her friend’s looks. Sara could see that
something had happened, but she could not tell what it was. She looked
from Pamela to her father, and from her father to Pamela, and could make
nothing of it. “What is the matter?” she asked, in surprise; and then it
was Pamela’s turn to bethink herself, and defend her own cause.

“There is nothing the matter,” she said, “except that you have left me
standing here, Miss Brownlow, and I must go home. I have my own business
to think of, but I can’t expect you to think of that. There is nothing
wrong.”

“You are angry because I left you,” said Sara in dismay. “Don’t be so
foolish, Pamela. I had something to say to old Betty–and then papa was
here.”

“And mamma is waiting for me,” said Pamela in her passion. “Good-bye.
She wants me, and you don’t. And I dare say we shall not be very long
here. Good-night, good-night.” Thus she left them, running, so that she
could not hear any call, though indeed her heart was beating too loud to
let any thing else be audible, jarring against her ears like an
instrument out of tune. “She has got her father–she doesn’t want me.
Nobody wants me but mamma. We will go away–we will go away!” Pamela
said to herself: and she ran passionately across the road, and
disappeared before any thing could be done to detain her. The father and
daughter looked after her from the gate with different thoughts: Sara
amazed and a little indignant–Mr. Brownlow very grave and
compassionate, knowing how it was.

“What ails her?” said Sara–“papa, what is the matter? Is she frightened
for you? or what have I done? I never saw her like this before.”

“You should not have left her so long by herself,” said Mr. Brownlow,
seizing upon Pamela’s own pretext.

“You told me to go,” cried Sara, injured. “I never thought little Pamela
was so quick-tempered. Let me go and tell her I did not mean it. I will
not stay a moment–wait for me, papa.”

“Not now,” said Mr. Brownlow, and he took his daughter’s arm and drew it
within his own with quiet decision. “Perhaps you have taken too much
notice of little Pamela. It is not always kind, though you mean it to be
kind. Leave her to herself now. I have something to say to you,” and he
led her away up the avenue. It was nothing but the promise of this
something to say which induced Sara, much against her will, to leave her
little friend unconsoled; but she yielded, and she was not rewarded for
yielding. Mr. Brownlow had nothing to say that either explained Pamela’s
sudden passion or threw any light upon other matters which might have
been still more interesting. However, she had been taken home, and
dinner was impending before Sara was quite aware of this, and Pamela,
poor child, remained unconsoled.

She was not just then thinking of consolation. On the contrary, she
would have refused any consolation Sara could have offered her with a
kind of youthful fury. She rushed home, poor child, thinking of nothing
but of taking refuge in her mother’s bosom, and communicating her griefs
and injuries. She was still but a child, and the child’s impulse was
strong upon her; notwithstanding that all the former innocent mystery of
Mr. John’s attentions had been locked in her own bosom, not so much for
secrecy’s sake as by reason of that “sweet shamefacedness” which made
her reluctant, even to herself, to say his name, or connect it anyhow
with her own. Now, as was natural, the lesser pressure yielded to the
greater. She had been insulted, as she thought, her feelings outraged in
cold blood, reproach cast upon her which she did not deserve, and all by
the secret inexorable spectator whose look had destroyed her young
happiness, and dispelled all her pleasant dreams. She rushed in just in
time to hide from the world–which was represented by old Betty at her
lodge window, and Mrs. Swayne at her kitchen door–the great hot
scalding tears, big and sudden, and violent as a thunder-storm, which
were coming in a flood. She threw the door of the little parlor open,
and rushed in and flung herself down at her mother’s feet. And then the
passion of sobs that had been coming burst forth. Poor Mrs. Preston in
great alarm gathered up the little figure that lay at her feet into her
arms, and asked, “What was it?–what was the matter?” making a hundred
confused inquiries; until at last, seeing all reply was impossible, the
mother only soothed her child on her bosom, and held her close, and
called her all the tender names that ever a mother’s fancy could invent.
“My love, my darling, my own child,” the poor woman said, holding her
closer and closer, trembling with Pamela’s sobs, beginning to feel her
own heart beat loud in her bosom, and imagining a thousand calamities.
Then by degrees the short broken story came. Mr. John had been very
kind. He used to pass sometimes, and to say a word or two, and Mr.
Brownlow had seen them together. No, Mr. John had never said any
thing–never, oh, never any thing that he should not have said–always
had been like–like–Rude! Mamma! No, never, never, never! And Mr.
Brownlow had come and spoken to her. He had said–but Pamela did not
know what he had said. He had been very cruel, and she knew that for her
sake he had sent Mr. John away. The dog-cart had come up without him.
The cruel, cruel father had come alone, and Mr. John was banished–“And
it is all for my sake!” This was Pamela’s story. She thought in her
heart that the last was the worst of all, but in fact it was the thing
which gave zest and piquancy to all. If she had known that Mr. John was
merely out to dinner, the chances are that she would never have found
courage to tell her pitiful tale to her mother. But when the
circumstances are so tragical the poor little heroine-victim becomes
strong. Pamela’s disappointment, her anger, and the budding sentiment
with which she regarded Mr. John, all found expression in this outburst.
She was not to see him to-night, nor perhaps ever again. And she had
been seeing him most days and most evenings, always by chance, with a
sweet unexpectedness which made the expectation always the dearer. When
that was taken out of her life, how grey it became all in a moment. And
then Mr. Brownlow had presumed to scold her, to blame her for what she
had been doing, she whom nobody ever blamed, and to talk as if she
sought amusement at the cost of better things. And Pamela was virtuously
confident of never seeking amusement. “He spoke as if I were one to go
to balls and things,” she said through her tears, not remembering at the
moment that she did sometimes think longingly of the youthful
indulgences common enough to other young people from which she was shut
out. All this confused and incoherent story Mrs. Preston picked up in
snatches, and had to piece them together as best she could. And as she
was not a wise woman, likely to take the highest ground, she took up
what was perhaps the best in the point of view of consolation at least.
She took her child’s part with all the unhesitating devotion of a
partisan. True, she might be uneasy about it in the bottom of her heart,
and startled to see how much farther than she thought things had gone;
but still in the first place and above all, she was Pamela’s partisan,
which was of all devices that could have been contrived the one most
comforting. As soon as she had got over her first surprise, it came to
her naturally to pity her child, and pet and caress her, and agree with
her that the father was very cruel and unsympathetic, and that poor Mr.
John had been carried off to some unspeakable banishment. Had she heard
the story in a different way, no doubt she would have taken up Mr.
Brownlow’s _rôle_, and prescribed prudence to the unwary little girl;
but as soon as she understood that Pamela had been blamed, Mrs. Preston
naturally took up arms in her child’s defense. She laid her daughter
down to rest upon the horse-hair sofa, and got her a cup of tea, and
tended her as if she had been ill; and as she did so all her faculties
woke up, and she called all her reason together to find some way of
mending matters. Mr. John! might he perhaps be the protector–the best
of all protectors–with whom she could leave her child in full security?
Why should it not be so? When this wonderful new idea occurred to her,
it made a great commotion in her mind, and called to life a project
which she had put aside some time before. It moved her so much, and took
such decided and immediate form, that Mrs. Preston even let fall hints
incomprehensible to Pamela, and to which, indeed, absorbed as she was,
she gave but little attention. “Wait a little,” Mrs. Preston said, “wait
a little; we may do better than you think for. Your poor mother can do
but little for you, my pet, but yet we may find friends–” “I don’t know
who can do any thing for us,” Pamela answered, disconsolately. And then
her mother nodded her head as if to herself, and went with the gleam of
a superior constantly in her eye. The plan was one that could not be
revealed to the child, and about which, indeed, the child, wrapped up in
her own thoughts, was not curious. It was not a new intention. It was a
plan she had been hoarding up to be made use of should she be
ill–should there be any danger of leaving her young daughter alone in
the world. Now, thank heaven, the catastrophe was not so appalling as
that, and yet it was appalling, for Pamela’s happiness was concerned.
She watched over her child through all that evening, soothed, took her
part, adopted her point of view with a readiness that even startled
Pamela; and all the time she was nursing her project in her own heart.
Under other circumstances, no doubt, Mrs. Preston would have been
grieved, if not angry, to hear of the sudden rapid development of
interest in Mr. John and all their talks and accidental meetings of
which she now heard for the first time. But Pamela’s outburst of grief
and rage had taken her mother by storm; and then, if some one else had
assailed the child, whom had she but her mother to take her part? This
was Mrs. Preston’s reasoning. And it was quite as satisfactory to her as
if it had been a great deal more convincing. She laid all her plans as
she soothed her little daughter, shaking as it were little gleams of
comfort from the lappets of her cap, as she nodded reasoningly at her
child. “We may find friends yet, Pamela,” she would say; “we are not so
badly off as to be without friends.” Thus she concealed her weakness
with a mild hopefulness, knowing no more what results they were to bring
about, what unknown wonders would come out of them, than did the little
creature by her side, whose narrow thoughts were bounded by the narrow
circle which centred in Mr. John. Pamela was thinking, where was he now?
was he thinking of her? was he angry because it was through her he was
suffering? and then with bitter youthful disdain of the cruel father who
had banished him and reproved her, and who had no right–no right! Then
the little girl, when her passion was spent, took up another kind of
thought–the light of anger and resistance began to fade out of her
eyes. After all, she was a poor girl–they were all poor, every body
belonging to her. And Mr. John was a rich man’s son. Would it, perhaps,
be right for the two poor women to steal away, softly, sadly, as they
came; and go out into the world again, and leave the man who was rich
and strong and had a right to be happy to come back and enjoy his good
things? Pamela’s tears and her looks both changed with her thoughts–her
wavering pretty color, the flush of agitation and emotion went off her
cheeks, and left her pale as the sky is when the last sunset tinge has
disappeared out of it. Her tears became cold tears, wrung out as from a
rock, instead of the hot, passionate, abundant rain. She did not say any
thing, but shivered and cried piteously on her mother’s shoulders, and
complained of cold. Mrs. Preston took her to bed, as if she had been
still a child, and covered her up, and dried her eyes, and sat by the
pale little creature till sleep stepped in to her help. But the mother
had not changed this time in sympathy with her child. She was supported
by something Pamela heard not of. “We may find friends–we are not so
helpless as that,” she said to herself; and even Pamela’s sad looks did
not change her. She knew what she was going to do. And it seemed to her,
as to most inexperienced plotters, that her plan was elaborate and wise
in the extreme, and that it must be crowned with success.