WHAT FOLLOWED

Pamela could make nothing of her companion. Nancy was very willing to
talk, and indeed ran on in an unceasing strain; but what she said only
confused the more the girl’s bewildered faculties; and she saw her mount
at last into the carrier’s cart, and left her with less perception than
ever of what had happened. Then she went straying home in the early
dusk, for already the days had begun to grow short, and that night in
especial a thunder-storm was brewing, and the clouds were rolling down
darkly after the sultry day. Pamela crossed over to the shade of the
thick hedge and fence which shut in the park, that nobody might see her,
and her thoughts as she went along were not sweet. She thought of Jack
and the ladies at Brownlows, and then she thought of the wish her mother
had uttered–Had she but known this a month ago! and between the
terrible suspicion of a previous love, and the gnawing possibility of
present temptation, made herself very miserable, poor child. Either he
had deceived her, and was no true man; or if he had not yet deceived
her, he was in hourly peril of doing so, and at any moment the blow
might come. While she was thus lingering along in the twilight,
something happened which gave Pamela a terrible fright. She was passing
a little stile when suddenly a man sprang out upon her and caught hold
of her hands. She was so sure that Jack was dining at Brownlows, and
yielding to temptation then, that she did not recognize him, and
screamed when he sprang out; and it was dark, so dark that she
could scarcely see his face. Jack, for his part, had been so
conscience-stricken when Mrs. Preston refused him entrance that he had
done what few men of this century would be likely to do. He had gone in
with the other men, and gulped down some sherry at the sideboard, and
instead of proceeding to his dressing-room as they all did after, had
told a very shocking fib to Willis the butler, for the benefit of his
father and friends, and rushed out again. He might have been proof
against upbraiding, but compunction seized him when Mrs. Preston closed
the door. He had deserved it, but he had not expected such summary
measures; and “that woman,” as he called her in his dismay, was capable
of taking his little love away and leaving him no sign. He saw it in her
eye; for he, too, saw the change in her. Thus Jack was alarmed, and in
his fright his conscience spoke. And he had seen Pamela go out, and
waylaid her; and was very angry and startled to see she did not
recognize him. “Good heavens, do you mean to say you don’t know me?” he
cried, almost shaking her as he held her by the hands. To scream and
start as if the sight of him was not the most natural thing in the
world, and the most to be looked for! Jack felt it necessary to begin
the warfare, to combat his own sense of guilt.

“I thought you were at dinner,” said Pamela, faintly. “I never thought
it could be you.”

“And you don’t look a bit glad to see me. What do you mean by it?” said
Jack. “It is very hard, when a fellow gives up every thing to come and
see you. And your mother to shut the door upon me! She never did it
before. A man has his duties to do, whatever happens. I can’t go and
leave these fellows loafing about by themselves. I must go out with
them. I thought you were going to take me for better for worse, Pamela,
not for a month or a week.”

“Oh, don’t speak so,” said Pamela. “It was never me. It must have been
something mamma had heard. She does not look a bit like herself; and it
is all since that old woman came.”

“What old woman?” said Jack, calming down. “Look here, come into the
park. They are all at dinner, and no one will see; and tell me all about
it. So long as you are not changed, nothing else is of any consequence.
Only for half an hour–”

“I don’t think I ought,” said Pamela; but she was on the other side of
the stile when she said these words; and her hand was drawn deeply
through Jack’s arm, and held fast, so that it was clearly a matter of
discreet submission, and she could not have got away had she wished it.
“I don’t think I ought to come,” said Pamela, “you never come to us now;
and it must have been something that mamma had heard. I think she is
going away somewhere; and I am sure, with all these people at Brownlows,
and all that old Nancy says, and you never coming near us, I do not mind
where we go, for my part.”

“As if I cared for the people at Brownlows!” said Jack, holding her hand
still more tightly. “Don’t be cruel to a fellow, Pamela. I’ll take you
away whenever you please, but without me you shan’t move a step. Who is
old Nancy, I should like to know? and as for any thing you could have
heard–Who suffers the most, do you suppose, from the people at
Brownlows? To know you are there, and that one can’t have even a look at
you–”

“But then you can have a great many looks at other people,” said Pamela,
“and perhaps there was somebody else before me–don’t hold my hand so
tight. We are poor, and you are rich–and it makes a great difference.
And I can’t do just what I like. You say _you_ can’t, and you are a man,
and older than I am. I must do what mamma says.”

“But you know you can make her do what you like; whereas, with a lot of
fellows–” said Jack. “Pamela, don’t–there’s a darling! You have me in
your power, and you can put your foot upon me if you like. But you have
not the heart to do it. Not that I should mind your little foot. Be as
cruel as you please; but don’t talk of running away. You know you can
make your mother do whatever you like.”

“Not now,” said Pamela, “not now–there is such a change in her; and oh,
Jack, I do believe she is angry, and she will make me go away.”

“Tell me about it,” said Jack, tenderly; for Pamela had fallen into
sudden tears, without any regard for her consistency. And then the
dialogue became a little inarticulate. It lasted a deal longer on the
whole than half an hour, and the charitable clouds drooped lower, and
gave them shade and shelter as they emerged at last from the park, and
stole across the deserted road to Swayne’s cottage. They were just in
time; the first drops of the thunder-shower fell heavy and big upon
Pamela before they gained shelter. But she did not mind them much. She
had unburdened her heart, and her sorrows had flown away; and the ladies
at Brownlows were no longer of any account in her eyes. She drew her
lover in with her at the door, which so short a time before had been
closed on him. “Mamma, I made him come in with me, not to get wet,” said
Pamela; and both the young people looked with a little anxiety upon Mrs.
Preston, deprecating her wrath. She was seated by the window, though it
had grown dark, perhaps looking for Pamela; but her aspect was rather
that of one who had forgotten every thing external for the moment, than
of an anxious mother watching for her child. They could not see the
change in her face, as they gazed at her so eagerly in the darkness; but
they both started and looked at each other when she spoke.

“I would not refuse any one shelter from a storm,” she said, “but if Mr.
Brownlow thinks a little, he will see that this is no place for him.”
She did not even turn round as she spoke, but kept at the window,
looking out, or appearing to look out, upon the gathering clouds.

Jack was thunderstruck. There was something in her voice which chilled
him to his very bones. It was not natural offense for his recent
short-comings, or doubt of his sincerity. He felt himself getting red in
the darkness. “It was as if she had found me out to be a scoundrel, by
Jove,” he said to himself afterward, which was a very different sort of
thing from mere displeasure or jealousy. And in the silence that ensued,
Mrs. Preston took no notice of anybody. She kept her place at the
window, without looking round or saying another word; and in the
darkness behind stood the two bewildered, trying to read in each other’s
faces what it could mean.

“Speak to her,” said Pamela, eagerly whispering close to his ear; but
Jack, for his part, could not tell what to say. He was offended, and he
did not want to speak to her; but, on the contrary, held Pamela fast,
with almost a perverse desire to show her mother that the girl was his,
and that he did not care. “It is you I want, and not your mother,” he
said. They could hear each other speak, and could even differ and argue
and be impassioned without anybody else being much the wiser. The only
sound Mrs. Preston heard was a faint rustle of whispers in the darkness
behind her. “No,” said Jack, “if she will be ill-tempered, I can’t help
it. It is you I want,” and he stood by and held his ground. When the
first lightning flashed into the room, this was how it found them.
There was a dark figure seated at the window, relieved against the
gleam, and two faces which looked at each other, and shone for a second
in the wild illumination. Then Pamela gave a little shriek and covered
her face. She was not much more than a child, and she was afraid. “Come
in from the window, mamma! do come, or it will strike you; and let us
close the shutters,” cried Pamela. There was a moment during which Mrs.
Preston sat still, as if she did not hear. The room fell into blackness,
and then blazed forth again, the window suddenly becoming “a glimmering
square,” with the one dark outline against it. Jack held his little love
with his arm, but his eyes were fascinated by that strange sight. What
could it mean? Was she mad? Had something happened in his absence to
bring about this wonderful change? The mother, however, could not resist
the cry that Pamela uttered the second time. She rose up, and closed the
shutters with her own hands, refusing Jack’s aid. But when the three
looked at each other, by the light of the candles, they all looked
excited and disturbed. Mrs. Preston sat down by the table, with an air
so different from her ordinary looks, that she seemed another woman. And
Jack, when her eyes fell upon him, could not help feeling something like
a prisoner at the bar.

“Mr. Brownlow,” she said, “I dare say you think women are very ignorant,
especially about business–and so they are; but you and your father
should remember–you should remember that weak folks, when they are put
to it–Pamela! sit down, child, and don’t interfere; or, if you like,
you can go away.”

“What have I done, Mrs. Preston!” said Jack. “I don’t know what you
mean. If it is because I have been some days without coming, the reason
is–But I told Pamela all about it. If that is the reason–”

“That!” cried Mrs. Preston, and then her voice began to tremble; “if you
think your coming or–or going is–any–any thing–” she said, and then
her lips quivered so that she could articulate no more. Pamela, with a
great cry, rushed to her and seized her hands, which were trembling too,
and Jack, who thought it was a sudden “stroke,” seized his hat and
rushed to the door to go for a doctor; but Mrs. Preston held out her
shaking hands to him so peremptorily that he stopped in spite of
himself. She was trembling all over–her head, her lips, her whole
frame, yet keeping entire command of herself all the time.

“I am not ill,” she said; “there is no need for a doctor.” And then she
sat resolutely looking at him, holding her feet fast on the floor and
her hand flat on the table to stop the movement of her nerves. It was a
strange sight. But when the two who had been looking at her with alarmed
eyes, suddenly, in the height of their wonder, turned to each other with
a glance of mutual inquiry and sympathy, appealing to each other what it
could mean, Mrs. Preston could not bear it. Her intense self-command
gave way. All at once she fell into an outbreak of wailing and tears.
“You are two of you against me,” she said. “You are saying to each
other, What does she mean! and there is nobody on earth–nobody to take
my part.” The outcry went to Jack Brownlow’s heart. Somehow he seemed to
understand better than even Pamela did, who clung to her mother and
cried, and asked what was it–what had she done! Jack was touched more
than he could explain. The thunder was rolling about the house, and the
rain falling in torrents; but he had not the heart to stay any longer
and thrust his happiness into her face, and wound her with it. Somehow
he felt ashamed; and yet he had nothing to be ashamed about, unless, in
presence of this agitation and pain and weakness, it was his own
strength and happiness and youth.

“I don’t mind the storm,” he said. “I am sure you don’t want any one
here just now. Don’t let your mother think badly of me, Pamela. You know
I would do any thing–and I can’t tell what’s wrong; and I am going
away. Good-night.”

“Not till the storm is over,” cried Pamela. “Mamma, he will get
killed–you know he will, among those trees.”

“Not a bit,” said Jack, and he waved his hand to them and went away,
feeling, it must be confessed, a good deal frightened–not for the
thunder, however, or the storm, but for Mrs. Preston’s weird look and
trembling nerves, and his poor little Pamela left alone to nurse her.
That was the great point. The poor woman was right. For herself there
was nobody to care much. Jack was frightened because of Pamela. His
little love, his soft little darling, whom he would like to take in his
arms and carry away from every trouble–that she should be left alone
with sickness in its most terrible shape, perhaps with delirium,
possibly with death! Jack stepped softly into Mrs. Swayne’s kitchen, and
told her his fears. He told her he would go over to Betty’s lodge and
wait there, in case the doctor should be wanted, and that she was not to
let Miss Pamela wear herself out. As for Mrs. Swayne, though she made an
effort to be civil, she scoffed at his fears. When she had heard what he
had to say she showed him out grimly, and turned with enjoyment the key
in the door. “The doctor!” she said to herself in disdain; “a fine
excuse! But I don’t hold with none o’ your doctors, nor with gentlemen
a-coming like roaring lions. I ain’t one to be caught like that, at my
time of life; and you don’t come in here no more this night, with your
doctors and your Miss Pamelas.” In this spirit Mrs. Swayne fastened the
house up carefully, and shut all the shutters, before she knocked at the
parlor door to see what was the matter. But when she did take that
precaution she was not quite so sure of her own wisdom. Mrs. Preston was
lying on the sofa, shivering and trembling, with Pamela standing
frightened by her. She had forbidden the girl to call any one, and was
making painful efforts by mere resolution to stave it off. She said
nothing, paid no attention to any body, but with her whole force was
struggling to put down the incipient illness, and keep disease at bay.
And Pamela, held by her glittering eye, too frightened to cry, too
ignorant to know what to do, stood by, a white image of terror and
misery, wringing her hands. Mrs. Swayne was frightened too; but there
was some truth in her boast of experience. And, besides, her character
was at stake. She had sent Jack away, and disdained his offer of the
doctor, and it was time to bestir herself. So they got the stricken
woman up stairs and laid her in her bed, and chafed her limbs, and
comforted her with warmth. Jack, waiting in old Betty’s, saw the light
mount to the higher window and shine through the chinks of the shutters,
until the storm was over, and he had no excuse for staying longer. It
was still burning when he went away, and it burned all night through,
and lighted Pamela’s watch as she sat pale at her mother’s bedside. She
sat all through the night and watched her patient–sat while the
lightning still flashed and the thunder roared, and her young soul
quaked within her; and then through the hush that succeeded, and through
the black hours of night and the dawning of the day. It was the first
vigil she had ever kept, and her mind was bewildered with fear and
anxiety, and the confusion of ignorance. She sat alone, wistful and
frightened, afraid to move lest she should disturb her mother’s restless
sleep, falling into dreary little dozes, waking up cold and terrified,
hearing the furniture, and the floor, and the walls and windows–every
thing about her, in short–giving out ghostly sounds in the stillness.
She had never heard those creaks and jars before with which our
inanimate surroundings give token of the depth of silence and night. And
Mrs. Preston’s face looked grey in the faint light, and her breathing
was disturbed; and by times she tossed her arms about, and murmured in
her sleep. Poor Pamela had a weary night; and when the morning came with
its welcome light, and she opened her eyes after a snatch of unwitting
sleep, and found her mother awake and looking at her, the poor child
started up with a sharp cry, in which there was as much terror as
relief.

“Mamma!” she cried. “I did not mean to go to sleep. Are you better?
Shall I run and get you a cup of tea?”

“Come and speak to me, Pamela,” said Mrs. Preston. “I am quite well–at
least I think I am well. My poor darling, have you been sitting up all
night?”

“It does not matter,” said Pamela; “it will not hurt me; but I was
frightened. Are you sure you are better? Poor mamma, how ill you have
been! You looked–I can not tell you how you looked. But you have your
own eyes again this morning. Let me go and get you some tea.”

“I don’t want any tea,” said Mrs. Preston. “I want to speak to you. I am
not so strong as I used to be, and you must not cross me, Pamela. I have
something to do before I die. It upset me to hear of it, and to think of
all that might happen. But I must get well and do it. It is all for your
sake; and you must not cross me, Pamela. You must think well of what I
say.”

“No,” said Pamela, though her heart sank a little. “I never did any
thing to cross you, mamma; but Mrs. Swayne said you were not to talk;
and she left the kettle by the fire that you might have some tea.”

“I do not care for tea; I care for nothing but to get up and do what has
to be done,” said her mother. “It is all for your sake. Things will be
very different, Pamela, from what you think: but you must not cross me.
It is all for you–all for you.”

“Oh, mamma, don’t mind me,” said Pamela, kissing her grey cheek. “I am
all right, if you will only be well; and I don’t know any thing you can
have to do. You are not fit for any thing but to lie still. It is very
early yet. I will draw the curtains if you will try to go to sleep.”

“I must get up and go,” said Mrs. Preston. “This is no time to go to
sleep; but you must not cross me–that is the chief thing of all; for
Pamela, every thing will be yours–every thing; and you are not to be
deceived and taken in, and throw it all away.”

“Oh, mamma dear, lie still and have a little more rest,” cried Pamela,
ready to cry with terror and distress. She thought it was delirium, and
was frightened and overwhelmed by the unexpected calamity. Mrs. Preston,
however, did not look like a woman who was raving; she looked at the old
silver watch under her pillow, drawing it out with a feeble hand, which
still trembled, and when she saw how early it still was, she composed
herself again as with an effort. “Come and lie down, my poor darling,”
she said. “We must not spend our strength; and my Pamela will be my own
good child and do what I say.”

“Yes, mamma,” said the poor child, answering her mother’s kiss; but all
the while her heart sank in her breast. What did it mean? What form was
her submission to take? What was she pledging herself to? She lay down
in reluctant obedience, trembling and agitated; but she was young and
weary, and fell fast asleep in spite of herself and all her fears. And
the morning light, as it brightened and filled the little room, fell
upon the two together, who were so strange a contrast–the young round
sweet face, to which the color returned as the soft sleep smoothed and
soothed it, with eyes so fast closed, and the red lips a little apart,
and the sweet breath rising and falling: and the dark, weary
countenance, worn out of all freshness, now stilled in temporary
slumber, now lighting up with two big dark eyes, which would wake
suddenly, and fix upon the window, eager with thought, and then veil
over again in the doze of weakness. They lay thus till the morning had
advanced, and the sound of Mrs. Swayne’s entrance made Pamela wake, and
spring ashamed from her dead sleep. And finally, the cup of tea, the
universal cordial, was brought. But when Mrs. Preston woke fully, and
attempted to get up, with the eager look and changed manner which
appalled her daughter, it was found to be impossible. The shock,
whatever it was, had been too much for her strength. She fell back again
upon her bed with a look of anguish which went to Pamela’s heart. “I
can’t do it–I can’t do it,” she said to herself, in a voice of despair.
The convulsive trembling of the previous night was gone; but she could
not stand, could not walk, and still shook with nervous weakness. “I
can’t do it–I can’t do it,” she said over and over, and in her despair
wept; which was a sight overwhelming even to Mrs. Swayne, who was
standing looking on.

“Hush, hush,” said that surprised spectator. “Bless your poor soul,
don’t take on. If you can’t do it to-day, you’ll do it to-morrow; though
I don’t know, no more than Adam, what she’s got to do, Miss Pamela, as
is so pressing. Don’t take on. Keep still, and you’ll be better
to-morrow. Don’t go and take no liberties with yourself. You ain’t fit
to stand, much less to do any thing. Bless you, you’ll be as lively as
lively to-morrow, if you lie still and take a drop of beef-tea now and
again, and don’t take on.”

“Yes, I’ll do it to-morrow. It’ll do to-morrow; a day don’t signify,”
said Mrs. Preston; and she recovered herself, and was very quiet, while
Pamela took her place by the bedside. Either she was going to be ill,
perhaps to die, or something had happened to change her very nature, and
turn the current of her life into another channel. Which of these things
it was, was beyond the discrimination of the poor girl who watched by
her bedside.