YOUNG POWYS

Mr. Brownlow took his new clerk into his employment next morning. It is
true that this was done to fill up a legitimate vacancy, but yet it took
every body in the office a little by surprise. The junior clerk had
generally been a very junior, taken in rather by way of training than
for any positive use. The last one, indeed, whom this new-comer had been
taken to replace, was an overgrown boy in jackets, very different,
indeed, from the tall, well-developed Canadian whose appearance filled
all Mr. Brownlow’s clerks with amazement. All sorts of conjectures about
him filled the minds of these young gentlemen. They all spied some
unknown motive underneath, and their guesses at it were ludicrously far
from the real case. The conveyancing clerk suggested that the young
fellow was somebody’s son “that old Brownlow has ruined, you know, in
the way of business.” Other suppositions fixed on the fact that he was
the son of a widow by whom, perhaps, the governor might have been
bewitched, an idea which was speedily adopted as the favorite and most
probable explanation, and caused unbounded amusement in the office. They
made so merry over it that once or twice awkward consequences had nearly
ensued; for the new clerk had quick ears, and was by no means destitute
of intelligence, and decidedly more than a match, physically, for the
most of his fellows. As for the circumstances of his engagement, they
were on this wise.

At the hour which Mr. Brownlow had appointed to see him again, young
Powys presented himself punctually in the outer office, where he was
made to wait a little, and heard some “chaffing” about the governor’s
singular proceedings on the previous day and his interviews with
Inspector Pollaky, which probably conveyed a certain amount of
information to the young man. When he was ushered into Mr. Brownlow’s
room, there was, notwithstanding his frank and open countenance, a
certain cloud on his brow. He stood stiffly before his future employer,
and heard with only a half-satisfied look that the lawyer, having made
inquiries, was disposed to take advantage of his services. To this the
young backwoodsman assented in a stilted way, very different from his
previous frankness; and when all was concluded, he still stood doubtful,
with the look upon his face of having something to say.

“I don’t know what more there is to settle, except the time when you
enter upon your duties,” said Mr. Brownlow, a little surprised. “You
need not begin to-day. Mr. Wrinkell, the head-clerk, will give you all
the necessary information about hours, and show you all you will have to
do–Is there any thing more you would like to say?”

“Why, yes, sir,” said the youth abruptly, with a mixture of irritation
and compunction. “Perhaps what I say may look very ungrateful; but–why
did you send a policeman to my mother? That is not the way to inquire
about a man if you mean to trust him. I don’t say you have any call to
trust me–”

“A policeman!” said Mr. Brownlow, in consternation.

“Well, sir, the fellows there,” cried the energetic young savage,
pointing behind him, “call him Inspector. I don’t mean to say you were
to take me on my own word; any inquiries you liked to make we were ready
to answer; but a policeman–and to my mother?”

Mr. Brownlow laughed, but yet this explosion gave him a certain
uneasiness. “Compose yourself,” he said, “the man is not a policeman,
but he is a confidential agent, whom when I can’t see about any thing
myself–but I hope he did not say any thing or ask any thing that
annoyed Mrs.–your mother,” Mr. Brownlow added, hurriedly; and if the
jocular youths in the office had seen something like a shade of
additional color rise on his elderly cheek, their amusement and their
suspicions would have been equally confirmed.

“Well, no,” said young Powys, the compunction gaining ground; “I beg
your pardon, sir; you are very kind. I am sure you must think me
ungrateful–but–”

“Nonsense!” said Mr. Brownlow; “it is quite right you should stand up
for your mother. The man is not a policeman–and I never–intended
him–to trouble–your mother,” he added, with hesitation. “He went to
make inquiry, and these sort of people take their own way; but he did
not annoy her, I hope?”

“Oh, no!” said the youth, recovering his temper altogether. “She took it
up as being some inquiry about my father, and she was a little excited,
thinking perhaps that his friends–but never mind. I told her it was
best we should depend only on ourselves, and I am sure I am right. Thank
you; I shall have good news to tell her to-day.”

“Stop a little,” said Mr. Brownlow, feeling a reaction upon himself of
the compunction which had passed over his young companion. “She thought
it was something about your father? Is there any thing mysterious, then,
about your father? I told you there was a Lady Powys who had lived
here.”

“I don’t think there is any thing mysterious about him,” said the young
man. “I scarcely remember him, though I am the eldest. He died quite
young–and my poor mother has always thought that his friends–But I
never encouraged her in that idea, for my part.”

“That his friends could do something for you?” said Mr. Brownlow.

“Yes, that is what she thought. I don’t think myself there is any
foundation for it; and seeing they have never found us out all these
years–five-and-twenty years–”

“Five-and-twenty years!” Mr. Brownlow repeated, with a start–not that
the coincidence was any thing, but only that the mere sound of the word
startled him, excited as he was.

“Yes, I am as old as that,” said young Powys, with a smile, and then he
recollected himself. “I beg your pardon, sir; I am taking up your time,
and I hope you don’t think I am ungrateful. Getting this situation so
soon is every thing in the world to us.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Brownlow: and yet he could not but ask
himself whether his young visitor laid an emphasis upon _this_
situation. What was _this_ situation more than another? “But the salary
is not very large, you know–do you mean to take your mother and her
family on your shoulders with sixty pounds a-year!”

“It is _my_ family,” said the young man, growing red. “I have no
interest separate from theirs.” Then he paused for a moment, feeling
affronted; but he could not bear malice. Next minute he relapsed into
the frank and confidential tone that was natural to him. “There are only
five of us after all,” he said–“five altogether, and the little sisters
don’t cost much; and we have a little money–I think we shall do very
well.”

“I hope so,” said Mr. Brownlow; and somehow, notwithstanding that he
intended in his heart to do this young fellow a deadly injury, a certain
affectionate interest in the lad sprung up within him. He was so honest
and open, and had such an innocent confidence in the interest of others.
None of his ordinary clerks were thus garrulous to Mr. Brownlow. It
never would have occurred to them to confide in the “guv’nor.” He knew
them as they came and went, and had a certain knowledge of their
belongings–which it was that would have old Robinson’s money, and which
that had given his father so much uneasiness; but that was very
different from a young fellow that would look into your face and make a
confidant of you as to his way of spending his sixty pounds a-year. John
Brownlow had possessed a heart ever since he was aware of his own
individuality. It was that that made him raise his eyes always, years
and years ago, when Bessie Fennell went past his windows. Perhaps it
would have been just as well had he not been thus moved; and yet
sometimes, when he was all by himself and looked up suddenly and saw any
passing figure, the remembrance of those moments when Bessie passed
would be as clear upon him as if he were young again. Influenced by this
same organ, which had no particular business in the breast of a man of
his profession at his years, Mr. Brownlow looked up with eyes that were
almost tender upon the young man whom he had just taken into his
employment–notwithstanding that, to tell the truth, he meant badly by
him, and in one particular at least was far from intending to be his
friend.

“I hope so,” he said; “and if you are steady and suit us, there may be
means found of increasing a little. I don’t pledge myself to any thing,
you know; but we shall see how you get on; and if you have any papers or
any thing that may give a clue to your father’s family,” he continued,
as he took up his pen, “bring them to me some day and I’ll look over
them. That’s all in the way of business to us. We might satisfy your
mother after all, and perhaps be of some use to you.”

This he said with an almost paternal smile, dismissing his new clerk,
who went away in an enthusiasm of gratitude and satisfaction. It is so
pleasant to be very kindly used, especially to young people who know no
better. It throws a glow of comfort through the internal consciousness.
It is so very, very good of your patron, and, in a smaller way, it is
good of you too, who are patronized. You are understood, you are
appreciated, you are liked. This was the feeling young Powys had. To
think that Mr. Brownlow would have been as good to any body would not
have been half so satisfactory, and he went off with ringing hasty
steps, which in themselves were beating a measure of exhilaration, to
tell his mother, who, though ready on the spot to worship Mr. Brownlow,
would naturally set this wonderful success down to the score of her
boy’s excellencies. As for the lawyer himself, he took his pen in his
hand and wrote a few words of the letter which lay unfinished before him
while the young man was going out, as if anxious to make up for the time
lost in this interview; but as soon as the door was closed John Brownlow
laid down his pen and leaned back in his chair. What was it he had
done?–taken in a viper to his bosom that would sting him? or received a
generous, open, confiding youth, in order to blind and hoodwink and rob
him? These were strong–nay, rude and harsh words, and he did not say
them even to himself; but a kind of shadow of them rolled through his
mind, and gave him a momentary panic. Was this what he was about to do?
With a pretense of kindness, even generosity, to take this open-hearted
young fellow into his employment, in order to keep him in the dark, and
prevent him from finding out that the fortune was his upon which
Brownlows and all its grandeur was founded? Was this what he was doing?
It seemed to John Brownlow for the moment as if the air of the room was
suffocating, or rather as if there was no air at all to breathe, and he
plucked at his cravat in the horror of the sensation. But then he came
to himself. Perhaps, on the other hand, just as likely, he was taking
into his house a secret enemy, who, once posted there, would search and
find out every thing. Quite likely, very likely; for what did he mean by
the emphasis with which he said _this_ situation, and all that about his
father, which was throwing dust into Mr. Brownlow’s cautious eyes?
Perhaps his mind was a little biased by his profession–perhaps he was
moved by something of the curious legal uncertainty which teaches a man
to plead “never indebted” in the same breath with “already paid;” for
amid the hurry and tumult of these thoughts came another which was of a
more comforting tendency. After all, he had no evidence that the boy was
that woman’s son. No evidence whatever–not a shadow. And it was not his
duty to go out and hunt for her or her son over all the world. Nobody
could expect it of him. He had done it once, but to do it over again
would be simply absurd. Let them come and make their claim.

Thus the matter was decided, and there could be no doubt that it was
with a thrill of very strange and mingled interest that Mr. Brownlow
watched young Powys enter upon his duties. He had thought this would be
a trouble to him–a constant shadow upon him–a kind of silent threat of
misery to come; but the fact was that it did not turn out so. The young
fellow was so frank and honest, so far at least as physiognomy went–his
very step was so cheerful and active, and rang so lightly on the
stones–he was so ready to do any thing, so quick and cordial and
workman-like about his work–came in with such a bright face, spoke with
such a pleasant respectful confidence, as knowing that some special link
existed between his employer and himself; Mr. Brownlow grew absolutely
attached to the new clerk, for whom he had so little use, to whom he was
so kind and fatherly, and against whom–good heavens! was it possible?
he was harboring such dark designs.

As for young Jack, when he came back to the office after a few days on
the ice, there being nothing very important in the way of business going
on just then, the sight of this new figure took him very much by
surprise. He was not very friendly with his father’s clerks on the
whole–perhaps because they were too near himself to be looked upon with
charitable eyes; too near, and yet as far off, he thought to himself, as
if he had been a duke. Not that Jack had those attributes which
distinguished the great family of snobs. When he was among educated men
he was as unassuming as it is in the nature of a young man to be, and
never dreamed of asking what their pedigree was, or what their balance
at their banker’s. But the clerks were different–they were natural
enemies–fellows that might set themselves up for being as good as he,
and yet were not as good as he, however you chose to look at the
question. In short, they were cads. This was the all-expressive word in
which Jack developed his sentiments. Any addition to the cads was
irksome to him; and then he, the young prince, knew nothing about it,
which was more irksome still.

“Who is that tall fellow?” he said to Mr. Wrinkell, who was his father’s
vizier. “What is he doing here? You don’t mean to say he’s _en
permanence_? Who is he, and what is he doing there?”

“That’s Mr. Powys, Mr. John,” said Mr. Wrinkell, calmly, and with a
complacent little nod. The vizier rather liked to snub the heir-apparent
when he could, and somehow the Canadian had crept into his good graces
too.

“By Jove! and who the deuce is Mr. Powys?” said Jack, with unbecoming
impatience, almost loud enough to reach the stranger’s ear.

“Hush,” said Mr. Wrinkell, “he has come in young Jones’s place, who
left at Michaelmas, you know. I should say he was a decided addition;
steady, very steady–punctual in the morning–clever at his work–always
up to his hours–”

“Oh, I see, a piece of perfection,” said Jack, with, it must be
confessed, a slight sneer. “But I don’t see that he was wanted. Brown
was quite able for all the work. I should like to know where you picked
that fellow up. It’s very odd that something always happens when I am
absent for a single day.”

“The frost has lasted for ten days,” said Mr. Wrinkell, with serious but
mild reproof–“not that I think there is any thing in that. We are only
young once in this life; and there is nothing particular doing. I am
very glad you took advantage of it, Mr. John.”

Now it was one of Jack’s weak points that he hated being called Mr.
John, and could not bear to be approved of–two peculiarities of which
Mr. Wrinkell was very thoroughly aware. But the vizier had many
privileges. He was serious and substantial, and not a man who could be
called a cad, as Jack called his own contemporaries in the office.
Howsoever tiresome or aggravating he might be, he had to be borne with;
and he knew his advantages, and was not always generous in the use he
made of them. When the young man went off into his own little private
room, Mr. Wrinkell was tempted to give a little inward chuckle. He was a
dissenter, and he rather liked to put the young autocrat down. “He has
too much of his own way–too much of his own way,” he said to himself,
and went against Jack on principle, and for his good, which is a kind of
conduct not always appreciated by those for whose good it is kept up.

And from that moment a kind of opposition, not to say enmity, crept up
between Jack and the new clerk–a sort of feeling that they were rather
too like each other, and were not practicable in the same hemisphere.
Jack tried, but found it did not answer, to call the new-comer a cad. He
did not, like the others, follow Jack’s own ways at a woful distance,
and copy those things for which Jack rather despised himself, as all
cads have a way of doing; but had his own way, and was himself, Powys,
not the least like the Browns and Robinsons. The very first evening, as
they were driving home together, Jack, having spent the day in a close
examination of the new-comer, thought it as well to let his father know
his opinion on the subject, which he did as they flew along in their
dogcart, with the wicked mare which Jack could scarcely hold in, and the
sharp wind whizzing past their ears, that were icy cold with speed.

“I see you have got a new fellow in the office,” said Jack. “I hope it’s
not my idleness that made it necessary. I should have gone back on
Monday; but I thought you said–”

“I am glad you didn’t come,” said Mr. Brownlow, quietly. “I should have
told you had there been any occasion. No, it was not for that. You know
he came in young Jones’s place.”

“He’s not very much like young Jones,” said Jack–“as old as I am, I
should think. How she pulls, to be sure! One would think, to see her go,
she hadn’t been out for a week.”

“Older than you are,” said Mr. Brownlow–“five-and-twenty;” and he gave
an unconscious sigh–for it was dark, and the wind was sharp, and the
mare very fresh; and under such circumstances a man may relieve his
mind, at least to the extent of a sigh, without being obliged to render
a reason. So, at least, Mr. Brownlow thought.

But Jack heard it, somehow, notwithstanding the ring of the mare’s hoofs
and the rush of the wind, and was confounded–as much confounded as he
durst venture on being with such a slippery animal to deal with.

“Beg your pardon, sir,” said the groom, “keep her steady, sir; this here
is the gate she’s always a-shying at.”

“Oh, confound her!” said Jack–or perhaps it was “confound you”–which
would have been more natural; but the little waltz performed by Mrs.
Bess at that moment, and the sharp crack of the whip, and the wind that
whistled through all, made his adjuration less distinct than it might
have been. When, however, the dangerous gate was past, and they were
going on again with great speed and moderate steadiness, he resumed–

“I thought you did not mean to have another in young Jones’s place. I
should have said Brown could do all the work. When these fellows have
too little to do they get into all sorts of mischief.”

“Most fellows do,” said Mr. Brownlow, calmly. “I may as well tell you,
Jack, that I wanted young Powys–I know his people; that is to say,” he
added hastily, “I don’t know his people. Don’t take it into your head
that I do–but still I’ve heard something about them–in a kind of a
way; and it’s my special desire to have him there.”

“I said nothing against it, sir,” said Jack, displeased. “You are the
head, to do whatever you like. I only asked you know.”

“Yes, I know you only asked,” said Mr. Brownlow, with quiet decision.
“That is my business; but I’d rather you were civil to him, if it is the
same to you.”

“By Jove, I believe she’ll break our necks some day,” said Jack, in his
irritation, though the mare was doing nothing particular. “Going as
quiet as a lamb,” the groom said afterward in amazement, “when he let
out at her enough to make a saint contrairy.” And “contrairy” she was up
to the very door of the house, which perhaps, under the circumstances,
was just as well.

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