Mrs. (Margaret) Oliphant.

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. 14









Sara's speculations, .






THE father's day AT THE OFFICE,



YOUNG P0WY3, , . . .

































Everybody in the neighbourhood was perfectly
aware what was the origin of John Bro willow's
fortune. There was no possibility of any mistake
about it. When people are very well known and
respectable, and inspire their neighbours with a
hearty interest, some little penalty must be paid for
that pleasant state of affairs. It is only when no-
body cares for you, when you are of no importance
to the world in general, that you can shroud your
concerns in mystery ; but the Brownlows were very
well known, much respected, and quite unable to
hide themselves in a corner. In all Dartfordshire
there was no family better known; not that they
were county people, or had any pretensions to high


connection, but then there was not one family in the
comity of whom John Brownlow did not know more
than they knew themselves, and in his hands, and in
the hands of his fathers before him, had reposed the
papers and affairs of all the squires about, titled or
otherwise, for more years than could be counted. It
was clever of the Brownlows to have had so much
business in their hands and yet not to be rich ; but
virtue, when it is exceptional, is perhaps always a
little extreme, and so it is probable that an honest
lawyer is honester than most honest men who have
no particular temptation. They were not rich, and
yet, of course, they were far from being poor. They
had the kind of substantial old brick house, standing
close up to the pavement in the best end of the High
Street of Masterton, which would be described as a
mansion in an auctioneer's advertisement. It was
very red and infinitely clean, and had a multitude of
windows aU blinking in the sun, and lighting up in-
to impromptu illuminations every winter afternoon,
when that blazing red luminary went down, not over
the river and the open country, as he ought to have
done, but into the Eectory garden, which happened
to lie in his way as he halted along towards the west.
The Brownlows for generations back had lived very
comfortably in this red house. It had a great, rich,
luxuriant, warm garden behind, with all sorts of


comforts attached to it, and the rooms were hand-
some and old-fashioned, as became a house that had
served generations; and once upon a time many
good dinners, and much good wine, and the most
beautiful stores of fine linen, and crystal, and silver
were in the house, for comfort, and not for show.
All this was very well, and John Brownlow was
bom to the possession of it ; but there can be no
doubt that the house in the High Street was very
different from the house he now inhabited and the
establishment he kept up in the country. Even the
house in the High Street had been more burdened
than was usual in the family when it came to his
turn to be its master. Arthur, the younger brother,
who was never good for much, had just had his debts
paid for the second time before his father died. It
was not considered by many people as quite fair to
John, though some did say that it was he above all
who urged the step upon old Mr Brownlow. Persons
who professed to know, even asserted that the elder
son, in his generosity, had quite a struggle with his
father, and that his argument was always " for my
mother's sake." If this was true, it was all the
more generous of him, because his mother was weU
known to have thought nothing of John in compari-
son with the handsome Arthur, whom she spoiled
as long as she lived. Anyhow, the result was that


John inherited the house and the business, the fur-
niture and old crystal and silver, and a very com-
fortable income, but nothing that could be called
a fortune, or that would in any way have justified
him in launching out into a more expensive descrip-
tion of life.

At this time he was thirty at least, and not of a
speculative turn of mind ; and when old Mrs Thom-
son's will — a will not even drawn up in his of&ce,
which would have been a kind of preparation — was
read to him, it is said that he lost his temper on the
occasion, and used very unbecoming language to the
poor woman in her coffin. "What had he to do with
the old hag ? What did she mean by bothering him
with her filthy money ? " he said, and did not show
at all the frame of mind that might have been ex-
pected under the circumstances. Mrs Thomson was
an old woman, who had lived in a very miserly sort
of way, with an old servant, in a little house in the
outskirts of the town. Nobody could ever tell what
attracted her towards John Brownlow, who never, as
he himself said, had anything to do with her ; and
she had relations of her own in Masterton, the Fen-
nells, who always knew she had money, and counted
upon being her heirs. But they were distant rela-
tions, and perhaps they did not know all her story.
What petrified the to^v^l, however, was, when it was


found out that old Mrs Thomson had left a fortune,
not of a few hundreds, as people supposed, but of
more than fifty thousand pounds, behind her, and
that it was all left in a way to John Brownlow. It
was left to him in trust for Mrs Thomson's daughter
Phoebe, a person whose existence no one in Master-
ton had ever dreamt of, but who, it appeared, had
married a common soldier, and gone off with him
ages before, and had been cursed and cast off by her
hard-hearted mother. That was long, long ago, and
perhaps the solitary old creature's heart, if she had
a heart, had relented to her only child ; perhaps, as
John Brownlow thought, it was a mere suggestion of
Satan to trouble and annoy him, a man who had
nothing to do with Phcebe Thomson. Anyhow, this
-was the substance of the will. The money was all
left to John Brownlow in trust for this woman, who
had gone nobody knew where, and whose very name
by marriage her mother did not state, and nobody
could tell. If Phoebe Thomson did not make her
appearance within the next twenty-five years, then
the money was to pass to John Brownlow and his
heirs in perpetuity beyond all power of reclamation.
This was the strange event which fell like a shell
into the young lawyer's quiet life, and brought re-
volution and change to everything around.

He was very much annoyed and put out about it


at first ; aud the Fennells, who had expected to be
Mrs Thomson's heirs, were furious, and not disin-
clined to turn upon him, blameless as he was. To
tell the truth, theirs was a very hard case. They
were very poor. Good-for-nothing sons are not ex-
clusively reserved for the well-to-do portion of the
community; and poor Mrs Fennell, as well as the
Brownlow family, had a good-for-nothing son, upon
whom she had spent all her living. He had disap-
peared at this time into the darkness, as such people
do by times, but of course it was always on the cards
that he might come back and be a burden upon his
people again. And the father was paralytic and
helpless, not only incapable of doing anything, but
requiring to have everything done for him, that last
aggravation of poverty. j\Irs Fennell herself was
not a prepossessing woman. She had a high temper
and an eloquent tongue, and her disappointment was
tragic and desperate. Poor soul ! it was not much
to be wondered at — she was so poor and so helpless
and burdened; and tliis money would have made
them all so comfortable. It was not that she thought
of herself, the poor woman said, but there was Fen-
nell, who was cousin to the Thomsons, and there was
Tom out in the world toiling for his bread, and kill-
ing himself with work. And then tliere was Bessie
aud her prospects. When she had talked it all over


at the liigliest pitch of her voice, and stormed at
everybody, and made poor Fennell shake worse than
ever in his paralytic chair, and overwhehned Bessie
with confusion and misery, the poor woman would
sit down and cry. Only one thousand pounds of it
would have done them such a great deal of good ;
and there was fifty thousand, and it was all going to
be tied up and given to John Brownlow. It was hard
upon a woman with a hot head and a warm heart,
and no temper or sense to speak of; and to storm at
it was the only thing she took any comfort from, or
that did her any good.

This money which Mrs Fennell regretted so bit-
terly for a long time was nothing but a nuisance
to John Brownlow. He advertised and employed
detectives, and did everything a man could do to
find Phoebe Thomson and relieve himself of the
burden. But Phoebe Thomson was not to be found.
He sought her far and near, but no such person
was to be heard of — for, to be sure, a x^oor soldier's
wife was not very likely to be in the way of seeing
the second column of the ' Times ; ' and if she should
happen to be Mrs Smith or ^Irs Doherty by marriage,
nobody but herself and her husband might be aware
that she had ever been Phoebe Thomson. Anyhow,
all the advertisements and all the detectives failed ;
and after working very hard at it for a year or more,


John Brownlow very quietly, and to his own con-
sciousness alone, d — d Phoebe Thomson, and gave
up the useless investigation.

But he was a man who had eyes, and a strong
sense of justice. When he thought of the poor
Fennells, his anger rose against the wretched old
woman who had laid on him the burden of her
money. Poor Mrs Fennell's son was good for
nothing, but she had a daughter who was good
for much ; and Bessie had a lover who would gladly
have married her, had that wicked old miser, as
John Brow nlow in his indignation said, left only a
thousand pounds out of her fifty to help the paralytic
father and passionate mother. Bessie's lover was
not mercenary — he was not covetous of a fortune
with his wife ; but he could not marry all the family,
or work for the old people, as their daughter had
to do. This was what Mrs Fennell meant when
she raved of poor Bessie and her prospects. But
Bessie herself said nothing. The lover went very
sorrowfully away, and Bessie was silent and went
on with her work, and made no show of her trouble*
John Brownlow, without knowing it, got to watch
her. He was not aware for a long time why it
was that, though he always had so much to do,
he never missed seeing Bessie when by chance she
passed his windows. As luck would have it, it


was always at that moment lie raised his eyes ;
and he did his best to get pupils for her, ''taking
an interest" in her which was quite unusual in
so quiet a man. But it was not probable that
Bessie could have had much of an education herself,
much less was qualified to give it to others. And
whether it was her want of skill, or the poverty
of her surroundings, her poor dress, or her mother's
aspect and temper, it is certain that, diligent and
patient and "nice" as she was, pupils failed her.
She did not get on ; yet she kept struggling on,
and toiling, keeping a smile in her eyes for every-
body that looked friendly on her, whatever sinking
there might be in her heart. And she was a
slight fragile little creature to bear all that weight
on her shoulders. John Brownlow, without knowing
it, watched her little figure about the streets all the
year through, marvelling at that " soft invincibility,"
that steady standing up against defeat and every
kind of ill which the gentle soul was capable of
And as he watched her, he had many thoughts in his
mind. He was not rich, as we have said ; on the
contrary, it would have been his bounden duty, had
he done his duty, to have married somebody with
a modest little fortune, who would have helped him
to keep up the house in the High Street, and give
the traditionary dinners ; and to mamtain his wife's


family, if he ^vere to marry, was something out of
the question. But then that fifty thousand pounds
— this money which did not "belong to him, but to
Phoebe Thomson, whosoever she was, and where-
soever she might be. All this produced a confusion
of thought which was of very strange occurrence in
Mr Brownlow's office, where his ancestors for gen-
erations had pondered over other people's difficulties
— a more pleasing operation than attending to one's
own. Gradually, as time wore on, Phoebe Thomson
gi'ew into a more and more m}i;hical figure to Mr
Brownlow's mind, and Bessie Fennell became more
and more real, ^^^len he looked up one winter's
afternoon and saw her passing the office window in
the glow of the frosty sunset, which pointed at her
in its clear-sighted way, and made thrice \dsible the
thinness of her cheek and the shabbiness of her
dress, Mr Brownlow's pen fell from his fingers in
amaze and self-reproach. She was wearing herself
out, and he had permitted her to do so, and liad
sat at his window thinking about it for two whole
years. Two years had passed since Mrs Thomson's
death. All the investigations in the world had
not been able to find Phoebe; and John Brownlow
was master of the old woman's fifty thousand pounds;
and the Fennells might be starving for anything he
could tell. The result was, that he proposed to


Bessie, to the unbounded amazement not only of
the town of Masterton, but even of the county
people, who all knew ]Mr Brownlow. Probably
Bessie was as much surprised as anybody ; but she
married him after a while, and made him a very
good wife. And he pensioned her father and mother
in the most liberal way, and saw as little of them
as possible. And for a few years, though they did
not give many dinners, everything went on very well
in the brick house.

I tell the story thus briefly, instead of introducing
these people to show their existence for themselves,
because all this is much prior to the real date of this
history. Mrs Brownlow made a very good and sweet
wife ; and my own opinion is that she was fond of
her husband in a quiet way. But, of course, people
said she had married him for his money, and Bessie
was one of those veiled souls who go through the
world without much faculty of revealing themselves
even to their nearest and dearest. AMien she died,
nobody could make quite sure whether she had en-
joyed her life or merely supported it. She had ful-
filled all her duties, been very kind to eveiybody,
very faithful and tender to her husband, very devoted
to her family ; but she died, and carried away a heart
within her of which no man seemed ever to have
found the key. Sara and Jack were very little at


the time of her death — so little, that they scarcely
remembered their mother. And they \Yere not like
her. Little Jack, for his part, was like big John, as
he had a right to be ; and Sara was like nobody else
that ever had been seen in Masterton. But that is a
subject ^vhich demands fuller exposition. Mr Brown-
low lived very quietly for some years after he lost his
wife ; but then, as was natural, the ordinary course
of affairs was resumed. And then it was that the
change in his fortunes became fully evident. His
little daughter was delicate, and he got a carriage for
her. He got ponies for her, and costly governesses,
and masters down from town at the wildest expense ;
and then he bought that place in the country which
had once been Something Hall or Manor, but which
Dartfordshire, in its consternation, henceforward
called Brownlow's. Brownlow's it was, without a
doubt; and Brownlows it became — without the apos-
trophe — in the most natural way, when things settled
down. It was, as old Lady Motherwell said, "quite
a place, my dear ; not one of your little bits of villas,
you know." And though it was so near Masterton
that Mr Brownlow drove or rode in every day to his
office, its grounds and gardens and park were equal
to those of any nobleman in the county. Old Mrs
Thomson's fifty thousand pounds had doubled them-
selves, as money skilfully managed has a way of


doing. It liad got for lier executor everything a man
could desire. First, the wife of his choice — thoiigli
that gift had been taken from him — and every other
worldly good which the man wdshed or could wish for.
He was able to surround the daughter, who was
everything to him — who was more to him, perhaps,
than even his wife had ever been — with every kind
of delightsome thing ; and to provide for his son, and
establish him in the world according to his inchna-
tions ; and to assume, without departing from his
own place, such a position as no former Brownlow
had ever occupied in the county. All this came to
John Brownlow^ through old Mrs Thomson; and
Plicebe Thomson, to whom the money in reality
belonged, had never turned up to claim it ; and now
there was but one year to run of the five-and-twenty
which limited his responsibilities. All this being
made apparent, it is the history of this one year that
I have now to tell.



Mr Beownlow had one son and one daughter — the
boy, a very good-natured, easy-minded, honest sort
of young fellow, approaching twenty-one, and not
made much account of either at home or abroad.
The daughter was Sara. For people who know her,
or indeed who are at all acquainted with society
in Dartfordshire, it is unnecessary to say more ;
but perhaps the general public may prefer a clearer
description. She was the queen of John Brown-
low's house, and the apple of his eye. At the
period of which we speak she was between nine-
teen and twenty, just emerging from what had
always been considered a delicate girlhood, into
the full early bloom of woman. She had too much
character, too much nonsense, too many wiles, and
too much simplicity in her, to be, strictly speaking,
beautiful; and she was not good enough or gentle


enough to be lovely. And neither was she beloved
by all, as a heroine ought to be. There were some
people who did not like her, as well as some who
did, and there were a great many who fluctuated
between love and dislike, and were sometimes fond
of her, and sometimes affronted with her; which,
indeed, was a very common state of mind with
herself. Sara was so much a girl of her age that
she had even the hair of the period, as the spring-
flowers have the colours of spring. It was light-
brown, with a golden tint, and abundant as locks of
that colour generally are ; but it cannot be denied
that it was darker than the fashionable shade, and
that Sara was not above being annoyed by this fact,
nor even above a vague and shadowy idea of doing
something to it to bring it to the correct tint ; which
may rank as one of the constantly recurring proofs
that young women are in fact the least vain portion
of the creation, and have less faith in the efiicacy
of their natural charms than any other section of
the race. She had a little rosebud mouth, dewy
and pearly, and full eyes, which were blue, or grey,
or hazel, according as you looked at them, and ac-
cording to the sentiment which they might happen
to express. She was very tall, very slight and flex-
ible, and wa\y like a tall lily, with the slightest
variable stoop in her pretty shoulders, for wliich


lier life had been rendered miserable by many well-
meaning persons, but wliich, in reality, was one of
her charms. To say that she stooped, is an ugly
expression, and there was nothing iigly about Sara.
It was rather that by times her head drooped a
little, like the aforesaid lily swayed by the softest
of visionary breezes. This, however, was the only
thing lily-like or angelic about her. She was not a
model of anything, nor noted for any special virtues.
She was Sara. That was about all that could be
said for her; and it is to be hoped that she may
be able to e\idence what little bits of good there
were in her during the course of this history, for

" Papa," she said, as they sat together at the
breakfast-table, " I will call for you this afternoon,
and bring you home. I have something to do in

" Something to do in ]\Iasterton ? " said Mr Brown-
low ; " I thought you had got everything you could
possibly want for three months at least when you
were in town."

" Yes," said Sara, " everything one wants for one's
bodily necessities — pins and needles and music, and
all that sort of thinsj — but one has a heart, thous^h
you might not think it, papa ; and I have an idea
that one has a soul."


" Do you think so ? " said her father, with a smile ;
" but I can't imagine what your soul can have to do
in Masterton. We don't cultivate such superfluities

" I am going to see grandmamma," said Sara. " I
think it is my duty. I am not fond of her, and I
ought to be. I think if I went to see her oftener
perhaps it might do me good."

" Oh ! if it's only for grandmamma," said young
John, " I go to see her often enough. I don't think
you need take any particular trouble to do her

Upon which Sara sighed, and drooped a little
upon its long stem her lily head. " I hope I am
not so stupid and conceited as to think I can do
anybody good," she said. " I may be silly enough,
but I am not like that ; but I am going to see grand-
mamma. It is my duty to be fond of her, and see
after her ; and I know I never go except when I
can't help it. I am going to turn over a new leaf."

Mr Brownlow's face had been overshadowed at
the first mention of the grandmother, as by a faint
mist of annoyance. It did not go so far as to be a
cloud. It was not positive displeasure or dislike,
but only a shade of dissatisfaction, which he ex-
pressed by his silence. Sara's resolutions to turn
over a new leaf were not rare, and her father was


generally much amused and interested by her good
intentions ; but at present he only went on with his
breakfast and said nothintr. Like his dau^rhter, he
was not fond of the grandmamma, and perhaps her
S}Tnpathy with his own sentiments in this respect
was satisfactory to him at the bottom of his heart ;
but it was not a thing he could talk about.

" There is a crreat deal in habit," said Sara, in that
experienced way wliich belongs to the speculatist of
nineteen. *' I believe you can train yourself to any-
thing, even to love people whom you don't love by
nature. I think one could get to do even that if one
was to try."

" I should not care much for your love if that was
how it came," said young John.

" That would only show you did not understand,"
said Sara, mildly. " To like people for a good
reason, is not that better than liking them merely
because you can't help it ? If there was anybody
that it suited papa, for instance, to make me marry,
don't you think I would be very foolish if I could
not make myself fond of him ? — and ungrateful too."
" Would you really .do as much for me as that ? "
said Mr Brownlow, looking up at her with a ghm-
mer of weakness in his eyes, half amused, and yet
flattered ; " but I hope I shall never require to put
you to the test."


" Why not, papa ? " said Sara, cheerfully. " I am
sure it would be a much more sensible reason for
being fond of anybody that you wished it, than just
my own fancy. I should do it, and I would never
hesitate about it," said the confident young woman ;
and the father, though he was a man of some experi-

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