Part 1 out of 17
Prepared by James Rusk (email@example.com)
Italics are indicated by underscores.
by Wilkie Collins
In acknowledgment of the services which he has rendered to
the cause of literature by his "Life of Goldsmith;" and in
affectionate remembrance of a friendship which is associated
with some of the happiest years of my life.
Readers in general--on whose friendly reception experience has
given me some reason to rely--will, I venture to hope, appreciate
whatever merit there may be in this story without any prefatory
pleading for it on my part. They will, I think, see that it has
not been hastily meditated or idly wrought out. They will judge
it accordingly, and I ask no more.
Readers in particular will, I have some reason to suppose, be
here and there disturbed, perhaps even offended, by finding that
"Armadale" oversteps, in more than one direction, the narrow
limits within which they are disposed to restrict the development
of modern fiction--if they can.
Nothing that I could say to these persons here would help me with
them as Time will help me if my work lasts. I am not afraid of my
design being permanently misunderstood, provided the execution
has done it any sort of justice. Estimated by the clap-trap
morality of the present day, this may be a very daring book.
Judged by the Christian morality which is of all time, it is only
a book that is daring enough to speak the truth.
LONDON, April, 1866.
It was the opening of the season of eighteen hundred and
thirty-two, at the Baths of Wildbad.
The evening shadows were beginning to gather over the quiet
little German town, and the diligence was expected every minute.
Before the door of the principal inn, waiting the arrival of the
first visitors of the year, were assembled the three notable
personages of Wildbad, accompanied by their wives--the mayor,
representing the inhabitants; the doctor, representing the
waters; the landlord, representing his own establishment. Beyond
this select circle, grouped snugly about the trim little square
in front of the inn, appeared the towns-people in general, mixed
here and there with the country people, in their quaint German
costume, placidly expectant of the diligence--the men in short
black jackets, tight black breeches, and three-cornered beaver
hats; the women with their long light hair hanging in one thickly
plaited tail behind them, and the waists of their short woolen
gowns inserted modestly in the region of their shoulder-blades.
Round the outer edge of the assemblage thus formed, flying
detachments of plump white-headed children careered in perpetual
motion; while, mysteriously apart from the rest of the
inhabitants, the musicians of the Baths stood collected in one
lost corner, waiting the appearance of the first visitors to play
the first tune of the season in the form of a serenade. The light
of a May evening was still bright on the tops of the great wooded
hills watching high over the town on the right hand and the left;
and the cool breeze that comes before sunset came keenly fragrant
here with the balsamic odor of the first of the Black Forest.
"Mr. Landlord," said the mayor's wife (giving the landlord his
title), "have you any foreign guests coming on this first day of
"Madame Mayoress," replied the landlord (returning the
compliment), "I have two. They have written--the one by the hand
of his servant, the other by his own hand apparently--to order
their rooms; and they are from England, both, as I think by their
names. If you ask me to pronounce those names, my tongue
hesitates; if you ask me to spell them, here they are, letter by
letter, first and second in their order as they come. First, a
high-born stranger (by title Mister) who introduces himself in
eight letters, A, r, m, a, d, a, l, e--and comes ill in his own
carriage. Second, a high-born stranger (by title Mister also),
who introduces himself in four letters--N, e, a, l--and comes ill
in the diligence. His excellency of the eight letters writes to
me (by his servant) in French; his excellency of the four letters
writes to me in German. The rooms of both are ready. I know no
"Perhaps," suggested the mayor's wife, "Mr. Doctor has heard from
one or both of these illustrious strangers?"
"From one only, Madam Mayoress; but not, strictly speaking, from
the person himself. I have received a medical report of his
excellency of the eight letters, and his case seems a bad one.
God help him!"
"The diligence!" cried a child from the outskirts of the crowd.
The musicians seized their instruments, and silence fell on the
whole community. From far away in the windings of the forest
gorge, the ring of horses' bells came faintly clear through the
evening stillness. Which carriage was approaching--the private
carriage with Mr. Armadale, or the public carriage with Mr. Neal?
"Play, my friends!" cried the mayor to the musicians. "Public or
private, here are the first sick people of the season. Let them
find us cheerful."
The band played a lively dance tune, and the children in the
square footed it merrily to the music. At the same moment, their
elders near the inn door drew aside, and disclosed the first
shadow of gloom that fell over the gayety and beauty of the
scene. Through the opening made on either hand, a little
procession of stout country girls advanced, each drawing after
her an empty chair on wheels; each in waiting (and knitting while
she waited) for the paralyzed wretches who came helpless by
hundreds then--who come helpless by thousands now--to the waters
of Wildbad for relief.
While the band played, while the children danced, while the buzz
of many talkers deepened, while the strong young nurses of the
coming cripples knitted impenetrably, a woman's insatiable
curiosity about other women asserted itself in the mayor's wife.
She drew the landlady aside, and whispered a question to her on
"A word more, ma'am," said the mayor's wife, "about the two
strangers from England. Are their letters explicit? Have they got
any ladies with them?"
"The one by the diligence--no," replied the landlady. "But the
one by the private carriage--yes. He comes with a child; he comes
with a nurse; and," concluded the landlady, skillfully keeping
the main point of interest till the last, "he comes with a Wife."
The mayoress brightened; the doctoress (assisting at the
conference) brightened; the landlady nodded significantly. In the
minds of all three the same thought started into life at the same
moment--"We shall see the Fashions! "
In a minute more, there was a sudden movement in the crowd; and
a chorus of voices proclaimed that the travelers were at hand.
By this time the coming vehicle was in sight, and all further
doubt was at an end. It was the diligence that now approached by
the long street leading into the square--the diligence (in a
dazzling new coat of yellow paint) that delivered the first
visitors of the season at the inn door. Of the ten travelers
released from the middle compartment and the back compartment
of the carriage--all from various parts of Germany--three were
lifted out helpless, and were placed in the chairs on wheels to
be drawn to their lodgings in the town. The front compartment
contained two passengers only--Mr. Neal and his traveling
servant. With an arm on either side to assist him, the stranger
(whose malady appeared to be locally confined to a lameness in
one of his feet) succeeded in descending the steps of the
carriage easily enough. While he steadied himself on the pavement
by the help of his stick--looking not over-patiently toward the
musicians who were serenading him with the waltz in "Der
Freischutz"--his personal appearance rather damped the enthusiasm
of the friendly little circle assembled to welcome him. He was
a lean, tall, serious, middle-aged man, with a cold gray eye and
a long upper lip, with overhanging eyebrows and high cheek-bones;
a man who looked what he was--every inch a Scotchman.
"Where is the proprietor of this hotel?" he asked, speaking in
the German language, with a fluent readiness of expression, and
an icy coldness of manner. "Fetch the doctor," he continued,
when the landlord had presented himself, "I want to see him
"I am here already, sir," said the doctor, advancing from the
circle of friends, "and my services are entirely at your
"Thank you," said Mr. Neal, looking at the doctor, as the rest of
us look at a dog when we have whistled and the dog has come. "I
shall be glad to consult you to-morrow morning, at ten o'clock,
about my own case. I only want to trouble you now with a message
which I have undertaken to deliver. We overtook a traveling
carriage on the road here with a gentleman in it--an Englishman,
I believe--who appeared to be seriously ill. A lady who was with
him begged me to see you immediately on my arrival, and to secure
your professional assistance in removing the patient from the
carriage. Their courier has met with an accident, and has been
left behind on the road, and they are obliged to travel very
slowly. If you are here in an hour, you will be here in time
to receive them. That is the message. Who is this gentleman who
appears to be anxious to speak to me? The mayor? If you wish
to see my passport, sir, my servant will show it to you. No? You
wish to welcome me to the place, and to offer your services? I am
infinitely flattered. If you have any authority to shorten the
performances of your town band, you would be doing me a kindness
to exert it. My nerves are irritable, and I dislike music. Where
is the landlord? No; I want to see my rooms. I don't want your
arm; I can get upstairs with the help of my stick. Mr. Mayor and
Mr. Doctor, we need not detain one another any longer. I wish you
Both mayor and doctor looked after the Scotchman as he limped
upstairs, and shook their heads together in mute disapproval of
him. The ladies, as usual, went a step further, and expressed
their opinions openly in the plainest words. The case under
consideration (so far as _they_ were concerned) was the
scandalous case of a man who had passed them over entirely
without notice. Mrs. Mayor could only attribute such an outrage
to the native ferocity of a savage. Mrs. Doctor took a stronger
view still, and considered it as proceeding from the inbred
brutality of a hog.
The hour of waiting for the traveling-carriage wore on, and
the creeping night stole up the hillsides softly. One by one
the stars appeared, and the first lights twinkled in the windows
of the inn. As the darkness came, the last idlers deserted the
square; as the darkness came, the mighty silence of the forest
above flowed in on the valley, and strangely and suddenly hushed
the lonely little town.
The hour of waiting wore out, and the figure of the doctor,
walking backward and forward anxiously, was still the only
living figure left in the square. Five minutes, ten minutes,
twenty minutes, were counted out by the doctor's watch, before
the first sound came through the night silence to warn him of
the approaching carriage. Slowly it emerged into the square,
at the walking pace of the horses, and drew up, as a hearse
might have drawn up, at the door of the inn.
"Is the doctor here?" asked a woman's voice, speaking, out of
the darkness of the carriage, in the French language.
"I am here, madam," replied the doctor, taking a light from
the landlord's hand and opening the carriage door.
The first face that the light fell on was the face of the lady
who had just spoken--a young, darkly beautiful woman, with the
tears standing thick and bright in her eager black eyes. The
second face revealed was the face of a shriveled old negress,
sitting opposite the lady on the back seat. The third was the
face of a little sleeping child in the negress's lap. With a
quick gesture of impatience, the lady signed to the nurse to
leave the carriage first with the child. "Pray take them out
of the way," she said to the landlady; "pray take them to their
room." She got out herself when her request had been complied
with. Then the light fell clear for the first time on the further
side of the carriage, and the fourth traveler was disclosed to
He lay helpless on a mattress, supported by a stretcher; his
hair, long and disordered, under a black skull-cap; his eyes wide
open, rolling to and fro ceaselessly anxious; the rest of his
face as void of all expression of the character within him, and
the thought within him, as if he had been dead. There was no
looking at him now, and guessing what he might once have been.
The leaden blank of his face met every question as to his age,
his rank, his temper, and his looks which that face might once
have answered, in impenetrable silence. Nothing spoke for him
now but the shock that had struck him with the death-in-life
of paralysis. The doctor's eye questioned his lower limbs, and
Death-in-Life answered, _I am here_. The doctor's eye, rising
attentively by way of his hands and arms, questioned upward and
upward to the muscles round his mouth, and Death-in-Life
answered, _I am coming_.
In the face of a calamity so unsparing and so dreadful, there was
nothing to be said. The silent sympathy of help was all that
could be offered to the woman who stood weeping at the carriage
As they bore him on his bed across the hall of the hotel,
his wandering eyes encountered the face of his wife. They rested
on her for a moment, and in that moment he spoke.
"The child?" he said in English, with a slow, thick, laboring
"The child is safe upstairs," she answered, faintly.
"It is in my hands. Look! I won't trust it to anybody; I am
taking care of it for you myself."
He closed his eyes for the first time after that answer, and said
no more. Tenderly and skillfully he was carried up the stairs,
with his wife on one side of him, and the doctor (ominously
silent) on the other. The landlord and the servants following saw
the door of his room open and close on him; heard the lady burst
out crying hysterically as soon as she was alone with the doctor
and the sick man; saw the doctor come out, half an hour later,
with his ruddy face a shade paler than usual; pressed him eagerly
for information, and received but one answer to all their
inquiries--"Wait till I have seen him to-morrow. Ask me nothing
to-night." They all knew the doctor's ways, and they augured ill
when he left them hurriedly with that reply.
So the two first English visitors of the year came to the Baths
of Wildbad in the season of eighteen hundred and thirty-two.
THE SOLID SIDE OF THE SCOTCH CHARACTER.
AT ten o'clock the next morning, Mr. Neal--waiting for the
medical visit which he had himself appointed for that
hour--looked at his watch, and discovered, to his amazement,
that he was waiting in vain. It was close on eleven when the
door opened at last, and the doctor entered the room.
"I appointed ten o'clock for your visit," said Mr. Neal. "In
my country, a medical man is a punctual man."
"In my country," returned the doctor, without the least
ill-humor, "a medical man is exactly like other men--he is at
the mercy of accidents. Pray grant me your pardon, sir, for being
so long after my time; I have been detained by a very distressing
case--the case of Mr. Armadale, whose traveling-carriage you
passed on the road yesterday."
Mr. Neal looked at his medical attendant with a sour surprise.
There was a latent anxiety in the doctor's eye, a latent
preoccupation in the doctor's manner, which he was at a loss
to account for. For a moment the two faces confronted each other
silently, in marked national contrast--the Scotchman's, long
and lean, hard and regular; the German's, plump and florid, soft
and shapeless. One face looked as if it had never been young;
the other, as if it would never grow old.
"Might I venture to remind you," said Mr. Neal, "that the case
now under consideration is MY case, and not Mr. Armadale's?"
"Certainly," replied the doctor, still vacillating between the
case he had come to see and the case he had just left. "You
appear to be suffering from lameness; let me look at your foot."
Mr. Neal's malady, however serious it might be in his own
estimation, was of no extraordinary importance in a medical
point of view. He was suffering from a rheumatic affection of
the ankle-joint. The necessary questions were asked and answered
and the necessary baths were prescribed. In ten minutes the
consultation was at an end, and the patient was waiting in
significant silence for the medical adviser to take his leave.
"I cannot conceal from myself," said the doctor, rising, and
hesitating a little, "that I am intruding on you. But I am
compelled to beg your indulgence if I return to the subject
of Mr. Armadale."
"May I ask what compels you?"
"The duty which I owe as a Christian," answered the doctor,
"to a dying man."
Mr. Neal started. Those who touched his sense of religious duty
touched the quickest sense in his nature.
"You have established your claim on my attention," he said,
gravely. "My time is yours."
"I will not abuse your kindness," replied the doctor, resuming
his chair. "I will be as short as I can. Mr. Armadale's case is
briefly this: He has passed the greater part of his life in the
West Indies--a wild life, and a vicious life, by his own
confession. Shortly after his marriage--now some three years
since--the first symptoms of an approaching paralytic affection
began to show themselves, and his medical advisers ordered him
away to try the climate of Europe. Since leaving the West Indies
he has lived principally in Italy, with no benefit to his health.
From Italy, before the last seizure attacked him, he removed to
Switzerland, and from Switzerland he has been sent to this place.
So much I know from his doctor's report; the rest I can tell you
from my own personal experience. Mr. Armadale has been sent to
Wildbad too late: he is virtually a dead man. The paralysis is
fast spreading upward, and disease of the lower part of the spine
has already taken place. He can still move his hands a little,
but he can hold nothing in his fingers. He can still articulate,
but he may wake speechless to-morrow or next day. If I give him
a week more to live, I give him what I honestly believe to be
the utmost length of his span. At his own request I told him, as
carefully and as tenderly as I could, what I have just told you.
The result was very distressing; the violence of the patient's
agitation was a violence which I despair of describing to you.
I took the liberty of asking him whether his affairs were
unsettled. Nothing of the sort. His will is in the hands of
is executor in London, and he leaves his wife and child well
provided for. My next question succeeded better; it hit the mark:
'Have you something on your mind to do before you die which is
not done yet?' He gave a great gasp of relief, which said, as no
words could have said it, Yes. 'Can I help you?' 'Yes. I have
something to write that I _must_ write; can you make me hold
"He might as well have asked me if I could perform a miracle.
I could only say No. 'If I dictate the words,' he went on, 'can
you write what I tell you to write?' Once more I could only say
No I understand a little English, but I can neither speak it nor
write it. Mr. Armadale understands French when it is spoken
(as I speak it to him) slowly, but he cannot express himself
in that language; and of German he is totally ignorant. In this
difficulty, I said, what any one else in my situation would have
said: 'Why ask _me_? there is Mrs. Armadale at your service in
the next room.' Before I could get up from my chair to fetch her,
he stopped me--not by words, but by a look of horror which fixed
me, by main force of astonishment, in my place. 'Surely,' I said,
'your wife is the fittest person to write for you as you desire?'
'The last person under heaven!' he answered. 'What!' I said, 'you
ask me, a foreigner and a stranger, to write words at your
dictation which you keep a secret from your wife!' Conceive my
astonishment when he answered me, without a moment's hesitation,
'Yes!' I sat lost; I sat silent. 'If _you_ can't write English,'
he said, 'find somebody who can.' I tried to remonstrate. He
burst into a dreadful moaning cry--a dumb entreaty, like the
entreaty of a dog. 'Hush! hush!' I said, 'I will find somebody.'
'To-day!' he broke out, 'before my speech fails me, like my
hand.' 'To-day, in an hour's time.' He shut his eyes; he quieted
himself instantly. 'While I am waiting for you,' he said, 'let me
see my little boy.' He had shown no tenderness when he spoke of
his wife, but I saw the tears on his cheeks when he asked for his
child. My profession, sir, has not made me so hard a man as you
might think; and my doctor's heart was as heavy, when I went out
to fetch the child, as if I had not been a doctor at all. I am
afraid you think this rather weak on my part?"
The doctor looked appealingly at Mr. Neal. He might as well have
looked at a rock in the Black Forest. Mr. Neal entirely declined
to be drawn by any doctor in Christendom out of the regions of
"Go on," he said. "I presume you have not told me all that you
have to tell me, yet?"
"Surely you understand my object in coming here, now?" returned
"Your object is plain enough, at last. You invite me to connect
myself blindfold with a matter which is in the last degree
suspicious, so far. I decline giving you any answer until I know
more than I know now. Did you think it necessary to inform this
man's wife of what had passed between you, and to ask her for an
"Of course I thought it necessary!" said the doctor, indignant
at the reflection on his humanity which the question seemed to
imply. "If ever I saw a woman fond of her husband, and sorry for
her husband, it is this unhappy Mrs. Armadale. As soon as we were
left alone together, I sat down by her side, and I took her hand
in mine. Why not? I am an ugly old man, and I may allow myself
such liberties as these!"
"Excuse me," said the impenetrable Scotchman. "I beg to suggest
that you are losing the thread of the narrative."
"Nothing more likely," returned the doctor, recovering his good
humor. "It is in the habit of my nation to be perpetually losing
the thread; and it is evidently in the habit of yours, sir, to be
perpetually finding it. What an example here of the order of
the universe, and the everlasting fitness of things!"
"Will you oblige me, once for all, by confining yourself to the
facts," persisted Mr. Neal, frowning impatiently. "May I inquire,
for my own information, whether Mrs. Armadale could tell you what
it is her husband wishes me to write, and why it is that he
refuses to let her write for him?"
"There is my thread found--and thank you for finding it!" said
the doctor. "You shall hear what Mrs. Armadale had to tell me,
in Mrs. Armadale's own words. 'The cause that now shuts me out of
his confidence,' she said, 'is, I firmly believe, the same cause
that has always shut me out of his heart. I am the wife he has
wedded, but I am not the woman he loves. I knew when he married
me that another man had won from him the woman he loved. I
thought I could make him forget her. I hoped when I married him;
I hoped again when I bore him a son. Need I tell you the end of
my hopes--you have seen it for yourself.' (Wait, sir, I entreat
you! I have not lost the thread again; I am following it inch by
inch.) 'Is this all you know?' I asked. 'All I knew,' she said,
'till a short time since. It was when we were in Switzerland, and
when his illness was nearly at its worst, that news came to him
by accident of that other woman who has been the shadow and the
poison of my life--news that she (like me) had borne her husband
a son. On the instant of his making that discovery--a trifling
discovery, if ever there was one yet--a mortal fear seized on
him: not for me, not for himself; a fear for his own child. The
same day (without a word to me) he sent for the doctor. I was
mean, wicked, what you please--I listened at the door. I heard
him say: _I have something to tell my son, when my son grows old
enough to understand me. Shall I live to tell it_? The doctor
would say nothing certain. The same night (still without a word
to me) he locked himself into his room. What would any woman,
treated as I was, have done in my place? She would have done as
I did--she would have listened again. I heard him say to himself:
_I shall not live to tell it: I must; write it before I die_.
I heard his pen scrape, scrape, scrape over the paper; I heard
him groaning and sobbing as he wrote; I implored him for God's
sake to let me in. The cruel pen went scrape, scrape, scrape;
the cruel pen was all the answer he gave me. I waited at the
door--hours--I don't know how long. On a sudden, the pen stopped;
and I heard no more. I whispered through the keyhole softly; I
said I was cold and weary with waiting; I said, Oh, my love, let
me in! Not even the cruel pen answered me now: silence answered
me. With all the strength of my miserable hands I beat at
the door. The servants came up and broke it in. We were too late;
the harm was done. Over that fatal letter, the stroke had struck
him--over that fatal letter, we found him paralyzed as you see
him now. Those words which he wants you to write are the words he
would have written himself if the stroke had spared him till the
morning. From that time to this there has been a blank place left
in the letter; and it is that blank place which he has just asked
you to fill up.'--In those words Mrs. Armadale spoke to me; in
those words you have the sum and substance of all the information
I can give. Say, if you please, sir, have I kept the thread at
last? Have I shown you the necessity which brings me here from
your countryman's death-bed?"
"Thus far," said Mr. Neal, "you merely show me that you are
exciting yourself. This is too serious a matter to be treated
as you are treating it now. You have involved Me in the business,
and I insist on seeing my way plainly. Don't raise your hands;
your hands are not a part of the question. If I am to be
concerned in the completion of this mysterious letter, it is only
an act of justifiable prudence on my part to inquire what the
letter is about. Mrs. Armadale appears to have favored you with
an infinite number of domestic particulars--in return, I presume,
for your polite attention in taking her by the hand. May I ask
what she could tell you about her husband's letter, so far as
her husband has written it?"
"Mrs. Armadale could tell me nothing," replied the doctor, with a
sudden formality in his manner, which showed that his forbearance
was at last failing him. "Before she was composed enough to think
of the letter, her husband had asked for it, and had caused it to
be locked up in his desk. She knows that he has since, time after
time, tried to finish it, and that, time after time, the pen has
dropped from his fingers. She knows, when all other hope of his
restoration was at an end, that his medical advisers encouraged
him to hope in the famous waters of this place. And last, she
knows how that hope has ended; for she knows what I told her
husband this morning."
The frown which had been gathering latterly on Mr. Neal's face
deepened and darkened. He looked at the doctor as if the doctor
had personally offended him.
"The more I think of the position you are asking me to take,"
he said, "the less I like it. Can you undertake to say positively
that Mr. Armadale is in his right mind?"
"Yes; as positively as words can say it."
"Does his wife sanction your coming here to request my
"His wife sends me to you--the only Englishman in Wildbad--to
write for your dying countryman what he cannot write for himself;
and what no one else in this place but you can write for him."
That answer drove Mr. Neal back to the last inch of ground left
him to stand on. Even on that inch the Scotchman resisted still.
"Wait a little!" he said. "You put it strongly; let us be quite
sure you put it correctly as well. Let us be quite sure there is
nobody to take this responsibility but myself. There is a mayor
in Wildbad, to begin with--a man who possesses an official
character to justify his interference."
"A man of a thousand," said the doctor. "With one fault--he knows
no language but his own."
"There is an English legation at Stuttgart," persisted Mr. Neal.
"And there are miles on miles of the forest between this and
Stuttgart," rejoined the doctor. "If we sent this moment, we
could get no help from the legation before to-morrow; and it is
as likely as not, in the state of this dying man's articulation,
that to-morrow may find him speechless. I don't know whether
his last wishes are wishes harmless to his child and to others,
wishes hurtful to his child and to others; but I _do_ know that
they must be fulfilled at once or never, and that you are the
only man that can help him."
That open declaration brought the discussion to a close. It fixed
Mr. Neal fast between the two alternatives of saying Yes, and
committing an act of imprudence, or of saying No, and committing
an act of inhumanity. There was a silence of some minutes. The
Scotchman steadily reflected; and the German steadily watched
The responsibility of saying the next words rested on Mr. Neal,
and in course of time Mr. Neal took it. He rose from his chair
with a sullen sense of injury lowering on his heavy eyebrows,
and working sourly in the lines at the corners of his mouth.
"My position is forced on me," he said. "I have no choice but
to accept it."
The doctor's impulsive nature rose in revolt against the
merciless brevity and gracelessness of that reply. "I wish to
God," he broke out fervently, "I knew English enough to take
your place at Mr. Armadale's bedside!"
"Bating your taking the name of the Almighty in vain," answered
the Scotchman, "I entirely agree with you. I wish you did."
Without another word on either side, they left the room
together--the doctor leading the way.
THE WRECK OF THE TIMBER SHIP.
NO one answered the doctor's knock when he and his companion
reached the antechamber door of Mr. Armadale's apartments. They
entered unannounced; and when they looked into the sitting-room,
the sitting-room was empty.
"I must see Mrs. Armadale," said Mr. Neal. "I decline acting in
the matter unless Mrs. Armadale authorizes my interference with
her own lips."
"Mrs. Armadale is probably with her husband," replied the doctor.
He approached a door at the inner end of the sitting-room while
he spoke--hesitated--and, turning round again, looked at his sour
companion anxiously. "I am afraid I spoke a little harshly, sir,
when we were leaving your room," he said. "I beg your pardon for
it, with all my heart. Before this poor afflicted lady comes in,
will you--will you excuse my asking your utmost gentleness and
consideration for her?"
"No, sir," retorted the other harshly; "I won't excuse you. What
right have I given you to think me wanting in gentleness and
consideration toward anybody?"
The doctor saw it was useless. "I beg your pardon again," he
said, resignedly, and left the unapproachable stranger to
Mr. Neal walked to the window, and stood there, with his eyes
mechanically fixed on the prospect, composing his mind for the
It was midday; the sun shone bright and warm; and all the little
world of Wildbad was alive and merry in the genial springtime.
Now and again heavy wagons, with black-faced carters in charge,
rolled by the window, bearing their precious lading of charcoal
from the forest. Now and again, hurled over the headlong current
of the stream that runs through the town, great lengths of
timber, loosely strung together in interminable series--with
the booted raftsmen, pole in hand, poised watchful at either
end--shot swift and serpent-like past the houses on their course
to the distant Rhine. High and steep above the gabled wooden
buildings on the river-bank, the great hillsides, crested black
with firs, shone to the shining heavens in a glory of lustrous
green. In and out, where the forest foot-paths wound from the
grass through the trees, from the trees over the grass, the
bright spring dresses of women and children, on the search for
wild flowers, traveled to and fro in the lofty distance like
spots of moving light. Below, on the walk by the stream side,
the booths of the little bazar that had opened punctually with
the opening season showed all their glittering trinkets, and
fluttered in the balmy air their splendor of many-colored flags.
Longingly, here the children looked at the show; patiently the
sunburned lasses plied their knitting as they paced the walk;
courteously the passing townspeople, by fours and fives, and the
passing visitors, by ones and twos, greeted each other, hat in
hand; and slowly, slowly, the cripple and the helpless in their
chairs on wheels came out in the cheerful noontide with the rest,
and took their share of the blessed light that cheers, of the
blessed sun that shines for all.
On this scene the Scotchman looked, with eyes that never noted
its beauty, with a mind far away from every lesson that it
taught. One by one he meditated the words he should say when the
wife came in. One by one he pondered over the conditions he might
impose before he took the pen in hand at the husband's bedside.
"Mrs. Armadale is here," said the doctor's voice, interposing
suddenly between his reflections and himself.
He turned on the instant, and saw before him, with the pure
midday light shining full on her, a woman of the mixed blood of
the European and the African race, with the Northern delicacy in
the shape of her face, and the Southern richness in its color--a
woman in the prime of her beauty, who moved with an inbred grace,
who looked with an inbred fascination, whose large, languid black
eyes rested on him gratefully, whose little dusky hand offered
itself to him in mute expression of her thanks, with the welcome
that is given to the coming of a friend. For the first time
in his life the Scotchman was taken by surprise. Every
self-preservative word that he had been meditating but an instant
since dropped out of his memory. His thrice impenetrable armor
of habitual suspicion, habitual self-discipline, and habitual
reserve, which had never fallen from him in a woman's presence
before, fell from him in this woman's presence, and brought him
to his knees, a conquered man. He took the hand she offered him,
and bowed over it his first honest homage to the sex, in silence.
She hesitated on her side. The quick feminine perception which,
in happier circumstances, would have pounced on the secret of
his embarrassment in an instant, failed her now. She attributed
his strange reception of her to pride, to reluctance--to any
cause but the unexpected revelation of her own beauty. "I have no
words to thank you," she said, faintly, trying to propitiate him.
"I should only distress you if I tried to speak." Her lip began
to tremble, she drew back a little, and turned away her head in
The doctor, who had been standing apart, quietly observant in
a corner, advanced before Mr. Neal could interfere, and led Mrs.
Armadale to a chair. "Don't be afraid of him," whispered the good
man, patting her gently on the shoulder. "He was hard as iron in
my hands, but I think, by the look of him, he will be soft as wax
in yours. Say the words I told you to say, and let us take him to
your husband's room, before those sharp wits of his have time to
She roused her sinking resolution, and advanced half-way to the
window to meet Mr. Neal. "My kind friend, the doctor, has told
me, sir, that your only hesitation in coming here is a hesitation
on my account," she said, her head drooping a little, and her
rich color fading away while she spoke. "I am deeply grateful,
but I entreat you not to think of _me_. What my husband wishes--"
Her voice faltered; she waited resolutely, and recovered herself.
"What my husband wishes in his last moments, I wish too."
This time Mr. Neal was composed enough to answer her. In low,
earnest tones, he entreated her to say no more. "I was only
anxious to show you every consideration," he said. "I am only
anxious now to spare you every distress." As he spoke, something
like a glow of color rose slowly on his sallow face. Her eyes
were looking at him, softly attentive; and he thought guiltily
of his meditations at the window before she came in.
The doctor saw his opportunity. He opened the door that led into
Mr. Armadale's room, and stood by it, waiting silently. Mrs.
Armadale entered first. In a minute more the door was closed
again; and Mr. Neal stood committed to the responsibility that
had been forced on him--committed beyond recall.
The room was decorated in the gaudy continental fashion, and
the warm sunlight was shining in joyously. Cupids and flowers
were painted on the ceiling; bright ribbons looped up the white
window-curtains; a smart gilt clock ticked on a velvet-covered
mantelpiece; mirrors gleamed on the walls, and flowers in all the
colors of the rainbow speckled the carpet. In the midst of the
finery, and the glitter, and the light, lay the paralyzed man,
with his wandering eyes, and his lifeless lower face--his head
propped high with many pillows; his helpless hands laid out over
the bed-clothes like the hands of a corpse. By the bed head
stood, grim, and old, and silent, the shriveled black nurse; and
on the counter-pane, between his father's outspread hands, lay
the child, in his little white frock, absorbed in the enjoyment
of a new toy. When the door opened, and Mrs. Armadale led
the way in, the boy was tossing his plaything--a soldier on
horseback--backward and forward over the helpless hands on either
side of him; and the father's wandering eyes were following
the toy to and fro, with a stealthy and ceaseless vigilance--a
vigilance as of a wild animal, terrible to see.
The moment Mr. Neal appeared in the doorway, those restless eyes
stopped, looked up, and fastened on the stranger with a fierce
eagerness of inquiry. Slowly the motionless lips struggled into
movement. With thick, hesitating articulation, they put the
question which the eyes asked mutely, into words: "Are you the
Mr. Neal advanced to the bedside, Mrs. Armadale drawing back from
it as he approached, and waiting with the doctor at the further
end of the room. The child looked up, toy in hand, as the
stranger came near, opened his bright brown eyes in momentary
astonishment, and then went on with his game.
"I have been made acquainted with your sad situation, sir,"
said Mr. Neal; "and I have come here to place my services at
your disposal--services which no one but myself, as your medical
attendant informs me, is in a position to render you in this
strange place. My name is Neal. I am a writer to the signet
in Edinburgh; and I may presume to say for myself that any
confidence you wish to place in me will be confidence not
The eyes of the beautiful wife were not confusing him now. He
spoke to the helpless husband quietly and seriously, without his
customary harshness, and with a grave compassion in his manner
which presented him at his best. The sight of the death-bed had
"You wish me to write something for you?" he resumed, after
waiting for a reply, and waiting in vain.
"Yes!" said the dying man, with the all-mastering impatience
which his tongue was powerless to express, glittering angrily
in his eye. "My hand is gone, and my speech is going. Write!"
Before there was time to speak again, Mr. Neal heard the rustling
of a woman's dress, and the quick creaking of casters on the
carpet behind him. Mrs. Armadale was moving the writing-table
across the room to the foot of the bed. If he was to set up those
safeguards of his own devising that were to bear him harmless
through all results to come, now was the time, or never. He, kept
his back turned on Mrs. Armadale, and put his precautionary
question at once in the plainest terms.
"May I ask, sir, before I take the pen in hand, what it is you
wish me to write?"
The angry eyes of the paralyzed man glittered brighter and
brighter. His lips opened and closed again. He made no reply.
Mr. Neal tried another precautionary question, in a new
"When I have written what you wish me to write," he asked, "what
is to be done with it?"
This time the answer came:
"Seal it up in my presence, and post it to my ex--"
His laboring articulation suddenly stopped and he looked
piteously in the questioner's face for the next word.
"Do you mean your executor?"
"It is a letter, I suppose, that I am to post?" There was no
answer. "May I ask if it is a letter altering your will?"
"Nothing of the sort."
Mr. Neal considered a little. The mystery was thickening. The one
way out of it, so far, was the way traced faintly through that
strange story of the unfinished letter which the doctor had
repeated to him in Mrs. Armadale's words. The nearer he
approached his unknown responsibility, the more ominous it seemed
of something serious to come. Should he risk another question
before he pledged himself irrevocably? As the doubt crossed his
mind, he felt Mrs. Armadale's silk dress touch him on the side
furthest from her husband. Her delicate dark hand was laid gently
on his arm; her full deep African eyes looked at him in
submissive entreaty. "My husband is very anxious," she whispered.
"Will you quiet his anxiety, sir, by taking your place at the
It was from _her_ lips that the request came--from the lips of
the person who had the best right to hesitate, the wife who was
excluded from the secret! Most men in Mr. Neal's position would
have given up all their safeguards on the spot. The Scotchman
gave them all up but one.
"I will write what you wish me to write," he said, addressing Mr.
Armadale. "I will seal it in your presence; and I will post it to
your executor myself. But, in engaging to do this, I must beg you
to remember that I am acting entirely in the dark; and I must ask
you to excuse me, if I reserve my own entire freedom of action,
when your wishes in relation to the writing and the posting of
the letter have been fulfilled."
"Do you give me your promise?"
"It you want my promise, sir, I will give it--subject to the
condition I have just named."
"Take your condition, and keep your promise. My desk," he added,
looking at his wife for the first time.
She crossed the room eagerly to fetch the desk from a chair
in a corner. Returning with it, she made a passing sign to
the negress, who still stood, grim and silent, in the place that
she had occupied from the first. The woman advanced, obedient to
the sign, to take the child from the bed. At the instant when
she touched him, the father's eyes--fixed previously on the
desk--turned on her with the stealthy quickness of a cat. "No!"
he said. "No!" echoed the fresh voice of the boy, still charmed
with his plaything, and still liking his place on the bed. The
negress left the room, and the child, in high triumph, trotted
his toy soldier up and down on the bedclothes that lay rumpled
over his father's breast. His mother's lovely face contracted
with a pang of jealousy as she looked at him.
"Shall I open your desk?" she asked, pushing back the child's
plaything sharply while she spoke. An answering look from her
husband guided her hand to the place under his pillow where the
key was hidden. She opened the desk, and disclosed inside some
small sheets of manuscript pinned together. "These?" she
inquired, producing them.
"Yes," he said. "You can go now."
The Scotchman sitting at the writing-table, the doctor stirring
a stimulant mixture in a corner, looked at each other with an
anxiety in both their faces which they could neither of them
control. The words that banished the wife from the room were
spoken. The moment had come.
"You can go now," said Mr. Armadale, for the second time.
She looked at the child, established comfortably on the bed, and
an ashy paleness spread slowly over her face. She looked at the
fatal letter which was a sealed secret to her, and a torture of
jealous suspicion--suspicion of that other woman who had been the
shadow and the poison of her life--wrung her to the heart. After
moving a few steps from the bedside, she stopped, and came back
again. Armed with the double courage of her love and her despair,
she pressed her lips on her dying husband's cheek, and pleaded
with him for the last time. Her burning tears dropped on his face
as she whispered to him: "Oh, Allan, think how I have loved you!
think how hard I have tried to make you happy! think how soon
I shall lose you! Oh, my own love! don't, don't send me away!"
The words pleaded for her; the kiss pleaded for her; the
recollection of the love that had been given to him, and never
returned, touched the heart of the fast-sinking man as nothing
had touched it since the day of his marriage. A heavy sigh broke
from him. He looked at her, and hesitated.
"Let me stay," she whispered, pressing her face closer to his.
"It will only distress you," he whispered back.
"Nothing distresses me, but being sent away from _you_!"
He waited. She saw that he was thinking, and waited too.
"If I let you stay a little--?"
"Will you go when I tell you?"
"On your oath?"
The fetters that bound his tongue seemed to be loosened for
a moment in the great outburst of anxiety which forced that
question to his lips. He spoke those startling words as he had
spoken no words yet.
"On my oath!" she repeated, and, dropping on her knees at the
bedside, passionately kissed his hand. The two strangers in the
room turned their heads away by common consent. In the silence
that followed, the one sound stirring was the small sound of
the child's toy, as he moved it hither and thither on the bed.
The doctor was the first who broke the spell of stillness which
had fallen on all the persons present. He approached the patient,
and examined him anxiously. Mrs. Armadale rose from her knees;
and, first waiting for her husband's permission, carried
the sheets of manuscript which she had taken out of the desk
to the table at which Mr. Neal was waiting. Flushed and eager,
more beautiful than ever in the vehement agitation which still
possessed her, she stooped over him as she put the letter into
his hands, and, seizing on the means to her end with a woman's
headlong self-abandonment to her own impulses, whispered to him,
"Read it out from the beginning. I must and will hear it!" Her
eyes flashed their burning light into his; her breath beat on
his cheek. Before he could answer, before he could think, she was
back with her husband. In an instant she had spoken, and in that
instant her beauty had bent the Scotchman to her will. Frowning
in reluctant acknowledgment of his own inability to resist her,
he turned over the leaves of the letter; looked at the blank
place where the pen had dropped from the writer's hand and had
left a blot on the paper; turned back again to the beginning,
and said the words, in the wife's interest, which the wife
herself had put into his lips.
"Perhaps, sir, you may wish to make some corrections," he began,
with all his attention apparently fixed on the letter, and with
every outward appearance of letting his sour temper again get the
better of him. "Shall I read over to you what you have already
Mrs. Armadale, sitting at the bed head on one side, and the
doctor, with his fingers on the patient's pulse, sitting on
the other, waited with widely different anxieties for the answer
to Mr. Neal's question. Mr. Armadale's eyes turned searchingly
from his child to his wife.
"You _will_ hear it?" he said. Her breath came and went quickly;
her hand stole up and took his; she bowed her head in silence.
Her husband paused, taking secret counsel with his thoughts, and
keeping his eyes fixed on his wife. At last he decided, and gave
the answer. "Read it," he said, "and stop when I tell you."
It was close on one o'clock, and the bell was ringing which
summoned the visitors to their early dinner at the inn. The quick
beat of footsteps, and the gathering hum of voices outside,
penetrated gayly into the room, as Mr. Neal spread the manuscript
before him on the table, and read the opening sentences in these
"I address this letter to my son, when my son is of an age to
understand it. Having lost all hope of living to see my boy grow
up to manhood, I have no choice but to write here what I would
fain have said to him at a future time with my own lips.
"I have three objects in writing. First, to reveal the
circumstances which attended the marriage of an English lady of
my acquaintance, in the island of Madeira. Secondly, to throw the
true light on the death of her husband a short time afterward, on
board the French timber ship _La Grace de Dieu_. Thirdly, to warn
my son of a danger that lies in wait for him--a danger that will
rise from his father's grave when the earth has closed over his
"The story of the English lady's marriage begins with my
inheriting the great Armadale property, and my taking the fatal
"I am the only surviving son of the late Mathew Wrentmore, of
Barbadoes. I was born on our family estate in that island, and
I lost my father when I was still a child. My mother was blindly
fond of me; she denied me nothing, she let me live as I pleased.
My boyhood and youth were passed in idleness and self-indulgence,
among people--slaves and half-castes mostly--to whom my will was
law. I doubt if there is a gentleman of my birth and station in
all England as ignorant as I am at this moment. I doubt if there
was ever a young man in this world whose passions were left so
entirely without control of any kind as mine were in those early
"My mother had a woman's romantic objection to my father's homely
Christian name. I was christened Allan, after the name of a
wealthy cousin of my father's--the late Allan Armadale--who
possessed estates in our neighborhood, the largest and most
productive in the island, and who consented to be my godfather by
proxy. Mr. Armadale had never seen his West Indian property. He
lived in England; and, after sending me the customary godfather's
present, he held no further communication with my parents for
years afterward. I was just twenty-one before we heard again from
Mr. Armadale. On that occasion my mother received a letter from
him asking if I was still alive, and offering no less (if I was)
than to make me the heir to his West Indian property.
"This piece of good fortune fell to me entirely through the
misconduct of Mr. Armadale's son, an only child. The young man
had disgraced himself beyond all redemption; had left his home
an outlaw; and had been thereupon renounced by his father at once
and forever. Having no other near male relative to succeed him,
Mr. Armadale thought of his cousin's son and his own godson; and
he offered the West Indian estate to me, and my heirs after me,
on one condition--that I and my heirs should take his name. The
proposal was gratefully accepted, and the proper legal measures
were adopted for changing my name in the colony and in the mother
country. By the next mail information reached Mr. Armadale that
his condition had been complied with. The return mail brought
news from the lawyers. The will had been altered in my favor,
and in a week afterward the death of my benefactor had made me
the largest proprietor and the richest man in Barbadoes.
"This was the first event in the chain. The second event followed
it six weeks afterward.
"At that time there happened to be a vacancy in the clerk's
office on the estate, and there came to fill it a young man about
my own age who had recently arrived in the island. He announced
himself by the name of Fergus Ingleby. My impulses governed me in
everything; I knew no law but the law of my own caprice, and I
took a fancy to the stranger the moment I set eyes on him. He had
the manners of a gentleman, and he possessed the most attractive
social qualities which, in my small experience, I had ever met
with. When I heard that the written references to character which
he had brought with him were pronounced to be unsatisfactory,
I interfered, and insisted that he should have the place. My will
was law, and he had it.
"My mother disliked and distrusted Ingleby from the first. When
she found the intimacy between us rapidly ripening; when she
found me admitting this inferior to the closest companionship
and confidence (I had lived with my inferiors all my life, and
I liked it), she made effort after effort to part us, and failed
in one and all. Driven to her last resources, she resolved to try
the one chance left--the chance of persuading me to take a voyage
which I had often thought of--a voyage to England.
"Before she spoke to me on the subject, she resolved to interest
me in the idea of seeing England, as I had never been interested
yet. She wrote to an old friend and an old admirer of hers, the
late Stephen Blanchard, of Thorpe Ambrose, in Norfolk--a
gentleman of landed estate, and a widower with a grown-up family.
After-discoveries informed me that she must have alluded to their
former attachment (which was checked, I believe, by the parents
on either side); and that, in asking Mr. Blanchard's welcome for
her son when he came to England, she made inquiries about his
daughter, which hinted at the chance of a marriage uniting the
two families, if the young lady and I met and liked one another.
We were equally matched in every respect, and my mother's
recollection of her girlish attachment to Mr. Blanchard made the
prospect of my marrying her old admirer's daughter the brightest
and happiest prospect that her eyes could see. Of all this I knew
nothing until Mr. Blanchard's answer arrived at Barbadoes. Then
my mother showed me the letter, and put the temptation which was
to separate me from Fergus Ingleby openly in my way.
"Mr. Blanchard's letter was dated from the Island of Madeira. He
was out of health, and he had been ordered there by the doctors
to try the climate. His daughter was with him. After heartily
reciprocating all my mother's hopes and wishes, he proposed (if I
intended leaving Barbadoes shortly) that I should take Madeira on
my way to England, and pay him a visit at his temporary residence
in the island. If this could not be, he mentioned the time at
which he expected to be back in England, when I might be sure
of finding a welcome at his own house of Thorpe Ambrose. In
conclusion, he apologized for not writing at greater length;
explaining that his sight was affected, and that he had disobeyed
the doctor's orders by yielding to the temptation of writing to
his old friend with his own hand.
"Kindly as it was expressed, the letter itself might have had
little influence on me. But there was something else besides the
letter; there was inclosed in it a miniature portrait of Miss
Blanchard. At the back of the portrait, her father had written,
half-jestingly, half-tenderly, 'I can't ask my daughter to spare
my eyes as usual, without telling her of your inquiries, and
putting a young lady's diffidence to the blush. So I send her
in effigy (without her knowledge) to answer for herself. It is
a good likeness of a good girl. If she likes your son--and if
I like him, which I am sure I shall--we may yet live, my good
friend, to see our children what we might once have been
ourselves--man and wife.' My mother gave me the miniature with
the letter. The portrait at once struck me--I can't say why, I
can't say how--as nothing of the kind had ever struck me before.
"Harder intellects than mine might have attributed the
extraordinary impression produced on me to the disordered
condition of my mind at that time; to the weariness of my own
base pleasures which had been gaining on me for months past,
to the undefined longing which that weariness implied for newer
interests and fresher hopes than any that had possessed me yet.
I attempted no such sober self-examination as this: I believed
in destiny then, I believe in destiny now. It was enough for me
to know--as I did know--that the first sense I had ever felt of
something better in my nature than my animal self was roused by
that girl's face looking at me from her picture as no woman's
face had ever looked at me yet. In those tender eyes--in the
chance of making that gentle creature my wife--I saw my destiny
written. The portrait which had come into my hands so strangely
and so unexpectedly was the silent messenger of happiness close
at hand, sent to warn, to encourage, to rouse me before it was
too late. I put the miniature under my pillow at night; I looked
at it again the next morning. My conviction of the day before
remained as strong as ever; my superstition (if you please to
call it so) pointed out to me irresistibly the way on which
I should go. There was a ship in port which was to sail for
England in a fortnight, touching at Madeira. In that ship I took
Thus far the reader had advanced with no interruption to disturb
him. But at the last words the tones of another voice, low and
broken, mingled with his own.
"Was she a fair woman," asked the voice, "or dark, like me?"
Mr. Neal paused, and looked up. The doctor was still at the bed
head, with his fingers mechanically on the patient's pulse. The
child, missing his midday sleep, was beginning to play languidly
with his new toy. The father's eyes were watching him with a rapt
and ceaseless attention. But one great change was visible in
the listeners since the narrative had begun. Mrs. Armadale had
dropped her hold of her husband's hand, and sat with her face
steadily turned away from him The hot African blood burned red
in her dusky cheeks as she obstinately repeated the question:
"Was she a fair woman, or dark, like me?"
"Fair," said her husband, without looking at her.
Her hands, lying clasped together in her lap, wrung each other
hard--she said no more. Mr. Neal's overhanging eyebrows lowered
ominously as he returned to the narrative. He had incurred his
own severe displeasure--he had caught himself in the act of
secretly pitying her.
"I have said"--the letter proceeded--"that Ingleby was admitted
to my closest confidence. I was sorry to leave him; and I was
distressed by his evident surprise and mortification when he
heard that I was going away. In my own justification, I showed
him the letter and the likeness, and told him the truth. His
interest in the portrait seemed to be hardly inferior to my own.
He asked me about Miss Blanchard's family and Miss Blanchard's
fortune with the sympathy of a true friend; and he strengthened
my regard for him, and my belief in him, by putting himself out
of the question, and by generously encouraging me to persist in
my new purpose. When we parted, I was in high health and spirits.
Before we met again the next day, I was suddenly struck by an
illness which threatened both my reason and my life.
"I have no proof against Ingleby. There was more than one woman
on the island whom I had wronged beyond all forgiveness, and
whose vengeance might well have reached me at that time. I can
accuse nobody. I can only say that my life was saved by my old
black nurse; and that the woman afterward acknowledged having
used the known negro antidote to a known negro poison in those
parts. When my first days of convalescence came, the ship in
which my passage had been taken had long since sailed. When
I asked for Ingleby, he was gone. Proofs of his unpardonable
misconduct in his situation were placed before me, which not even
my partiality for him could resist. He had been turned out of
the office in the first days of my illness, and nothing more was
known of him but that he had left the island.
"All through my sufferings the portrait had been under my pillow.
All through my convalescence it was my one consolation when I
remembered the past, and my one encouragement when I thought of
the future. No words can describe the hold that first fancy had
now taken of me--with time and solitude and suffering to help it.
My mother, with all her interest in the match, was startled by
the unexpected success of her own project. She had written to
tell Mr. Blanchard of my illness, but had received no reply. She
now offered to write again, if I would promise not to leave her
before my recovery was complete. My impatience acknowledged no
restraint. Another ship in port gave me another chance of leaving
for Madeira. Another examination of Mr. Blanchard's letter of
invitation assured me that I should find him still in the island,
if I seized my opportunity on the spot. In defiance of my
mother's entreaties, I insisted on taking my passage in the
second ship--and this time, when the ship sailed, I was on board.
"The change did me good; the sea-air made a man of me again.
After an unusually rapid voyage, I found myself at the end of
my pilgrimage. On a fine, still evening which I can never forget,
I stood alone on the shore, with her likeness in my bosom, and
saw the white walls of the house where I knew that she lived.
"I strolled round the outer limits of the grounds to compose
myself before I went in. Venturing through a gate and a
shrubbery, I looked into the garden, and saw a lady there,
loitering alone on the lawn. She turned her face toward me--and I
beheld the original of my portrait, the fulfillment of my dream!
It is useless, and worse than useless, to write of it now. Let me
only say that every promise which the likeness had made to my
fancy the living woman kept to my eyes in the moment when they
first looked on her. Let me say this--and no more.
"I was too violently agitated to trust myself in her presence.
I drew back undiscovered, and, making my way to the front door of
the house, asked for her father first. Mr. Blanchard had retired
to his room, and could see nobody. Upon that I took courage, and
asked for Miss Blanchard. The servant smiled. 'My young lady is
not Miss Blanchard any longer, sir,' he said. 'She is married.'
Those words would have struck some men, in my position, to
the earth. They fired my hot blood, and I seized the servant
by the throat, in a frenzy of rage 'It's a lie!' I broke out,
speaking to him as if he had been one of the slaves on my own
estate. 'It's the truth,' said the man, struggling with me;
'her husband is in the house at this moment.' 'Who is he, you
scoundrel?'The servant answered by repeating my own name, to
my own face: '_Allan Armadale_.'
"You can now guess the truth. Fergus Ingleby was the outlawed son
whose name and whose inheritance I had taken. And Fergus Ingleby
was even with me for depriving him of his birthright.
"Some account of the manner in which the deception had been
carried out is necessary to explain--I don't say to justify--the
share I took in the events that followed my arrival at Madeira.
"By Ingleby's own confession, he had come to Barbadoes--knowing
of his father's death and of my succession to the estates--with
the settled purpose of plundering and injuring me. My rash
confidence put such an opportunity into his hands as he could
never have hoped for. He had waited to possess himself of
the letter which my mother wrote to Mr. Blanchard at the outset
of my illness--had then caused his own dismissal from his
situation--and had sailed for Madeira in the very ship that was
to have sailed with me. Arrived at the island, he had waited
again till the vessel was away once more on her voyage, and had
then presented himself at Mr. Blanchard's--not in the assumed
name by which I shall continue to speak of him here, but in the
name which was as certainly his as mine, 'Allan Armadale.' The
fraud at the outset presented few difficulties. He had only an
ailing old man (who had not seen my mother for half a lifetime)
and an innocent, unsuspicious girl (who had never seen her at
all) to deal with; and he had learned enough in my service to
answer the few questions that were put to him as readily as
I might have answered them myself. His looks and manners, his
winning ways with women, his quickness and cunning, did the rest.
While I was still on my sickbed, he had won Miss Blanchard's
affections. While I was dreaming over the likeness in the first
days of my convalescence, he had secured Mr. Blanchard's consent
to the celebration of the marriage before he and his daughter
left the island.
"Thus far Mr. Blanchard's infirmity of sight had helped the
deception. He had been content to send messages to my mother, and
to receive the messages which were duly invented in return. But
when the suitor was accepted, and the wedding-day was appointed,
he felt it due to his old friend to write to her, asking her
formal consent and inviting her to the marriage. He could only
complete part of the letter himself; the rest was finished, under
his dictation, by Miss Blanchard. There was no chance of being
beforehand with the post-office this time; and Ingleby, sure of
his place in the heart of his victim, waylaid her as she came out
of her father's room with the letter, and privately told her the
truth. She was still under age, and the position was a serious
one. If the letter was posted, no resource would be left but to
wait and be parted forever, or to elope under circumstances which
made detection almost a certainty. The destination of any ship
which took them away would be known beforehand; and the
fast-sailing yacht in which Mr. Blanchard had come to Madeira was
waiting in the harbor to take him back to England. The only other
alternative was to continue the deception by suppressing the
letter, and to confess the truth when they were securely married.
What arts of persuasion Ingleby used--what base advantage he
might previously have taken of her love and her trust in him to
degrade Miss Blanchard to his own level--I cannot say. He did
degrade her. The letter never went to its destination; and, with
the daughter's privity and consent, the father's confidence was
abused to the very last.
"The one precaution now left to take was to fabricate the answer
from my mother which Mr. Blanchard expected, and which would
arrive in due course of post before the day appointed for
the marriage. Ingleby had my mother's stolen letter with him;
but he was without the imitative dexterity which would have
enabled him to make use of it for a forgery of her handwriting.
Miss Blanchard, who had consented passively to the deception,
refused to take any active share in the fraud practiced on her
father. In this difficulty, Ingleby found an instrument ready to
his hand in an orphan girl of barely twelve years old, a marvel
of precocious ability, whom Miss Blanchard had taken a romantic
fancy to befriend and whom she had brought away with her from
England to be trained as her maid. That girl's wicked dexterity
removed the one serious obstacle left to the success of
the fraud. I saw the imitation of my mother's writing which she
had produced under Ingleby's instructions and (if the shameful
truth must be told) with her young mistress's knowledge--and
I believe I should have been deceived by it myself. I saw
the girl afterward--and my blood curdled at the sight of her.
If she is alive now, woe to the people who trust her! No creature
more innately deceitful and more innately pitiless ever walked
"The forged letter paved the way securely for the marriage;
and when I reached the house, they were (as the servant had
truly told me) man and wife. My arrival on the scene simply
precipitated the confession which they had both agreed to make.
Ingleby's own lips shamelessly acknowledged the truth. He had
nothing to lose by speaking out--he was married, and his wife's
fortune was beyond her father's control. I pass over all that
followed--my interview with the daughter, and my interview with
the father--to come to results. For two days the efforts of the
wife, and the efforts of the clergyman who had celebrated the
marriage, were successful in keeping Ingleby and myself apart. On
the third day I set my trap more successfully, and I and the man
who had mortally injured me met together alone, face to face.
"Remember how my confidence had been abused; remember how the one
good purpose of my life had been thwarted; remember the violent
passions rooted deep in my nature, and never yet controlled--and
then imagine for yourself what passed between us. All I need tell
here is the end. He was a taller and a stronger man than I, and
he took his brute's advantage with a brute's ferocity. He struck
"Think of the injuries I had received at that man's hands, and
then think of his setting his mark on my face by a blow!
"I went to an English officer who had been my fellow-passenger
on the voyage from Barbadoes. I told him the truth, and he agreed
with me that a meeting was inevitable. Dueling had its received
formalities and its established laws in those days; and he began
to speak of them. I stopped him. 'I will take a pistol in my
right hand,' I said, 'and he shall take a pistol in his: I will
take one end of a handkerchief in my left hand, and he shall take
the other end in his; and across that handkerchief the duel shall
be fought.' The officer got up, and looked at me as if I had
personally insulted him. 'You are asking me to be present at a
murder and a suicide,' he said; 'I decline to serve you.' He left
the room. As soon as he was gone I wrote down the words I had
said to the officer and sent them by a messenger to Ingleby.
While I was waiting for an answer, I sat down before the glass,
and looked at his mark on my face. 'Many a man has had blood on
his hands and blood on his conscience,' I thought, 'for less than
"The messenger came back with Ingleby's answer. It appointed a
meeting for three o'clock the next day, at a lonely place in the
interior of the island. I had resolved what to do if he refused;
his letter released me from the horror of my own resolution.
I felt grateful to him--yes, absolutely grateful to him--for
"The next day I went to the place. He was not there. I waited two
hours, and he never came. At last the truth dawned on me. 'Once
a coward, always a coward,' I thought. I went back to Mr.
Blanchard's house. Before I got there, a sudden misgiving seized
me, and I turned aside to the harbor. I was right; the harbor was
the place to go to. A ship sailing for Lisbon that afternoon had
offered him the opportunity of taking a passage for himself and
his wife, and escaping me. His answer to my challenge had served
its purpose of sending me out of the way into the interior of
the island. Once more I had trusted in Fergus Ingleby, and once
more those sharp wits of his had been too much for me.
"I asked my informant if Mr. Blanchard was aware as yet of
his daughter's departure. He had discovered it, but not until
the ship had sailed. This time I took a lesson in cunning from
Ingleby. Instead of showing myself at Mr. Blanchard's house,
I went first and looked at Mr. Blanchard's yacht.
"The vessel told me what the vessel's master might have
concealed--the truth. I found her in the confusion of a sudden
preparation for sea. All the crew were on board, with the
exception of some few who had been allowed their leave on shore,
and who were away in the interior of the island, nobody knew
where. When I discovered that the sailing-master was trying in,
to supply their places with the best men he could pick up at
a moment's notice, my resolution was instantly taken. I knew
the duties on board a yacht well enough, having had a vessel
of my own, and having sailed her myself. Hurrying into the town,
I changed my dress for a sailor's coat and hat, and, returning
to the harbor, I offered myself as one of the volunteer crew.
I don't know what the sailing-master saw in my face. My answers
to his questions satisfied him, and yet he looked at me and
hesitated. But hands were scarce, and it ended in my being taken
on board. An hour later Mr. Blanchard joined us, and was assisted
into the cabin, suffering pitiably in mind and body both. An hour
after that we were at sea, with a starless night overhead, and
a fresh breeze behind us.
"As I had surmised, we were in pursuit of the vessel in which
Ingleby and his wife had left the island that afternoon. The ship
was French, and was employed in the timber trade: her name was
_La Grace de Dieu_. Nothing more was known of her than that she
was bound for Lisbon; that she had been driven out of her course;
and that she had touched at Madeira, short of men and short of
provisions. The last want had been supplied, but not the first.
Sailors distrusted the sea-worthiness of the ship, and disliked
the look of the vagabond crew. When those two serious facts had
been communicated to Mr. Blanchard, the hard words he had spoken
to his child in the first shock of discovering that she had
helped to deceive him smote him to the heart. He instantly
determined to give his daughter a refuge on board his own vessel,
and to quiet her by keeping her villain of a husband out of the
way of all harm at my hands. The yacht sailed three feet and more
to the ship's one. There was no doubt of our overtaking _La Grace
de Dieu_; the only fear was that we might pass her in the
"After we had been some little time out, the wind suddenly
dropped, and there fell on us an airless, sultry calm. When the
order came to get the topmasts on deck, and to shift the large
sails, we all knew what to expect. In little better than an hour
more, the storm was upon us, the thunder was pealing over our
heads, and the yacht was running for it. She was a powerful
schooner-rigged vessel of three hundred tons, as strong as wood
and iron could make her; she was handled by a sailing-master who
thoroughly understood his work, and she behaved nobly. As the new
morning came, the fury of the wind, blowing still from the
southwest quarter, subsided a little, and the sea was less heavy.
Just before daybreak we heard faintly, through the howling of the
gale, the report of a gun. The men collected anxiously on deck,
looked at each other, and said: 'There she is!'
"With the daybreak we saw the vessel, and the timber-ship it was.
She lay wallowing in the trough of the sea, her foremast and her
mainmast both gone--a water-logged wreck. The yacht carried three
boats; one amidships, and two slung to davits on the quarters;
and the sailing-master, seeing signs of the storm renewing its
fury before long, determined on lowering the quarter-boats while
the lull lasted. Few as the people were on board the wreck, they
were too many for one boat, and the risk of trying two boats at
once was thought less, in the critical state of the weather, than
the risk of making two separate trips from the yacht to the ship.
There might be time to make one trip in safety, but no man could
look at the heavens and say there would be time enough for two.
"The boats were manned by volunteers from the crew, I being in
the second of the two. When the first boat was got alongside of
the timber-ship--a service of difficulty and danger which no
words can describe--all the men on board made a rash to leave the
wreck together. If the boat had not been pulled off again before
the whole of them had crowded in, the lives of all must have been
sacrificed. As our boat approached the vessel in its turn, we
arranged that four of us should get on board--two (I being one of
them) to see to the safety of Mr. Blanchard's daughter, and two
to beat back the cowardly remnant of the crew if they tried
to crowd in first. The other three--the coxswain and two
oarsmen--were left in the boat to keep her from being crushed by
the ship. What the others saw when they first boarded _La Grace
de Dieu_ I don't know; what I saw was the woman whom I had lost,
the woman vilely stolen from me, lying in a swoon on the deck.
We lowered her, insensible, into the boat. The remnant of the
crew--five in number--were compelled by main force to follow her
in an orderly manner, one by one, and minute by minute, as the
chance offered for safely taking them in. I was the last who
left; and, at the next roll of the ship toward us, the empty
length of the deck, without a living creature on it from stem
to stern, told the boat's crew that their work was done. With
the louder and louder howling of the fast-rising tempest to warn
them, they rowed for their lives back to the yacht.
"A succession of heavy squalls had brought round the course of
the new storm that was coming, from the south to the north; and
the sailing-master, watching his opportunity, had wore the yacht
to be ready for it. Before the last of our men had got on board
again, it burst on us with the fury of a hurricane. Our boat was
swamped, but not a life was lost. Once more we ran before it,
due south, at the mercy of the wind. I was on deck with the rest,
watching the one rag of sail we could venture to set, and waiting
to supply its place with another, if it blew out of the
bolt-ropes, when the mate came close to me, and shouted in my ear
through the thunder of the storm: 'She has come to her senses in
the cabin, and has asked for her husband. Where is he?' Not a man
on board knew. The yacht was searched from one end to another
without finding him. The men were mustered in defiance of the
weather--he was not among them. The crews of the two boats were
questioned. All the first crew could say was that they had pulled
away from the wreck when the rush into their boat took place, and
that they knew nothing of whom they let in or whom they kept out.
All the second crew could say was that they had brought back to
the yacht every living soul left by the first boat on the deck of
the timber-ship. There was no blaming anybody; but, at the same
time, there was no resisting the fact that the man was missing.
"All through that day the storm, raging unabatedly, never gave us
even the shadow of a chance of returning and searching the wreck.
The one hope for the yacht was to scud. Toward evening the gale,
after having carried us to the southward of Madeira, began at
last to break--the wind shifted again--and allowed us to bear up
for the island. Early the next morning we got back into port. Mr.
Blanchard and his daughter were taken ashore, the sailing-master
accompanying them, and warning us that he should have something
to say on his return which would nearly concern the whole crew.
"We were mustered on deck, and addressed by the sailing-master as
soon as he came on board again. He had Mr. Blanchard's orders to
go back at once to the timber-ship and to search for the missing
man. We were bound to do this for his sake, and for the sake
of his wife, whose reason was despaired of by the doctors if
something was not done to quiet her. We might be almost sure of
finding the vessel still afloat, for her ladling of timber would
keep her above water as long as her hull held together. If the
man was on board--living or dead--he must be found and brought
back. And if the weather continued to be moderate, there was no
reason why the men, with proper assistance, should not bring the
ship back, too, and (their master being quite willing) earn their
share of the salvage with the officers of the yacht.
"Upon this the crew gave three cheers, and set to work forthwith
to get the schooner to sea again. I was the only one of them who
drew back from the enterprise. I told them the storm had upset
me--I was ill, and wanted rest. They all looked me in the face as
I passed through them on my way out of the yacht, but not a man
of them spoke to me.
"I waited through that day at a tavern on the port for the first
news from the wreck. It was brought toward night-fall by one
of the pilot-boats which had taken part in the enterprise--a
successful enterprise, as the event proved--for saving the
abandoned ship. _La Grace de Dieu_ had been discovered still
floating, and the body of Ingleby had been found on board,
drowned in the cabin. At dawn the next morning the dead man was
brought back by the yacht; and on the same day the funeral took
place in the Protestant cemetery."
"Stop!" said the voice from the bed, before the reader could turn
to a new leaf and begin the next paragraph.
There was a change in the room, and there were changes in the
audience, since Mr. Neal had last looked up from the narrative.
A ray of sunshine was crossing the death-bed; and the child,
overcome by drowsiness, lay peacefully asleep in the golden
light. The father's countenance had altered visibly. Forced into
action by the tortured mind, the muscles of the lower face, which
had never moved yet, were moving distortedly now. Warned by the
damps gathering heavily on his forehead, the doctor had risen to
revive the sinking man. On the other side of the bed the wife's
chair stood empty. At the moment when her husband had interrupted
the reading, she had drawn back behind the bed head, out of his
sight. Supporting herself against the wall, she stood there in
hiding, her eyes fastened in hungering suspense on the manuscript
in Mr. Neal's hand.
In a minute more the silence was broken again by Mr. Armadale.
"Where is she?" he asked, looking angrily at his wife's empty
chair. The doctor pointed to the place. She had no choice but
to come forward. She came slowly and stood before him.
"You promised to go when I told you," he said. "Go now."
Mr. Neal tried hard to control his hand as it kept his place
between the leaves of the manuscripts but it trembled in spite
of him. A suspicion which had been slowly forcing itself on
his mind, while he was reading, became a certainty when he heard
those words. From one revelation to another the letter had gone
on, until it had now reached the brink of a last disclosure to
come. At that brink the dying man had predetermined to silence
the reader's voice, before he had permitted his wife to hear the
narrative read. There was the secret which the son was to know
in after years, and which the mother was never to approach. From
that resolution, his wife's tenderest pleadings had never moved
him an inch--and now, from his own lips, his wife knew it.
She made him no answer. She stood there and looked at him; looked
her last entreaty--perhaps her last farewell. His eyes gave her
back no answering glance: they wandered from her mercilessly to
the sleeping boy. She turned speechless from the bed. Without
a look at the child--without a word to the two strangers
breathlessly watching her--she kept the promise she had given,
and in dead silence left the room.
There was something in the manner of her departure which shook
the self-possession of both the men who witnessed it. When the
door closed on her, they recoiled instinctively from advancing
further in the dark. The doctor's reluctance was the first to
express itself. He attempted to obtain the patient's permission
to withdraw until the letter was completed. The patient refused.
Mr. Neal spoke next at greater length and to more serious
"The doctor is accustomed in his profession," he began, "and I am
accustomed in mine, to have the secrets of others placed in our
keeping. But it is my duty, before we go further, to ask if you
really understand the extraordinary position which we now occupy
toward one another. You have just excluded Mrs. Armadale, before
our own eyes, from a place in your confidence. And you are now
offering that same place to two men who are total strangers to
"Yes," said Mr. Armadale, "_because_ you are strangers."
Few as the words were, the inference to be drawn from them was
not of a nature to set distrust at rest. Mr. Neal put it plainly
"You are in urgent need of my help and of the doctor's help," he
said. "Am I to understand (so long as you secure our assistance)
that the impression which the closing passages of this letter may
produce on us is a matter of indifference to you?"
"Yes. I don't spare you. I don't spare myself. I _do_ spare my
"You force me to a conclusion, sir, which is a very serious one,"
said Mr. Neal. "If I am to finish this letter under your
dictation, I must claim permission--having read aloud the greater
part of it already--to read aloud what remains, in the hearing
of this gentleman, as a witness."
Gravely doubting, the doctor resumed his chair. Gravely doubting,
Mr. Neal turned the leaf, and read the next words:
"There is more to tell before I can leave the dead man to
his rest. I have described the finding of his body. But I have
not described the circumstances under which he met his death.
"He was known to have been on deck when the yacht's boats were
seen approaching the wreck; and he was afterward missed in the
confusion caused by the panic of the crew. At that time the water
was five feet deep in the cabin, and was rising fast. There was
little doubt of his having gone down into that water of his own
accord. The discovery of his wife's jewel box, close under him,
on the floor, explained his presence in the cabin. He was known
to have seen help approaching, and it was quite likely that he
had thereupon gone below to make an effort at saving the box. It
was less probable--though it might still have been inferred--that
his death was the result of some accident in diving, which had
for the moment deprived him of his senses. But a discovery made
by the yacht's crew pointed straight to a conclusion which struck
the men, one and all, with the same horror. When the course of
their search brought them to the cabin, they found the scuttle
bolted, and the door locked on the outside. Had some one closed
the cabin, not knowing he was there? Setting the panic-stricken
condition of the crew out of the question, there was no motive
for closing the cabin before leaving the wreck. But one other
conclusion remained. Had some murderous hand purposely locked
the man in, and left him to drown as the water rose over him?
"Yes. A murderous hand had locked him in, and left him to drown.
That hand was mine. "
The Scotchman started up from the table; the doctor shrank from
the bedside. The two looked at the dying wretch, mastered by the
same loathing, chilled by the same dread. He lay there, with his
child's head on his breast; abandoned by the sympathies of man,
accursed by the justice of God--he lay there, in the isolation
of Cain, and looked back at them.
At the moment when the two men rose to their feet, the door
leading into the next room was shaken heavily on the outer side,
and a sound like the sound of a fall, striking dull on their
ears, silenced them both. Standing nearest to the door, the
doctor opened it, passed through, and closed it instantly. Mr.
Neal turned his back on the bed, and waited the event in silence.
The sound, which had failed to awaken the child, had failed also
to attract the father's notice. His own words had taken him far
from all that was passing at his deathbed. His helpless body was
back on the wreck, and the ghost of his lifeless hand was turning
the lock of the cabin door.
A bell rang in the next room--eager voices talked; hurried
footsteps moved in it--an interval passed, and the doctor
returned. "Was she listening?" whispered Mr. Neal, in German.
"The women are restoring her," the doctor whispered back. "She
has heard it all. In God's name, what are we to do next?" Before
it was possible to reply, Mr. Armadale spoke. The doctor's return
had roused him to a sense of present things.
"Go on," he said, as if nothing had happened.
"I refuse to meddle further with your infamous secret," returned
Mr. Neal. "You are a murderer on your own confession. If that
letter is to be finished, don't ask _me_ to hold the pen for
"You gave me your promise," was the reply, spoken with the same
immovable self-possession. "You must write for me, or break your
For the moment, Mr. Neal was silenced. There the man
lay--sheltered from the execration of his fellow-creatures, under
the shadow of Death--beyond the reach of all human condemnation,
beyond the dread of all mortal laws; sensitive to nothing but his
one last resolution to finish the letter addressed to his son.
Mr. Neal drew the doctor aside. "A word with you," he said, in
German. "Do you persist in asserting that he may be speechless
before we can send to Stuttgart?"
"Look at his lips," said the doctor, "and judge for yourself."
His lips answered for him: the reading of the narrative had left
its mark on them already. A distortion at the corners of his
mouth, which had been barely noticeable when Mr. Neal entered the
room, was plainly visible now. His slow articulation labored more
and more painfully with every word he uttered. The position was
emphatically a terrible one. After a moment more of hesitation,
Mr. Neal made a last attempt to withdraw from it.
"Now my eyes are open," he said, sternly, "do you dare hold me
to an engagement which you forced on me blindfold?"
"No," answered Mr. Armadale. "I leave you to break your word."
The look which accompanied that reply stung the Scotchman's pride
to the quick. When he spoke next, he spoke seated in his former
place at the table.
"No man ever yet said of me that I broke my word," he retorted,
angrily; "and not even you shall say it of me now. Mind this!
If you hold me to my promise, I hold you to my condition. I have
reserved my freedom of action, and I warn you I will use it at
my own sole discretion, as soon as I am released from the sight
"Remember he is dying," pleaded the doctor, gently.
"Take your place, sir," said Mr. Neal, pointing to the empty
chair. "What remains to be read, I will only read in your
hearing. What remains to be written, I will only write in your
presence. _You_ brought me here. I have a right to insist--and
I do insist--on your remaining as a witness to the last."
The doctor accepted his position without remonstrance. Mr. Neal
returned to the manuscript, and read what remained of it
uninterruptedly to the end:
"Without a word in my own defense, I have acknowledged my guilt.
Without a word in my own defense, I will reveal how the crime was
"No thought of him was in my mind, when I saw his wife insensible
on the deck of the timber-ship. I did my part in lowering her
safely into the boat. Then, and not till then, I felt the thought
of him coming back. In the confusion that prevailed while the men
of the yacht were forcing the men of the ship to wait their time,
I had an opportunity of searching for him unobserved. I stepped
back from the bulwark, not knowing whether he was away in the
first boat, or whether he was still on board--I stepped back,
and saw him mount the cabin stairs empty-handed, with the water
dripping from him. After looking eagerly toward the boat (without
noticing me), he saw there was time to spare before the crew were
taken. 'Once more!' he said to himself--and disappeared again, to
make a last effort at recovering the jewel box. The devil at my
elbow whispered, 'Don't shoot him like a man: drown him like a
dog!' He was under water when I bolted the scuttle. But his head
rose to the surface before I could close the cabin door. I looked
at him, and he looked at me--and I locked the door in his face.
The next minute, I was back among the last men left on deck.
The minute after, it was too late to repent. The storm was
threatening us with destruction, and the boat's crew were pulling
for their lives from the ship.
"My son! I have pursued you from my grave with a confession which
my love might have spared you. Read on, and you will know why.
"I will say nothing of my sufferings; I will plead for no mercy
to my memory. There is a strange sinking at my heart, a strange
trembling in my hand, while I write these lines, which warns me
to hasten to the end. I left the island without daring to look
for the last time at the woman whom I had lost so miserably, whom
I had injured so vilely. When I left, the whole weight of the
suspicion roused by the manner of Ingleby's death rested on the
crew of the French vessel. No motive for the supposed murder
could be brought home to any of them; but they were known to be,
for the most part, outlawed ruffians capable of any crime, and
they were suspected and examined accordingly. It was not till
afterward that I heard by accident of the suspicion shifting
round at last to me. The widow alone recognized the vague
description given of the strange man who had made one of the
yacht's crew, and who had disappeared the day afterward. The
widow alone knew, from that time forth, why her husband had been
murdered, and who had done the deed. When she made that
discovery, a false report of my death had been previously
circulated in the island. Perhaps I was indebted to the report
for my immunity from all legal proceedings; perhaps (no eye but
Ingleby's having seen me lock the cabin door) there was not
evidence enough to justify an inquiry; perhaps the widow shrank
from the disclosures which must have followed a public charge
against me, based on her own bare suspicion of the truth. However
it might be, the crime which I had committed unseen has remained
a crime unpunished from that time to this.
"I left Madeira for the West Indies in disguise. The first news
that met me when the ship touched at Barbadoes was the news of
my mother's death. I had no heart to return to the old scenes.
The prospect of living at home in solitude, with the torment
of my own guilty remembrances gnawing at me day and night,
was more than I had the courage to confront. Without landing,
or discovering myself to any one on shore, I went on as far
as the ship would take me--to the island of Trinidad.
"At that place I first saw your mother. It was my duty to tell
her the truth--and I treacherously kept my secret. It was my duty
to spare her the hopeless sacrifice of her freedom and her
happiness to such an existence as mine--and I did her the injury
of marrying her. If she is alive when you read this, grant her
the mercy of still concealing the truth. The one atonement I can
make to her is to keep her unsuspicious to the last of the man
she has married. Pity her, as I have pitied her. Let this letter
be a sacred confidence between father and son.
"The time when you were born was the time when my health began
to give way. Some months afterward, in the first days of my
recovery, you were brought to me; and I was told that you had
been christened during my illness. Your mother had done as other
loving mothers do--she had christened her first-born by his
father's name. You, too, were Allan Armadale. Even in that early
time--even while I was happily ignorant of what I have discovered
since--my mind misgave me when I looked at you, and thought of
that fatal name.
"As soon as I could be moved, my presence was required at my
estates in Barbadoes. It crossed my mind--wild as the idea may
appear to you--to renounce the condition which compelled my son
as well as myself to take the Armadale name, or lose the
succession to the Armadale property. But, even in those days,
the rumor of a contemplated emancipation of the slaves--the
emancipation which is now close at hand--was spreading widely
in the colony. No man could tell how the value of West Indian
property might be affected if that threatened change ever took
place. No man could tell--if I gave you back my own paternal
name, and left you without other provision in the future than
my own paternal estate--how you might one day miss the broad
Armadale acres, or to what future penury I might be blindly
condemning your mother and yourself. Mark how the fatalities
gathered one on the other! Mark how your Christian name came
to you, how your surname held to you, in spite of me!
"My health had improved in my old home--but it was for a time
only. I sank again, and the doctors ordered me to Europe.
Avoiding England (why, you may guess), I took my passage, with
you and your mother, for France. From France we passed into
Italy. We lived here; we lived there. It was useless. Death had
got met and Death followed me, go where I might. I bore it, for
I had an alleviation to turn to which I had not deserved. You may
shrink in horror from the very memory of me now. In those days,
you comforted me. The only warmth I still felt at my heart was
the warmth you brought to it. My last glimpses of happiness in
this world were the glimpses given me by my infant son.
"We removed from Italy, and went next to Lausanne--the place
from which I am now writing to you. The post of this morning has
brought me news, later and fuller than any I had received thus
far, of the widow of the murdered man. The letter lies before me
while I write. It comes from a friend of my early days, who has
seen her, and spoken to her--who has been the first to inform her
that the report of my death in Madeira was false. He writes, at
a loss to account for the violent agitation which she showed on
hearing that I was still alive, that I was married, and that I
had an infant son. He asks me if I can explain it. He speaks in
terms of sympathy for her--a young and beautiful woman, buried
in the retirement of a fishing-village on the Devonshire coast;
her father dead; her family estranged from her, in merciless
disapproval of her marriage. He writes words which might have cut
me to the heart, but for a closing passage in his letter, which
seized my whole attention the instant I came to it, and which has
forced from me the narrative that these pages contain.
"I now know what never even entered my mind as a suspicion till
the letter reached me. I now know that the widow of the man whose
death lies at my door has borne a posthumous child. That child
is a boy--a year older than my own son. Secure in her belief in
my death, his mother has done what my son's mother did: she has
christened her child by his father's name. Again, in the second
generation, there are two Allan Armadales as there were in the
first. After working its deadly mischief with the fathers, the
fatal resemblance of names has descended to work its deadly
mischief with the sons.
"Guiltless minds may see nothing thus far but the result of
a series of events which could lead no other way. I--with that
man's life to answer for--I, going down into my grave, with my
crime unpunished and unatoned, see what no guiltless minds can
discern. I see danger in the future, begotten of the danger in
the past--treachery that is the offspring of _his_ treachery,
and crime that is the child of _my_ crime. Is the dread that now
shakes me to the soul a phantom raised by the superstition of a
dying man? I look into the Book which all Christendom venerates,
and the Book tells me that the sin of the father shall be visited
on the child. I look out into the world, and I see the living
witnesses round me to that terrible truth. I see the vices which
have contaminated the father descending, and contaminating
the child; I see the shame which has disgraced the father's name
descending, and disgracing the child's. I look in on myself, and
I see my crime ripening again for the future in the self-same
circumstance which first sowed the seeds of it in the past,
and descending, in inherited contamination of evil, from me
to my son."
At those lines the writing ended. There the stroke had struck
him, and the pen had dropped from his hand.
He knew the place; he remembered the words. At the instant when
the reader's voice stopped, he looked eagerly at the doctor.
"I have got what comes next in my mind," he said, with slower
and slower articulation. "Help me to speak it."
The doctor administered a stimulant, and signed to Mr. Neal to
give him time. After a little delay, the flame of the sinking
spirit leaped up in his eyes once more. Resolutely struggling
with his failing speech, he summoned the Scotchman to take the
pen, and pronounced the closing sentences of the narrative, as
his memory gave them back to him, one by one, in these words:
"Despise my dying conviction if you will, but grant me, I
solemnly implore you, one last request. My son! the only hope
I have left for you hangs on a great doubt--the doubt whether we
are, or are not, the masters of our own destinies. It may be that
mortal free-will can conquer mortal fate; and that going, as we
all do, inevitably to death, we go inevitably to nothing that is
before death. If this be so, indeed, respect--though you respect
nothing else--the warning which I give you from my grave. Never,
to your dying day, let any living soul approach you who is
associated, directly or indirectly, with the crime which your
father has committed. Avoid the widow of the man I killed--if
the widow still lives. Avoid the maid whose wicked hand smoothed
the way to the marriage--if the maid is still in her service. And
more than all, avoid the man who bears the same name as your own.
Offend your best benefactor, if that benefactor's influence has
connected you one with the other. Desert the woman who loves you,
if that woman is a link between you and him. Hide yourself from
him under an assumed name. Put the mountains and the seas between
you; be ungrateful, be unforgiving; be all that is most repellent
to your own gentler nature, rather than live under the same roof,
and breathe the same air, with that man. Never let the two Allan
Armadales meet in this world: never, never, never!
"There lies the way by which you may escape--if any way there be.
Take it, if you prize your own innocence and your own happiness,
through all your life to come!