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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 10 out of 17

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Miss Milroy but the way you have mentioned?" he asked, uneasily.

"Do you think the major would listen to you, sir, if you spoke
to him?" asked Pedgift Senior, sarcastically. "I'm rather afraid
he wouldn't honor _me_ with his attention. Or perhaps you would
prefer alarming Miss Neelie by telling her in plain words that we
both think her in danger? Or, suppose you send me to Miss Gwilt,
with instructions to inform her that she has done her pupil
a cruel injustice? Women are so proverbially ready to listen
to reason; and they are so universally disposed to alter their
opinions of each other on application--especially when one woman
thinks that another woman has destroyed her prospect of making a
good marriage. Don't mind _me_, Mr. Armadale; I'm only a lawyer,
and I can sit waterproof under another shower of Miss Gwilt's
tears!"

"Damn it, Mr. Pedgift, tell me in plain words what you want
to do!" cried Allan, losing his temper at last.

"In plain words, Mr. Armadale, I want to keep Miss Gwilt's
proceedings privately under view, as long as she stops in this
neighborhood. I answer for finding a person who will look after
her delicately and discreetly. And I agree to discontinue even
this harmless superintendence of her actions, if there isn't good
reasons shown for continuing it, to your entire satisfaction,
in a week's time. I make that moderate proposal, sir, in what
I sincerely believe to be Miss Milroy's interest, and I wait
your answer, Yes or No."

"Can't I have time to consider?" asked Allan, driven to the last
helpless expedient of taking refuge in delay.

"Certainly, Mr. Armadale. But don't forget, while you are
considering, that Miss Milroy is in the habit of walking out
alone in your park, innocent of all apprehension of danger,
and that Miss Gwilt is perfectly free to take any advantage
of that circumstance that Miss Gwilt pleases."

"Do as you like!" exclaimed Allan, in despair. "And, for God's
sake, don't torment me any longer!"

Popular prejudice may deny it, but the profession of the law
is a practically Christian profession in one respect at least.
Of all the large collection of ready answers lying in wait for
mankind on a lawyer's lips, none is kept in better working order
than "the soft answer which turneth away wrath." Pedgift Senior
rose with the alacrity of youth in his legs, and the wise
moderation of age on his tongue. "Many thanks, sir," he said,
"for the attention you have bestowed on me. I congratulate you
on your decision, and I wish you good-evening." This time his
indicative snuff-box was not in his hand when he opened the door,
and he actually disappeared without coming back for a second
postscript.

Allan's head sank on his breast when he was left alone. "If it
was only the end of the week!" he thought, longingly. "If I only
had Midwinter back again!"

As that aspiration escaped the client's lips, the lawyer got
gayly into his gig. "Hie away, old girl!" cried Pedgift Senior,
patting the fast-trotting mare with the end of his whip. "I never
keep a lady waiting--and I've got business to-night with one of
your own sex!"

CHAPTER VII.

THE MARTYRDOM OF MISS GWILT.

The outskirts of the little town of Thorpe Ambrose, on the side
nearest to "the great house," have earned some local celebrity as
exhibiting the prettiest suburb of the kind to be found in East
Norfolk. Here the villas and gardens are for the most part built
and laid out in excellent taste, the trees are in the prime
of their growth, and the healthy common beyond the houses rises
and falls in picturesque and delightful variety of broken ground.
The rank, fashion, and beauty of the town make this place their
evening promenade; and when a stranger goes out for a drive, if
he leaves it to the coachman, the coachman starts by way of the
common as a matter of course.

On the opposite side, that is to say, on the side furthest
from "the great house," the suburbs (in the year 1851) were
universally regarded as a sore subject by all persons zealous
for the reputation of the town.

Here nature was uninviting, man was poor, and social progress,
as exhibited under the form of building, halted miserably.
The streets dwindled feebly, as they receded from the center of
the town, into smaller and smaller houses, and died away on the
barren open ground into an atrophy of skeleton cottages. Builders
hereabouts appeared to have universally abandoned their work in
the first stage of its creation. Land-holders set up poles on
lost patches of ground, and, plaintively advertising that they
were to let for building, raised sickly little crops meanwhile,
in despair of finding a purchaser to deal with them. All the
waste paper of the town seemed to float congenially to this
neglected spot; and all the fretful children came and cried here,
in charge of all the slatternly nurses who disgraced the place.
If there was any intention in Thorpe Ambrose of sending a
worn-out horse to the knacker's, that horse was sure to be found
waiting his doom in a field on this side of the town. No growth
flourished in these desert regions but the arid growth of
rubbish; and no creatures rejoiced but the creatures of the
night--the vermin here and there in the beds, and the cats
everywhere on the tiles.

The sun had set, and the summer twilight was darkening. The
fretful children were crying in their cradles; the horse destined
for the knacker dozed forlorn in the field of his imprisonment;
the cats waited stealthily in corners for the coming night.
But one living figure appeared in the lonely suburb--the figure
of Mr. Bashwood. But one faint sound disturbed the dreadful
silence--the sound of Mr. Bashwood's softly stepping feet.

Moving slowly past the heaps of bricks rising at intervals along
the road, coasting carefully round the old iron and the broken
tiles scattered here and there in his path, Mr. Bashwood advanced
from the direction of the country toward one of the unfinished
streets of the suburb. His personal appearance had been
apparently made the object of some special attention. His false
teeth were brilliantly white; his wig was carefully brushed; his
mourning garments, renewed throughout, gleamed with the hideous
and slimy gloss of cheap black cloth. He moved with a nervous
jauntiness, and looked about him with a vacant smile. Having
reached the first of the skeleton cottages, his watery eyes
settled steadily for the first time on the view of the street
before him. The next instant he started; his breath quickened;
he leaned, trembling and flushing, against the unfinished wall
at his side. A lady, still at some distance, was advancing toward
him down the length of the street. "She's coming!" he whispered,
with a strange mixture of rapture and fear, of alternating color
and paleness, showing itself in his haggard face. "I wish I was
the ground she treads on! I wish I was the glove she's got on
her hand!" He burst ecstatically into those extravagant words,
with a concentrated intensity of delight in uttering them that
actually shook his feeble figure from head to foot.

Smoothly and gracefully the lady glided nearer and nearer,
until she revealed to Mr. Bashwood's eyes, what Mr. Bashwood's
instincts had recognized in the first instance--the face of Miss
Gwilt.

She was dressed with an exquisitely expressive economy of outlay.
The plainest straw bonnet procurable, trimmed sparingly with
the cheapest white ribbon, was on her head. Modest and tasteful
poverty expressed itself in the speckless cleanliness and the
modestly proportioned skirts of her light "print" gown, and in
the scanty little mantilla of cheap black silk which she wore
over it, edged with a simple frilling of the same material. The
luster of her terrible red hair showed itself unshrinkingly in
a plaited coronet above her forehead, and escaped in one vagrant
love-lock, perfectly curled, that dropped over her left shoulder.
Her gloves, fitting her like a second skin, were of the sober
brown hue which is slowest to show signs of use. One hand lifted
her dress daintily above the impurities of the road; the other
held a little nosegay of the commonest garden flowers.
Noiselessly and smoothly she came on, with a gentle and regular
undulation of the print gown; with the love-lock softly lifted
from moment to moment in the evening breeze; with her head
a little drooped, and her eyes on the ground--in walk, and look,
and manner, in every casual movement that escaped her, expressing
that subtle mixture of the voluptuous and the modest which,
of the many attractive extremes that meet in women, is in a man's
eyes the most irresistible of all.

"Mr. Bashwood!" she exclaimed, in loud, clear tones indicative
of the utmost astonishment, "what a surprise to find you here!
I thought none but the wretched inhabitants ever ventured near
this side of the town. Hush!" she added quickly, in a whisper.
"You heard right when you heard that Mr. Armadale was going to
have me followed and watched. There's a man behind one of the
houses. We must talk out loud of indifferent things, and look
as if we had met by accident. Ask me what I am doing. Out loud!
Directly! You shall never see me again, if you don't instantly
leave off trembling and do what I tell you!"

She spoke with a merciless tyranny of eye and voice--with a
merciless use of her power over the feeble creature whom she
addressed. Mr. Bashwood obeyed her in tones that quavered with
agitation, and with eyes that devoured her beauty in a strange
fascination of terror and delight.

"I am trying to earn a little money by teaching music," she said,
in the voice intended to reach the spy's ears. "If you are able
to recommend me any pupils, Mr. Bashwood, your good word will
oblige me. Have you been in the grounds to-day?" she went on,
dropping her voice again in a whisper. "Has Mr. Armadale been
near the cottage? Has Miss Milroy been out of the garden? No?
Are you sure? Look out for them to-morrow, and next day, and next
day. They are certain to meet and make it up again, and I must
and will know of it. Hush! Ask me my terms for teaching music.
What are you frightened about? It's me the man's after--not you.
Louder than when you asked me what I was doing, just now; louder,
or I won't trust you any more; I'll go to somebody else!"

Once more Mr. Bashwood obeyed. "Don't be angry with me,"
he murmured, faintly, when he had spoken the necessary words.
"My heart beats so you'll kill me!"

You poor old dear!" she whispered back, with a sudden change
in her manner, with an easy satirical tenderness. "What business
have you with a heart at your age? Be here to-morrow at the same
time, and tell me what you have seen in the grounds. My terms are
only five shillings a lesson," she went on, in her louder tone.
"I'm sure that's not much, Mr. Bashwood; I give such long
lessons, and I get all my pupils' music half-price." She suddenly
dropped her voice again, and looked him brightly into instant
subjection. "Don't let Mr. Armadale out of your sight to-morrow!
If that girl manages to speak to him, and if I don't hear of it,
I'll frighten you to death. If I _do_ hear of it, I'll kiss you!
Hush! Wish me good-night, and go on to the town, and leave me to
go the other way. I don't want you--I'm not afraid of the man
behind the houses; I can deal with him by myself. Say goodnight,
and I'll let you shake hands. Say it louder, and I'll give you
one of my flowers, if you'll promise not to fall in love with
it." She raised her voice again. "Goodnight, Mr. Bashwood! Don't
forget my terms. Five shillings a lesson, and the lessons last an
hour at a time, and I get all my pupils' music half-price, which
is an immense advantage, isn't it?" She slipped a flower into his
hand--frowned him into obedience, and smiled to reward him for
obeying, at the same moment--lifted her dress again above the
impurities of the road--and went on her way with a dainty and
indolent deliberation, as a cat goes on her way when she has
exhausted the enjoyment of frightening a mouse.

Left alone, Mr. Bashwood turned to the low cottage wall near
which he had been standing, and, resting himself on it wearily,
looked at the flower in his hand.

His past existence had disciplined him to bear disaster and
insult, as few happier men could have borne them; but it had not
prepared him to feel the master-passion of humanity, for the
first time, at the dreary end of his life, in the hopeless decay
of a manhood that had withered under the double blight of
conjugal disappointment and parental sorrow. "Oh, if I was only
young again!" murmured the poor wretch, resting his arms on the
wall and touching the flower with his dry, fevered lips in a
stealthy rapture of tenderness. "She might have liked me when I
was twenty!" He suddenly started back into an erect position, and
stared about him in vacant bewilderment and terror. "She told me
to go home," he said, with a startled look. "Why am I stopping
here?" He turned, and hurried on to the town--in such dread of
her anger, if she looked round and saw him, that he never so much
as ventured on a backward glance at the road by which she had
retired, and never detected the spy dogging her footsteps, under
cover of the empty houses and the brick-heaps by the roadside.

Smoothly and gracefully, carefully preserving the speckless
integrity of her dress, never hastening her pace, and never
looking aside to the right hand or the left, Miss Gwilt pursued
her way toward the open country. The suburban road branched off
at its end in two directions. On the left, the path wound through
a ragged little coppice to the grazing grounds of a neighboring
farm; on the right, it led across a hillock of waste land to the
high-road. Stopping a moment to consider, but not showing the spy
that she suspected him by glancing behind her while there was a
hiding-place within his reach, Miss Gwilt took the path across
the hillock. "I'll catch him there," she said to herself, looking
up quietly at the long straight line of the empty high-road.

Once on the ground that she had chosen for her purpose, she met
the difficulties of the position with perfect tact and
self-possession. After walking some thirty yards along the road,
she let her nosegay drop, half turned round in stooping to pick
it up, saw the man stopping at the same moment behind her, and
instantly went on again, quickening her pace little by little,
until she was walking at the top of her speed. The spy fell into
the snare laid for him. Seeing the night coming, and fearing that
he might lose sight of her in the darkness, he rapidly lessened
the distance between them. Miss Gwilt went on faster and faster
till she plainly heard his footstep behind her, then stopped,
turned, and met the man face to face the next moment.

"My compliments to Mr. Armadale," she said, "and tell him I've
caught you watching me."

"I'm not watching you, miss," retorted the spy, thrown off his
guard by the daring plainness of the language in which she had
spoken to him.

Miss Gwilt's eyes measured him contemptuously from head to foot.
He was a weakly, undersized man. She was the taller, and (quite
possibly) the stronger of the two.

"Take your hat off, you blackguard, when you speak to a lady,"
she said, and tossed his hat in an instant, across a ditch by
which they were standing, into a pool on the other side.

This time the spy was on his guard. He knew as well as Miss Gwilt
knew the use which might be made of the precious minutes, if he
turned his back on her and crossed the ditch to recover his hat.
"It's well for you you're a woman," he said, standing scowling at
her bareheaded in the fast-darkening light.

Miss Gwilt glanced sidelong down the onward vista of the road,
and saw, through the gathering obscurity, the solitary figure of
a man rapidly advancing toward her. Some women would have noticed
the approach of a stranger at that hour and in that lonely place
with a certain anxiety. Miss Gwilt was too confident in her own
powers of persuasion not to count on the man's assistance
beforehand, whoever he might be, _because_ he was a man. She
looked back at the spy with redoubled confidence in herself, and
measured him contemptuously from head to foot for the second
time.

"I wonder whether I'm strong enough to throw you after your hat?"
she said. "I'll take a turn and consider it."

She sauntered on a few steps toward the figure advancing along
the road. The spy followed her close. "Try it," he said,
brutally. "You're a fine woman; you're welcome to put your arms
round me if you like." As the words escaped him, he too saw the
stranger for the first time. He drew back a step and waited. Miss
Gwilt, on her side, advanced a step and waited, too.

The stranger came on, with the lithe, light step of a practiced
walker, swinging a stick in his hand and carrying a knapsack on
his shoulders. A few paces nearer, and his face became visible.
He was a dark man, his black hair was powdered with dust, and his
black eyes were looking steadfastly forward along the road before
him.

Miss Gwilt advanced with the first signs of agitation she had
shown yet. "Is it possible?" she said, softly. "Can it really be
you?"

It was Midwinter, on his way back to Thorpe Ambrose, after his
fortnight among the Yorkshire moors.

He stopped and looked at her, in breathless surprise. The image
of the woman had been in his thoughts, at the moment when the
woman herself spoke to him. "Miss Gwilt!" he exclaimed, and
mechanically held out his hand.

She took it, and pressed it gently. "I should have been glad to
see you at any time," she said. "You don't know how glad I am to
see you now. May I trouble you to speak to that man? He has been
following me, and annoying me all the way from the town."

Midwinter stepped past her without uttering a word. Faint as the
light was, the spy saw what was coming in his face, and, turning
instantly, leaped the ditch by the road-side. Before Midwinter
could follow, Miss Gwilt's hand was on his shoulder.

"No," she said, "you don't know who his employer is."

Midwinter stopped and looked at her.

"Strange things have happened since you left us," she went on.
"I have been forced to give up my situation, and I am followed
and watched by a paid spy. Don't ask who forced me out of my
situation, and who pays the spy--at least not just yet. I can't
make up my mind to tell you till I am a little more composed.
Let the wretch go. Do you mind seeing me safe back to my lodging?
It's in your way home. May I--may I ask for the support of your
arm? My little stock of courage is quite exhausted." She took his
arm and clung close to it. The woman who had tyrannized over Mr.
Bashwood was gone, and the woman who had tossed the spy's hat
into the pool was gone. A timid, shrinking, interesting creature
filled the fair skin and trembled on the symmetrical limbs of
Miss Gwilt. She put her handkerchief to her eyes. "They say
necessity has no law," she murmured, faintly. "I am treating you
like an old friend. God knows I want one!"

They went on toward the town. She recovered herself with a
touching fortitude; she put her handkerchief back in her pocket,
and persisted in turning the conversation on Midwinter's walking
tour. "It is bad enough to be a burden on you," she said, gently
pressing on his arm as she spoke; "I mustn't distress you as
well. Tell me where you have been, and what you have seen.
Interest me in your journey; help me to escape from myself."

They reached the modest little lodging in the miserable little
suburb. Miss Gwilt sighed, and removed her glove before she took
Midwinter's hand. "I have taken refuge here," she said, simply.
"It is clean and quiet; I am too poor to want or expect more.
We must say good-by, I suppose, unless"--she hesitated modestly,
and satisfied herself by a quick look round that they were
unobserved--"unless you would like to come in and rest a little?
I feel so gratefully toward you, Mr. Midwinter! Is there any
harm, do you think, in my offering you a cup of tea?"

The magnetic influence of her touch was thrilling through him
while she spoke. Change and absence, to which he had trusted
to weaken her hold on him, had treacherously strengthened it
instead. A man exceptionally sensitive, a man exceptionally pure
in his past life, he stood hand in hand, in the tempting secrecy
of the night, with the first woman who had exercised over him
the all-absorbing influence of her sex. At his age, and in
his position, who could have left her? The man (with a man's
temperament) doesn't live who could have left her. Midwinter
went in.

A stupid, sleepy lad opened the house door. Even he, being a male
creature, brightened under the influence of Miss Gwilt. "The urn,
John," she said, kindly, "and another cup and saucer. I'll borrow
your candle to light my candles upstairs, and then I won't
trouble you any more to-night." John was wakeful and active in an
instant. "No trouble, miss," he said, with awkward civility. Miss
Gwilt took his candle with a smile. "How good people are to me!"
she whispered, innocently, to Midwinter, as she led the way
upstairs to the little drawing-room on the first floor.

She lit the candles, and, turning quickly on her guest, stopped
him at the first attempt he made to remove the knapsack from his
shoulders. "No," she said, gently; "in the good old times there
were occasions when the ladies unarmed their knights. I claim
the privilege of unarming _my_ knight." Her dexterous fingers
intercepted his at the straps and buckles, and she had the dusty
knapsack off, before he could protest against her touching it.

They sat down at the one little table in the room. It was very
poorly furnished; but there was something of the dainty neatness
of the woman who inhabited it in the arrangement of the few poor
ornaments on the chimney-piece, in the one or two prettily bound
volumes on the chiffonier, in the flowers on the table, and the
modest little work-basket in the window. "Women are not all
coquettes," she said, as she took off her bonnet and mantilla,
and laid them carefully on a chair. "I won't go into my room,
and look in my glass, and make myself smart; you shall take me
just as I am." Her hands moved about among the tea-things with
a smooth, noiseless activity.

Her magnificent hair flashed crimson in the candle-light, as she
turned her head hither and thither, searching with an easy grace
for the things she wanted in the tray. Exercise had heightened
the brilliancy of her complexion, and had quickened the rapid
alternations of expression in her eyes--the delicious languor
that stole over them when she was listening or thinking, the
bright intelligence that flashed from them softly when she spoke.
In the lightest word she said, in the least thing she did, there
was something that gently solicited the heart of the man who sat
with her. Perfectly modest in her manner, possessed to perfection
of the graceful restraints and refinements of a lady, she had all
the allurements that feast the eye, all the siren invitations
that seduce the sense--a subtle suggestiveness in her silence,
and a sexual sorcery in her smile.

"Should I be wrong," she asked, suddenly suspending the
conversation which she had thus far persistently restricted to
the subject of Midwinter's walking tour, "if I guessed that you
have something on your mind--something which neither my tea nor
my talk can charm away? Are men as curious as women? Is the
something--Me?"

Midwinter struggled against the fascination of looking at her and
listening to her. "I am very anxious to hear what has happened
since I have been away," he said. "But I am still more anxious,
Miss Gwilt, not to distress you by speaking of a painful
subject."

She looked at him gratefully. "It is for your sake that I have
avoided the painful subject," she said, toying with her spoon
among the dregs in her empty cup. "But you will hear about it
from others, if you don't hear about it from me; and you ought to
know why you found me in that strange situation, and why you see
me here. Pray remember one thing, to begin with. I don't blame
your friend, Mr. Armadale. I blame the people whose instrument
he is."

Midwinter started. "Is it possible," he began, "that Allan can be
in any way answerable--?" He stopped, and looked at Miss Gwilt in
silent astonishment.

She gently laid her hand on his. "Don't be angry with me for only
telling the truth," she said. "Your friend is answerable for
everything that has happened to me--innocently answerable, Mr.
Midwinter, I firmly believe. We are both victims. _He_ is the
victim of his position as the richest single man in the
neighborhood; and I am the victim of Miss Milroy's determination
to marry him."

"Miss Milroy?" repeated Midwinter, more and more astonished.
"Why, Allan himself told me--" He stopped again.

"He told you that I was the object of his admiration? Poor
fellow, he admires everybody; his head is almost as empty as
this," said Miss Gwilt, smiling indicatively into the hollow of
her cup. She dropped the spoon, sighed, and became serious again.
"I am guilty of the vanity of having let him admire me," she went
on, penitently, "without the excuse of being able, on my side,
to reciprocate even the passing interest that he felt in me.
I don't undervalue his many admirable qualities, or the excellent
position he can offer to his wife. But a woman's heart is not to
be commanded--no, Mr. Midwinter, not even by the fortunate master
of Thorpe Ambrose, who commands everything else."

She looked him full in the face as she uttered that magnanimous
sentiment. His eyes dropped before hers, and his dark color
deepened. He had felt his heart leap in him at the declaration
of her indifference to Allan. For the first time since they had
known each other, his interests now stood self-revealed before
him as openly adverse to the interests of his friend.

"I have been guilty of the vanity of letting Mr. Armadale admire
me, and I have suffered for it," resumed Miss Gwilt. "If there
had been any confidence between my pupil and me, I might have
easily satisfied her that she might become Mrs. Armadale--if she
could--without having any rivalry to fear on my part. But Miss
Milroy disliked and distrusted me from the first. She took her
own jealous view, no doubt, of Mr. Armadale's thoughtless
attentions to me. It was her interest to destroy the position,
such as it was, that I held in his estimation; and it is quite
likely her mother assisted her. Mrs. Milroy had her motive also
(which I am really ashamed to mention) for wishing to drive me
out of the house. Anyhow, the conspiracy has succeeded. I have
been forced (with Mr. Armadale's help) to leave the major's
service. Don't be angry, Mr. Midwinter! Don't form a hasty
opinion! I dare say Miss Milroy has some good qualities, though
I have not found them out; and I assure you again and again
that I don't blame Mr. Armadale. I only blame the people whose
instrument he is."

"How is he their instrument? How can he be the instrument of any
enemy of yours?" asked Midwinter. "Pray excuse my anxiety, Miss
Gwilt: Allan's good name is as dear to me as my own!"

Miss Gwilt's eyes turned full on him again, and Miss Gwilt's
heart abandoned itself innocently to an outburst of enthusiasm.
"How I admire your earnestness!" she said. "How I like your
anxiety for your friend! Oh, if women could only form such
friendships! Oh you happy, happy men!" Her voice faltered, and
her convenient tea-cup absorbed her for the third time. "I would
give all the little beauty I possess," she said, "if I could only
find such a friend as Mr. Armadale has found in _you_. I never
shall, Mr. Midwinter--I never shall. Let us go back to what we
were talking about. I can only tell you how your friend is
concerned in my misfortune by telling you something first about
myself. I am like many other governesses; I am the victim of sad
domestic circumstances. It may be weak of me, but I have a horror
of alluding to them among strangers. My silence about my family
and my friends exposes me to misinterpretation in my dependent
position. Does it do me any harm, Mr. Midwinter, in your
estimation?"

"God forbid!" said Midwinter, fervently. "There is no man
living," he went on, thinking of his own family story, "who has
better reason to understand and respect your silence than I
have."

Miss Gwilt seized his hand impulsively. "Oh," she said, "I knew
it, the first moment I saw you! I knew that you, too, had
suffered; that you, too, had sorrows which you kept sacred!
Strange, strange sympathy! I believe in mesmerism--do you?" She
suddenly recollected herself, and shuddered. "Oh, what have I
done? What must you think of me?" she exclaimed, as he yielded to
the magnetic fascination of her touch, and, forgetting everything
but the hand that lay warm in his own, bent over it and kissed
it. "Spare me!" she said, faintly, as she felt the burning touch
of his lips. "I am so friendless--I am so completely at your
mercy!"

He turned away from her, and hid his face in his hands; he was
trembling, and she saw it. She looked at him while his face was
hidden from her; she looked at him with a furtive interest and
surprise. "How that man loves me!" she thought. "I wonder whether
there was a time when I might have loved _him_?"

The silence between them remained unbroken for some minutes.
He had felt her appeal to his consideration as she had never
expected or intended him to feel it--he shrank from looking at
her or from speaking to her again.

"Shall I go on with my story?" she asked. "Shall we forget and
forgive on both sides?" A woman's inveterate indulgence for every
expression of a man's admiration which keeps within the limits
of personal respect curved her lips gently into a charming smile.
She looked down meditatively at her dress, and brushed a crumb
off her lap with a little flattering sigh. "I was telling you,"
she went on, "of my reluctance to speak to strangers of my sad
family story. It was in that way, as I afterward found out, that
I laid myself open to Miss Milroy's malice and Miss Milroy's
suspicion. Private inquiries about me were addressed to the lady
who was my reference--at Miss Milroy's suggestion, in the first
instance, I have no doubt. I am sorry to say, this is not the
worst of it. By some underhand means, of which I am quite
ignorant, Mr. Armadale's simplicity was imposed on; and, when
application was made secretly to my reference in London, it was
made, Mr. Midwinter, through your friend."

Midwinter suddenly rose from his chair and looked at her. The
fascination that she exercised over him, powerful as it was,
became a suspended influence, now that the plain disclosure came
plainly at last from her lips. He looked at her, and sat down
again, like a man bewildered, without uttering a word.

"Remember how weak he is," pleaded Miss Gwilt, gently, "and make
allowances for him as I do. The trifling accident of his failing
to find my reference at the address given him seems, I can't
imagine why, to have excited Mr. Armadale's suspicion. At any
rate, he remained in London. What he did there, it is impossible
for me to say. I was quite in the dark; I knew nothing: I
distrusted nobody; I was as happy in my little round of duties
as I could be with a pupil whose affections I had failed to win,
when, one morning, to my indescribable astonishment, Major Milroy
showed me a correspondence between Mr. Armadale and himself.
He spoke to me in his wife's presence. Poor creature, I make
no complaint of her; such affliction as she suffers excuses
everything. I wish I could give you some idea of the letters
between Major Milroy and Mr. Armadale; but my head is only
a woman's head, and I was so confused and distressed at the
time! All I can tell you is that Mr. Armadale chose to preserve
silence about his proceedings in London, under circumstances
which made that silence a reflection on my character. The major
was most kind; his confidence in me remained unshaken; but could
his confidence protect me against his wife's prejudice and his
daughter's ill-will? Oh, the hardness of women to each other!
Oh, the humiliation if men only knew some of us as we really
are! What could I do? I couldn't defend myself against mere
imputations; and I couldn't remain in my situation after a slur
had been cast on me. My pride (Heaven help me, I was brought up
like a gentlewoman, and I have sensibilities that are not blunted
even yet!)--my pride got the better of me, and I left my place.
Don't let it distress you, Mr. Midwinter! There's a bright side
to the picture. The ladies in the neighborhood have overwhelmed
me with kindness; I have the prospect of getting pupils to teach;
I am spared the mortification of going back to be a burden on my
friends. The only complaint I have to make is, I think, a just
one. Mr. Armadale has been back at Thorpe Ambrose for some days.
I have entreated him, by letter, to grant me an interview; to
tell me what dreadful suspicions he has of me, and to let me set
myself right in his estimation. Would you believe it? He has
declined to see me--under the influence of others, not of his own
free will, I am sure! Cruel, isn't it? But he has even used me
more cruelly still; he persists in suspecting me; it is he who is
having me watched. Oh, Mr. Midwinter, don't hate me for telling
you what you _must_ know! The man you found persecuting me and
frightening me tonight was only earning his money, after all, as
Mr. Armadale's spy."

Once more Midwinter started to his feet; and this time the
thoughts that were in him found their way into words.

"I can't believe it; I won't believe it!" he exclaimed,
indignantly. "If the man told you that, the man lied. I beg your
pardon, Miss Gwilt; I beg your pardon from the bottom of my
heart. Don't, pray don't think I doubt _you_; I only say there is
some dreadful mistake. I am not sure that I understand as I ought
all that you have told me. But this last infamous meanness of
which you think Allan guilty, I _do_ understand. I swear to you,
he is incapable of it! Some scoundrel has been taking advantage
of him; some scoundrel has been using his name. I'll prove it
to you, if you will only give me time. Let me go and clear it up
at once. I can't rest; I can't bear to think of it; I can't even
enjoy the pleasure of being here. Oh," he burst out desperately,
"I'm sure you feel for me, after what you have said--I feel so
for _you_!"

He stopped in confusion. Miss Gwilt's eyes were looking at him
again, and Miss Gwilt's hand had found its way once more into his
own.

"You are the most generous of living men," she said, softly. "I
will believe what you tell me to believe. Go," she added, in a
whisper, suddenly releasing his hand, and turning away from him.
"For both our sakes, go!"

His heart beat fast; he looked at her as she dropped into a chair
and put her handkerchief to her eyes. For one moment he
hesitated; the next, he snatched up his knapsack from the floor,
and left her precipitately, without a backward look or a parting
word.

She rose when the door closed on him. A change came over her
the instant she was alone. The color faded out of her cheeks;
the beauty died out of her eyes; her face hardened horribly with
a silent despair. "It's even baser work than I bargained for,"
she said, "to deceive _him_." After pacing to and fro in the room
for some minutes, she stopped wearily before the glass over
the fire-place. "You strange creature!" she murmured, leaning
her elbows on the mantelpiece, and languidly addressing the
reflection of herself in the glass. "Have you got any conscience
left? And has that man roused it?"

The reflection of her face changed slowly. The color returned
to her cheeks, the delicious languor began to suffuse her eyes
again. Her lips parted gently, and her quickening breath began
to dim the surface of the glass. She drew back from it, after a
moment's absorption in her own thoughts, with a start of terror.
"What am I doing?" she asked herself, in a sudden panic of
astonishment. "Am I mad enough to be thinking of him in _that_
way?"

She burst into a mocking laugh, and opened her desk on the table
recklessly with a bang. "It's high time I had some talk with
Mother Jezebel," she said, and sat down to write to Mrs.
Oldershaw.

"I have met with Mr. Midwinter," she began, "under very lucky
circumstances; and I have made the most of my opportunity.
He has just left me for his friend Armadale; and one of two good
things will happen to-morrow. If they don't quarrel, the doors
of Thorpe Ambrose will be opened to me again at Mr. Midwinter's
intercession. If they do quarrel, I shall be the unhappy cause
of it, and I shall find my way in for myself, on the purely
Christian errand of reconciling them."

She hesitated at the next sentence, wrote the first few words
of it, scratched them out again, and petulantly tore the letter
into fragments, and threw the pen to the other end of the room.
Turning quickly on her chair, she looked at the seat which
Midwinter had occupied, her foot restlessly tapping the floor,
and her handkerchief thrust like a gag between her clinched
teeth. "Young as you are," she thought, with her mind reviving
the image of him in the empty chair, "there has been something
out of the common in _your_ life; and I must and will know it!"

The house clock struck the hour, and roused her. She sighed, and,
walking back to the glass, wearily loosened the fastenings of her
dress; wearily removed the studs from the chemisette beneath it,
and put them on the chimney-piece. She looked indolently at the
reflected beauties of her neck and bosom, as she unplaited her
hair and threw it back in one great mass over her shoulders.
"Fancy," she thought, "if he saw me now!" She turned back to the
table, and sighed again as she extinguished one of the candles
and took the other in her hand. "Midwinter?" she said, as she
passed through the folding-doors of the room to her bed-chamber.
"I don't believe in his name, to begin with!"

The night had advanced by more than an hour before Midwinter was
back again at the great house.

Twice, well as the homeward way was known to him, he had strayed
out of the right road. The events of the evening--the interview
with Miss Gwilt herself, after his fortnight's solitary thinking
of her; the extraordinary change that had taken place in her
position since he had seen her last; and the startling assertion
of Allan's connection with it--had all conspired to throw his
mind into a state of ungovernable confusion. The darkness of the
cloudy night added to his bewilderment. Even the familiar gates
of Thorpe Ambrose seemed strange to him. When he tried to think
of it, it was a mystery to him how he had reached the place.

The front of the house was dark, and closed for the night.
Midwinter went round to the back. The sound of men's voices,
as he advanced, caught his ear. They were soon distinguishable
as the voices of the first and second footman, and the subject
of conversation between them was their master.

"I'll bet you an even half-crown he's driven out of the
neighborhood before another week is over his head," said
the first footman.

"Done!" said the second. "He isn't as easy driven as you think."

"Isn't he!" retorted the other. "He'll be mobbed if he stops
here! I tell you again, he's not satisfied with the mess he's got
into already. I know it for certain, he's having the governess
watched."

At those words, Midwinter mechanically checked himself before
he turned the corner of the house. His first doubt of the result
of his meditated appeal to Allan ran through him like a sudden
chill. The influence exercised by the voice of public scandal
is a force which acts in opposition to the ordinary law of
mechanics. It is strongest, not by concentration, but by
distribution. To the primary sound we may shut our ears; but the
reverberation of it in echoes is irresistible. On his way back,
Midwinter's one desire had been to find Allan up, and to speak
to him immediately. His one hope now was to gain time to contend
with the new doubts and to silence the new misgivings; his one
present anxiety was to hear that Allan had gone to bed. He turned
the corner of the house, and presented himself before the men
smoking their pipes in the back garden. As soon as their
astonishment allowed them to speak, they offered to rouse their
master. Allan had given his friend up for that night, and had
gone to bed about half an hour since.

"It was my master's' particular order, sir," said the
head-footman, "that he was to be told of it if you came back."

"It is _my_ particular request," returned Midwinter, "that you
won't disturb him."

The men looked at each other wonderingly, as he took his candle
and left them.

CHAPTER VIII.

SHE COMES BETWEEN THEM.

Appointed hours for the various domestic events of the day were
things unknown at Thorpe Ambrose. Irregular in all his habits,
Allan accommodated himself to no stated times (with the solitary
exception of dinner-time) at any hour of the day or night. He
retired to rest early or late, and he rose early or late, exactly
as he felt inclined. The servants were forbidden to call him;
and Mrs. Gripper was accustomed to improvise the breakfast as she
best might, from the time when the kitchen fire was first lighted
to the time when the clock stood on the stroke of noon.

Toward nine o'clock on the morning after his return Midwinter
knocked at Allan's door, and on entering the room found it empty.
After inquiry among the servants, it appeared that Allan had
risen that morning before the man who usually attended on him was
up, and that his hot water had been brought to the door by one of
the house-maids, who was then still in ignorance of Midwinter's
return. Nobody had chanced to see the master, either on the
stairs or in the hall; nobody had heard him ring the bell for
breakfast, as usual. In brief, nobody knew anything about him,
except what was obviously clear to all--that he was not in the
house.

Midwinter went out under the great portico. He stood at the head
of the flight of steps considering in which direction he should
set forth to look for his friend. Allan's unexpected absence
added one more to the disquieting influences which still
perplexed his mind. He was in the mood in which trifles irritate
a man, and fancies are all-powerful to exalt or depress his
spirits.

The sky was cloudy; and the wind blew in puffs from the south;
there was every prospect, to weather-wise eyes, of coming rain.
While Midwinter was still hesitating, one of the grooms passed
him on the drive below. The man proved, on being questioned, to
be better informed about his master's movements than the servants
indoors. He had seen Allan pass the stables more than an hour
since, going out by the back way into the park with a nosegay
in his hand.

A nosegay in his hand? The nosegay hung incomprehensibly on
Midwinter's mind as he walked round, on the chance of meeting
Allan, to the back of the house. "What does the nosegay mean?"
he asked himself, with an unintelligible sense of irritation,
and a petulant kick at a stone that stood in his way.

It meant that Allan had been following his impulses as usual.
The one pleasant impression left on his mind after his interview
with Pedgift Senior was the impression made by the lawyer's
account of his conversation with Neelie in the park. The anxiety
that he should not misjudge her, which the major's daughter had
so earnestly expressed, placed her before Allan's eyes in an
irresistibly attractive character--the character of the one
person among all his neighbors who had some respect still left
for his good opinion. Acutely sensible of his social isolation,
now that there was no Midwinter to keep him company in the empty
house, hungering and thirsting in his solitude for a kind word
and a friendly look, he began to think more and more regretfully
and more and more longingly of the bright young face so
pleasantly associated with his first happiest days at Thorpe
Ambrose. To be conscious of such a feeling as this was, with a
character like Allan's, to act on it headlong, lead him where it
might. He had gone out on the previous morning to look for Neelie
with a peace-offering of flowers, but with no very distinct idea
of what he should say to her if they met; and failing to find her
on the scene of her customary walks, he had characteristically
persisted the next morning in making a second attempt with
another peace-offering on a larger scale. Still ignorant of
his friend's return, he was now at some distance from the house,
searching the park in a direction which he had not tried yet.

After walking out a few hundred yards beyond the stables, and
failing to discover any signs of Allan, Midwinter retraced his
steps, and waited for his friend's return, pacing slowly to and
fro on the little strip of garden ground at the back of the
house.

From time to time, as he passed it, he looked in absently at
the room which had formerly been Mrs. Armadale's, which was now
(through his interposition) habitually occupied by her son--the
room with the Statuette on the bracket, and the French windows
opening to the ground, which had once recalled to him the Second
Vision of the Dream. The Shadow of the Man, which Allan had seen
standing opposite to him at the long window; the view over a lawn
and flower-garden; the pattering of the rain against the glass;
the stretching out of the Shadow's arm, and the fall of the
statue in fragments on the floor--these objects and events of the
visionary scene, so vividly present to his memory once, were all
superseded by later remembrances now, were all left to fade as
they might in the dim background of time. He could pass the room
again and again, alone and anxious, and never once think of the
boat drifting away in the moonlight, and the night's imprisonment
on the Wrecked Ship!

Toward ten o'clock the well-remembered sound of Allan's voice
became suddenly audible in the direction of the stables. In a
moment more he was visible from the garden. His second morning's
search for Neelie had ended to all appearance in a second defeat
of his object. The nosegay was still in his hand; and he was
resignedly making a present of it to one of the coachman's
children.

Midwinter impulsively took a step forward toward the stables, and
abruptly checked his further progress.

Conscious that his position toward his friend was altered already
in relation to Miss Gwilt, the first sight of Allan filled his
mind with a sudden distrust of the governess's influence over
him, which was almost a distrust of himself. He knew that he had
set forth from the moors on his return to Thorpe Ambrose with the
resolution of acknowledging the passion that had mastered him,
and of insisting, if necessary, on a second and a longer absence
in the interests of the sacrifice which he was bent on making to
the happiness of his friend. What had become of that resolution
now? The discovery of Miss Gwilt's altered position, and the
declaration that she had voluntarily made of her indifference to
Allan, had scattered it to the winds. The first words with which
he would have met his friend, if nothing had happened to him
on the homeward way, were words already dismissed from his lips.
He drew back as he felt it, and struggled, with an instinctive
loyalty toward Allan, to free himself at the last moment from
the influence of Miss Gwilt.

Having disposed of his useless nosegay, Allan passed on into the
garden, and the instant he entered it recognized Midwinter with
a loud cry of surprise and delight.

"Am I awake or dreaming?" he exclaimed, seizing his friend
excitably by both hands." You dear old Midwinter, have you sprung
up out of the ground, or have you dropped from the clouds?"

It was not till Midwinter had explained the mystery of his
unexpected appearance in every particular that Allan could be
prevailed on to say a word about himself. When he did speak,
he shook his head ruefully, and subdued the hearty loudness of
his voice, with a preliminary look round to see if the servants
were within hearing.

"I've learned to be cautious since you went away and left me,"
said Allan. "My dear fellow, you haven't the least notion what
things have happened, and what an awful scrape I'm in at this
very moment!"

"You are mistaken, Allan. I have heard more of what has happened
than you suppose."

"What! the dreadful mess I'm in with Miss Gwilt? the row with
the major? the infernal scandal-mongering in the neighborhood?
You don't mean to say--?"

"Yes," interposed Midwinter, quietly; "I have heard of it all."

"Good heavens! how? Did you stop at Thorpe Ambrose on your way
back? Have you been in the coffee-room at the hotel? Have you met
Pedgift? Have you dropped into the Reading Rooms, and seen what
they call the freedom of the press in the town newspaper?"

Midwinter paused before he answered, and looked up at the sky.
The clouds had been gathering unnoticed over their heads, and
the first rain-drops were beginning to fall.

"Come in here," said Allan. "We'll go up to breakfast this way."
He led Midwinter through the open French window into his own
sitting-room. The wind blew toward that side of the house, and
the rain followed them in. Midwinter, who was last, turned and
closed the window.

Allan was too eager for the answer which the weather had
interrupted to wait for it till they reached the breakfast-room.
He stopped close at the window, and added two more to his string
of questions.

"How can you possibly have heard about me and Miss Gwilt?" he
asked. "Who told you?"

"Miss Gwilt herself," replied Midwinter, gravely.

Allan's manner changed the moment the governess's name passed
his friend's lips.

"I wish you had heard my story first," he said. "Where did you
meet with Miss Gwilt?"

There was a momentary pause. They both stood still at the window,
absorbed in the interest of the moment. They both forgot that
their contemplated place of shelter from the rain had been the
breakfast-room upstairs.

"Before I answer your question," said Midwinter, a little
constrainedly, "I want to ask you something, Allan, on my side.
Is it really true that you are in some way concerned in Miss
Gwilt's leaving Major Milroy's service?"

There was another pause. The disturbance which had begun to
appear in Allan's manner palpably increased.

"It's rather a long story," he began. "I have been taken in,
Midwinter. I've been imposed on by a person, who--I can't help
saying it--who cheated me into promising what I oughtn't to have
promised, and doing what I had better not have done. It isn't
breaking my promise to tell you. I can trust in your discretion,
can't I? You will never say a word, will you?"

"Stop!" said Midwinter. "Don't trust me with any secrets which
are not your own. If you have given a promise, don't trifle with
it, even in speaking to such an intimate friend as I am." He laid
his hand gently and kindly on Allan's shoulder. "I can't help
seeing that I have made you a little uncomfortable," he went on.
"I can't help seeing that my question is not so easy a one to
answer as I had hoped and supposed. Shall we wait a little? Shall
we go upstairs and breakfast first?"

Allan was far too earnestly bent on presenting his conduct to
his friend in the right aspect to heed Midwinter's suggestion.
He spoke eagerly on the instant, without moving from the window.

"My dear fellow, it's a perfectly easy question to answer.
Only"--he hesitated--"only it requires what I'm a bad hand at:
it requires an explanation."

"Do you mean," asked Midwinter, more seriously, but not less
gently than before, "that you must first justify yourself, and
then answer my question?"

"That's it!" said Allan, with an air of relief. "You're hit
the right nail on the head, just as usual."

Midwinter's face darkened for the first time. "I am sorry to hear
it," he said, his voice sinking low, and his eyes dropping to the
ground as he spoke.

The rain was beginning to fall thickly. It swept across the
garden, straight on the closed windows, and pattered heavily
against the glass.

"Sorry!" repeated Allan. "My dear fellow, you haven't heard the
particulars yet. Wait till I explain the thing first."

"You are a bad hand at explanations," said Midwinter, repeating
Allan's own words. "Don't place yourself at a disadvantage. Don't
explain it."

Allan looked at him, in silent perplexity and surprise.

"You are my friend--my best and dearest friend," Midwinter went
on. "I can't bear to let you justify yourself to me as if I was
your judge, or as if I doubted you." He looked up again at Allan
frankly and kindly as he said those words. "Besides," he resumed,
"I think, if I look into my memory, I can anticipate your
explanation. We had a moment's talk, before I went away, about
some very delicate questions which you proposed putting to Major
Milroy. I remember I warned you; I remember I had my misgivings.
Should I be guessing right if I guessed that those questions have
been in some way the means of leading you into a false position?
If it is true that you have been concerned in Miss Gwilt's
leaving her situation, is it also true--is it only doing you
justice to believe--that any mischief for which you are
responsible has been mischief innocently done?"

"Yes," said Allan, speaking, for the first time, a little
constrainedly on his side. "It is only doing me justice to say
that." He stopped and began drawing lines absently with his
finger on the blurred surface of the window-pane. "You're not
like other people, Midwinter," he resumed, suddenly, with an
effort; "and I should have liked you to have heard the
particulars all the same."

"I will hear them if you desire it," returned Midwinter. "But I
am satisfied, without another word, that you have not willingly
been the means of depriving Miss Gwilt of her situation. If that
is understood between you and me, I think we need say no more.
Besides, I have another question to ask, of much greater
importance--a question that has been forced on me by what I saw
with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears, last night."

He stopped, recoiling in spite of himself. "Shall we go upstairs
first?" he asked, abruptly, leading the way to the door, and
trying to gain time.

It was useless. Once again, the room which they were both free
to leave, the room which one of them had twice tried to leave
already, held them as if they were prisoners.

Without answering, without even appearing to have heard
Midwinter's proposal to go upstairs, Allan followed him
mechanically as far as the opposite side of the window. There
he stopped. "Midwinter!" he burst out, in a sudden panic of
astonishment and alarm, "there seems to be something strange
between us! You're not like yourself. What is it?"

With his hand on the lock of the door, Midwinter turned, and
looked back into the room. The moment had come. His haunting fear
of doing his friend an injustice had shown itself in a restraint
of word, look, and action which had been marked enough to force
its way to Allan's notice. The one course left now, in the
dearest interests of the friendship that united them, was to
speak at once, and to speak boldly.

"There's something strange between us," reiterated Allan. "For
God's sake, what is it?"

Midwinter took his hand from the door, and came down again to
the window, fronting Allan. He occupied the place, of necessity,
which Allan had just left. It was the side of the window on which
the Statuette stood. The little figure, placed on its projecting
bracket, was, close behind him on his right hand. No signs of
change appeared in the stormy sky. The rain still swept slanting
across the garden, and pattered heavily against the glass.

"Give me your hand, Allan."

Allan gave it, and Midwinter held it firmly while he spoke.

"There is something strange between us," he said. "There is
something to be set right which touches you nearly; and it has
not been set right yet. You asked me just now where I met with
Miss Gwilt. I met with her on my way back here, upon the
high-road on the further side of the town. She entreated me to
protect her from a man who was following and frightening her. I
saw the scoundrel with my own eyes, and I should have laid hands
on him, if Miss Gwilt herself had not stopped me. She gave a very
strange reason for stopping me. She said I didn't know who his
employer was."

Allan's ruddy color suddenly deepened; he looked aside quickly
through the window at the pouring rain. At the same moment their
hands fell apart, and there was a pause of silence on either
side. Midwinter was the first to speak again.

"Later in the evening," he went on, "Miss Gwilt explained
herself. She told me two things. She declared that the man whom
I had seen following her was a hired spy. I was surprised, but
I could not dispute it. She told me next, Allan--what I believe
with my whole heart and soul to be a falsehood which has been
imposed on her as the truth--she told me that the spy was in your
employment!"

Allan turned instantly from the window, and looked Midwinter full
in the face again. "I must explain myself this time," he said,
resolutely.

The ashy paleness peculiar to him in moments of strong emotion
began to show itself on Midwinter's cheeks.

"More explanations!" he said, and drew back a step, with his eyes
fixed in a sudden terror of inquiry on Allan's face.

"You don't know what I know, Midwinter. You don't know that what
I have done has been done with a good reason. And what is more,
I have not trusted to myself--I have had good advice."

"Did you hear what I said just now?" asked Midwinter,
incredulously. "You can't--surely, you can't have been attending
to me?"

"I haven't missed a word," rejoined Allan. "I tell you again, you
don't know what I know of Miss Gwilt. She has threatened Miss
Milroy. Miss Milroy is in danger while her governess stops in
this neighborhood."

Midwinter dismissed the major's daughter from the conversation
with a contemptuous gesture of his hand.

"I don't want to hear about Miss, Milroy," he said. "Don't mix up
Miss Milroy-- Good God, Allan, am I to understand that the spy
set to watch Miss Gwilt was doing his vile work with your
approval?"

"Once for all, my dear fellow, will you, or will you not, let me
explain?"

"Explain!" cried Midwinter, his eyes aflame, and his hot Creole
blood rushing crimson into his face. "Explain the employment of a
spy? What! after having driven Miss Gwilt out of her situation by
meddling with her private affairs, you meddle again by the vilest
of all means--the means of a paid spy? You set a watch on the
woman whom you yourself told me you loved, only a fortnight
since--the woman you were thinking of as your wife! I don't
believe it; I won't believe it. Is my head failing me? Is it
Allan Armadale I am speaking to? Is it Allan Armadale's face
looking at me? Stop! you are acting under some mistaken scruple.
Some low fellow has crept into your confidence, and has done this
in your name without telling you first."

Allan controlled himself with admirable patience and admirable
consideration for the temper of his friend. "If you persist in
refusing to hear me," he said, "I must wait as well as I can till
my turn comes."

"Tell me you are a stranger to the employment of that man, and
I will hear you willingly."

"Suppose there should be a necessity, that you know nothing
about, for employing him?"

"I acknowledge no necessity for the cowardly persecution of
a helpless woman."

A momentary flush of irritation--momentary, and no more--passed
over Allan's face. "You mightn't think her quite so helpless,"
he said, "if you knew the truth."

"Are _you_ the man to tell me the truth?" retorted the other.
"You who have refused to hear her in her own defense! You who
have closed the doors of this house against her!"

Allan still controlled himself, but the effort began at last
to be visible.

"I know your temper is a hot one," he said. "But for all that,
your violence quite takes me by surprise. I can't account for it,
unless"--he hesitated a moment, and then finished the sentence
in his usual frank, outspoken way--"unless you are sweet yourself
on Miss Gwilt."

Those last words heaped fuel on the fire. They stripped the truth
instantly of all concealments and disguises, and laid it bare
to view. Allan's instinct had guessed, and the guiding influence
stood revealed of Midwinter's interest in Miss Gwilt.

"What right have you to say that?" he asked, with raised voice
and threatening eyes.

"I told _you_," said Allan, simply, "when I thought I was sweet
on her myself. Come! come! it's a little hard, I think, even if
you are in love with her, to believe everything she tells you,
and not to let me say a word. Is _that_ the way you decide
between us?"

"Yes, it is!" cried the other, infuriated by Allan's second
allusion to Miss Gwilt. "When I am asked to choose between
the employer of a spy and the victim of a spy, I side with
the victim!"

"Don't try me too hard, Midwinter, I have a temper to lose
as well as you."

He stopped, struggling with himself. The torture of passion
in Midwinter's face, from which a less simple and less generous
nature might have recoiled in horror, touched Allan suddenly with
an artless distress, which, at that moment, was little less than
sublime. He advanced, with his eyes moistening, and his hand held
out. "You asked me for my hand just now," he said, "and I gave it
you. Will you remember old times, and give me yours, before it's
too late?"

"No!" retorted Midwinter, furiously. "I may meet Miss Gwilt
again, and I may want my hand free to deal with your spy!"

He had drawn back along the wall as Allan advanced, until the
bracket which supported the Statuette was before instead of
behind him. In the madness of his passion he saw nothing but
Allan's face confronting him. In the madness of his passion,
he stretched out his right hand as he answered, and shook it
threateningly in the air. It struck the forgotten projection of
the bracket--and the next instant the Statuette lay in fragments
on the floor.

The rain drove slanting over flower-bed and lawn, and pattered
heavily against the glass; and the two Armadales stood by the
window, as the two Shadows had stood in the Second Vision of
the Dream, with the wreck of the image between them.

Allan stooped over the fragments of the little figure, and lifted
them one by one from the floor.

"Leave me," he said, without looking up, "or we shall both repent
it."

Without a word, Midwinter moved back slowly. He stood for the
second time with his hand on the door, and looked his last at the
room. The horror of the night on the Wreck had got him once more,
and the flame of his passion was quenched in an instant.

"The Dream!" he whispered, under his breath. "The Dream again!"

The door was tried from the outside, and a servant appeared with
a trivial message about the breakfast.

Midwinter looked at the man with a blank, dreadful helplessness
in his face. "Show me the way out," he said. "The place is dark,
and the room turns round with me."

The servant took him by the arm, and silently led him out.

As the door closed on them, Allan picked up the last fragment
of the broken figure. He sat down alone at the table, and hid
his face in his hands. The self-control which he had bravely
preserved under exasperation renewed again and again now failed
him at last in the friendless solitude of his room, and, in the
first bitterness of feeling that Midwinter had turned against him
like the rest, he burst into tears.

The moments followed each other, the slow time wore on. Little
by little the signs of a new elemental disturbance began to show
themselves in the summer storm. The shadow of a swiftly deepening
darkness swept over the sky. The pattering of the rain lessened
with the lessening wind. There was a momentary hush of stillness.
Then on a sudden the rain poured down again like a cataract, and
the low roll of thunder came up solemnly on the dying air.

CHAPTER IX.

SHE KNOWS THE TRUTH.

1. _From Mr. Bashwood to Miss Gwilt_.

"Thorpe Ambrose, July 20th, 1851.

"DEAR MADAM--I received yesterday, by private messenger, your
obliging note, in which you direct me to communicate with you
through the post only, as long as there is reason to believe that
any visitors who may come to you are likely to be observed. May
I be permitted to say that I look forward with respectful anxiety
to the time when I shall again enjoy the only real happiness
I have ever experienced--the happiness of personally addressing
you?

"In compliance with your desire that I should not allow this day
(the Sunday) to pass without privately noticing what went on at
the great house, I took the keys, and went this morning to the
steward's office. I accounted for my appearance to the servants
by informing them that I had work to do which it was important
to complete in the shortest possible time. The same excuse would
have done for Mr. Armadale if we had met, but no such meeting
happened.

"Although I was at Thorpe Ambrose in what I thought good time, I
was too late to see or hear anything myself of a serious quarrel
which appeared to have taken place, just before I arrived,
between Mr. Armadale and Mr. Midwinter.

"All the little information I can give you in this matter
is derived from one of the servants. The man told me that he
heard the voices of the two gentlemen loud in Mr. Armadale's
sitting-room. He went in to announce breakfast shortly afterward,
and found Mr. Midwinter in such a dreadful state of agitation
that he had to be helped out of the room. The servant tried to
take him upstairs to lie down and compose himself. He declined,
saying he would wait a little first in one of the lower rooms,
and begging that he might be left alone. The man had hardly got
downstairs again when he heard the front door opened and closed.
He ran back, and found that Mr. Midwinter was gone. The rain
was pouring at the time, and thunder and lightning came soon
afterward. Dreadful weather certainly to go out in. The servant
thinks Mr. Midwinter's mind was unsettled. I sincerely hope not.
Mr. Midwinter is one of the few people I have met with in the
course of my life who have treated me kindly.

"Hearing that Mr. Armadale still remained in the sitting-room,
I went into the steward's office (which, as you may remember, is
on the same side of the house), and left the door ajar, and set
the window open, waiting and listening for anything that might
happen. Dear madam, there was a time when I might have thought
such a position in the house of my employer not a very becoming
one. Let me hasten to assure you that this is far from being my
feeling now. I glory in any position which makes me serviceable
to you.

"The state of the weather seemed hopelessly adverse to that
renewal of intercourse between Mr. Armadale and Miss Milroy which
you so confidently anticipate, and of which you are so anxious
to be made aware. Strangely enough, however, it is actually
in consequence of the state of the weather that I am now in
a position to give you the very information you require.
Mr. Armadale and Miss Milroy met about an hour since. The
circumstances were as follows:

"Just at the beginning of the thunder-storm, I saw one of the
grooms run across from the stables, and heard him tap at his
master's window. Mr. Armadale opened the window and asked what
was the matter. The groom said he came with a message from the
coachman's wife. She had seen from her room over the stables
(which looks on to the park) Miss Milroy quite alone, standing
for shelter under one of the trees. As that part of the park was
at some distance from the major's cottage, she had thought that
her master might wish to send and ask the young lady into the
house--especially as she had placed herself, with a thunder-storm
coming on, in what might turn out to be a very dangerous
position.

"The moment Mr. Armadale understood the man's message, he called
for the water-proof things and the umbrellas, and ran out
himself, instead of leaving it to the servants. In a little time
he and the groom came back with Miss Milroy between them, as well
protected as could be from the rain.

"I ascertained from one of the women-servants, who had taken the
young lady into a bedroom, and had supplied her with such dry
things as she wanted, that Miss Milroy had been afterward shown
into the drawing-room, and that Mr. Armadale was there with her.
The only way of following your instructions, and finding out what
passed between them, was to go round the house in the pelting
rain, and get into the conservatory (which opens into the
drawing-room) by the outer door. I hesitate at nothing, dear
madam, in your service; I would cheerfully get wet every day,
to please you. Besides, though I may at first sight be thought
rather an elderly man, a wetting is of no very serious
consequence to me. I assure you I am not so old as I look, and
I am of a stronger constitution than appears.

"It was impossible for me to get near enough in the conservatory
to see what went on in the drawing-room, without the risk of
being discovered. But most of the conversation reached me, except
when they dropped their voices. This is the substance of what
I heard:

"I gathered that Miss Milroy had been prevailed on, against her
will, to take refuge from the thunder-storm in Mr. Armadale's
house. She said so, at least, and she gave two reasons. The first
was that her father had forbidden all intercourse between the
cottage and the great house. Mr. Armadale met this objection by
declaring that her father had issued his orders under a total
misconception of the truth, and by entreating her not to treat
him as cruelly as the major had treated him. He entered, I
suspect, into some explanations at this point, but as he dropped
his voice I am unable to say what they were. His language, when I
did hear it, was confused and ungrammatical. It seemed, however,
to be quite intelligible enough to persuade Miss Milroy that
her father had been acting under a mistaken impression of the
circumstances. At least, I infer this; for, when I next heard
the conversation, the young lady was driven back to her second
objection to being in the house--which was, that Mr. Armadale had
behaved very badly to her, and that he richly deserved that she
should never speak to him again.

"In this latter case, Mr. Armadale attempted no defense of any
kind. He agreed with her that he had behaved badly; he agreed
with her that he richly deserved she should never speak to him
again. At the same time he implored her to remember that he
had suffered his punishment already. He was disgraced in the
neighborhood; and his dearest friend, his one intimate friend
in the world, had that very morning turned against him like
the rest. Far or near, there was not a living creature whom he
was fond of to comfort him, or to say a friendly word to him.
He was lonely and miserable, and his heart ached for a little
kindness--and that was his only excuse for asking Miss Milroy
to forget and forgive the past.

"I must leave you, I fear, to judge for yourself of the effect
of this on the young lady; for, though I tried hard, I failed
to catch what she said. I am almost certain I heard her crying,
and Mr. Armadale entreating her not to break his heart. They
whispered a great deal, which aggravated me. I was afterward
alarmed by Mr. Armadale coming out into the conservatory to pick
some flowers. He did not come as far, fortunately, as the place
where I was hidden; and he went in again into the drawing-room,
and there was more talking (I suspect at close quarters), which
to my great regret I again failed to catch. Pray forgive me for
having so little to tell you. I can only add that, when the storm
cleared off, Miss Milroy went away with the flowers in her hand,
and with Mr. Armadale escorting her from the house. My own humble
opinion is that he had a powerful friend at court, all through
the interview, in the young lady's own liking for him.

"This is all I can say at present, with the exception of one
other thing I heard, which I blush to mention. But your word is
law, and you have ordered me to have no concealments from you.

"Their talk turned once, dear madam, on yourself. I think I heard
the word 'creature' from Miss Milroy; and I am certain that
Mr. Armadale, while acknowledging that he had once admired you,
added that circumstances had since satisfied him of 'his folly.'
I quote his own expression; it made me quite tremble with
indignation. If I may be permitted to say so, the man who admires
Miss Gwilt lives in Paradise. Respect, if nothing else, ought to
have closed Mr. Armadale's lips. He is my employer, I know; but
after his calling it an act of folly to admire you (though I _am_
his deputy-steward), I utterly despise him.

"Trusting that I may have been so happy as to give you
satisfaction thus far, and earnestly desirous to deserve the
honor of your continued confidence in me, I remain, dear madam,

"Your grateful and devoted servant,

"FELIX BASHWOOD."

2. _From Mrs. Oldershaw to Miss Gwilt_.

"Diana Street, Monday, July 21st.

"MY DEAR LYDIA--I trouble you with a few lines. They are written
under a sense of the duty which I owe to myself, in our present
position toward each other.

"I am not at all satisfied with the tone of your last two
letters; and I am still less pleased at your leaving me this
morning without any letter at all--and this when we had arranged,
in the doubtful state of our prospects, that I was to hear from
you every day. I can only interpret your conduct in one way. I
can only infer that matters at Thorpe Ambrose, having been all
mismanaged, are all going wrong.

"It is not my present object to reproach you, for why should I
waste time, language, and paper? I merely wish to recall to your
memory certain considerations which you appear to be disposed
to overlook. Shall I put them in the plainest English? Yes; for,
with all my faults, I am frankness personified.

"In the first place, then, I have an interest in your becoming
Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose as well as you. Secondly, I have
provided you (to say nothing of good advice) with all the money
needed to accomplish our object. Thirdly, I hold your notes of
hand, at short dates, for every farthing so advanced. Fourthly
and lastly, though I am indulgent to a fault in the capacity of
a friend--in the capacity of a woman of business, my dear, I am
not to be trifled with. That is all, Lydia, at least for the
present.

"Pray don't suppose I write in anger; I am only sorry and
disheartened. My state of mind resembles David's. If I had
the wings of a dove, I would flee away and be at rest.

"Affectionately yours, MARIA OLDERSHAW."

3. _From Mr. Bashwood to Miss Gwilt_.

"Thorpe Ambrose, July 21st.

"DEAR MADAM--You will probably receive these lines a few hours
after my yesterday's communication reaches you. I posted my first
letter last night, and I shall post this before noon to-day.

"My present object in writing is to give you some more news from
this house. I have the inexpressible happiness of announcing that
Mr. Armadale's disgraceful intrusion on your privacy is at an
end. The watch set on your actions is to be withdrawn this day.
I write, dear madam, with the tears in my eyes--tears of joy,
caused by feelings which I ventured to express in my previous
letter (see first paragraph toward the end). Pardon me this
personal reference. I can speak to you (I don't know why) so much
more readily with my pen than with my tongue.

"Let me try to compose myself, and proceed with my narrative.

"I had just arrived at the steward's office this morning, when
Mr. Pedgift the elder followed me to the great house to see
Mr. Armadale by special appointment. It is needless to say that
I at once suspended any little business there was to do, feeling
that your interests might possibly be concerned. It is also
most gratifying to add that this time circumstances favored me.
I was able to stand under the open window and to hear the whole
interview.

"Mr. Armadale explained himself at once in the plainest terms.
He gave orders that the person who had been hired to watch you
should be instantly dismissed. On being asked to explain this
sudden change of purpose, he did not conceal that it was owing
to the effect produced on his mind by what had passed between
Mr. Midwinter and himself on the previous day. Mr. Midwinter's
language, cruelly unjust as it was, had nevertheless convinced
him that no necessity whatever could excuse any proceeding so
essentially base in itself as the employment of a spy, and on
that conviction he was now determined to act.

"But for your own positive directions to me to conceal nothing
that passes here in which your name is concerned, I should really
be ashamed to report what Mr. Pedgift said on his side. He has
behaved kindly to me, I know. But if he was my own brother, I
could never forgive him the tone in which he spoke of you, and
the obstinacy with which he tried to make Mr. Armadale change
his mind.

"He began by attacking Mr. Midwinter. He declared that Mr.
Midwinter's opinion was the very worst opinion that could be
taken; for it was quite plain that you, dear madam, had twisted
him round your finger. Producing no effect by this coarse
suggestion (which nobody who knows you could for a moment
believe), Mr. Pedgift next referred to Miss Milroy, and asked Mr.
Armadale if he had given up all idea of protecting her. What this
meant I cannot imagine. I can only report it for your private
consideration. Mr. Armadale briefly answered that he had his own
plan for protecting Miss Milroy, and that the circumstances were
altered in that quarter, or words to a similar effect. Still Mr.
Pedgift persisted. He went on (I blush to mention) from bad to
worse. He tried to persuade Mr. Armadale next to bring an action
at law against one or other of the persons who had been most
strongly condemning his conduct in the neighborhood, for the
purpose--I really hardly know how to write it--of getting you
into the witness-box. And worse yet: when Mr. Armadale still said
No, Mr. Pedgift, after having, as I suspected by the sound of his
voice, been on the point of leaving the room, artfully came back,
and proposed sending for a detective officer from London, simply
to look at you. 'The whole of this mystery about Miss Gwilt's
true character,' he said, 'may turn on a question of identity.
It won't cost much to have a man down from London; and it's
worth trying whether her face is or is not known at headquarters
to the police.' I again and again assure you, dearest lady, that
I only repeat those abominable words from a sense of duty toward
yourself. I shook--I declare I shook from head to foot when
I heard them.

"To resume, for there is more to tell you.

"Mr. Armadale (to his credit--I don't deny it, though I don't
like him) still said No. He appeared to be getting irritated
under Mr. Pedgift's persistence, and he spoke in a somewhat hasty
way. 'You persuaded me on the last occasion when we talked about
this,' he said, 'to do something that I have been since heartily
ashamed of. You won't succeed in persuading me, Mr. Pedgift,
a second time.' Those were his words. Mr. Pedgift took him up
short; Mr. Pedgift seemed to be nettled on his side.

"'If that is the light in which you see my advice, sir,' he
said, 'the less you have of it for the future, the better. Your
character and position are publicly involved in this matter
between yourself and Miss Gwilt; and you persist, at a most
critical moment, in taking a course of your own, which I believe
will end badly. After what I have already said and done in this
very serious case, I can't consent to go on with it with both
my hands tied, and I can't drop it with credit to myself while
I remain publicly known as your solicitor. You leave me no
alternative, sir, but to resign the honor of acting as your legal
adviser.' 'I am sorry to hear it,' says Mr. Armadale, 'but I have
suffered enough already through interfering with Miss Gwilt.
I can't and won't stir any further in the matter.' '_You_ may not
stir any further in it, sir,' says Mr. Pedgift, 'and _I_ shall
not stir any further in it, for it has ceased to be a question
of professional interest to me. But mark my words, Mr. Armadale,
you are not at the end of this business yet. Some other person's
curiosity may go on from the point where you (and I) have
stopped; and some other person's hand may let the broad daylight
in yet on Miss Gwilt.'

"I report their language, dear madam, almost word for word,
I believe, as I heard it. It produced an indescribable impression
on me; it filled me, I hardly know why, with quite a panic of
alarm. I don't at all understand it, and I understand still less
what happened immediately afterward.

"Mr. Pedgift's voice, when he said those last words, sounded
dreadfully close to me. He must have been speaking at the open
window, and he must, I fear, have seen me under it. I had time,
before he left the house, to get out quietly from among the
laurels, but not to get back to the office. Accordingly I walked
away along the drive toward the lodge, as if I was going on some
errand connected with the steward's business.

"Before long, Mr. Pedgift overtook me in his gig, and stopped.
'So _you_ feel some curiosity about Miss Gwilt, do you?' he said.
'Gratify your curiosity by all means; _I_ don't object to it.'
I felt naturally nervous, but I managed to ask him what he meant.
He didn't answer; he only looked down at me from the gig in
a very odd manner, and laughed. 'I have known stranger things
happen even than _that_!' he said to himself suddenly, and drove
off.

"I have ventured to trouble you with this last incident, though
it may seem of no importance in your eyes, in the hope that
your superior ability may be able to explain it. My own poor
faculties, I confess, are quite unable to penetrate Mr. Pedgift's
meaning. All I know is that he has no right to accuse me of any
such impertinent feeling as curiosity in relation to a lady whom
I ardently esteem and admire. I dare not put it in warmer words.

"I have only to add that I am in a position to be of continued
service to you here if you wish it. Mr. Armadale has just been
into the office, and has told me briefly that, in Mr. Midwinter's
continued absence, I am still to act as steward's deputy till
further notice.

"Believe me, dear madam, anxiously and devotedly yours, FELIX
BASHWOOD."

4. _From Allan Armadale to the Reverend Decimus Brock_.

Thorpe Ambrose, Tuesday.

"MY DEAR MR. BROCK--I am in sad trouble. Midwinter has quarreled
with me and left me; and my lawyer has quarreled with me and left
me; and (except dear little Miss Milroy, who has forgiven me) all
the neighbors have turned their backs on me. There is a good deal
about 'me' in this, but I can't help it. I am very miserable
alone in my own house. Do pray come and see me! You are the only
old friend I have left, and I do long so to tell you about it.

"N. B.--On my word of honor as a gentleman, I am not to blame.
Yours affectionately,

"ALLAN ARMADALE.

"P. S.--I would come to you (for this place is grown quite
hateful to me), but I have a reason for not going too far away
from Miss Milroy just at present."

5. _From Robert Stapleton to Allan Armadale, Esq._

"Bascombe Rectory, Thursday Morning.

"RESPECTED SIR--I see a letter in your writing, on the table
along with the others, which I am sorry to say my master is not
well enough to open. He is down with a sort of low fever. The
doctor says it has been brought on with worry and anxiety which
master was not strong enough to bear. This seems likely; for
I was with him when he went to London last month, and what with
his own business, and the business of looking after that person
who afterward gave us the slip, he was worried and anxious all
the time; and for the matter of that, so was I.

"My master was talking of you a day or two since. He seemed
unwilling that you should know of his illness, unless he got
worse. But I think you ought to know of it. At the same time he
is not worse; perhaps a trifle better. The doctor says he must be
kept very quiet, and not agitated on any account. So be pleased
to take no notice of this--I mean in the way of coming to the
rectory. I have the doctor's orders to say it is not needful,
and it would only upset my master in the state he is in now.

"I will write again if you wish it. Please accept of my duty,
and believe me to remain, sir, your humble servant,

"ROBERT STAPLETON.

"P. S.--The yacht has been rigged and repainted, waiting your
orders. She looks beautiful."

6. _From Mrs. Oldershaw to Miss Gwilt_.

"Diana Street, July 24th.

"MISS GWILT--The post hour has passed for three mornings
following, and has brought me no answer to my letter. Are you
purposely bent on insulting me? or have you left Thorpe Ambrose?
In either case, I won't put up with your conduct any longer.
The law shall bring you to book, if I can't.

"Your first note of hand (for thirty pounds) falls due on Tuesday
next, the 29th. If you had behaved with common consideration
toward me, I would have let you renew it with pleasure. As things
are, I shall have the note presented; and, if it is not paid,
I shall instruct my man of business to take the usual course.

"Yours, MARIA OLDERSHAW."

7. _From Miss Gwilt to Mrs. Oldershaw_.

"5 Paradise Place, Thorpe Ambrose, July 25th.

MRS. OLDERSHAW--The time of your man of business being, no doubt,
of some value, I write a line to assist him when he takes the
usual course. He will find me waiting to be arrested in the
first-floor apartments, at the above address. In my present
situation, and with my present thoughts, the best service you
can possibly render me is to lock me up.

"L. G."

8. _From Mrs. Oldershaw to Miss Gwilt_.

"Diana Street, July 26th.

"MY DARLING LYDIA--The longer I live in this wicked world
the more plainly I see that women's own tempers are the worst
enemies women have to contend with. What a truly regretful
style of correspondence we have fallen into! What a sad want
of self-restraint, my dear, on your side and on mine!

"Let me, as the oldest in years, be the first to make the needful
excuses, the first to blush for my own want of self-control. Your
cruel neglect, Lydia, stung me into writing as I did. I am so
sensitive to ill treatment, when it is inflicted on me by a
person whom I love and admire; and, though turned sixty, I am
still (unfortunately for myself) so young at heart. Accept my
apologies for having made use of my pen, when I ought to have
been content to take refuge in my pocket-handkerchief. Forgive
your attached Maria for being still young at heart!

"But oh, my dear--though I own I threatened you--how hard of you
to take me at my word! How cruel of you, if your debt had been
ten times what it is, to suppose me capable (whatever I might
say) of the odious inhumanity of arresting my bosom friend!
Heavens! have I deserved to be taken at my word in this
unmercifully exact way, after the years of tender intimacy
that have united us? But I don't complain; I only mourn over
the frailty of our common human nature. Let us expect as little
of each other as possible, my dear; we are both women, and we
can't help it. I declare, when I reflect on the origin of our
unfortunate sex--when I remember that we were all originally made
of no better material than the rib of a man (and that rib of so
little importance to its possessor that he never appears to have
missed it afterward), I am quite astonished at our virtues, and
not in the least surprised at our faults.

"I am wandering a little; I am losing myself in serious thought,
like that sweet character in Shakespeare who was 'fancy free.'
One last word, dearest, to say that my longing for an answer
to this proceeds entirely from my wish to hear from you again
in your old friendly tone, and is quite unconnected with any
curiosity to know what you are doing at Thorpe Ambrose--except
such curiosity as you yourself might approve. Need I add that
I beg you as a favor to _me_ to renew, on the customary terms?
I refer to the little bill due on Tuesday next, and I venture
to suggest that day six weeks.

"Yours, with a truly motherly feeling,

"MARIA OLDERSHAW."

9. _From Miss Gwilt to Mrs. Oldershaw_.

"Paradise Place, July 27th.

"I have just got your last letter. The brazen impudence of it
has roused me. I am to be treated like a child, am I?--to be
threatened first, and then, if threatening fails, to be coaxed
afterward? You _shall_ coax me; you shall know, my motherly
friend, the sort of child you have to deal with.

"I had a reason, Mrs. Oldershaw, for the silence which has so
seriously offended you. I was afraid--actually afraid--to let
you into the secret of my thoughts. No such fear troubles me
now. My only anxiety this morning is to make you my best
acknowledgments for the manner in which you have written to me.
After carefully considering it, I think the worst turn I can
possibly do you is to tell you what you are burning to know. So
here I am at my desk, bent on telling it. If you don't bitterly
repent, when you are at the end of this letter, not having held
to your first resolution, and locked me up out of harm's way
while you had the chance, my name is not Lydia Gwilt.

"Where did my last letter end? I don't remember, and don't care.
Make it out as you can--I am not going back any further than this
day week. That is to say, Sunday last.

"There was a thunder-storm in the morning. It began to clear off
toward noon. I didn't go out: I waited to see Midwinter or to
hear from him. (Are you surprised at my not writing 'Mr.' before
his name? We have got so familiar, my dear, that 'Mr.' would be
quite out of place.) He had left me the evening before, under
very interesting circumstances. I had told him that his friend
Armadale was persecuting me by means of a hired spy. He had
declined to believe it, and had gone straight to Thorpe Ambrose
to clear the thing up. I let him kiss my hand before he went.
He promised to come back the next day (the Sunday). I felt I had
secured my influence over him; and I believed he would keep his
word.

"Well, the thunder passed away as I told you. The weather cleared
up; the people walked out in their best clothes; the dinners came
in from the bakers; I sat dreaming at my wretched little hired
piano, nicely dressed and looking my best--and still no Midwinter
appeared. It was late in the afternoon, and I was beginning to
feel offended, when a letter was brought to me. It had been left
by a strange messenger who went away again immediately. I looked
at the letter. Midwinter at last--in writing, instead of in
person. I began to feel more offended than ever; for, as I told
you, I thought I had used my influence over him to better
purpose.

"The letter, when I read it, set my mind off in a new direction.
It surprised, it puzzled, it interested me. I thought, and
thought, and thought of him, all the rest of the day.

"He began by asking my pardon for having doubted what I told him.
Mr. Armadale's own lips had confirmed me. They had quarreled (as
I had anticipated they would); and he, and the man who had once
been his dearest friend on earth, had parted forever. So far,
I was not surprised. I was amused by his telling me in his
extravagant way that he and his friend were parted forever; and
I rather wondered what he would think when I carried out my plan,
and found my way into the great house on pretense of reconciling
them.

"But the second part of the letter set me thinking. Here it is,
in his own words.

"'It is only by struggling against myself (and no language
can say how hard the struggle has been) that I have decided
on writing, instead of speaking to you. A merciless necessity
claims my future life. I must leave Thorpe Ambrose, I must leave
England, without hesitating, without stopping to look back.
There are reasons--terrible reasons, which I have madly trifled
with--for my never letting Mr. Armadale set eyes on me, or hear
of me again, after what has happened between us. I must go, never
more to live under the same roof, never more to breathe the same
air with that man. I must hide myself from him under an assumed
name; I must put the mountains and the seas between us. I have
been warned as no human creature was ever warned before.
I believe--I dare not tell you why--I believe that, if the
fascination you have for me draws me back to you, fatal
consequences will come of it to the man whose life has been so
strangely mingled with your life and mine--the man who was once
_your_ admirer and _my_ friend. And yet, feeling this, seeing it
in my mind as plainly as I see the sky above my head, there is
a weakness in me that still shrinks from the one imperative
sacrifice of never seeing you again. I am fighting with it as
a man fights with the strength of his despair. I have been near
enough, not an hour since, to see the house where you live, and
have forced myself away again out of sight of it. Can I force
myself away further still, now that my letter is written--now,
when the useless confession escapes me, and I own to loving you
with the first love I have ever known, with the last love I shall
ever feel? Let the coming time answer the question; I dare not
write of it or think of it more.'

"Those were the last words. In that strange way the letter ended.

"I felt a perfect fever of curiosity to know what he meant. His
loving me, of course, was easy enough to understand. But what did
he mean by saying he had been warned? Why was he never to live
under the same roof, never to breathe the same air again, with
young Armadale? What sort of quarrel could it be which obliged
one man to hide himself from another under an assumed name, and
to put the mountains and the seas between them? Above all, if
he came back, and let me fascinate him, why should it be fatal
to the hateful lout who possesses the noble fortune and lives
in the great house?

"I never longed in my life as I longed to see him again and put
these questions to him. I got quite superstitious about it as
the day drew on. They gave me a sweet-bread and a cherry pudding
for dinner. I actually tried if he would come back by the stones
in the plate! He will, he won't, he will, he won't--and so on.
It ended in 'He won't.' I rang the bell, and had the things taken
away. I contradicted Destiny quite fiercely. I said, 'He will!'
and I waited at home for him.

"You don't know what a pleasure it is to me to give you all
these little particulars. Count up--my bosom friend, my second
mother--count up the money you have advanced on the chance of
my becoming Mrs. Armadale, and then think of my feeling this
breathless interest in another man. Oh, Mrs. Oldershaw, how
intensely I enjoy the luxury of irritating you!

"The day got on toward evening. I rang again, and sent down to
borrow a railway time-table. What trains were there to take him
away on Sunday? The national respect for the Sabbath stood my
friend. There was only one train, which had started hours before
he wrote to me. I went and consulted my glass. It paid me the
compliment of contradicting the divination by cherry-stones.
My glass said: 'Get behind the window-curtain; he won't pass
the long lonely evening without coming back again to look at
the house.' I got behind the window-curtain, and waited with
his letter in my hand.

"The dismal Sunday light faded, and the dismal Sunday quietness
in the street grew quieter still. The dusk came, and I heard
a step coming with it in the silence. My heart gave a little
jump--only think of my having any heart left! I said to myself:
'Midwinter!' And Midwinter it was.

"When he came in sight he was walking slowly, stopping
and hesitating at every two or three steps. My ugly little
drawing-room window seemed to be beckoning him on in spite
of himself. After waiting till I saw him come to a standstill,
a little aside from the house, but still within view of my
irresistible window, I put on my things and slipped out by the
back way into the garden. The landlord and his family were at
supper, and nobody saw me. I opened the door in the wall, and
got round by the lane into the street. At that awkward moment
I suddenly remembered, what I had forgotten before, the spy set
to watch me, who was, no doubt, waiting somewhere in sight of
the house.

"It was necessary to get time to think, and it was (in my state
of mind) impossible to let Midwinter go without speaking to him.
In great difficulties you generally decide at once, if you decide
at all. I decided to make an appointment with him for the next
evening, and to consider in the interval how to manage the
interview so that it might escape observation. This, as I felt
at the time, was leaving my own curiosity free to torment me
for four-and-twenty mortal hours; but what other choice had I?
It was as good as giving up being mistress of Thorpe Ambrose
altogether, to come to a private understanding with Midwinter
in the sight and possibly in the hearing of Armadale's spy.

"Finding an old letter of yours in my pocket, I drew back into
the lane, and wrote on the blank leaf, with the little pencil
that hangs at my watch-chain: 'I must and will speak to you.
It is impossible tonight, but be in the street tomorrow at this
time, and leave me afterward forever, if you like. When you have
read this, overtake me, and say as you pass, without stopping or
looking round, "Yes, I promise."'

"I folded up the paper, and came on him suddenly from behind.
As he started and turned round, I put the note into his hand,
pressed his hand, and passed on. Before I had taken ten steps I
heard him behind me. I can't say he didn't look round--I saw his
big black eyes, bright and glittering in the dusk, devour me from
head to foot in a moment; but otherwise he did what I told him.
'I can deny you nothing,' he whispered; 'I promise.' He went on
and left me. I couldn't help thinking at the time how that brute
and booby Armadale would have spoiled everything in the same
situation.

"I tried hard all night to think of a way of making our interview
of the next evening safe from discovery, and tried in vain. Even
as early as this, I began to feel as if Midwinter's letter had,
in some unaccountable manner, stupefied me.

"Monday morning made matters worse. News came from my faithful
ally, Mr. Bashwood, that Miss Milroy and Armadale had met and
become friends again. You may fancy the state I was in! An hour
or two later there came more news from Mr. Bashwood--good news
this time. The mischievous idiot at Thorpe Ambrose had shown
sense enough at last to be ashamed of himself. He had decided
on withdrawing the spy that very day, and he and his lawyer had
quarreled in consequence.

"So here was the obstacle which I was too stupid to remove for
myself obligingly removed for me! No more need to fret about the
coming interview with Midwinter; and plenty of time to consider
my next proceedings, now that Miss Milroy and her precious swain
had come together again. Would you believe it, the letter, or
the man himself (I don't know which), had taken such a hold on me
that, though I tried and tried, I could think of nothing else;
and this when I had every reason to fear that Miss Milroy was in
a fair way of changing her name to Armadale, and when I knew that
my heavy debt of obligation to her was not paid yet? Was there
ever such perversity? I can't account for it; can you?

"The dusk of the evening came at last. I looked out of the
window--and there he was!

"I joined him at once; the people of the house, as before, being
too much absorbed in their eating and drinking to notice anything

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