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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 11 out of 17

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else. 'We mustn't be seen together here,' I whispered. 'I must go
on first, and you must follow me.'

"He said nothing in the way of reply. What was going on in
his mind I can't pretend to guess; but, after coming to his
appointment, he actually hung back as if he was half inclined
to go away again.

"'You look as if you were afraid of me,' I said.

"'I _am_ afraid of you,' he answered--'of you, and of myself.'

"It was not encouraging; it was not complimentary. But I was
in such a frenzy of curiosity by this time that, if he had been
ruder still, I should have taken no notice of it. I led the way
a few steps toward the new buildings, and stopped and looked
round after him.

"'Must I ask it of you as a favor,' I said, 'after your giving
me your promise, and after such a letter as you have written
to me?'

"Something suddenly changed him; he was at my side in an instant.
'I beg your pardon, Miss Gwilt; lead the way where you please.'
He dropped back a little after that answer, and I heard him say
to himself, 'What _is_ to be _will_ be. What have I to do with
it, and what has she?'

"It could hardly have been the words, for I didn't understand
them--it must have been the tone he spoke in, I suppose, that
made me feel a momentary tremor. I was half inclined, without
the ghost of a reason for it, to wish him good-night, and go
in again. Not much like me, you will say. Not much, indeed!
It didn't last a moment. Your darling Lydia soon came to her
senses again.

"I led the way toward the unfinished cottages, and the country
beyond. It would have been much more to my taste to have had him
into the house, and have talked to him in the light of the
candles. But I had risked it once already; and in this
scandal-mongering place, and in my critical position, I was
afraid to risk it again. The garden was not to be thought of
either, for the landlord smokes his pipe there after his supper.
There was no alternative but to take him away from the town.

"From time to time, I looked back as I went on. There he was,
always at the same distance, dim and ghost-like in the dusk,
silently following me.

"I must leave off for a little while. The church bells have
broken out, and the jangling of them drives me mad. In these
days, when we have all got watches and clocks, why are bells
wanted to remind us when the service begins? We don't require
to be rung into the theater. How excessively discreditable to
the clergy to be obliged to ring us into the church!

----------

"They have rung the congregation in at last; and I can take up
my pen, and go on again.

"I was a little in doubt where to lead him to. The high-road was
on one side of me; but, empty as it looked, somebody might be
passing when we least expected it. The other way was through
the coppice. I led him through the coppice.

"At the outskirts of the trees, on the other side, there was
a dip in the ground with some felled timber lying on it, and a
little pool beyond, still and white and shining in the twilight.
The long grazing-grounds rose over its further shore, with the
mist thickening on them, and a dim black line far away of cattle
in slow procession going home. There wasn't a living creature
near; there wasn't a sound to be heard. I sat down on one
of the felled trees and looked back for him. 'Come,' I said,
softly--'come and sit by me here.'

"Why am I so particular about all this? I hardly know. The place
made an unaccountably vivid impression on me, and I can't help
writing about it. If I end badly--suppose we say on the
scaffold?--I believe the last thing I shall see, before the
hangman pulls the drop, will be the little shining pool, and the
long, misty grazing-grounds, and the cattle winding dimly home in
the thickening night. Don't be alarmed, you worthy creature! My
fancies play me strange tricks sometimes; and there is a little
of last night's laudanum, I dare say, in this part of my letter.

"He came--in the strangest silent way, like a man walking in
his sleep--he came and sat down by me. Either the night was very
close, or I was by this time literally in a fever: I couldn't
bear my bonnet on; I couldn't bear my gloves. The want to look
at him, and see what his singular silence meant, and the
impossibility of doing it in the darkening light, irritated my
nerves, till I thought I should have screamed. I took his hand,
to try if that would help me. It was burning hot; and it closed
instantly on mine--you know how. Silence, after _that_, was not
to be thought of. The one safe way was to begin talking to him
at once.

"'Don't despise me,' I said. 'I am obliged to bring you to this
lonely place; I should lose my character if we were seen
together.'

"I waited a little. His hand warned me once more not to let the
silence continue. I determined to _make_ him speak to me this
time.

"'You have interested me, and frightened me,' I went on. 'You
have written me a very strange letter. I must know what it
means.'

"'It is too late to ask. _You_ have taken the way, and _I_ have
taken the way, from which there is no turning back.' He made that
strange answer in a tone that was quite new to me--a tone that
made me even more uneasy than his silence had made me the moment
before. 'Too late,' he repeated--'too late! There is only one
question to ask me now.'

"'What is it?'

"As I said the words, a sudden trembling passed from his hand
to mine, and told me instantly that I had better have held my
tongue. Before I could move, before I could think, he had me
in his arms. 'Ask me if I love you,' he whispered. At the same
moment his head sank on my bosom; and some unutterable torture
that was in him burst its way out, as it does with _us_, in
a passion of sobs and tears.

"My first impulse was the impulse of a fool. I was on the point
of making our usual protest and defending myself in our usual
way. Luckily or unluckily, I don't know which, I have lost the
fine edge of the sensitiveness of youth; and I checked the first
movement of my hands, and the first word on my lips. Oh, dear,
how old I felt, while he was sobbing his heart out on my breast!
How I thought of the time when he might have possessed himself
of my love! All he had possessed himself of now was--my waist.

"I wonder whether I pitied him? It doesn't matter if I did. At
any rate, my hand lifted itself somehow, and my fingers twined
themselves softly in his hair. Horrible recollections came back
to me of other times, and made me shudder as I touched him. And
yet I did it. What fools women are!

"'I won't reproach you,' I said, gently. 'I won't say this is
a cruel advantage to take of me, in such a position as mine. You
are dreadfully agitated; I will let you wait a little and compose
yourself.'

"Having got as far as that, I stopped to consider how I should
put the questions to him that I was burning to ask. But I was too
confused, I suppose, or perhaps too impatient to consider. I let
out what was uppermost in my mind, in the words that came first.

"'I don't believe you love me,' I said. 'You write strange
things to me; you frighten me with mysteries. What did you mean
by saying in your letter that it would be fatal to Mr. Armadale
if you came back to me? What danger can there be to Mr.
Armadale--?'

"Before I could finish the question, he suddenly lifted his head
and unclasped his arms. I had apparently touched some painful
subject which recalled him to himself. Instead of my shrinking
from _him_, it was he who shrank from _me_. I felt offended with
him; why, I don't know--but offended I was; and I thanked him
with my bitterest emphasis for remembering what was due to me,
_at last_!

"'Do you believe in Dreams?' he burst out, in the most strangely
abrupt manner, without taking the slightest notice of what I had
said to him. 'Tell me,' he went on, without allowing me time to
answer, 'were you, or was any relation of yours, ever connected
with Allan Armadale's father or mother? Were you, or was anybody
belonging to you, ever in the island of Madeira?'

"Conceive my astonishment, if you can. I turned cold. In an
instant I turned cold all over. He was plainly in the secret
of what had happened when I was in Mrs. Armadale's service
in Madeira--in all probability before he was born! That was
startling enough of itself. And he had evidently some reason
of his own for trying to connect _me_ with those events--which
was more startling still.

"'No,' I said, as soon as I could trust myself to speak. 'I know
nothing of his father or mother.'

"'And nothing of the island of Madeira?'

"'Nothing of the island of Madeira.'

"He turned his head away, and began talking to himself.

"'Strange!' he said. 'As certainly as I was in the Shadow's
place at the window, _she_ was in the Shadow's place at the
pool!'

"Under other circumstances, his extraordinary behavior might have
alarmed me. But after his question about Madeira, there was some
greater fear in me which kept all common alarm at a distance.
I don't think I ever determined on anything in my life as I
determined on finding out how he had got his information, and who
he really was. It was quite plain to me that I had roused some
hidden feeling in him by my question about Armadale, which was
as strong in its way as his feeling for _me_. What had become
of my influence over him?

"I couldn't imagine what had become of it; but I could and did
set to work to make him feel it again.

"'Don't treat me cruelly,' I said; 'I didn't treat _you_ cruelly
just now. Oh, Mr. Midwinter, it's so lonely, it's so dark--don't
frighten me!'

"'Frighten you!' He was close to me again in a moment. 'Frighten
you!' He repeated the word with as much astonishment as if I had
woke him from a dream, and charged him with something that he had
said in his sleep.

"It was on the tip of my tongue, finding how I had surprised
him, to take him while he was off his guard, and to ask why my
question about Armadale had produced such a change in his
behavior to me. But after what had happened already, I was
afraid to risk returning to the subject too soon. Something or
other--what they call an instinct, I dare say--warned me to let
Armadale alone for the present, and to talk to him first about
himself. As I told you in one of my early letters, I had noticed
signs and tokens in his manner and appearance which convinced me,
young as he was, that he had done something or suffered something
out of the common in his past life. I had asked myself more and
more suspiciously every time I saw him whether he was what he
appeared to be; and first and foremost among my other doubts was
a doubt whether he was passing among us by his real name. Having
secrets to keep about my own past life, and having gone myself
in other days by more than one assumed name, I suppose I am all
the readier to suspect other people when I find something
mysterious about them. Any way, having the suspicion in my mind,
I determined to startle him, as he had startled me, by an
unexpected question on my side--a question about his name.

"While I was thinking, he was thinking; and, as it soon appeared,
of what I had just said to him. 'I am so grieved to have
frightened you,' he whispered, with that gentleness and humility
which we all so heartily despise in a man when he speaks to other
women, and which we all so dearly like when he speaks to
ourselves. 'I hardly know what I have been saying,' he went on;
'my mind is miserably disturbed. Pray forgive me, if you can;
I am not myself to-night.'

"'I am not angry,' I said; 'I have nothing to forgive. We
are both imprudent; we are both unhappy.' I laid my head
on his shoulder. 'Do you really love me?' I asked him, softly,
in a whisper.

"His arm stole round me again; and I felt the quick beat of his
heart get quicker and quicker. 'If you only knew!' he whispered
back; 'if you only knew--' He could say no more. I felt his face
bending toward mine, and dropped my head lower, and stopped him
in the very act of kissing me.

"'No,' I said; 'I am only a woman who has taken your fancy.
You are treating me as if I was your promised wife.'

"'_Be_ my promised wife!' he whispered, eagerly, and tried
to raise my head. I kept it down. The horror of these old
remembrances that you know of came back and made me tremble
a little when he asked me to be his wife. I don't think I was
actually faint; but something like faintness made me close my
eyes. The moment I shut them, the darkness seemed to open as if
lightning had split it; and the ghosts of _those other men_ rose
in the horrid gap, and looked at me.

"'Speak to me!' he whispered, tenderly. 'My darling, my angel,
speak to me!'

"His voice helped me to recover myself. I had just sense enough
left to remember that the time was passing, and that I had not
put my question to him yet about his name.

"'Suppose I felt for you as you feel for me?' I said. 'Suppose
I loved you dearly enough to trust you with the happiness of all
my life to come?'

"I paused a moment to get my breath. It was unbearably still
and close; the air seemed to have died when the night came.

"'Would you be marrying me honorably,' I went on, 'if you
married me in your present name?'

"His arm dropped from my waist, and I felt him give one great
start. After that he sat by me, still, and cold, and silent, as
if my question had struck him dumb. I put my arm round his neck,
and lifted my head again on his shoulder. Whatever the spell was
I had laid on him, my coming closer in that way seemed to break
it.

"'Who told you?' He stopped. 'No,' he went on, 'nobody can have
told you. What made you suspect--?' He stopped again.

"'Nobody told me,' I said; 'and I don't know what made me
suspect. Women have strange fancies sometimes. Is Midwinter
really your name?'

"'I can't deceive you,' he answered, after another interval
of silence; 'Midwinter is _not_ really my name.'

"I nestled a little closer to him.

" What _is_ your name?' I asked.

"He hesitated.

"I lifted my face till my cheek just touched his. I persisted,
with my lips close at his ear:

"'What, no confidence in me even yet! No confidence in the woman
who has almost confessed she loves you--who has almost consented
to be your wife!'

"He turned his face to mine. For the second time he tried to kiss
me, and for the second time I stopped him.

"'If I tell you my name,' he said, 'I must tell you more.'

"I let my cheek touch his again.

"'Why not?' I said. 'How can I love a man--much less marry
him--if he keeps himself a stranger to me?'

"There was no answering that, as I thought. But he did answer
it.

"'It is a dreadful story,' he said. 'It may darken all your
life, if you know it, as it has darkened mine.'

"I put my other arm round him, and persisted. 'Tell it me;
I'm not afraid; tell it me.'

"He began to yield to my other arm.

"'Will you keep it a sacred secret?' he said. 'Never to be
breathed--never to be known but to you and me?'

"I promised him it should be a secret. I waited in a perfect
frenzy of expectation. Twice he tried to begin, and twice his
courage failed him.

"'I can't!' he broke out in a wild, helpless way. I can't tell
it!'

"My curiosity, or more likely my temper, got beyond all control.
He had irritated me till I was reckless what I said or what
I did. I suddenly clasped him close, and pressed my lips to his.
'I love you!' I whispered in a kiss. '_Now_ will you tell me?'

"For the moment he was speechless. I don't know whether I did it
purposely to drive him wild. I don't know whether I did it
involuntarily in a burst of rage. Nothing is certain but that
I interpreted his silence the wrong way. I pushed him back from
me in a fury the instant after I had kissed him. 'I hate you!'
I said. 'You have maddened me into forgetting myself. Leave me.
I don't care for the darkness. Leave me instantly, and never see
me again!'

"He caught me by the hand and stopped me. He spoke in a new
voice; he suddenly _commanded_, as only men can.

"'Sit down,' he said. 'You have given me back my courage--you
shall know who I am.'

"In the silence and the darkness all round us, I obeyed him,
and sat down.

"In the silence and the darkness all round us, he took me
in his arms again, and told me who he was.

----------

"Shall I trust you with his story? Shall I tell you his real
name? Shall I show you, as I threatened, the thoughts that have
grown out of my interview with him and out of all that has
happened to me since that time?

"Or shall I keep his secret as I promised? and keep my own secret
too, by bringing this weary, long letter to an end at the very
moment when you are burning to hear more!

"Those are serious questions, Mrs. Oldershaw--more serious than
you suppose. I have had time to calm down, and I begin to see,
what I failed to see when I first took up my pen to write to you,
the wisdom of looking at consequences. Have I frightened myself
in trying to frighten _you_? It is possible--strange as it may
seem, it is really possible.

"I have been at the window for the last minute or two, thinking.
There is plenty of time for thinking before the post leaves. The
people are only now coming out of church.

"I have settled to put my letter on one side, and to take a look
at my diary. In plainer words I must see what I risk if I decide
on trusting you; and my diary will show me what my head is too
weary to calculate without help. I have written the story of my
days (and sometimes the story of my nights) much more regularly
than usual for the last week, having reasons of my own for being
particularly careful in this respect under present circumstances.
If I end in doing what it is now in my mind to do, it would be
madness to trust to my memory. The smallest forgetfulness of the
slightest event that has happened from the night of my interview
with Midwinter to the present time might be utter ruin to me.

"'Utter ruin to her!' you will say. 'What kind of ruin does she
mean?'

"Wait a little, till I have asked my diary whether I can safely
tell you."

CHAPTER X.

MISS GWILT'S DIARY.

"July 21st, Monday night, eleven o'clock.--Midwinter has just
left me. We parted by my desire at the path out of the coppice;
he going his way to the hotel, and I going mine to my lodgings.

"I have managed to avoid making another appointment with him by
arranging to write to him to-morrow morning. This gives me the
night's interval to compose myself, and to coax my mind back (if
I can) to my own affairs. Will the night pass, and the morning
find me still thinking of the Letter that came to him from his
father's deathbed? of the night he watched through on the Wrecked
Ship; and, more than all, of the first breathless moment when he
told me his real Name?

"Would it help me to shake off these impressions, I wonder, if
I made the effort of writing them down? There would be no danger,
in that case, of my forgetting anything important. And perhaps,
after all, it may be the fear of forgetting something which I
ought to remember that keeps this story of Midwinter's weighing
as it does on my mind. At any rate, the experiment is worth
trying. In my present situation I _must_ be free to think of
other things, or I shall never find my way through all the
difficulties at Thorpe Ambrose that are still to come.

"Let me think. What _haunts_ me, to begin with?

"The Names haunt me. I keep saying and saying to myself: Both
alike!--Christian name and surname both alike! A light-haired
Allan Armadale, whom I have long since known of, and who is the
son of my old mistress. A dark-haired Allan Armadale, whom I only
know of now, and who is only known to others under the name of
Ozias Midwinter. Stranger still; it is not relationship, it is
not chance, that has made them namesakes. The father of the light
Armadale was the man who was _born_ to the family name, and who
lost the family inheritance. The father of the dark Armadale
was the man who _took_ the name, on condition of getting the
inheritance--and who got it.

"So there are two of them--I can't help thinking of it--both
unmarried. The light-haired Armadale, who offers to the woman who
can secure him, eight thousand a year while he lives; who leaves
her twelve hundred a year when he dies; who must and shall marry
me for those two golden reasons; and whom I hate and loathe as I
never hated and loathed a man yet. And the dark-haired Armadale,
who has a poor little income, which might perhaps pay his wife's
milliner, if his wife was careful; who has just left me,
persuaded that I mean to marry him; and whom--well, whom I
_might_ have loved once, before I was the woman I am now.

"And Allan the Fair doesn't know he has a namesake. And Allan
the Dark has kept the secret from everybody but the Somersetshire
clergyman (whose discretion he can depend on) and myself.

"And there are two Allan Armadales--two Allan Armadales--two
Allan Armadales. There! three is a lucky number. Haunt me again,
after that, if you can!

"What next? The murder in the timber ship? No; the murder is
a good reason why the dark Armadale, whose father committed it,
should keep his secret from the fair Armadale, whose father
was killed; but it doesn't concern _me_. I remember there was
a suspicion in Madeira at the time of something wrong. _Was_ it
wrong? Was the man who had been tricked out of his wife to blame
for shutting the cabin door, and leaving the man who had tricked
him to drown in the wreck? Yes; the woman wasn't worth it.

"What am I sure of that really concerns myself?

"I am sure of one very important thing. I am sure that
Midwinter--I must call him by his ugly false name, or I may
confuse the two Armadales before I have done--I am sure that
Midwinter is perfectly ignorant that I and the little imp of
twelve years old who waited on Mrs. Armadale in Madeira, and
copied the letters that were supposed to arrive from the West
Indies, are one and the same. There are not many girls of twelve
who could have imitated a man's handwriting, and held their
tongues about it afterward, as I did; but that doesn't matter
now. What does matter is that Midwinter's belief in the Dream
is Midwinter's only reason for trying to connect me with Allan
Armadale, by associating me with Allan Armadale's father and
mother. I asked him if he actually thought me old enough to have
known either of them. And he said No, poor fellow, in the most
innocent, bewildered way. Would he say No if he saw me now? Shall
I turn to the glass and see if I look my five-and-thirty years?
or shall I go on writing? I will go on writing.

"There is one thing more that haunts me almost as obstinately
as the Names.

"I wonder whether I am right in relying on Midwinter's
superstition (as I do) to help me in keeping him at arms-length.
After having let the excitement of the moment hurry me into
saying more than I need have said, he is certain to press me;
he is certain to come back, with a man's hateful selfishness
and impatience in such things, to the question of marrying me.
Will the Dream help me to check him? After alternately believing
and disbelieving in it, he has got, by his own confession, to
believing in it again. Can I say I believe in it, too? I have
better reasons for doing so than he knows of. I am not only
the person who helped Mrs. Armadale's marriage by helping her
to impose on her own father: I am the woman who tried to drown
herself; the woman who started the series of accidents which put
young Armadale in possession of his fortune; the woman who has
come Thorpe Ambrose to marry him for his fortune, now he has got
it; and more extraordinary still, the woman who stood in the
Shadow's place at the pool! These may be coincidences, but they
are strange coincidences. I declare I begin to fancy that _I_
believe in the Dream too!

"Suppose I say to him, 'I think as you think. I say what you said
in your letter to me, Let us part before the harm is done. Leave
me before the Third Vision of the Dream comes true. Leave me, and
put the mountains and the seas between you and the man who bears
your name!'

"Suppose, on the other side, that his love for me makes him
reckless of everything else? Suppose he says those desperate
words again, which I understand now: What _is_ to be, _will_ be.
What have I to do with it, and what has she?' Suppose--suppose--

"I won't write any more. I hate writing. It doesn't relieve
me--it makes me worse. I'm further from being able to think of
all that I _must_ think of than I was when I sat down. It is past
midnight. To-morrow has come already; and here I am as helpless
as the stupidest woman living! Bed is the only fit place for me.

"Bed? If it was ten years since, instead of to-day; and if I had
married Midwinter for love, I might be going to bed now with
nothing heavier on my mind than a visit on tiptoe to the nursery,
and a last look at night to see if my children were sleeping
quietly in their cribs. I wonder whether I should have loved
my children if I had ever had any? Perhaps, yes--perhaps, no.
It doesn't matter.

"Tuesday morning, ten o'clock.--Who was the man who invented
laudanum? I thank him from the bottom of my heart whoever he was.
If all the miserable wretches in pain of body and mind, whose
comforter he has been, could meet together to sing his praises,
what a chorus it would be! I have had six delicious hours of
oblivion; I have woke up with my mind composed; I have written
a perfect little letter to Midwinter; I have drunk my nice cup
of tea, with a real relish of it; I have dawdled over my morning
toilet with an exquisite sense of relief--and all through the
modest little bottle of Drops, which I see on my bedroom
chimney-piece at this moment. 'Drops,' you are a darling! If
I love nothing else, I love _you_.

"My letter to Midwinter has been sent through the post; and
I have told him to reply to me in the same manner.

"I feel no anxiety about his answer--he can only answer in one
way. I have asked for a little time to consider, because my
family circumstances require some consideration, in his interests
as well as in mine. I have engaged to tell him what those
circumstances are (what shall I say, I wonder?) when we next
meet; and I have requested him in the meantime to keep all that
has passed between us a secret for the present. As to what he
is to do himself in the interval while I am supposed to be
considering, I have left it to his own discretion--merely
reminding him that his attempting to see me again (while our
positions toward each other cannot be openly avowed) might injure
my reputation. I have offered to write to him if he wishes it;
and I have ended by promising to make the interval of our
necessary separation as short as I can.

"This sort of plain, unaffected letter--which I might have
written to him last night, if his story had not been running in
my head as it did--has one defect, I know. It certainly keeps him
out of the way, while I am casting my net, and catching my gold
fish at the great house for the second time; but it also leaves
an awkward day of reckoning to come with Midwinter if I succeed.
How am I to manage him? What am I to do? I ought to face those
two questions as boldly as usual; but somehow my courage seems to
fail me, and I don't quite fancy meeting _that_ difficulty, till
the time comes when it _must_ be met. Shall I confess to my diary
that I am sorry for Midwinter, and that I shrink a little from
thinking of the day when he hears that I am going to be mistress
at the great house?

"But I am not mistress yet; and I can't take a step in the
direction of the great house till I have got the answer to
my letter, and till I know that Midwinter is out of the way.
Patience! patience! I must go and forget myself at my piano.
There is the 'Moonlight Sonata' open, and tempting me, on the
music-stand. Have I nerve enough to play it, I wonder? Or will
it set me shuddering with the mystery and terror of it, as it did
the other day?

"Five o'clock.--I have got his answer. The slightest request
I can make is a command to him. He has gone; and he sends me
his address in London. 'There are two considerations' (he says)
'which help to reconcile me to leaving you. The first is that
_you_ wish it, and that it is only to be for a little while. The
second is that I think I can make some arrangements in London for
adding to my income by my own labor. I have never cared for money
for myself; but you don't know how I am beginning already to
prize the luxuries and refinements that money can provide, for my
wife's sake.' Poor fellow! I almost wish I had not written to him
as I did; I almost wish I had not sent him away from me.

"Fancy if Mother Oldershaw saw this page in my diary! I have had
a letter from her this morning--a letter to remind me of my
obligations, and to tell me she suspects things are all going
wrong. Let her suspect! I shan't trouble myself to answer; I
can't be worried with that old wretch in the state I am in now.

"It is a lovely afternoon--I want a walk--I mustn't think of
Midwinter. Suppose I put on my bonnet, and try my experiment at
once at the great house? Everything is in my favor. There is no
spy to follow me, and no lawyer to keep me out, this time. Am I
handsome enough, today? Well, yes; handsome enough to be a match
for a little dowdy, awkward, freckled creature, who ought to be
perched on a form at school, and strapped to a backboard to
straighten her crooked shoulders.

"'The nursery lisps out in all they utter;
Besides, they always smell of bread-and-butter.'

"How admirably Byron has described girls in their teens!

"Eight o'clock.--I have just got back from Armadale's house. I
have seen him, and spoken to him; and the end of it may be set
down in three plain words. I have failed. There is no more chance
of my being Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose than there is of my
being Queen of England.

"Shall I write and tell Oldershaw? Shall I go back to London? Not
till I have had time to think a little. Not just yet.

"Let me think; I have failed completely--failed, with all the
circumstances in favor of success. I caught him alone on the
drive in front of the house. He was excessively disconcerted,
but at the same time quite willing to hear me. I tried him, first
quietly--then with tears, and the rest of it. I introduced myself
in the character of the poor innocent woman whom he had been the
means of injuring. I confused, I interested, I convinced him.
I went on to the purely Christian part of my errand, and spoke
with such feeling of his separation from his friend, for which
I was innocently responsible, that I turned his odious rosy face
quite pale, and made him beg me at last not to distress him. But,
whatever other feelings I roused in him, I never once roused his
old feeling for _me_. I saw it in his eyes when he looked at me;
I felt it in his fingers when we shook hands. We parted friends,
and nothing more.

"It is for this, is it, Miss Milroy, that I resisted temptation,
morning after morning, when I knew you were out alone in the
park? I have just left you time to slip in, and take my place in
Armadale's good graces, have I? I never resisted temptation yet
without suffering for it in some such way as this! If I had only
followed my first thoughts, on the day when I took leave of you,
my young lady--well, well, never mind that now. I have got the
future before me; you are not Mrs. Armadale yet! And I can tell
you one other thing--whoever else he marries, he will never marry
_you_. If I am even with you in no other way, trust me, whatever
comes of it, to be even with you there!

"I am not, to my own surprise, in one of my furious passions.
The last time I was in this perfectly cool state, under serious
provocation, something came of it, which I daren't write down,
even in my own private diary. I shouldn't be surprised if
something comes of it now.

"On my way back, I called at Mr. Bashwood's lodgings in the town.
He was not at home, and I left a message telling him to come here
tonight and speak to me. I mean to relieve him at once of the
duty of looking after Armadale and Miss Milroy. I may not see my
way yet to ruining her prospects at Thorpe Ambrose as completely
as she has ruined mine. But when the time comes, and I do see it,
I don't know to what lengths my sense of injury may take me; and
there may be inconvenience, and possibly danger, in having such
a chicken-hearted creature as Mr. Bashwood in my confidence.

"I suspect I am more upset by all this than I supposed.
Midwinter's story is beginning to haunt me again, without rhyme
or reason.

"A soft, quick, trembling knock at the street door! I know who
it is. No hand but old Bashwood's could knock in that way.

"Nine o'clock.--I have just got rid of him. He has surprised me
by coming out in a new character.

"It seems (though I didn't detect him) that he was at the great
house while I was in company with Armadale. He saw us talking on
the drive, and he afterward heard what the servants said, who saw
us too. The wise opinion below stairs is that we have 'made it
up,' and that the master is likely to marry me after all. 'He's
sweet on her red hair,' was the elegant expression they used
in the kitchen. 'Little missie can't match her there; and little
missie will get the worst of it.' How I hate the coarse ways
of the lower orders!

"While old Bashwood was telling me this, I thought he looked
even more confused and nervous than usual. But I failed to see
what was really the matter until after I had told him that he was
to leave all further observation of Mr. Armadale and Miss Milroy
to me. Every drop of the little blood there is in the feeble old
creature's body seemed to fly up into his face. He made quite an
overpowering effort; he really looked as if he would drop down
dead of fright at his own boldness; but be forced out the
question for all that, stammering, and stuttering, and kneading
desperately with both hands at the brim of his hideous great hat.
'I beg your pardon, Miss Gwi-Gwi-Gwilt! You are not really
go-go-going to marry Mr. Armadale, are you? Jealous--if ever I
saw it in a man's face yet, I saw it in his--actually jealous of
Armadale at his age! If I had been in the humor for it, I should
have burst out laughing in his face. As it was, I was angry, and
lost all patience with him. I told him he was an old fool, and
ordered him to go on quietly with his usual business until I sent
him word that he was wanted again. He submitted as usual; but
there was an indescribable something in his watery old eyes, when
he took leave of me, which I have never noticed in them before.
Love has the credit of working all sorts of strange
transformations. Can it be really possible that Love has made
Mr. Bashwood man enough to be angry with me?

"Wednesday.--My experience of Miss Milroy's habits suggested a
suspicion to me last night which I thought it desirable to clear
up this morning.

"It was always her way, when I was at the cottage, to take a walk
early in the morning before breakfast. Considering that I used
often to choose that very time for _my_ private meetings with
Armadale, it struck me as likely that my former pupil might be
taking a leaf out of my book, and that I might make some
desirable discoveries if I turned my steps in the direction
of the major's garden at the right hour. I deprived myself
of my Drops, to make sure of waking; passed a miserable night
in consequence; and was ready enough to get up at six o'clock,
and walk the distance from my lodgings to the cottage in the
fresh morning air.

"I had not been five minutes on the park side of the garden
inclosure before I sat her come out.

"She seemed to have had a bad night too; her eyes were heavy and
red, and her lips and cheeks looked swollen as if she had been
crying. There was something on her mind, evidently; something,
as it soon appeared, to take her out of the garden into the park.
She walked (if one can call it walking; with such legs as hers!)
straight to the summer house, and opened the door, and crossed
the bridge, and went on quicker and quicker toward the low ground
in the park, where the trees are thickest. I followed her over
the open space with perfect impunity in the preoccupied state she
was in; and, when she began to slacken her pace among the trees,
I was among the trees too, and was not afraid of her seeing me.

"Before long, there was a crackling and trampling of heavy feet
coming up toward us through the under-wood in a deep dip of the
ground. I knew that step as well as she knew it. 'Here I am,'
she said, in a faint little voice. I kept behind the trees a few
yards off, in some doubt on which side Armadale would come out of
the under-wood to join her. He came out up the side of the dell,
opposite to the tree behind which I was standing. They sat down
together on the bank. I sat down behind the tree, and looked at
them through the under-wood, and heard without the slightest
difficulty every word that they said.

"The talk began by his noticing that she looked out of spirits,
and asking if anything had gone wrong at the cottage. The artful
little minx lost no time in making the necessary impression on
him; she began to cry. He took her hand, of course, and tried,
in his brutishly straightforward way, to comfort her. No; she
was not to be comforted. A miserable prospect was before her; she
had not slept the whole night for thinking of it. Her father had
called her into his room the previous evening, had spoken about
the state of her education, and had told her in so many words
that she was to go to school. The place had been found, and the
terms had been settled; and as soon as her clothes could he got
ready, miss was to go.

"'While that hateful Miss Gwilt was in the house,' says this
model young person, 'I would have gone to school willingly--I
wanted to go. But it's all different now; I don't think of it in
the same way; I feel too old for school. I'm quite heart-broken,
Mr. Armadale.' There she stopped as if she had meant to say more,
and gave him a look which finished the sentence plainly: 'I'm
quite heart-broken, Mr. Armadale, now we are friendly again, at
going away from you!' For downright brazen impudence, which a
grown woman would be ashamed of, give me the young girls whose
'modesty' is so pertinaciously insisted on by the nauseous
domestic sentimentalists of the present day!

"Even Armadale, booby as he is, understood her. After bewildering
himself in a labyrinth of words that led nowhere, he took
her--one can hardly say round the waist, for she hasn't got
one--he took her round the last hook-and-eye of her dress, and,
by way of offering her a refuge from the indignity of being sent
to school at her age, made her a proposal of marriage in so many
words.

"If I could have killed them both at that moment by lifting up
my little finger, I have not the least doubt I should have lifted
it. As things were, I only waited to see what Miss Milroy would
do.

"She appeared to think it necessary--feeling, I suppose, that she
had met him without her father's knowledge, and not forgetting
that I had had the start of her as the favored object of Mr.
Armadale's good opinion--to assert herself by an explosion of
virtuous indignation. She wondered how he could think of such
a thing after his conduct with Miss Gwilt, and after her father
had forbidden him the house! Did he want to make her feel how
inexcusably she had forgotten what was due to herself? Was it
worthy of a gentleman to propose what he knew as well as she did
was impossible? and so on, and so on. Any man with brains in his
head would have known what all this rodomontade really meant.
Armadale took it so seriously that he actually attempted to
justify himself.

"He declared, in his headlong, blundering way, that he was quite
in earnest; he and her father might make it up and be friends
again; and, if the major persisted in treating him as a stranger,
young ladies and gentlemen in their situation had made runaway
marriages before now, and fathers and mothers who wouldn't
forgive them before had forgiven them afterward. Such
outrageously straightforward love-making as this left Miss
Milroy, of course, but two alternatives--to confess that she had
been saying No when she meant Yes, or to take refuge in another
explosion. She was hypocrite enough to prefer another explosion.
'How dare you, Mr. Armadale? Go away directly! It's
inconsiderate, it's heartless, it's perfectly disgraceful to say
such things to me!' and so on, and so on. It seems incredible,
but it is not the less true, that he was positively fool enough
to take her at her word. He begged her pardon, and went away like
a child that is put in the corner--the most contemptible object
in the form of man that eyes ever looked on!

"She waited, after he had gone, to compose herself, and I waited
behind the trees to see how she would succeed. Her eyes wandered
round slyly to the path by which he had left her. She smiled
(grinned would be the truer way of putting it, with such a mouth
as hers); took a few steps on tiptoe to look after him; turned
back again, and suddenly burst into a violent fit of crying. I am
not quite so easily taken in as Armadale, and I saw what it all
meant plainly enough.

"'To-morrow,' I thought to myself, 'you will be in the park
again, miss, by pure accident. The next day, you will lead him on
into proposing to you for the second time. The day after, he will
venture back to the subject of runaway marriages, and you will
only be becomingly confused. And the day after that, if he has
got a plan to propose, and if your clothes are ready to be packed
for school, you will listen to him.' Yes, yes; Time is always on
the man's side, where a woman is concerned, if the man is only
patient enough to let Time help him.

"I let her leave the place and go back to the cottage, quite
unconscious that I had been looking at her. I waited among the
trees, thinking. The truth is, I was impressed by what I had
heard and seen, in a manner that it is not very easy to describe.
It put the whole thing before me in a new light. It showed
me--what I had never even suspected till this morning--that she
is really fond of him.

"Heavy as my debt of obligation is to her, there is no fear _now_
of my failing to pay it to the last farthing. It would have been
no small triumph for me to stand between Miss Milroy and her
ambition to be one of the leading ladies of the county. But it
is infinitely more, where her first love is concerned, to stand
between Miss Milroy and her heart's desire. Shall I remember my
own youth and spare her? No! She has deprived me of the one
chance I had of breaking the chain that binds me to a past life
too horrible to be thought of. I am thrown back into a position,
compared to which the position of an outcast who walks the
streets is endurable and enviable. No, Miss Milroy--no, Mr.
Armadale; I will spare neither of you.

"I have been back some hours. I have been thinking, and nothing
has come of it. Ever since I got that strange letter of
Midwinter's last Sunday, my usual readiness in emergencies has
deserted me. When I am not thinking of him or of his story, my
mind feels quite stupefied. I, who have always known what to do
on other occasions, don't know what to do now. It would be easy
enough, of course, to warn Major Milroy of his daughter's
proceedings. But the major is fond of his daughter; Armadale
is anxious to be reconciled with him; Armadale is rich and
prosperous, and ready to submit to the elder man; and sooner or
later they will be friends again, and the marriage will follow.
Warning Major Milroy is only the way to embarrass them for the
present; it is not the way to part them for good and all.

"What _is_ the way? I can't see it. I could tear my own hair off
my head! I could burn the house down! If there was a train of
gunpowder under the whole world, I could light it, and blow the
whole world to destruction--I am in such a rage, such a frenzy
with myself for not seeing it!

"Poor dear Midwinter! Yes, '_dear_.' I don't care. I'm lonely and
helpless. I want somebody who is gentle and loving to make much
of me; I wish I had his head on my bosom again; I have a good
mind to go to London and marry him. Am I mad? Yes; all people who
are as miserable as I am are mad. I must go to the window and get
some air. Shall I jump out? No; it disfigures one so, and the
coroner's inquest lets so many people see it.

"The air has revived me. I begin to remember that I have Time
on my side, at any rate. Nobody knows but me of their secret
meetings in the park the first thing in the morning. If jealous
old Bashwood, who is slinking and sly enough for anything, tries
to look privately after Armadale, in his own interests, he will
try at the usual time when he goes to the steward's office. He
knows nothing of Miss Milroy's early habits; and he won't be on
the spot till Armadale has got back to the house. For another
week to come, I may wait and watch them, and choose my own time
and way of interfering the moment I see a chance of his getting
the better of her hesitation, and making her say Yes.

"So here I wait, without knowing how things will end with
Midwinter in London; with my purse getting emptier and emptier,
and no appearance so far of any new pupils to fill it; with
Mother Oldershaw certain to insist on having her money back the
moment she knows I have failed; without prospects, friends, or
hopes of any kind--a lost woman, if ever there was a lost woman
yet. Well! I say it again and again and again--I don't care! Here
I stop, if I sell the clothes off my back, if I hire myself at
the public-house to play to the brutes in the tap-room; here I
stop till the time comes, and I see the way to parting Armadale
and Miss Milroy forever!

"Seven o'clock.--Any signs that the time is coming yet? I hardly
know; there are signs of a change, at any rate, in my position
in the neighborhood.

"Two of the oldest and ugliest of the many old and ugly ladies
who took up my case when I left Major Milroy's service have just
called, announcing themselves, with the insufferable impudence of
charitable Englishwomen, as a deputation from my patronesses. It
seems that the news of my reconciliation with Armadale has spread
from the servants' offices at the great house, and has reached
the town, with this result.

"It is the unanimous opinion of my 'patronesses' (and the opinion
of Major Milroy also, who has been consulted) that I have acted
with the most inexcusable imprudence in going to Armadale's
house, and in there speaking on friendly terms with a man whose
conduct toward myself has made his name a by-word in the
neighborhood. My total want of self-respect in this matter has
given rise to a report that I am trading as cleverly as ever on
my good looks, and that I am as likely as not to end in making
Armadale marry me, after all. My 'patronesses' are, of course,
too charitable to believe this. They merely feel it necessary to
remonstrate with me in a Christian spirit, and to warn me that
any second and similar imprudence on my part would force all my
best friends in the plate to withdraw the countenance and
protection which I now enjoy.

"Having addressed me, turn and turn about, in these terms
(evidently all rehearsed beforehand), my two Gorgon visitors
straightened themselves in their chairs, and looked at me as much
as to say, 'You may often have heard of Virtue, Miss Gwilt, but
we don't believe you ever really saw it in full bloom till we
came and called on you.'

"Seeing they were bent on provoking me, I kept my temper, and
answered them in my smoothest, sweetest, and most lady-like
manner. I have noticed that the Christianity of a certain class
of respectable people begins when they open their prayer-books at
eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, and ends when they shut them up
again at one o'clock on Sunday afternoon. Nothing so astonishes
and insults Christians of this sort as reminding them of their
Christianity on a week-day. On this hint, as the man says in the
play, I spoke.

"'What have I done that is wrong?' I asked, innocently.
'Mr. Armadale has injured me; and I have been to his house
and forgiven him the injury. Surely there must be some mistake,
ladies? You can't have really come here to remonstrate with me
in a Christian spirit for performing an act of Christianity?'

"The two Gorgons got up. I firmly believe some women have cats'
tails as well as cats' faces. I firmly believe the tails of those
two particular cats wagged slowly under their petticoats, and
swelled to four times their proper size.

"'Temper we were prepared for, Miss Gwilt,' they said, 'but
not Profanity. We wish you good-evening.'

"So they left me, and so 'Miss Gwilt' sinks out of the
patronizing notice of the neighborhood

"I wonder what will come of this trumpery little quarrel? One
thing will come of it which I can see already. The report will
reach Miss Milroy's ears; she will insist on Armadale's
justifying himself; and Armadale will end in satisfying her of
his innocence by making another proposal. This will be quite
likely to hasten matters between them; at least it would with me.
If I was in her place, I should say to myself, 'I will make sure
of him while I can.' Supposing it doesn't rain to-morrow morning,
I think I will take another early walk in the direction of the
park.

"Midnight.--As I can't take my drops, with a morning walk before
me, I may as well give up all hope of sleeping, and go on with my
diary. Even with my drops, I doubt if my head would be very quiet
on my pillow to-night. Since the little excitement of the scene
with my 'lady-patronesses' has worn off, I have been troubled
with misgivings which would leave me but a poor chance, under any
circumstances, of getting much rest.

"I can't imagine why, but the parting words spoken to Armadale by
that old brute of a lawyer have come back to my mind! Here they
are, as reported in Mr. Bashwood's letter: '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.'

"What does he mean by that? And what did he mean afterward when
he overtook old Bashwood in the drive, by telling him to gratify
his curiosity? Does this hateful Pedgift actually suppose there
is any chance--? Ridiculous! Why, I have only to _look_ at the
feeble old creature, and he daren't lift his little finger unless
I tell him. _He_ try to pry into my past life, indeed! Why,
people with ten times his brains, and a hundred times his
courage, have tried--and have left off as wise as they began.

"I don't know, though; it might have been better if I had kept my
temper when Bashwood was here the other night. And it might be
better still if I saw him to-morrow, and took him back into my
good graces by giving him something to do for me. Suppose I tell
him to look after the two Pedgifts, and to discover whether there
is any chance of their attempting to renew their connection with
Armadale? No such thing is at all likely; but if I gave old
Bashwood this commission, it would flatter his sense of his own
importance to me, and would at the same time serve the excellent
purpose of keeping him out of my way.

"Thursday morning, nine o'clock.--I have just got back from the
park.

"For once I have proved a true prophet. There they were together,
at the same early hour, in the same secluded situation among the
trees; and there was miss in full possession of the report of my
visit to the great house, and taking her tone accordingly.

"After saying one or two things about me, which I promise him not
to forget, Armadale took the way to convince her of his constancy
which I felt beforehand he would be driven to take. He repeated
his proposal of marriage, with excellent effect this time. Tears
and kisses and protestations followed; and my late pupil opened
her heart at last, in the most innocent manner. Home, she
confessed, was getting so miserable to her now that it was only
less miserable than going to school. Her mother's temper was
becoming more violent and unmanageable every day. The nurse, who
was the only person with any influence over her, had gone away in
disgust. Her father was becoming more and more immersed in his
clock, and was made more and more resolute to send her away from
home by the distressing scenes which now took place with her
mother almost day by day. I waited through these domestic
disclosures on the chance of hearing any plans they might have
for the future discussed between them; and my patience, after no
small exercise of it, was rewarded at last.

"The first suggestion (as was only natural where such a fool as
Armadale was concerned) came from the girl.

"She started an idea which I own I had not anticipated. She
proposed that Armadale should write to her father; and, cleverer
still, she prevented all fear of his blundering by telling him
what he was to say. He was to express himself as deeply
distressed at his estrangement from the major, and to request
permission to call at the cottage, and say a few words in his own
justification. That was all. The letter was not to be sent that
day, for the applicants for the vacant place of Mrs. Milroy's
nurse were coming, and seeing them and questioning them would put
her father, with his dislike of such things, in no humor to
receive Armadale's application indulgently. The Friday would be
the day to send the letter, and on the Saturday morning if the
answer was unfortunately not favorable, they might meet again, 'I
don't like deceiving my father; he has always been so kind to me.
And there will be no need to deceive him, Allan, if we can only
make you friends again.' Those were the last words the little
hypocrite said, when I left them.

"What will the major do? Saturday morning will show. I won't
think of it till Saturday morning has come and gone. They are not
man and wife yet; and again and again I say it, though my brains
are still as helpless as ever, man and wife they shall never be.

"On my way home again, I caught Bashwood at his breakfast, with
his poor old black tea-pot, and his little penny loaf, and his
one cheap morsel of oily butter, and his darned dirty tablecloth.
It sickens me to think of it.

"I coaxed and comforted the miserable old creature till the tears
stood in his eyes, and he quite blushed with pleasure. He
undertakes to look after the Pedgifts with the utmost alacrity.
Pedgift the elder he described, when once roused, as the most
obstinate man living; nothing will induce him to give way,
unless Armadale gives way also on his side. Pedgift the younger
is much the more likely of the two to make attempts at a
reconciliation. Such, at least, is Bashwood's opinion. It is of
very little consequence now what happens either way. The only
important thing is to tie my elderly admirer safely again to my
apron-string. And this is done.

"The post is late this morning. It has only just come in, and has
brought me a letter from Midwinter.

"It is a charming letter; it flatters me and flutters me as if I
was a young girl again. No reproaches for my never having written
to him; no hateful hurrying of me, in plain words, to marry him.
He only writes to tell me a piece of news. He has obtained,
through his lawyers, a prospect of being employed as occasional
correspondent to a newspaper which is about to be started in
London. The employment will require him to leave England for
the Continent, which would exactly meet his own wishes for the
future, but he cannot consider the proposal seriously until he
has first ascertained whether it would meet my wishes too. He
knows no will but mine, and he leaves me to decide, after first
mentioning the time allowed him before his answer must be sent
in. It is the time, of course (if I agree to his going abroad),
in which I must marry him. But there is not a word about this in
his letter. He asks for nothing but a sight of my handwriting to
help him through the interval while we are separated from each
other.

"That is the letter; not very long, but so prettily expressed.

"I think I can penetrate the secret of his fancy for going
abroad. That wild idea of putting the mountains and the seas
between Armadale and himself is still in his mind. As if either
he or I could escape doing what we are fated to do--supposing
we really are fated--by putting a few hundred or a few thousand
miles between Armadale and ourselves! What strange absurdity
and inconsistency! And yet how I like him for being absurd and
inconsistent; for don't I see plainly that I am at the bottom of
it all? Who leads this clever man astray in spite of himself? Who
makes him too blind to see the contradiction in his own conduct,
which he would see plainly in the conduct of another person?
How interested I do feel in him! How dangerously near I am to
shutting my eyes on the past, and letting myself love him! Was
Eve fonder of Adam than ever, I wonder, after she had coaxed him
into eating the apple? I should have quite doted on him if I had
been in her place. (Memorandum: To write Midwinter a charming
little letter on my side, with a kiss in it; and as time is
allowed him before he sends in his answer, to ask for time, too,
before I tell him whether I will or will not go abroad.)

"Five o'clock.--A tiresome visit from my landlady; eager for a
little gossip, and full of news which she thinks will interest
me.

"She is acquainted, I find, with Mrs. Milroy's late nurse; and
she has been seeing her friend off at the station this afternoon.
They talked, of course, of affairs at the cottage, and my name
found its way into the conversation. I am quite wrong, it seems,
if the nurse's authority is to be trusted, in believing Miss
Milroy to be responsible for sending Mr. Armadale to my reference
in London. Miss Milroy really knew nothing about it, and it all
originated in her mother's mad jealousy of me. The present
wretched state of things at the cottage is due entirely to the
same cause. Mrs. Milroy is firmly persuaded that my remaining
at Thorpe Ambrose is referable to my having some private means
of communicating with the major which it is impossible for her
to discover. With this conviction in her mind, she has become
so unmanageable that no person, with any chance of bettering
herself, could possibly remain in attendance an her; and sooner
or later, the major, object to it as he may, will be obliged to
place her under proper medical care.

"That is the sum and substance of what the wearisome landlady,
had to tell me. Unnecessary to say that I was not in the least
interested by it. Even if the nurse's s assertion is to be
depended on--which I persist in doubting--it is of no importance
now. I know that Miss Milroy, and nobody but Miss Milroy has
utterly ruined my prospect of becoming Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe
Ambrose, and I care to know nothing more. If her mother was
really alone in the attempt to expose my false reference, her
mother seems to be suffering for it, at any rate. And so good-by
to Mrs. Milroy; and Heaven defend me from any more last glimpses
at the cottages seen through the medium of my landlady's
spectacles!

"Nine o'clock.--Bashwood has just left me, having come with news
from the great house. Pedgift the younger has made his attempt
at bringing about a reconciliation this very day, and has failed.
I am the sole cause of the failure. Armadale is quite willing to
be reconciled if Pedgift the elder will avoid all future occasion
of disagreement between them by never recurring to the subject
of Miss Gwilt. This, however, happens to be exactly the condition
which Pedgift's father--with his opinion of me and my
doings--should consider it his duty to Armadale _not_ to accept.
So lawyer and client remain as far apart as ever, and the
obstacle of the Pedgifts is cleared out of my way.

"It might have been a very awkward obstacle, so far as Pedgift
the elder is concerned, if one of his suggestions had been
carried out; I mean, if an officer of the London police had been
brought down here to look at me. It is a question, even now,
whether I had better not take to the thick veil again, which I
always wear in London and other large places. The only difficulty
is that it would excite remark in this inquisitive little town
to see me wearing a thick veil, for the first time, in the summer
weather.

"It is close on ten o'clock; I have been dawdling over my diary
longer than I supposed.

"No words can describe how weary and languid I feel. Why don't I
take my sleeping drops and go to bed? There is no meeting between
Armadale and Miss Milroy to force me into early rising to-morrow
morning. Am I trying, for the hundredth time, to see my way
clearly into the future--trying, in my present state of fatigue,
to be the quick-witted woman I once was, before all these
anxieties came together and overpowered me? or am I perversely
afraid of my bed when I want it most? I don't know; I am tired
and miserable; I am looking wretchedly haggard and old. With a
little encouragement, I might be fool enough to burst out crying.
Luckily, there is no one to encourage me. What sort of a night
is it, I wonder?

"A cloudy night, with the moon showing at intervals, and the wind
rising. I can just hear it moaning among the ins and outs of the
unfinished cottages at the end of the street. My nerves must be
a little shaken, I think. I was startled just now by a shadow on
the wall. It was only after a moment or two that I mustered sense
enough to notice where the candle was, and to see that the shadow
was my own.

"Shadows remind me of Midwinter; or, if the shadows don't,
something else does. I must have another look at his letter,
and then I will positively go to bed.

"I shall end in getting fond of him. If I remain much longer in
this lonely uncertain state--so irresolute, so unlike my usual
self--I shall end in getting fond of him. What madness! As if
_I_ could ever be really fond of a man again!

"Suppose I took one of my sudden resolutions, and married him.
Poor as he is, he would give me a name and a position if I became
his wife. Let me see how the name--his own name--would look, if
I really did consent to it for mine.

"'Mrs. Armadale!' Pretty.

"'Mrs. Allan Armadale!' Prettier still.

"My nerves _must_ be shaken. Here is my own handwriting startling
me now! It is so strange; it is enough to startle anybody. The
similarity in the two names never struck me in this light before.
Marry which of the two I might, my name would, of course, be the
same. I should have been Mrs. Armadale, if I had married the
light-haired Allan at the great house. And I can be Mrs. Armadale
still, if I marry the dark-haired Allan in London. It's almost
maddening to write it down--to feel that something ought to come
of it--and to find nothing come.

"How _can_ anything come of it? If I did go to London, and marry
him (as of course I must marry him) under his real name, would
he let me be known by it afterward? With all his reasons for
concealing his real name, he would insist--no, he is too fond of
me to do that--he would entreat me to take the name which he has
assumed. Mrs. Midwinter. Hideous! Ozias, too, when I wanted to
address him familiarly, as his wife should. Worse than hideous!

"And yet there would be some reason for humoring him in this
if he asked me.

"Suppose the brute at the great house happened to leave this
neighborhood as a single man; and suppose, in his absence, any
of the people who know him heard of a Mrs. Allan Armadale, they
would set her down at once as his wife. Even if they actually saw
me--if I actually came among them with that name, and if he was
not present to contradict it--his own servants would be the first
to say, 'We knew she would marry him, after all!' And my
lady-patronesses, who will be ready to believe anything of me
now we have quarreled, would join the chorus _sotto voce:_ 'Only
think, my dear, the report that so shocked us actually turns out
to be true!' No. If I marry Midwinter, I must either be
perpetually putting my husband and myself in a false position--or
I must leave his real name, his pretty, romantic name, behind me
at the church door.

"My husband! As if I was really going to marry him! I am _not_
going to marry him, and there's an end of it.

"Half-past ten.--Oh, dear! oh, dear! how my temples throb, and
how hot my weary eyes feel! There is the moon looking at me
through the window. How fast the little scattered clouds are
flying before the wind! Now they let the moon in; and now they
shut the moon out. What strange shapes the patches of yellow
light take, and lose again, all in a moment! No peace and quiet
for me, look where I may. The candle keeps flickering, and the
very sky itself is restless to-night.

"'To bed! to bed!' as Lady Macbeth says. I wonder, by-the-by,
what Lady Macbeth would have done in my position? She would have
killed somebody when her difficulties first began. Probably
Armadale.

"Friday morning.--A night's rest, thanks again to my Drops.
I went to breakfast in better spirits, and received a morning
welcome in the shape of a letter from Mrs. Oldershaw.

"My silence has produced its effect on Mother Jezebel. She
attributes it to the right cause, and she shows her claws at
last. If I am not in a position to pay my note of hand for thirty
pounds, which is due on Tuesday next, her lawyer is instructed to
'take the usual course.' _If_ I am not in a position to pay it!
Why, when I have settled to-day with my landlord, I shall have
barely five pounds left! There is not the shadow of a prospect
between now and Tuesday of my earning any money; and I don't
possess a friend in this place who would trust me with sixpence.
The difficulties that are swarming round me wanted but one more
to complete them, and that one has come.

"Midwinter would assist me, of course, if I could bring myself
to ask him for assistance. But _that_ means marrying him. Am I
really desperate enough and helpless enough to end it in that
way? No; not yet.

"My head feels heavy; I must get out into the fresh air, and
think about it.

"Two o'clock.--I believe I have caught the infection of
Midwinter's superstition. I begin to think that events are
forcing me nearer and nearer to some end which I don't see yet,
but which I am firmly persuaded is now not far off.

"I have been insulted--deliberately insulted before witnesses--by
Miss Milroy.

"After walking, as usual, in the most unfrequented place I could
pick out, and after trying, not very successfully, to think to
some good purpose of what I am to do next, I remembered that I
needed some note-paper and pens, and went back to the town to the
stationer's shop. It might have been wiser to have sent for what
I wanted. But I was weary of myself, and weary of my lonely
rooms; and I did my own errand, for no better reason than that
it was something to do.

"I had just got into the shop, and was asking for what I wanted,
when another customer came in. We both looked up, and recognized
each other at the same moment: Miss Milroy.

"A woman and a lad were behind the counter, besides the man who
was serving me. The woman civilly addressed the new customer.
'What can we have the pleasure of doing for you, miss?' After
pointing it first by looking me straight in the face, she
answered, 'Nothing, thank you, at present. I'll come back when
the shop is empty.'

"She went out. The three people in the shop looked at me in
silence. In silence, on my side, I paid for my purchases, and
left the place. I don't know how I might have felt if I had been
in my usual spirits. In the anxious, unsettled state I am in now,
I can't deny it, the girl stung me.

"In the weakness of the moment (for it was nothing else), I was
on the point of matching her petty spitefulness by spitefulness
quite as petty on my side. I had actually got as far as the whole
length of the street on my way to the major's cottage, bent on
telling him the secret of his daughter's morning walks, before
my better sense came back to me. When I did cool down, I turned
round at once, and took the way home. No, no, Miss Milroy; mere
temporary mischief-making at the cottage, which would only end
in your father forgiving you, and in Armadale profiting by his
indulgence, will nothing like pay the debt I owe you. I don't
forget that your heart is set on Armadale; and that the major,
however he may talk, has always ended hitherto in giving you your
own way. My head may be getting duller and duller, but it has not
quite failed me yet.

"In the meantime, there is Mother Oldershaw's letter waiting
obstinately to be answered; and here am I, not knowing what to do
about it yet. Shall I answer it or not? It doesn't matter for the
present; there are some hours still to spare before the post goes
out.

"Suppose I asked Armadale to lend me the money? I should enjoy
getting _something_ out of him; and I believe, in his present
situation with Miss Milroy, he would do anything to be rid of me.
Mean enough this, on my part. Pooh! When you hate and despise a
man, as I hate and despise Armadale, who cares for looking mean
in _his_ eyes?

"And yet my pride--or my something else, I don't know
what--shrinks from it.

"Half-past two--only half-past two. Oh, the dreadful weariness
of these long summer days! I can't keep thinking and thinking any
longer; I must do something to relieve my mind. Can I go to my
piano? No; I'm not fit for it. Work? No; I shall get thinking
again if I take to my needle. A man, in my place, would find
refuge in drink. I'm not a man, and I can't drink. I'll dawdle
over my dresses, and put my things tidy.

* * * * * *

"Has an hour passed? More than an hour. It seems like a minute.

"I can't look back through these leaves, but I know I wrote
somewhere that I felt myself getting nearer and nearer to some
end that was still hidden from me. The end is hidden no longer.
The cloud is off my mind, the blindness has gone from my eyes.
I see it! I see it!

"It came to me--I never sought it. If I was lying on my
death-bed, I could swear, with a safe conscience, I never sought
it.

"I was only looking over my things; I was as idly and as
frivolously employed as the most idle and most frivolous woman
living. I went through my dresses, and my linen. What could be
more innocent? Children go through their dresses and their linen.

"It was, such a long summer day, and I was so tired of myself.
I went to my boxes next. I looked over the large box first, which
I usually leave open; and then I tried the small box, which
I always keep locked.

"From one thing to the other, I came at last to the bundle of
letters at the bottom--the letters of the man for whom I once
sacrificed and suffered everything; the man who has made me what
I am.

"A hundred times I had determined to burn his letters; but I have
never burned them. This, time, all I said was, 'I won't read his
letters!' And I did read them.

"The villain--the false, cowardly, heartless villain--what have
I to do with his letters now? Oh, the misery of being a woman!
Oh, the meanness that our memory of a man can tempt us to, when
our love for him is dead and gone! I read the letters--I was so
lonely and so miserable, I read the letters.

"I came to the last--the letter he wrote to encourage me, when I
hesitated as the terrible time came nearer and nearer; the letter
that revived me when my resolution failed at the eleventh hour.
I read on, line after line, till I came to these words:

"'...I really have no patience with such absurdities as you
have written to me. You say I am driving you on to do what
is beyond a woman's courage. Am I? I might refer you to any
collection of Trials, English or foreign. to show that you were
utterly wrong. But such collections may be beyond your reach;
and I will only refer you to a case in yesterday's newspaper.
The circumstances are totally different from our circumstances;
but the example of resolution in a woman is an example worth
your notice.

"'You will find, among the law reports, a married woman charged
with fraudulently representing herself to be the missing widow of
an officer in the merchant service, who was supposed to have been
drowned. The name of the prisoner's husband (living) and the name
of the officer (a very common one, both as to Christian and
surname) happened to be identically the same. There was money to
be got by it (sorely wanted by the prisoner's husband, to whom
she was devotedly attached), if the fraud had succeeded. The
woman took it all on herself. Her husband was helpless and ill,
and the bailiffs were after him. The circumstances, as you may
read for yourself, were all in her favor, and were so well
managed by her that the lawyers themselves acknowledged she might
have succeeded, if the supposed drowned man had not turned up
alive and well in the nick of time to confront her. The scene
took place at the lawyer's office, and came out in the evidence
at the police court. The woman was handsome, and the sailor was
a good-natured man. He wanted, at first, if the lawyers would
have allowed him, to let her off. He said to her, among other
things: "You didn't count on the drowned man coming back, alive
and hearty, did you, ma'am?" "It's lucky for you," she said,
"I didn't count on it. You have escaped the sea, but you wouldn't
have escaped _me_." "Why, what would you have done, if you
_had_ known I was coming back?" says the sailor. She looked him
steadily in the face, and answered: "I would have killed you."
There! Do you think such a woman as that would have written to
tell me I was pressing her further than she had courage to go?
A handsome woman, too, like yourself. You would drive some men
in my position to wish they had her now in your place.'

"I read no further. When I had got on, line by line, to those
words, it burst on me like a flash of lightning. In an instant I
saw it as plainly as I see it now. It is horrible, it is unheard
of, it outdares all daring; but, if I can only nerve myself to
face one terrible necessity, it is to be done. _I may personate
the richly provided widow of Allan Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose,
if I can count on Allan Armadale's death in a given time_.

"There, in plain words, is the frightful temptation under which
I now feel myself sinking. It is frightful in more ways than one;
for it has come straight out of that other temptation to which
I yielded in the by-gone time.

"Yes; there the letter has been waiting for me in my box, to
serve a purpose never thought of by the villain who wrote it.
There is the Case, as he called it--only quoted to taunt me;
utterly unlike my own case at the time--there it has been,
waiting and lurking for me through all the changes in my life,
till it has come to be like _my_ case at last.

"It might startle any woman to see this, and even this is not
the worst. The whole thing has been in my Diary, for days past,
without my knowing it! Every idle fancy that escaped me has been
tending secretly that one way! And I never saw, never suspected
it, till the reading of the letter put my own thoughts before me
in a new light--till I saw the shadow of my own circumstances
suddenly reflected in one special circumstance of that other
woman's case!

"It is to be done, if I can but look the necessity in the face.
It is to be done, _if I can count on Allan Armadale's death in
a given time_.

"All but his death is easy. The whole series of events under
which I have been blindly chafing and fretting for more than a
week past have been, one and all--though I was too stupid to see
it--events in my favor; events paving the way smoothly and more
smoothly straight to the end.

"In three bold steps--only three!--that end might be reached.
Let Midwinter marry me privately, under his real name--step the
first! Let Armadale leave Thorpe Ambrose a single man, and die
in some distant place among strangers--step the second!

"Why am I hesitating? Why not go on to step the third, and last?

"I _will_ go on. Step the third, and last, is my appearance,
after the announcement of Armadale's death has reached this
neighborhood, in the character of Armadale's widow, with my
marriage certificate in my hand to prove my claim. It is as clear
as the sun at noonday. Thanks to the exact similarity between the
two names, and thanks to the careful manner in which the secret
of that similarity has been kept, I may be the wife of the dark
Allan Armadale, known as such to nobody but my husband and
myself; and I may, out of that very position, claim the character
of widow of the light Allan Armadale, with proof to support me
(in the shape of my marriage certificate) which would be proof
in the estimation of the most incredulous person living.

"To think of my having put all this in my Diary! To think of my
having actually contemplated this very situation, and having seen
nothing more in it, at the time, than a reason (if I married
Midwinter) for consenting to appear in the world under my
husband's assumed name!

"What is it daunts me? The dread of obstacles? The fear of
discovery?

"Where are the obstacles? Where is the fear of discovery?

"I am actually suspected all over the neighborhood of intriguing
to be mistress of Thorpe Ambrose. I am the only person who knows
the real turn that Armadale's inclinations have taken. Not a
creature but myself is as yet aware of his early morning meetings
with Miss Milroy. If it is necessary to part them, I can do it at
any moment by an anonymous line to the major. If it is necessary
to remove Armadale from Thorpe Ambrose, I can get him away at
three days' notice. His own lips informed me, when I last spoke
to him, that he would go to the ends of the earth to be friends
again with Midwinter, if Midwinter would let him. I have only to
tell Midwinter to write from London, and ask to be reconciled;
and Midwinter would obey me--and to London Armadale would go.
Every difficulty, at starting, is smoothed over ready to my hand.
Every after-difficulty I could manage for myself. In the whole
venture--desperate as it looks to pass myself off for the widow
of one man, while I am all the while the wife of the other--there
is absolutely no necessity that wants twice considering, but the
one terrible necessity of Armadale's death.

"His death! It might be a terrible necessity to any other woman;
but is it, ought it to be terrible to Me?

"I hate him for his mother's sake. I hate him for his own sake. I
hate him for going to London behind my back, and making inquiries
about me. I hate him for forcing me out of my situation before I
wanted to go. I hate him for destroying all my hopes of marrying
him, and throwing me back helpless on my own miserable life. But,
oh, after what I have done already in the past time, how can I?
how can I?

"The girl, too--the girl who has come between us; who has taken
him away from me; who has openly insulted me this very day--how
the girl whose heart is set on him would feel it if he died! What
a vengeance on _her_, if I did it! And when I was received as
Armadale's widow what a triumph for _me_. Triumph! It is more
than triumph--it is the salvation of me. A name that can't be
assailed, a station that can't be assailed, to hide myself in
from my past life! Comfort, luxury, wealth! An income of twelve
hundred a year secured to me secured by a will which has been
looked at by a lawyer: secured independently of anything Armadale
can say or do himself! I never had twelve hundred a year. At my
luckiest time, I never had half as much, really my own. What have
I got now? Just five pounds left in the world--and the prospect
next week of a debtor's prison.

"But, oh, after what I have done already in the past time, how
can I? how can I?

"Some women--in my place, and with my recollections to look back
on--would feel it differently. Some women would say, 'It's easier
the second time than the first.' Why can't I? why can't I?

"Oh, you Devil tempting me, is there no Angel near to raise some
timely obstacle between this and to-morrow which might help me to
give it up?

"I shall sink under it--I shall sink, if I write or think of it
any more! I'll shut up these leaves and go out again. I'll get
some common person to come with me, and we will talk of common
things. I'll take out the woman of the house, and her children.
We will go and see something. There is a show of some kind in the
town--I'll treat them to it. I'm not such an ill-natured woman
when I try; and the landlady has really been kind to me. Surely
I might occupy my mind a little in seeing her and her children
enjoying themselves.

"A minute since, I shut up these leaves as I said I would; and
now I have opened them again, I don't know why. I think my brain
is turned. I feel as if something was lost out of my mind; I feel
as if I ought to find it here

"I have found it! _Midwinter!!!_

"Is it possible that I can have been thinking of the reasons For
and Against, for an hour past--writing Midwinter's name over
and over again--speculating seriously on marrying him--and all
the time not once remembering that, even with every other
impediment removed, _he_ alone, when the time came, would be an
insurmountable obstacle in my way? Has the effort to face the
consideration of Armadale's death absorbed me to _that_ degree?
I suppose it has. I can't account for such extraordinary
forgetfulness on my part in any other way.

"Shall I stop and think it out, as I have thought out all the
rest? Shall I ask myself if the obstacle of Midwinter would,
after all, when the time came, be the unmanageable obstacle that
it looks at present? No! What need is there to think of it? I
have made up my mind to get the better of the temptation. I have
made up my mind to give my landlady and her children a treat; I
have made up my mind to close my Diary. And closed it shall be.

"Six o'clock.--The landlady's gossip is unendurable; the
landlady's children distract me. I have left them to run back
here before post time and write a line to Mrs. Oldershaw.

"The dread that I shall sink under the temptation has grown
stronger and stronger on me. I have determined to put it beyond
my power to have my own way and follow my own will. Mother
Oldershaw shall be the salvation of me for the first time since I
have known her. If I can't pay my note of hand, she threatens me
with an arrest. Well, she _shall_ arrest me. In the state my mind
is in now, the best thing that can happen to me is to be taken
away from Thorpe Ambrose, whether I like it or not. I will write
and say that I am to be found here I will write and tell her, in
so many words, that the best service she can render me is to lock
me up.

"Seven o'clock.--The letter has gone to the post. I had begun
to feel a little easier, when the children came in to thank me
for taking them to the show. One of them is a girl, and the girl
upset me. She is a forward child, and her hair is nearly the
color of mine. She said, 'I shall be like you when I have grown
bigger, shan't I?' Her idiot of a mother said, 'Please to excuse
her, miss,' and took her out of the room, laughing. Like me!
I don't pretend to be fond of the child; but think of her being
like me!

"Saturday morning.--I have done well for once in acting on
impulse, and writing as I did to Mrs. Oldershaw. The only new
circumstance that has happened is another circumstance in my
favor!

"Major Milroy has answered Armadale's letter, entreating
permission to call at the cottage and justify himself. His
daughter read it in silence, when Armadale handed it to her at
their meeting this morning, in the park. But they talked about
it afterward, loud enough for me to hear them. The major persists
in the course he has taken. He says his opinion of Armadale's
conduct has been formed, not on common report, but on Armadale's
own letters, and he sees no reason to alter the conclusion at
which he arrived when the correspondence between them was closed.

"This little matter had, I confess, slipped out of my memory.
It might have ended awkwardly for _me_. If Major Milroy had been
less obstinately wedded to his own opinion, Armadale might have
justified himself; the marriage engagement might have been
acknowledged; and all _my_ power of influencing the matter might
have been at an end. As it is, they must continue to keep the
engagement strictly secret; and Miss Milroy, who has never
ventured herself near the great house since the thunder-storm
forced her into it for shelter, will be less likely than ever
to venture there now. I can part them when I please; with an
anonymous line to the major, I can part them when I please!

"After having discussed the letter, the talk between them turned
on what they were to do next. Major Milroy's severity, as it soon
appeared, produced the usual results. Armadale returned to the
subject of the elopement; and this time she listened to him.
There is everything to drive her to it. Her outfit of clothes
is nearly ready; and the summer holidays, at the school which
has been chosen for her, end at the end of next week. When I left
them, they had decided to meet again and settle something on
Monday.

"The last words I heard him address to her, before I went away,
shook me a little. He said: 'There is one difficulty, Neelie,
that needn't trouble us, at any rate. I have got plenty of
money.' And then he kissed her. The way to his life began to look
an easier way to me when he talked of his money, and kissed her.

"Some hours have passed, and the more I think of it, the more I
fear the blank interval between this time and the time when Mrs.
Oldershaw calls in the law, and protects me against myself. It
might have been better if I had stopped at home this morning. But
how could I? After the insult she offered me yesterday, I tingled
all over to go and look at her.

"To-day; Sunday; Monday; Tuesday. They can't arrest me for the
money before Wednesday. And my miserable five pounds are
dwindling to four! And he told her he had plenty of money! And
she blushed and trembled when he kissed her. It might have been
better for him, better for her, and better for me, if my debt had
fallen due yesterday, and if the bailiffs had their hands on me
at this moment.

"Suppose I had the means of leaving Thorpe Ambrose by the next
train, and going somewhere abroad, and absorbing myself in some
new interest, among new people. Could I do it, rather than look
again at that easy way to his life which would smooth the way
to everything else?

"Perhaps I might. But where is the money to come from? Surely
some way of getting it struck me a day or two since? Yes; that
mean idea of asking Armadale to help me! Well; I _will_ be mean
for once. I'll give him the chance of making a generous use of
that well-filled purse which it is such a comfort to him to
reflect on in his present circumstances. It would soften my heart
toward any man if he lent me money in my present extremity; and,
if Armadale lends me money, it might soften my heart toward him.
When shall I go? At once! I won't give myself time to feel the
degradation of it, and to change my mind.

"Three 'clock.--I mark the hour. He has sealed his own doom.
He has insulted me.

"Yes! I have suffered it once from Miss Milroy. And I have now
suffered it a second time from Armadale himself. An insult--a
marked, merciless, deliberate insult in the open day!

"I had got through the town, and had advanced a few hundred
yards along the road that leads to the great house, when I saw
Armadale at a little distance, coming toward me. He was walking
fast--evidently with some errand of his own to take him to the
town. The instant he caught sight of me he stopped, colored up,
took off his hat, hesitated, and turned aside down a lane behind
him, which I happen to know would take him exactly in the
contrary direction to the direction in which he was walking when
he first saw me. His conduct said in so many words, 'Miss Milroy
may hear of it; I daren't run the risk of being seen speaking to
you.' Men have used me heartlessly; men have done and said hard
things to me; but no man living ever yet treated me as if I was
plague-struck, and as if the very air about me was infected by
my presence!

"I say no more. When he walked away from me down that lane, he
walked to his death. I have written to Midwinter to expect me
in London nest week, and to be ready for our marriage soon
afterward.

"Four o'clock.--Half an hour since, I put on my bonnet to go out
and post the letter to Midwinter myself. And here I am, still in
my room, with my mind torn by doubts, and my letter on the table.

"Armadale counts for nothing in the perplexities that are now
torturing me. It is Midwinter who makes me hesitate. Can I take
the first of those three steps that lead me to the end, without
the common caution of looking at consequences? Can I marry
Midwinter, without knowing beforehand how to meet the obstacle
of my husband, when the time comes which transforms me from the
living Armadale's wife to the dead Armadale's widow?

"Why can't I think of it, when I know I _must_ think of it? Why
can't I look at it as steadily as I have looked at all the rest?
I feel his kisses on my lips; I feel his tears on my bosom; I
feel his arms round me again. He is far away in London; and yet,
he is here and won't let me think of it!

"Why can't I wait a little? Why can't I let Time help me? Time?
It's Saturday! What need is there to think of it, unless I like?
There is no post to London to-day. I _must_ wait. If I posted the
letter, it wouldn't go. Besides, to- morrow I may hear from Mrs.
Oldershaw. I ought to wait to hear from Mrs. Oldershaw. I can't
consider myself a free woman till I know what Mrs. Oldershaw
means to do. There is a necessity for waiting till to-morrow.
I shall take my bonnet off, and lock the letter up in my desk.

"Sunday morning.--There is no resisting it! One after another
the circumstances crowd on me. They come thicker and thicker,
and they all force me one way.

"I have got Mother Oldershaw's answer. The wretch fawns on me,
and cringes to me. I can see, as plainly as if she had
acknowledged it, that she suspects me of seeing my own way to
success at Thorpe Ambrose without her assistance. Having found
threatening me useless, she tries coaxing me now. I am her
darling Lydia again! She is quite shocked that I could imagine
she ever really intended to arrest her bosom friend; and she has
only to entreat me, as a favor to herself, to renew the bill!

"I say once more, no mortal creature could resist it! Time after
time I have tried to escape the temptation; and time after time
the circumstances drive me back again. I can struggle no longer.
The post that takes the letters to-night shall take my letter to
Midwinter among the rest.

"To-night! If I give myself till to-night, something else may
happen. If I give myself till to-night, I may hesitate again. I'm
weary of the torture of hesitating. I must and will have relief
in the present, cost what it may in the future. My letter to
Midwinter will drive me mad if I see it staring and staring at me
in my desk any longer. I can post it in ten minutes' time--and I
will!

"It is done. The first of the three steps that lead me to the end
is a step taken. My mind is quieter--the letter is in the post.

"By to-morrow Midwinter will receive it. Before the end of the
week Armadale must be publicly seen to leave Thorpe Ambrose; and
I must be publicly seen to leave with him.

"Have I looked at the consequences of my marriage to Midwinter?
No! Do I know how to meet the obstacle of my husband, when the
time comes which transforms me from the living Armadale's wife
to the dead Armadale's widow?

"No! When the time comes, I must meet the obstacle as I best may.
I am going blindfold, then--so far as Midwinter is concerned--
into this frightful risk? Yes; blindfold. Am I out of my senses?
Very likely. Or am I a little too fond of him to look the thing
in the face? I dare say. Who cares?

"I won't, I won't, I won't think of it! Haven't I a will of my
own? And can't I think, if I like, of something else?

"Here is Mother Jezebel's cringing letter. _That_ is something
else to think of. I'll answer it. I am in a fine humor for
writing to Mother Jezebel.

* * * * * * *

_Conclusion of Miss Gwilt's Letter to Mrs. Oldershaw_.

"...I told you, when I broke off, that I would wait before I
finished this, and ask my Diary if I could safely tell you what
I have now got it in my mind to do. Well, I have asked; and my
Diary says, 'Don't tell her!' Under these circumstances I close
my letter--with my best excuses for leaving you in the dark.

"I shall probably be in London before long--and I may tell you
by word of mouth what I don't think it safe to write here. Mind,
I make no promise! It all depends on how I feel toward you at
the time. I don't doubt your discretion; but (under certain
circumstances) I am not so sure of your courage. L. G."

"P. S.--My best thanks for your permission to renew the bill. I
decline profiting by the proposal. The money will be ready when
the money is due. I have a friend now in London who will pay it
if I ask him. Do you wonder who the friend is? You will wonder at
one or two other things, Mrs. Oldershaw, before many weeks more
are over your head and mine."

CHAPTER XI.

LOVE AND LAW.

On the morning of Monday, the 28th of July, Miss Gwilt--once more
on the watch for Allan and Neelie--reached her customary post of
observation in the park, by the usual roundabout way.

She was a little surprised to find Neelie alone at the place of
meeting. She was more seriously astonished, when the tardy Allan
made his appearance ten minutes later, to see him mounting the
side of the dell, with a large volume under his arm, and to hear
him say, as an apology for being late, that "he had muddled away
his time in hunting for the Books; and that he had only found
one, after all, which seemed in the least likely to repay either
Neelie or himself for the trouble of looking into it."

If Miss Gwilt had waited long enough in the park, on the previous
Saturday, to hear the lovers' parting words on that occasion, she
would have been at no loss to explain the mystery of the volume
under Allan's arm, and she would have understood the apology
which he now offered for being late as readily as Neelie herself.

There is a certain exceptional occasion in life--the occasion
of marriage--on which even girls in their teens sometimes become
capable (more or less hysterically) of looking at consequences.
At the farewell moment of the interview on Saturday, Neelie's
mind had suddenly precipitated itself into the future; and
she had utterly confounded Allan by inquiring whether the
contemplated elopement was an offense punishable by the Law?
Her memory satisfied her that she had certainly read somewhere,
at some former period, in some book or other (possibly a novel),
of an elopement with a dreadful end--of a bride dragged home in
hysterics--and of a bridegroom sentenced to languish in prison,
with all his beautiful hair cut off, by Act of Parliament, close
to his head. Supposing she could bring herself to consent to the
elopement at all--which she positively declined to promise--she
must first insist on discovering whether there was any fear of
the police being concerned in her marriage as well as the parson
and the clerk. Allan, being a man, ought to know; and to Allan
she looked for information--with this preliminary assurance to
assist him in laying down the law, that she would die of a broken
heart a thousand times over, rather than be the innocent means of
sending him to languish in prison, and of cutting his hair off,
by Act of Parliament, close to his head. "It's no laughing
matter," said Neelie, resolutely, in conclusion; "I decline even
to think of our marriage till my mind is made easy first on the
subject of the Law."

"But I don't know anything about the law, not even as much as
you do," said Allan. "Hang the law! I don't mind my head being
cropped. Let's risk it."

"Risk it?" repeated Neelie, indignantly. "Have you no
consideration for me? I won't risk it! Where there's a will,
there's a way. We must find out the law for ourselves."

"With all my heart," said Allan. "How?"

"Out of books, to be sure! There must be quantities of
information in that enormous library of yours at the great house.
If you really love me, you won't mind going over the backs of a
few thousand books, for my sake!"

"I'll go over the backs of ten thousand!" cried Allan, warmly.
"Would you mind telling me what I'm to look for?"

"For 'Law,' to be sure! When it says 'Law' on the back, open it,
and look inside for Marriage--read every word of it--and then
come here and explain it to me. What! you don't think your head
is to be trusted to do such a simple thing as that?"

"I'm certain it isn't," said Allan. "Can't you help me?"

"Of course I can, if you can't manage without me! Law may be
hard, but it can't be harder than music; and I must, and will,
satisfy my mind. Bring me all the books you can find, on Monday
morning--in a wheelbarrow, if there are a good many of them,
and if you can't manage it in any other way."

The result of this conversation was Allan's appearance in the
park, with a volume of Blackstone's Commentaries under his arm,
on the fatal Monday morning, when Miss Gwilt's written engagement
of marriage was placed in Midwinter's hands. Here again, in this,
as in all other human instances, the widely discordant elements
of the grotesque and the terrible were forced together by that
subtle law of contrast which is one of the laws of mortal life.
Amid all the thickening complications now impending over their
heads--with the shadow of meditated murder stealing toward one of
them already from the lurking-place that hid Miss Gwilt--the two
sat down, unconscious of the future, with the book between them;
and applied themselves to the study of the law of marriage, with
a grave resolution to understand it, which, in two such students,
was nothing less than a burlesque in itself!

"Find the place," said Neelie, as soon as they were comfortably
established. "We must manage this by what they call a division

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