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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 12 out of 17

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of labor. You shall read, and I'll take notes."

She produced forthwith a smart little pocket-book and pencil,
and opened the book in the middle, where there was a blank page
on the right hand and the left. At the top of the right-hand page
she wrote the word _Good_. At the top of the left-hand page she
wrote the word _Bad_. "'Good' means where the law is on our
side," she explained; "and 'Bad' means where the law is against
us. We will have 'Good' and 'Bad' opposite each other, all down
the two pages; and when we get to the bottom, we'll add them up,
and act accordingly. They say girls have no heads for business.
Haven't they! Don't look at me--look at Blackstone, and begin."

"Would you mind giving one a kiss first?" asked Allan.

"I should mind it very much. In our serious situation, when we
have both got to exert our intellects, I wonder you can ask for
such a thing!"

"That's why I asked for it," said the unblushing Allan. "I feel
as if it would clear my head."

"Oh, if it would clear your head, that's quite another thing!
I must clear your head, of course, at any sacrifice. Only one,
mind," she whispered, coquettishly; "and pray be careful of
Blackstone, or you'll lose the place."

There was a pause in the conversation. Blackstone and the
pocket-book both rolled on the ground together.

"If this happens again," said Neelie, picking up the pocket-book,
with her eyes and her complexion at their brightest and best, "I
shall sit with my back to you for the rest of the morning. _Will_
you go on?"

Allan found his place for the second time, and fell headlong into
the bottomless abyss of the English Law.

"Page 280," he began. "Law of husband and wife. Here's a bit I
don't understand, to begin with: 'It may be observed generally
that the law considers marriage in the light of a Contract.' What
does that mean? I thought a contract was the sort of a thing a
builder signs when he promises to have the workmen out of the
house in a given time, and when the time comes (as my poor mother
used to say) the workmen never go."

"Is there nothing about Love?" asked Neelie. "Look a little lower
down."

"Not a word. He sticks to his confounded 'Contract' all the way
through."

"Then he's a brute! Go on to something else that's more in our
way."

"Here's a bit that's more in our way: 'Incapacities. If
any persons under legal incapacities come together, it is
a meretricious, and not a matrimonial union.' (Blackstone's
a good one at long words, isn't he? I wonder what he means by
meretricious?) 'The first of these legal disabilities is a prior
marriage, and having another husband or wife living--'"

"Stop!" said Neelie; "I must make a note of that." She gravely
made her first entry on the page headed "Good," as follows: "I
have no husband, and Allan has no wife. We are both entirely
unmarried at the present time."

"All right, so far," remarked Allan, looking over her shoulder.

"Go on," said Neelie. "What next?"

"'The next disability,'" proceeded Allan, "'is want of age. The
age for consent to matrimony is, fourteen in males, and twelve
in females.' Come!" cried Allan, cheerfully, "Blackstone begins
early enough, at any rate!"

Neelie was too business-like to make any other remark, on her
side, than the necessary remark in the pocket-book. She made
another entry under the head of "Good": "I am old enough to
consent, and so is Allan too. Go on," resumed Neelie, looking
over the reader's shoulder. "Never mind all that prosing of
Blackstone's, about the husband being of years of discretion,
and the wife under twelve. Abominable wretch! the wife under
twelve! Skip to the third incapacity, if there is one."

"'The third incapacity,'" Allan went on, "'is want of reason.'"

Neelie immediately made a third entry on the side of "Good":
"Allan and I are both perfectly reasonable. Skip to the next
page."

Allan skipped. "'A fourth incapacity is in respect of proximity
of relationship.'"

A fourth entry followed instantly on the cheering side of the
pocket-book: "He loves me, and I love him--without our being
in the slightest degree related to each other. Any more?" asked
Neelie, tapping her chin impatiently with the end of the pencil.

"Plenty more," rejoined Allan; "all in hieroglyphics. Look here:
'Marriage Acts, 4 Geo. IV., c. 76, and 6 and 7 Will. IV., c. 85
(_q_).' Blackstone's intellect seems to be wandering here. Shall
we take another skip, and see if he picks himself up again on the
next page?"

"Wait a little," said Neelie; "what's that I see in the middle?"
She read for a minute in silence, over Allan's shoulder, and
suddenly clasped her hands in despair. "I knew I was right!" she
exclaimed. "Oh, heavens, here it is!"

"Where?" asked Allan. "I see nothing about languishing in prison,
and cropping a fellow's hair close to his head, unless it's in
the hieroglyphics. Is '4 Geo. IV.' short for 'Lock him up'? and
does 'c. 85 (_q_)' mean, 'Send for the hair-cutter'?"

"Pray be serious," remonstrated Neelie. "We are both sitting on
a volcano. There," she said pointing to the place. "Read it! If
anything can bring you to a proper sense of our situation, _that_
will."

Allan cleared his throat, and Neelie held the point of her pencil
ready on the depressing side of the account--otherwise the "Bad"
page of the pocket-book.

"'And as it is the policy of our law,'" Allan began, "'to prevent
the marriage of persons under the age of twenty-one, without the
consent of parents and guardians'"--(Neelie made her first entry
on the side of "Bad!" "I'm only seventeen next birthday, and
circumstances forbid me to confide my attachment to papa")--"'it
is provided that in the case of the publication of banns of a
person under twenty-one, not being a widower or widow, who are
deemed emancipated'"--(Neelie made another entry on the
depressing side: "Allan is not a widower, and I am not a widow;
consequently, we are neither of us emancipated")--"'if the
parent or guardian openly signifies his dissent at the time the
banns are published'"--("which papa would be certain to do")--
"'such publication would be void.' I'll take breath here if
you'll allow me," said Allan. "Blackstone might put it in shorter
sentences, I think, if he can't put it in fewer words. Cheer up,
Neelie! there must be other ways of marrying, besides this
roundabout way, that ends in a Publication and a Void. Infernal
gibberish! I could write better English myself."

"We are not at the end of it yet," said Neelie. "The Void is
nothing to what is to come."

"Whatever it is," rejoined Allan, "we'll treat it like a dose
of physic--we'll take it at once, and be done with it." He went
on reading: "'And no license to marry without banns shall be
granted, unless oath shall be first made by one of the parties
that he or she believes that there is no impediment of kindred
or alliance'--well, I can take my oath of that with a safe
conscience! What next? 'And one of the said parties must, for the
space of fifteen days immediately preceding such license, have
had his or her usual place of abode within the parish or chapelry
within which such marriage is to be solemnized!' Chapelry! I'd
live fifteen days in a dog-kennel with the greatest pleasure.
I say, Neelie, all this seems like plain sailing enough. What
are you shaking your head about? Go on, and I shall see? Oh,
all right; I'll go on. Here we are: 'And where one of the said
parties, not being a widower or widow, shall be under the age of
twenty-one years, oath must first be made that the consent of the
person or persons whose consent is required has been obtained,
or that there is no person having authority to give such consent.
The consent required by this act is that of the father--'" At
those last formidable words Allan came to a full stop. "The
consent of the father," he repeated, with all needful seriousness
of look and manner. "I couldn't exactly swear to that, could I?"

Neelie answered in expressive silence. She handed him the
pocket-book, with the final entry completed, on the side of
"Bad," in these terms: "Our marriage is impossible, unless Allan
commits perjury."

The lovers looked at each other, across the insuperable obstacle
of Blackstone, in speechless dismay.

"Shut up the book," said Neelie, resignedly. "I have no doubt we
should find the police, and the prison, and the hair-cutting--all
punishments for perjury, exactly as I told you!--if we looked at
the next page. But we needn't trouble ourselves to look; we have
found out quite enough already. It's all over with us. I must go
to school on Saturday, and you must manage to forget me as soon
as you can. Perhaps we may meet in after-life, and you may be a
widower and I may be a widow, and the cruel law may consider us
emancipated, when it's too late to be of the slightest use.
By that time, no doubt, I shall be old and ugly, and you will
naturally have ceased to care about me, and it will all end in
the grave, and the sooner the better. Good-by," concluded Neelie,
rising mournfully, with the tears in her eyes. "It's only
prolonging our misery to stop here, unless--unless you have
anything to propose?"

"I've got something to propose," cried the headlong Allan. "It's
an entirely new idea. Would you mind trying the blacksmith at
Gretna Green?"

"No earthly consideration," answered Neelie, indignantly, "would
induce me to be married by a blacksmith!"

"Don't be offended," pleaded Allan; "I meant it for the best.
Lots of people in our situation have tried the blacksmith, and
found him quite as good as a clergyman, and a most amiable man,
I believe, into the bargain. Never mind! We must try another
string to our bow."

"We haven't got another to try," said Neelie.

"Take my word for it," persisted Allan, stoutly, "there must be
ways and means of circumventing Blackstone (without perjury), if
we only knew of them. It's a matter of law, and we must consult
somebody in the profession. I dare say it's a risk. But nothing
venture, nothing have. What do you say to young Pedgift? He's a
thorough good fellow. I'm sure we could trust young Pedgift to
keep our secret."

"Not for worlds!" exclaimed Neelie. "You may be willing to trust
your secrets to the vulgar little wretch; I won't have him
trusted with mine. I hate him. No!" she concluded, with a
mounting color and a peremptory stamp of her foot on the grass.
"I positively forbid you to take any of the Thorpe Ambrose people
into your confidence. They would instantly suspect me, and it
would be all over the place in a moment. My attachment may be an
unhappy one," remarked Neelie, with her handkerchief to her eyes,
"and papa may nip it in the bud, but I won't have it profaned by
the town gossip!"

"Hush! hush!" said Allan. "I won't say a word at Thorpe Ambrose,
I won't indeed!" He paused, and considered for a moment. "There's
another way!" he burst out, brightening up on the instant. "We've
got the whole week before us. I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll go
to London!"

There was a sudden rustling--heard neither by one nor the
other--among the trees behind them that screened Miss Gwilt. One
more of the difficulties in her way (the difficulty of getting
Allan to London) now promised to be removed by an act of Allan's
own will.

"To London?" repeated Neelie, looking up in astonishment.

"To London!" reiterated Allan. "That's far enough away from
Thorpe Ambrose, surely? Wait a minute, and don't forget that this
is a question of law. Very well, I know some lawyers in London
who managed all my business for me when I first came in for this
property; they are just the men to consult. And if they decline
to be mixed up in it, there's their head clerk, who is one of
the best fellows I ever met with in my life. I asked him to go
yachting with me, I remember; and, though he couldn't go, he said
he felt the obligation all the same. That's the man to help us.
Blackstone's a mere infant to him. Don't say it's absurd; don't
say it's exactly like _me_. Do pray hear me out. I won't breathe
your name or your father's. I'll describe you as 'a young lady
to whom I am devotedly attached.' And if my friend the clerk
asks where you live, I'll say the north of Scotland, or the west
of Ireland, or the Channel Islands, or anywhere else you like.
My friend the clerk is a total stranger to Thorpe Ambrose and
everybody in it (which is one recommendation); and in five
minutes' time he'd put me up to what to do (which is another). If
you only knew him! He's one of those extraordinary men who appear
once or twice in a century--the sort of man who won't allow you
to make a mistake if you try. All I have got to say to him
(putting it short) is, 'My dear fellow, I want to be privately
married without perjury.' All he has got to say to me (putting it
short) is, 'You must do so-and-so and so-and-so, and you must be
careful to avoid this, that, and the other.' I have nothing
in the world to do but to follow his directions; and you have
nothing in the world to do but what the bride always does
when the bridegroom is ready and willing!" His arm stole round
Neelie's waist, and his lips pointed the moral of the last
sentence with that inarticulate eloquence which is so uniformly
successful in persuading a woman against her will.

All Neelie's meditated objections dwindled, in spite of her, to
one feeble little question. "Suppose I allow you to go, Allan?"
she whispered, toying nervously with the stud in the bosom of
his shirt. "Shall you be very long away?"

"I'll be off to-day," said Allan, "by the eleven o'clock train.
And I'll be back to-morrow, if I and my friend the clerk can
settle it all in time. If not, by Wednesday at latest."

"You'll write to me every day?" pleaded Neelie, clinging a little
closer to him. "I shall sink under the suspense, if you don't
promise to write to me every day."

Allan promised to write twice a day, if she liked--letter-
writing, which was such an effort to other men, was no effort
to _him_!

"And mind, whatever those people may say to you in London,"
proceeded Neelie, "I insist on your coming back for me. I
positively decline to run away, unless you promise to fetch me."

Allan promised for the second time, on his sacred word of honor,
and at the full compass of his voice. But Neelie was not
satisfied even yet. She reverted to first principles, and
insisted on knowing whether Allan was quite sure he loved her.
Allan called Heaven to witness how sure he was; and got another
question directly for his pains. Could he solemnly declare that
he would never regret taking Neelie away from home? Allan called
Heaven to witness again, louder than ever. All to no purpose! The
ravenous female appetite for tender protestations still hungered
for more. "I know what will happen one of these days," persisted
Neelie. "You will see some other girl who is prettier than I am;
and you will wish you had married her instead of me!"

As Allan opened his lips for a final outburst of asseveration,
the stable clock at the great house was faintly audible in the
distance striking the hour. Neelie started guiltily. It was
breakfast-time at the cottage--in other words, time to take
leave. At the last moment her heart went back to her father;
and her head sank on Allan's bosom as she tried to say, Good-by.
"Papa has always been so kind to me, Allan," she whispered,
holding him back tremulously when he turned to leave her. "It
seems so guilty and so heartless to go away from him and be
married in secret. Oh, do, do think before you really go to
London; is there no way of making him a little kinder and juster
to _you_?" The question was useless; the major's resolutely
unfavorable reception of Allan's letter rose in Neelie's memory,
and answered her as the words passed her lips. With a girl's
impulsiveness she pushed Allan away before he could speak, and
signed to him impatiently to go. The conflict of contending
emotions, which she had mastered thus far, burst its way outward
in spite of her after he had waved his hand for the last time,
and had disappeared in the depths of the dell. When she turned
from the place, on her side, her long-restrained tears fell
freely at last, and made the lonely way back to the cottage the
dimmest prospect that Neelie had seen for many a long day past.

As she hurried homeward, the leaves parted behind her, and Miss
Gwilt stepped softly into the open space. She stood there in
triumph, tall, beautiful, and resolute. Her lovely color
brightened while she watched Neelie's retreating figure hastening
lightly away from her over the grass.

"Cry, you little fool!" she said, with her quiet, clear tones,
and her steady smile of contempt. "Cry as you have never cried
yet! You have seen the last of your sweetheart."

CHAPTER XII.

A SCANDAL AT THE STATION.

An hour later, the landlady at Miss Gwilt's lodgings was lost in
astonishment, and the clamorous tongues of the children were in
a state of ungovernable revolt. "Unforeseen circumstances" had
suddenly obliged the tenant of the first floor to terminate the
occupation of her apartments, and to go to London that day by the
eleven o'clock train.

"Please to have a fly at the door at half-past ten," said Miss
Gwilt, as the amazed landlady followed her upstairs. "And excuse
me, you good creature, if I beg and pray not to be disturbed till
the fly comes. "Once inside the room, she locked the door, and
then opened her writing-desk. "Now for my letter to the major!"
she said. "How shall I word it?"

A moment's consideration apparently decided her. Searching
through her collection of pens, she carefully selected the worst
that could be found, and began the letter by writing the date
of the day on a soiled sheet of note-paper, in crooked, clumsy
characters, which ended in a blot made purposely with the feather
of the pen. Pausing, sometimes to think a little, sometimes to
make another blot, she completed the letter in these words:

"HON'D SIR--It is on my conscience to tell you something, which
I think you ought to know. You ought to know of the goings-on of
Miss, your daughter, with young Mister Armadale. I wish you to
make sure, and, what is more, I advise you to be quick about it,
if she is going the way you want her to go, when she takes her
morning walk before breakfast. I scorn to make mischief, where
there is true love on both sides. But I don't think the young man
means truly by Miss. What I mean is, I think Miss only has his
fancy. Another person, who shall be nameless betwixt us, has his
true heart. Please to pardon my not putting my name; I am only a
humble person, and it might get me into trouble. This is all at
present, dear sir, from yours,

"A WELL-WISHER."

"There!" said Miss Gwilt, as she folded the letter up. "If I had
been a professed novelist, I could hardly have written more
naturally in the character of a servant than that!" She wrote the
necessary address to Major Milroy; looked admiringly for the last
time at the coarse and clumsy writing which her own delicate hand
had produced; and rose to post the letter herself, before she
entered next on the serious business of packing up. "Curious!"
she thought, when the letter had been posted, and she was back
again making her traveling preparations in her own room; "here
I am, running headlong into a frightful risk--and I never was in
better spirits in my life!"

The boxes were ready when the fly was at the door, and Miss Gwilt
was equipped (as becomingly as usual) in her neat traveling
costume. The thick veil, which she was accustomed to wear in
London, appeared on her country straw bonnet for the first time."
One meets such rude men occasionally in the railway," she said
to the landlady. "And though I dress quietly, my hair is so very
remarkable." She was a little paler than usual; but she had never
been so sweet-tempered and engaging, so gracefully cordial and
friendly, as now, when the moment of departure had come. The
simple people of the house were quite moved at taking leave of
her. She insisted on shaking hands with the landlord--on speaking
to him in her prettiest way, and sunning him in her brightest
smiles. "Come!" she said to the landlady, "you have been so kind,
you have been so like a mother to me, you must give me a kiss at
parting." She embraced the children all together in a lump, with
a mixture of humor and tenderness delightful to see, and left a
shilling among them to buy a cake. "If I was only rich enough to
make it a sovereign," she whispered to the mother, "how glad I
should be!" The awkward lad who ran on errands stood waiting at
the fly door. He was clumsy, he was frowsy, he had a gaping mouth
and a turn-up nose; but the ineradicable female delight in being
charming accepted him, for all that, in the character of a last
chance. "You dear, dingy John!" she said, kindly, at the carriage
door. "I am so poor I have only sixpence to give you--with my
very best wishes. Take my advice, John--grow to be a fine man,
and find yourself a nice sweetheart! Thank you a thousand times!"
She gave him a friendly little pat on the cheek with two of her
gloved fingers, and smiled, and nodded, and got into the fly.

"Armadale next!" she said to herself as the carriage drove off.

Allan's anxiety not to miss the train had brought him to the
station in better time than usual. After taking his ticket and
putting his portmanteau under the porter's charge, he was pacing
the platform and thinking of Neelie, when he heard the rustling
of a lady's dress behind him, and, turning round to look, found
himself face to face with Miss Gwilt.

There was no escaping her this time. The station wall was on his
right hand, and the line was on his left; a tunnel was behind
him, and Miss Gwilt was in front, inquiring in her sweetest tones
whether Mr. Armadale was going to London.

Allan colored scarlet with vexation and surprise. There he was
obviously waiting for the train; and there was his portmanteau
close by, with his name on it, already labeled for London! What
answer but the true one could he make after that? Could he let
the train go without him, and lose the precious hours so vitally
important to Neelie and himself? Impossible! Allan helplessly
confirmed the printed statement on his portmanteau, and heartily
wished himself at the other end of the world as he said the
words.

"How very fortunate!" rejoined Miss Gwilt. "I am going to London
too. Might I ask you Mr. Armadale (as you seem to be quite
alone), to be my escort on the journey?"

Allan looked at the little assembly of travelers, and travelers'
friends, collected on the platform, near the booking-office door.
They were all Thorpe Ambrose people. He was probably known by
sight, and Miss Gwilt was probably known by sight, to every one
of them. In sheer desperation, hesitating more awkwardly than
ever, he produced his cigar case. "I should be delighted," he
said, with an embarrassment which was almost an insult under the
circumstances. "But I--I'm what the people who get sick over a
cigar call a slave to smoking."

"I delight in smoking!" said Miss Gwilt, with undiminished
vivacity and good humor. "It's one of the privileges of the men
which I have always envied. I'm afraid, Mr. Armadale, you must
think I am forcing myself on you. It certainly looks like it.
The real truth is, I want particularly to say a word to you in
private about Mr. Midwinter."

The train came up at the same moment. Setting Midwinter out of
the question, the common decencies of politeness left Allan no
alternative but to submit. After having been the cause of her
leaving her situation at Major Milroy's, after having pointedly
avoided her only a few days since on the high-road, to have
declined going to London in the same carriage with Miss Gwilt
would have been an act of downright brutality which it was
simply impossible to commit. "Damn her!" said Allan, internally,
as he handed his traveling companion into an empty carriage,
officiously placed at his disposal, before all the people at the
station, by the guard. "You shan't be disturbed, sir," the man
whispered, confidentially, with a smile and a touch of his hat.
Allan could have knocked him down with the utmost pleasure.
"Stop!" he said, from the window. "I don't want the carriage--"
It was useless; the guard was out of hearing; the whistle blew,
and the train started for London.

The select assembly of travelers' friends, left behind on
the platform, congregated in a circle on the spot, with the
station-master in the center.

The station-master--otherwise Mr. Mack--was a popular character
in the neighborhood. He possessed two social qualifications
which invariably impress the average English mind--he was an
old soldier, and he was a man of few words. The conclave on the
platform insisted on taking his opinion, before it committed
itself positively to an opinion of its own. A brisk fire of
remarks exploded, as a matter of course, on all sides; but
everybody's view of the subject ended interrogatively, in a
question aimed pointblank at the station-master's ears.

"She's got him, hasn't she?" "She'll come back 'Mrs. Armadale,'
won't she?" "He'd better have stuck to Miss Milroy, hadn't he?"
"Miss Milroy stuck to _him_. She paid him a visit at the great
house, didn't she?" "Nothing of the sort; it's a shame to take
the girl's character away. She was caught in a thunder-storm
close by; he was obliged to give her shelter; and she's never
been near the place since. Miss Gwilt's been there, if you like,
with no thunderstorm to force _her_ in; and Miss Gwilt's off with
him to London in a carriage all to themselves, eh, Mr. Mack?"
"Ah, he's a soft one, that Armadale! with all his money, to take
up with a red-haired woman, a good eight or nine years older than
he is! She's thirty if she's a day. That's what I say, Mr. Mack.
What do you say?" "Older or younger, she'll rule the roast at
Thorpe Ambrose; and I say, for the sake of the place, and for the
sake of trade, let's make the best of it; and Mr. Mack, as a man
of the world, sees it in the same light as I do, don't you, sir?"

"Gentlemen," said the station-master, with his abrupt military
accent, and his impenetrable military manner, "she's a devilish
fine woman. And when I was Mr. Armadale's age, it's my opinion,
if her fancy had laid that way, she might have married Me."

With that expression of opinion the station-master wheeled to
the right, and intrenched himself impregnably in the stronghold
of his own office.

The citizens of Thorpe Ambrose looked at the closed door, and
gravely shook their heads. Mr. Mack had disappointed them. No
opinion which openly recognizes the frailty of human nature is
ever a popular opinion with mankind. "It's as good as saying
that any of _us_ might have married her if _we_ had been Mr.
Armadale's age!" Such was the general impression on the minds
of the conclave, when the meeting had been adjourned, and the
members were leaving the station.

The last of the party to go was a slow old gentleman, with a
habit of deliberately looking about him. Pausing at the door,
this observant person stared up the platform and down the
platform, and discovered in the latter direction, standing behind
an angle of the wall, an elderly man in black, who had escaped
the notice of everybody up to that time. "Why, bless my soul!"
said the old gentleman, advancing inquisitively by a step at a
time, "it can't be Mr. Bashwood!"

It _was_ Mr. Bashwood--Mr. Bashwood, whose constitutional
curiosity had taken him privately to the station, bent on solving
the mystery of Allan's sudden journey to London--Mr. Bashwood,
who had seen and heard, behind his angle in the wall, what
everybody else had seen and heard, and who appeared to have been
impressed by it in no ordinary way. He stood stiffly against the
wall, like a man petrified, with one hand pressed on his bare
head, and the other holding his hat--he stood, with a dull flush
on his face, and a dull stare in his eyes, looking straight into
the black depths of the tunnel outside the station, as if the
train to London had disappeared in it but the moment before.

"Is your head bad?" asked the old gentleman. "Take my advice.
Go home and lie down."

Mr. Bashwood listened mechanically, with his usual attention,
and answered mechanically, with his usual politeness.

"Yes, sir," he said, in a low, lost tone, like a man between
dreaming and waking; "I'll go home and lie down."

"That's right," rejoined the old gentleman, making for the door.
"And take a pill, Mr. Bashwood--take a pill."

Five minutes later, the porter charged with the business of
locking up the station found Mr. Bashwood, still standing
bare-headed against the wall, and still looking straight into
the black depths of the tunnel, as if the train to London had
disappeared in it but a moment since.

"Come, sir!" said the porter; "I must lock up. Are you out
of sorts? Anything wrong with your inside? Try a drop of
gin-and-bitters."

"Yes," said Mr. Bashwood, answering the porter, exactly as he had
answered the old gentleman; "I'll try a drop of gin-and-bitters."

The porter took him by the arm, and led him out. "You'll get it
there," said the man, pointing confidentially to a public-house;
"and you'll get it good."

"I shall get it there," echoed Mr. Bashwood, still mechanically
repeating what was said to him; "and I shall get it good."

His will seemed to be paralyzed; his actions depended absolutely
on what other people told him to do. He took a few steps in the
direction of the public-house, hesitated, staggered, and caught
at the pillar of one of the station lamps near him.

The porter followed, and took him by the arm once more.

"Why, you've been drinking already!" exclaimed the man, with a
suddenly quickened interest in Mr. Bashwood's case. "What was it?
Beer?"

Mr. Bashwood, in his low, lost tones, echoed the last word.

It was close on the porter's dinner-time. But, when the lower
orders of the English people believe they have discovered an
intoxicated man, their sympathy with him is boundless. The
porter let his dinner take its chance, and carefully assisted
Mr. Bashwood to reach the public-house. "Gin-and-bitters will put
you on your legs again," whispered this Samaritan setter-right
of the alcoholic disasters of mankind.

If Mr. Bashwood had really been intoxicated, the effect of the
porter's remedy would have been marvelous indeed. Almost as
soon as the glass was emptied, the stimulant did its work. The
long-weakened nervous system of the deputy-steward, prostrated
for the moment by the shock that had fallen on it, rallied again
like a weary horse under the spur. The dull flush on his cheeks,
the dull stare in his eyes, disappeared simultaneously. After a
momentary effort, he recovered memory enough of what had passed
to thank the porter, and to ask whether he would take something
himself. The worthy creature instantly accepted a dose of his own
remedy--in the capacity of a preventive--and went home to dinner
as only those men can go home who are physically warmed by
gin-and-bitters and morally elevated by the performance of
a good action.

Still strangely abstracted (but conscious now of the way by which
he went), Mr. Bashwood left the public-house a few minutes later,
in his turn. He walked on mechanically, in his dreary black
garments, moving like a blot on the white surface of the
sun-brightened road, as Midwinter had seen him move in the early
days at Thorpe Ambrose, when they had first met. Arrived at
the point where he had to choose between the way that led into
the town and the way that led to the great house, he stopped,
incapable of deciding, and careless, apparently, even of making
the attempt. "I'll be revenged on her!" he whispered to himself,
still absorbed in his jealous frenzy of rage against the woman
who had deceived him. "I'll be revenged on her," he repeated,
in louder tones, "if I spend every half-penny I've got!"

Some women of the disorderly sort, passing on their way to the
town, heard him. "Ah, you old brute," they called out, with the
measureless license of their class, "whatever she did, she served
you right!"

The coarseness of the voices startled him, whether he
comprehended the words or not. He shrank away from more
interruption and more insult, into the quieter road that led
to the great house.

At a solitary place by the wayside he stopped and sat down.
He took off his hat and lifted his youthful wig a little from
his bald old head, and tried desperately to get beyond the one
immovable conviction which lay on his mind like lead--the
conviction that Miss Gwilt had been purposely deceiving him from
the first. It was useless. No effort would free him from that one
dominant impression, and from the one answering idea that it had
evoked--the idea of revenge. He got up again, and put on his hat
and walked rapidly forward a little way--then turned without
knowing why, and slowly walked back again "If I had only dressed
a little smarter!" said the poor wretch, helplessly. "If I had
only been a little bolder with her, she might have overlooked
my being an old man!" The angry fit returned on him. He clinched
his clammy, trembling hands, and shook them fiercely in the empty
air. "I'll be revenged on her," he reiterated. "I'll be revenged
on her, if I spend every half-penny I've got!" It was terribly
suggestive of the hold she had taken on him, that his vindictive
sense of injury could not get far enough away from her to reach
the man whom he believed to be his rival, even yet. In his rage,
as in his love, he was absorbed, body and soul, by Miss Gwilt.

In a moment more, the noise of running wheels approaching from
behind startled him. He turned and looked round. There was Mr.
Pedgift the elder, rapidly overtaking him in the gig, just as Mr.
Pedgift had overtaken him once already, on that former occasion
when he had listened under the window at the great house, and
when the lawyer had bluntly charged him with feeling a curiosity
about Miss Gwilt!

In an instant the inevitable association of ideas burst on his
mind. The opinion of Miss Gwilt, which he had heard the lawyer
express to Allan at parting, flashed back into his memory, side
by side with Mr. Pedgift's sarcastic approval of anything in
the way of inquiry which his own curiosity might attempt. "I
may be even with her yet," he thought, "if Mr. Pedgift will help
me!--Stop, sir!" he called out, desperately, as the gig came up
with him. "If you please, sir, I want to speak to you."

Pedgift Senior slackened the pace of his fast-trotting mare,
without pulling up. "Come to the office in half an hour," he
said; "I'm busy now." Without waiting for an answer, without
noticing Mr. Bashwood's bow, he gave the mare the rein again,
and was out of sight in another minute.

Mr. Bashwood sat down once more in a shady place by the roadside.
He appeared to be incapable of feeling any slight but the one
unpardonable slight put upon him by Miss Gwilt. He not only
declined to resent, he even made the best of Mr. Pedgift's
unceremonious treatment of him. "Half an hour," he said,
resignedly. "Time enough to compose myself; and I want time.
Very kind of Mr. Pedgift, though he mightn't have meant it."

The sense of oppression in his head forced him once again
to remove his hat. He sat with it on his lap, deep in thought;
his face bent low, and the wavering fingers of one hand drumming
absently on the crown of the hat. If Mr. Pedgift the elder,
seeing him as he sat now, could only have looked a little way
into the future, the monotonously drumming hand of the
deputy-steward might have been strong enough, feeble as it was,
to stop the lawyer by the roadside. It was the worn, weary,
miserable old hand of a worn, weary, miserable old man; but
it was, for all that (to use the language of Mr. Pedgift's own
parting prediction to Allan), the hand that was now destined
to "let the light in on Miss Gwilt."

CHAPTER XIII.

AN OLD MAN'S HEART.

Punctual to the moment, when the half hour's interval had
expired, Mr. Bashwood was announced at the office as waiting
to see Mr. Pedgift by special appointment.

The lawyer looked up from his papers with an air of annoyance:
he had totally forgotten the meeting by the roadside. "See what
he wants," said Pedgift Senior to Pedgift Junior, working in the
same room with him. "And if it's nothing of importance, put it
off to some other time."

Pedgift Junior swiftly disappeared and swiftly returned.

"Well?" asked the father.

"Well," answered the son, "he is rather more shaky and
unintelligible than usual. I can make nothing out of him, except
that he persists in wanting to see you. My own idea," pursued
Pedgift Junior, with his usual, sardonic gravity, "is that he
is going to have a fit, and that he wishes to acknowledge your
uniform kindness to him by obliging you with a private view
of the whole proceeding."

Pedgift Senior habitually matched everybody--his son included--
with their own weapons. "Be good enough to remember, Augustus,"
he rejoined, "that my Room is not a Court of Law. A bad joke
is not invariably followed by 'roars of laughter' _here_. Let
Mr. Bashwood come in."

Mr. Bashwood was introduced, and Pedgift Junior withdrew. "You
mustn't bleed him, sir," whispered the incorrigible joker, as
he passed the back of his father's chair. "Hot-water bottles
to the soles of his feet, and a mustard plaster on the pit of
his stomach--that's the modern treatment."

"Sit down, Bashwood," said Pedgift Senior when they were alone.
"And don't forget that time's money. Out with it, whatever it is,
at the quickest possible rate, and in the fewest possible words."

These preliminary directions, bluntly but not at all unkindly
spoken, rather increased than diminished the painful agitation
under which Mr. Bashwood was suffering. He stammered more
helplessly, he trembled more continuously than usual, as he made
his little speech of thanks, and added his apologies at the end
for intruding on his patron in business hours.

"Everybody in the place, Mr. Pedgift, sir, knows your time is
valuable. Oh, dear, yes! oh, dear, yes! most valuable, most
valuable! Excuse me, sir, I'm coming out with it. Your goodness
--or rather your business--no, your goodness gave me half an hour
to wait--and I have thought of what I had to say, and prepared
it, and put it short." Having got as far as that, he stopped
with a pained, bewildered look. He had put it away in his memory,
and now, when the time came, he was too confused to find it.
And there was Mr. Pedgift mutely waiting; his face and manner
expressive alike of that silent sense of the value of his own
time which every patient who has visited a great doctor, every
client who has consulted a lawyer in large practice, knows so
well. "Have you heard the news, sir?" stammered Mr. Bashwood,
shifting his ground in despair, and letting the uppermost idea
in his mind escape him, simply because it was the one idea in him
that was ready to come out.

"Does it concern _me_?" asked Pedgift Senior, mercilessly brief,
and mercilessly straight in coming to the point.

"It concerns a lady, sir--no, not a lady--a young man, I ought
to say, in whom you used to feel some interest. Oh, Mr. Pedgift,
sir, what do you think! Mr. Armadale and Miss Gwilt have gone
up to London together to-day--alone, sir--alone in a carriage
reserved for their two selves. Do you think he's going to marry
her? Do you really think, like the rest of them, he's going to
marry her?"

He put the question with a sudden flush in his face and a sudden
energy in his manner. His sense of the value of the lawyer's
time, his conviction of the greatness of the lawyer's
condescension, his constitutional shyness and timidity--all
yielded together to his one overwhelming interest in hearing Mr.
Pedgift's answer. He was loud for the first time in his life in
putting the question.

"After my experience of Mr. Armadale," said the lawyer, instantly
hardening in look and manner, "I believe him to be infatuated
enough to marry Miss Gwilt a dozen times over, if Miss Gwilt
chose to ask him. Your news doesn't surprise me in the least,
Bashwood. I'm sorry for him. I can honestly say that, though he
_has_ set my advice at defiance. And I'm more sorry still," he
continued, softening again as his mind reverted to his interview
with Neelie under the trees of the park--"I'm more sorry still
for another person who shall be nameless. But what have I to do
with all this? And what on earth is the matter with you?" he
resumed, noticing for the first time the abject misery in Mr.
Bashwood's manner, the blank despair in Mr. Bashwood's face,
which his answer had produced. "Are you ill? Is there something
behind the curtain that you're afraid to bring out? I don't
understand it. Have you come here--here in my private room, in
business hours--with nothing to tell me but that young Armadale
has been fool enough to ruin his prospects for life? Why, I
foresaw it all weeks since, and what is more, I as good as told
him so at the last conversation I had with him in the great
house."

At those last words, Mr. Bashwood suddenly rallied. The lawyer's
passing reference to the great house had led him back in a moment
to the purpose that he had in view.

"That's it, sir!" he said, eagerly; "that's what I wanted to
speak to you about; that's what I've been preparing in my mind.
Mr. Pedgift, sir, the last time you were at the great house, when
you came away in your gig, you--you overtook me on the drive."

"I dare say I did," remarked Pedgift, resignedly. "My mare
happens to be a trifle quicker on her legs than you are on yours,
Bashwood. Go on, go on. We shall come in time, I suppose, to what
you are driving at."

"You stopped, and spoke to me, sir," proceeded Mr. Bashwood,
advancing more and more eagerly to his end. "You said you
suspected me of feeling some curiosity about Miss Gwilt, and you
told me (I remember the exact words, sir)--you told me to gratify
my curiosity by all means, for you didn't object to it."

Pedgift Senior began for the first time to look interested
in hearing more.

"I remember something of the sort," he replied; "and I also
remember thinking it rather remarkable that you should
_happen_--we won't put it in any more offensive way--to be
exactly under Mr. Armadale's open window while I was talking
to him. It might have been accident, of course; but it looked
rather more like curiosity. I could only judge by appearances,"
concluded Pedgift, pointing his sarcasm with a pinch of snuff;
"and appearances, Bashwood, were decidedly against you."

"I don't deny it, sir. I only mentioned the circumstance because
I wished to acknowledge that I _was_ curious, and _am_ curious
about Miss Gwilt."

"Why?" asked Pedgift Senior, seeing something under the surface
in Mr. Bashwood's face and manner, but utterly in the dark thus
far as to what that something might be.

There was silence for a moment. The moment passed, Mr. Bashwood
took the refuge usually taken by nervous, unready men, placed
in his circumstances, when they are at a loss for an answer.
He simply reiterated the assertion that he had just made.
"I feel some curiosity sir," he said, with a strange mixture
of doggedness and timidity, "about Miss Gwilt."

There was another moment of silence. In spite of his practiced
acuteness and knowledge of the world, the lawyer was more puzzled
than ever. The case of Mr. Bashwood presented the one human
riddle of all others which he was least qualified to solve.
Though year after year witnesses in thousands and thousands
of cases, the remorseless disinheriting of nearest and dearest
relations, the unnatural breaking-up of sacred family ties, the
deplorable severance of old and firm friendships, due entirely
to the intense self-absorption which the sexual passion can
produce when it enters the heart of an old man, the association
of love with infirmity and gray hairs arouses, nevertheless,
all the world over, no other idea than the idea of extravagant
improbability or extravagant absurdity in the general mind. If
the interview now taking place in Mr. Pedgift's consulting-room
had taken place at his dinner-table instead, when wine had opened
his mind to humorous influences, it is possible that he might, by
this time, have suspected the truth. But, in his business hours,
Pedgift Senior was in the habit of investigating men's motives
seriously from the business point of view; and he was on that
very account simply incapable of conceiving any improbability
so startling, any absurdity so enormous, as the absurdity and
improbability of Mr. Bashwood's being in love.

Some men in the lawyer's position would have tried to force their
way to enlightenment by obstinately repeating the unanswered
question. Pedgift Senior wisely postponed the question until he
had moved the conversation on another step. "Well," he resumed,
"let us say you feel a curiosity about Miss Gwilt. What next?"

The palms of Mr. Bashwood's hands began to moisten under the
influence of his agitation, as they had moistened in the past
days when he had told the story of his domestic sorrows
to Midwinter at the great house. Once more he rolled his
handkerchief into a ball, and dabbed it softly to and fro
from one hand to the other.

"May I ask if I am right, sir," he began, "in believing that you
have a very unfavorable opinion of Miss Gwilt? You are quite
convinced, I think--"

"My good fellow," interrupted Pedgift Senior, "why need you be
in any doubt about it? You were under Mr. Armadale's open window
all the while I was talking to him; and your ears, I presume,
were not absolutely shut."

Mr. Bashwood showed no sense of the interruption. The little
sting of the lawyer's sarcasm was lost in the nobler pain that
wrung him from the wound inflicted by Miss Gwilt.

"You are quite convinced, I think, sir," he resumed, "that there
are circumstances in this lady's past life which would be highly
discreditable to her if they were discovered at the present
time?"

"The window was open at the great house, Bashwood; and your ears,
I presume, were not absolutely shut."

Still impenetrable to the sting, Mr. Bashwood persisted more
obstinately than ever.

"Unless I am greatly mistaken," he said, "your long experience
in such things has even suggested to you, sir, that Miss Gwilt
might turn out to be known to the police?"

Pedgift Senior's patience gave way. "You have been over ten
minutes in this room," he broke out. "Can you, or can you not,
tell me in plain English what you want?"

In plain English--with the passion that had transformed him, the
passion which (in Miss Gwilt's own words) had made a man of him,
burning in his haggard cheeks--Mr. Bashwood met the challenge,
and faced the lawyer (as, the worried sheep faces the dog) on
his own ground.

"I wish to say, sir," he answered, "that your opinion in this
matter is my opinion too. I believe there is something wrong in
Miss Gwilt's past life which she keeps concealed from everybody,
and I want to be the man who knows it."

Pedgift Senior saw his chance, and instantly reverted to the
question that he had postponed. "Why?" he asked for the second
time.

For the second time Mr. Bashwood hesitated.

Could he acknowledge that he had been mad enough to love her, and
mean enough to be a spy for her? Could he say, She has deceived
me from the first, and she has deserted me, now her object is
served. After robbing me of my happiness, robbing me of my honor,
robbing me of my last hope left in life, she has gone from me
forever, and left me nothing but my old man's longing, slow and
sly, and strong and changeless, for revenge. Revenge that I may
have, if I can poison her success by dragging her frailties into
the public view. Revenge that I will buy (for what is gold or
what is life to me?) with the last farthing of my hoarded money
and the last drop of my stagnant blood. Could he say that to the
man who sat waiting for his answer? No; he could only crush it
down and be silent.

The lawyer's expression began to harden once more.

"One of us must speak out," he said; "and as you evidently
won't, I will. I can only account for this extraordinary anxiety
of yours to make yourself acquainted with Miss Gwilt's secrets,
in one of two ways. Your motive is either an excessively mean
one (no offense, Bashwood, I am only putting the case), or an
excessively generous one. After my experience of your honest
character and your creditable conduct, it is only your due that I
should absolve you at once of the mean motive. I believe you are
as incapable as I am--I can say no more--of turning to mercenary
account any discoveries you might make to Miss Gwilt's prejudice
in Miss Gwilt's past life. Shall I go on any further? or would
you prefer, on second thoughts, opening your mind frankly to me
of your own accord?"

"I should prefer not interrupting you, sir," said Mr. Bashwood.

"As you please," pursued Pedgift Senior. "Having absolved you
of the mean motive, I come to the generous motive next. It is
possible that you are an unusually grateful man; and it is
certain that Mr. Armadale has been remarkably kind to you.
After employing you under Mr. Midwinter, in the steward's office,
he has had confidence enough in your honesty and your capacity,
now his friend has left him, to put his business entirely and
unreservedly in your hands. It's not in my experience of human
nature--but it may be possible, nevertheless---that you are
so gratefully sensible of that confidence, and so gratefully
interested in your employer's welfare, that you can't see him,
in his friendless position, going straight to his own disgrace
and ruin, without making an effort to save him. To put it in two
words. Is it your idea that Mr. Armadale might be prevented from
marrying Miss Gwilt, if he could be informed in time of her real
character? And do you wish to be the man who opens his eyes to
the truth? If that is the case--"

He stopped in astonishment. Acting under some uncontrollable
impulse, Mr. Bashwood had started to his feet. He stood, with
his withered face lit up by a sudden irradiation from within,
which made him look younger than his age by a good twenty
years--he stood, gasping for breath enough to speak, and
gesticulated entreatingly at the lawyer with both hands.

"Say it again, sir!" he burst out, eagerly, recovering his breath
before Pedgift Senior had recovered his surprise. "The question
about Mr. Armadale, sir!--only once more!--only once more, Mr.
Pedgift, please!"

With his practiced observation closely and distrustfully at work
on Mr. Bashwood' s face, Pedgift Senior motioned to him to sit
down again, and put the question for the second time.

"Do I think," said Mr. Bashwood, repeating the sense, but not
the words of the question, "that Mr. Armadale might be parted
from Miss Gwilt, if she could be shown to him as she really is?
Yes, sir! And do I wish to be the man who does it? Yes, sir!
yes, sir!! yes, sir!!!"

"It's rather strange," remarked the lawyer, looking at him
more and more distrustfully, "that you should be so violently
agitated, simply because my question happens to have hit the
mark."

The question happened to have hit a mark which Pedgift little
dreamed of. It had released Mr. Bashwood's mind in an instant
from the dead pressure of his one dominant idea of revenge, and
had shown him a purpose to be achieved by the discovery of Miss
Gwilt's secrets which had never occurred to him till that moment.
The marriage which he had blindly regarded as inevitable was
a marriage that might be stopped--not in Allan's interests, but
in his own--and the woman whom he believed that he had lost might
yet, in spite of circumstances, be a woman won! His brain whirled
as he thought of it. His own roused resolution almost daunted
him, by its terrible incongruity with all the familiar habits
of his mind, and all the customary proceedings of his life.

Finding his last remark unanswered, Pedgift Senior considered
a little before he said anything more.

"One thing is clear," reasoned the lawyer with himself. "His true
motive in this matter is a motive which he is afraid to avow.
My question evidently offered him a chance of misleading me, and
he has accepted it on the spot. That's enough for _me_. If I was
Mr. Armadale's lawyer, the mystery might be worth investigating.
As things are, it's no interest of mine to hunt Mr. Bashwood
from one lie to another till I run him to earth at last. I have
nothing whatever to do with it; and I shall leave him free
to follow his own roundabout courses, in his own roundabout way."
Having arrived at that conclusion, Pedgift Senior pushed back
his chair, and rose briskly to terminate the interview.

"Don't be alarmed, Bashwood," he began. "The subject of our
conversation is a subject exhausted, so far as I am concerned.
I have only a few last words to say, and it's a habit of mine,
as you know, to say my last words on my legs. Whatever else I may
be in the dark about, I have made one discovery, at any rate.
I have found out what you really want with me--at last! You want
me to help you."

"If you would be so very, very kind, sir!" stammered Mr.
Bashwood. "If you would only give me the great advantage of
your opinion and advice."

"Wait a bit, Bashwood We will separate those two things, if you
please. A lawyer may offer an opinion like any other man; but
when a lawyer gives his advice--by the Lord Harry, sir, it's
Professional! You're welcome to my opinion in this matter; I have
disguised it from nobody. I believe there have been events in
Miss Gwilt's career which (if they could be discovered) would
even make Mr. Armadale, infatuated as he is, afraid to marry
her--supposing, of course, that he really _is_ going to marry
her; for, though the appearances are in favor of it so far,
it is only an assumption, after all. As to the mode of proceeding
by which the blots on this woman's character might or might not
be brought to light in time--she may be married by license in
a fortnight if she likes--_that_ is a branch of the question on
which I positively decline to enter. It implies speaking in my
character as a lawyer, and giving you, what I decline positively
to give you, my professional advice."

"Oh, sir, don't say that!" pleaded Mr. Bashwood. "Don't deny
me the great favor, the inestimable advantage of your advice!
I have such a poor head, Mr. Pedgift! I am so old and so slow,
sir, and I get so sadly startled and worried when I'm thrown out
of my ordinary ways. It's quite natural you should be a little
impatient with me for taking up your time--I know that time is
money, to a clever man like you. Would you excuse me--would you
please excuse me, if I venture to say that I have saved a little
something, a few pounds, sir; and being quite lonely, with nobody
dependent on me, I'm sure I may spend my savings as I please?"
Blind to every consideration but the one consideration of
propitiating Mr. Pedgift, he took out a dingy, ragged old
pocket-book, and tried, with trembling fingers, to open it on
the lawyer's table.

"Put your pocket-book back directly," said Pedgift Senior.
"Richer men than you have tried that argument with me, and have
found that there is such a thing (off the stage) as a lawyer
who is not to be bribed. I will have nothing to do with the case,
under existing circumstances. If you want to know why, I beg
to inform you that Miss Gwilt ceased to be professionally
interesting to me on the day when I ceased to be Mr. Armadale's
lawyer. I may have other reasons besides, which I don't think
it necessary to mention. The reason already given is explicit
enough. Go your own way, and take your responsibility on your own
shoulders. You _may_ venture within reach of Miss Gwilt's claws
and come out again without being scratched. Time will show. In
the meanwhile, I wish you good-morning--and I own, to my shame,
that I never knew till today what a hero you were."

This time, Mr. Bashwood felt the sting. Without another word
of expostulation or entreaty, without even saying "Good-morning"
on his side, he walked to the door, opened it, softly, and left
the room.

The parting look in his face, and the sudden silence that had
fallen on him, were not lost on Pedgift Senior. "Bashwood will
end badly," said the lawyer, shuffling his papers, and returning
impenetrably to his interrupted work.

The change in Mr. Bashwood's face and manner to something dogged
and self-contained was so startlingly uncharacteristic of him,
that it even forced itself on the notice of Pedgift Junior and
the clerks as he passed through the outer office. Accustomed to
make the old man their butt, they took a boisterously comic view
of the marked alteration in him. Deaf to the merciless raillery
with which he was assailed on all sides, he stopped opposite
young Pedgift, and, looking him attentively in the face, said,
in a quiet, absent manner, like a man thinking aloud, "I wonder
whether _you_ would help me?"

"Open an account instantly," said Pedgift Junior to the clerks,
"in the name of Mr. Bashwood. Place a chair for Mr. Bashwood,
with a footstool close by, in case he wants it. Supply me with
a quire of extra double-wove satin paper, and a gross of picked
quills, to take notes of Mr. Bashwood's case; and inform my
father instantly that I am going to leave him and set up in
business for myself, on the strength of Mr. Bashwood's patronage.
Take a seat, sir, pray take a seat, and express your feelings
freely."

Still impenetrably deaf to the raillery of which he was the
object, Mr. Bashwood waited until Pedgift Junior had exhausted
himself, and then turned quietly away.

"I ought to have known better," he said, in the same absent
manner as before. "He is his father's son all over--he would
make game of me on my death-bed." He paused a moment at the door,
mechanically brushing his hat with his hand, and went out into
the street.

The bright sunshine dazzled his eyes, the passing vehicles and
foot-passengers startled and bewildered him. He shrank into a
by-street, and put his hand over his eyes. "I'd better go home,"
he thought, "and shut myself up, and think about it in my own
room."

His lodging was in a small house, in the poor quarter of the
town. He let himself in with his key, and stole softly upstairs.
The one little room he possessed met him cruelly, look round it
where he might, with silent memorials of Miss Gwilt. On the
chimney-piece were the flowers she had given him at various
times, all withered long since, and all preserved on a little
china pedestal, protected by a glass shade. On the wall hung
a wretched colored print of a woman, which he had caused to be
nicely framed and glazed, because there was a look in it that
reminded him of her face. In his clumsy old mahogany writing-desk
were the few letters, brief and peremptory, which she had written
to him at the time when he was watching and listening meanly at
Thorpe Ambrose to please _her_. And when, turning his back on
these, he sat down wearily on his sofa-bedstead--there, hanging
over one end of it, was the gaudy cravat of blue satin, which he
had bought because she had told him she liked bright colors, and
which he had never yet had the courage to wear, though he had
taken it out morning after morning with the resolution to put it
on! Habitually quiet in his actions, habitually restrained in his
language, he now seized the cravat as if it was a living thing
that could feel, and flung it to the other end of the room with
an oath.

The time passed; and still, though his resolution to stand
between Miss Gwilt and her marriage remained unbroken, he was
as far as ever from discovering the means which might lead him
to his end. The more he thought and thought of it, the darker
and the darker his course in the future looked to him.

He rose again, as wearily as he had sat down, and went to his
cupboard. "I'm feverish and thirsty," he said; "a cup of tea
may help me." He opened his canister, and measured out his small
allowance of tea, less carefully than usual. "Even my own hands
won't serve me to-day!" he thought, as he scraped together the
few grains of tea that he had spilled, and put them carefully
back in the canister.

In that fine summer weather, the one fire in the house was the
kitchen fire. He went downstairs for the boiling water, with his
teapot in his hand.

Nobody but the landlady was in the kitchen. She was one of the
many English matrons whose path through this world is a path of
thorns; and who take a dismal pleasure, whenever the opportunity
is afforded them, in inspecting the scratched and bleeding feet
of other people in a like condition with themselves. Her one vice
was of the lighter sort--the vice of curiosity; and among the
many counterbalancing virtues she possessed was the virtue of
greatly respecting Mr. Bashwood, as a lodger whose rent was
regularly paid, and whose ways were always quiet and civil from
one year's end to another.

"What did you please to want, sir?" asked the landlady. "Boiling
water, is it? Did you ever know the water boil, Mr. Bashwood,
when you wanted it? Did you ever see a sulkier fire than that?
I'll put a stick or two in, if you'll wait a little, and give me
the chance. Dear, dear me, you'll excuse my mentioning it, sir,
but how poorly you do look to-day!"

The strain on Mr. Bashwood's mind was beginning to tell.
Something of the helplessness which he had shown at the station
appeared again in his face and manner as he put his teapot on
the kitchen table and sat down.

"I'm in trouble, ma'am," he said, quietly; "and I find trouble
gets harder to bear than it used to be."

"Ah, you may well say that!" groaned the landlady. "_I'm_ ready
for the undertaker, Mr. Bashwood, when _my_ time comes, whatever
you may be. You're too lonely, sir. When you're in trouble, it's
some help--though not much--to shift a share of it off on another
person's shoulders. If your good lady had only been alive now,
sir, what a comfort you would have found her, wouldn't you?"

A momentary spasm of pain passed across Mr. Bashwood's face.
The landlady had ignorantly recalled him to the misfortunes
of his married life. He had been long since forced to quiet her
curiosity about his family affairs by telling her that he was
a widower, and that his domestic circumstances had not been happy
ones; but he had taken her no further into his confidence than
this. The sad story which he had related to Midwinter, of his
drunken wife who had ended her miserable life in a lunatic
asylum, was a story which he had shrunk from confiding to the
talkative woman, who would have confided it in her turn to every
one else in the house.

"What I always say to my husband when he's low, sir," pursued the
landlady, intent on the kettle, "is, 'What would you do _now_,
Sam, without me?' When his temper don't get the better of him
(it will boil directly, Mr. Bashwood), he says, 'Elizabeth,
I could do nothing.' When his temper does get the better of him,
he says, 'I should try the public-house, missus; and I'll try it
now.' Ah, I've got _my_ troubles! A man with grown-up sons and
daughters tippling in a public-house! I don't call to mind, Mr.
Bashwood, whether _you_ ever had any sons and daughters? And
yet, now I think of it, I seem to fancy you said yes, you had.
Daughters, sir, weren't they? and, ah, dear! dear! to be sure!
all dead."

"I had one daughter, ma'am," said Mr. Bashwood, patiently--"only
one, who died before she was a year old."

"Only one!" repeated the sympathizing landlady. "It's as near
boiling as it ever will be, sir; give me the tea-pot. Only one!
Ah, it comes heavier (don't it?) when it's an only child? You
said it was an only child, I think, didn't you, sir?"

For a moment, Mr. Bashwood looked at the woman with vacant eyes,
and without attempting to answer her. After ignorantly recalling
the memory of the wife who had disgraced him, she was now, as
ignorantly, forcing him back on the miserable remembrance of the
son who had ruined and deserted him. For the first time, since he
had told his story to Midwinter, at their introductory interview
in the great house, his mind reverted once more to the bitter
disappointment and disaster of the past. Again he thought of the
bygone days, when he had become security for his son, and when
that son's dishonesty had forced him to sell everything he
possessed to pay the forfeit that was exacted when the forfeit
was due. "I have a son, ma'am," he said, becoming conscious that
the landlady was looking at him in mute and melancholy surprise.
"I did my best to help him forward in the world, and he has
behaved very badly to me."

"Did he, now?" rejoined the landlady, with an appearance of
the greatest interest. "Behaved badly to you--almost broke your
heart, didn't he? Ah, it will come home to him, sooner or later.
Don't you fear! 'Honor your father and mother,' wasn't put on
Moses's tables of stone for nothing, Mr. Bashwood. Where may
he be, and what is he doing now, sir?"

The question was in effect almost the same as the question which
Midwinter had put when the circumstances had been described to
him. As Mr. Bashwood had answered it on the former occasion,
so (in nearly the same words) he answered it now.

"My son is in London, ma'am, for all I know to the contrary.
He was employed, when I last heard of him, in no very creditable
way, at the Private Inquiry Office--"

At those words he suddenly checked himself. His face flushed,
his eyes brightened; he pushed away the cup which had just been
filled for him, and rose from his seat. The landlady started back
a step. There was something in her lodger's face that she had
never seen in it before.

"I hope I've not offended you, sir," said the woman, recovering
her self-possession, and looking a little too ready to take
offense on her side, at a moment's notice.

"Far from it, ma'am, far from it!" he rejoined, in a strangely
eager, hurried way. "I have just remembered something--something
very important. I must go upstairs--it's a letter, a letter, a
letter. I'll come back to my tea, ma'am. I beg your pardon, I'm
much obliged to you, you've been very kind--I'll say good-by, if
you'll allow me, for the present." To the landlady's amazement,
he cordially shook hands with her, and made for the door, leaving
tea and tea-pot to take care of themselves.

The moment he reached his own room, he locked himself in. For
a little while he stood holding by the chimney-piece, waiting
to recover his breath. The moment he could move again, he opened
his writing-desk on the table. "That for you, Mr. Pedgift and
Son!" he said, with a snap of his fingers as he sat down. "I've
got a son too!"

There was a knock at the door--a knock, soft, considerate, and
confidential. The anxious landlady wished to know whether Mr.
Bashwood was ill, and begged to intimate for the second time
that she earnestly trusted she had given him no offense.

"No! no!" he called through the door. "I'm quite well--I'm
writing, ma'am, I'm writing--please to excuse me. She's a good
woman; she's an excellent woman," he thought, when the landlady
had retired. "I'll make her a little present. My mind's so
unsettled, I might never have thought of it but for her. Oh, if
my boy is at the office still! Oh, if I can only write a letter
that will make him pity me!"

He took up his pen, and sat thinking anxiously, thinking long,
before he touched the paper. Slowly, with many patient pauses to
think and think again, and with more than ordinary care to make
his writing legible, he traced these lines:

"MY DEAR JAMES--You will be surprised, I am afraid, to see my
handwriting. Pray don't suppose I am going to ask you for money,
or to reproach you for having sold me out of house and home when
you forfeited your security, and I had to pay. I am willing and
anxious to let by-gones be by-gones, and to forget the past.

"It is in your power (if you are still at the Private Inquiry
Office) to do me a great service. I am in sore anxiety and
trouble on the subject of a person in whom I am interested. The
person is a lady. Please don't make game of me for confessing
this, if you can help it. If you knew what I am now suffering,
I think you would be more inclined to pity than to make game
of me.

"I would enter into particulars, only I know your quick temper,
and I fear exhausting your patience. Perhaps it may be enough
to say that I have reason to believe the lady's past life has
not been a very creditable one, and that I am interested--more
interested than words can tell--in finding out what her life has
really been, and in making the discovery within a fortnight from
the present time.

"Though I know very little about the ways of business in an
office like yours, I can understand that, without first having
the lady's present address, nothing can be done to help me.
Unfortunately, I am not yet acquainted with her present address.
I only know that she went to town to-day, accompanied by a
gentleman, in whose employment I now am, and who (as I believe)
will be likely to write to me for money before many days more
are over his head.

"Is this circumstance of a nature to help us? I venture to say
'us,' because I count already, my dear boy, on your kind
assistance and advice. Don't let money stand between us; I have
saved a little something, and it is all freely at your disposal.
Pray, pray write to me by return of post! If you will only try
your best to end the dreadful suspense under which I am now
suffering, you will atone for all the grief and disappointment
you caused me in times that are past, and you will confer an
obligation that he will never forget on

"Your affectionate father,

"FELIX BASHWOOD."

After waiting a little, to dry his eyes, Mr. Bashwood added the
date and address, and directed the letter to his son, at "The
Private Inquiry Office, Shadyside Place, London." That done, he
went out at once, and posted his letter with his own hands. It
was then Monday; and, if the answer was sent by return of post,
the answer would be received on Wednesday morning.

The interval day, the Tuesday, was passed by Mr. Bashwood in
the steward's office at the great house. He had a double motive
for absorbing himself as deeply as might be in the various
occupations connected with the management of the estate. In
the first place, employment helped him to control the devouring
impatience with which he looked for the coming of the next day.
In the second place, the more forward he was with the business of
the office, the more free he would be to join his son in London,
without attracting suspicion to himself by openly neglecting the
interests placed under his charge.

Toward the Tuesday afternoon, vague rumors of something wrong
at the cottage found their way (through Major Milroy's servants)
to the servants at the great house, and attempted ineffectually
through this latter channel to engage the attention of Mr.
Bashwood, impenetrably fixed on other things. The major and Miss
Neelie had been shut up together in mysterious conference; and
Miss Neelie's appearance after the close of the interview plainly
showed that she had been crying. This had happened on the Monday
afternoon; and on the next day (that present Tuesday) the major
had startled the household by announcing briefly that his
daughter wanted a change to the air of the seaside, and that
he proposed taking her himself, by the next train, to Lowestoft.
The two had gone away together, both very serious and silent,
but both, apparently, very good friends, for all that. Opinions
at the great house attributed this domestic revolution to the
reports current on the subject of Allan and Miss Gwilt. Opinions
at the cottage rejected that solution of the difficulty, on
practical grounds. Miss Neelie had remained inaccessibly shut up
in her own room, from the Monday afternoon to the Tuesday morning
when her father took her away. The major, during the same
interval, had not been outside the door, and had spoken to nobody
And Mrs. Milroy, at the first attempt of her new attendant to
inform her of the prevailing scandal in the town, had sealed
the servant's lips by flying into one of her terrible passions
the instant Miss Gwilt's name was mentioned. Something must have
happened, of course, to take Major Milroy and his daughter so
suddenly from home; but that something was certainly not Mr.
Armadale's scandalous elopement, in broad daylight, with Miss
Gwilt.

The afternoon passed, and the evening passed, and no other event
happened but the purely private and personal event which had
taken place at the cottage. Nothing occurred (for nothing in the
nature of things _could_ occur) to dissipate the delusion on
which Miss Gwilt had counted--the delusion which all Thorpe
Ambrose now shared with Mr. Bashwood, that she had gone privately
to London with Allan in the character of Allan's future wife.

On the Wednesday morning, the postman, entering the street
in which Mr. Bashwood lived, was encountered by Mr. Bashwood
himself, so eager to know if there was a letter for him that he
had come out without his hat. There _was_ a letter for him--the
letter that he longed for from his vagabond son.

These were the terms in which Bashwood the younger answered his
father's supplication for help--after having previously ruined
his father's prospects for life:

"Shadyside Place. Tuesday, July 29th.

"MY DEAR DAD--We have some little practice in dealing with
mysteries at this office; but the mystery of your letter beats
me altogether. Are you speculating on the interesting hidden
frailties of some charming woman? Or, after _your_ experience of
matrimony, are you actually going to give me a stepmother at this
time of day? Whichever it is, upon my life your letter interests
me.

"I am not joking, mind--though the temptation is not an easy one
to resist. On the contrary, I have given you a quarter of an hour
of my valuable time already. The place you date from sounded
somehow familiar to me. I referred back to the memorandum book,
and found that I was sent down to Thorpe Ambrose to make private
inquiries not very long since. My employer was a lively old lady,
who was too sly to give us her right name and address. As a
matter of course, we set to work at once, and found out who she
was. Her name is Mrs. Oldershaw; and, if you think of _her_ for
my stepmother, I strongly recommend you to think again before
you make her Mrs. Bashwood.

"If it is not Mrs. Oldershaw, then all I can do, so far, is to
tell you how you may find out the unknown lady's address. Come
to town yourself as soon as you get the letter you expect from
the gentleman who has gone away with her (I hope he is not
a handsome young man, for your sake) and call here. I will send
somebody to help you in watching his hotel or lodgings; and if
he communicates with the lady, or the lady with him, you may
consider her address discovered from that moment. Once let me
identify her, and know where she is, and you shall see all her
charming little secrets as plainly as you see the paper on which
your affectionate son is now writing to you.

"A word more about the terms. I am as willing as you are to be
friends again; but, though I own you were out of pocket by me
once, I can't afford to be out of pocket by you. It must be
understood that you are answerable for all the expenses of
the inquiry. We may have to employ some of the women attached
to this office, if your lady is too wideawake or too nice-looking
to be dealt with by a man. There will be cab hire, and
postage-stamps--admissions to public amusements, if she is
inclined that way--shillings for pew-openers, if she is serious,
and takes our people into churches to hear popular preachers, and
so on. My own professional services you shall have gratis; but I
can't lose by you as well. Only remember that, and you shall have
your way. By-gones shall be by-gones, and we will forget the
past.

"Your affectionate son,

"JAMES BASHWOOD."

In the ecstasy of seeing help placed at last within his reach,
the father put his son's atrocious letter to his lips. "My good
boy!" he murmured, tenderly--"my dear, good boy!"

He put the letter down, and fell into a new train of thought.
The next question to face was the serious question of time. Mr.
Pedgift had told him Miss Gwilt might be married in a fortnight.
One day of the fourteen had passed already, and another was
passing. He beat his hand impatiently on the table at his side,
wondering how soon the want of money would force Allan to write
to him from London. "To-morrow?" he asked himself. "Or next day?"

The morrow passed, and nothing happened. The next day came, and
the letter arrived! It was on business, as he had anticipated;
it asked for money, as he had anticipated; and there, at the end
of it, in a postscript, was the address added, concluding with
the words, "You may count on my staying here till further
notice."

He gave one deep gasp of relief, and instantly busied himself
--though there were nearly two hours to spare before the train
started for London--in packing his bag. The last thing he put in
was his blue satin cravat. "She likes bright colors," he said,
"and she may see me in it yet!"

CHAPTER XIV.

MISS GWILT'S DIARY.

"All Saints' Terrace, New Road, London, July 28th, Monday
night.--I can hardly hold my head up, I am so tired. But in my
situation, I dare not trust anything to memory. Before I go to
bed, I must write my customary record of the events of the day.

"So far, the turn of luck in my favor (it was long enough before
it took the turn!) seems likely to continue. I succeeded in
forcing Armadale--the brute required nothing short of forcing!--
to leave Thorpe Ambrose for London, alone in the same carriage
with me, before all the people in the station. There was a full
attendance of dealers in small scandal, all staring hard at us,
and all evidently drawing their own conclusions. Either I knew
nothing of Thorpe Ambrose--or the town gossip is busy enough
by this time with Mr. Armadale and Miss Gwilt.

"I had some difficulty with him for the first half-hour after we
left the station. The guard (delightful man! I felt so grateful
to him!) had shut us up together, in expectation of half a crown
at the end of the journey. Armadale was suspicious of me, and he
showed it plainly. Little by little I tamed my wild beast--partly
by taking care to display no curiosity about his journey to town,
and partly by interesting him on the subject of his friend
Midwinter; dwelling especially on the opportunity that now
offered itself for a reconciliation between them. I kept harping
on this string till I set his tongue going, and made him amuse me
as a gentleman is bound to do when he has the honor of escorting
a lady on a long railway journey.

"What little mind he has was full, of course, of his own affairs
and Miss Milroy's. No words can express the clumsiness he showed
in trying to talk about himself, without taking me into his
confidence or mentioning Miss Milroy's name.

"He was going to London, he gravely informed me, on a matter of
indescribable interest to him. It was a secret for the present,
but he hoped to tell it me soon; it had made a great difference
already in the way in which he looked at the slanders spoken
of him in Thorpe Ambrose; he was too happy to care what the
scandal-mongers said of him now, and he should soon stop their
mouths by appearing in a new character that would surprise them
all. So he blundered on, with the firm persuasion that he was
keeping me quite in the dark. It was hard not to laugh, when
I thought of my anonymous letter on its way to the major; but
I managed to control myself--though, I must own, with some
difficulty. As the time wore on, I began to feel a terrible
excitement; the position was, I think, a little too much for me.
There I was, alone with him, talking in the most innocent, easy,
familiar manner, and having it in my mind all the time to brush
his life out of my way, when the moment comes, as I might brush
a stain off my gown. It made my blood leap, and my cheeks flush.
I caught myself laughing once or twice much louder than I ought;
and long before we got to London I thought it desirable to put
my face in hiding by pulling down my veil.

"There was no difficulty, on reaching the terminus, in getting
him to come in the cab with me to the hotel where Midwinter
is staying. He was all eagerness to be reconciled with his dear
friend--principally, I have no doubt, because he wants the dear
friend to lend a helping hand to the elopement. The real
difficulty lay, of course, with Midwinter. My sudden journey
to London had allowed me no opportunity of writing to combat his
superstitious conviction that he and his former friend are better
apart. I thought it wise to leave Armadale in the cab at the
door, and to go into the hotel by myself to pave the way for him.

"Fortunately, Midwinter had not gone out. His delight at seeing
me some days sooner than he had hoped had something infectious in
it, I suppose. Pooh! I may own the truth to my own diary! There
was a moment when _I_ forgot everything in the world but our two
selves as completely as he did. I felt as if I was back in my
teens--until I remembered the lout in the cab at the door. And
then I was five-and-thirty again in an instant.

"His face altered when he heard who was below, and what it was
I wanted of him; he looked not angry, but distressed. He yielded,
however, before long, not to my reasons, for I gave him none, but
to my entreaties. His old fondness for his friend might possibly
have had some share in persuading him against his will; but my
own opinion is that he acted entirely under the influence of his
fondness for Me.

"I waited in the sitting-room while he went down to the door; so
I knew nothing of what passed between them when they first saw
each other again. But oh, the difference between the two men when
the interval had passed, and they came upstairs together and
joined me.

"They were both agitated, but in such different ways! The hateful
Armadale, so loud and red and clumsy; the dear, lovable
Midwinter, so pale and quiet, with such a gentleness in his voice
when he spoke, and such tenderness in his eyes every time they
turned my way. Armadale overlooked me as completely as if I had
not been in the room. _He_ referred to me over and over again
in the conversation; _he_ constantly looked at me to see what
I thought, while I sat in my corner silently watching them; _he_
wanted to go with me and see me safe to my lodgings, and spare me
all trouble with the cabman and the luggage. When I thanked him
and declined, Armadale looked unaffectedly relieved at the
prospect of seeing my back turned, and of having his friend all
to himself. I left him, with his awkward elbows half over the
table, scrawling a letter (no doubt to Miss Milroy), and shouting
to the waiter that he wanted a bed at the hotel. I had calculated
on his staying, as a matter of course, where he found his friend
staying. It was pleasant to find my anticipations realized, and
to know that I have as good as got him now under my own eye.

"After promising to let Midwinter know where he could see me
to-morrow, I went away in the cab to hunt for lodgings by myself.

"With some difficulty I have succeeded in getting an endurable
sitting-room and bedroom in this house, where the people are
perfect strangers to me. Having paid a week's rent in advance
(for I naturally preferred dispensing with a reference), I find
myself with exactly three shillings and ninepence left in my
purse. It is impossible to ask Midwinter for money, after he
has already paid Mrs. Oldershaw's note of hand. I must borrow
something to-morrow on my watch and chain at the pawnbroker's.
Enough to keep me going for a fortnight is all, and more than
all, that I want. In that time, or in less than that time,
Midwinter will have married me.

"July 29th.--Two o'clock.--Early in the morning I sent a line
to Midwinter, telling him that he would find me here at three
this afternoon. That done, I devoted the morning to two errands
of my own. One is hardly worth mentioning--it was only to raise
money on my watch and chain. I got more than I expected; and more
(even supposing I buy myself one or two little things in the way
of cheap summer dress) than I am at all likely to spend before
the wedding-day.

"The other errand was of a far more serious kind. It led me
into an attorney's office.

"I was well aware last night (though I was too weary to put it
down in my diary), that I could not possibly see Midwinter this
morning--in the position he now occupies toward me--without at
least _appearing_ to take him into my confidence on the subject
of myself and my circumstances. Excepting one necessary
consideration which I must be careful not to overlook. there
is not the least difficulty in my drawing on my invention, and
telling him any story I please--for thus far I have told no story
to anybody. Midwinter went away to London before it was possible
to approach the subject. As to the Milroys (having provided them
with the customary reference), I could fortunately keep them
at arms-length on all questions relating purely to myself. And
lastly, when I affected my reconciliation with Armadale on
the drive in front of the house, he was fool enough to be too
generous to let me defend my character. When I had expressed my
regret for having lost my temper and threatened Miss Milroy, and
when I had accepted his assurance that my pupil had never done or
meant to do me any injury, he was too magnanimous to hear a word
on the subject of my private affairs. Thus I am quite unfettered
by any former assertions of my own; and I may tell any story I
please--with the one drawback hinted at already in the shape of
a restraint. Whatever I may invent in the way of pure fiction,
I must preserve the character in which I have appeared at Thorpe
Ambrose; for, with the notoriety that is attached to _my other
name_, I have no other choice but to marry Midwinter in my maiden
name as 'Miss Gwilt.'

"This was the consideration that took me into the lawyer's
office. I felt that I must inform myself, before I saw Midwinter
later in the day, of any awkward consequences that may follow
the marriage of a widow if she conceals her widow's name.

"Knowing of no other professional person whom I could trust,
I went boldly to the lawyer who had my interests in his charge,
at that terrible past time in my life, which I have more reason
than ever to shrink from thinking of now. He was astonished,
and, as I could plainly detect, by no means pleased to see me.
I had hardly opened my lips before he said he hoped I was not
consulting him _again_ (with a strong emphasis on the word) on
my own account. I took the hint, and put the question I had come
to ask, in the interests of that accommodating personage on such
occasions--an absent friend. The lawyer evidently saw through it
at once; but he was sharp enough to turn my 'friend' to good
account on his side. He said he would answer the question as
a matter of courtesy toward a lady represented by myself; but
he must make it a condition that this consultation of him
by deputy should go no further.

"I accepted his terms; for I really respected the clever manner
in which he contrived to keep me at arms-length without violating
the laws of good-breeding. In two minutes I heard what he had to
say, mastered it in my own mind, and went out.

"Short as it was, the consultation told me everything I wanted
to know. I risk nothing by marrying Midwinter in my maiden
instead of my widow's name. The marriage is a good marriage in
this way: that it can only be set aside if my husband finds out
the imposture, and takes proceedings to invalidate our marriage
in my lifetime. That is the lawyer's answer in the lawyer's own
words. It relieves me at once--in this direction, at any rate--of
all apprehension about the future. The only imposture my husband
will ever discover--and then only if he happens to be on the
spot--is the imposture that puts me in the place, and gives me
the income, of Armadale's widow; and by that time I shall have
invalidated my own marriage forever.

"Half-past two! Midwinter will be here in half an hour. I must go
and ask my glass how I look. I must rouse my invention, and make
up my little domestic romance. Am I feeling nervous about it?
Something flutters in the place where my heart used to be. At
five-and-thirty, too! and after such a life as mine!

Six o'clock.--He has just gone. The day for our marriage is a day
determined on already.

"I have tried to rest and recover myself. I can't rest. I have
come back to these leaves. There is much to be written in them
since Midwinter has been here, that concerns me nearly.

"Let me begin with what I hate most to remember, and so be
the sooner done with it--let me begin with the paltry string
of falsehoods which I told him about my family troubles.

"What _can_ be the secret of this man's hold on me? How is it
that he alters me so that I hardly know myself again? I was like
myself in the railway carriage yesterday with Armadale. It was
surely frightful to be talking to the living man, through the
whole of that long journey, with the knowledge in me all the
while that I meant to be his widow--and yet I was only excited
and fevered. Hour after hour I never shrunk once from speaking
to Armadale; but the first trumpery falsehood I told Midwinter
turned me cold when I saw that he believed it! I felt a dreadful
hysterical choking in the throat when he entreated me not to
reveal my troubles. And once--I am horrified when I think of
it--once, when he said, 'If I _could_ love you more dearly,
I should love you more dearly now,' I was within a hair-breadth
of turning traitor to myself. I was on the very point of crying
out to him, 'Lies! all lies! I'm a fiend in human shape! Marry
the wretchedest creature that prowls the streets, and you will
marry a better woman than me!' Yes! the seeing his eyes moisten,
the hearing his voice tremble, while I was deceiving him, shook
me in that way. I have seen handsomer men by hundreds, cleverer
men by dozens. What can this man have roused in me? Is it Love?
I thought I _had_ loved, never to love again. Does a woman not
love when the man's hardness to her drives her to drown herself?
A man drove _me_ to that last despair in days gone by. Did all
my misery at that time come from something which was not Love?
Have I lived to be five-and-thirty, and am I only feeling now
what Love really is?--now, when it is too late? Ridiculous!
Besides, what is the use of asking? What do I know about it?
What does any woman ever know? The more we think of it, the more
we deceive ourselves. I wish I had been born an animal. My beauty
might have been of some use to me then--it might have got me
a good master.

"Here is a whole page of my diary filled; and nothing written yet
that is of the slightest use to me! My miserable made-up story
must be told over again here, while the incidents are fresh
in my memory--or how am I to refer to it consistently on
after-occasions when I may be obliged to speak of it again?

"There was nothing new in what I told him; it was the commonplace
rubbish of the circulating libraries. A dead father; a lost
fortune; vagabond brothers, whom I dread ever seeing again;
a bedridden mother dependent on my exertions--No! I can't write
it down! I hate myself, I despise myself, when I remember that
_he_ believed it because I said it--that _he_ was distressed
by it because it was my story! I will face the chances of
contradicting myself--I will risk discovery and ruin--anything
rather than dwell on that contemptible deception of him a moment
longer.

"My lies came to an end at last. And then he talked to me of
himself and of his prospects. Oh, what a relief it was to turn
to that at the time! What a relief it is to come to it now!

"He has accepted the offer about which he wrote to me at Thorpe
Ambrose; and he is now engaged as occasional foreign
correspondent to the new newspaper. His first destination is
Naples. I wish it had been some other place, for I have certain
past associations with Naples which I am not at all anxious to
renew. It has been arranged that he is to leave England not later
than the eleventh of next month. By that time, therefore, I, who
am to go with him, must go with him as his wife.

"There is not the slightest difficulty about the marriage. All
this part of it is so easy that I begin to dread an accident.

"The proposal to keep the thing strictly private--which it might
have embarrassed me to make--comes from Midwinter. Marrying me
in his own name--the name that he has kept concealed from every
living creature but myself and Mr. Brock--it is his interest
that not a soul who knows him should be present at the ceremony;
his friend Armadale least of all. He has been a week in London
already. When another week has passed, he proposes to get the
License, and to be married in the church belonging to the parish
in which the hotel is situated. These are the only necessary
formalities. I had but to say 'Yes' (he told me), and to feel
no further anxiety about the future. I said 'Yes' with such
a devouring anxiety about the future that I was afraid he would
see it. What minutes the next few minutes were, when he whispered
delicious words to me, while I hid my face on his breast!

"I recovered myself first, and led him back to the subject of
Armadale, having my own reasons for wanting to know what they
said to each other after I had left them yesterday.

"The manner in which Midwinter replied showed me that he was
speaking under the restraint of respecting a confidence placed
in him by his friend. Long before he had done, I detected what
the confidence was. Armadale had been consulting him (exactly
as I anticipated) on the subject of the elopement. Although he
appears to have remonstrated against taking the girl secretly
away from her home, Midwinter seems to have felt some delicacy
about speaking strongly, remembering (widely different as the
circumstances are) that he was contemplating a private marriage
himself. I gathered, at any rate, that he had produced very
little effect by what he had said; and that Armadale had already
carried out his absurd intention of consulting the head-clerk
in the office of his London lawyers.

"Having got as far as this, Midwinter put the question which
I felt must come sooner or later. He asked if I objected to our
engagement being mentioned, in the strictest secrecy, to his
friend.

"'I will answer,' he said, 'for Allan's respecting any confidence
that I place in him. And I will undertake, when the time comes,
so to use my influence over him as to prevent his being present
at the marriage, and discovering (what he must never know) that
my name is the same as his own. It would help me,' he went on,
'to speak more strongly about the object that has brought him
to London, if I can requite the frankness with which he has
spoken of his private affairs to me by the same frankness on
my side.'

"I had no choice but to give the necessary permission, and I gave
it. It is of the utmost importance to me to know what course
Major Milroy takes with his daughter and Armadale after receiving
my anonymous letter; and, unless I invite Armadale's confidence
in some way, I am nearly certain to be kept in the dark. Let him
once be trusted with the knowledge that I am to be Midwinter's
wife, and what he tells his friend about his love affair he will
tell me.

"When it had been understood between us that Armadale was to
be taken into our confidence, we began to talk about ourselves
again. How the time flew! What a sweet enchantment it was to
forget everything in his arms! How he loves me!--ah, poor fellow,
how he loves me!

"I have promised to meet him to-morrow morning in the Regent's
Park. The less he is seen here the better. The people in this
house are strangers to me, certainly; but it may be wise to
consult appearances, as if I was still at Thorpe Ambrose, and not
to produce the impression, even on their minds, that Midwinter
is engaged to me. If any after-inquiries are made, when I have
run my grand risk, the testimony of my London landlady might be
testimony worth having.

"That wretched old Bashwood! Writing of Thorpe Ambrose reminds
me of him. What will he say when the town gossip tells him that
Armadale has taken me to London, in a carriage reserved for
ourselves? It really is too absurd in a man of Bashwood's age
and appearance to presume to be in love!....

"July 30th.---News at last! Armadale has heard from Miss Milroy.
My anonymous letter has produced its effect. The girl is removed
from Thorpe Ambrose already; and the whole project of the
elopement is blown to the winds at once and forever. This was
the substance of what Midwinter had to tell me when I met him in
the Park. I affected to be excessively astonished, and to feel
the necessary feminine longing to know all the particulars. 'Not
that I expect to have my curiosity satisfied,' I added, 'for Mr.
Armadale and I are little better than mere acquaintances, after
all.'

"'You are far more than a mere acquaintance in Allan's eyes,'
said Midwinter. 'Having your permission to trust him, I have
already told him how near and dear you are to me.'

"Hearing this, I thought it desirable, before I put any questions
about Miss Milroy, to attend to my own interests first, and
to find out what effect the announcement of my coming marriage
had produced on Armadale. It was possible that he might be still
suspicious of me, and that the inquiries he made in London, at
Mrs. Milroy's instigation, might be still hanging on his mind.

"'Did Mr. Armadale seem surprised,' I asked, 'when you told him
of our engagement, and when you said it was to be kept a secret
from everybody?'

"'He seemed greatly surprised,' said Midwinter, 'to hear that we
were going to be married. All he said when I told him it must
be kept a secret was that he supposed there were reasons on your
side for making the marriage a private one.'

"'What did you say,' I inquired, 'when he made that remark?'

"'I said the reasons were on my side,' answered Midwinter. 'And
I thought it right to add--considering that Allan had allowed
himself to be misled by the ignorant distrust of you at Thorpe
Ambrose--that you had confided to me the whole of your sad family
story, and that you had amply justified your unwillingness; under
any ordinary circumstances, to speak of your private affairs.'

("I breathed freely again. He had said just what was wanted,
just in the right way.)

"'Thank you,' I said, 'for putting me right in your friend's
estimation. Does he wish to see me?' I added, by way of getting
back to the other subject of Miss Milroy and the elopement.

"'He is longing to see you,' returned Midwinter. 'He is in great
distress, poor fellow--distress which I have done my best to
soothe, but which, I believe, would yield far more readily to
a woman's sympathy than to mine.'

"'Where is he now?' I asked.

"He was at the hotel; and to the hotel I instantly proposed
that we should go. It is a busy, crowded place; and (with
my veil down) I have less fear of compromising myself there
than at my quiet lodgings. Besides, it is vitally important
to me to know what Armadale does next, under this total change
of circumstances--for I must so control his proceedings as to
get him away from England if I can. We took a cab: such was
my eagerness to sympathize with the heart-broken lover, that
we took a cab!

"Anything so ridiculous as Armadale's behavior under the double
shock of discovering that his young lady has been taken away
from him, and that I am to be married to Midwinter, I never
before witnessed in all my experience. To say that he was like
a child is a libel on all children who are not born idiots. He
congratulated me on my coming marriage, and execrated the unknown
wretch who had written the anonymous letter, little thinking that
he was speaking of one and the same person in one and the same
breath. Now he submissively acknowledged that Major Milroy had
his rights as a father, and now he reviled the major as having
no feeling for anything but his mechanics and his clock. At one
moment he started up, with the tears in his eyes, and declared
that his 'darling Neelie' was an angel on earth. At another he
sat down sulkily, and thought that a girl of her spirit might
have run away on the spot and joined him in London. After a good
half-hour of this absurd exhibition, I succeeded in quieting him;
and then a few words of tender inquiry produced what I had
expressly come to the hotel to see--Miss Milroy's letter.

"It was outrageously long, and rambling, and confused; in short,
the letter of a fool. I had to wade through plenty of vulgar
sentiment and lamentation, and to lose time and patience over
maudlin outbursts of affection, and nauseous kisses inclosed in
circles of ink. However, I contrived to extract the information
I wanted at last; and here it is:

"The major, on receipt of my anonymous warning, appears to have
sent at once for his daughter, and to have shown her the letter.
'You know what a hard life I lead with your mother; don't make
it harder still, Neelie, by deceiving me.' That was all the poor
old gentleman said. I always did like the major; and, though he

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