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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 13 out of 17

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was afraid to show it, I know he always liked me. His appeal to
his daughter (if _her_ account of it is to be believed) cut her
to the heart. She burst out crying (let her alone for crying at
the right moment!) and confessed everything.

"After giving her time to recover herself (if he had given her
a good box on the ears it would have been more to the purpose!),
the major seems to have put certain questions, and to have become
convinced (as I was convinced myself) that his daughter's heart,
or fancy, or whatever she calls it, was really and truly set on
Armadale. The discovery evidently distressed as well as surprised
him. He appears to have hesitated, and to have maintained his own
unfavorable opinion of Miss Neelie's lover for some little time.
But his daughter's tears and entreaties (so like the weakness
of the dear old gentleman!) shook him at last. Though he firmly
refused to allow of any marriage engagement at present, he
consented to overlook the clandestine meetings in the park, and
to put Armadale's fitness to become his son-in-law to the test,
on certain conditions.

"These conditions are, that for the next six months to come
all communication is to be broken off, both personally and by
writing, between Armadale and Miss Milroy. That space of time is
to be occupied by the young gentleman as he himself thinks best,
and by the young lady in completing her education at school. If,
when the six months have passed, they are both still of the same
mind, and if Armadale's conduct in the interval has been such
as to improve the major's opinion of him, he will be allowed
to present himself in the character of Miss Milroy's suitor, and,
in six months more, if all goes well, the marriage may take
place.

"I declare I could kiss the dear old major, if I was only within
reach of him! If I had been at his elbow, and had dictated the
conditions myself, I could have asked for nothing better than
this. Six months of total separation between Armadale and Miss
Milroy! In half that time--with all communication cut off between
the two--it must go hard with me, indeed, if I don't find myself
dressed in the necessary mourning, and publicly recognized as
Armadale's widow.

"But I am forgetting the girl's letter. She gives her father's
reasons for making his conditions, in her father's own words.
The major seems to have spoken so sensibly and so feelingly
that he left his daughter no decent alternative--and he leaves
Armadale no decent alternative--but to submit. As well as I can
remember, he seems to have expressed himself to Miss Neelie
in these, or nearly in these terms:

"'Don't think I am behaving cruelly to you, my dear: I am merely
asking you to put Mr. Armadale to the proof. It is not only
right, it is absolutely necessary, that you should hold no
communication with him for some time to come; and I will show you
why. In the first place, if you go to school, the necessary rules
in such places--necessary for the sake of the other girls--would
not permit you to see Mr. Armadale or to receive letters from
him; and, if you are to become mistress of Thorpe Ambrose, to
school you must go, for you would be ashamed, and I should be
ashamed, if you occupied the position of a lady of station
without having the accomplishments which all ladies of station
are expected to possess. In the second place, I want to see
whether Mr. Armadale will continue to think of you as he thinks
now, without being encouraged in his attachment by seeing you, or
reminded of it by hearing from you. If I am wrong in thinking him
flighty and unreliable, and if your opinion of him is the right
one, this is not putting the young man to an unfair test--true
love survives much longer separations than a separation of six
months. And when that time is over, and well over; and when I
have had him under my own eye for another six months, and have
learned to think as highly of him as you do--even then, my dear,
after all that terrible delay, you will still be a married woman
before you are eighteen. Think of this, Neelie, and show that you
love me and trust me, by accepting my proposal. I will hold no
communication with Mr. Armadale myself. I will leave it to you
to write and tell him what has been decided on. He may write back
one letter, and one only, to acquaint you with his decision.
After that, for the sake of your reputation, nothing more is to
be said, and nothing more is to be done, and the matter is to be
kept strictly private until the six months' interval is at an
end.'

"To this effect the major spoke. His behavior to that little slut
of a girl has produced a stronger impression on me than anything
else in the letter. It has set me thinking (me, of all the people
in the world!) of what they call 'a moral difficulty.' We are
perpetually told that there can be no possible connection between
virtue and vice. Can there not? Here is Major Milroy doing
exactly what an excellent father, at once kind and prudent,
affectionate and firm, would do under the circumstances; and by
that very course of conduct he has now smoothed the way for _me_,
as completely as if he had been the chosen accomplice of that
abominable creature, Miss Gwilt. Only think of my reasoning in
this way! But I am in such good spirits, I can do anything
to-day. I have not looked so bright and so young as I look now
for months past!

"To return to the letter, for the last time--it is so excessively
dull and stupid that I really can't help wandering away from it
into reflections of my own, as a mere relief.

"After solemnly announcing that she meant to sacrifice herself to
her beloved father's wishes (the brazen assurance of her setting
up for a martyr after what has happened exceeds anything I ever
heard or read of!), Miss Neelie next mentioned that the major
proposed taking her to the seaside for change of air, during
the few days that were still to elapse before she went to school.
Armadale was to send his answer by return of post, and to address
her, under cover to her father, at Lowestoft. With this, and with
a last outburst of tender protestation, crammed crookedly into
a corner of the page, the letter ended. (N.B.--The major's object
in taking her to the seaside is plain enough. He still privately
distrusts Armadale, and he is wisely determined to prevent any
more clandestine meetings in the park before the girl is safely
disposed of at school.)

"When I had done with the letter--I had requested permission
to read parts of it which I particularly admired, for the second
and third time!--we all consulted together in a friendly way
about what Armadale was to do.

"He was fool enough, at the outset, to protest against submitting
to Major Milroy's conditions. He declared, with his odious red
face looking the picture of brute health, that he should never
survive a six months' separation from his beloved Neelie.
Midwinter (as may easily be imagined) seemed a little ashamed of
him, and joined me in bringing him to his senses. We showed him,
what would have been plain enough to anybody but a booby, that
there was no honorable or even decent alternative left but to
follow the example of submission set by the young lady. 'Wait,
and you will have her for your wife,' was what I said. 'Wait,
and you will force the major to alter his unjust opinion of you,'
was what Midwinter added. With two clever people hammering common
sense into his head at that rate, it is needless to say that
his head gave way, and he submitted.

"Having decided him to accept the major's conditions (I was
careful to warn him, before he wrote to Miss Milroy, that my
engagement to Midwinter was to be kept as strictly secret from
her as from everybody else), the next question we had to settle
related to his future proceedings. I was ready with the necessary
arguments to stop him, if he had proposed returning to Thorpe
Ambrose. But he proposed nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he
declared, of his own accord, that nothing would induce him to go
back. The place and the people were associated with everything
that was hateful to him. There would be no Miss Milroy now to
meet him in the park, and no Midwinter to keep him company in
the solitary house. 'I'd rather break stones on the road,' was
the sensible and cheerful way in which he put it, 'than go back
to Thorpe Ambrose.'

"The first suggestion after this came from Midwinter. The sly old
clergyman who gave Mrs. Oldershaw and me so much trouble has, it
seems, been ill, but has been latterly reported better. 'Why not
go to Somersetshire,' said Midwinter, 'and see your good friend,
and my good friend, Mr. Brock?'

"Armadale caught at the proposal readily enough. He longed, in
the first place, to see 'dear old Brock,' and he longed, in
the second place, to see his yacht. After staying a few days more
in London with Midwinter, he would gladly go to Somersetshire.
But what after that?

"Seeing my opportunity, _I_ came to the rescue this time.
'You have got a yacht, Mr. Armadale,' I said; 'and you know that
Midwinter is going to Italy. When you are tired of Somersetshire,
why not make a voyage to the Mediterranean, and meet your friend,
and your friend's wife, at Naples?'

"I made the allusion to 'his friend's wife' with the most
becoming modesty and confusion. Armadale was enchanted. I had hit
on the best of all ways of occupying the weary time. He started
up, and wrung my hand in quite an ecstasy of gratitude. How I do
hate people who can only express their feelings by hurting other
people's hands!

"Midwinter was as pleased with my proposal as Armadale; but he
saw difficulties in the way of carrying it out. He considered
the yacht too small for a cruise to the Mediterranean, and he
thought it desirable to hire a larger vessel. His friend thought
otherwise. I left them arguing the question. It was quite enough
for me to have made sure, in the first place, that Armadale will
not return to Thorpe Ambrose; and to have decided him, in the
second place, on going abroad. He may go how he likes. I should
prefer the small yacht myself; for there seems to be a chance
that the small yacht might do me the inestimable service of
drowning him....

"Five o'clock.--The excitement of feeling that I had got
Armadale's future movements completely under my own control
made me so restless, when I returned to my lodgings, that I was
obliged to go out again, and do something. A new interest to
occupy me being what I wanted, I went to Pimlico to have it out
with Mother Oldershaw.

"I walked; and made up my mind, on the way, that I would begin
by quarreling with her.

"One of my notes of hand being paid already, and Midwinter being
willing to pay the other two when they fall due, my present
position with the old wretch is as independent a one as I could
desire. I always get the better of her when it comes to a
downright battle between us, and find her wonderfully civil
and obliging the moment I have made her feel that mine is the
strongest will of the two. In my present situation, she might be
of use to me in various ways, if I could secure her assistance,
without trusting her with secrets which I am now more than ever
determined to keep to myself. That was my idea as I walked to
Pimlico. Upsetting Mother Oldershaw's nerves, in the first place,
and then twisting her round my little finger, in the second,
promised me, as I thought, an interesting occupation for the rest
of the afternoon.

"When I got to Pimlico, a surprise was in store for we. The house
was shut up--not only on Mrs. Oldershaw's side, but on Doctor
Downward's as well. A padlock was on the shop door; and a man
was hanging about on the watch, who might have been an ordinary
idler certainly, but who looked, to my mind, like a policeman
in disguise.

"Knowing the risks the doctor runs in his particular form
of practice, I suspected at once that something serious had
happened, and that even cunning Mrs. Oldershaw was compromised
this time. Without stopping, or making any inquiry, therefore,
I called the first cab that passed me, and drove to the post-
office to which I had desired my letters to be forwarded if any
came for me after I left my Thorpe Ambrose lodging.

"On inquiry a letter was produced for 'Miss Gwilt.' It was in
Mother Oldershaw's handwriting, and it told me (as I had
supposed) that the doctor had got into a serious difficulty--that
she was herself most unfortunately mixed up in the matter, and
that they were both in hiding for the present. The letter ended
with some sufficiently venomous sentences about my conduct at
Thorpe Ambrose, and with a warning that I have not heard the last
of Mrs. Oldershaw yet. It relieved me to find her writing in this
way--for she would have been civil and cringing if she had had
any suspicion of what I have really got in view. I burned the
letter as soon as the candles came up. And there, for the
present, is an end of the connection between Mother Jezebel and
me. I must do all my own dirty work now; and I shall be all the
safer, perhaps, for trusting nobody's hands to do it but my own.

"July 31st.--More useful information for me. I met Midwinter
again in the Park (on the pretext that my reputation might suffer
if he called too often at my lodgings), and heard the last news
of Armadale since I left the hotel yesterday.

"After he had written to Miss Milroy, Midwinter took the
opportunity of speaking to him about the necessary business
arrangements during his absence from the great house. It was
decided that the servants should be put on board wages, and that
Mr. Bashwood should be left in charge. (Somehow, I don't like
this re-appearance of Mr. Bashwood in connection with my present
interests, but there is no help for it.) The next question--the
question of money--was settled at once by Mr. Armadale himself.
All his available ready-money (a large sum) is to be lodged by
Mr. Bashwood in Coutts's Bank, and to be there deposited in
Armadale's name. This, he said, would save him the worry of any
further letter-writing to his steward, and would enable him to
get what he wanted, when he went abroad, at a moment's notice.
The plan thus proposed, being certainly the simplest and the
safest, was adopted with Midwinter's full concurrence; and here
the business discussion would have ended, if the everlasting
Mr. Bashwood had not turned up again in the conversation, and
prolonged it in an entirely new direction.

"On reflection, it seems to have struck Midwinter that the whole
responsibility at Thorpe Ambrose ought not to rest on Mr.
Bashwood's shoulders. Without in the least distrusting him,
Midwinter felt, nevertheless, that he ought to have somebody set
over him, to apply to in case of emergency. Armadale made no
objection to this; he only asked, in his helpless way, who the
person was to be?

"The answer was not an easy one to arrive at.

"Either of the two solicitors at Thorpe Ambrose might have been
employed, but Armadale was on bad terms with both of them. Any
reconciliation with such a bitter enemy as the elder lawyer, Mr.
Darch, was out of the question; and reinstating Mr. Pedgift in
his former position implied a tacit sanction on Armadale's part
of the lawyer's abominable conduct toward _me_, which was
scarcely consistent with the respect and regard that he felt for
a lady who was soon to be his friend's wife. After some further
discussion, Midwinter hit on a new suggestion which appeared to
meet the difficulty. He proposed that Armadale should write to a
respectable solicitor at Norwich, stating his position in general
terms, and requesting that gentleman to act as Mr. Bashwood's
adviser and superintendent when occasion required. Norwich being
within an easy railway ride of Thorpe Ambrose, Armadale saw no
objection to the proposal, and promised to write to the Norwich
lawyer. Fearing that he might make some mistake if he wrote
without assistance, Midwinter had drawn him out a draft of the
necessary letter, and Armadale was now engaged in copying the
draft, and also in writing to Mr. Bashwood to lodge the money
immediately in Coutts's Bank.

"These details are so dry and uninteresting in themselves that
I hesitated at first about putting them down in my diary. But
a little reflection has convinced me that they are too important
to be passed over. Looked at from my point of view, they mean
this--that Armadale's own act is now cutting him off from all
communication with Thorpe Ambrose, even by letter. _He is as good
as dead already to everybody he leaves behind him_. The causes
which have led to such a result as that are causes which
certainly claim the best place I can give them in these pages.

"August 1st.--Nothing to record, but that I have had a long,
quiet, happy day with Midwinter. He hired a carriage, and we
drove to Richmond, and dined there. After to-day's experience,
it is impossible to deceive myself any longer. Come what may
of it, I love him.

"I have fallen into low spirits since he left me. A persuasion
has taken possession of my mind that the smooth and prosperous
course of my affairs since I have been in London is too smooth
and prosperous to last. There is something oppressing me
to-night, which is more than the oppression of the heavy London
air.

"August 2d.--Three o'clock.--My presentiments, like other
people's, have deceived me often enough; but I am almost afraid
that my presentiment of last night was really prophetic, for once
in a way.

"I went after breakfast to a milliner's in this neighborhood to
order a few cheap summer things, and thence to Midwinter's hotel
to arrange with him for another day in the country. I drove to
the milliner's and to the hotel, and part of the way back. Then,
feeling disgusted with the horrid close smell of the cab
(somebody had been smoking in it, I suppose), I got out to walk
the rest of the way. Before I had been two minutes on my feet,
I discovered that I was being followed by a strange man.

"This may mean nothing but that an idle fellow has been struck by
my figure, and my appearance generally. My face could have made
no impression on him, for it was hidden as usual by my veil.
Whether he followed me (in a cab, of course) from the milliner's,
or from the hotel, I cannot say. Nor am I quite certain whether
he did or did not track me to this door. I only know that I lost
sight of him before I got back. There is no help for it but to
wait till events enlighten me. If there is anything serious in
what has happened, I shall soon discover it.

"Five o'clock.--It _is_ serious. Ten minutes since, I was in
my bedroom, which communicates with the sitting-room. I was
just coming out, when I heard a strange voice on the landing
outside--a woman's voice. The next instant the sitting-room
door was suddenly opened; the woman's voice said, 'Are these
the apartments you have got to let?' and though the landlady,
behind her, answered, 'No! higher up, ma'am,' the woman came on
straight to my bedroom, as if she had not heard. I had just time
to slam the door in her face before she saw me. The necessary
explanations and apologies followed between the landlady and
the stranger in the sitting-room, and then I was left alone
again.

"I have no time to write more. It is plain that somebody has
an interest in trying to identify me, and that, but for my own
quickness, the strange woman would have accomplished this object
by taking me by surprise. She and the man who followed me in the
street are, I suspect, in league together; and there is probably
somebody in the background whose interests they are serving. Is
Mother Oldershaw attacking me in the dark? or who else can it be?
No matter who it is; my present situation is too critical to be
trifled with. I must get away from this house to-night, and leave
no trace behind me by which I can be followed to another place.

"August 3d.--Gary Street, Tottenham Court Road.--I got away last
night (after writing an excuse to Midwinter, in which 'my invalid
mother' figured as the all-sufficient cause of my disappearance);
and I have found refuge here. It has cost me some money; but my
object is attained! Nobody can possibly have traced me from All
Saints' Terrace to this address.

"After paying my landlady the necessary forfeit for leaving her
without notice, I arranged with her son that he should take my
boxes in a cab to the cloak-room at the nearest railway station,
and send me the ticket in a letter, to wait my application for it
at the post-office. While he went his way in one cab, I went
mine in another, with a few things for the night in my little
hand-bag.

"I drove straight to the milliner's shop, which I had observed,
when I was there yesterday, had a back entrance into a mews,
for the apprentices to go in and out by. I went in at once,
leaving the cab waiting for me at the door. 'A man is following
me,' I said, 'and I want to get rid of him. Here is my cab fare;
wait ten minutes before you give it to the driver, and let me out
at once by the back way!' In a moment I was out in the mews;
in another, I was in the next street; in a third, I hailed
a passing omnibus, and was a free woman again.

"Having now cut off all communication between me and my last
lodgings, the next precaution (in case Midwinter or Armadale
are watched) is to cut off all communication, for some days
to come at least, between me and the hotel. I have written
to Midwinter--making my supposititious mother once more the
excuse--to say that I am tied to my nursing duties, and that
we must communicate by writing only for the present. Doubtful
as I still am of who my hidden enemy really is, I can do no more
to defend myself than I have done now.

"August 4th.--The two friends at the hotel had both written
to me. Midwinter expresses his regret at our separation, in
the tenderest terms. Armadale writes an entreaty for help under
very awkward circumstances. A letter from Major Milroy has been
forwarded to him from the great house, and he incloses it in
his letter to me.

"Having left the seaside, and placed his daughter safely at the
school originally chosen for her (in the neighborhood of Ely),
the major appears to have returned to Thorpe Ambrose at the close
of last week; to have heard then, for the first time, the reports
about Armadale and me; and to have written instantly to Armadale
to tell him so.

"The letter is stern and short. Major Milroy dismisses the report
as unworthy of credit, because it is impossible for him to
believe in such an act of 'cold-blooded treachery,' as the
scandal would imply, if the scandal were true. He simply writes
to warn Armadale that, if he is not more careful in his actions
for the future, he must resign all pretensions to Miss Milroy's
hand. 'I neither expect, nor wish for, an answer to this' (the
letter ends), 'for I desire to receive no mere protestations in
words. By your conduct, and by your conduct alone, I shall judge
you as time goes on. Let me also add that I positively forbid you
to consider this letter as an excuse for violating the terms
agreed on between us, by writing again to my daughter. You have
no need to justify yourself in her eyes, for I fortunately
removed her from Thorpe Ambrose before this abominable report
had time to reach her; and I shall take good care, for her sake,
that she is not agitated and unsettled by hearing it where she
is now.'

"Armadale's petition to me, under these circumstances, entreats
(as I am the innocent cause of the new attack on his character)
that I will write to the major to absolve him of all indiscretion
in the matter, and to say that he could not, in common
politeness, do otherwise than accompany me to London.

"I forgive the impudence of his request, in consideration of the
news that he sends me. It is certainly another circumstance in my
favor that the scandal at Thorpe Ambrose is not to be allowed to
reach Miss Milroy's ears. With her temper (if she did hear it)
she might do something desperate in the way of claiming her
lover, and might compromise me seriously. As for my own course
with Armadale, it is easy enough. I shall quiet him by promising
to write to Major Milroy; and I shall take the liberty, in my own
private interests, of not keeping my word.

"Nothing in the least suspicious has happened to-day. Whoever
my enemies are, they have lost me, and between this and the time
when I leave England they shall not find me again. I have been to
the post-office, and have got the ticket for my luggage, inclosed
to me in a letter from All Saints' Terrace, as I directed. The
luggage itself I shall still leave at the cloak-room, until I see
the way before me more clearly than I see it now.

"August 5th.--Two letters again from the hotel. Midwinter writes
to remind me, in the prettiest possible manner, that he will have
lived long enough in the parish by to-morrow to be able to get
our marriage-license, and that he proposes applying for it in
the usual way at Doctors' Commons. Now, if I am ever to say it,
is the time to say No. I can't say No. There is the plain truth
--and there is an end of it!

"Armadale's letter is a letter of farewell. He thanks me for
my kindness in consenting to write to the major, and bids me
good-by, till we meet again at Naples. He has learned from his
friend that there are private reasons which will oblige him to
forbid himself the pleasure of being present at our marriage.
Under these circumstances, there is nothing to keep him in
London. He has made all his business arrangements; he goes to
Somersetshire by to-night's train; and, after staying some time
with Mr. Brock, he will sail for the Mediterranean from the
Bristol Channel (in spite of Midwinter's objections) in his own
yacht.

"The letter incloses a jeweler's box, with a ring in it--
Armadale's present to me on my marriage. It is a ruby--but rather
a small one, and set in the worst possible taste. He would have
given Miss Milroy a ring worth ten times the money, if it had
been _her_ marriage present. There is no more hateful creature,
in my opinion, than a miserly young man. I wonder whether his
trumpery little yacht will drown him?

"I am so excited and fluttered, I hardly know what I am writing.
Not that I shrink from what is coming--I only feel as if I was
being hurried on faster than I quite like to go. At this rate,
if nothing happens, Midwinter will have married me by the end
of the week. And then--!

"August 6th.--If anything could startle me now, I should feel
startled by the news that has reached me to-day.

"On his return to the hotel this morning, after getting the
marriage-license, Midwinter found a telegram waiting for him.
It contained an urgent message from Armadale, announcing that
Mr. Brock had had a relapse, and that all hope of his recovery
was pronounced by the doctors to be at an end. By the dying
man's own desire, Midwinter was summoned to take leave of him,
and was entreated by Armadale not to lose a moment in starting
for the rectory by the first train.

"The hurried letter which tells me this tells me also that, by
the time I receive it, Midwinter will be on his way to the West.
He promises to write at greater length, after he has seen Mr.
Brock, by to-night's post.

"This news has an interest for me, which Midwinter little
suspects. There is but one human creature, besides myself, who
knows the secret of his birth and his name; and that one is the
old man who now lies waiting for him at the point of death. What
will they say to each other at the last moment? Will some chance
word take them back to the time when I was in Mrs. Armadale's
service at Madeira? Will they speak of Me?

"August 7th.--The promised letter has just reached me. No parting
words have been exchanged between them: it was all over before
Midwinter reached Somersetshire. Armadale met him at the rectory
gate with the news that Mr. Brock was dead.

"I try to struggle against it, but, coming after the strange
complication of circumstances that has been closing round me
for weeks past, there is something in this latest event of all
that shakes my nerves. But one last chance of detection stood
in my way when I opened my diary yesterday. When I open it
to-day, that chance is removed by Mr. Brock's death. It means
something; I wish I knew what.

"The funeral is to be on Saturday morning. Midwinter will attend
it as well as Armadale. But he proposes returning to London
first; and he writes word that he will call to-night, in the hope
of seeing me, on his way from the station to the hotel. Even if
there was any risk in it, I should see him, as things are now.
But there is no risk if he comes here from the station instead
of coming from the hotel.

"Five o'clock.--I was not mistaken in believing that my nerves
were all unstrung. Trifles that would not have cost me a second
thought at other times weigh heavily on my mind now.

"Two hours since, in despair of knowing how to get through the
day, I bethought myself of the milliner who is making my summer
dress. I had intended to go and try it on yesterday; but it
slipped out of my memory in the excitement of hearing about Mr.
Brock. So I went this afternoon, eager to do anything that might
help me to get rid of myself. I have returned, feeling more
uneasy and more depressed than I felt when I went out; for I have
come back fearing that I may yet have reason to repent not having
left my unfinished dress on the milliner's hands.

"Nothing happened to me, this time, in the street. It was only
in the trying-on room that my suspicions were roused; and there
it certainly did cross my mind that the attempt to discover me,
which I defeated at All Saints' Terrace, was not given up yet,
and that some of the shop-women had been tampered with, if not
the mistress herself.

"Can I give myself anything in the shape of a reason for this
impression? Let me think a little.

"I certainly noticed two things which were out of the ordinary
routine, under the circumstances. In the first place, there were
twice as many women as were needed in the trying-on room. This
looked suspicious; and yet I might have accounted for it in more
ways than one. Is it not the slack time now? and don't I know by
experience that I am the sort of woman about whom other women are
always spitefully curious? I thought again, in the second place,
that one of the assistants persisted rather oddly in keeping me
turned in a particular direction, with my face toward the glazed
and curtained door that led into the work-room. But, after all,
she gave a reason when I asked for it. She said the light fell
better on me that way; and, when I looked round, there was the
window to prove her right. Still, these trifles produced such an
effect on me, at the time, that I purposely found fault with the
dress, so as to have an excuse for trying it on again, before I
told them where I lived, and had it sent home. Pure fancy, I dare
say. Pure fancy, perhaps, at the present moment. I don't care;
I shall act on instinct (as they say), and give up the dress.
In plainer words still, I won't go back.

"Midnight.--Midwinter came to see me as he promised. An hour has
passed since we said good-night; and here I still sit, with my
pen in my hand, thinking of him. No words of mine can describe
what has passed between us. The end of it is all I can write
in these pages; and the end of it is that he has shaken my
resolution. For the first time since I saw the easy way to
Armadale's life at Thorpe Ambrose, I feel as if the man whom
I have doomed in my own thoughts had a chance of escaping me.

"Is it my love for Midwinter that has altered me? Or is it _his_
love for _me_ that has taken possession not only of all I wish to
give him, but of all I wish to keep from him as well? I feel as
if I had lost myself--lost myself, I mean, in _him_--all through
the evening. He was in great agitation about what had happened
in Somersetshire; and he made me feel as disheartened and as
wretched about it as he did. Though he never confessed it in
words, I know that Mr. Brock's death has startled him as an ill
omen for our marriage--I know it, because I feel Mr. Brock's
death as an ill omen too. The superstition--_his_ superstition--
took so strong a hold on me, that when we grew calmer and he
spoke of time future--when he told me that he must either break
his engagement with his new employers or go abroad, as he is
pledged to go, on Monday next--I actually shrank at the thought
of our marriage following close on Mr. Brock's funeral; I
actually said to him, in the impulse of the moment, 'Go, and
begin your new life alone! go, and leave me here to wait for
happier times.'

"He took me in his arms. He sighed, and kissed me with an angelic
tenderness. He said--oh, so softly and so sadly!--I have no life
now, apart from _you_.' As those words passed his lips, the
thought seemed to rise in my mind like an echo, 'Why not live out
all the days that are left to me, happy and harmless in a love
like this!' I can't explain it--I can't realize it. That was the
thought in me at the time; and that is the thought in me still. I
see my own hand while I write the words--and I ask myself whether
it is really the hand of Lydia Gwilt!

"Armadale--

"No! I will never write, I will never think of Armadale again.

"Yes! Let me write once more--let me think once more of him,
because it quiets me to know that he is going away, and that
the sea will have parted us before I am married. His old home
is home to him no longer, now that the loss of his mother has
been followed by the loss of his best and earliest friend. When
the funeral is over, he has decided to sail the same day for
the foreign seas. We may, or we may not, meet at Naples. Shall
I be an altered woman if we do? I wonder; I wonder!

"August 8th.--A line from Midwinter. He has gone back to
Somersetshire to be in readiness for the funeral to-morrow; and
he will return here (after bidding Armadale good-by) to-morrow
evening.

"The last forms and ceremonies preliminary to our marriage have
been complied with. I am to be his wife on Monday next. The hour
must not be later than half-past ten--which will give us just
time, when the service is over, to get from the church door to
the railway, and to start on our journey to Naples the same day.

"To-day--Saturday--Sunday! I am not afraid of the time; the time
will pass. I am not afraid of myself, if I can only keep all
thoughts but one out of my mind. I love him! Day and night, till
Monday comes, I will think of nothing but that. I love him!

"Four o'clock.--Other thoughts are forced into my mind in spite
of me. My suspicions of yesterday were no mere fancies; the
milliner has been tampered with. My folly in going back to her
house has led to my being traced here. I am absolutely certain
that I never gave the woman my address; and yet my new gown was
sent home to me at two o'clock to-day!

"A man brought it with the bill, and a civil message, to say
that, as I had not called at the appointed time to try it on
again, the dress had been finished and sent to me. He caught me
in the passage; I had no choice but to pay the bill, and dismiss
him. Any other proceeding, as events have now turned out, would
have been pure folly. The messenger (not the man who followed me
in the street, but another spy sent to look at me, beyond all
doubt) would have declared he knew nothing about it, if I had
spoken to him. The milliner would tell me to my face, if I went
to her, that I had given her my address. The one useful thing
to do now is to set my wits to work in the interests of my own
security, and to step out of the false position in which my own
rashness has placed me--if I can.

"Seven o'clock.--My spirits have risen again. I believe I am in
a fair way of extricating myself already.

"I have just come back from a long round in a cab. First, to the
cloak-room of the Great Western, to get the luggage which I sent
there from All Saints' Terrace. Next, to the cloak-room of the
Southeastern, to leave my luggage (labeled in Midwinter's name),
to wait for me till the starting of the tidal train on Monday.
Next, to the General Post-office, to post a letter to Midwinter
at the rectory, which he will receive to-morrow morning. Lastly,
back again to this house--from which I shall move no more till
Monday comes.

"My letter to Midwinter will, I have little doubt, lead to his
seconding (quite innocently) the precautions that I am taking
for my own safety. The shortness of the time at our disposal on
Monday will oblige him to pay his bill at the hotel and to remove
his luggage before the marriage ceremony takes place. All I ask
him to do beyond this is to take the luggage himself to the
Southeastern (so as to make any inquiries useless which may
address themselves to the servants at the hotel)--and, that done,
to meet me at the church door, instead of calling for me here.
The rest concerns nobody but myself. When Sunday night or Monday
morning comes, it will be hard, indeed--freed as I am now from
all incumbrances--if I can't give the people who are watching me
the slip for the second time.

"It seems needless enough to have written to Midwinter to-day,
when he is coming back to me to-morrow night. But it was
impossible to ask, what I have been obliged to ask of him,
without making my false family circumstances once more the
excuse; and having this to do--I must own the truth--I wrote
to him because, after what I suffered on the last occasion,
I can never again deceive him to his face.

"August 9th.--Two o'clock.--I rose early this morning, more
depressed in spirits than usual. The re-beginning of one's life,
at the re-beginning of every day, has already been something
weary and hopeless to me for years past. I dreamed, too, all
through the night--not of Midwinter and of my married life, as
I had hoped to dream--but of the wretched conspiracy to discover
me, by which I have been driven from one place to another,
like a hunted animal. Nothing in the shape of a new revelation
enlightened me in my sleep. All I could guess dreaming was what
I had guessed waking, that Mother Oldershaw is the enemy who
is attacking me in the dark.

"My restless night has, however, produced one satisfactory
result. It has led to my winning the good graces of the servant
here, and securing all the assistance she can give me when the
time comes for making my escape.

"The girl noticed this morning that I looked pale and anxious.
I took her into my confidence, to the extent of telling her that
I was privately engaged to be married, and that I had enemies who
were trying to part me from my sweetheart. This instantly roused
her sympathy, and a present of a ten-shilling piece for her kind
services to me did the rest. In the intervals of her housework
she has been with me nearly the whole morning; and I found out,
among other things, that _her_ sweetheart is a private soldier
in the Guards, and that she expects to see him to-morrow. I have
got money enough left, little as it is, to turn the head of any
Private in the British army; and, if the person appointed to
watch me to-morrow is a man, I think it just possible that he may
find his attention disagreeably diverted from Miss Gwilt in the
course of the evening.

"When Midwinter came here last from the railway, he came at
half-past eight. How am I to get through the weary, weary hours
between this and the evening? I think I shall darken my bedroom,
and drink the blessing of oblivion from my bottle of Drops.

"Eleven o'clock.--We have parted for the last time before the day
comes that makes us man and wife.

"He has left me, as he left me before, with an absorbing subject
of interest to think of in his absence. I noticed a change in him
the moment he entered the room. When he told me of the funeral,
and of his parting with Armadale on board the yacht, though he
spoke with feelings deeply moved, he spoke with a mastery over
himself which is new to me in my experience of him. It was the
same when our talk turned next on our own hopes and prospects.
He was plainly disappointed when he found that my family
embarrassments would prevent our meeting to-morrow, and plainly
uneasy at the prospect of leaving me to find my way by myself
on Monday to the church. But there was a certain hopefulness and
composure of manner underlying it all, which produced so strong
an impression on me that I was obliged to notice it.

"'You know what odd fancies take possession of me sometimes,' I
said. 'Shall I tell you the fancy that has taken possession of me
now? I can't help thinking that something has happened since we
last saw each other which you have not told me yet.

" Something _has_ happened,' he answered. 'And it is something
which you ought to know.'

"With those words he took out his pocket-book, and produced two
written papers from it. One he looked at and put back. The other
he placed on the table.

"'Before I tell you what this is, and how it came into my
possession,' he said, 'I must own something that I have concealed
from you. It is no more serious confession than the confession
of my own weakness.'

"He then acknowledged to me that the renewal of his friendship
with Armadale had been clouded, through the whole period of their
intercourse in London, by his own superstitious misgivings. He
had obeyed the summons which called him to the rector's bedside,
with the firm intention of confiding his previsions of coming
trouble to Mr. Brock; and he had been doubly confirmed in his
superstition when he found that Death had entered the house
before him, and had parted them, in this world, forever. More
than this, he had traveled back to be present at the funeral,
with a secret sense of relief at the prospect of being parted
from Armadale, and with a secret resolution to make the
after-meeting agreed on between us three at Naples a meeting
that should never take place. With that purpose in his heart,
he had gone up alone to the room prepared for him on his arrival
at the rectory, and had opened a letter which he found waiting
for him on the table. The letter had only that day been
discovered--dropped and lost--under the bed on which Mr. Brock
had died. It was in the rector's handwriting throughout; and
the person to whom it was addressed was Midwinter himself.

"Having told me this, nearly in the words in which I have written
it, he gave me the written paper that lay on the table between
us.

" 'Read it,' he said; 'and you will not need to be told that my
mind is at peace again, and that I took Allan's hand at parting
with a heart that was worthier of Allan's love.'

"I read the letter. There was no superstition to be conquered
in _my_ mind; there were no old feelings of gratitude toward
Armadale to be roused in _my_ heart; and yet, the effect which
the letter had had on Midwinter was, I firmly believe, more than
matched by the effect that the letter now produced on me.

"It was vain to ask him to leave it, and to let me read it again
(as I wished) when I was left by myself. He is determined to keep
it side by side with that other paper which I had seen him take
out of his pocket-book, and which contains the written narrative
of Armadale's Dream. All I could do was to ask his leave to copy
it; and this he granted readily. I wrote the copy in his
presence; and I now place it here in my diary, to mark a day
which is one of the memorable days in my life.

"Boscombe Rectory, August 2d.

"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--For the first time since the beginning of
my illness, I found strength enough yesterday to look over my
letters. One among them is a letter from Allan, which has been
lying unopened on my table for ten days past. He writes to me
in great distress, to say that there has been dissension between
you, and that you have left him. If you still remember what
passed between us, when you first opened your heart to me in
the Isle of Man, you will be at no loss to understand how I have
thought over this miserable news, through the night that has now
passed, and you will not be surprised to hear that I have roused
myself this morning to make the effort of writing to you.

"I want no explanation of the circumstances which have parted
you from your friend. If my estimate of your character is not
founded on an entire delusion, the one influence which can have
led to your estrangement from Allan is the influence of that evil
spirit of Superstition which I have once already cast out of your
heart--which I will once again conquer, please God, if I have
strength enough to make my pen speak my mind to you in this
letter.

"It is no part of my design to combat the belief which I know you
to hold, that mortal creatures may be the objects of supernatural
intervention in their pilgrimage through this world. Speaking
as a reasonable man, I own that I cannot prove you to be wrong.
Speaking as a believer in the Bible, I am bound to go further,
and to admit that you possess a higher than any human warrant for
the faith that is in you. The one object which I have it at heart
to attain is to induce you to free yourself from the paralyzing
fatalism of the heathen and the savage, and to look at the
mysteries that perplex, and the portents that daunt you, from
the Christian's point of view. If I can succeed in this, I shall
clear your mind of the ghastly doubts that now oppress it, and
I shall reunite you to your friend, never to be parted from him
again.

"I have no means of seeing and questioning you. I can only
send this letter to Allan to be forwarded, if he knows, or can
discover, your present address. Placed in this position toward
you, I am bound to assume all that _can_ be assumed in your
favor. I will take it for granted that something has happened
to you or to Allan which to your mind has not only confirmed
the fatalist conviction in which your father died, but has added
a new and terrible meaning to the warning which he sent you in
his death-bed letter.

"On this common ground I meet you. On this common ground I appeal
to your higher nature and your better sense.

"Preserve your present conviction that the events which have
happened (be they what they may) are not to be reconciled with
ordinary mortal coincidences and ordinary mortal laws; and view
your own position by the best and clearest light that your
superstition can throw on it. What are you? You are a helpless
instrument in the hands of Fate. You are doomed, beyond all human
capacity of resistance, to bring misery and destruction blindfold
on a man to whom you have harmlessly and gratefully united
yourself in the bonds of a brother's love. All that is morally
firmest in your will and morally purest in your aspirations
avails nothing against the hereditary impulsion of you toward
evil, caused by a crime which your father committed before you
were born. In what does that belief end? It ends in the darkness
in which you are now lost; in the self-contradictions in which
you are now bewildered; in the stubborn despair by which a man
profanes his own soul, and lowers himself to the level of the
brutes that perish.

"Look up, my poor suffering brother--look up, my hardly tried,
my well-loved friend, higher than this! Meet the doubts that now
assail you from the blessed vantage-ground of Christian courage
and Christian hope; and your heart will turn again to Allan, and
your mind will be at peace. Happen what may, God is all-merciful,
God is all-wise: natural or supernatural, it happens through Him.
The mystery of Evil that perplexes our feeble minds, the sorrow
and the suffering that torture us in this little life, leave the
one great truth unshaken that the destiny of man is in the hands
of his Creator, and that God's blessed Son died to make us
worthier of it. Nothing that is done in unquestioning submission
to the wisdom of the Almighty is done wrong. No evil exists out
of which, in obedience to his laws, Good may not come. Be true
to what Christ tells you is true. Encourage in yourself, be the
circumstances what they may, all that is loving, all that is
grateful, all that is patient, all that is forgiving, toward your
fellow-men. And humbly and trustfully leave the rest to the God
who made you, and to the Saviour who loved you better than his
own life.

"This is the faith in which I have lived, by the Divine help
and mercy, from my youth upward. I ask you earnestly, I ask you
confidently, to make it your faith, too. It is the mainspring of
all the good I have ever done, of all the happiness I have ever
known; it lightens my darkness, it sustains my hope; it comforts
and quiets me, lying here, to live or die, I know not which.
Let it sustain, comfort, and enlighten you. It will help you
in your sorest need, as it has helped me in mine. It will show
you another purpose in the events which brought you and Allan
together than the purpose which your guilty father foresaw.
Strange things, I do not deny it, have happened to you already.
Stranger things still may happen before long, which I may not
live to see. Remember, if that time comes, that I died firmly
disbelieving in your influence over Allan being other than an
influence for good. The great sacrifice of the Atonement--I say
it reverently--has its mortal reflections, even in this world. If
danger ever threatens Allan, you, whose father took his father's
life--YOU, and no other, may be the man whom the providence of
God has appointed to save him.

"Come to me if I live. Go back to the friend who loves you,
whether I live or die.

"Yours affectionately to the last,

"DECIMUS BROCK."

"'You, and no other, may be the man whom the providence of God
has appointed to save him!'

"Those are the words which have shaken me to the soul. Those
are the words which make me feel as if the dead man had left
his grave, and had put his hand on the place in my heart where
my terrible secret lies hidden from every living creature but
myself. One part of the letter has come true already. The danger
that it foresees threatens Armadale at this moment--and threatens
him from Me!

"If the favoring circumstances which have driven me thus far
drive me on to the end, and if that old man's last earthly
conviction is prophetic of the truth, Armadale will escape me,
do what I may. And Midwinter will be the victim who is sacrificed
to save his life.

"It is horrible! it is impossible! it shall never be! At the
thinking of it only, my hand trembles and my heart sinks. I bless
the trembling that unnerves me! I bless the sinking that turns me
faint! I bless those words in the letter which have revived the
relenting thoughts that first came to me two days since! Is it
hard, now that events are taking me, smoothly and safely, nearer
and nearer to the End--is it hard to conquer the temptation to go
on? No! If there is only a chance of harm coming to Midwinter,
the dread of that chance is enough to decide me--enough to
strengthen me to conquer the temptation, for his sake. I have
never loved him yet, never, never, never as I love him now!

"Sunday, August 10th.--The eve of my wedding-day! I close and
lock this book, never to write in it, never to open it again.

"I have won the great victory; I have trampled my own wickedness
under foot. I am innocent; I am happy again. My love! my angel!
when to-morrow gives me to you, I will not have a thought in my
heart which is not _your_ thought, as well as mine!"

CHAPTER XV.

THE WEDDING-DAY.

The time was nine o'clock in the morning. The place was a private
room in one of the old-fashioned inns which still remain on
the Borough side of the Thames. The date was Monday, the 11th
of August. And the person was Mr. Bashwood, who had traveled
to London on a summons from his son, and had taken up his abode
at the inn on the previous day.

He had never yet looked so pitiably old and helpless as he looked
now. The fever and chill of alternating hope and despair had
dried, and withered, and wasted him. The angles of his figure had
sharpened. The outline of his face had shrunk. His dress pointed
the melancholy change in him with a merciless and shocking
emphasis. Never, even in his youth, had he worn such clothes as
he wore now. With the desperate resolution to leave no chance
untried of producing an impression on Miss Gwilt, he had cast
aside his dreary black garments; he had even mustered the courage
to wear his blue satin cravat. His coat was a riding-coat of
light gray. He had ordered it, with a vindictive subtlety of
purpose, to be made on the pattern of a coat that he had seen
Allan wear. His waistcoat was white; his trousers were of the
gayest summer pattern, in the largest check. His wig was oiled
and scented, and brushed round, on either side, to hide the
wrinkles on his temples. He was an object to laugh at; he was an
object to weep over. His enemies, if a creature so wretched could
have had enemies, would have forgiven him, on seeing him in his
new dress. His friends--had any of his friends been left--would
have been less distressed if they had looked at him in his coffin
than if they had looked at him as he was now. Incessantly
restless, he paced the room from end to end. Now he looked at
his watch; now he looked out of the window; now he looked at
the well-furnished breakfast-table--always with the same wistful,
uneasy inquiry in his eyes. The waiter coming in, with the urn
of boiling water, was addressed for the fiftieth time in the one
form of words which the miserable creature seemed to be capable
of uttering that morning: "My son is coming to breakfast. My son
is very particular. I want everything of the best--hot things and
cold things--and tea and coffee--and all the rest of it, waiter;
all the rest of it." For the fiftieth time, he now reiterated
those anxious words. For the fiftieth time, the impenetrable
waiter had just returned his one pacifying answer, "All right,
sir; you may leave it to me"--when the sound of leisurely
footsteps was heard on the stairs; the door opened; and the
long-expected son sauntered indolently into the room, with a neat
little black leather bag in his hand.

"Well done, old gentleman!" said Bashwood the younger, surveying
his father's dress with a smile of sardonic encouragement.
"You're ready to be married to Miss Gwilt at a moment's notice!"

The father took the son's hand, and tried to echo the son's
laugh.

"You have such good spirits, Jemmy," he said, using the name in
its familiar form, as he had been accustomed to use it in happier
days. "You always had good spirits, my dear, from a child. Come
and sit down; I've ordered you a nice breakfast. Everything of
the best! everything of the best! What a relief it is to see you!
Oh, dear, dear, what a relief it is to see you." He stopped
and sat down at the table, his face flushed with the effort
to control the impatience that was devouring him. "Tell me about
her!" he burst out, giving up the effort with a sudden
self-abandonment. "I shall die, Jemmy, if I wait for it any
longer. Tell me! tell me! tell me!"

"One thing at a time," said Bashwood the younger, perfectly
unmoved by his father's impatience. "We'll try the breakfast
first, and come to the lady afterward! Gently does it, old
gentleman--gently does it!"

He put his leather bag on a chair, and sat down opposite to
his father, composed, and smiling, and humming a little tune.

No ordinary observation, applying the ordinary rules of analysis,
would have detected the character of Bashwood the younger in his
face. His youthful look, aided by his light hair and his plump
beardless cheeks, his easy manner and his ever-ready smile,
his eyes which met unshrinkingly the eyes of every one whom he
addressed, all combined to make the impression of him a favorable
impression in the general mind. No eye for reading character, but
such an eye as belongs to one person, perhaps, in ten thousand,
could have penetrated the smoothly deceptive surface of this man,
and have seen him for what he really was--the vile creature whom
the viler need of Society has fashioned for its own use. There
he sat--the Confidential Spy of modern times, whose business
is steadily enlarging, whose Private Inquiry Offices are steadily
on the increase. There he sat--the necessary Detective attendant
on the progress of our national civilization; a man who was, in
this instance at least, the legitimate and intelligible product
of the vocation that employed him; a man professionally ready
on the merest suspicion (if the merest suspicion paid him) to get
under our beds, and to look through gimlet-holes in our doors;
a man who would have been useless to his employers if he could
have felt a touch of human sympathy in his father's presence;
and who would have deservedly forfeited his situation if, under
any circumstances whatever, he had been personally accessible
to a sense of pity or a sense of shame.

"Gently does it, old gentleman," he repeated, lifting the covers
from the dishes, and looking under them one after the other all
round the table. "Gently does it!"

"Don't be angry with me, Jemmy," pleaded his father. "Try, if you
can, to think how anxious I must be. I got your letter so long
ago as yesterday morning. I have had to travel all the way from
Thorpe Ambrose--I have had to get through the dreadful long
evening and the dreadful long night--with your letter telling me
that you had found out who she is, and telling me nothing more.
Suspense is very hard to bear, Jemmy, when you come to my age.
What was it prevented you, my dear, from coming to me when I got
here yesterday evening?"

"A little dinner at Richmond," said Bashwood the younger. "Give
me some tea."

Mr. Bashwood tried to comply with the request; but the hand with
which he lifted the teapot trembled so unmanageably that the tea
missed the cup and streamed out on the cloth. "I'm very sorry;
I can't help trembling when I'm anxious," said the old man, as
his son took the tea-pot out of his hand. "I'm afraid you bear me
malice, Jemmy, for what happened when I was last in town. I own
I was obstinate and unreasonable about going back to Thorpe
Ambrose. I'm more sensible now. You were quite right in taking it
all on yourself, as soon as I showed you the veiled lady when we
saw her come out of the hotel; and you were quite right to send
me back the same day to my business in the steward's office
at the Great House." He watched the effect of these concessions
on his son, and ventured doubtfully on another entreaty. "If you
won't tell me anything else just yet," he said, faintly, "will
you tell me how you found her out. Do, Jemmy, do!"

Bashwood the younger looked up from his plate. "I'll tell you
that," he said. "The reckoning up of Miss Gwilt has cost more
money and taken more time than I expected; and the sooner we come
to a settlement about it, the sooner we shall get to what you
want to know."

Without a word of expostulation, the father laid his dingy old
pocket-book and his purse on the table before the son. Bashwood
the younger looked into the purse; observed, with a contemptuous
elevation of the eyebrows, that it held no more than a sovereign
and some silver; and returned it intact. The pocket-book,
on being opened next, proved to contain four five-pound notes.
Bashwood the younger transferred three of the notes to his own
keeping; and handed the pocket-book back to his father, with
a bow expressive of mock gratitude and sarcastic respect.

"A thousand thanks," he said. "Some of it is for the people at
our office, and the balance is for myself. One of the few stupid
things, my dear sir, that I have done in the course of my life
was to write you word, when you first consulted me, that you
might have my services gratis. As you see, I hasten to repair
the error. An hour or two at odd times I was ready enough to give
you. But this business has taken days, and has got in the way of
other jobs. I told you I couldn't be out of pocket by you--I put
it in my letter, as plain as words could say it."

"Yes, yes, Jemmy. I don't complain, my dear, I don't complain.
Never mind the money--tell me how you found her out."

"Besides," pursued Bashwood, the younger, proceeding impenetrably
with his justification of himself, "I have given you the benefit
of my experience; I've done it cheap. It would have cost double
the money if another man had taken this in hand. Another man
would have kept a watch on Mr. Armadale as well as Miss Gwilt.
I have saved you that expense. You are certain that Mr. Armadale
is bent on marrying her. Very good. In that case, while we have
our eye on _her_, we have, for all useful purposes, got our eye
on _him_. Know where the lady is, and you know that the gentleman
can't be far off."

"Quite true, Jemmy. But how was it Miss Gwilt came to give you
so much trouble?"

"She's a devilish clever woman," said Bashwood the younger;
"that's how it was. She gave us the slip at a milliner's shop.
We made it all right with the milliner, and speculated on the
chance of her coming back to try on a gown she had ordered. The
cleverest women lose the use of their wits in nine cases out of
ten where there's a new dress in the case, and even Miss Gwilt
was rash enough to go back. That was all we wanted. One of the
women from our office helped to try on her new gown, and put her
in the right position to be seen by one of our men behind the
door. He instantly suspected who she was, on the strength of what
he had been told of her; for she's a famous woman in her way.
Of course, we didn't trust to that. We traced her to her new
address; and we got a man from Scotland Yard, who was certain to
know her, if our own man's idea was the right one. The man from
Scotland Yard turned milliner's lad for the occasion, and took
her gown home. He saw her in the passage, and identified her in
an instant. You're in luck, I can tell you. Miss Gwilt's a public
character. If we had had a less notorious woman to deal with,
she might have cost us weeks of inquiry, and you might have had
to pay hundreds of pounds. A day did it in Miss Gwilt's case; and
another day put the whole story of her life, in black and white,
into my hand. There it is at the present moment, old gentleman,
in my black bag."

Bashwood the father made straight for the bag with eager eyes and
outstretched hand. Bashwood the son took a little key out of his
waistcoat pocket, winked, shook his head, and put the key back
again.

"I haven't done breakfast yet," he said. "Gently does it, my dear
sir--gently does it."

"I can't wait!" cried the old man, struggling vainly to preserve
his self-control. "It's past nine! It's a fortnight to-day since
she went to London with Mr. Armadale! She may be married to him
in a fortnight! She may be married to him this morning! I can't
wait! I can't wait!"

"There's no knowing what you can do till you try," rejoined
Bashwood the younger. "Try, and you'll find you can wait. What
has become of your curiosity?" he went on, feeding the fire
ingeniously with a stick at a time. "Why don't you ask me what
I mean by calling Miss Gwilt a public character? Why don't you
wonder how I came to lay my hand on the story of her life, in
black and white? If you'll sit down again, I'll tell you. If you
won't, I shall confine myself to my breakfast."

Mr. Bashwood sighed heavily, and went back to his chair.

"I wish you were not so fond of your joke, Jemmy," he said.
"I wish, my dear, you were not quite so fond of your joke."

"Joke?" repeated his son. "It would be serious enough in some
people's eyes, I can tell you. Miss Gwilt has been tried
for her life; and the papers in that black bag are the lawyer's
instructions for the Defense. Do you call that a joke?"

The father started to his feet, and looked straight across the
table at the son with a smile of exultation that was terrible
to see.

"She's been tried for her life!" he burst out, with a deep gasp
of satisfaction. "She's been tried for her life!" He broke into
a low, prolonged laugh, and snapped his fingers exultingly.
"Aha-ha-ha! Something to frighten Mr. Armadale in _that_!"

Scoundrel as he was, the son was daunted by the explosion
of pent-up passion which burst on him in those words.

"Don't excite yourself," he said, with a sullen suppression
of the mocking manner in which he had spoken thus far.

Mr. Bashwood sat down again, and passed his handkerchief over his
forehead. "No," he said, nodding and smiling at his son. "No,
no--no excitement, as you say--I can wait now, Jemmy; I can wait
now."

He waited with immovable patience. At intervals, he nodded,
and smiled, and whispered to himself, "Something to frighten
Mr. Armadale in _that_!" But he made no further attempt, by word,
look, or action, to hurry his son.

Bashwood the younger finished his breakfast slowly, out of pure
bravado; lit a cigar with the utmost deliberation; looked at
his father, and, seeing him still as immovably patient as ever,
opened the black bag at last, and spread the papers on the table.

"How will you have it?" he asked. "Long or short? I have got her
whole life here. The counsel who defended her at the trial was
instructed to hammer hard at the sympathies of the jury: he went
head over ears into the miseries of her past career, and shocked
everybody in court in the most workman-like manner. Shall I take
the same line? Do you want to know all about her, from the time
when she was in short frocks and frilled trousers? or do you
prefer getting on at once to her first appearance as a prisoner
in the dock?"

"I want to know all about her," said his father, eagerly. "The
worst, and the best--the worst particularly. Don't spare my
feelings, Jemmy--whatever you do, don't spare my feelings! Can't
I look at the papers myself?"

"No, you can't. They would be all Greek and Hebrew to you. Thank
your stars that you have got a sharp son, who can take the pith
out of these papers, and give it a smack of the right flavor
in serving it up. There are not ten men in England who could tell
you this woman's story as I can tell it. It's a gift, old
gentleman, of the sort that is given to very few people--and it
lodges here."

He tapped his forehead smartly, and turned to the first page
of the manuscript before him, with an unconcealed triumph at the
prospect of exhibiting his own cleverness, which was the first
expression of a genuine feeling of any sort that had escaped him
yet.

"Miss Gwilt's story begins," said Bashwood the younger, "in the
market-place at Thorpe Ambrose. One day, something like a quarter
of a century ago, a traveling quack doctor, who dealt in
perfumery as well as medicines, came to the town with his cart,
and exhibited, as a living example of the excellence of his
washes and hair-oils and so on, a pretty little girl, with a
beautiful complexion and wonderful hair. His name was Oldershaw.
He had a wife, who helped him in the perfumery part of his
business, and who carried it on by herself after his death.
She has risen in the world of late years; and she is identical
with that sly old lady who employed me professionally a short
time since. As for the pretty little girl, you know who she
was as well as I do. While the quack was haranguing the mob and
showing them the child's hair, a young lady, driving through the
marketplace, stopped her carriage to hear what it was all about,
saw the little girl, and took a violent fancy to her on the spot.
The young lady was the daughter of Mr. Blanchard, of Thorpe
Ambrose. She went home, and interested her father in the fate
of the innocent little victim of the quack doctor. The same
evening, the Oldershaws were sent for to the great house and were
questioned. They declared themselves to be her uncle and aunt--a
lie, of course!--and they were quite willing to let her attend
the village school, while they stayed at Thorpe Ambrose, when
the proposal was made to them. The new arrangement was carried
out the next day. And the day after that, the Oldershaws had
disappeared, and had left the little girl on the squire's hands!
She evidently hadn't answered as they expected in the capacity
of an advertisement, and that was the way they took of providing
for her for life. There is the first act of the play for you!
Clear enough, so far, isn't it?"

"Clear enough, Jemmy, to clever people. But I'm old and slow.
I don't understand one thing. Whose child was she?"

"A very sensible question. Sorry to inform you that nobody can
answer it--Miss Gwilt herself included. These Instructions that
I'm refering to are founded, of course, on her own statements,
sifted by her attorney. All she could remember, on being
questioned, was that she was beaten and half starved, somewhere
in the country, by a woman who took in children at nurse. The
woman had a card with her, stating that her name was Lydia Gwilt,
and got a yearly allowance for taking care of her (paid through a
lawyer) till she was eight years old. At that time, the allowance
stopped; the lawyer had no explanation to offer; nobody came to
look after her; nobody wrote. The Oldershaws saw her, and thought
she might answer to exhibit; and the woman parted with her for a
trifle to the Oldershaws; and the Oldershaws parted with her for
good and all to the Blanchards. That's the story of her birth,
parentage, and education! She may be the daughter of a duke,
or the daughter of a costermonger. The circumstances may be
highly romantic, or utterly commonplace. Fancy anything you
like--there's nothing to stop you. When you've had your fancy
out, say the word, and I'll turn over the leaves and go on."

"Please to go on, Jemmy--please to go on."

"The next glimpse of Miss Gwilt," resumed Bashwood the younger,
turning over the papers, "is a glimpse at a family mystery. The
deserted child was in luck's way at last. She had taken the fancy
of an amiable young lady with a rich father, and she was petted
and made much of at the great house, in the character of Miss
Blanchard's last new plaything. Not long afterward Mr. Blanchard
and his daughter went abroad, and took the girl with them in the
capacity of Miss Blanchard's little maid. When they came back,
the daughter had married, and become a widow, in the interval;
and the pretty little maid, instead of returning with them to
Thorpe Ambrose, turns up suddenly, all alone, as a pupil at a
school in France. There she was, at a first-rate establishment,
with her maintenance and education secured until she married and
settled in life, on this understanding--that she never returned
to England. Those were all the particulars she could be prevailed
on to give the lawyer who drew up these instructions. She
declined to say what had happened abroad; she declined even,
after all the years that had passed, to mention her mistress's
married name. It's quite clear, of course, that she was in
possession of some family secret; and that the Blanchards paid
for her schooling on the Continent to keep her out of the way.
And it's equally plain that she would never have kept her secret
as she did if she had not seen her way to trading on it for her
own advantage at some future time. A clever woman, as I've told
you already! A devilish clever woman, who hasn't been knocked
about in the world, and seen the ups and downs of life abroad
and at home, for nothing."

"Yes, yes, Jemmy; quite true. How long did she stop, please,
at the school in France?"

Bashwood the younger referred to the papers. "She stopped at the
French school," he replied, "till she was seventeen. At that time
something happened at the school which I find mildly described in
these papers as 'something unpleasant.' The plain fact was that
the music-master attached to the establishment fell in love with
Miss Gwilt. He was a respectable middle-aged man, with a wife and
family; and, finding the circumstances entirely hopeless, he took
a pistol, and, rashly assuming that he had brains in his head,
tried to blow them out. The doctor saved his life, but not his
reason; he ended, where he had better have begun, in an asylum.
Miss Gwilt's beauty having been at the bottom of the scandal,
it was, of course, impossible--though she was proved to have been
otherwise quite blameless in the matter--for her to remain at the
school after what had happened. Her 'friends' (the Blanchards)
were communicated with. And her friends transferred her to
another school; at Brussels, this time--What are you sighing
about? What's wrong now?"

"I can't help feeling a little for the poor music-master, Jemmy.
Go on."

"According to her own account of it, dad, Miss Gwilt seems
to have felt for him too. She took a serious turn; and was
'converted' (as they call it) by the lady who had charge of her
in the interval before she went to Brussels. The priest at
the Belgium school appears to have been a man of some discretion,
and to have seen that the girl's sensibilities were getting into
a dangerously excited state. Before he could quiet her down, he
fell ill, and was succeeded by another priest, who was a fanatic.
You will understand the sort of interest he took in the girl, and
the way in which he worked on her feelings, when I tell you that
she announced it as her decision, after having been nearly two
years at the school, to end her days in a convent! You may well
stare! Miss Gwilt, in the character of a Nun, is the sort of
female phenomenon you don't often set eyes on."

"Did she go into the convent?" asked Mr. Bashwood. "Did they let
her go in, so friendless and so young, with nobody to advise her
for the best?"

"The Blanchards were consulted, as a matter of form," pursued
Bashwood the younger. "_They_ had no objection to her shutting
herself up in a convent, as you may well imagine. The pleasantest
letter they ever had from her, I'll answer for it, was the letter
in which she solemnly took leave of them in this world forever.
The people at the convent were as careful as usual not to commit
themselves. Their rules wouldn't allow her to take the veil till
she had tried the life for a year first, and then, if she had any
doubt, for another year after that. She tried the life for the
first year, accordingly, and doubted. She tried it for the second
year, and was wise enough, by that time, to give it up without
further hesitation. Her position was rather an awkward one when
she found herself at liberty again. The sisters at the convent
had lost their interest in her; the mistress at the school
declined to take her back as teacher, on the ground that she was
too nice-looking for the place; the priest considered her to be
possessed by the devil. There was nothing for it but to write
to the Blanchards again, and ask them to start her in life as
a teacher of music on her own account. She wrote to her former
mistress accordingly. Her former mistress had evidently doubted
the genuineness of the girl's resolution to be a nun, and had
seized the opportunity offered by her entry into the convent to
cut off all further communication between her ex-waiting-maid and
herself. Miss Gwilt's letter was returned by the post-office. She
caused inquiries to be made; and found that Mr. Blanchard was
dead, and that his daughter had left the great house for some
place of retirement unknown. The next thing she did, upon this,
was to write to the heir in possession of the estate. The letter
was answered by his solicitors, who were instructed to put the
law in force at the first attempt she made to extort money from
any member of the family at Thorpe Ambrose. The last chance was
to get at the address of her mistress's place of retirement.
The family bankers, to whom she wrote, wrote back to say that
they were instructed not to give the lady's address to any one
applying for it, without being previously empowered to do so by
the lady herself. That last letter settled the question--Miss
Gwilt could do nothing more. With money at her command, she might
have gone to England and made the Blanchards think twice before
they carried things with too high a hand. Not having a half-penny
at command, she was helpless. Without money and without friends,
you may wonder how she supported herself while the correspondence
was going on. She supported herself by playing the piano-forte
at a low concert-room in Brussels. The men laid siege to her,
of course, in all directions; but they found her insensible as
adamant. One of these rejected gentlemen was a Russian; and he
was the means of making her acquainted with a countrywoman of
his, whose name is unpronounceable by English lips. Let us give
her her title, and call her the baroness. The two women liked
each other at their first introduction; and a new scene opened
in Miss Gwilt's life. She became reader and companion to the
baroness. Everything was right, everything was smooth on the
surface. Everything was rotten and everything was wrong under
it."

"In what way, Jemmy? Please to wait a little, and tell me in
what way."

"In this way. The baroness was fond of traveling, and she had
a select set of friends about her who were quite of her way of
thinking. They went from one city on the Continent to another,
and were such charming people that they picked up acquaintances
everywhere. The acquaintances were invited to the baroness's
receptions, and card-tables were invariably a part of the
baroness's furniture. Do you see it now? or must I tell you, in
the strictest confidence, that cards were not considered sinful
on these festive occasions, and that the luck, at the end of the
evening, turned out to be almost invariably on the side of the
baroness and her friends? Swindlers, all of them; and there isn't
a doubt on my mind, whatever there may be on yours, that Miss
Gwilt's manners and appearance made her a valuable member of the
society in the capacity of a decoy. Her own statement is that she
was innocent of all knowledge of what really went on; that she
was quite ignorant of card-playing; that she hadn't such a thing
as a respectable friend to turn to in the world; and that she
honestly liked the baroness, for the simple reason that the
baroness was a hearty good friend to her from first to last.
Believe that or not, as you please. For five years she traveled
about all over the Continent with these card-sharpers in high
life, and she might have been among them at this moment, for
anything I know to the contrary, if the baroness had not caught
a Tartar at Naples, in the shape of a rich traveling Englishman,
named Waldron. Aha! that name startles you, does it? You've read
the Trial of the famous Mrs. Waldron, like the rest of the world?
And you know who Miss Gwilt is now, without my telling you?"

He paused, and looked at his father in sudden perplexity. Far
from being overwhelmed by the discovery which had just burst on
him, Mr. Bashwood, after the first natural movement of surprise,
faced his son with a self-possession which was nothing short of
extraordinary under the circumstances. There was a new brightness
in his eyes, and a new color in his face. If it had been possible
to conceive such a thing of a man in his position, he seemed to
be absolutely encouraged instead of depressed by what he had just
heard. "Go on, Jemmy," he said, quietly; "I am one of the few
people who didn't read the trial; I only heard of it."

Still wondering inwardly, Bashwood the younger recovered himself,
and went on.

"You always were, and you always will be, behind the age,"
he said. "When we come to the trial, I can tell you as much
about it as you need know. In the meantime, we must go back
to the baroness and Mr. Waldron. For a certain number of nights
the Englishman let the card-sharpers have it all their own way;
in other words, he paid for the privilege of making himself
agreeable to Miss Gwilt. When he thought he had produced the
necessary impression on her, he exposed the whole confederacy
without mercy. The police interfered; the baroness found herself
in prison; and Miss Gwilt was put between the two alternatives of
accepting Mr. Waldron's protection or being thrown on the world
again. She was amazingly virtuous, or amazingly clever, which
you please. To Mr. Waldron's astonishment, she told him that she
could face the prospect of being thrown on the world; and that
he must address her honorably or leave her forever. The end of it
was what the end always is, where the man is infatuated and the
woman is determined. To the disgust of his family and friends,
Mr. Waldron made a virtue of necessity, and married her."

"How old was he?" asked Bashwood the elder, eagerly.

Bashwood the younger burst out laughing. "He was about old
enough, daddy, to be your son, and rich enough to have burst that
precious pocket-book of yours with thousand-pound notes! Don't
hang your head. It wasn't a happy marriage, though he _was_ so
young and so rich. They lived abroad, and got on well enough at
first. He made a new will, of course, as soon as he was married,
and provided handsomely for his wife, under the tender pressure
of the honey-moon. But women wear out, like other things, with
time; and one fine morning Mr. Waldron woke up with a doubt
in his mind whether he had not acted like a fool. He was an
ill-tempered man; he was discontented with himself; and of course
he made his wife feel it. Having begun by quarreling with her,
he got on to suspecting her, and became savagely jealous of every
male creature who entered the house. They had no incumbrances in
the shape of children, and they moved from one place to another,
just as his jealousy inclined him, till they moved back to
England at last, after having been married close on four years.
He had a lonely old house of his own among the Yorkshire moors,
and there he shut his wife and himself up from every living
creature, except his servants and his dogs. Only one result
could come, of course, of treating a high-spirited young woman in
that way. It may be her fate, or it may be chance; but, whenever
a woman is desperate, there is sure to be a man handy to take
advantage of it. The man in this case was rather a 'dark horse,'
as they say on the turf. He was a certain Captain Manuel, a
native of Cuba, and (according to his own account) an ex-officer
in the Spanish navy. He had met Mr. Waldron's beautiful wife
on the journey back to England; had contrived to speak to her
in spite of her husband's jealousy; and had followed her to her
place of imprisonment in Mr. Waldron's house on the moors. The
captain is described as a clever, determined fellow--of the
daring piratical sort--with the dash of mystery about him that
women like--"

"She's not the same as other women!" interposed Mr. Bashwood,
suddenly interrupting his son. "Did she--?" His voice failed him,
and he stopped without bringing the question to an end.

"Did she like the captain?" suggested Bashwood the younger, with
another laugh. "According to her own account of it, she adored
him. At the same time her conduct (as represented by herself) was
perfectly innocent. Considering how carefully her husband watched
her, the statement (incredible as it appears) is probably true.
For six weeks or so they confined themselves to corresponding
privately, the Cuban captain (who spoke and wrote English
perfectly) having contrived to make a go-between of one of the
female servants in the Yorkshire house. How it might have ended
we needn't trouble ourselves to inquire--Mr. Waldron himself
brought matters to a crisis. Whether he got wind of the
clandestine correspondence or not, doesn't appear. But this
is certain, that he came home from a ride one day in a fiercer
temper than usual; that his wife showed him a sample of that high
spirit of hers which he had never yet been able to break; and
that it ended in his striking her across the face with his
riding-whip. Ungentlemanly conduct, I am afraid we must admit;
but, to all outward appearance, the riding-whip produced the most
astonishing results. From that moment the lady submitted as she
had never submitted before. For a fortnight afterward he did what
he liked, and she never thwarted him; he said what he liked,
and she never uttered a word of protest. Some men might have
suspected this sudden reformation of hiding something dangerous
under the surface. Whether Mr. Waldron looked at it in that
light, I can't tell you. All that is known is that, before the
mark of the whip was off his wife's face, he fell ill, and that
in two days afterward he was a dead man. What do you say to
that?"

"I say he deserved it!" answered Mr. Bashwood, striking his hand
excitedly on the table, as his son paused and looked at him.

"The doctor who attended the dying man was not of your way of
thinking," remarked Bashwood the younger, dryly. "He called in
two other medical men, and they all three refused to certify the
death. The usual legal investigation followed. The evidence of
the doctors and the evidence of the servants pointed irresistibly
in one and the same direction; and Mrs. Waldron was committed
for trial, on the charge of murdering her husband by poison.
A solicitor in first-rate criminal practice was sent for from
London to get up the prisoner's defense, and these 'Instructions'
took their form and shape accordingly.--What's the matter? What
do you want now?"

Suddenly rising from his chair, Mr. Bashwood stretched across
the table, and tried to take the papers from his son. "I want
to look at them," he burst out, eagerly. "I want to see what
they say about the captain from Cuba. He was at the bottom of it,
Jemmy--I'll swear he was at the bottom of it!"

"Nobody doubted that who was in the secret of the case at the
time," rejoined his son. "But nobody could prove it. Sit down
again, dad, and compose yourself. There's nothing here about
Captain Manuel but the lawyer's private suspicions of him, for
the counsel to act on or not, at the counsel's discretion. From
first to last she persisted in screening the captain. At the
outset of the business she volunteered two statements to the
lawyer--both of which he suspected to be false. In the first
place she declared that she was innocent of the crime. He wasn't
surprised, of course, so far; his clients were, as a general
rule, in the habit of deceiving him in that way. In the second
place, while admitting her private correspondence with the Cuban
captain, she declared that the letters on both sides related
solely to a proposed elopement, to which her husband's barbarous
treatment had induced her to consent. The lawyer naturally asked
to see the letters. 'He has burned all my letters, and I have
burned all his,' was the only answer he got. It was quite
possible that Captain Manuel might have burned _her_ letters when
he heard there was a coroner's inquest in the house. But it was
in her solicitor's experience (as it is in my experience too)
that, when a woman is fond of a man, in ninety-nine cases out
of a hundred, risk or no risk, she keeps his letters. Having his
suspicions roused in this way, the lawyer privately made some
inquiries about the foreign captain, and found that he was as
short of money as a foreign captain could be. At the same time,
he put some questions to his client about her expectations from
her deceased husband. She answered, in high indignation, that
a will had been found among her husband's papers, privately
executed only a few days before his death, and leaving her no
more, out of all his immense fortune, than five thousand pounds.
'Was there an older will, then,' says the lawyer, 'which the new
will revoked?' Yes, there was; a will that he had given into her
own possession--a will made when they were first married.
'Leaving his widow well provided for?' Leaving her just ten times
as much as the second will left her. 'Had she ever mentioned that
first will, now revoked, to Captain Manuel?' She saw the trap set
for her, and said, 'No, never!' without an instant's hesitation.
That reply confirmed the lawyer's suspicions. He tried to
frighten her by declaring that her life might pay the forfeit
of her deceiving him in this matter. With the usual obstinacy
of women, she remained just as immovable as ever. The captain,
on his side, behaved in the most exemplary manner. He confessed
to planning the elopement; he declared that he had burned all
the lady's letters as they reached him, out of regard for her
reputation; he remained in the neighborhood; and he volunteered
to attend before the magistrates. Nothing was discovered that
could legally connect him with the crime, or that could put him
into court on the day of the trial, in any other capacity than
the capacity of a witness. I don't believe myself that there's
any moral doubt (as they call it) that Manuel knew of the will
which left her mistress of fifty thousand pounds; and that he was
ready and willing, in virtue of that circumstance, to marry her
on Mr. Waldron's death. If anybody tempted her to effect her own
release from her husband by making herself a widow, the captain
must have been the man. And unless she contrived, guarded and
watched as she was, to get the poison for herself, the poison
must have come to her in one of the captain's letters."

"I don't believe she used it, if it did come to her!" exclaimed
Mr. Bashwood. "I believe it was the captain himself who poisoned
her husband!"

Bashwood the younger, without noticing the interruption, folded
up the Instructions for the Defense, which had now served their
purpose, put them back in his bag, and produced a printed
pamphlet in their place.

"Here is one of the published Reports of the Trial," he said,
"which you can read at your leisure, if you like. We needn't
waste time now by going into details. I have told you already
how cleverly her counsel paved his way for treating the charge
of murder as the crowning calamity of the many that had already
fallen on an innocent woman. The two legal points relied on
for the defense (after this preliminary flourish) were: First,
that there was no evidence to connect her with the possession
of poison; and, secondly, that the medical witnesses, while
positively declaring that her husband had died by poison,
differed in their conclusions as to the particular drug that
had killed him. Both good points, and both well worked; but
the evidence on the other side bore down everything before it.
The prisoner was proved to have had no less than three excellent
reasons for killing her husband. He had treated her with almost
unexampled barbarity; he had left her in a will (unrevoked so far
as she knew) mistress of a fortune on his death; and she was, by
her own confession, contemplating an elopement with another man.
Having set forth these motives, the prosecution next showed by
evidence, which was never once shaken on any single point, that
the one person in the house who could by any human possibility
have administered the poison was the prisoner at the bar. What
could the judge and jury do, with such evidence before them as
this? The verdict was Guilty, as a matter of course; and the
judge declared that he agreed with it. The female part of the
audience was in hysterics; and the male part was not much better.
The judge sobbed, and the bar shuddered. She was sentenced to
death in such a scene as had never been previously witnessed
in an English court of justice. And she is alive and hearty at
the present moment; free to do any mischief she pleases, and to
poison, at her own entire convenience, any man, woman, or child
that happens to stand in her way. A most interesting woman! Keep
on good terms with her, my dear sir, whatever you do, for the Law
has said to her in the plainest possible English, 'My charming
friend, I have no terrors for _you_!'"

"How was she pardoned?" asked Mr. Bashwood, breathlessly. "They
told me at the time, but I have forgotten. Was it the Home
Secretary? If it was, I respect the Home Secretary! I say the
Home Secretary was deserving of his place."

"Quite right, old gentleman!" rejoined Bashwood the younger. "The
Home Secretary was the obedient humble servant of an enlightened
Free Press, and he _was_ deserving of his place. Is it possible
you don't know how she cheated the gallows? If you don't, I must
tell you. On the evening of the trial, two or three of the young
buccaneers of literature went down to two or three newspaper
offices, and wrote two or three heart-rending leading articles
on the subject of the proceedings in court. The next morning
the public caught light like tinder; and the prisoner was tried
over again, before an amateur court of justice, in the columns
of the newspapers. All the people who had no personal experience
whatever on the subject seized their pens, and rushed (by kind
permission of the editor) into print. Doctors who had _not_
attended the sick man, and who had _not_ been present at the
examination of the body, declared by dozens that he had died
a natural death. Barristers without business, who had _not_ heard
the evidence, attacked the jury who had heard it, and judged the
judge, who had sat on the bench before some of them were born.
The general public followed the lead of the barristers and the
doctors, and the young buccaneers who had set the thing going.
Here was the law that they all paid to protect them actually
doing its duty in dreadful earnest! Shocking! shocking! The
British Public rose to protest as one man against the working
of its own machinery; and the Home Secretary, in a state of
distraction, went to the judge. The judge held firm. He had
said it was the right verdict at the time, and he said so still.
'But suppose,' says the Home Secretary, 'that the prosecution
had tried some other way of proving her guilty at the trial
than the way they did try, what would you and the jury have done
then?' Of course it was quite impossible for the judge to say.
This comforted the Home Secretary, to begin with. And, when he
got the judge's consent, after that, to having the conflict of
medical evidence submitted to one great doctor; and when the one
great doctor took the merciful view, after expressly stating,
in the first instance, that he knew nothing practically of the
merits of the case, the Home Secretary was perfectly satisfied.
The prisoner's death-warrant went into the waste-paper basket;
the verdict of the law was reversed by general acclamation;
and the verdict of the newspapers carried the day. But the best
of it is to come. You know what happened when the people found
themselves with the pet object of their sympathy suddenly cast
loose on their hands? A general impression prevailed directly
that she was not quite innocent enough, after all, to be let out
of prison then and there! Punish her a little--that was the state
of the popular feeling--punish her a little, Mr. Home Secretary,
on general moral grounds. A small course of gentle legal
medicine, if you love us, and then we shall feel perfectly easy
on the subject to the end of our days."

"Don't joke about it!" cried his father. "Don't, don't, don't,
Jemmy! Did they try her again? They couldn't! They dursn't!
Nobody can be tried twice over for the same offense."

"Pooh! pooh! she could be tried a second time for a second
offense," retorted Bashwood the younger--"and tried she was.
Luckily for the pacification of the public mind, she had rushed
headlong into redressing her own grievances (as women will), when
she discovered that her husband had cut her down from a legacy
of fifty thousand pounds to a legacy of five thousand by a stroke
of his pen. The day before the inquest a locked drawer in Mr.
Waldron's dressing-room table, which contained some valuable
jewelry, was discovered to have been opened and emptied; and
when the prisoner was committed by the magistrates, the precious
stones were found torn out of their settings and sewed up in
her stays. The lady considered it a case of justifiable
self-compensation. The law declared it to be a robbery committed
on the executors of the dead man. The lighter offense--which had
been passed over when such a charge as murder was brought against
her--was just the thing to revive, to save appearances in the
eyes of the public. They had stopped the course of justice, in
the case of the prisoner, at one trial; and now all they wanted
was to set the course of justice going again, in the case of the
prisoner, at another! She was arraigned for the robbery, after
having been pardoned for the murder. And, what is more, if her
beauty and her misfortunes hadn't made a strong impression on her
lawyer, she would not only have had to stand another trial, but
would have had even the five thousand pounds, to which she was
entitled by the second will, taken away from her, as a felon,
by the Crown."

"I respect her lawyer! I admire her lawyer!" exclaimed Mr.
Bashwood. "I should like to take his hand, and tell him so."

"He wouldn't thank you, if you did," remarked Bashwood the
younger. "He is under a comfortable impression that nobody knows
how he saved Mrs. Waldron's legacy for her but himself."

"I beg your pardon, Jemmy," interposed his father. "But don't
call her Mrs. Waldron. Speak of her, please, by her name when she
was innocent, and young, and a girl at school. Would you mind,
for my sake, calling her Miss Gwilt?"

"Not I! It makes no difference to me what name I give her. Bother
your sentiment! let's go on with the facts. This is what the
lawyer did before the second trial came off. He told her she
would be found guilty _again_, to a dead certainty. 'And this
time,' he said, 'the public will let the law take its course.
Have you got an old friend whom you can trust?' She hadn't such
a thing as an old friend in the world. 'Very well, then,' says
the lawyer, you must trust me. Sign this paper; and you will have
executed a fictitious sale of all your property to myself. When
the right time comes, I shall first carefully settle with your
husband's executors; and I shall then reconvey the money to you,
securing it properly (in case you ever marry again) in your own
possession. The Crown, in other transactions of this kind,
frequently waives its right of disputing the validity of the
sale; and, if the Crown is no harder on you than on other people,
when you come out of prison you will have your five thousand
pounds to begin the world with again.' Neat of the lawyer, when
she was going to be tried for robbing the executors, to put her
up to a way of robbing the Crown, wasn't it? Ha! ha! what a world
it is!"

The last effort of the son's sarcasm passed unheeded by the
father. "In prison!" he said to himself. "Oh me, after all that
misery, in prison again!"

"Yes," said Bashwood the younger, rising and stretching himself,
"that's how it ended. The verdict was Guilty; and the sentence
was imprisonment for two years. She served her time; and came
out, as well as I can reckon it, about three years since. If you
want to know what she did when she recovered her liberty, and how
she went on afterward, I may be able to tell you something about
it--say, on another occasion, when you have got an extra note or
two in your pocket-book. For the present, all you need know, you
do know. There isn't the shadow of a doubt that this fascinating
lady has the double slur on her of having been found guilty of
murder, and of having served her term of imprisonment for theft.
There's your money's worth for your money--with the whole of my
wonderful knack at stating a case clearly, thrown in for nothing.
If you have any gratitude in you, you ought to do something
handsome, one of these days, for your son. But for me, I'll tell
you what you would have done, old gentleman. If you could have
had your own way, you would have married Miss Gwilt."

Mr. Bashwood rose to his feet, and looked his son steadily in
the face.

"If I could have my own way," he said, "I would marry her now."

Bashwood the younger started back a step. "After all I have told
you?" he asked, in the blankest astonishment.

"After all you have told me."

"With the chance of being poisoned, the first time you happened
to offend her?"

"With the chance of being poisoned," answered Mr. Bashwood,
"in four-and-twenty hours."

The Spy of the Private Inquiry Office dropped back into his
chair, cowed by his father's words and his father's looks.

"Mad!" he said to himself. "Stark mad, by jingo!"

Mr. Bashwood looked at his watch, and hurriedly took his hat
from a side-table.

"I should like to hear the rest of it," he said. "I should like
to hear every word you have to tell me about her, to the very
last. But the time, the dreadful, galloping time, is getting on.
For all I know, they may be on their way to be married at this
very moment."

"What are you going to do?" asked Bashwood the younger, getting
between his father and the door.

"I am going to the hotel," said the old man, trying to pass him.
"I am going to see Mr. Armadale."

"What for?"

"To tell him everything you have told me." He paused after making
that reply. The terrible smile of triumph which had once already
appeared on his face overspread it again. "Mr. Armadale is
young; Mr. Armadale has all his life before him," he whispered,
cunningly, with his trembling fingers clutching his son's arm.
"What doesn't frighten _me_ will frighten _him_!"

"Wait a minute," said Bashwood the younger. "Are you as certain
as ever that Mr. Armadale is the man?"

"What man?"

"The man who is going to marry her."

"Yes! yes! yes! Let me go, Jemmy--let me go."

The spy set his back against the door, and considered for a
moment. Mr. Armadale was rich--Mr. Armadale (if _he_ was not
stark mad too) might be made to put the right money-value on
information that saved him from the disgrace of marrying Miss
Gwilt. "It may be a hundred pounds in my pocket if I work it
myself," thought Bashwood the younger. "And it won't be a
half-penny if I leave it to my father." He took up his hat and
his leather bag. "Can you carry it all in your own addled old
head, daddy?" he asked, with his easiest impudence of manner.
"Not you! I'll go with you and help you. What do you think of
that?"

The father threw his arms in an ecstasy round the son's neck. "I
can't help it, Jemmy," he said, in broken tones. "You are so good
to me. Take the other note, my dear--I'll manage without it--take
the other note."

The son threw open the door with a flourish; and magnanimously
turned his back on the father's offered pocket-book. "Hang it,
old gentleman, I'm not quite so mercenary as _that_!" he said,
with an appearance of the deepest feeling. "Put up your
pocket-book, and let's be off." "If I took my respected parent's
last five-pound note," he thought to himself, as he led the way
downstairs, "how do I know he mightn't cry halves when he sees
the color of Mr. Armadale's money?" "Come along, dad!" he
resumed. "We'll take a cab and catch the happy bridegroom before
he starts for the church!"

They hailed a cab in the street, and started for the hotel which
had been the residence of Midwinter and Allan during their stay
in London. The instant the door of the vehicle had closed, Mr.
Bashwood returned to the subject of Miss Gwilt.

"Tell me the rest," he said, taking his son's hand, and patting
it tenderly. "Let's go on talking about her all the way to the
hotel. Help me through the time, Jemmy--help me through the
time."

Bashwood the younger was in high spirits at the prospect of
seeing the color of Mr. Armadale's money. He trifled with his
father's anxiety to the very last.

"Let's see if you remember what I've told you already," he began.
"There's a character in the story that's dropped out of it
without being accounted for. Come! can you tell me who it is?"

He had reckoned on finding his father unable to answer the
question. But Mr. Bashwood's memory, for anything that related
to Miss Gwilt, was as clear and ready as his son's. "The foreign
scoundrel who tempted her, and let her screen him at the risk of
her own life," he said, without an instant's hesitation. "Don't
speak of him, Jemmy--don't speak of him again!"

"I _must_ speak of him," retorted the other. "You want to know
what became of Miss Gwilt when she got out of prison, don't you?
Very good--I'm in a position to tell you. She became Mrs. Manuel.
It's no use staring at me, old gentleman. I know it officially.
At the latter part of last year, a foreign lady came to our
place, with evidence to prove that she had been lawfully married
to Captain Manuel, at a former period of his career, when he
had visited England for the first time. She had only lately
discovered that he had been in this country again; and she had
reason to believe that he had married another woman in Scotland.
Our people were employed to make the necessary inquiries.
Comparison of dates showed that the Scotch marriage--if it was
a marriage at all, and not a sham--had taken place just about
the time when Miss Gwilt was a free woman again. And a little
further investigation showed us that the second Mrs. Manuel was
no other than the heroine of the famous criminal trial--whom we
didn't know then, but whom we do know now, to be identical with
your fascinating friend, Miss Gwilt."

Mr. Bashwood's head sank on his breast. He clasped his trembling
hands fast in each other, and waited in silence to hear the rest.

"Cheer up!" pursued his son. "She was no more the captain's wife
than you are; and what is more, the captain himself is out of
your way now. One foggy day in December last he gave us the slip;
and was off to the continent, nobody knew where. He had spent
the whole of the second Mrs. Manuel's five thousand pounds,
in the time that had elapsed (between two and three years) since
she had come out of prison; and the wonder was, where he had got

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