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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 17 out of 17

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his friend with the outrage which had the day before been offered
to himself--an effort which would have led him, if he could have
maintained it, to a discovery of the fraud really contemplated
by his wife--his mind, clouded and confused by disturbing
influences, instinctively took refuge in its impressions of facts
as they had shown themselves since he had entered the house.
Everything that he had noticed below stairs suggested that there
was some secret purpose to be answered by getting Allan to sleep
in the Sanitarium. Everything that he had noticed above stairs
associated the lurking-place in which the danger lay hid with
Allan's room. To reach this conclusion, and to decide on baffling
the conspiracy, whatever it might be, by taking Allan's place,
was with Midwinter the work of an instant. Confronted by actual
peril, the great nature of the man intuitively freed itself
from the weaknesses that had beset it in happier and safer times.
Not even the shadow of the old superstition rested on his mind
now--no fatalist suspicion of himself disturbed the steady
resolution that was in him. The one last doubt that troubled him,
as he stood at the window thinking, was the doubt whether he
could persuade Allan to change rooms with him, without involving
himself in an explanation which might lead Allan to suspect the
truth.

In the minute that elapsed, while he waited with his eyes on
the room, the doubt was resolved--he found the trivial, yet
sufficient, excuse of which he was in search. Mr. Bashwood saw
him rouse himself and go to the door. Mr. Bashwood heard him
knock softly, and whisper, "Allan, are you in bed?"

"No," answered the voice inside; "come in."

He appeared to be on the point of entering the room, when he
checked himself as if he had suddenly remembered something.
"Wait a minute," he said, through the door, and, turning away,
went straight to the end room. "If there is anybody watching us
in there," he said aloud, "let him watch us through this!"
He took out his handkerchief, and stuffed it into the wires of
the grating, so as completely to close the aperture. Having thus
forced the spy inside (if there was one) either to betray himself
by moving the handkerchief, or to remain blinded to all view of
what might happen next, Midwinter presented himself in Allan's
room.

"You know what poor nerves I have," he said, "and what a wretched
sleeper I am at the best of times. I can't sleep to-night.
The window in my room rattles every time the wind blows. I wish
it was as fast as your window here."

"My dear fellow!" cried Allan, "I don't mind a rattling window.
Let's change rooms. Nonsense! Why should you make excuses to
_me_? Don't I know how easily trifles upset those excitable
nerves of yours? Now the doctor has quieted my mind about my
poor little Neelie, I begin to feel the journey; and I'll answer
for sleeping anywhere till to-morrow comes." He took up his
traveling-bag. "We must be quick about it," he added, pointing to
his candle. "They haven't left me much candle to go to bed by."

"Be very quiet, Allan," said Midwinter, opening the door for him.
"We mustn't disturb the house at this time of night."

"Yes, yes," returned Allan, in a whisper. "Good-night; I hope
you'll sleep as well as I shall."

Midwinter saw him into Number Three, and noticed that his own
candle (which he had left there) was as short as Allan's.
"Good-night," he said, and came out again into the corridor.

He went straight to the grating, and looked and listened once
more. The handkerchief remained exactly as he had left it, and
still there was no sound to be heard within. He returned slowly
along the corridor, and thought of the precautions he had taken,
for the last time. Was there no other way than the way he was
trying now? There was none. Any openly avowed posture of
defense--while the nature of the danger, and the quarter from
which it might come, were alike unknown--would be useless in
itself, and worse than useless in the consequences which it
might produce by putting the people of the house on their guard.
Without a fact that could justify to other minds his distrust of
what might happen with the night, incapable of shaking Allan's
ready faith in the fair outside which the doctor had presented to
him, the one safeguard in his friend's interests that Midwinter
could set up was the safeguard of changing the rooms--the one
policy he could follow, come what might of it, was the policy
of waiting for events. "I can trust to one thing," he said to
himself, as he looked for the last time up and down the
corridor--"I can trust myself to keep awake."

After a glance at the clock on the wall opposite, he went into
Number Four. The sound of the closing door was heard, the sound
of the turning lock followed it. Then the dead silence fell over
the house once more.

Little by little, the steward's horror of the stillness and
the darkness overcame his dread of moving the handkerchief. He
cautiously drew aside one corner of it, waited, looked, and took
courage at last to draw the whole handkerchief through the wires
of the grating. After first hiding it in his pocket, he thought
of the consequences if it was found on him, and threw it down in
a corner of the room. He trembled when he had cast it from him,
as he looked at his watch and placed himself again at the grating
to wait for Miss Gwilt.

It was a quarter to one. The moon had come round from the side to
the front of the Sanitarium. From time to time her light gleamed
on the window of the corridor when the gaps in the flying clouds
let it through. The wind had risen, and sung its mournful song
faintly, as it swept at intervals over the desert ground in front
of the house.

The minute hand of the clock traveled on halfway round the circle
of the dial. As it touched the quarter-past one, Miss Gwilt
stepped noiselessly into the corridor. "Let yourself out,"
she whispered through the grating, "and follow me." She returned
to the stairs by which she had just descended, pushed the door to
softly after Mr. Bashwood had followed her and led the way up
to the landing of the second floor. There she put the question
to him which she had not ventured to put below stairs.

"Was Mr. Armadale shown into Number Four?" she asked.

He bowed his head without speaking.

"Answer me in words. Has Mr. Armadale left the room since?"

He answered, "No."

"Have you never lost sight of Number Four since I left you?"

He answered, "_Never_!"

Something strange in his manner, something unfamiliar in
his voice, as he made that last reply, attracted her attention.
She took her candle from a table near, on which she had left it,
and threw its light on him. His eyes were staring, his teeth
chattered. There was everything to betray him to her as a
terrified man; there was nothing to tell her that the terror was
caused by his consciousness of deceiving her, for the first time
in his life, to her face. If she had threatened him less openly
when she placed him on the watch; if she had spoken less
unreservedly of the interview which was to reward him in the
morning, he might have owned the truth. As it was, his strongest
fears and his dearest hopes were alike interested in telling her
the fatal lie that he had now told--the fatal lie which he
reiterated when she put her question for the second time.

She looked at him, deceived by the last man on earth whom she
would have suspected of deception--the man whom she had deceived
herself.

"You seem to be overexcited," she said quietly. "The night has
been too much for you. Go upstairs, and rest. You will find
the door of one of the rooms left open. That is the room you are
to occupy. Good-night."

She put the candle (which she had left burning for him) on the
table, and gave him her hand. He held her back by it desperately
as she turned to leave him. His horror of what might happen when
she was left by herself forced the words to his lips which he
would have feared to speak to her at any other time.

"Don't," he pleaded, in a whisper; "oh, don't, don't, don't go
downstairs to-night!"

She released her hand, and signed to him to take the candle.
"You shall see me to-morrow," she said. "Not a word more now!"

Her stronger will conquered him at that last moment, as it
had conquered him throughout. He took the candle and waited,
following her eagerly with his eyes as she descended the stairs.
The cold of the December night seemed to have found its way
to her through the warmth of the house. She had put on a long,
heavy black shawl, and had fastened it close over her breast.
The plaited coronet in which she wore her hair seemed to have
weighed too heavily on her head. She had untwisted it, and thrown
it back over her shoulders. The old man looked at her flowing
hair, as it lay red over the black shawl--at her supple, long-
fingered hand, as it slid down the banisters--at the smooth,
seductive grace of every movement that took her further and
further away from him. "The night will go quickly," he said
to himself, as she passed from his view; "I shall dream of her
till the morning comes!"

She secured the staircase door, after she had passed through it
--listened, and satisfied herself that nothing was stirring--then
went on slowly along the corridor to the window. Leaning on
the window-sill, she looked out at the night. The clouds were
over the moon at that moment; nothing was to be seen through
the darkness but the scattered gas-lights in the suburb. Turning
from the window, she looked at the clock. It was twenty minutes
past one.

For the last time, the resolution that had come to her in
the earlier night, with the knowledge that her husband was
in the house, forced itself uppermost in her mind. For the last
time, the voice within her said, "Think if there is no other
way!"

She pondered over it till the minute-hand of the clock pointed
to the half-hour. "No!" she said, still thinking of her husband.
"The one chance left is to go through with it to the end. He will
leave the thing undone which he has come here to do; he will
leave the words unspoken which he has come here to say--when
he knows that the act may make me a public scandal, and that
the words may send me to the scaffold!" Her color rose, and she
smiled with a terrible irony as she looked for the first time at
the door of the Room. "I shall be your widow," she said, "in half
an hour!"

She opened the case of the apparatus and took the Purple Flask
in her hand. After marking the time by a glance at the clock,
she dropped into the glass funnel the first of the six separate
Pourings that were measured for her by the paper slips.

When she had put the Flask back, she listened at the mouth of
the funnel. Not a sound reached her ear: the deadly process did
its work in the silence of death itself. When she rose and looked
up the moon was shining in at the window, and the moaning wind
was quiet.

Oh, the time! the time! If it could only have been begun and
ended with the first Pouring!

She went downstairs into the hall; she walked to and fro, and
listened at the open door that led to the kitchen stairs. She
came up again; she went down again. The first of the intervals of
five minutes was endless. The time stood still. The suspense was
maddening.

The interval passed. As she took the Flask for the second time,
and dropped in the second Pouring, the clouds floated over the
moon, and the night view through the window slowly darkened.

The restlessness that had driven her up and down the stairs,
and backward and forward in the hall, left her as suddenly as
it had come. She waited through the second interval, leaning on
the window-sill, and staring, without conscious thought of any
kind, into the black night. The howling of a belated dog was
borne toward her on the wind, at intervals, from some distant
part of the suburb. She found herself following the faint sound
as it died away into silence with a dull attention, and listening
for its coming again with an expectation that was duller still.
Her arms lay like lead on the window-sill; her forehead rested
against the glass without feeling the cold. It was not till
the moon struggled out again that she was startled into sudden
self-remembrance. She turned quickly, and looked at the clock;
seven minutes had passed since the second Pouring.

As she snatched up the Flask, and fed the funnel for the third
time, the full consciousness of her position came back to her.
The fever-heat throbbed again in her blood, and flushed fiercely
in her cheeks. Swift, smooth, and noiseless, she paced from end
to end of the corridor, with her arms folded in her shawl and her
eye moment after moment on the clock.

Three out of the next five minutes passed, and again the suspense
began to madden her. The space in the corridor grew too confined
for the illimitable restlessness that possessed her limbs. She
went down into the hall again, and circled round and round it
like a wild creature in a cage. At the third turn, she felt
something moving softly against her dress. The house-cat had come
up through the open kitchen door--a large, tawny, companionable
cat that purred in high good temper, and followed her for
company. She took the animal up in her arms--it rubbed its sleek
head luxuriously against her chin as she bent her face over it.
"Armadale hates cats," she whispered in the creature's ear. "Come
up and see Armadale killed!" The next moment her own frightful
fancy horrified her. She dropped the cat with a shudder;
she drove it below again with threatening hands. For a moment
after, she stood still, then in headlong haste suddenly mounted
the stairs. Her husband had forced his way back again into
her thoughts; her husband threatened her with a danger which
had never entered her mind till now. What if he were not asleep?
What if he came out upon her, and found her with the Purple Flask
in her hand?

She stole to the door of Number Three and listened. The slow,
regular breathing of a sleeping man was just audible. After
waiting a moment to let the feeling of relief quiet her, she took
a step toward Number Four, and checked herself. It was needless
to listen at _that_ door. The doctor had told her that Sleep came
first, as certainly as Death afterward, in the poisoned air.
She looked aside at the clock. The time had come for the fourth
Pouring.

Her hand began to tremble violently as she fed the funnel for the
fourth time. The fear of her husband was back again in her heart.
What if some noise disturbed him before the sixth Pouring? What
if he woke on a sudden (as she had often seen him wake) without
any noise at all? She looked up and down the corridor. The end
room, in which Mr. Bashwood had been concealed, offered itself
to her as a place of refuge. "I might go in there!" she thought.
"Has he left the key?" She opened the door to look, and saw
the handkerchief thrown down on the floor. Was it Mr. Bashwood's
handkerchief, left there by accident? She examined it at the
corners. In the second corner she found her husband's name!

Her first impulse hurried her to the staircase door, to rouse
the steward and insist on an explanation. The next moment
she remembered the Purple Flask, and the danger of leaving
the corridor. She turned, and looked at the door of Number
Three. Her husband, on the evidence of the handkerchief
had unquestionably been out of his room--and Mr. Bashwood had
not told her. Was he in his room now? In the violence of her
agitation, as the question passed through her mind, she forgot
the discovery which she had herself made not a minute before.
Again she listened at the door; again she heard the slow, regular
breathing of the sleeping man. The first time the evidence of her
ears had been enough to quiet her; _this_ time, in the tenfold
aggravation of her suspicion and her alarm, she was determined
to have the evidence of her eyes as well. "All the doors open
softly in this house," she said to herself; "there's no fear
of my waking him." Noiselessly, by an inch at a time, she opened
the unlocked door, and looked in the moment the aperture was
wide enough. In the little light she had let into the room,
the sleeper's head was just visible on the pillow. Was it quite
as dark against the white pillow as her husband's head looked
when he was in bed? Was the breathing as light as her husband's
breathing when he was asleep?

She opened the door more widely, and looked in by the clearer
light.

There lay the man whose life she had attempted for the third
time, peacefully sleeping in the room that had been given to
her husband, and in the air that could harm nobody!

The inevitable conclusion overwhelmed her on the instant. With
a frantic upward action of her hands she staggered back into
the passage. The door of Allan's room fell to, but not noisily
enough to wake him. She turned as she heard it close. For one
moment she stood staring at it like a woman stupefied. The next,
her instinct rushed into action, before her reason recovered
itself. In two steps she was at the door of Number Four.

The door was locked.

She felt over the wall with both hands, wildly and clumsily,
for the button which she had seen the doctor press when he was
showing the room to the visitors. Twice she missed it. The third
time her eyes helped her hands; she found the button and pressed
on it. The mortise of the lock inside fell back, and the door
yielded to her.

Without an instant's hesitation she entered the room. Though
the door was open--though so short a time had elapsed since the
fourth Pouring that but little more than half the contemplated
volume of gas had been produced as yet--the poisoned air seized
her, like the grasp of a hand at her throat, like the twisting
of a wire round her head. She found him on the floor at the foot
of the bed: his head and one arm were toward the door, as if
he had risen under the first feeling of drowsiness, and had sunk
in the effort to leave the room. With the desperate concentration
of strength of which women are capable in emergencies, she lifted
him and dragged him out into the corridor. Her brain reeled as
she laid him down, and crawled back on her knees to the room
to shut out the poisoned air from pursuing them into the passage.
After closing the door, she waited, without daring to look at him
the while, for strength enough to rise and get to the window
over the stairs. When the window was opened, when the keen air
of the early winter morning blew steadily in, she ventured back
to him and raised his head, and looked for the first time closely
at his face.

Was it death that spread the livid pallor over his forehead and
his cheeks, and the dull leaden hue on his eyelids and his lips?

She loosened his cravat and opened his waistcoat, and bared his
throat and breast to the air. With her hand on his heart, with
her bosom supporting his head, so that he fronted the window,
she waited the event. A time passed: a time short enough to be
reckoned by minutes on the clock; and yet long enough to take her
memory back over all her married life with him--long enough to
mature the resolution that now rose in her mind as the one result
that could come of the retrospect. As her eyes rested on him,
a strange composure settled slowly on her face. She bore the look
of a woman who was equally resigned to welcome the chance of his
recovery, or to accept the certainty of his death.

Not a cry or a tear had escaped her yet. Not a cry or a tear
escaped her when the interval had passed, and she felt the first
faint fluttering of his heart, and heard the first faint catching
of the breath of his lips. She silently bent over him and kissed
his forehead. When she looked up again, the hard despair had
melted from her face. There was something softly radiant in her
eyes, which lit her whole countenance as with an inner light,
and made her womanly and lovely once more.

She laid him down, and, taking off her shawl, made a pillow of it
to support his head. "It might have been hard, love," she said,
as she felt the faint pulsation strengthening at his heart. "You
have made it easy now."

She rose, and, turning from him, noticed the Purple Flask in
the place where she had left it since the fourth Pouring. "Ah,"
she thought, quietly, "I had forgotten my best friend--I had
forgotten that there is more to pour in yet."

With a steady hand, with a calm, attentive face, she fed the
funnel for the fifth time. "Five minutes more," she said, when
she had put the Flask back, after a look at the clock.

She fell into thought--thought that only deepened the grave
and gentle composure of her face. "Shall I write him a farewell
word?" she asked herself. "Shall I tell him the truth before
I leave him forever?"

Her little gold pencil-case hung with the other toys at her
watch-chain. After looking about her for a moment, she knelt over
her husband and put her hand into the breast-pocket of his coat.

His pocket-book was there. Some papers fell from it as she
unfastened the clasp. One of them was the letter which had come
to him from Mr. Brock's death-bed. She turned over the two sheets
of note-paper on which the rector had written the words that had
now come true, and found the last page of the last sheet a blank.
On that page she wrote her farewell words, kneeling at her
husband's side.

"I am worse than the worst you can think of me. You have saved
Armadale by changing rooms with him to-night; and you have saved
him from me. You can guess now whose widow I should have claimed
to be, if you had not preserved his life; and you will know what
a wretch you married when you married the woman who writes these
lines. Still, I had some innocent moments, and then I loved you
dearly. Forget me, my darling, in the love of a better woman than
I am. I might, perhaps, have been that better woman myself, if I
had not lived a miserable life before you met with me. It matters
little now. The one atonement I can make for all the wrong I have
done you is the atonement of my death. It is not hard for me
to die, now I know you will live. Even my wickedness has one
merit--it has not prospered. I have never been a happy woman."

She folded the letter again, and put it into his hand, to attract
his attention in that way when he came to himself. As she gently
closed his fingers on the paper and looked up, the last minute
of the last interval faced her, recorded on the clock.

She bent over him, and gave him her farewell kiss.

"Live, my angel, live!" she murmured, tenderly, with her lips
just touching his. "All your life is before you--a happy life,
and an honored life, if you are freed from _me_!"

With a last, lingering tenderness, she parted the hair back from
his forehead. "It is no merit to have loved you," she said. "You
are one of the men whom women all like." She sighed and left him.
It was her last weakness. She bent her head affirmatively to
the clock, as if it had been a living creature speaking to her;
and fed the funnel for the last time, to the last drop left in
the Flask.

The waning moon shone in faintly at the window. With her hand on
the door of the room, she turned and looked at the light that was
slowly fading out of the murky sky.

"Oh, God, forgive me!" she said. "Oh, Christ, bear witness that
I have suffered!"

One moment more she lingered on the threshold; lingered for her
last look in this world--and turned that look on _him_.

"Good-by!" she said, softly.

The door of the room opened, and closed on her. There was an
interval of silence.

Then a sound came dull and sudden, like the sound of a fall.

Then there was silence again.

* * * * *

The hands of the clock, following their steady course, reckoned
the minutes of the morning as one by one they lapsed away. It
was the tenth minute since the door of the room had opened and
closed, before Midwinter stirred on his pillow, and, struggling
to raise himself, felt the letter in his hand.

At the same moment a key was turned in the staircase door.
And the doctor, looking expectantly toward the fatal room, saw
the Purple Flask on the window-sill, and the prostrate man trying
to raise himself from the floor.

EPILOGUE.

CHAPTER I.

NEWS FROM NORFOLK.

_From Mr. Pedgift, Senior (Thorpe Ambrose), to Mr. Pedgift,
Junior (Paris)_.

"High Street, December 20th.

"MY DEAR AUGUSTUS--Your letter reached me yesterday. You seem
to be making the most of your youth (as you call it) with a
vengeance. Well! enjoy your holiday. I made the most of my youth
when I was your age; and, wonderful to relate, I haven't
forgotten it yet!

"You ask me for a good budget of news, and especially for more
information about that mysterious business at the Sanitarium.

"Curiosity, my dear boy, is a quality which (in our profession
especially) sometimes leads to great results. I doubt, however,
if you will find it leading to much on this occasion. All I know
of the mystery of the Sanitarium, I know from Mr. Armadale: and
he is entirely in the dark on more than one point of importance.
I have already told you how they were entrapped into the house,
and how they passed the night there. To this I can now add that
something did certainly happen to Mr. Midwinter, which deprived
him of consciousness; and that the doctor, who appears to have
been mixed up in the matter, carried things with a high hand, and
insisted on taking his own course in his own Sanitarium. There is
not the least doubt that the miserable woman (however she might
have come by her death) was found dead--that a coroner's inquest
inquired into the circumstances--that the evidence showed her
to have entered the house as a patient--and that the medical
investigation ended in discovering that she had died of apoplexy.
My idea is that Mr. Midwinter had a motive of his own for not
coming forward with the evidence that he might have given. I have
also reason to suspect that Mr. Armadale, out of regard for him,
followed his lead, and that the verdict at the inquest (attaching
no blame to anybody) proceeded, like many other verdicts of the
same kind, from an entirely superficial investigation of the
circumstances.

"The key to the whole mystery is to be found, I firmly believe,
in that wretched woman's attempt to personate the character of
Mr. Armadale's widow when the news of his death appeared in the
papers. But what first set her on this, and by what inconceivable
process of deception she can have induced Mr. Midwinter to marry
her (as the certificate proves) under Mr. Armadale's name, is
more than Mr. Armadale himself knows. The point was not touched
at the inquest, for the simple reason that the inquest only
concerned itself with the circumstances attending her death.
Mr. Armadale, at his friend's request, saw Miss Blanchard, and
induced her to silence old Darch on the subject of the claim that
had been made relating to the widow's income. As the claim had
never been admitted, even our stiff-necked brother practitioner
consented for once to do as he was asked. The doctor's statement
that his patient was the widow of a gentleman named Armadale was
accordingly left unchallenged, and so the matter has been hushed
up. She is buried in the great cemetery, near the place where
she died. Nobody but Mr. Midwinter and Mr. Armadale (who insisted
on going with him) followed her to the grave; and nothing has
been inscribed on the tombstone but the initial letter of her
Christian name and the date of her death. So, after all the harm
she has done, she rests at last; and so the two men whom she has
injured have forgiven her.

"Is there more to say on this subject before we leave it? On
referring to your letter, I find you have raised one other point,
which may be worth a moment's notice.

"You ask if there is reason to suppose that the doctor comes out
of the matter with hands which are really as clean as they look?
My dear Augustus, I believe the doctor to have been at the bottom
of more of this mischief than we shall ever find out; and to have
profited by the self-imposed silence of Mr. Midwinter and Mr.
Armadale, as rogues perpetually profit by the misfortunes and
necessities of honest men. It is an ascertained fact that he
connived at the false statement about Miss Milroy, which
entrapped the two gentlemen into his house; and that one
circumstance (after my Old Bailey experience) is enough for _me_.
As to evidence against him, there is not a jot; and as to
Retribution overtaking him, I can only say I heartily hope
Retribution may prove, in the long run, to be the more cunning
customer of the two. There is not much prospect of it at present.
The doctor's friends and admirers are, I understand, about to
present him with a Testimonial, 'expressive of their sympathy
under the sad occurrence which has thrown a cloud over the
opening of his Sanitarium, and of their undiminished confidence
in his integrity and ability as a medical man.' We live,
Augustus, in an age eminently favorable to the growth of all
roguery which is careful enough to keep up appearances. In this
enlightened nineteenth century, I look upon the doctor as one of
our rising men.

"To turn now to pleasanter subjects than Sanitariums, I may tell
you that Miss Neelie is as good as well again, and is, in my
humble opinion, prettier than ever. She is staying in London
under the care of a female relative; and Mr. Armadale satisfies
her of the fact of his existence (in case she should forget it)
regularly every day. They are to be married in the spring,
unless Mrs. Milroy's death causes the ceremony to be postponed.
The medical men are of opinion that the poor lady is sinking
at last. It may be a question of weeks or a question of months,
they can say no more. She is greatly altered--quiet and gentle,
and anxiously affectionate with her husband and her child. But
in her case this happy change is, it seems, a sign of approaching
dissolution, from the medical point of view. There is a
difficulty in making the poor old, major understand this. He only
sees that she has gone back to the likeness of her better self
when he first married her; and he sits for hours by her bedside
now, and tells her about his wonderful clock.

"Mr. Midwinter, of whom you will next expect me to say something,
is improving rapidly. After causing some anxiety at first to the
medical men (who declared that he was suffering from a serious
nervous shock, produced by circumstances about which their
patient's obstinate silence kept them quite in the dark), he
has rallied, as only men of his sensitive temperament (to quote
the doctors again) can rally. He and Mr. Armadale are together
in a quiet lodging. I saw him last week when I was in London.
His face showed signs of wear and tear, very sad to see in so
young a man. But he spoke of himself and his future with
a courage and hopefulness which men of twice his years (if he has
suffered as I suspect him to have suffered) might have envied.
If I know anything of humanity, this is no common man; and we
shall hear of him yet in no common way.

"You will wonder how I came to be in London. I went up, with
a return ticket (from Saturday to Monday), about that matter
in dispute at our agent's. We had a tough fight; but, curiously
enough, a point occurred to me just as I got up to go; and I went
back to my chair, and settled the question in no time. Of course
I stayed at Our Hotel in Covent Garden. William, the waiter,
asked after you with the affection of a father; and Matilda,
the chamber-maid, said you almost persuaded her that last time
to have the hollow tooth taken out of her lower jaw. I had
the agent's second son (the young chap you nicknamed Mustapha,
when he made that dreadful mess about the Turkish Securities)
to dine with me on Sunday. A little incident happened in the
evening which may be worth recording, as it connected itself
with a certain old lady who was not 'at home' when you and Mr.
Armadale blundered on that house in Pimlico in the bygone time.

"Mustapha was like all the rest of you young men of the present
day--he got restless after dinner. 'Let's go to a public
amusement, Mr. Pedgift,' says he. 'Public amusement? Why,
it's Sunday evening!' says I. 'All right, sir,' says Mustapha.
'They stop acting on the stage, I grant you, on Sunday evening
--but they don't stop acting in the pulpit. Come and see the last
new Sunday performer of our time.' As he wouldn't have any more
wine, there was nothing else for it but to go.

"We went to a street at the West End, and found it blocked up
with carriages. If it hadn't been Sunday night, I should have
thought we were going to the opera. 'What did I tell you?' says
Mustapha, taking me up to an open door with a gas star outside
and a bill of the performance. I had just time to notice that
I was going to one of a series of 'Sunday Evening Discourses on
the Pomps and Vanities of the World, by A Sinner Who Has Served
Them,' when Mustapha jogged my elbow, and whispered, 'Half a
crown is the fashionable tip.' I found myself between two demure
and silent gentlemen, with plates in their hands, uncommonly well
filled already with the fashionable tip. Mustapha patronized one
plate, and I the other. We passed through two doors into a long
room, crammed with people. And there, on a platform at the
further end, holding forth to the audience, was--not a man, as I
had expected-- but a Woman, and that woman, MOTHER OLDERSHAW! You
never listened to anything more eloquent in your life. As long as
I heard her she was never once at a loss for a word anywhere.
I shall think less of oratory as a human accomplishment, for the
rest of my days, after that Sunday evening. As for the matter of
the sermon, I may describe it as a narrative of Mrs. Oldershaw's
experience among dilapidated women, profusely illustrated in the
pious and penitential style. You will ask what sort of audience
it was. Principally Women, Augustus--and, as I hope to be saved,
all the old harridans of the world of fashion whom Mother
Oldershaw had enameled in her time, sitting boldly in the front
places, with their cheeks ruddled with paint, in a state of
devout enjoyment wonderful to see! I left Mustapha to hear
the end of it. And I thought to myself, as I went out, of what
Shakespeare says somewhere, 'Lord, what fools we mortals be!'

"Have I anything more to tell you before I leave off? Only one
thing that I can remember.

"That wretched old Bashwood has confirmed the fears I told you I
had about him when he was brought back here from London. There is
no kind of doubt that he has really lost all the little reason he
ever had. He is perfectly harmless, and perfectly happy. And he
would do very well if we could only prevent him from going out in
his last new suit of clothes, smirking and smiling and inviting
everybody to his approaching marriage with the handsomest woman
in England. It ends of course in the boys pelting him, and
in his coming here crying to me, covered with mud. The moment
his clothes are cleaned again he falls back into his favorite
delusion, and struts about before the church gates, in the
character of a bridegroom, waiting for Miss Gwilt. We must get
the poor wretch taken care of somewhere for the rest of the
little time he has to live. Who would ever have thought of a man
at his age falling in love? And who would ever have believed that
the mischief that woman's beauty has done could have reached as
far in the downward direction as our superannuated old clerk?

"Good-by, for the present, my dear boy. If you see a particularly
handsome snuff-box in Paris, remember--though your father scorns
Testimonials--he doesn't object to receive a present from his
son.

"Yours affectionately,

A. PEDGIFT, Sen.

"POSTSCRIPT.--I think it likely that the account you mention in
the French papers, of a fatal quarrel among some foreign sailors
in one of the Lipari Islands, and of the death of their captain,
among others, may really have been a quarrel among the scoundrels
who robbed Mr. Armadale and scuttled his yacht. _Those_ fellows,
luckily for society, can't always keep up appearances; and,
in their case, Rogues and Retribution do occasionally come into
collision with each other."

CHAPTER II.

MIDWINTER.

The spring had advanced to the end of April. It was the eve of
Allan's wedding-day. Midwinter and he had sat talking together at
the great house till far into the night--till so far that it had
struck twelve long since, and the wedding day was already some
hours old.

For the most part the conversation had turned on the bridegroom's
plans and projects. It was not till the two friends rose to go to
rest that Allan insisted on making Midwinter speak of himself.

"We have had enough, and more than enough, of _my_ future," he
began, in his bluntly straightforward way. "Let's say something
now, Midwinter, about yours. You have promised me, I know, that,
if you take to literature, it shan't part us, and that, if you go
on a sea-voyage, you will remember, when you come back, that my
house is your home. But this is the last chance we have of being
together in our old way; and I own I should like to know--" His
voice faltered, and his eyes moistened a little. He left the
sentence unfinished.

Midwinter took his hand and helped him, as he had often helped
him to the words that he wanted in the by-gone time.

"You would like to know, Allan," he said, "that I shall not bring
an aching heart with me to your wedding day? If you will let me
go back for a moment to the past, I think I can satisfy you."

They took their chairs again. Allan saw that Midwinter was moved.
"Why distress yourself?" he asked, kindly--"why go back to the
past?"

"For two reasons, Allan. I ought to have thanked you long since
for the silence you have observed, for my sake, on a matter that
must have seemed very strange to you. You know what the name is
which appears on the register of my marriage, and yet you have
forborne to speak of it, from the fear of distressing me. Before
you enter on your new life, let us come to a first and last
understanding about this. I ask you--as one more kindness to
me--to accept my assurance (strange as the thing may seem to you)
that I am blameless in this matter; and I entreat you to believe
that the reasons I have for leaving it unexplained are reasons
which, if Mr. Brock was living, Mr. Brock himself would approve."
In those words he kept the secret of the two names; and left the
memory of Allan's mother, what he had found it, a sacred memory
in the heart of her son.

"One word more," he went on--"a word which will take us, this
time, from past to future. It has been said, and truly said,
that out of Evil may come Good. Out of the horror and the misery
of that night you know of has come the silencing of a doubt which
once made my life miserable with groundless anxiety about you
and about myself. No clouds raised by my superstition will ever
come between us again. I can't honestly tell you that I am more
willing now than I was when we were in the Isle of Man to take
what is called the rational view of your Dream. Though I know
what extraordinary coincidences are perpetually happening in
the experience of all of us, still I cannot accept coincidences
as explaining the fulfillment of the Visions which our own eyes
have seen. All I can sincerely say for myself is, what I think it
will satisfy you to know, that I have learned to view the purpose
of the Dream with a new mind. I once believed that it was sent
to rouse your distrust of the friendless man whom you had taken
as a brother to your heart. I now _know_ that it came to you
as a timely warning to take him closer still. Does this help
to satisfy you that I, too, am standing hopefully on the brink of
a new life, and that while we live, brother, your love and mine
will never be divided again?"

They shook hands in silence. Allan was the first to recover
himself. He answered in the few words of kindly assurance which
were the best words that he could address to his friend.

"I have heard all I ever want to hear about the past," he said;
"and I know what I most wanted to know about the future.
Everybody says, Midwinter, you have a career before you, and
I believe that everybody is right. Who knows what great things
may happen before you and I are many years older?"

"Who _need_ know?" said Midwinter, calmly. "Happen what may, God
is all-merciful, God is all-wise. In those words your dear old
friend once wrote to me. In that faith I can look back without
murmuring at the years that are past, and can look on without
doubting to the years that are to come."

He rose, and walked to the window. While they had been speaking
together the darkness had passed. The first light of the new day
met him as he looked out, and rested tenderly on his face.

APPENDIX.

NOTE--My readers will perceive that I have purposely left them,
with reference to the Dream in this story, in the position which
they would occupy in the case of a dream in real life: they are
free to interpret it by the natural or the supernatural theory,
as the bent of their own minds may incline them. Persons disposed
to take the rational view may, under these circumstances, be
interested in hearing of a coincidence relating to the present
story, which actually happened, and which in the matter of
"extravagant improbability" sets anything of the same kind that
a novelist could imagine at flat defiance.

In November, 1865, that is to say, when thirteen monthly parts
of "Armadale" had been published, and, I may add, when more than
a year and a half had elapsed since the end of the story, as it
now appears, was first sketched in my notebook--a vessel lay in
the Huskisson Dock at Liverpool which was looked after by one man,
who slept on board, in the capacity of shipkeeper. On a certain
day in the week this man was found dead in the deck-house. On the
next day a second man, who had taken his place, was carried dying
to the Northern Hospital. On the third day a third ship-keeper
was appointed, and was found dead in the deck-house which had
already proved fatal to the other two. _The name of that ship was
"The Armadale."_ And the proceedings at the Inquest proved that
the three men had been all suffocated _by sleeping in poisoned
air_!

I am indebted for these particulars to the kindness of the
reporters at Liverpool, who sent me their statement of the facts.
The case found its way into most of the newspapers. It was
noticed--to give two instances in which I can cite the dates--in
the _Times_ of November 30th, 1865, and was more fully described
in the _Daily News_ of November 28th, in the same year.

Before taking leave of "Armadale," I may perhaps be allowed
to mention, for the benefit of any readers who may be curious
on such points, that the "Norfolk Broads" are here described
after personal investigation of them. In this, as in other cases,
I have spared no pains to instruct myself on matters of fact.
Wherever the story touches on questions connected with Law,
Medicine, or Chemistry, it has been submitted before publication
to the experience of professional men. The kindness of a friend
supplied me with a plan of the doctor's apparatus, and I saw
the chemical ingredients at work before I ventured on describing
the action of them in the closing scenes of this book.

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