Part 5 out of 17
flooded bright in its summer glory by the light of the morning
On one side, an archway, broken through, a wall, led into the
fruit garden. On the other, a terrace of turf led to ground on a
lower level, laid out as an Italian garden. Wandering past the
fountains and statues, Allan reached another shrubbery, winding
its way apparently to some remote part of the grounds. Thus far,
not a human creature had been visible or audible anywhere; but,
as he approached the end of the second shrubbery, it struck him
that he heard something on the other side of the foliage. He
stopped and listened. There were two voices speaking
distinctly--an old voice that sounded very obstinate, and a young
voice that sounded very angry.
"It's no use, miss," said the old voice. "I mustn't allow it, and
I won't allow it. What would Mr. Armadale say?"
"If Mr. Armadale is the gentleman I take him for, you old brute!"
replied the young voice, "he would say, 'Come into my garden,
Miss Milroy, as often as you like, and take as many nosegays as
you please.'" Allan's bright blue eyes twinkled mischievously.
Inspired by a sudden idea, he stole softly to the end of the
shrubbery, darted round the corner of it, and, vaulting over a
low ring fence, found himself in a trim little paddock, crossed
by a gravel walk. At a short distance down the wall stood a young
lady, with her back toward him, trying to force her way past an
impenetrable old man, with a rake in his hand, who stood
obstinately in front of her, shaking his head.
"Come into my garden, Miss Milroy, as often as you like, and take
as many nosegays as you please," cried Allan, remorselessly
repeating her own words.
The young lady turned round, with a scream; her muslin dress,
which she was holding up in front, dropped from her hand, and a
prodigious lapful of flowers rolled out on the gravel walk.
Before another word could be said, the impenetrable old man
stepped forward, with the utmost composure, and entered on the
question of his own personal interests, as if nothing whatever
had happened, and nobody was present but his new master and
"I bid you humbly welcome to Thorpe Ambrose, sir," said this
ancient of the gardens. "My name is Abraham Sage. I've been
employed in the grounds for more than forty years; and I hope
you'll be pleased to continue me in my place."
So, with vision inexorably limited to the horizon of his own
prospects, spoke the gardener, and spoke in vain. Allan was down
on his knees on the gravel walk, collecting the fallen flowers,
and forming his first impressions of Miss Milroy from the feet
She was pretty; she was not pretty; she charmed, she
disappointed, she charmed again. Tried by recognized line and
rule, she was too short and too well developed for her age. And
yet few men's eyes would have wished her figure other than it
was. Her hands were so prettily plump and dimpled that it was
hard to see how red they were with the blessed exuberance of
youth and health. Her feet apologized gracefully for her old and
ill fitting shoes; and her shoulders made ample amends for the
misdemeanor in muslin which covered them in the shape of a dress.
Her dark-gray eyes were lovely in their clear softness of color,
in their spirit, tenderness, and sweet good humor of expression;
and her hair (where a shabby old garden hat allowed it to be
seen) was of just that lighter shade of brown which gave value by
contrast to the darker beauty of her eyes. But these attractions
passed, the little attendant blemishes and imperfections of this
self-contradictory girl began again. Her nose was too short, her
mouth was too large, her face was too round and too rosy. The
dreadful justice of photography would have had no mercy on her;
and the sculptors of classical Greece would have bowed her
regretfully out of their studios. Admitting all this, and more,
the girdle round Miss Milroy's waist was the girdle of Venus
nevertheless; and the passkey that opens the general heart was
the key she carried, if ever a girl possessed it yet. Before
Allan had picked up his second handful of flowers, Allan was in
love with her.
"Don't! pray don't, Mr. Armadale!" she said, receiving the
flowers under protest, as Allan vigorously showered them back
into the lap of her dress. "I am so ashamed! I didn't mean to
invite myself in that bold way into your garden; my tongue ran
away with me--it did, indeed! What can I say to excuse myself?
Oh, Mr. Armadale, what must you think of me?"
Allan suddenly saw his way to a compliment, and tossed it up to
her forthwith, with the third handful of flowers.
"I'll tell you what I think, Miss Milroy," he said, in his blunt,
boyish way. "I think the luckiest walk I ever took in my life was
the walk this morning that brought me here."
He looked eager and handsome. He was not addressing a woman worn
out with admiration, but a girl just beginning a woman's life;
and it did him no harm, at any rate, to speak in the character
of master of Thorpe Ambrose. The penitential expression on Miss
Milroy's face gently melted away; she looked down, demure and
smiling, at the flowers in her lap.
"I deserve a good scolding," she said. "I don't deserve
compliments, Mr. Armadale--least of all from _you_."
"Oh, yes, you do!" cried the headlong Allan, getting briskly on
his legs. "Besides, it isn't a compliment; it's true. You are the
prettiest--I beg your pardon, Miss Milroy! _my_ tongue ran away
with me that time."
Among the heavy burdens that are laid on female human nature,
perhaps the heaviest, at the age of sixteen, is the burden of
gravity. Miss Milroy struggled, tittered, struggled again, and
composed herself for the time being.
The gardener, who still stood where he had stood from the first,
immovably waiting for his next opportunity, saw it now, and
gently pushed his personal interests into the first gap of
silence that had opened within his reach since Allan's appearance
on the scene.
"I humbly bid you welcome to Thorpe Ambrose, sir," said Abraham
Sage, beginning obstinately with his little introductory speech
for the second time. "My name--"
Before he could deliver himself of his name, Miss Milroy looked
accidentally in the horticulturist's pertinacious face, and
instantly lost her hold on her gravity beyond recall. Allan,
never backward in following a boisterous example of any sort,
joined in her laughter with right goodwill. The wise man of the
gardens showed no surprise, and took no offense. He waited for
another gap of silence, and walked in again gently with his
personal interests the moment the two young people stopped to
"I have been employed in the grounds," proceeded Abraham Sage,
irrepressibly, "for more than forty years--"
"You shall be employed in the grounds for forty more, if you'll
only hold your tongue and take yourself off!" cried Allan, as
soon as he could speak.
"Thank you kindly, sir," said the gardener, with the utmost
politeness, but with no present signs either of holding his
tongue or of taking himself off.
"Well?" said Allan.
Abraham Sage carefully cleared his throat, and shifted his rake
from one hand to the other. He looked down the length of his own
invaluable implement, with a grave interest and attention,
seeing, apparently, not the long handle of a rake, but the long
perspective of a vista, with a supplementary personal interest
established at the end of it. "When more convenient, sir,"
resumed this immovable man, "I should wish respectfully to speak
to you about my son. Perhaps it may be more convenient in the
course of the day? My humble duty, sir, and my best thanks. My
son is strictly sober. He is accustomed to the stables, and he
belongs to the Church of England--without incumbrances." Having
thus planted his offspring provisionally in his master's
estimation, Abraham Sage shouldered his invaluable rake, and
hobbled slowly out of view.
"If that's a specimen of a trustworthy old servant," said Allan,
"I think I'd rather take my chance of being cheated by a new one.
_You_ shall not be troubled with him again, Miss Milroy, at any
rate. All the flower-beds in the garden are at your disposal, and
all the fruit in the fruit season, if you'll only come here and
"Oh, Mr. Armadale, how very, very kind you are. How can I thank
Allan saw his way to another compliment--an elaborate compliment,
in the shape of a trap, this time.
"You can do me the greatest possible favor," he said. "You can
assist me in forming an agreeable impression of my own grounds."
"Dear me! how?" asked Miss Milroy, innocently.
Allan judiciously closed the trap on the spot in these words: "By
taking me with you, Miss Milroy, on your morning walk." He spoke,
smiled, and offered his arm.
She saw the way, on her side, to a little flirtation. She rested
her hand on his arm, blushed, hesitated, and suddenly took it
"I don't think it's quite right, Mr. Armadale," she said,
devoting herself with the deepest attention to her collection
of flowers. "Oughtn't we to have some old lady here? Isn't it
improper to take your arm until I know you a little better than
I do now? I am obliged to ask; I have had so little instruction;
I have seen so little of society, and one of papa's friends once
said my manners were too bold for my age. What do _you_ think?"
"I think it's a very good thing your papa's friend is not here
now," answered the outspoken Allan; "I should quarrel with him to
a dead certainty. As for society, Miss Milroy, nobody knows less
about it than I do; but if we _had_ an old lady here, I must say
myself I think she would be uncommonly in the way. Won't you?"
concluded Allan, imploringly offering his arm for the second
Miss Milroy looked up at him sidelong from her flowers "You are
as bad as the gardener, Mr. Armadale!" She looked down again in a
flutter of indecision. "I'm sure it's wrong," she said, and took
his arm the instant afterward without the slightest hesitation.
They moved away together over the daisied turf of the paddock,
young and bright and happy, with the sunlight of the summer
morning shining cloudless over their flowery path.
"And where are we going to, now?" asked Allan. "Into another
She laughed gayly. "How very odd of you, Mr. Armadale, not to
know, when it all belongs to you! Are you really seeing Thorpe
Ambrose this morning for the first time? How indescribably
strange it must feel! No, no; don't say any more complimentary
things to me just yet. You may turn my head if you do. We haven't
got the old lady with us; and I really must take care of myself.
Let me be useful; let me tell you all about your own grounds. We
are going out at that little gate, across one of the drives in
the park, and then over the rustic bridge, and then round the
corner of the plantation--where do you think? To where I live,
Mr. Armadale; to the lovely little cottage that you have let to
papa. Oh, if you only knew how lucky we thought ourselves to get
She paused, looked up at her companion, and stopped another
compliment on the incorrigible Allan's lips.
"I'll drop your arm," she said coquettishly, "if you do! We
_were_ lucky to get the cottage, Mr. Armadale. Papa said he felt
under an obligation to you for letting it, the day we got in. And
_I_ said I felt under an obligation, no longer ago than last
"You, Miss Milroy!" exclaimed Allan.
"Yes. It may surprise you to hear it; but if you hadn't let the
cottage to papa, I believe I should have suffered the indignity
and misery of being sent to school."
Allan's memory reverted to the half-crown that he had spun on the
cabin-table of the yacht, at Castletown. "If she only knew that I
had tossed up for it!" he thought, guiltily.
"I dare say you don't understand why I should feel such a horror
of going to school," pursued Miss Milroy, misinterpreting the
momentary silence on her companion's side. "If I had gone to
school in early life--I mean at the age when other girls go--I
shouldn't have minded it now. But I had no such chance at the
time. It was the time of mamma's illness and of papa's
unfortunate speculation; and as papa had nobody to comfort him
but me, of course I stayed at home. You needn't laugh; I was of
some use, I can tell you. I helped papa over his trouble, by
sitting on his knee after dinner, and asking him to tell me
stories of all the remarkable people he had known when he was
about in the great world, at home and abroad. Without me to amuse
him in the evening, and his clock to occupy him in the daytime--"
"His clock?" repeated Allan.
"Oh, yes! I ought to have told you. Papa is an extraordinary
mechanical genius. You will say so, too, when you see his clock.
It's nothing like so large, of course, but it's on the model of
the famous clock at Strasbourg. Only think, he began it when I
was eight years old; and (though I was sixteen last birthday) it
isn't finished yet! Some of our friends were quite surprised he
should take to such a thing when his troubles began. But papa
himself set that right in no time; he reminded them that Louis
the Sixteenth took to lock-making when _his_ troubles began, and
then everybody was perfectly satisfied." She stopped, and changed
color confusedly. "Oh, Mr. Armadale," she said, in genuine
embarrassment this time, "here is my unlucky tongue running away
with me again! I am talking to you already as if I had known you
for years! This is what papa's friend meant when he said my
manners were too bold. It's quite true; I have a dreadful way of
getting familiar with people, if--" She checked herself suddenly,
on the brink of ending the sentence by saying, "if I like them."
"No, no; do go on!" pleaded Allan. "It's a fault of mine to be
familiar, too. Besides, we _must_ be familiar; we are such near
neighbors. I'm rather an uncultivated sort of fellow, and I don't
know quite how to say it; but I want your cottage to be jolly and
friendly with my house, and my house to be jolly and friendly
with your cottage. There's my meaning, all in the wrong words. Do
go on, Miss Milroy; pray go on!"
She smiled and hesitated. "I don't exactly remember where I was,"
she replied, "I only remember I had something I wanted to tell
you. This comes, Mr. Armadale, of my taking your arm. I should
get on so much better, if you would only consent to walk
separately. You won't? Well, then, will you tell me what it was I
wanted to say? Where was I before I went wandering off to papa's
troubles and papa's clock?"
"At school!" replied Allan, with a prodigious effort of memory.
"_Not_ at school, you mean," said Miss Milroy; "and all through
_you_. Now I can go on again, which is a great comfort. I am
quite serious, Mr. Armadale, in saying that I should have been
sent to school, if you had said No when papa proposed for the
cottage. This is how it happened. When we began moving in, Mrs.
Blanchard sent us a most kind message from the great house to say
that her servants were at our disposal, if we wanted any
assistance. The least papa and I could do, after that, was to
call and thank her. We saw Mrs. Blanchard and Miss Blanchard.
Mistress was charming, and miss looked perfectly lovely in her
mourning. I'm sure you admire her? She's tall and pale and
graceful--quite your idea of beauty, I should think?"
"Nothing like it," began Allan. "My idea of beauty at the present
Miss Milroy felt it coming, and instantly took her hand off his
"I mean I have never seen either Mrs. Blanchard or her niece,"
added Allan, precipitately correcting himself.
Miss Milroy tempered justice with mercy, and put her hand back
"How extraordinary that you should never have seen them!" she
went on. "Why, you are a perfect stranger to everything and
everybody at Thorpe Ambrose! Well, after Miss Blanchard and I
had sat and talked a little while, I heard my name on Mrs.
Blanchard's lips and instantly held my breath. She was asking
papa if I had finished my education. Out came papa's great
grievance directly. My old governess, you must know, left us to
be married just before we came here, and none of our friends
could produce a new one whose terms were reasonable. 'I'm told,
Mrs. Blanchard, by people who understand it better than I do,'
says papa, 'that advertising is a risk. It all falls on me,
in Mrs. Milroy's state of health, and I suppose I must end in
sending my little girl to school. Do you happen to know of a
school within the means of a poor man?' Mrs. Blanchard shook her
head; I could have kissed her on the spot for doing it. 'All my
experience, Major Milroy,' says this perfect angel of a woman,
'is in favor of advertising. My niece's governess was originally
obtained by an advertisement, and you may imagine her value to us
when I tell you she lived in our family for more than ten years.'
I could have gone down on both my knees and worshipped Mrs.
Blanchard then and there; and I only wonder I didn't! Papa was
struck at the time--I could see that--and he referred to it again
on the way home. 'Though I have been long out of the world, my
dear,' says papa, 'I know a highly-bred woman and a sensible
woman when I see her. Mrs. Blanchard's experience puts
advertising in a new light; I must think about it.' He has
thought about it, and (though he hasn't openly confessed it to
me) I know that he decided to advertise, no later than last
night. So, if papa thanks you for letting the cottage, Mr.
Armadale, I thank you, too. But for you, we should never have
known darling Mrs. Blanchard; and but for darling Mrs. Blanchard,
I should have been sent to school."
Before Allan could reply, they turned the corner of the
plantation, and came in sight of the cottage. Description of it
is needless; the civilized universe knows it already. It was the
typical cottage of the drawing-master's early lessons in neat
shading and the broad pencil touch--with the trim thatch, the
luxuriant creepers, the modest lattice-windows, the rustic porch,
and the wicker bird-cage, all complete.
"Isn't it lovely?" said Miss Milroy. "Do come in!"
"May I?" asked Allan. "Won't the major think it too early?"
"Early or late, I am sure papa will be only too glad to see you."
She led the way briskly up the garden path, and opened the parlor
door. As Allan followed her into the little room, he saw, at the
further end of it, a gentleman sitting alone at an old-fashioned
writing-table, with his back turned to his visitor.
"Papa! a surprise for you!" said Miss Milroy, rousing him from
his occupation. "Mr. Armadale has come to Thorpe Ambrose; and I
have brought him here to see you."
The major started; rose, bewildered for the moment; recovered
himself immediately, and advanced to welcome his young landlord,
with hospitable, outstretched hand.
A man with a larger experience of the world and a finer
observation of humanity than Allan possessed would have seen the
story of Major Milroy's life written in Major Milroy's face. The
home troubles that had struck him were plainly betrayed in his
stooping figure and his wan, deeply wrinkled cheeks, when he
first showed himself on rising from his chair. The changeless
influence of one monotonous pursuit and one monotonous habit of
thought was next expressed in the dull, dreamy self-absorption of
his manner and his look while his daughter was speaking to him.
The moment after, when he had roused himself to welcome his
guest, was the moment which made the self-revelation complete.
Then there flickered in the major's weary eyes a faint reflection
of the spirit of his happier youth. Then there passed over the
major's dull and dreamy manner a change which told unmistakably
of social graces and accomplishments, learned at some past time
in no ignoble social school; a man who had long since taken his
patient refuge from trouble in his own mechanical pursuit; a man
only roused at intervals to know himself again for what he once
had been. So revealed to all eyes that could read him aright,
Major Milroy now stood before Allan, on the first morning of an
acquaintance which was destined to be an event in Allan's life.
"I am heartily glad to see you, Mr. Armadale," he said, speaking
in the changeless quiet, subdued tone peculiar to most men whose
occupations are of the solitary and monotonous kind. "You have
done me one favor already by taking me as your tenant, and you
now do me another by paying this friendly visit. If you have not
breakfasted already, let me waive all ceremony on my side, and
ask you to take your place at our little table."
"With the greatest pleasure, Major Milroy, if I am not in the
way," replied Allan, delighted at his reception. "I was sorry to
hear from Miss Milroy that Mrs. Milroy is an invalid. Perhaps my
being here unexpectedly; perhaps the sight of a strange face--"
"I understand your hesitation, Mr. Armadale," said the major;
"but it is quite unnecessary. Mrs. Milroy's illness keeps her
entirely confined to her own room. Have we got everything we
want on the table, my love?" he went on, changing the subject so
abruptly that a closer observer than Allan might have suspected
it was distasteful to him. "Will you come and make tea?"
Miss Milroy's attention appeared to be already pre-engaged; she
made no reply. While her father and Allan had been exchanging
civilities, she had been putting the writing-table in order,
and examining the various objects scattered on it with the
unrestrained curiosity of a spoiled child. The moment after the
major had spoken to her, she discovered a morsel of paper hidden
between the leaves of the blotting-book, snatched it up, looked
at it, and turned round instantly, with an exclamation of
"Do my eyes deceive me, papa?" she asked. "Or were you really and
truly writing the advertisement when I came in?"
"I had just finished it," replied her father. "But, my dear, Mr.
Armadale is here--we are waiting for breakfast."
"Mr. Armadale knows all about it," rejoined Miss Milroy. "I told
him in the garden."
"Oh, yes!" said Allan. "Pray, don't make a stranger of me, major!
If it's about the governess, I've got something (in an indirect
sort of way) to do with it too."
Major Milroy smiled. Before he could answer, his daughter, who
had been reading the advertisement, appealed to him eagerly, for
the second time.
"Oh, papa," she said, "there's one thing here I don't like at
all! Why do you put grandmamma's initials at the end? Why do you
tell them to write to grandmamma's house in London?"
"My dear! your mother can do nothing in this matter, as you know.
And as for me (even if I went to London), questioning strange
ladies about their characters and accomplishments is the last
thing in the world that I am fit to do. Your grandmamma is on the
spot; and your grandmamma is the proper person to receive the
letters, and to make all the necessary inquires."
"But I want to see the letters myself," persisted the spoiled
child. "Some of them are sure to be amusing--"
"I don't apologize for this very unceremonious reception of you,
Mr. Armadale," said the major, turning to Allan, with a quaint
and quiet humor. "It may be useful as a warning, if you ever
chance to marry and have a daughter, not to begin, as I have
done, by letting her have her own way."
Allan laughed, and Miss Milroy persisted.
"Besides," she went on, "I should like to help in choosing which
letters we answer, and which we don't. I think I ought to have
some voice in the selection of my own governess. Why not tell
them, papa, to send their letters down here--to the post-office
or the stationer's, or anywhere you like? When you and I have
read them, we can send up the letters we prefer to grandmamma;
and she can ask all the questions, and pick out the best
governess, just as you have arranged already, without leaving ME
entirely in the dark, which I consider (don't you, Mr. Armadale?)
to be quite inhuman. Let me alter the address, papa; do, there's
"We shall get no breakfast, Mr. Armadale, if I don't say Yes,"
said the major good-humoredly. "Do as you like, my dear," he
added, turning to his daughter. "As long as it ends in your
grandmamma's managing the matter for us, the rest is of very
Miss Milroy took up her father's pen, drew it through the last
line of the advertisement, and wrote the altered address with her
own hand as follows:
"_Apply, by letter, to M., Post-office, Thorpe Ambrose,
"There!" she said, bustling to her place at the breakfast-table.
"The advertisement may go to London now; and, if a governess
_does_ come of it, oh, papa, who in the name of wonder will she
be? Tea or coffee, Mr. Armadale? I'm really ashamed of having
kept you waiting. But it is such a comfort," she added, saucily,
"to get all one's business off one's mind before breakfast!"
Father, daughter, and guest sat down together sociably at the
little round table, the best of good neighbors and good friends
Three days later, one of the London newsboys got _his_ business
off his mind before breakfast. His district was Diana Street,
Pimlico; and the last of the morning's newspapers which he
disposed of was the newspaper he left at Mrs. Oldershaw's door.
THE CLAIMS OF SOCIETY.
More than an hour after Allan had set forth on his exploring
expedition through his own grounds, Midwinter rose, and enjoyed,
in his turn, a full view by daylight of the magnificence of the
Refreshed by his long night's rest, he descended the great
staircase as cheerfully as Allan himself. One after another,
he, too, looked into the spacious rooms on the ground floor
in breathless astonishment at the beauty and the luxury which
surrounded him. "The house where I lived in service when I was a
boy, was a fine one," he thought, gayly; "but it was nothing to
this! I wonder if Allan is as surprised and delighted as I am?"
The beauty of the summer morning drew him out through the open
hall door, as it had drawn his friend out before him. He ran
briskly down the steps, humming the burden of one of the old
vagabond tunes which he had danced to long since in the old
vagabond time. Even the memories of his wretched childhood took
their color, on that happy morning. from the bright medium
through which he looked back at them. "If I was not out of
practice," he thought to himself, as he leaned on the fence and
looked over at the park, "I could try some of my old tumbling
tricks on that delicious grass." He turned, noticed two of the
servants talking together near the shrubbery, and asked for news
of the master of the house.
The men pointed with a smile in the direction of the gardens; Mr.
Armadale had gone that way more than an hour since, and had met
(as had been reported) with Miss Milroy in the grounds. Midwinter
followed the path through the shrubbery, but, on reaching the
flower garden, stopped, considered a little, and retraced his
steps. "If Allan has met with the young lady," he said to
himself, "Allan doesn't want me." He laughed as he drew that
inevitable inference, and turned considerately to explore the
beauties of Thorpe Ambrose on the other side of the house.
Passing the angle of the front wall of the building, he descended
some steps, advanced along a paved walk, turned another angle,
and found himself in a strip of garden ground at the back of the
Behind him was a row of small rooms situated on the level of the
servants' offices. In front of him, on the further side of the
little garden, rose a wall, screened by a laurel hedge, and
having a door at one end of it, leading past the stables to a
gate that opened on the high-road. Perceiving that he had only
discovered thus far the shorter way to the house, used by the
servants and trades-people, Midwinter turned back again, and
looked in at the window of one of the rooms on the basement
story as he passed it. Were these the servants' offices? No; the
offices were apparently in some other part of the ground-floor;
the window he had looked in at was the window of a lumber-room.
The next two rooms in the row were both empty. The fourth window,
when he approached it, presented a little variety. It served also
as a door; and it stood open to the garden at that moment.
Attracted by the book-shelves which he noticed on one of the
walls, Midwinter stepped into the room.
The books, few in number, did not detain him long; a glance at
their backs was enough without taking them down. The Waverley
Novels, Tales by Miss Edgeworth, and by Miss Edgeworth's many
followers, the Poems of Mrs. Hemans, with a few odd volumes of
the illustrated gift-books of the period, composed the bulk of
the little library. Midwinter turned to leave the room, when an
object on one side of the window, which he had not previously
noticed, caught his attention and stopped him. It was a statuette
standing on a bracket--a reduced copy of the famous Niobe of the
Florence Museum. He glanced from the statuette to the window,
with a sudden doubt which set his heart throbbing fast. It was a
French window. He looked out with a suspicion which he had not
felt yet. The view before him was the view of a lawn and garden.
For a moment his mind struggled blindly to escape the conclusion
which had seized it, and struggled in vain. Here, close round him
and close before him--here, forcing him mercilessly back from the
happy present to the horrible past, was the room that Allan had
seen in the Second Vision of the Dream.
He waited, thinking and looking round him while he thought.
There was wonderfully little disturbance in his face and manner;
he looked steadily from one to the other of the few objects in
the room, as if the discovery of it had saddened rather than
surprised him. Matting of some foreign sort covered the floor.
Two cane chairs and a plain table comprised the whole of the
furniture. The walls were plainly papered, and bare--broken
to the eye in one place by a door leading into the interior
of the house; in another, by a small stove; in a third, by the
book-shelves which Midwinter had already noticed. He returned
to the books, and this time he took some of them down from the
The first that he opened contained lines in a woman's
handwriting, traced in ink that had faded with time. He read the
inscription--"Jane Armadale, from her beloved father. Thorpe
Ambrose, October, 1828." In the second, third, and fourth volumes
that he opened, the same inscription re-appeared. His previous
knowledge of dates and persons helped him to draw the true
inference from what he saw. The books must have belonged to
Allan's mother; and she must have inscribed them with her name,
in the interval of time between her return to Thorpe Ambrose from
Madeira and the birth of her son. Midwinter passed on to a volume
on another shelf--one of a series containing the writings of Mrs.
Hemans. In this case, the blank leaf at the beginning of the book
was filled on both sides with a copy of verses, the writing being
still in Mrs. Armadale's hand. The verses were headed "Farewell
to Thorpe Ambrose," and were dated "March, 1829"--two months only
after Allan had been born.
Entirely without merit in itself, the only interest of the little
poem was in the domestic story that it told.
The very room in which Midwinter then stood was described--with
the view on the garden, the window made to open on it, the
bookshelves, the Niobe, and other more perishable ornaments
which Time had destroyed. Here, at variance with her brothers,
shrinking from her friends, the widow of the murdered man had, on
her own acknowledgment, secluded herself, without other comfort
than the love and forgiveness of her father, until her child was
born. The father's mercy and the father's recent death filled
many verses, happily too vague in their commonplace expression of
penitence and despair to give any hint of the marriage story in
Madeira to any reader who looked at them ignorant of the truth. A
passing reference to the writer's estrangement from her surviving
relatives, and to her approaching departure from Thorpe Ambrose,
followed. Last came the assertion of the mother's resolution to
separate herself from all her old associations; to leave behind
her every possession, even to the most trifling thing she had,
that could remind her of the miserable past; and to date her new
life in the future from the birthday of the child who had been
spared to console her--who was now the one earthly object that
could still speak to her of love and hope. So the old story of
passionate feeling that finds comfort in phrases rather than not
find comfort at all was told once again. So the poem in the faded
ink faded away to its end.
Midwinter put the book back with a heavy sigh, and opened no
other volume on the shelves. "Here in the country house, or
there on board the wreck," he said, bitterly, "the traces of my
father's crime follow me, go where I may." He advanced toward
the window, stopped, and looked back into the lonely, neglected
little room. "Is _this_ chance?" he asked himself. "The place
where his mother suffered is the place he sees in the Dream; and
the first morning in the new house is the morning that reveals
it, not to _him_, but to me. Oh, Allan! Allan! how will it end?"
The thought had barely passed through his mind before he heard
Allan's voice, from the paved walk at the side of the house,
calling to him by his name. He hastily stepped out into the
garden. At the same moment Allan came running round the corner,
full of voluble apologies for having forgotten, in the society
of his new neighbors, what was due to the laws of hospitality
and the claims of his friend.
"I really haven't missed you," said Midwinter; "and I am very,
very glad to hear that the new neighbors have produced such a
pleasant impression on you already."
He tried, as he spoke, to lead the way back by the outside of the
house; but Allan's flighty attention had been caught by the open
window and the lonely little room. He stepped in immediately.
Midwinter followed, and watched him in breathless anxiety as
he looked round. Not the slightest recollection of the Dream
troubled Allan's easy mind. Not the slightest reference to it
fell from the silent lips of his friend.
"Exactly the sort of place I should have expected you to hit on!"
exclaimed Allan, gayly. "Small and snug and unpretending. I know
you, Master Midwinter! You'll be slipping off here when the
county families come visiting, and I rather think on those
dreadful occasions you won't find me far behind you. What's the
matter? You look ill and out of spirits. Hungry? Of course you
are! unpardonable of me to have kept you waiting. This door leads
somewhere, I suppose; let's try a short cut into the house. Don't
be afraid of my not keeping you company at breakfast. I didn't
eat much at the cottage; I feasted my eyes on Miss Milroy, as
the poets say. Oh, the darling! the darling! she turns you
topsy-turvy the moment you look at her. As for her father, wait
till you see his wonderful clock! It's twice the size of the
famous clock at Strasbourg, and the most tremendous striker ever
heard yet in the memory of man!"
Singing the praises of his new friends in this strain at the top
of his voice, Allan hurried Midwinter along the stone passages on
the basement floor, which led, as he had rightly guessed, to a
staircase communicating with the hall. They passed the servants'
offices on the way. At the sight of the cook and the roaring
fire, disclosed through the open kitchen door, Allan's mind went
off at a tangent, and Allan's dignity scattered itself to the
four winds of heaven, as usual.
"Aha, Mrs. Gripper, there you are with your pots and pans, and
your burning fiery furnace! One had need be Shadrach, Meshach,
and the other fellow to stand over that. Breakfast as soon as
ever you like. Eggs, sausages, bacon, kidneys, marmalade,
water-cresses, coffee, and so forth. My friend and I belong to
the select few whom it's a perfect privilege to cook for.
Voluptuaries, Mrs. Gripper, voluptuaries, both of us. You'll
see," continued Allan, as they went on toward the stairs, "I
shall make that worthy creature young again; I'm better than a
doctor for Mrs. Gripper. When she laughs, she shakes her fat
sides, and when she shakes her fat sides, she exerts her muscular
system; and when she exerts her muscular system-- Ha! here's
Susan again. Don't squeeze yourself flat against the banisters,
my dear; if you don't mind hustling _me_ on the stairs, I rather
like hustling _you_. She looks like a full-blown rose when she
blushes, doesn't she? Stop, Susan! I've orders to give. Be very
particular with Mr. Midwinter's room: shake up his bed like mad,
and dust his furniture till those nice round arms of yours ache
again. Nonsense, my dear fellow! I'm not too familiar with them;
I'm only keeping them up to their work. Now, then, Richard! where
do we breakfast? Oh, here. Between ourselves, Midwinter, these
splendid rooms of mine are a size too large for me; I don't feel
as if I should ever be on intimate terms with my own furniture.
My views in life are of the snug and slovenly sort--a kitchen
chair, you know, and a low ceiling. Man wants but little here
below, and wants that little long. That's not exactly the right
quotation; but it expresses my meaning, and we'll let alone
correcting it till the next opportunity."
"I beg your pardon," interposed Midwinter, "here is something
waiting for you which you have not noticed yet."
As he spoke, he pointed a little impatiently to a letter lying on
the breakfast-table. He could conceal the ominous discovery which
he had made that morning, from Allan's knowledge; but he could
not conquer the latent distrust of circumstances which was now
raised again in his superstitious nature--the instinctive
suspicion of everything that happened, no matter how common or
how trifling the event, on the first memorable day when the new
life began in the new house.
Allan ran his eye over the letter, and tossed it across the table
to his friend. "I can't make head or tail of it," he said, "can
Midwinter read the letter, slowly, aloud. "Sir--I trust you will
pardon the liberty I take in sending these few lines to wait your
arrival at Thorpe Ambrose. In the event of circumstances not
disposing you to place your law business in the hands of Mr.
Darch--" He suddenly stopped at that point, and considered a
"Darch is our friend the lawyer," said Allan, supposing Midwinter
had forgotten the name. "Don't you remember our spinning the
half-crown on the cabin table, when I got the two offers for the
cottage? Heads, the major; tails, the lawyer. This is the
Without making any reply, Midwinter resumed reading the letter.
"In the event of circumstances not disposing you to place your
law business in the hands of Mr. Darch, I beg to say that I shall
be happy to take charge of your interests, if you feel willing to
honor me with your confidence. Inclosing a reference (should you
desire it) to my agents in London, and again apologizing for this
intrusion, I beg to remain, sir, respectfully yours, A. PEDGIFT,
"Circumstances?" repeated Midwinter, as he laid the letter down.
"What circumstances can possibly indispose you to give your law
business to Mr. Darch?"
"Nothing can indispose me," said Allan. "Besides being the family
lawyer here, Darch was the first to write me word at Paris of my
coming in for my fortune; and, if I have got any business to
give, of course he ought to have it."
Midwinter still looked distrustfully at the open letter on the
table. "I am sadly afraid, Allan, there is something wrong
already," he said. "This man would never have ventured on the
application he has made to you, unless he had some good reason
for believing he would succeed. If you wish to put yourself right
at starting, you will send to Mr. Darch this morning to tell him
you are here, and you will take no notice for the present of Mr.
Before more could be said on either side, the footman made his
appearance with the breakfast tray. He was followed, after an
interval, by the butler, a man of the essentially confidential
kind, with a modulated voice, a courtly manner, and a bulbous
nose. Anybody but Allan would have seen in his face that he had
come into the room having a special communication to make to his
master. Allan, who saw nothing under the surface, and whose head
was running on the lawyer's letter, stopped him bluntly with the
point-blank question: "Who's Mr. Pedgift?"
The butler's sources of local knowledge opened confidentially on
the instant. Mr. Pedgift was the second of the two lawyers in the
town. Not so long established, not so wealthy, not so universally
looked up to as old Mr. Darch. Not doing the business of the
highest people in the county, and not mixing freely with the best
society, like old Mr. Darch. A very sufficient man, in his way,
nevertheless. Known as a perfectly competent and respectable
practitioner all round the neighborhood. In short, professionally
next best to Mr. Darch; and personally superior to him (if the
expression might be permitted) in this respect--that Darch was a
Crusty One, and Pedgift wasn't.
Having imparted this information, the butler, taking a wise
advantage of his position, glided, without a moment's stoppage,
from Mr. Pedgift's character to the business that had brought him
into the breakfast-room. The Midsummer Audit was near at hand;
and the tenants were accustomed to have a week's notice of the
rent-day dinner. With this necessity pressing, and with no orders
given as yet, and no steward in office at Thorpe Ambrose, it
appeared desirable that some confidential person should bring the
matter forward. The butler was that confidential person; and he
now ventured accordingly to trouble his master on the subject.
At this point Allan opened his lips to interrupt, and was himself
interrupted before he could utter a word.
"Wait!" interposed Midwinter, seeing in Allan's face that he was
in danger of being publicly announced in the capacity of steward.
"Wait!" he repeated, eagerly, "till I can speak to you first."
The butler's courtly manner remained alike unruffled by
Midwinter's sudden interference and by his own dismissal from
the scene. Nothing but the mounting color in his bulbous nose
betrayed the sense of injury that animated him as he withdrew.
Mr. Armadale's chance of regaling his friend and himself that day
with the best wine in the cellar trembled in the balance, as the
butler took his way back to the basement story.
"This is beyond a joke, Allan," said Midwinter, when they were
alone. "Somebody must meet your tenants on the rent-day who is
really fit to take the steward's place. With the best will in the
world to learn, it is impossible for _me_ to master the business
at a week's notice. Don't, pray don't let your anxiety for my
welfare put you in a false position with other people! I should
never forgive myself if I was the unlucky cause--"
"Gently gently!' cried Allan, amazed at his friend's
extraordinary earnestness. "If I write to London by to-night's
post for the man who came down here before, will that satisfy
Midwinter shook his head. "Our time is short," he said; "and the
man may not be at liberty. Why not try in the neighborhood first?
You were going to write to Mr. Darch. Send at once, and see if he
can't help us between this and post-time."
Allan withdrew to a side-table on which writing materials were
placed. "You shall breakfast in peace, you old fidget," he
replied, and addressed himself forthwith to Mr. Darch, with his
usual Spartan brevity of epistolary expression. "Dear Sir--Here
I am, bag and baggage. Will you kindly oblige me by being my
lawyer? I ask this, because I want to consult you at once. Please
look in in the course of the day, and stop to dinner if you
possibly can. Yours truly. ALLAN ARMADALE." Having read this
composition aloud with unconcealed admiration of his own rapidity
of literary execution, Allan addressed the letter to Mr. Darch,
and rang the bell. "Here, Richard, take this at once, and wait
for an answer. And, I say, if there's any news stirring in the
town, pick it up and bring it back with you. See how I manage
my servants!" continued Allan, joining his friend at the
breakfast-table. "See how I adapt myself to my new duties! I
haven't been down here one clear day yet, and I'm taking an
interest in the neighborhood already."
Breakfast over, the two friends went out to idle away the morning
under the shade of a tree in the park. Noon came, and Richard
never appeared. One o'clock struck, and still there were no signs
of an answer from Mr. Darch. Midwinter's patience was not proof
against the delay. He left Allan dozing on the grass, and went to
the house to make inquiries. The town was described as little
more than two miles distant; but the day of the week happened to
be market day, and Richard was being detained no doubt by some of
the many acquaintances whom he would be sure to meet with on that
Half an hour later the truant messenger returned, and was sent
out to report himself to his master under the tree in the park.
"Any answer from Mr. Darch?" asked Midwinter, seeing that Allan
was too lazy to put the question for himself.
"Mr. Darch was engaged, sir. I was desired to say that he would
send an answer."
"Any news in the town?" inquired Allan, drowsily, without
troubling himself to open his eyes.
"No, sir; nothing in particular."
Observing the man suspiciously as he made that reply, Midwinter
detected in his face that he was not speaking the truth. He was
plainly embarrassed, and plainly relieved when his master's
silence allowed him to withdraw. After a little consideration,
Midwinter followed, and overtook the retreating servant on the
drive before the house.
"Richard," he said, quietly, "if I was to guess that there _is_
some news in the town, and that you don't like telling it to your
master, should I be guessing the truth?"
The man started and changed color. "I don't know how you have
found it out," he said; "but I can't deny you have guessed
"If you let me hear what the news is, I will take the
responsibility on myself of telling Mr. Armadale."
After some little hesitation, and some distrustful consideration,
on his side, of Midwinter's face, Richard at last prevailed on
himself to repeat what he had heard that day in the town.
The news of Allan's sudden appearance at Thorpe Ambrose had
preceded the servant's arrival at his destination by some hours.
Wherever he went, he found his master the subject of public
discussion. The opinion of Allan's conduct among the leading
townspeople, the resident gentry of the neighborhood, and the
principal tenants on the estate was unanimously unfavorable. Only
the day before, the committee for managing the pubic reception of
the new squire had sketched the progress of the procession; had
settled the serious question of the triumphal arches; and had
appointed a competent person to solicit subscriptions for the
flags, the flowers, the feasting, the fireworks, and the band. In
less than a week more the money could have been collected, and
the rector would have written to Mr. Armadale to fix the day. And
now, by Allan's own act, the public welcome waiting to honor him
had been cast back contemptuously in the public teeth! Everybody
took for granted (what was unfortunately true) that he had
received private information of the contemplated proceedings.
Everybody declared that he had purposely stolen into his own
house like a thief in the night (so the phrase ran) to escape
accepting the offered civilities of his neighbors. In brief, the
sensitive self-importance of the little town was wounded to the
quick, and of Allan's once enviable position in the estimation
of the neighborhood not a vestige remained.
For a moment, Midwinter faced the messenger of evil tidings in
silent distress. That moment past, the sense of Allan's critical
position roused him, now the evil was known, to seek the remedy.
"Has the little you have seen of your master, Richard, inclined
you to like him?" he asked.
This time the man answered without hesitation, "A pleasanter and
kinder gentleman than Mr. Armadale no one could wish to serve."
"If you think that," pursued Midwinter, "you won't object to give
me some information which will help your master to set himself
right with his neighbors. Come into the house."
He led the way into the library, and, after asking the necessary
questions, took down in writing a list of the names and addresses
of the most influential persons living in the town and its
neighborhood. This done, he rang the bell for the head footman,
having previously sent Richard with a message to the stables
directing an open carriage to be ready in an hour's time.
"When the late Mr. Blanchard went out to make calls in the
neighborhood, it was your place to go with him, was it not?"
he asked, when the upper servant appeared. "Very well. Be ready
in an hour's time, if you please, to go out with Mr. Armadale."
Having given that order, he left the house again on his way back
to Allan, with the visiting list in his hand. He smiled a little
sadly as he descended the steps. "Who would have imagined,"
he thought, "that my foot-boy's experience of the ways of
gentlefolks would be worth looking back at one day for Allan's
The object of the popular odium lay innocently slumbering on
the grass, with his garden hat over his nose, his waistcoat
unbuttoned, and his trousers wrinkled half way up his
outstretched legs. Midwinter roused him without hesitation,
and remorselessly repeated the servant's news.
Allan accepted the disclosure thus forced on him without the
slightest disturbance of temper. "Oh, hang 'em!" was all he said.
"Let's have another cigar." Midwinter took the cigar out of his
hand, and, insisting on his treating the matter seriously, told
him in plain words that he must set himself right with his
offended neighbors by calling on them personally to make his
apologies. Allan sat up on the grass in astonishment; his eyes
opened wide in incredulous dismay. Did Midwinter positively
meditate forcing him into a "chimney-pot hat," a nicely brushed
frock-coat, and a clean pair of gloves? Was it actually in
contemplation to shut him up in a carriage, with his footman on
the box and his card-case in his hand, and send him round from
house to house, to tell a pack of fools that he begged their
pardon for not letting them make a public show of him? If
anything so outrageously absurd as this was really to be done,
it could not be done that day, at any rate. He had promised to go
back to the charming Milroy at the cottage and to take Midwinter
with him. What earthly need had he of the good opinion of the
resident gentry? The only friends he wanted were the friends he
had got already. Let the whole neighborhood turn its back on him
if it liked; back or face, the Squire of Thorpe Ambrose didn't
care two straws about it.
After allowing him to run on in this way until his whole stock
of objections was exhausted, Midwinter wisely tried his personal
influence next. He took Allan affectionately by the hand. "I am
going to ask a great favor," he said. "If you won't call on these
people for your own sake, will you call on them to please _me_?"
Allan delivered himself of a groan of despair, stared in mute
surprise at the anxious face of his friend, and good-humoredly
gave way. As Midwinter took his arm, and led him back to the
house, he looked round with rueful eyes at the cattle hard by,
placidly whisking their tails in the pleasant shade. "Don't
mention it in the neighborhood," he said; "I should like to
change places with one of my own cows."
Midwinter left him to dress, engaging to return when the carriage
was at the door. Allan's toilet did not promise to be a speedy
one. He began it by reading his own visiting cards; and he
advanced it a second stage by looking into his wardrobe, and
devoting the resident gentry to the infernal regions. Before he
could discover any third means of delaying his own proceedings,
the necessary pretext was unexpectedly supplied by Richard's
appearance with a note in his hand. The messenger had just called
with Mr. Darch's answer. Allan briskly shut up the wardrobe, and
gave his whole attention to the lawyer's letter. The lawyer's
letter rewarded him by the following lines:
"SIR--I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of to-day's
date, honoring me with two proposals; namely, ONE inviting me to
act as your legal adviser, and ONE inviting me to pay you a visit
at your house. In reference to the first proposal, I beg
permission to decline it with thanks. With regard to the second
proposal, I have to inform you that circumstances have come to
my knowledge relating to the letting of the cottage at Thorpe
Ambrose which render it impossible for me (in justice to myself)
to accept your invitation. I have ascertained, sir, that my offer
reached you at the same time as Major Milroy's; and that, with
both proposals thus before you, you gave the preference to a
total stranger, who addressed you through a house agent, over a
man who had faithfully served your relatives for two generations,
and who had been the first person to inform you of the most
important event in your life. After this specimen of your
estimate of what is due to the claims of common courtesy and
common justice, I cannot flatter myself that I possess any of the
qualities which would fit me to take my place on the list of your
"I remain, sir, your obedient servant,
"Stop the messenger!" cried Allan, leaping to his feet, his ruddy
face aflame with indignation. "Give me pen, ink, and paper! By
the Lord Harry, they're a nice set of people in these parts; the
whole neighborhood is in a conspiracy to bully me!" He snatched
up the pen in a fine frenzy of epistolary inspiration. "Sir--I
despise you and your letter.--" At that point the pen made a
blot, and the writer was seized with a momentary hesitation. "Too
strong," he thought; "I'll give it to the lawyer in his own cool
and cutting style." He began again on a clean sheet of paper.
"Sir--You remind me of an Irish bull. I mean that story in 'Joe
Miller' where Pat remarked, in the hearing of a wag hard by, that
'the reciprocity was all on one side.' _Your_ reciprocity is all
on one side. You take the privilege of refusing to be my lawyer,
and then you complain of my taking the privilege of refusing to
be your landlord." He paused fondly over those last words.
"Neat!" he thought. "Argument and hard hitting both in one. I
wonder where my knack of writing comes from?" He went on, and
finished the letter in two more sentences. "As for your casting
my invitation back in my teeth, I beg to inform you my teeth are
none the worse for it. I am equally glad to have nothing to say
to you, either in the capacity of a friend or a tenant.--ALLAN
ARMADALE." He nodded exultantly at his own composition, as he
addressed it and sent it down to the messenger. "Darch's hide
must be a thick one," he said, "if he doesn't feel _that_!"
The sound of the wheels outside suddenly recalled him to the
business of the day. There was the carriage waiting to take him
on his round of visits; and there was Midwinter at his post,
pacing to and fro on the drive.
"Read that," cried Allan, throwing out the lawyer's letter; "I've
written him back a smasher."
He bustled away to the wardrobe to get his coat. There was a
wonderful change in him; he felt little or no reluctance to pay
the visits now. The pleasurable excitement of answering Mr. Darth
had put him in a fine aggressive frame of mind for asserting
himself in the neighborhood. "Whatever else they may say of me,
they shan't say I was afraid to face them." Heated red-hot with
that idea, he seized his hat and gloves, and hurrying out of the
room, met Midwinter in the corridor with the lawyer's letter in
"Keep up your spirits!" cried Allan, seeing the anxiety in his
friend's face, and misinterpreting the motive of it immediately.
"If Darch can't be counted on to send us a helping hand into the
steward's office, Pedgift can."
"My dear Allan, I was not thinking of that; I was thinking of Mr.
Darch's letter. I don't defend this sour-tempered man; but I am
afraid we must admit he has some cause for complaint. Pray don't
give him another chance of putting you in the wrong. Where is
your answer to his letter?"
"Gone!" replied Allan. "I always strike while the iron's hot--a
word and a blow, and the blow first, that's my way. Don't,
there's a good fellow, don't fidget about the steward's books
and the rent-day. Here! here's a bunch of keys they gave me last
night: one of them opens the room where the steward's books are;
go in and read them till I come back. I give you my sacred word
of honor I'll settle it all with Pedgift before you see me
"One moment," interposed Midwinter, stopping him resolutely on
his way out to the carriage. "I say nothing against Mr. Pedgift's
fitness to possess your confidence, for I know nothing to justify
me in distrusting him. But he has not introduced himself to your
notice in a very delicate way; and he has not acknowledged (what
is quite clear to my mind) that he knew of Mr. Darch's unfriendly
feeling toward you when he wrote. Wait a little before you go to
this stranger; wait till we can talk it over together to-night."
"Wait!" replied Allan. "Haven't I told you that I always strike
while the iron's hot? Trust my eye for character, old boy, I'll
look Pedgift through and through, and act accordingly. Don't keep
me any longer, for Heaven's sake. I'm in a fine humor for
tackling the resident gentry; and if I don't go at once, I'm
afraid it may wear off."
With that excellent reason for being in a hurry, Allan
boisterously broke away. Before it was possible to stop him
again, he had jumped into the carriage and had left the house.
THE MARCH OF EVENTS.
Midwinter's face darkened when the last trace of the carriage
had disappeared from view. "I have done my best," he said, as he
turned back gloomily into the house "If Mr. Brock himself were
here, Mr. Brock could do no more!"
He looked at the bunch of keys which Allan had thrust into his
hand, and a sudden longing to put himself to the test over the
steward's books took possession of his sensitive self-tormenting
nature. Inquiring his way to the room in which the various
movables of the steward's office had been provisionally placed
after the letting of the cottage, he sat down at the desk, and
tried how his own unaided capacity would guide him through the
business records of the Thorpe Ambrose estate. The result exposed
his own ignorance unanswerably before his own eyes. The ledgers
bewildered him; the leases, the plans, and even the
correspondence itself, might have been written, for all he could
understand of them, in an unknown tongue. His memory reverted
bitterly as he left the room again to his two years' solitary
self-instruction in the Shrewsbury book-seller's shop. "If I
could only have worked at a business!" he thought. "If I could
only have known that the company of poets and philosophers was
company too high for a vagabond like me!"
He sat down alone in the great hall; the silence of it fell
heavier and heavier on his sinking spirits; the beauty of it
exasperated him, like an insult from a purse-proud man. "Curse
the place!" he said, snatching up his hat and stick. "I like the
bleakest hillside I ever slept on better than I like this house!"
He impatiently descended the door-steps, and stopped on the
drive, considering, by which direction he should leave the park
for the country beyond. If he followed the road taken by the
carriage, he might risk unsettling Allan by accidentally meeting
him in the town. If he went out by the back gate, he knew his own
nature well enough to doubt his ability to pass the room of the
dream without entering it again. But one other way remained: the
way which he had taken, and then abandoned again, in the morning.
There was no fear of disturbing Allan and the major's daughter
now. Without further hesitation, Midwinter set forth through the
gardens to explore the open country on that side of the estate.
Thrown off its balance by the events of the day, his mind was
full of that sourly savage resistance to the inevitable
self-assertion of wealth, so amiably deplored by the prosperous
and the rich; so bitterly familiar to the unfortunate and the
poor. "The heather-bell costs nothing!" he thought, looking
contemptuously at the masses of rare and beautiful flowers that
surrounded him; "and the buttercups and daisies are as bright as
the best of you!" He followed the artfully contrived ovals and
squares of the Italian garden with a vagabond indifference to the
symmetry of their construction and the ingenuity of their design.
"How many pounds a foot did _you_ cost?" he said, looking back
with scornful eyes at the last path as he left it. "Wind away
over high and low like the sheep-walk on the mountain side, if
He entered the shrubbery which Allan had entered before him;
crossed the paddock and the rustic bridge beyond; and reached
the major's cottage. His ready mind seized the right conclusion
at the first sight of it; and he stopped before the garden gate,
to look at the trim little residence which would never have been
empty, and would never have been let, but for Allan's ill-advised
resolution to force the steward's situation on his friend.
The summer afternoon was warm; the summer air was faint and
still. On the upper and the lower floor of the cottage the
windows were all open. From one of them, on the upper story, the
sound of voices was startlingly audible in the quiet of the park
as Midwinter paused on the outer side of the garden inclosure.
The voice of a woman, harsh, high, and angrily complaining--a
voice with all the freshness and the melody gone, and with
nothing but the hard power of it left--was the discordantly
predominant sound. With it, from moment to moment, there mingled
the deeper and quieter tones, soothing and compassionate, of the
voice of a man. Although the distance was too great to allow
Midwinter to distinguish the words that were spoken, he felt the
impropriety of remaining within hearing of the voices, and at
once stepped forward to continue his walk.
At the same moment, the face of a young girl (easily recognizable
as the face of Miss Milroy, from Allan's description of her)
appeared at the open window of the room. In spite of himself,
Midwinter paused to look at her. The expression of the bright
young face, which had smiled so prettily on Allan, was weary and
disheartened. After looking out absently over the park, she
suddenly turned her head back into the room, her attention having
been apparently struck by something that had just been said in
it. "Oh, mamma, mamma," she exclaimed, indignantly, "how _can_
you say such things!" The words were spoken close to the window;
they reached Midwinter's ears, and hurried him away before he
heard more. But the self-disclosure of Major Milroy's domestic
position had not reached its end yet. As Midwinter turned the
corner of the garden fence, a tradesman's boy was handing a
parcel in at the wicket gate to the woman servant. "Well," said
the boy, with the irrepressible impudence of his class, "how is
the missus?" The woman lifted her hand to box his ears. "How is
the missus?" she repeated, with an angry toss of her head, as the
boy ran off. "If it would only please God to take the missus, it
would be a blessing to everybody in the house."
No such ill-omened shadow as this had passed over the bright
domestic picture of the inhabitants of the cottage, which Allan's
enthusiasm had painted for the contemplation of his friend. It
was plain that the secret of the tenants had been kept from the
landlord so far. Five minutes more of walking brought Midwinter
to the park gates. "Am I fated to see nothing and hear nothing
to-day, which can give me heart and hope for the future?" he
thought, as he angrily swung back the lodge gate. "Even the
people Allan has let the cottage to are people whose lives are
imbittered by a household misery which it is _my_ misfortune to
have found out!"
He took the first road that lay before him, and walked on,
noticing little, immersed in his own thoughts.
More than an hour passed before the necessity of turning back
entered his mind. As soon as the idea occurred to him, he
consulted his watch, and determined to retrace his steps, so as
to be at the house in good time to meet Allan on his return. Ten
minutes of walking brought him back to a point at which three
roads met, and one moment's observation of the place satisfied
him that he had entirely failed to notice at the time by which of
the three roads he had advanced. No sign-post was to be seen; the
country on either side was lonely and flat, intersected by broad
drains and ditches. Cattle were grazing here and there, and a
windmill rose in the distance above the pollard willows that
fringed the low horizon. But not a house was to be seen, and not
a human creature appeared on the visible perspective of any one
of the three roads. Midwinter glanced back in the only direction
left to look at--the direction of the road along which he had
just been walking. There, to his relief, was the figure of a man,
rapidly advancing toward him, of whom he could ask his way.
The figure came on, clad from head to foot in dreary black--a
moving blot on the brilliant white surface of the sun-brightened
road. He was a lean, elderly, miserably respectable man. He wore
a poor old black dress-coat, and a cheap brown wig, which made no
pretense of being his own natural hair. Short black trousers
clung like attached old servants round his wizen legs; and rusty
black gaiters hid all they could of his knobbed, ungainly feet.
Black crape added its mite to the decayed and dingy wretchedness
of his old beaver hat; black mohair in the obsolete form of a
stock drearily encircled his neck and rose as high as his haggard
jaws. The one morsel of color he carried about him was a lawyer's
bag of blue serge, as lean and limp as himself. The one
attractive feature in his clean-shaven, weary old face was a neat
set of teeth--teeth (as honest as his wig) which said plainly to
all inquiring eyes, "We pass our nights on his looking-glass, and
our days in his mouth."
All the little blood in the man's body faintly reddened his
fleshless cheeks as Midwinter advanced to meet him, and asked the
way to Thorpe Ambrose. His weak, watery eyes looked hither and
thither in a bewilderment painful to see. If he had met with a
lion instead of a man, and if the few words addressed to him had
been words expressing a threat instead of a question, he could
hardly have looked more confused and alarmed than he looked now.
For the first time in his life, Midwinter saw his own shy
uneasiness in the presence of strangers reflected, with tenfold
intensity of nervous suffering, in the face of another man--and
that man old enough to be his father.
"Which do you please to mean, sir--the town or the house? I beg
your pardon for asking, but they both go by the same name in
He spoke with a timid gentleness of tone, an ingratiatory smile,
and an anxious courtesy of manner, all distressingly suggestive
of his being accustomed to receive rough answers in exchange for
his own politeness from the persons whom he habitually addressed.
"I was not aware that both the house and the town went by the
same name," said Midwinter; "I meant the house." He instinctively
conquered his own shyness as he answered in those words, speaking
with a cordiality of manner which was very rare with him in his
intercourse with strangers.
The man of miserable respectability seemed to feel the warm
return of his own politeness gratefully; he brightened and took a
little courage. His lean forefinger pointed eagerly to the right
road. "That way, sir," he said, "and when you come to two roads
next, please take the left one of the two. I am sorry I have
business the other way, I mean in the town. I should have been
happy to go with you and show you. Fine summer weather, sir, for
walking? You can't miss your way if you keep to the left. Oh,
don't mention it! I'm afraid I have detained you, sir. I wish you
a pleasant walk back, and--good-morning."
By the time he had made an end of speaking (under an impression
apparently that the more he talked the more polite he would be)
he had lost his courage again. He darted away down his own road,
as if Midwinter's attempt to thank him involved a series of
trials too terrible to confront. In two minutes more, his black
retreating figure had lessened in the distance till it looked
again, what it had once looked already, a moving blot on the
brilliant white surface of the sun-brightened road.
The man ran strangely in Midwinter's thoughts while he took his
way back to the house. He was at a loss to account for it. It
never occurred to him that he might have been insensibly reminded
of himself, when he saw the plain traces of past misfortune and
present nervous suffering in the poor wretch's face. He blindly
resented his own perverse interest in this chance foot passenger
on the high-road, as he had resented all else that had happened
to him since the beginning of the day. "Have I made another
unlucky discovery?" he asked himself, impatiently. "Shall I see
this man again, I wonder? Who can he be?"
Time was to answer both those questions before many days more had
passed over the inquirer's head.
Allan had not returned when Midwinter reached the house. Nothing
had happened but the arrival of a message of apology from the
cottage. "Major Milroy's compliments, and he was sorry that Mrs.
Milroy's illness would prevent his receiving Mr. Armadale that
day." It was plain that Mrs. Milroy's occasional fits of
suffering (or of ill temper) created no mere transitory
disturbance of the tranquillity of the household. Drawing this
natural inference, after what he had himself heard at the cottage
nearly three hours since, Midwinter withdrew into the library to
wait patiently among the books until his friend came back.
It was past six o'clock when the well-known hearty voice was
heard again in the hall. Allan burst into the library, in a state
of irrepressible excitement, and pushed Midwinter back
unceremoniously into the chair from which he was just rising,
before he could utter a word.
"Here's a riddle for you, old boy!" cried Allan. "Why am I like
the resident manager of the Augean stable, before Hercules was
called in to sweep the litter out? Because I have had my place to
keep up, and I've gone and made an infernal mess of it! Why don't
you laugh? By George, he doesn't see the point! Let's try again.
Why am I like the resident manager--"
"For God's sake, Allan, be serious for a moment!" interposed
Midwinter. "You don't know how anxious I am to hear if you have
recovered the good opinion of your neighbors."
"That's just what the riddle was intended to tell you!" rejoined
Allan. "But if you will have it in so many words, my own
impression is that you would have done better not to disturb me
under that tree in the park. I've been calculating it to a
nicety, and I beg to inform you that I have sunk exactly three
degrees lower in the estimation of the resident gentry since I
had the pleasure of seeing you last."
"You _will_ have your joke out," said Midwinter, bitterly. "Well,
if I can't laugh, I can wait."
"My dear fellow, I'm not joking; I really mean what I say. You
shall hear what happened; you shall have a report in full of my
first visit. It will do, I can promise you, as a sample for all
the rest. Mind this, in the first place, I've gone wrong with the
best possible intentions. When I started for these visits, I own
I was angry with that old brute of a lawyer, and I certainly had
a notion of carrying things with a high hand. But it wore off
somehow on the road; and the first family I called on, I went in,
as I tell you, with the best possible intentions. Oh, dear, dear!
there was the same spick-and-span reception-room for me to wait
in, with the neat conservatory beyond, which I saw again and
again and again at every other house I went to afterward. There
was the same choice selection of books for me to look at--a
religious book, a book about the Duke of Wellington, a book about
sporting, and a book about nothing in particular, beautifully
illustrated with pictures. Down came papa with his nice white
hair, and mamma with her nice lace cap; down came young mister
with the pink face and straw-colored whiskers, and young miss
with the plump cheeks and the large petticoats. Don't suppose
there was the least unfriendliness on my side; I always began
with them in the same way--I insisted on shaking hands all round.
That staggered them to begin with. When I came to the sore
subject next--the subject of the public reception--I give you my
word of honor I took the greatest possible pains with my
apologies. It hadn't the slightest effect; they let my apologies
in at one ear and out at the other, and then waited to hear more.
Some men would have been disheartened: I tried another way with
them; I addressed myself to the master of the house, and put it
pleasantly next. 'The fact is,' I said, 'I wanted to escape the
speechifying--my getting up, you know, and telling you to your
face you're the best of men, and I beg to propose your health;
and your getting up and telling me to my face I'm the best of
men, and you beg to thank me; and so on, man after man, praising
each other and pestering each other all round the table.' That's
how I put it, in an easy, light-handed, convincing sort of way.
Do you think any of them took it in the same friendly spirit?
Not one! It's my belief they had got their speeches ready for
the reception, with the flags and the flowers, and that they're
secretly angry with me for stopping their open mouths just as
they were ready to begin. Anyway, whenever we came to the matter
of the speechifying (whether they touched it first or I), down
I fell in their estimation the first of those three steps I told
you of just now. Don't suppose I made no efforts to get up again!
I made desperate efforts. I found they were all anxious to know
what sort of life I had led before I came in for the Thorpe
Ambrose property, and I did my best to satisfy them. And what
came of that, do you think? Hang me, if I didn't disappoint them
for the second time! When they found out that I had actually
never been to Eton or Harrow, or Oxford or Cambridge, they were
quite dumb with astonishment. I fancy they thought me a sort of
outlaw. At any rate, they all froze up again; and down I fell
the second step in their estimation. Never mind! I wasn't to be
beaten; I had promised you to do my best, and I did it. I tried
cheerful small-talk about the neighborhood next. The women said
nothing in particular; the men, to my unutterable astonishment,
all began to condole with me. I shouldn't be able to find a pack
of hounds, they said, within twenty miles of my house; and they
thought it only right to prepare me for the disgracefully
careless manner in which the Thorpe Ambrose covers had been
preserved. I let them go on condoling with me, and then what do
you think I did? I put my foot in it again. 'Oh, don't take that
to heart!' I said; 'I don't care two straws about hunting or
shooting, either. When I meet with a bird in my walk, I can't for
the life of me feel eager to kill it; I rather like to see the
bird flying about and enjoying itself.' You should have seen
their faces! They had thought me a sort of outlaw before; now
they evidently thought me mad. Dead silence fell upon them all;
and down I tumbled the third step in the general estimation. It
was just the same at the next house, and the next and the next.
The devil possessed us all, I think. It _would_ come out, now in
one way, and now in another, that I couldn't make speeches--that
I had been brought up without a university education--and that
I could enjoy a ride on horseback without galloping after a
wretched stinking fox or a poor distracted little hare. These
three unlucky defects of mine are not excused, it seems, in
a country gentleman (especially when he has dodged a public
reception to begin with). I think I got on best, upon the whole,
with the wives and daughters. The women and I always fell, sooner
or later, on the subject of Mrs. Blanchard and her niece. We
invariably agreed that they had done wisely in going to Florence;
and the only reason we had to give for our opinion was that we
thought their minds would be benefited after their sad
bereavement, by the contemplation of the masterpieces of Italian
art. Every one of the ladies--I solemnly declare it--at every
house I went to, came sooner or later to Mrs. and Miss
Blanchard's bereavement and the masterpieces of Italian art. What
we should have done without that bright idea to help us, I really
don't know. The one pleasant thing at any of the visits was when
we all shook our heads together, and declared that the
masterpieces would console them. As for the rest of it, there's
only one thing more to be said. What I might be in other places
I don't know: I'm the wrong man in the wrong place here. Let me
muddle on for the future in my own way, with my own few friends;
and ask me anything else in the world, as long as you don't ask
me to make any more calls on my neighbors."
With that characteristic request, Allan's report of his exploring
expedition among the resident gentry came to a close. For a
moment Midwinter remained silent. He had allowed Allan to run on
from first to last without uttering a word on his side. The
disastrous result of the visits--coming after what had happened
earlier in the day; and threatening Allan, as it did, with
exclusion from all local sympathies at the very outset of his
local career--had broken down Midwinter's power of resisting the
stealthily depressing influence of his own superstition. It was
with an effort that he now looked up at Allan; it was with an
effort that he roused himself to answer.
"It shall be as you wish," he said, quietly. "I am sorry for what
has happened; but I am not the less obliged to you, Allan, for
having done what I asked you."
His head sank on his breast, and the fatalist resignation which
had once already quieted him on board the wreck now quieted him
again. "What _must_ be, _will_ be," he thought once more. "What
have I to do with the future, and what has he?"
"Cheer up!" said Allan. "_Your_ affairs are in a thriving
condition, at any rate. I paid one pleasant visit in the town,
which I haven't told you of yet. I've seen Pedgift, and Pedgift's
son, who helps him in the office. They're the two jolliest
lawyers I ever met with in my life; and, what's more, they can
produce the very man you want to teach you the steward's
Midwinter looked up quickly. Distrust of Allan's discovery was
plainly written in his face already; but he said nothing.
"I thought of you," Allan proceeded, "as soon as the two Pedgifts
and I had had a glass of wine all round to drink to our friendly
connection. The finest sherry I ever tasted in my life; I've
ordered some of the same--but that's not the question just now.
In two words I told these worthy fellows your difficulty, and in
two seconds old Pedgift understood all about it. 'I have got the
man in my office,' he said, 'and before the audit-day comes, I'll
place him with the greatest pleasure at your friend's disposal.'"
At this last announcement, Midwinter's distrust found its
expression in words. He questioned Allan unsparingly.
The man's name, it appeared was Bashwood. He had been some time
(how long, Allan could not remember) in Mr. Pedgift's service.
He had been previously steward to a Norfolk gentleman (name
forgotten) in the westward district of the county. He had lost
the steward's place, through some domestic trouble, in connection
with his son, the precise nature of which Allan was not able to
specify. Pedgift vouched for him, and Pedgift would send him to
Thorpe Ambrose two or three days before the rent-day dinner. He
could not be spared, for office reasons, before that time. There
was no need to fidget about it; Pedgift laughed at the idea of
there being any difficulty with the tenants. Two or three day's
work over the steward's books with a man to help Midwinter who
practically understood that sort of thing would put him all right
for the audit; and the other business would keep till afterward.
"Have you seen this Mr. Bashwood yourself, Allan?" asked
Midwinter, still obstinately on his guard.
"No," replied Allan "he was out--out with the bag, as young
Pedgift called it. They tell me he's a decent elderly man. A
little broken by his troubles, and a little apt to be nervous and
confused in his manner with strangers; but thoroughly competent
and thoroughly to be depended on--those are Pedgift's own words."
Midwinter paused and considered a little, with a new interest in
the subject. The strange man whom he had just heard described,
and the strange man of whom he had asked his way where the three
roads met, were remarkably like each other. Was this another link
in the fast-lengthening chain of events? Midwinter grew doubly
determined to be careful, as the bare doubt that it might be so
passed through his mind.
"When Mr. Bashwood comes," he said, "will you let me see him, and
speak to him, before anything definite is done?"
"Of course I will!" rejoined Allan. He stopped and looked at his
watch. "And I'll tell you what I'll do for you, old boy, in the
meantime," he added; "I'll introduce you to the prettiest girl in
Norfolk! There's just time to run over to the cottage before
dinner. Come along, and be introduced to Miss Milroy."
"You can't introduce me to Miss Milroy today," replied Midwinter;
and he repeated the message of apology which had been brought
from the major that afternoon. Allan was surprised and
disappointed; but he was not to be foiled in his resolution to
advance himself in the good graces of the inhabitants of the
cottage. After a little consideration he hit on a means of
turning the present adverse circumstances to good account. "I'll
show a proper anxiety for Mrs. Milroy's recovery," he said,
gravely. "I'll send her a basket of strawberries, with my best
respects, to-morrow morning."
Nothing more happened to mark the end of that first day in the
The one noticeable event of the next day was another disclosure
of Mrs. Milroy's infirmity of temper. Half an hour after Allan's
basket of strawberries had been delivered at the cottage, it was
returned to him intact (by the hands of the invalid lady's
nurse), with a short and sharp message, shortly and sharply
delivered. "Mrs. Milroy's compliments and thanks. Strawberries
invariably disagreed with her." If this curiously petulant
acknowledgment of an act of politeness was intended to irritate
Allan, it failed entirely in accomplishing its object. Instead of
being offended with the mother, he sympathized with the daughter.
"Poor little thing," was all he said, "she must have a hard life
of it with such a mother as that!"
He called at the cottage himself later in the day, but Miss
Milroy was not to be seen; she was engaged upstairs. The major
received his visitor in his working apron--far more deeply
immersed in his wonderful clock, and far less readily accessible
to outer influences, than Allan had seen him at their first
interview. His manner was as kind as before; but not a word more
could be extracted from him on the subject of his wife than that
Mrs. Milroy "had not improved since yesterday."
The two next days passed quietly and uneventfully. Allan
persisted in making his inquiries at the cottage; but all he saw
of the major's daughter was a glimpse of her on one occasion at
a window on the bedroom floor. Nothing more was heard from Mr.
Pedgift; and Mr. Bashwood's appearance was still delayed.
Midwinter declined to move in the matter until time enough had
passed to allow of his first hearing from Mr. Brock, in answer to
the letter which he had addressed to the rector on the night of
his arrival at Thorpe Ambrose. He was unusually silent and quiet,
and passed most of his hours in the library among the books. The
time wore on wearily. The resident gentry acknowledged Allan's
visit by formally leaving their cards. Nobody came near the house
afterward; the weather was monotonously fine. Allan grew a little
restless and dissatisfied. He began to resent Mrs. Milroy's
illness; he began to think regretfully of his deserted yacht.
The next day--the twentieth--brought some news with it from the
outer world. A message was delivered from Mr. Pedgift, announcing
that his clerk, Mr. Bashwood, would personally present himself at
Thorpe Ambrose on the following day; and a letter in answer to
Midwinter was received from Mr. Brock.
The letter was dated the 18th, and the news which it contained
raised not Allan's spirits only, but Midwinter's as well.
On the day on which he wrote, Mr. Brock announced that he was
about to journey to London; having been summoned thither on
business connected with the interests of a sick relative, to whom
he stood in the position of trustee. The business completed, he
had good hope of finding one or other of his clerical friends in
the metropolis who would be able and willing to do duty for him
at the rectory; and, in that case, he trusted to travel on from
London to Thorpe Ambrose in a week's' time or less. Under these
circumstances, he would leave the majority of the subjects on
which Midwinter had written to him to be discussed when they met.
But as time might be of importance, in relation to the
stewardship of the Thorpe Ambrose estate, he would say at once
that he saw no reason why Midwinter should not apply his mind
to learning the steward's duties, and should not succeed in
rendering himself invaluably serviceable in that way to the
interests of his friend.
Leaving Midwinter reading and re-reading the rector's cheering
letter, as if he was bent on getting every sentence in it by
heart, Allan went out rather earlier than usual, to make his
daily inquiry at the cottage--or, in plainer words, to make a
fourth attempt at improving his acquaintance with Miss Milroy.
The day had begun encouragingly, and encouragingly it seemed
destined to go on. When Allan turned the corner of the second
shrubbery, and entered the little paddock where he and the
major's daughter had first met, there was Miss Milroy herself
loitering to and fro on the grass, to all appearance on the watch
She gave a little start when Allan appeared, and came forward
without hesitation to meet him. She was not in her best looks.
Her rosy complexion had suffered under confinement to the house,
and a marked expression of embarrassment clouded her pretty face.
"I hardly know how to confess it, Mr. Armadale," she said,
speaking eagerly, before Allan could utter a word, "but I
certainly ventured here this morning in the hope of meeting with
you. I have been very much distressed; I have only just heard, by
accident, of the manner in which mamma received the present of
fruit you so kindly sent to her. Will you try to excuse her? She
has been miserably ill for years, and she is not always quite
herself. After your being so very, very kind to me (and to papa),
I really could not help stealing out here in the hope of seeing
you, and telling you how sorry I was. Pray forgive and forget,
Mr. Armadale--pray do!" her voice faltered over the last words,
and, in her eagerness to make her mother's peace with him, she
laid her hand on his arm.
Allan was himself a little confused. Her earnestness took him by
surprise, and her evident conviction that he had been offended
honestly distressed him. Not knowing what else to do, he followed
his instincts, and possessed himself of her hand to begin with.
"My dear Miss Milroy, if you say a word more you will distress
_me_ next," he rejoined, unconsciously pressing her hand closer
and closer, in the embarrassment of the moment. "I never was in
the least offended; I made allowances--upon my honor I did--for
poor Mrs. Milroy's illness. Offended!" cried Allan, reverting
energetically to the old complimentary strain. "I should like to
have my basket of fruit sent back every day--if I could only be
sure of its bringing you out into the paddock the first thing in
Some of Miss Milroy's missing color began to appear again in her
cheeks. "Oh, Mr. Armadale, there is really no end to your
kindness," she said; "you don't know how you relieve me! She
paused; her spirits rallied with as happy a readiness of recovery
as if they had been the spirits of a child; and her native
brightness of temper sparkled again in her eyes, as she looked
up, shyly smiling in Allan's face. "Don't you think," she asked,
demurely, "that it is almost time now to let go of my hand?"
Their eyes met. Allan followed his instincts for the second time.
Instead of releasing her hand, he lifted it to his lips and
kissed it. All the missing tints of the rosier sort returned to
Miss Milroy's complexion on the instant. She snatched away her
hand as if Allan had burned it.
"I'm sure _that's_ wrong, Mr. Armadale," she said, and turned her
head aside quickly, for she was smiling in spite of herself.
"I meant it as an apology for--for holding your hand too long,"
stammered Allan. "An apology can't be wrong--can it?"
There are occasions, though not many, when the female mind
accurately appreciates an appeal to the force of pure reason.
This was one of the occasions. An abstract proposition had been
presented to Miss Milroy, and Miss Milroy was convinced. If it
was meant as an apology, that, she admitted, made all the
difference. "I only hope," said the little coquet, looking at him
slyly, "you're not misleading me. Not that it matters much now,"
she added, with a serious shake of her head. "If we have
committed any improprieties, Mr. Armadale, we are not likely
to have the opportunity of committing many more."
"You're not going away?" exclaimed Allan, in great alarm.
"Worse than that, Mr. Armadale. My new governess is coming."
"Coming?" repeated Allan. "Coming already?"
"As good as coming, I ought to have said--only I didn't know you
wished me to be so very particular. We got the answers to the
advertisements this morning. Papa and I opened them and read them
together half an hour ago; and we both picked out the same letter
from all the rest. I picked it out, because it was so prettily
expressed; and papa picked it out because the terms were so
reasonable. He is going to send the letter up to grandmamma in
London by today's post, and, if she finds everything satisfactory
on inquiry, the governess is to be engaged You don't know how
dreadfully nervous I am getting about it already; a strange
governess is such an awful prospect. But it is not quite so bad
as going to school; and I have great hopes of this new lady,
because she writes such a nice letter! As I said to papa, it
almost reconciles me to her horrid, unromantic name."
"What is her name?" asked Allan. "Brown? Grubb? Scraggs? Anything
of that sort?"
"Hush! hush! Nothing quite so horrible as that. Her name is
Gwilt. Dreadfully unpoetical, isn't it? Her reference must be a
respectable person, though; for she lives in the same part of
London as grandmamma. Stop, Mr. Armadale! we are going the wrong
way. No; I can't wait to look at those lovely flowers of yours
this morning, and, many thanks, I can't accept your arm. I have
stayed here too long already. Papa is waiting for his breakfast;
and I must run back every step of the way. Thank you for making
those kind allowances for mamma; thank you again and again, and
"Won't you shake hands?" asked Allan.
She gave him her hand. "No more apologies, if you please, Mr.
Armadale," she said, saucily. Once more their eyes met, and once
more the plump, dimpled little hand found its way to Allan's
lips. "It isn't an apology this time!" cried Allan, precipitately
defending himself. "It's--it's a mark of respect."
She started back a few steps, and burst out laughing. "You won't
find me in our grounds again, Mr. Armadale," she said, merrily,
"till I have got Miss Gwilt to take care of me!" With that
farewell, she gathered up her skirts, and ran back across the
paddock at the top of her speed.
Allan stood watching her in speechless admiration till she was
out of sight. His second interview with Miss Milroy had produced
an extraordinary effect on him. For the first time since he had
become the master of Thorpe Ambrose, he was absorbed in serious
consideration of what he owed to his new position in life. "The
question is," pondered Allan, "whether I hadn't better set myself
right with my neighbors by becoming a married man? I'll take the
day to consider; and if I keep in the same mind about it, I'll
consult Midwinter to-morrow morning."
When the morning came, and when Allan descended to the
breakfast-room, resolute to consult his friend on the obligations
that he owed to his neighbors in general, and to Miss Milroy in
particular, no Midwinter was to he seen. On making inquiry, it
appeared that he had been observed in the hall; that he had taken
from the table a letter which the morning's post had brought to
him; and that he had gone back immediately to his own room. Allan
at once ascended the stairs again, and knocked at his friend's
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Not just now," was the answer.
"You have got a letter, haven't you?" persisted Allan. "Any bad
news? Anything wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm not very well this morning. Don't wait breakfast
for me; I'll come down as soon as I can."
No more was said on either side. Allan returned to the
breakfast-room a little disappointed. He had set his heart on
rushing headlong into his consultation with Midwinter, and here
was the consultation indefinitely delayed. "What an odd fellow he
is!" thought Allan. "What on earth can he be doing, locked in
there by himself?"
He was doing nothing. He was sitting by the window, with the
letter which had reached him that morning open in his hand. The
handwriting was Mr. Brock's, and the words written were these:
"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--I have literally only two minutes before post
time to tell you that I have just met (in Kensington Gardens)
with the woman whom we both only know, thus far, as the woman
with the red Paisley shawl. I have traced her and her companion
(a respectable-looking elderly lady) to their residence--after
having distinctly heard Allan's name mentioned between them.
Depend on my not losing sight of the woman until I am satisfied
that she means no mischief at Thorpe Ambrose; and expect to hear
from me again as soon as I know how this strange discovery is to
"Very truly yours, DECIMUS BROCK."
After reading the letter for the second time, Midwinter folded it
up thoughtfully, and placed it in his pocket-book, side by side
with the manuscript narrative of Allan's dream.
"Your discovery will not end with _you_, Mr. Brock," he said. "Do
what you will with the woman, when the time comes the woman will
MOTHER OLDERSHAW ON HER GUARD.
1. _From Mrs. Oldershaw (Diana Street, Pimlico) to Miss Gwilt
(West Place, Old Brompton)_.
"Ladies' Toilet Repository, June 20th,
Eight in the Evening.
"MY DEAR LYDIA--About three hours have passed, as well as I can
remember, since I pushed you unceremoniously inside my house in
West Place, and, merely telling you to wait till you saw me
again, banged the door to between us, and left you alone in the
hall. I know your sensitive nature, my dear, and I am afraid you
have made up your mind by this time that never yet was a guest
treated so abominably by her hostess as I have treated you.
"The delay that has prevented me from explaining my strange
conduct is, believe me, a delay for which I am not to blame.
One of the many delicate little difficulties which beset so
essentially confidential a business as mine occurred here
(as I have since discovered) while we were taking the air this
afternoon in Kensington Gardens. I see no chance of being able to
get back to you for some hours to come, and I have a word of very
urgent caution for your private ear, which has been too long
delayed already. So I must use the spare minutes as they come,
"Here is caution the first. On no account venture outside the
door again this evening, and be very careful, while the daylight
lasts, not to show yourself at any of the front windows. I have
reason to fear that a certain charming person now staying with me
may possibly be watched. Don't be alarmed, and don't be
impatient; you shall know why.
"I can only explain myself by going back to our unlucky meeting
in the Gardens with that reverend gentleman who was so obliging
as to follow us both back to my house.
"It crossed my mind, just as we were close to the door, that
there might be a motive for the parson's anxiety to trace us
home, far less creditable to his taste, and far more dangerous to
both of us, than the motive you supposed him to have. In plainer
words, Lydia, I rather doubted whether you had met with another
admirer; and I strongly suspected that you had encountered
another enemy instead . There was no time to tell you this. There
was only time to see you safe into the house, and to make sure of
the parson (in case my suspicions were right) by treating him as
he had treated us; I mean, by following him in his turn.
"I kept some little distance behind him at first, to turn the
thing over in my mind, and to be satisfied that my doubts were
not misleading me. We have no concealments from each other; and
you shall know what my doubts were.
"I was not surprised at _your_ recognizing _him_; he is not at
all a common-looking old man; and you had seen him twice in
Somersetshire--once when you asked your way of him to Mrs.
Armadale's house, and once when you saw him again on your way
back to the railroad. But I was a little puzzled (considering
that you had your veil down on both those occasions, and your
veil down also when we were in the Gardens) at his recognizing
_you_. I doubted his remembering your figure in a summer dress
after he had only seen it in a winter dress; and though we were
talking when he met us, and your voice is one among your many
charms, I doubted his remembering your voice, either. And yet
I felt persuaded that he knew you. 'How?' you will ask. My dear,
as ill-luck would have it, we were speaking at the time of young
Armadale. I firmly believe that the name was the first thing that
struck him; and when he heard _that_, your voice certainly and
your figure perhaps, came back to his memory. 'And what if it
did?' you may say. Think again, Lydia, and tell me whether the
parson of the place where Mrs. Armadale lived was not likely to
be Mrs. Armadale's friend? If he _was_ her friend, the very first
person to whom she would apply for advice after the manner in
which you frightened her, and after what you most injudiciously
said on the subject of appealing to her son, would be the
clergyman of the parish--and the magistrate, too, as the landlord
at the inn himself told you.
"You will now understand why I left you in that extremely uncivil
manner, and I may go on to what happened next.
"I followed the old gentleman till he turned into a quiet street,
and then accosted him, with respect for the Church written
(I flatter myself) in every line of my face.
"'Will you excuse me,' I said, 'if I venture to inquire, sir,
whether you recognized the lady who was walking with me when you
happened to pass us in the Gardens?'
"'Will you excuse my asking, ma'am, why you put that question?'
was all the answer I got.
"'I will endeavor to tell you, sir,' I said. 'If my friend is
not an absolute stranger to you, I should wish to request your
attention to a very delicate subject, connected with a lady
deceased, and with her son who survives her.'
"He was staggered; I could see that. But he was sly enough at the
same time to hold his tongue and wait till I said something more.
"'If I am wrong, sir, in thinking that you recognized my friend,'
I went on, 'I beg to apologize. But I could hardly suppose it
possible that a gentleman in your profession would follow a lady
home who was a total stranger to him.'
"There I had him. He colored up (fancy that, at his age!), and
owned the truth, in defense of his own precious character.
"'I have met with the lady once before, and I acknowledge that I
recognized her in the Gardens,' he said. 'You will excuse me if
I decline entering into the question of whether I did or did not
purposely follow her home. If you wish to be assured that your
friend is not an absolute stranger to me, you now have that
assurance; and if you have anything particular to say to me, I
leave you to decide whether the time has come to say it.'
"He waited, and looked about. I waited, and looked about. He said
the street was hardly a fit place to speak of a delicate subject
in. I said the street was hardly a fit place to speak of a
delicate subject in. He didn't offer to take me to where he
lived. I didn't offer to take him to where I lived. Have you ever
seen two strange cats, my dear, nose to nose on the tiles? If you
have, you have seen the parson and me done to the life.
"'Well, ma'am,' he said, at last, 'shall we go on with our
conversation in spite of circumstances?'
"'Yes, sir,' I said; 'we are both of us, fortunately, of an age
to set circumstances at defiance' (I had seen the old wretch
looking at my gray hair, and satisfying himself that his
character was safe if he _was_ seen with me).
"After all this snapping and snarling, we came to the point at
last. I began by telling him that I feared his interest in you
was not of the friendly sort. He admitted that much--of course,
in defense of his own character once more. I next repeated
to him everything you had told me about your proceedings in
Somersetshire, when we first found that he was following us home.
Don't be alarmed my dear--I was acting on principle. If you want