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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 6 out of 17

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to make a dish of lies digestible, always give it a garnish
of truth. Well, having appealed to the reverend gentleman's
confidence in this matter, I next declared that you had become
an altered woman since he had seen you last. I revived that dead
wretch, your husband (without mentioning names, of course),
established him (the first place I thought of) in business at the
Brazils, and described a letter which he had written, offering to
forgive his erring wife, if she would repent and go back to him.
I assured the parson that your husband's noble conduct had
softened your obdurate nature; and then, thinking I had produced
the right impression, I came boldly to close quarters with him.
I said, 'At the very time when you met us, sir, my unhappy friend
was speaking in terms of touching, self-reproach of her conduct
to the late Mrs. Armadale. She confided to me her anxiety to make
some atonement, if possible, to Mrs. Armadale's son; and it is
at her entreaty (for she cannot prevail on herself to face you)
that I now beg to inquire whether Mr. Armadale is still in
Somersetshire, and whether he would consent to take back in small
installments the sum of money which my friend acknowledges that
she received by practicing on Mrs. Armadale's fears.' Those were
my very words. A neater story (accounting so nicely for
everything) was never told; it was a story to melt a stone. But
this Somersetshire parson is harder than stone itself. I blush
for _him_, my dear, when I assure you that he was evidently
insensible enough to disbelieve every word I said about your
reformed character, your husband in the Brazils, and your
penitent anxiety to pay the money back. It is really a disgrace
that such a man should be in the Church; such cunning as his is
in the last degree unbecoming in a member of a sacred profession.

"'Does your friend propose to join her husband by the next
steamer?' was all he condescended to say, when I had done.

"I acknowledge I was angry. I snapped at him. I said, 'Yes, she
does.'

"'How am I to communicate with her?' he asked.

"I snapped at him again. 'By letter--through me.'

"'At what address, ma'am?'

"There, I had him once more. 'You have found my address out for
yourself, sir,' I said. 'The directory will tell you my name, if
you wish to find that out for yourself also; otherwise, you are
welcome to my card.'

"'Many thanks, ma'am. If your friend wishes to communicate with
Mr. Armadale, I will give you _my_ card in return.'

"'Thank you, sir.'

"'Thank you, ma'am.'

"'Good-afternoon, sir.'

"'Good-afternoon, ma'am.'

"So we parted. I went my way to an appointment at my place
of business, and he went his in a hurry; which is of itself
suspicious. What I can't get over is his heartlessness. Heaven
help the people who send for _him_ to comfort them on their
death-beds!

"The next consideration is, What are we to do? If we don't find
out the right way to keep this old wretch in the dark, he may be
the ruin of us at Thorpe Ambrose just as we are within easy reach
of our end in view. Wait up till I come to you, with my mind
free, I hope, from the other difficulty which is worrying me
here. Was there ever such ill luck as ours? Only think of that
man deserting his congregation, and coming to London just at the
very time when we have answered Major Milroy's advertisement, and
may expect the inquiries to be made next week! I have no patience
with him; his bishop ought to interfere.

"Affectionately yours,

"MARIA OLDERSHAW."

2. _From Miss Gwilt to Mrs. Oldershaw_.

"West Place, June 20th.

"MY POOR OLD DEAR--How very little you know of my sensitive
nature, as you call it! Instead of feeling offended when you left
me, I went to your piano, and forgot all about you till your
messenger came. Your letter is irresistible; I have been laughing
over it till I am quite out of breath. Of all the absurd stories
I ever read, the story you addressed to the Somersetshire
clergyman is the most ridiculous. And as for your interview with
him in the street, it is a perfect sin to keep it to ourselves.
The public ought really to enjoy it in the form of a farce at one
of the theaters.

"Luckily for both of us (to come to serious matters), your
messenger is a prudent person. He sent upstairs to know if there
was an answer. In the midst of my merriment I had presence of
mind enough to send downstairs and say 'Yes.'

"Some brute of a man says, in some book which I once read, that
no woman can keep two separate trains of ideas in her mind at the
same time. I declare you have almost satisfied me that the man
is right. What! when you have escaped unnoticed to your place
of business, and when you suspect this house to be watched, you
propose to come back here, and to put it in the parson's power to
recover the lost trace of you! What madness! Stop where you are;
and when you have got over your difficulty at Pimlico (it is some
woman's business, of course; what worries women are!), be so good
as to read what I have got to say about our difficulty at
Brompton.

"In the first place, the house (as you supposed) is watched.

"Half an hour after you left me, loud voices in the street
interrupted me at the piano, and I went to the window. There was
a cab at the house opposite, where they let lodgings; and an old
man, who looked like a respectable servant, was wrangling with
the driver about his fare. An elderly gentleman came out of the
house, and stopped them. An elderly gentleman returned into the
house, and appeared cautiously at the front drawing-room window.
You know him, you worthy creature; he had the bad taste, some few
hours since, to doubt whether you were telling him the truth.
Don't be afraid, he didn't see me. When he looked up, after
settling with the cab driver, I was behind the curtain. I have
been behind the curtain once or twice since; and I have seen
enough to satisfy me that he and his servant will relieve each
other at the window, so as never to lose sight of your house
here, night or day. That the parson suspects the real truth
is of course impossible. But that he firmly believes I mean some
mischief to young Armadale, and that you have entirely confirmed
him in that conviction, is as plain as that two and two make
four. And this has happened (as you helplessly remind me) just
when we have answered the advertisement, and when we may expect
the major's inquiries to be made in a few days' time.

"Surely, here is a terrible situation for two women to find
themselves in? A fiddlestick's end for the situation! We have got
an easy way out of it--thanks, Mother Oldershaw, to what I myself
forced you to do, not three hours before the Somersetshire
clergyman met with us.

"Has that venomous little quarrel of ours this morning--after we
had pounced on the major's advertisement in the newspaper--quite
slipped out of your memory? Have you forgotten how I persisted in
my opinion that you were a great deal too well known in London to
appear safely as my reference in your own name, or to receive an
inquiring lady or gentleman (as you were rash enough to propose)
in your own house? Don't you remember what a passion you were in
when I brought our dispute to an end by declining to stir a step
in the matter, unless I could conclude my application to Major
Milroy by referring him to an address at which you were totally
unknown, and to a name which might be anything you pleased, as
long as it was not yours? What a look you gave me when you found
there was nothing for it but to drop the whole speculation or to
let me have my own way! How you fumed over the lodging hunting
on the other side of the Park! and how you groaned when you came
back, possessed of furnished apartments in respectable Bayswater,
over the useless expense I had put you to!

"What do you think of those furnished apartments _now_, you
obstinate old woman? Here we are, with discovery threatening us
at our very door, and with no hope of escape unless we can
contrive to disappear from the parson in the dark. And there are
the lodgings in Bayswater, to which no inquisitive strangers have
traced either you or me, ready and waiting to swallow us up--the
lodgings in which we can escape all further molestation, and
answer the major's inquiries at our ease. Can you see, at last, a
little further than your poor old nose? Is there anything in the
world to prevent your safe disappearance from Pimlico to-night,
and your safe establishment at the new lodgings, in the character
of my respectable reference, half an hour afterward? Oh, fie,
fie, Mother Oldershaw! Go down on your wicked old knees, and
thank your stars that you had a she-devil like me to deal with
this morning!

"Suppose we come now to the only difficulty worth mentioning--
_my_ difficulty. Watched as I am in this house, how am I to join
you without bringing the parson or the parson's servant with me
at my heels?

"Being to all intents and purposes a prisoner here, it seems to
me that I have no choice but to try the old prison plan of
escape: a change of clothes. I have been looking at your
house-maid. Except that we are both light, her face and hair and
my face and hair are as unlike each other as possible. But she is
as nearly as can be my height and size; and (if she only knew how
to dress herself, and had smaller feet) her figure is a very much
better one than it ought to be for a person in her station in
life.

"My idea is to dress her in the clothes I wore in the Gardens
to-day; to send her out, with our reverend enemy in full pursuit
of her; and, as soon as the coast is clear, to slip away myself
and join you. The thing would be quite impossible, of course, if
I had been seen with my veil up; but, as events have turned out,
it is one advantage of the horrible exposure which followed my
marriage that I seldom show myself in public, and never, of
course, in such a populous place as London, without wearing a
thick veil and keeping that veil down. If the house-maid wears my
dress, I don't really see why the house-maid may not be counted
on to represent me to the life.

"The one question is, Can the woman be trusted? If she can, send
me a line, telling her, on your authority, that she is to place
herself at my disposal. I won't say a word till I have heard from
you first.

"Let me have my answer to-night. As long as we were only talking
about my getting the governess's place, I was careless enough how
it ended. But now that we have actually answered Major Milroy's
advertisement, I am in earnest at last. I mean to be Mrs.
Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose; and woe to the man or woman who tries
to stop me! Yours,

"LYDIA GWILT.

"P.S.--I open my letter again to say that you need have no fear
of your messenger being followed on his return to Pimlico. He
will drive to a public-house where he is known, will dismiss the
cab at the door, and will go out again by a back way which is
only used by the landlord and his friends.--L. G."

3. _From Mrs. Oldershaw to Miss Gwilt_.

"Diana Street, 10 o'clock.

"MY DEAR LYDIA--You have written me a heartless letter. If you
had been in my trying position, harassed as I was when I wrote
to you, I should have made allowances for my friend when I found
my friend not so sharp as usual. But the vice of the present age
is a want of consideration for persons in the decline of life.
Morally speaking, you are in a sad state, my dear; and you stand
much in need of a good example. You shall have a good example--I
forgive you.

"Having now relieved my mind by the performance of a good action,
suppose I show you next (though I protest against the vulgarity
of the expression) that I _can_ see a little further than my poor
old nose?

"I will answer your question about the house-maid first. You may
trust her implicitly. She has had her troubles, and has learned
discretion. She also looks your age; though it is only her due to
say that, in this particular, she has some years the advantage of
you. I inclose the necessary directions which will place her
entirely at your disposal.

"And what comes next?

"Your plan for joining me at Bayswater comes next. It is very
well as far as it goes; but it stands sadly in need of a little
judicious improvement. There is a serious necessity (you shall
know why presently) for deceiving the parson far more completely
than you propose to deceive him. I want him to see the
house-maid's face under circumstances which will persuade him
that it is _your_ face. And then, going a step further, I want
him to see the house-maid leave London, under the impression that
he has seen _you_ start on the first stage of your journey to the
Brazils. He didn't believe in that journey when I announced it to
him this afternoon in the street. He may believe in it yet, if
you follow the directions I am now going to give you.

"To-morrow is Saturday. Send the housemaid out in your walking
dress of to-day, just as you propose; but don't stir out
yourself, and don't go near the window. Desire the woman to keep
her veil down, to take half an hour's walk (quite unconscious, of
course, of the parson or his servant at her heels), and then to
come back to you. As soon as she appears, send her instantly to
the open window, instructing her to lift her veil carelessly and
look out. Let her go away again after a minute or two, take off
her bonnet and shawl, and then appear once more at the window,
or, better still, in the balcony outside. She may show herself
again occasionally (not too often) later in the day. And
to-morrow--as we have a professional gentleman to deal with--by
all means send her to church. If these proceedings don't persuade
the parson that the house-maid's face is your face, and if they
don't make him readier to believe in your reformed character than
he was when I spoke to him, I have lived sixty years, my love,
in this vale of tears to mighty little purpose.

"The next day is Monday. I have looked at the shipping
advertisements, and I find that a steamer leaves Liverpool for
the Brazils on Tuesday. Nothing could be more convenient; we will
start you on your voyage under the parson's own eyes. You may
manage it in this way:

"At one o'clock send out the man who cleans the knives and forks
to get a cab; and when he has brought it up to the door, let him
go back and get a second cab, which he is to wait in himself,
round the corner, in the square. Let the house-maid (still in
your dress) drive off, with the necessary boxes, in the first cab
to the North-western Railway. When she is gone, slip out yourself
to the cab waiting round the corner, and come to me at Bayswater.
They may be prepared to follow the house-maid's cab, because they
have seen it at the door; but they won't be prepared to follow
your cab, because it has been hidden round the corner. When the
house-maid has got to the station, and has done her best to
disappear in the crowd (I have chosen the mixed train at 2:10,
so as to give her every chance), you will be safe with me; and
whether they do or do not find out that she does not really start
for Liverpool won't matter by that time. They will have lost all
trace of you; and they may follow the house-maid half over
London, if they like. She has my instructions (inclosed) to leave
the empty boxes to find their way to the lost luggage office and
to go to her friends in the City, and stay there till I write
word that I want her again.

"And what is the object of all this?

"My dear Lydia, the object is your future security (and mine).
We may succeed or we may fail, in persuading the parson that you
have actually gone to the Brazils. If we succeed, we are relieved
of all fear of him. If we fail, he will warn young Armadale to be
careful _of a woman like my house-maid, and not of a woman like
you_. This last gain is a very important one; for we don't know
that Mrs. Armadale may not have told him your maiden name. In
that event, the 'Miss Gwilt' whom he will describe as having
slipped through his fingers here will be so entirely unlike
the 'Miss Gwilt' established at Thorpe Ambrose, as to satisfy
everybody that it is not a case of similarity of persons, but
only a case of similarity of names.

"What do you say now to my improvement on your idea? Are my
brains not quite so addled as you thought them when you wrote?
Don't suppose I'm at all overboastful about my own ingenuity.
Cleverer tricks than this trick of mine are played off on the
public by swindlers, and are recorded in the newspapers every
week. I only want to show you that my assistance is not less
necessary to the success of the Armadale speculation now than
it was when I made our first important discoveries, by means
of the harmless-looking young man and the private inquiry office
in Shadyside Place.

"There is nothing more to say that I know of, except that I am
just going to start for the new lodging, with a box directed in
my new name. The last expiring moments of Mother Oldershaw, of
the Toilet Repository, are close at hand, and the birth of Miss
Gwilt's respectable reference, Mrs. Mandeville, will take place
in a cab in five minutes' time. I fancy I must be still young
at heart, for I am quite in love already with my romantic name;
it sounds almost as pretty as Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose,
doesn't it?

"Good-night, my dear, and pleasant dreams. If any accident
happens between this and Monday, write to me instantly by post.
If no accident happens you will be with me in excellent time
for the earliest inquiries that the major can possibly make.
My last words are, don't go out, and don't venture near the
front windows till Monday comes.

"Affectionately yours,

M. O."

CHAPTER VI.

MIDWINTER IN DISGUISE.

Toward noon on the day of the twenty-first, Miss Milroy was
loitering in the cottage garden--released from duty in the
sick-room by an improvement in her mother's health--when her
attention was attracted by the sound of voices in the park. One
of the voices she instantly recognized as Allan's; the other was
strange to her. She put aside the branches of a shrub near the
garden palings, and, peeping through, saw Allan approaching the
cottage gate, in company with a slim, dark, undersized man, who
was talking and laughing excitably at the top of his voice. Miss
Milroy ran indoors to warn her father of Mr. Armadale's arrival,
and to add that he was bringing with him a noisy stranger, who
was, in all probability, the friend generally reported to be
staying with the squire at the great house.

Had the major's daughter guessed right? Was the squire's
loud-talking, loud-laughing companion the shy, sensitive
Midwinter of other times? It was even so. In Allan's presence,
that morning, an extraordinary change had passed over the
ordinarily quiet demeanor of Allan's friend.

When Midwinter had first appeared in the breakfast-room, after
putting aside Mr. Brock's startling letter, Allan had been too
much occupied to pay any special attention to him. The undecided
difficulty of choosing the day for the audit dinner had pressed
for a settlement once more, and had been fixed at last (under the
butler's advice) for Saturday, the twenty-eighth of the month. It
was only on turning round to remind Midwinter of the ample space
of time which the new arrangement allowed for mastering the
steward's books, that even Allan's flighty attention had been
arrested by a marked change in the face that confronted him. He
had openly noticed the change in his usual blunt manner, and had
been instantly silenced by a fretful, almost an angry, reply.
The two had sat down together to breakfast without the usual
cordiality, and the meal had proceeded gloomily, till Midwinter
himself broke the silence by bursting into the strange outbreak
of gayety which had revealed in Allan's eyes a new side to the
character of his friend.

As usual with most of Allan's judgments, here again the
conclusion was wrong. It was no new side to Midwinter's character
that now presented itself--it was only a new aspect of the one
ever-recurring struggle of Midwinter's life.

Irritated by Allan's discovery of the change in him, and dreading
the next questions that Allan's curiosity might put, Midwinter
had roused himself to efface, by main force, the impression which
his own altered appearance had produced. It was one of those
efforts which no men compass so resolutely as the men of his
quick temper and his sensitive feminine organization. With his
whole mind still possessed by the firm belief that the Fatality
had taken one great step nearer to Allan and himself since the
rector's adventure in Kensington Gardens--with his face still
betraying what he had suffered, under the renewed conviction that
his father's death-bed warning was now, in event after event,
asserting its terrible claim to part him, at any sacrifice, from
the one human creature whom he loved--with the fear still busy at
his heart that the first mysterious vision of Allan's Dream might
be a vision realized, before the new day that now saw the two
Armadales together was a day that had passed over their
heads--with these triple bonds, wrought by his own superstition,
fettering him at that moment as they had never fettered him yet,
he mercilessly spurred his resolution to the desperate effort of
rivaling, in Allan's presence, the gayety and good spirits of
Allan himself.

He talked and laughed, and heaped his plate indiscriminately from
every dish on the breakfast-table. He made noisily merry with
jests that had no humor, and stories that had no point. He first
astonished Allan, then amused him, then won his easily encouraged
confidence on the subject of Miss Milroy. He shouted with
laughter over the sudden development of Allan's views on
marriage, until the servants downstairs began to think that their
master's strange friend had gone mad. Lastly, he had accepted
Allan's proposal that he should be presented to the major's
daughter, and judge of her for himself, as readily, nay, more
readily than it would have been accepted by the least diffident
man living. There the two now stood at the cottage gate
--Midwinter's voice rising louder and louder over Allan's--
Midwinter's natural manner disguised (how madly and miserably
none but he knew!) in a coarse masquerade of boldness--the
outrageous, the unendurable boldness of a shy man.

They were received in the parlor by the major's daughter, pending
the arrival of the major himself.

Allan attempted to present his friend in the usual form. To his
astonishment, Midwinter took the words flippantly out of his
lips, and introduced himself to Miss Milroy with a confident
look, a hard laugh, and a clumsy assumption of ease which
presented him at his worst. His artificial spirits, lashed
continuously into higher and higher effervescence since the
morning, were now mounting hysterically beyond his own control.
He looked and spoke with that terrible freedom of license which
is the necessary consequence, when a diffident man has thrown off
his reserve, of the very effort by which he has broken loose from
his own restraints. He involved himself in a confused medley of
apologies that were not wanted, and of compliments that might
have overflattered the vanity of a savage. He looked backward and
forward from Miss Milroy to Allan, and declared jocosely that he
understood now why his friend's morning walks were always taken
in the same direction. He asked her questions about her mother,
and cut short the answers she gave him by remarks on the weather.
In one breath, he said she must feel the day insufferably hot,
and in another he protested that he quite envied her in her cool
muslin dress.

The major came in.

Before he could say two words, Midwinter overwhelmed him with
the same frenzy of familiarity, and the same feverish fluency
of speech. He expressed his interest in Mrs. Milroy's health in
terms which would have been exaggerated on the lips of a friend
of the family. He overflowed into a perfect flood of apologies
for disturbing the major at his mechanical pursuits. He quoted
Allan's extravagant account of the clock, and expressed his own
anxiety to see it in terms more extravagant still. He paraded his
superficial book knowledge of the great clock at Strasbourg, with
far-fetched jests on the extraordinary automaton figures which
that clock puts in motion--on the procession of the Twelve
Apostles, which walks out under the dial at noon, and on the toy
cock, which crows at St. Peter's appearance--and this before a
man who had studied every wheel in that complex machinery, and
who had passed whole years of his life in trying to imitate it.
"I hear you have outnumbered the Strasbourg apostles, and
outcrowed the Strasbourg cock," he exclaimed, with the tone and
manner of a friend habitually privileged to waive all ceremony;
"and I am dying, absolutely dying, major, to see your wonderful
clock!"

Major Milroy had entered the room with his mind absorbed in his
own mechanical contrivances as usual. But the sudden shock of
Midwinter's familiarity was violent enough to recall him
instantly to himself, and to make him master again, for the time,
of his social resources as a man of the world.

"Excuse me for interrupting you," he said, stopping Midwinter for
the moment, by a look of steady surprise. "I happen to have seen
the clock at Strasbourg; and it sounds almost absurd in my ears
(if you will pardon me for saying so) to put my little experiment
in any light of comparison with that wonderful achievement. There
is nothing else of the kind like it in the world!" He paused, to
control his own mounting enthusiasm; the clock at Strasbourg was
to Major Milroy what the name of Michael Angelo was to Sir Joshua
Reynolds. "Mr. Armadale's kindness has led him to exaggerate a
little," pursued the major, smiling at Allan, and passing over
another attempt of Midwinter's to seize on the talk, as if no
such attempt had been made. "But as there does happen to be this
one point of resemblance between the great clock abroad and the
little clock at home, that they both show what they can do on the
stroke of noon, and as it is close on twelve now, if you still
wish to visit my workshop, Mr. Midwinter, the sooner I show you
the way to it the better." He opened the door, and apologized to
Midwinter, with marked ceremony, for preceding him out of the
room.

"What do you think of my friend?" whispered Allan, as he and Miss
Milroy followed.

"Must I tell you the truth, Mr. Armadale?" she whispered back.

"Of course!"

"Then I don't like him at all!"

"He's the best and dearest fellow in the world, " rejoined the
outspoken Allan. "You'll like him better when you know him
better--I'm sure you will!"

Miss Milroy made a little grimace, implying supreme indifference
to Midwinter, and saucy surprise at Allan's earnest advocacy of
the merits of his friend. "Has he got nothing more interesting to
say to me than _that_," she wondered, privately, "after kissing
my hand twice yesterday morning?"

They were all in the major's workroom before Allan had the chance
of trying a more attractive subject. There, on the top of a rough
wooden case, which evidently contained the machinery, was the
wonderful clock. The dial was crowned by a glass pedestal placed
on rock-work in carved ebony; and on the top of the pedestal sat
the inevitable figure of Time, with his everlasting scythe in his
hand. Below the dial was a little platform, and at either end of
it rose two miniature sentry-boxes, with closed doors.
Externally, this was all that appeared, until the magic moment
came when the clock struck twelve noon.

It wanted then about three minutes to twelve; and Major Milroy
seized the opportunity of explaining what the exhibition was to
be, before the exhibition began.

"At the first words, his mind fell back again into its old
absorption over the one employment of his life. He turned to
Midwinter (who had persisted in talking all the way from the
parlor, and who was talking still) without a trace left in his
manner of the cool and cutting composure with which he had spoken
but a few minutes before. The noisy, familiar man, who had been
an ill-bred intruder in the parlor, became a privileged guest in
the workshop, for _there_ he possessed the all-atoning social
advantage of being new to the performances of the wonderful
clock.

"At the first stroke of twelve, Mr. Midwinter," said the major,
quite eagerly, "keep your eye on the figure of Time: he will move
his scythe, and point it downward to the glass pedestal. You will
next see a little printed card appear behind the glass, which
will tell you the day of the month and the day of the week. At
the last stroke of the clock, Time will lift his scythe again
into its former position, and the chimes will ring a peal. The
peal will be succeeded by the playing of a tune--the favorite
march of my old regiment--and then the final performance of the
clock will follow. The sentry-boxes, which you may observe at
each side, will both open at the same moment. In one of them you
will see the sentinel appear; and from the other a corporal and
two privates will march across the platform to relieve the guard,
and will then disappear, leaving the new sentinel at his post.
I must ask your kind allowances for this last part of the
performance. The machinery is a little complicated, and there are
defects in it which I am ashamed to say I have not yet succeeded
in remedying as I could wish. Sometimes the figures go all wrong,
and sometimes they go all right. I hope they may do their best on
the occasion of your seeing them for the first time."

As the major, posted near his clock, said the last words, his
little audience of three, assembled at the opposite end of the
room, saw the hour-hand and the minute-hand on the dial point
together to twelve. The first stroke sounded, and Time, true to
the signal, moved his scythe. The day of the month and the day of
the week announced themselves in print through the glass pedestal
next; Midwinter applauding their appearance with a noisy
exaggeration of surprise, which Miss Milroy mistook for coarse
sarcasm directed at her father's pursuits, and which Allan
(seeing that she was offended) attempted to moderate by touching
the elbow of his friend. Meanwhile, the performances of the clock
went on. At the last stroke of twelve, Time lifted his scythe
again, the chimes rang, the march tune of the major's old
regiment followed; and the crowning exhibition of the relief
of the guard announced itself in a preliminary trembling of the
sentry-boxes, and a sudden disappearance of the major at the back
of the clock.

The performance began with the opening of the sentry-box on
the right-hand side of the platform, as punctually as could be
desired; the door on the other side, however, was less
tractable--it remained obstinately closed. Unaware of this hitch
in the proceedings, the corporal and his two privates appeared
in their places in a state of perfect discipline, tottered out
across the platform, all three trembling in every limb, dashed
themselves headlong against the closed door on the other side,
and failed in producing the smallest impression on the immovable
sentry presumed to be within. An intermittent clicking, as of the
major's keys and tools at work, was heard in the machinery. The
corporal and his two privates suddenly returned, backward, across
the platform, and shut themselves up with a bang inside their own
door. Exactly at the same moment, the other door opened for the
first time, and the provoking sentry appeared with the utmost
deliberation at his post, waiting to be relieved. He was allowed
to wait. Nothing happened in the other box but an occasional
knocking inside the door, as if the corporal and his privates
were impatient to be let out. The clicking of the major's tools
was heard again among the machinery; the corporal and his party,
suddenly restored to liberty, appeared in a violent hurry, and
spun furiously across the platform. Quick as they were, however,
the hitherto deliberate sentry on the other side now perversely
showed himself to be quicker still. He disappeared like lightning
into his own premises, the door closed smartly after him, the
corporal and his privates dashed themselves headlong against it
for the second time, and the major, appearing again round the
corner of the clock, asked his audience innocently "if they would
be good enough to tell him whether anything had gone wrong?"

The fantastic absurdity of the exhibition, heightened by Major
Milroy's grave inquiry at the end of it, was so irresistibly
ludicrous that the visitors shouted with laughter; and even Miss
Milroy, with all her consideration for her father's sensitive
pride in his clock, could not restrain herself from joining in
the merriment which the catastrophe of the puppets had provoked.
But there are limits even to the license of laughter; and these
limits were ere long so outrageously overstepped by one of the
little party as to have the effect of almost instantly silencing
the other two. The fever of Midwinter's false spirits flamed out
into sheer delirium as the performance of the puppets came to
an end. His paroxysms of laughter followed each other with such
convulsive violence that Miss Milroy started back from him in
alarm, and even the patient major turned on him with a look which
said plainly, Leave the room! Allan, wisely impulsive for once
in his life, seized Midwinter by the arm, and dragged him out by
main force into the garden, and thence into the park beyond.

"Good heavens! what has come to you!" he exclaimed, shrinking
back from the tortured face before him, as he stopped and looked
close at it for the first time.

For the moment, Midwinter was incapable of answering. The
hysterical paroxysm was passing from one extreme to the other.
He leaned against a tree, sobbing and gasping for breath, and
stretched out his hand in mute entreaty to Allan to give him
time.

"You had better not have nursed me through my fever," he said,
faintly, as soon as he could speak. "I'm mad and miserable,
Allan; I have never recovered it. Go back and ask them to forgive
me; I am ashamed to go and ask them myself. I can't tell how it
happened; I can only ask your pardon and theirs." He turned aside
his head quickly so as to conceal his face. "Don't stop here," he
said; "don't look at me; I shall soon get over it." Allan still
hesitated, and begged hard to be allowed to take him back to the
house. It was useless. "You break my heart with your kindness,"
he burst out, passionately. "For God's sake, leave me by my
self!"

Allan went back to she cottage, and pleaded there for indulgence
to Midwinter, with an earnestness and simplicity which raised him
immensely in the major's estimation, but which totally failed to
produce the same favorable impression on Miss Milroy. Little as
she herself suspected it, she was fond enough of Allan already to
be jealous of Allan's friend.

"How excessively absurd!" she thought, pettishly. "As if either
papa or I considered such a person of the slightest consequence!"

"You will kindly suspend your opinion, won't you, Major Milroy?"
said Allan, in his hearty way, at parting.

"With the greatest pleasure! " replied the major, cordially
shaking hands.

"And you, too, Miss Milroy?" added Allan.

Miss Milroy made a mercilessly formal bow. "_My_ opinion, Mr.
Armadale, is not of the slightest consequence."

Allan left the cottage, sorely puzzled to account for Miss
Milroy's sudden coolness toward him. His grand idea of
conciliating the whole neighborhood by becoming a married man
underwent some modification as he closed the garden gate behind
him. The virtue called Prudence and the Squire of Thorpe Ambrose
became personally acquainted with each other, on this occasion,
for the first time; and Allan, entering headlong as usual on the
high-road to moral improvement, actually decided on doing nothing
in a hurry!

A man who is entering on a course of reformation ought, if
virtue is its own reward, to be a man engaged in an essentially
inspiriting pursuit. But virtue is not always its own reward; and
the way that leads to reformation is remarkably ill-lighted for
so respectable a thoroughfare. Allan seemed to have caught the
infection of his friend's despondency. As he walked home, he,
too, began to doubt--in his widely different way, and for his
widely different reasons--whether the life at Thorpe Ambrose was
promising quite as fairly for the future as it had promised at
first.

CHAPTER VII.

THE PLOT THICKENS.

Two messages were waiting for Allan when he returned to the
house. One had been left by Midwinter. "He had gone out for a
long walk, and Mr. Armadale was not to be alarmed if he did not
get back till late in the day." The other message had been left
by "a person from Mr. Pedgift's office," who had called,
according to appointment, while the two gentlemen were away at
the major's. "Mr. Bashwood's respects, and he would have the
honor of waiting on Mr. Armadale again in the course of the
evening."

Toward five o'clock, Midwinter returned, pale and silent. Allan
hastened to assure him that his peace was made at the cottage;
and then, to change the subject, mentioned Mr. Bashwood's
message. Midwinter's mind was so preoccupied or so languid that
he hardly seemed to remember the name. Allan was obliged to
remind him that Bashwood was the elderly clerk, whom Mr. Pedgift
had sent to be his instructor in the duties of the steward's
office. He listened without making any remark, and withdrew to
his room, to rest till dinner-time.

Left by himself, Allan went into the library, to try if he could
while away the time over a book.

He took many volumes off the shelves, and put a few of them back
again; and there he ended. Miss Milroy contrived in some
mysterious manner to get, in this case, between the reader and
the books. Her formal bow and her merciless parting speech dwelt,
try how he might to forget them, on Allan's mind; he began to
grow more and more anxious as the idle hour wore on, to recover
his lost place in her favor. To call again that day at the
cottage, and ask if he had been so unfortunate as to offend her,
was impossible. To put the question in writing with the needful
nicety of expression proved, on trying the experiment, to be a
task beyond his literary reach. After a turn or two up and down
the room, with his pen in his mouth, he decided on the more
diplomatic course (which happened, in this case, to be the
easiest course, too), of writing to Miss Milroy as cordially as
if nothing had happened, and of testing his position in her good
graces by the answer that she sent him back. An invitation of
some kind (including her father, of course, but addressed
directly to herself) was plainly the right thing to oblige her
to send a written reply; but here the difficulty occurred of what
the invitation was to be. A ball was not to be thought of, in his
present position with the resident gentry. A dinner-party, with
no indispensable elderly lady on the premises to receive Miss
Milroy--except Mrs. Gripper, who could only receive her in the
kitchen--was equally out of the question. What was the invitation
to be? Never backward, when he wanted help, in asking for it
right and left in every available direction, Allan, feeling
himself at the end of his own resources, coolly rang the bell,
and astonished the servant who answered it by inquiring how the
late family at Thorpe Ambrose used to amuse themselves, and what
sort of invitations they were in the habit of sending to their
friends.

"The family did what the rest of the gentry did, sir," said the
man, staring at his master in utter bewilderment. "They gave
dinner-parties and balls. And in fine summer weather, sir, like
this, they sometimes had lawn-parties and picnics--"

"That'll do!" shouted Allan. "A picnic's just the thing to please
her. Richard, you're an invaluable man; you may go downstairs
again."

Richard retired wondering, and Richard's master seized his ready
pen.

"DEAR MISS MILROY--Since I left you it has suddenly struck me
that we might have a picnic. A little change and amusement (what
I should call a good shaking-up, if I wasn't writing to a young
lady) is just the thing for you, after being so long indoors
lately in Mrs. Milroy's room. A picnic is a change, and (when the
wine is good) amusement, too. Will you ask the major if he will
consent to the picnic, and come? And if you have got any friends
in the neighborhood who like a picnic, pray ask them too, for
I have got none. It shall be your picnic, but I will provide
everything and take everybody. You shall choose the day, and we
will picnic where you like. I have set my heart on this picnic.

"Believe me, ever yours,

"ALLAN ARMADALE."

On reading over his composition before sealing it up, Allan
frankly acknowledged to himself, this time, that it was not quite
faultless. " 'Picnic' comes in a little too often," he said.
"Never mind; if she likes the idea, she won't quarrel with that."
He sent off the letter on the spot, with strict instructions to
the messenger to wait for a reply.

In half an hour the answer came back on scented paper, without an
erasure anywhere, fragrant to smell, and beautiful to see.

The presentation of the naked truth is one of those exhibitions
from which the native delicacy of the female mind seems
instinctively to revolt. Never were the tables turned more
completely than they were now turned on Allan by his fair
correspondent. Machiavelli himself would never have suspected,
from Miss Milroy's letter, how heartily she had repented her
petulance to the young squire as soon as his back was turned,
and
how extravagantly delighted she was when his invitation was
placed in her hands. Her letter was the composition of a model
young lady whose emotions are all kept under parental lock and
key, and served out for her judiciously as occasion may require.
"Papa," appeared quite as frequently in Miss Milroy's reply as
"picnic" had appeared in Allan's invitation. "Papa" had been as
considerately kind as Mr. Armadale in wishing to procure her a
little change and amusement, and had offered to forego his usual
quiet habits and join the picnic. With "papa's" sanction,
therefore, she accepted, with much pleasure, Mr. Armadale's
proposal; and, at "papa's" suggestion, she would presume on Mr.
Armadale's kindness to add two friends of theirs recently settled
at Thorpe Ambrose, to the picnic party--a widow lady and her son;
the latter in holy orders and in delicate health. If Tuesday next
would suit Mr. Armadale, Tuesday next would suit "papa"--being
the first day he could spare from repairs which were required by
his clock. The rest, by "papa's" advice, she would beg to leave
entirely in Mr. Armadale's hands; and, in the meantime, she would
remain, with "papa's" compliments, Mr. Armadale's truly--ELEANOR
MILROY."

Who would ever have supposed that the writer of that letter had
jumped for joy when Allan's invitation arrived? Who would ever
have suspected that there was an entry already in Miss Milroy's
diary, under that day's date, to this effect: "The sweetest,
dearest letter from _I-know-who_; I'll never behave unkindly to
him again as long as I live?" As for Allan, he was charmed with
the sweet success of his maneuver. Miss Milroy had accepted his
invitation; consequently, Miss Milroy was not offended with him.
It was on the tip of his tongue to mention the correspondence to
his friend when they met at dinner. But there was something in
Midwinter's face and manner (even plain enough for Allan to see)
which warned him to wait a little before he said anything to
revive the painful subject of their visit to the cottage. By
common consent they both avoided all topics connected with Thorpe
Ambrose, not even the visit from Mr. Bashwood, which was to come
with the evening, being referred to by either of them. All
through the dinner they drifted further and further back into the
old endless talk of past times about ships and sailing. When the
butler withdrew from his attendance at table, he came downstairs
with a nautical problem on his mind, and asked his
fellow-servants if they any of them knew the relative merits "on
a wind" and "off a wind" of a schooner and a brig.

The two young men had sat longer at table than usual that day.
When they went out into the garden with their cigars, the summer
twilight fell gray and dim on lawn and flower bed, and narrowed
round them by slow degrees the softly fading circle of the
distant view. The dew was heavy, and, after a few minutes in the
garden, they agreed to go back to the drier ground on the drive
in front of the house.

They were close to the turning which led into the shrubbery, when
there suddenly glided out on them, from behind the foliage, a
softly stepping black figure--a shadow, moving darkly through the
dim evening light. Midwinter started back at the sight of it, and
even the less finely strung nerves of his friend were shaken for
the moment.

"Who the devil are you?" cried Allan.

The figure bared its head in the gray light, and came slowly a
step nearer. Midwinter advanced a step on his side, and looked
closer. It was the man of the timid manners and the mourning
garments, of whom he had asked the way to Thorpe Ambrose where
the three roads met.

"Who are you?" repeated Allan.

"I humbly beg your pardon, sir," faltered the stranger, stepping
back again, confusedly. "The servants told me I should find Mr.
Armadale--"

"What, are you Mr. Bashwood?"

"Yes, if you please, sir."

"I beg your pardon for speaking to you so roughly," said Allan;
"but the fact is, you rather startled me. My name is Armadale
(put on your hat, pray), and this is my friend, Mr. Midwinter,
who wants your help in the steward's office."

"We hardly stand in need of an introduction," said Midwinter.
"I met Mr. Bashwood out walking a few days since, and he was kind
enough to direct me when I had lost my way."

"Put on your hat," reiterated Allan, as Mr. Bashwood, still
bareheaded, stood bowing speechlessly, now to one of the young
men, and now to the other. "My good sir, put on your hat, and let
me show you the way back to the house. Excuse me for noticing
it," added Allan, as the man, in sheer nervous helplessness, let
his hat fall, instead of putting it back on his head; "but you
seem a little out of sorts; a glass of good wine will do you no
harm before you and my friend come to business. Whereabouts did
you meet with Mr. Bashwood, Midwinter, when you lost your way?"

"I am too ignorant of the neighborhood to know. I must refer you
to Mr. Bashwood."

"Come, tell us where it was," said Allan, trying, a little too
abruptly, to set the man at his ease, as they all three walked
back to the house.

The measure of Mr. Bashwood's constitutional timidity seemed to
be filled to the brim by the loudness of Allan's voice and the
bluntness of Allan's request. He ran over in the same feeble flow
of words with which he had deluged Midwinter on the occasion when
they first met.

"It was on the road, sir," he began, addressing himself
alternately to Allan, whom he called, "sir," and to Midwinter,
whom he called by his name, "I mean, if you please, on the road
to Little Gill Beck. A singular name, Mr. Midwinter, and a
singular place; I don't mean the village; I mean the
neighborhood--I mean the 'Broads' beyond the neighborhood.
Perhaps you may have heard of the Norfolk Broads, sir? What they
call lakes in other parts of England, they call Broads here. The
Broads are quite numerous; I think they would repay a visit. You
would have seen the first of them, Mr. Midwinter, if you had
walked on a few miles from where I had the honor of meeting you.
Remarkably numerous, the Broads, sir--situated between this and
the sea. About three miles from the sea, Mr. Midwinter--about
three miles. Mostly shallow, sir, with rivers running between
them. Beautiful; solitary. Quite a watery country, Mr. Midwinter;
quite separate, as it were, in itself. Parties sometimes visit
them, sir--pleasure parties in boats. It's quite a little network
of lakes, or, perhaps--yes, perhaps, more correctly, pools.
There is good sport in the cold weather. The wild fowl are quite
numerous. Yes; the Broads would repay a visit, Mr. Midwinter.
The next time you are walking that way. The distance from here
to Little Gill Beck, and then from Little Gill Beck to Girdler
Broad, which is the first you come to, is altogether not more--"
In sheer nervous inability to leave off, he would apparently
have gone on talking of the Norfolk Broads for the rest of the
evening, if one of his two listeners had not unceremoniously cut
him short before he could find his way into a new sentence.

"Are the Broads within an easy day's drive there and back from
this house?" asked Allan, feeling, if they were, that the place
for the picnic was discovered already.

"Oh, yes, sir; a nice drive--quite a nice easy drive from this
beautiful place!"

They were by this time ascending the portico steps, Allan leading
the way up, and calling to Midwinter and Mr. Bashwood to follow
him into the library, where there was a lighted lamp.

In the interval which elapsed before the wine made its
appearance, Midwinter looked at his chance acquaintance of the
high-road with strangely mingled feelings of compassion and
distrust--of compassion that strengthened in spite of him;
of distrust that persisted in diminishing, try as he might to
encourage it to grow. There, perched comfortless on the edge of
his chair, sat the poor broken-down, nervous wretch, in his worn
black garments, with his watery eyes, his honest old outspoken
wig, his miserable mohair stock, and his false teeth that were
incapable of deceiving anybody--there he sat, politely ill at
ease; now shrinking in the glare of the lamp, now wincing under
the shock of Allan's sturdy voice; a man with the wrinkles of
sixty years in his face, and the manners of a child in the
presence of strangers; an object of pity surely, if ever there
was a pitiable object yet!

"Whatever else you're afraid of, Mr. Bashwood," cried Allan,
pouring out a glass of wine, "don't be afraid of that! There
isn't a headache in a hogshead of it! Make yourself comfortable;
I'll leave you and Mr. Midwinter to talk your business over by
yourselves. It's all in Mr. Midwinter's hands; he acts for me,
and settles everything at his own discretion."

He said those words with a cautious choice of expression very
uncharacteristic of him, and, without further explanation, made
abruptly for the door. Midwinter, sitting near it, noticed his
face as he went out. Easy as the way was into Allan's favor, Mr.
Bashwood, beyond all kind of doubt, had in some unaccountable
manner failed to find it!

The two strangely assorted companions were left together--parted
widely, as it seemed on the surface, from any possible
interchange of sympathy; drawn invisibly one to the other,
nevertheless, by those magnetic similarities of temperament which
overleap all difference of age or station, and defy all apparent
incongruities of mind and character. From the moment when Allan
left the room, the hidden Influence that works in darkness began
slowly to draw the two men together, across the great social
desert which had lain between them up to this day.

Midwinter was the first to approach the subject of the interview.

"May I ask," he began, "if you have been made acquainted with my
position here, and if you know why it is that I require your
assistance?"

Mr. Bashwood--still hesitating and still timid, but manifestly
relieved by Allan's departure--sat further back in his chair, and
ventured on fortifying himself with a modest little sip of wine.

"Yes, sir," he replied; "Mr. Pedgift informed me of all--at least
I think I may say so--of all the circumstances. I am to instruct,
or perhaps, I ought to say to advise--"

"No, Mr. Bashwood; the first word was the best word of the two. I
am quite ignorant of the duties which Mr. Armadale's kindness has
induced him to intrust to me. If I understand right, there can be
no question of your capacity to instruct me, for you once filled
a steward's situation yourself. May I inquire where it was?"

"At Sir John Mellowship's, sir, in West Norfolk. Perhaps you
would like--I have got it with me--to see my testimonial?
Sir John might have dealt more kindly with me; but I have no
complaint to make; it's all done and over now!" His watery eyes
looked more watery still, and the trembling in his hands spread
to his lips as he produced an old dingy letter from his
pocket-book and laid it open on the table.

The testimonial was very briefly and very coldly expressed, but
it was conclusive as far as it went. Sir John considered it only
right to say that he had no complaint to make of any want of
capacity or integrity in his steward. If Mr. Bashwood's domestic
position had been compatible with the continued performance of
his duties on the estate, Sir John would have been glad to keep
him. As it was, embarrassments caused by the state of Mr.
Bashwood's personal affairs had rendered it undesirable that he
should continue in Sir John's service; and on that ground, and
that only, his employer and he had parted. Such was Sir John's
testimony to Mr. Bashwood's character. As Midwinter read the last
lines, he thought of another testimonial, still in his own
possession--of the written character which they had given him
at the school, when they turned their sick usher adrift in the
world. His superstition (distrusting all new events and all new
faces at Thorpe Ambrose) still doubted the man before him as
obstinately as ever. But when he now tried to put those doubts
into words, his heart upbraided him, and he laid the letter on
the table in silence.

The sudden pause in the conversation appeared to startle Mr.
Bashwood. He comforted himself with another little sip of wine,
and, leaving the letter untouched, burst irrepressibly into
words, as if the silence was quite unendurable to him.

"I am ready to answer any question, sir," he began. "Mr. Pedgift
told me that I must answer questions, because I was applying for
a place of trust. Mr. Pedgift said neither you nor Mr. Armadale
was likely to think the testimonial sufficient of itself. Sir
John doesn't say--he might have put it more kindly, but I don't
complain--Sir John doesn't say what the troubles were that lost
me my place. Perhaps you might wish to know--" He stopped
confusedly, looked at the testimonial, and said no more.

"If no interests but mine were concerned in the matter," rejoined
Midwinter, "the testimonial would, I assure you, be quite enough
to satisfy me. But while I am learning my new duties, the person
who teaches me will be really and truly the steward of my
friend's estate. I am very unwilling to ask you to speak on what
may be a painful subject, and I am sadly inexperienced in putting
such questions as I ought to put; but, perhaps, in Mr. Armadale's
interests, I ought to know something more, either from yourself,
or from Mr. Pedgift, if you prefer it--" He, too, stopped
confusedly, looked at the testimonial, and said no more.

There was another moment of silence. The night was warm, and Mr.
Bashwood, among his other misfortunes, had the deplorable
infirmity of perspiring in the palms of the hands. He took out a
miserable little cotton pocket-handkerchief, rolled it up into a
ball, and softly dabbed it to and fro, from one hand to the
other, with the regularity of a pendulum. Performed by other men,
under other circumstances, the action might have been ridiculous.
Performed by this man, at the crisis of the interview, the action
was horrible.

"Mr. Pedgift's time is too valuable, sir, to be wasted on me," he
said. "I will mention what ought to be mentioned myself--if you
will please to allow me. I have been unfortunate in my family.
It is very hard to bear, though it seems not much to tell. My
wife--" One of his hands closed fast on the pocket-handkerchief;
he moistened his dry lips, struggled with himself, and went on.

"My wife, sir," he resumed, "stood a little in my way; she did
me (I am afraid I must confess) some injury with Sir John. Soon
after I got the steward's situation, she contracted--she
took--she fell into habits (I hardly know how to say it) of
drinking. I couldn't break her of it, and I couldn't always
conceal it from Sir John's knowledge. She broke out, and--and
tried his patience once or twice, when he came to my office on
business. Sir John excused it, not very kindly; but still he
excused it. I don't complain of Sir John! I don't complain now
of my wife." He pointed a trembling finger at his miserable
crape-covered beaver hat on the floor. "I'm in mourning for her,"
he said, faintly. "She died nearly a year ago, in the county
asylum here."

His mouth began to work convulsively. He took up the glass of
wine at his side, and, instead of sipping it this time, drained
it to the bottom. "I'm not much used to wine, sir," he said,
conscious, apparently, of the flush that flew into his face as he
drank, and still observant of the obligations of politeness amid
all the misery of the recollections that he was calling up.

"I beg, Mr. Bashwood, you will not distress yourself by telling
me any more," said Midwinter, recoiling from any further sanction
on his part of a disclosure which had already bared the sorrows
of the unhappy man before him to the quick.

"I'm much obliged to you, sir," replied Mr. Bashwood. "But if
I don't detain you too long, and if you will please to remember
that Mr. Pedgift's directions to me were very particular--and,
besides, I only mentioned my late wife because if she hadn't
tried Sir John's patience to begin with, things might have turned
out differently--" He paused, gave up the disjointed sentence
in which he had involved himself, and tried another. "I had only
two children, sir," he went on, advancing to a new point in his
narrative, "a boy and a girl. The girl died when she was a baby.
My son lived to grow up; and it was my son who lost me my place.
I did my best for him; I got him into a respectable office in
London. They wouldn't take him without security. I'm afraid it
was imprudent; but I had no rich friends to help me, and I became
security. My boy turned out badly, sir. He--perhaps you will
kindly understand what I mean, if I say he behaved dishonestly.
His employers consented, at my entreaty, to let him off without
prosecuting. I begged very hard--I was fond of my son James--and
I took him home, and did my best to reform him. He wouldn't stay
with me; he went away again to London; he--I beg your pardon,
sir! I'm afraid I'm confusing things; I'm afraid I'm wandering
from the point."

"No, no," said Midwinter, kindly. "If you think it right to tell
me this sad story, tell it in your own way. Have you seen your
son since he left you to go to London?"

"No, sir. He's in London still, for all I know. When I last heard
of him, he was getting his bread--not very creditably. He was
employed, under the inspector, at the Private Inquiry Office in
Shadyside Place."

He spoke those words--apparently (as events then stood) the most
irrelevant to the matter in hand that had yet escaped him;
actually (as events were soon to be) the most vitally important
that he had uttered yet--he spoke those words absently, looking
about him in confusion, and trying vainly to recover the lost
thread of his narrative.

Midwinter compassionately helped him. "You were telling me,"
he said, "that your son had been the cause of your losing your
place. How did that happen?"

"In this way, sir," said Mr. Bashwood, getting back again
excitedly into the right train of thought. "His employers
consented to let him off; but they came down on his security; and
I was the man. I suppose they were not to blame; the security
covered their loss. I couldn't pay it all out of my savings; I
had to borrow--on the word of a man, sir, I couldn't help it--I
had to borrow. My creditor pressed me; it seemed cruel, but, if
he wanted the money, I suppose it was only just. I was sold out
of house and home. I dare say other gentlemen would have said
what Sir John said; I dare say most people would have refused
to keep a steward who had had the bailiffs after him, and his
furniture sold in the neighborhood. That was how it ended, Mr.
Midwinter. I needn't detain you any longer--here is Sir John's
address, if you wish to apply to him." Midwinter generously
refused to receive the address.

"Thank you kindly, sir," said Mr. Bashwood, getting tremulously
on his legs. "There is nothing more, I think, except--except that
Mr. Pedgift will speak for me, if you wish to inquire into my
conduct in his service. I'm very much indebted to Mr. Pedgift;
he's a little rough with me sometimes, but, if he hadn't taken me
into his office, I think I should have gone to the workhouse when
I left Sir John, I was so broken down." He picked up his dingy
old hat from the floor. "I won't intrude any longer, sir. I shall
be happy to call again if you wish to have time to consider
before you decide-"

"I want no time to consider after what you have told me," replied
Midwinter, warmly, his memory busy, while he spoke, with the time
when _he_ had told _his_ story to Mr. Brock, and was waiting for
a generous word in return, as the man before him was waiting now.
"To-day is Saturday," he went on. "Can you come and give me my
first lesson on Monday morning? I beg your pardon," he added,
interrupting Mr. Bashwood's profuse expressions of
acknowledgment, and stopping him on his way out of the room;
"there is one thing we ought to settle, ought we not? We haven't
spoken yet about your own interest in this matter; I mean, about
the terms." He referred, a little confusedly, to the pecuniary
part of the subject. Mr. Bashwood (getting nearer and nearer to
the door) answered him more confusedly still.

"Anything, sir--anything you think right. I won't intrude any
longer; I'll leave it to you and Mr. Armadale."

"I will send for Mr. Armadale, if you like," said Midwinter,
following him into the hall. "But I am afraid he has as little
experience in matters of this kind as I have. Perhaps, if you see
no objection, we might be guided by Mr. Pedgift?"

Mr. Bashwood caught eagerly at the last suggestion, pushing his
retreat, while he spoke, as far as the front door. "Yes, sir--oh,
yes, yes! nobody better than Mr. Pedgift. Don't--pray don't
disturb Mr. Armadale!" His watery eyes looked quite wild with
nervous alarm as he turned round for a moment in the light of the
hall lamp to make that polite request. If sending for Allan had
been equivalent to unchaining a ferocious watch-dog, Mr. Bashwood
could hardly have been more anxious to stop the proceeding. "I
wish you kindly good-evening, sir," he went on, getting out to
the steps. "I'm much obliged to you. I will be scrupulously
punctual on Monday morning--I hope--I think--I'm sure you will
soon learn everything I can teach you. It's not difficult--oh
dear, no--not difficult at all! I wish you kindly good-evening,
sir. A beautiful night; yes, indeed, a beautiful night for a walk
home."

With those words, all dropping out of his lips one on the top of
the other, and without noticing, in his agony of embarrassment at
effecting his departure, Midwinter's outstretched hand, he went
noiselessly down the steps, and was lost in the darkness of the
night.

As Midwinter turned to re-enter the house, the dining-room door
opened and his friend met him in the hall.

"Has Mr. Bashwood gone?" asked Allan.

"He has gone," replied Midwinter, "after telling me a very sad
story, and leaving me a little ashamed of myself for having
doubted him without any just cause. I have arranged that he is
to give me my first lesson in the steward's office on Monday
morning."

"All right," said Allan. "You needn't be afraid, old boy, of my
interrupting you over your studies. I dare say I'm wrong--but I
don't like Mr. Bashwood."

"I dare say _I'm_ wrong," retorted the other, a little
petulantly. "I do."

The Sunday morning found Midwinter in the park, waiting to
intercept the postman, on the chance of his bringing more news
from Mr. Brock.

At the customary hour the man made his appearance, and placed the
expected letter in Midwinter's hands. He opened it, far away from
all fear of observation this time, and read these lines:

"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--I write more for the purpose of quieting your
anxiety than because I have anything definite to say. In my last
hurried letter I had no time to tell you that the elder of the
two women whom I met in the Gardens had followed me, and spoken
to me in the street. I believe I may characterize what she said
(without doing her any injustice) as a tissue of falsehoods from
beginning to end. At any rate, she confirmed me in the suspicion
that some underhand proceeding is on foot, of which Allan is
destined to be the victim, and that the prime mover in the
conspiracy is the vile woman who helped his mother's marriage and
who hastened his mother's death.

"Feeling this conviction, I have not hesitated to do, for Allan's
sake, what I would have done for no other creature in the world.
I have left my hotel, and have installed myself (with my old
servant Robert) in a house opposite the house to which I traced
the two women. We are alternately on the watch (quite
unsuspected, I am certain, by the people opposite) day and night.
All my feelings, as a gentleman and a clergyman, revolt from such
an occupation as I am now engaged in; but there is no other
choice. I must either do this violence to my own self-respect, or
I must leave Allan, with his easy nature, and in his assailable
position, to defend himself against a wretch who is prepared, I
firmly believe, to take the most unscrupulous advantage of his
weakness and his youth. His mother's dying entreaty has never
left my memory; and, God help me, I am now degrading myself in my
own eyes in consequence.

"There has been some reward already for the sacrifice. This day
(Saturday) I have gained an immense advantage--I have at last
seen the woman's face. She went out with her veil down as before;
and Robert kept her in view, having my instructions, if she
returned to the house, not to follow her back to the door. She
did return to the house; and the result of my precaution was,
as I had expected, to throw her off her guard. I saw her face
unveiled at the window, and afterward again in the balcony. If
any occasion should arise for describing her particularly, you
shall have the description. At present I need only say that she
looks the full age (five-and-thirty) at which you estimated her,
and that she is by no means so handsome a woman as I had (I
hardly know why) expected to see.

"This is all I can now tell you. If nothing more happens by
Monday or Tuesday next, I shall have no choice but to apply to my
lawyers for assistance; though I am most unwilling to trust this
delicate and dangerous matter in other hands than mine. Setting
my own feelings however, out of the question, the business which
has been the cause of my journey to London is too important to be
trifled with much longer as I am trifling with it now. In any and
every case, depend on my keeping you informed of the progress of
events, and believe me yours truly,

"DECIMUS BROCK."

Midwinter secured the letter as he had secured the letter that
preceded it--side by side in his pocket-book with the narrative
of Allan's Dream.

"How many days more?" he asked himself, as he went back to the
house. "How many days more?"

Not many. The time he was waiting for was a time close at hand.

Monday came, and brought Mr. Bashwood, punctual to the appointed
hour. Monday came, and found Allan immersed in his preparations
for the picnic. He held a series of interviews, at home and
abroad, all through the day. He transacted business with Mrs.
Gripper, with the butler, and with the coachman, in their three
several departments of eating, drinking, and driving. He went to
the town to consult his professional advisers on the subject of
the Broads, and to invite both the lawyers, father and son (in
the absence of anybody else in the neighborhood whom he could
ask), to join the picnic. Pedgift Senior (in his department)
supplied general information, but begged to be excused from
appearing at the picnic, on the score of business engagements.
Pedgift Junior (in his department) added all the details; and,
casting business engagements to the winds, accepted the
invitation with the greatest pleasure. Returning from the
lawyer's office, Allan's next proceeding was to go to the major's
cottage and obtain Miss Milroy's approval of the proposed
locality for the pleasure party. This object accomplished, he
returned to his own house, to meet the last difficulty now left
to encounter--the difficulty of persuading Midwinter to join the
expedition to the Broads.

On first broaching the subject, Allan found his friend
impenetrably resolute to remain at home. Midwinter's natural
reluctance to meet the major and his daughter after what had
happened at the cottage, might probably have been overcome. But
Midwinter's determination not to allow Mr. Bashwood's course of
instruction to be interrupted was proof against every effort that
could be made to shake it. After exerting his influence to the
utmost, Allan was obliged to remain contented with a compromise.
Midwinter promised, not very willingly, to join the party toward
evening, at the place appointed for a gypsy tea-making, which was
to close the proceedings of the day. To this extent he would
consent to take the opportunity of placing himself on a friendly
footing with the Milroys. More he could not concede, even to
Allan's persuasion, and for more it would he useless to ask.

The day of the picnic came. The lovely morning, and the cheerful
bustle of preparation for the expedition, failed entirely to
tempt Midwinter into altering his resolution. At the regular hour
he left the breakfast-table to join Mr. Bashwood in the steward's
office. The two were quietly closeted over the books, at the back
of the house, while the packing for the picnic went on in front.
Young Pedgift (short in stature, smart in costume, and
self-reliant in manner) arrived some little time before the hour
for starting, to revise all the arrangements, and to make any
final improvements which his local knowledge might suggest. Allan
and he were still busy in consultation when the first hitch
occurred in the proceedings. The woman-servant from the cottage
was reported to be waiting below for an answer to a note from her
young mistress, which was placed in Allan's hands.

On this occasion Miss Milroy's emotions had apparently got the
better of her sense of propriety. The tone of the letter was
feverish, and the handwriting wandered crookedly up and down in
deplorable freedom from all proper restraint.

"Oh, Mr. Armadale" (wrote the major's daughter), "such a
misfortune! What _are_ we to do? Papa has got a letter from
grandmamma this morning about the new governess. Her reference
has answered all the questions, and she's ready to come at the
shortest notice. Grandmamma thinks (how provoking!) the sooner
the better; and she says we may expect her--I mean the
governess--either to-day or to-morrow. Papa says (he _will_ be so
absurdly considerate to everybody!) that we can't allow Miss
Gwilt to come here (if she comes to-day) and find nobody at home
to receive her. What is to be done? I am ready to cry with
vexation. I have got the worst possible impression (though
grandmamma says she is a charming person) of Miss Gwilt. _Can_
you suggest something, dear Mr. Armadale? I'm sure papa would
give way if you could. Don't stop to write; send me a message
back. I have got a new hat for the picnic; and oh, the agony of
not knowing whether I am to keep it on or take it off. Yours
truly, E. M."

"The devil take Miss Gwilt!" said Allan, staring at his legal
adviser in a state of helpless consternation.

"With all my heart, sir--I don't wish to interfere," remarked
Pedgift Junior. "May I ask what's the matter?"

Allan told him. Mr. Pedgift the younger might have his faults,
but a want of quickness of resource was not among them.

"There's a way out of the difficulty, Mr. Armadale," he said. "If
the governess comes today, let's have her at the picnic."

Allan's eyes opened wide in astonishment.

"All the horses and carriages in the Thorpe Ambrose stables are
not wanted for this small party of ours," proceeded Pedgift
Junior. "Of course not! Very good. If Miss Gwilt comes to-day,
she can't possibly get here before five o'clock. Good again. You
order an open carriage to be waiting at the major's door at that
time, Mr. Armadale, and I'll give the man his directions where to
drive to. When the governess comes to the cottage, let her find
a nice little note of apology (along with the cold fowl, or
whatever else they give her after her journey) begging her to
join us at the picnic, and putting a carriage at her own sole
disposal to take her there. Gad, sir!" said young Pedgift, gayly,
"she _must_ be a Touchy One if she thinks herself neglected after
that!"

"Capital!" cried Allan. "She shall have every attention. I'll
give her the pony-chaise and the white harness, and she shall
drive herself, if she likes."

He scribbled a line to relieve Miss Milroy's apprehensions, and
gave the necessary orders for the pony-chaise. Ten minutes later,
the carriages for the pleasure party were at the door.

"Now we've taken all this trouble about her," said Allan,
reverting to the governess as they left the house, "I wonder, if
she does come today, whether we shall see her at the picnic!"

"Depends, entirely on her age, sir," remarked young Pedgift,
pronouncing judgment with the happy confidence in himself which
eminently distinguished him. "If she's an old one, she'll be
knocked up with the journey, and she'll stick to the cold fowl
and the cottage. If she's a young one, either I know nothing of
women, or the pony in the white harness will bring her to the
picnic."

They started for the major's cottage.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE NORFOLK BROADS.

The little group gathered together in Major Milroy's parlor
to wait for the carriages from Thorpe Ambrose would hardly
have conveyed the idea, to any previously uninstructed person
introduced among them, of a party assembled in expectation
of a picnic. They were almost dull enough, as far as outward
appearances went, to have been a party assembled in expectation
of a marriage.

Even Miss Milroy herself, though conscious, of looking her best
in her bright muslin dress and her gayly feathered new hat, was
at this inauspicious moment Miss Milroy under a cloud. Although
Allan's note had assured her, in Allan's strongest language, that
the one great object of reconciling the governess's arrival with
the celebration of the picnic was an object achieved, the doubt
still remained whether the plan proposed--whatever it might
be--would meet with her father's approval. In a word, Miss Milroy
declined to feel sure of her day's pleasure until the carriage
made its appearance and took her from the door. The major, on his
side, arrayed for the festive occasion in a tight blue frock-coat
which he had not worn for years, and threatened with a whole long
day of separation from his old friend and comrade the clock, was
a man out of his element, if ever such a man existed yet. As for
the friends who had been asked at Allan's request--the widow lady
(otherwise Mrs. Pentecost) and her son (the Reverend Samuel) in
delicate health--two people less capable, apparently of adding to
the hilarity of the day could hardly have been discovered in the
length and breadth of all England. A young man who plays his part
in society by looking on in green spectacles, and listening with
a sickly smile, may be a prodigy of intellect and a mine of
virtue, but he is hardly, perhaps, the right sort of man to have
at a picnic. An old lady afflicted with deafness, whose one
inexhaustible subject of interest is the subject of her son, and
who (on the happily rare occasions when that son opens his lips)
asks everybody eagerly, "What does my boy say?" is a person to be
pitied in respect of her infirmities, and a person to be admired
in respect of her maternal devotedness, but not a person, if the
thing could possibly be avoided, to take to a picnic. Such a man,
nevertheless, was the Reverend Samuel Pentecost, and such a woman
was the Reverend Samuel's mother; and in the dearth of any other
producible guests, there they were, engaged to eat, drink, and be
merry for the day at Mr. Armadale's pleasure party to the Norfolk
Broads.

The arrival of Allan, with his faithful follower, Pedgift Junior,
at his heels, roused the flagging spirits of the party at the
cottage. The plan for enabling the governess to join the picnic,
if she arrived that day, satisfied even Major Milroy's anxiety
to show all proper attention to the lady who was coming into
his house. After writing the necessary note of apology and
invitation, and addressing it in her very best handwriting to
the new governess, Miss Milroy ran upstairs to say good-by to
her mother, and returned with a smiling face and a side look of
relief directed at her father, to announce that there was nothing
now to keep any of them a moment longer indoors. The company at
once directed their steps to the garden gate, and were there met
face to face by the second great difficulty of the day. How were
the six persons of the picnic to be divided between the two open
carriages that were in waiting for them?

Here, again, Pedgift Junior exhibited his invaluable faculty of
contrivance. This highly cultivated young man possessed in an
eminent degree an accomplishment more or less peculiar to all
the young men of the age we live in: he was perfectly capable
of taking his pleasure without forgetting his business. Such a
client as the Master of Thorpe Ambrose fell but seldom in his
father's way, and to pay special but unobtrusive attention to
Allan all through the day was the business of which young
Pedgift, while proving himself to be the life and soul of the
picnic, never once lost sight from the beginning of the
merry-making to the end. He had detected the state of affairs
between Miss Milroy and Allan at glance, and he at once provided
for his client's inclinations in that quarter by offering, in
virtue of his local knowledge, to lead the way in the first
carriage, and by asking Major Milroy and the curate if they would
do him the honor of accompanying him.

"We shall pass a very interesting place to a military man, sir,"
said young Pedgift, addressing the major, with his happy and
unblushing confidence--"the remains of a Roman encampment. And my
father, sir, who is a subscriber," proceeded this rising lawyer,
turning to the curate, "wished me to ask your opinion of the new
Infant School buildings at Little Gill Beck. Would you kindly
give it me as we go along?" He opened the carriage door, and
helped in the major and the curate before they could either of
them start any difficulties. The necessary result followed. Allan
and Miss Milroy rode together in the same carriage, with the
extra convenience of a deaf old lady in attendance to keep the
squire's compliments within the necessary limits.

Never yet had Allan enjoyed such an interview with Miss Milroy as
the interview he now obtained on the road to the Broads.

The dear old lady, after a little anecdote or two on the subject
of her son, did the one thing wanting to secure the perfect
felicity of her two youthful companions: she became considerately
blind for the occasion, as well as deaf. A quarter of an hour
after the carriage left the major's cottage, the poor old soul,
reposing on snug cushions, and fanned by a fine summer air, fell
peaceably asleep. Allan made love, and Miss Milroy sanctioned
the manufacture of that occasionally precious article of human
commerce, sublimely indifferent on both sides to a solemn bass
accompaniment on two notes, played by the curate's mother's
unsuspecting nose. The only interruption to the love-making (the
snoring, being a thing more grave and permanent in its nature,
was not interrupted at all) came at intervals from the carriage
ahead. Not satisfied with having the major's Roman encampment and
the curate's Infant Schools on his mind, Pedgift Junior rose
erect from time to time in his place, and, respectfully hailing
the hindmost vehicle, directed Allan's attention, in a shrill
tenor voice, and with an excellent choice of language, to objects
of interest on the road. The only way to quiet him was to answer,
which Allan invariably did by shouting back, "Yes, beautiful,"
upon which young Pedgift disappeared again in the recesses of the
leading carriage, and took up the Romans and the Infants where he
had left them last.

The scene through which the picnic party was now passing merited
far more attention than it received either from Allan or Allan's
friends.

An hour's steady driving from the major's cottage had taken young
Armadale and his guests beyond the limits of Midwinter's solitary
walk, and was now bringing them nearer and nearer to one of
the strangest and loveliest aspects of nature which the inland
landscape, not of Norfolk only, but of all England, can show.
Little by little the face of the country began to change as
the carriages approached the remote and lonely district of the
Broads. The wheat fields and turnip fields became perceptibly
fewer, and the fat green grazing grounds on either side grew
wider and wider in their smooth and sweeping range. Heaps of dry
rushes and reeds, laid up for the basket-maker and the thatcher,
began to appear at the road-side. The old gabled cottages of the
early part of the drive dwindled and disappeared, and huts with
mud walls rose in their place. With the ancient church towers and
the wind and water mills, which had hitherto been the only lofty
objects seen over the low marshy flat, there now rose all round
the horizon, gliding slow and distant behind fringes of pollard
willows, the sails of invisible boats moving on invisible waters.
All the strange and startling anomalies presented by an inland
agricultural district, isolated from other districts by its
intricate surrounding network of pools and streams--holding
its communications and carrying its produce by water instead
of by land--began to present themselves in closer and closer
succession. Nets appeared on cottage pailings; little
flat-bottomed boats lay strangely at rest among the flowers in
cottage gardens; farmers' men passed to and fro clad in composite
costume of the coast and the field, in sailors' hats, and
fishermen's boots, and plowmen's smocks; and even yet the
low-lying labyrinth of waters, embosomed in its mystery of
solitude, was a hidden labyrinth still. A minute more, and
the carriages took a sudden turn from the hard high-road into
a little weedy lane. The wheels ran noiseless on the damp and
spongy ground. A lonely outlying cottage appeared with its litter
of nets and boats. A few yards further on, and the last morsel of
firm earth suddenly ended in a tiny creek and quay. One turn more
to the end of the quay--and there, spreading its great sheet of
water, far and bright and smooth, on the right hand and the
left--there, as pure in its spotless blue, as still in its
heavenly peacefulness, as the summer sky above it, was the first
of the Norfolk Broads.

The carriages stopped, the love-making broke off, and the
venerable Mrs. Pentecost, recovering the use of her senses at a
moment's notice, fixed her eyes sternly on Allan the instant she
woke.

"I see in your face, Mr. Armadale," said the old lady, sharply,
"that you think I have been asleep."

The consciousness of guilt acts differently on the two sexes. In
nine cases out of ten, it is a much more manageable consciousness
with a woman than with a man. All the confusion, on this
occasion, was on the man's side. While Allan reddened and looked
embarrassed, the quick-witted Miss Milroy instantly embraced
the old lady with a burst of innocent laughter. "He is quite
incapable, dear Mrs. Pentecost," said the little hypocrite,
"of anything so ridiculous as thinking you have been asleep!"

"All I wish Mr. Armadale to know," pursued the old lady, still
suspicious of Allan, "is, that my head being giddy, I am obliged
to close my eyes in a carriage. Closing the eyes, Mr. Armadale,
is one thing, and going to sleep is another. Where is my son?"

The Reverend Samuel appeared silently at the carriage door, and
assisted his mother to get out ("Did you enjoy the drive, Sammy?"
asked the old lady. "Beautiful scenery, my dear, wasn't it?")
Young Pedgift, on whom the arrangements for exploring the Broads
devolved, hustled about, giving his orders to the boatman. Major
Milroy, placid and patient, sat apart on an overturned punt, and
privately looked at his watch. Was it past noon already? More
than an hour past. For the first time, for many a long year, the
famous clock at home had struck in an empty workshop. Time had
lifted his wonderful scythe, and the corporal and his men had
relieved guard, with no master's eye to watch their performances,
with no master's hand to encourage them to do their best. The
major sighed as he put his watch back in his pocket. "I'm afraid
I'm too old for this sort of thing," thought the good man,
looking about him dreamily. "I don't find I enjoy it as much as I
thought I should. When are we going on the water, I wonder?
Where's Neelie?"

Neelie--more properly Miss Milroy--was behind one of the
carriages with the promoter of the picnic. They were immersed in
the interesting subject of their own Christian names, and Allan
was as near a pointblank proposal of marriage as it is well
possible for a thoughtless young gentleman of two-and-twenty
to be.

"Tell me the truth," said Miss Milroy, with her eyes modestly
riveted on the ground. "When you first knew what my name was,
you didn't like it, did you?"

"I like everything that belongs to you," rejoined Allan,
vigorously. "I think Eleanor is a beautiful name; and yet, I
don't know why, I think the major made an improvement when he
changed it to Neelie."

"I can tell you why, Mr. Armadale," said the major's daughter,
with great gravity. 'There are some unfortunate people in this
world whose names are--how can I express it?--whose names are
misfits. Mine is a misfit. I don't blame my parents, for of
course it was impossible to know when I was a baby how I should
grow up. But as things are, I and my name don't fit each other.
When you hear a young lady called Eleanor, you think of a tall,
beautiful, interesting creature directly--the very opposite of
_me_! With my personal appearance, Eleanor sounds ridiculous;
and Neelie, as you yourself remarked, is just the thing. No! no!
don't say any more; I'm tired of the subject. I've got another
name in my head, if we must speak of names, which is much better
worth talking about than mine."

She stole a glance at her companion which said plainly enough,
"The name is yours." Allan advanced a step nearer to her, and
lowered his voice, without the slightest necessity, to a
mysterious whisper. Miss Milroy instantly resumed her
investigation of the ground. She looked at it with such
extraordinary interest that a geologist might have suspected
her of scientific flirtation with the superficial strata.

"What name are you thinking of?" asked Allan.

Miss Milroy addressed her answer, in the form of a remark, to
the superficial strata--and let them do what they liked with it,
in their capacity of conductors of sound. "If I had been a man,"
she said, "I should so like to have been called Allan!"

She felt his eyes on her as she spoke, and, turning her head
aside, became absorbed in the graining of the panel at the back
of the carriage. "How beautiful it is!" she exclaimed, with a
sudden outburst of interest in the vast subject of varnish.
"I wonder how they do it?"

Man persists, and woman yields. Allan declined to shift the
ground from love-making to coach-making. Miss Milroy dropped
the subject.

"Call me by my name, if you really like it," he whispered,
persuasively. "Call me 'Allan' for once; just to try."

She hesitated with a heightened color and a charming smile,
and shook her head. "I couldn't just yet," she answered,
softly.

"May I call you Neelie? Is it too soon?"

She looked at him again, with a sudden disturbance about the
bosom of her dress, and a sudden flash of tenderness in her
dark-gray eyes.

"You know best," she said, faintly, in a whisper.

The inevitable answer was on the tip of Allan's tongue. At the
very instant, however, when he opened his lips, the abhorrent
high tenor of Pedgift Junior, shouting for "Mr. Armadale," rang
cheerfully through the quiet air. At the same moment, from the
other side of the carriage, the lurid spectacles of the Reverend
Samuel showed themselves officiously on the search; and the voice
of the Reverend Samuel's mother (who had, with great dexterity,
put the two ideas of the presence of water and a sudden movement
among the company together) inquired distractedly if anybody was
drowned? Sentiment flies and Love shudders at all demonstrations
of the noisy kind. Allan said: "Damn it," and rejoined young
Pedgift. Miss Milroy sighed, and took refuge with her father.

"I've done it, Mr. Armadale!" cried young Pedgift, greeting his
patron gayly. "We can all go on the water together; I've got the
biggest boat on the Broads. The little skiffs," he added, in a
lower tone, as he led the way to the quay steps, "besides being
ticklish and easily upset, won't hold more than two, with the
boatman; and the major told me he should feel it his duty to go
with his daughter, if we all separated in different boats. I
thought _that_ would hardly do, sir," pursued Pedgift Junior,
with a respectfully sly emphasis on the words. "And, besides,
if we had put the old lady into a skiff, with her weight (sixteen
stone if she's a pound), we might have had her upside down in
the water half her time, which would have occasioned delay, and
thrown what you call a damp on the proceedings. Here's the boat,
Mr. Armadale. What do you think of it?"

The boat added one more to the strangely anomalous objects which
appeared at the Broads. It was nothing less than a stout old
lifeboat, passing its last declining years on the smooth fresh
water, after the stormy days of its youth time on the wild salt
sea. A comfortable little cabin for the use of fowlers in the
winter season had been built amidships, and a mast and sail
adapted for inland navigation had been fitted forward. There
was room enough and to spare for the guests, the dinner, and
the three men in charge. Allan clapped his faithful lieutenant
approvingly on the shoulder; and even Mrs. Pentecost, when
the whole party were comfortably established on board, took
a comparatively cheerful view of the prospects of the picnic.
"If anything happens," said the old lady, addressing the company
generally, "there's one comfort for all of us. My son can swim."

The boat floated out from the creek into the placid waters of the
Broad, and the full beauty of the scene opened on the view.

On the northward and westward, as the boat reached the middle of
the lake, the shore lay clear and low in the sunshine, fringed
darkly at certain points by rows of dwarf trees; and dotted here
and there, in the opener spaces, with windmills and reed-thatched
cottages, of puddled mud. Southward, the great sheet of water
narrowed gradually to a little group of close-nestling islands
which closed the prospect; while to the east a long, gently
undulating line of reeds followed the windings of the Broad, and
shut out all view of the watery wastes beyond. So clear and so
light was the summer air that the one cloud in the eastern
quarter of the heaven was the smoke cloud left by a passing
steamer three miles distant and more on the invisible sea. When
the voices of the pleasure party were still, not a sound rose,
far or near, but the faint ripple at the bows, as the men, with
slow, deliberate strokes of their long poles, pressed the boat
forward softly over the shallow water. The world and the world's
turmoil seemed left behind forever on the land; the silence was
the silence of enchantment--the delicious interflow of the soft
purity of the sky and the bright tranquillity of the lake.

Established in perfect comfort in the boat--the major and his
daughter on one side, the curate and his mother on the other, and
Allan and young Pedgift between the two--the water party floated
smoothly toward the little nest of islands at the end of the
Broad. Miss Milroy was in raptures; Allan was delighted; and the
major for once forgot his clock. Every one felt pleasurably, in
their different ways, the quiet and beauty of the scene. Mrs.
Pentecost, in her way, felt it like a clairvoyant--with closed
eyes.

"Look behind you, Mr. Armadale," whispered young Pedgift. "I
think the parson's beginning to enjoy himself."

An unwonted briskness--portentous apparently of coming
speech--did certainly at that moment enliven the curate's manner.
He jerked his head from side to side like a bird; he cleared his
throat, and clasped his hands, and looked with a gentle interest
at the company. Getting into spirits seemed, in the case of this
excellent person, to be alarmingly like getting into the pulpit.

"Even in this scene of tranquillity," said the Reverend Samuel,
coming out softly with his first contribution to the society in
the shape of a remark, "the Christian mind--led, so to speak,
from one extreme to another--is forcibly recalled to the unstable
nature of all earthly enjoyments. How if this calm should not
last? How if the winds rose and the waters became agitated?"

"You needn't alarm yourself about that, sir," said young Pedgift;
"June's the fine season here--and you can swim."

Mrs. Pentecost (mesmerically affected, in all probability, by the
near neighborhood of her son) opened her eyes suddenly and asked,
with her customary eagerness. "What does my boy say?"

The Reverend Samuel repeated his words in the key that suited
his mother's infirmity. The old lady nodded in high approval,
and pursued her son's train of thought through the medium of
a quotation.

"Ah!" sighed Mrs. Pentecost, with infinite relish, "He rides the
whirlwind, Sammy, and directs the storm!"

"Noble words!" said the Reverend Samuel. "Noble and consoling
words!"

"I say," whispered Allan, "if he goes on much longer in that way,
what's to be done?"

"I told you, papa, it was a risk to ask them," added Miss Milroy,
in another whisper.

"My dear!" remonstrated the major. "We knew nobody else in the
neighborhood, and, as Mr. Armadale kindly suggested our bringing
our friends, what could we do?"

"We can't upset the boat," remarked young Pedgift, with sardonic
gravity. "It's a lifeboat, unfortunately. May I venture to
suggest putting something into the reverend gentleman's mouth,
Mr. Armadale? It's close on three o'clock. What do you say to
ringing the dinner-bell, sir?"

Never was the right man more entirely in the right place than
Pedgift Junior at the picnic. In ten minutes more the boat was
brought to a stand-still among the reeds; the Thorpe Ambrose
hampers were unpacked on the roof of the cabin; and the current
of the curate's eloquence was checked for the day.

How inestimably important in its moral results--and therefore
how praiseworthy in itself--is the act of eating and drinking!
The social virtues center in the stomach. A man who is not a
better husband, father, and brother after dinner than before
is, digestively speaking, an incurably vicious man. What hidden
charms of character disclose themselves, what dormant
amiabilities awaken, when our common humanity gathers together to
pour out the gastric juice! At the opening of the hampers from
Thorpe Ambrose, sweet Sociability (offspring of the happy union
of Civilization and Mrs. Gripper) exhaled among the boating
party, and melted in one friendly fusion the discordant elements
of which that party had hitherto been composed. Now did the
Reverend Samuel Pentecost, whose light had hitherto been hidden
under a bushel, prove at last that he could do something by
proving that he could eat. Now did Pedgift Junior shine brighter
than ever he had shone yet in gems of caustic humor and exquisite
fertilities of resource. Now did the squire, and the squire's
charming guest, prove the triple connection between Champagne
that sparkles, Love that grows bolder, and Eyes whose vocabulary
is without the word No. Now did cheerful old times come back to
the major's memory, and cheerful old stories not told for years
find their way to the major's lips. And now did Mrs. Pentecost,
coming out wakefully in the whole force of her estimable maternal
character, seize on a supplementary fork, and ply that useful
instrument incessantly between the choicest morsels in the whole
round of dishes, and the few vacant places left available on the
Reverend Samuel's plate. "Don't laugh at my son," cried the old
lady, observing the merriment which her proceedings produced
among the company. "It's my fault, poor dear--_I_ make him eat!"
And there are men in this world who, seeing virtues such as these
developed at the table, as they are developed nowhere else, can,
nevertheless, rank the glorious privilege of dining with the
smallest of the diurnal personal worries which necessity imposes
on mankind--with buttoning your waistcoat, for example, or lacing
your stays! Trust no such monster as this with your tender
secrets, your loves and hatreds, your hopes and fears. His heart
is uncorrected by his stomach, and the social virtues are not in
him.

The last mellow hours of the day and the first cool breezes of
the long summer evening had met before the dishes were all laid
waste, and the bottles as empty as bottles should be. This point
in the proceedings attained, the picnic party looked lazily at
Pedgift Junior to know what was to be done next. That
inexhaustible functionary was equal as ever to all the calls on
him. He had a new amusement ready before the quickest of the
company could so much as ask him what that amusement was to be.

"Fond of music on the water, Miss Milroy?" he asked, in his
airiest and pleasantest manner.

Miss Milroy adored music, both on the water and the land--always
excepting the one case when she was practicing the art herself
on the piano at home.

"We'll get out of the reeds first," said young Pedgift. He gave
his orders to the boatmen, dived briskly into the little cabin,
and reappeared with a concertina in his hand. "Neat, Miss Milroy,
isn't it?" he observed, pointing to his initials, inlaid on the
instrument in mother-of-pearl. "My name's Augustus, like my
father's. Some of my friends knock off the 'A,' and call me
'Gustus Junior.' A small joke goes a long way among friends,
doesn't it, Mr. Armadale? I sing a little to my own
accompaniment, ladies and gentlemen; and, if quite agreeable,
I shall be proud and happy to do my best."

"Stop!" cried Mrs. Pentecost; "I dote on music."

With this formidable announcement, the old lady opened a
prodigious leather bag, from which she never parted night or day,
and took out an ear-trumpet of the old-fashioned kind--something
between a key-bugle and a French horn. "I don't care to use the
thing generally," explained Mrs. Pentecost, "because I'm afraid
of its making me deafer than ever. But I can't and won't miss
the music. I dote on music. If you'll hold the other end, Sammy,
I'll stick it in my ear. Neelie, my dear, tell him to begin."

Young Pedgift was troubled with no nervous hesitation. He began
at once, not with songs of the light and modern kind, such as
might have been expected from an amateur of his age and
character, but with declamatory and patriotic bursts of poetry,
set to the bold and blatant music which the people of England
loved dearly at the earlier part of the present century, and
which, whenever they can get it, they love dearly still. "The
Death of Marmion," "The Battle of the Baltic," "The Bay of
Biscay," "Nelson," under various vocal aspects, as exhibited by
the late Braham--these were the songs in which the roaring
concertina and strident tenor of Gustus Junior exulted together.
"Tell me when you're tired, ladies and gentlemen," said the
minstrel solicitor. "There's no conceit about _me_. Will you
have a little sentiment by way of variety? Shall I wind up with
'The Mistletoe Bough' and 'Poor Mary Anne'?"

Having favored his audience with those two cheerful melodies,
young Pedgift respectfully requested the rest of the company to
follow his vocal example in turn, offering, in every case, to
play "a running accompaniment" impromptu, if the singer would
only be so obliging as to favor him with the key-note.

"Go on, somebody!" cried Mrs. Pentecost, eagerly. "I tell you
again, I dote on music. We haven't had half enough yet, have we,
Sammy?"

The Reverend Samuel made no reply. The unhappy man had reasons
of his own--not exactly in his bosom, but a little lower--for
remaining silent, in the midst of the general hilarity and the
general applause. Alas for humanity! Even maternal love is
alloyed with mortal fallibility. Owing much already to his
excellent mother, the Reverend Samuel was now additionally
indebted to her for a smart indigestion.

Nobody, however, noticed as yet the signs and tokens of internal
revolution in the curate's face. Everybody was occupied in
entreating everybody else to sing. Miss Milroy appealed to the
founder of the feast. "Do sing something, Mr. Armadale," she
said; "I should so like to hear you!"

"If you once begin, sir," added the cheerful Pedgift, "you'll
find it get uncommonly easy as you go on. Music is a science
which requires to be taken by the throat at starting."

"With all my heart," said Allan, in his good-humored way. "I know
lots of tunes, but the worst of it is, the words escape me. I
wonder if I can remember one of Moore's Melodies? My poor mother
used to be fond of teaching me Moore's Melodies when I was a
boy."

"Whose melodies?" asked Mrs. Pentecost. "Moore's? Aha! I know Tom
Moore by heart."

"Perhaps in that case you will he good enough to help me, ma'am,
if my memory breaks down," rejoined Allan. "I'll take the easiest
melody in the whole collection, if you'll allow me. Everybody
knows it--'Eveleen's Bower.' "

"I'm familiar, in a general sort of way, with the national
melodies of England, Scotland, and Ireland," said Pedgift Junior.
"I'll accompany you, sir, with the greatest pleasure. This is
the sort of thing, I think." He seated himself cross-legged on
the roof of the cabin, and burst into a complicated musical

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