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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 7 out of 17

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improvisation wonderful to hear--a mixture of instrumental
flourishes and groans; a jig corrected by a dirge, and a dirge
enlivened by a jig. "That's the sort of thing," said young
Pedgift, with his smile of supreme confidence. "Fire away, sir!"

Mrs. Pentecost elevated her trumpet, and Allan elevated his
voice. "Oh, weep for the hour when to Eveleen's Bower--" He
stopped; the accompaniment stopped; the audience waited. "It's a
most extraordinary thing," said Allan; "I thought I had the next
line on the tip of my tongue, and it seems to have escaped me.
I'll begin again, if you have no objection. 'Oh, weep for the
hour when to Eveleen's Bower--' "

"'The lord of the valley with false vows came,'" said Mrs.
Pentecost.

"Thank you, ma'am," said Allan. "Now I shall get on smoothly.
'Oh, weep for the hour when to Eveleen's Bower, the lord of the
valley with false vows came. The moon was shining bright--'"

"No!" said Mrs. Pentecost.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am," remonstrated Allan. "'The moon was
shining bright--' "

"The moon wasn't doing anything of the kind," said Mrs.
Pentecost.

Pedgift Junior, foreseeing a dispute, persevered _sotto voce_
with the accompaniment, in the interests of harmony.

"Moore's own words, ma'am," said Allan, "in my mother's copy
of the Melodies."

"Your mother's copy was wrong," retorted Mrs. Pentecost. "Didn't
I tell you just now that I knew Tom Moore by heart?"

Pedgift Junior's peace-making concertina still flourished and
groaned in the minor key.

"Well, what _did_ the moon do?" asked Allan, in despair.

"What the moon _ought_ to have done, sir, or Tom Moore wouldn't
have written it so," rejoined Mrs. Pentecost. "'The moon hid her
light from the heaven that night, and wept behind her clouds
o'er the maiden's shame!' I wish that young man would leave off
playing," added Mrs. Pentecost, venting her rising irritation on
Gustus Junior. "I've had enough of him--he tickles my ears."

"Proud, I'm sure, ma'am," said the unblushing Pedgift. "The whole
science of music consists in tickling the ears."

"We seem to be drifting into a sort of argument," remarked Major
Milroy, placidly. "Wouldn't it be better if Mr. Armadale went on
with his song?"

"Do go on, Mr. Armadale!" added the major's daughter. "Do go on,
Mr. Pedgift!"

"One of them doesn't know the words, and the other doesn't know
the music," said Mrs. Pentecost. "Let them go on if they can!"

"Sorry to disappoint you, ma'am," said Pedgift Junior; "I'm ready
to go on myself to any extent. Now, Mr. Armadale!"

Allan opened his lips to take up the unfinished melody where
he had last left it. Before he could utter a note, the curate
suddenly rose, with a ghastly face, and a hand pressed
convulsively over the middle region of his waistcoat.

"What's the matter?" cried the whole boating party in chorus.

"I am exceedingly unwell," said the Reverend Samuel Pentecost.
The boat was instantly in a state of confusion. "Eveleen's Bower"
expired on Allan's lips, and even the irrepressible concertina
of Pedgift was silenced at last. The alarm proved to be quite
needless. Mrs. Pentecost's son possessed a mother, and that
mother had a bag. In two seconds the art of medicine occupied the
place left vacant in the attention of the company by the art of
music.

"Rub it gently, Sammy," said Mrs. Pentecost. "I'll get out the
bottles and give you a dose. It's his poor stomach, major. Hold
my trumpet, somebody--and stop the boat. You take that bottle,
Neelie, my dear; and you take this one, Mr. Armadale; and give
them to me as I want them. Ah, poor dear, I know what's the
matter with him! Want of power _here_, major--cold, acid, and
flabby. Ginger to warm him; soda to correct him; sal volatile to
hold him up. There, Sammy! drink it before it settles; and then
go and lie down, my dear, in that dog-kennel of a place they call
the cabin. No more music!" added Mrs. Pentecost, shaking her
forefinger at the proprietor of the concertina--"unless it's a
hymn, and that I don't object to."

Nobody appearing to be in a fit frame of mind for singing a hymn,
the all-accomplished Pedgift drew upon his stores of local
knowledge, and produced a new idea. The course of the boat was
immediately changed under his direction. In a few minutes more,
the company found themselves in a little island creek, with a
lonely cottage at the far end of it, and a perfect forest of
reeds closing the view all round them. "What do you say, ladies
and gentlemen, to stepping on shore and seeing what a
reed-cutter's cottage looks like?" suggested young Pedgift.

"We say yes, to be sure," answered Allan. "I think our spirits
have been a little dashed by Mr. Pentecost's illness and Mrs.
Pentecost's bag," he added, in a whisper to Miss Milroy. "A
change of this sort is the very thing we want to set us all
going again."

He and young Pedgift handed Miss Milroy out of the boat. The
major followed. Mrs. Pentecost sat immovable as the Egyptian
Sphinx, with her bag on her knees, mounting guard over "Sammy"
in the cabin.

"We must keep the fun going, sir," said Allan, as he helped the
major over the side of the boat. "We haven't half done yet with
the enjoyment of the day."

His voice seconded his hearty belief in his own prediction
to such good purpose that even Mrs. Pentecost heard him, and
ominously shook her head.

"Ah!" sighed the curate's mother, "if you were as old as I am,
young gentleman, you wouldn't feel quite so sure of the enjoyment
of the day!"

So, in rebuke of the rashness of youth, spoke the caution of age.
The negative view is notoriously the safe view, all the world
over, and the Pentecost philosophy is, as a necessary
consequence, generally in the right.

CHAPTER IX.

FATE OR CHANCE?

It was close on six o'clock when Allan and his friends left
the boat, and the evening influence was creeping already,
in its mystery and its stillness, over the watery solitude
of the Broads.

The shore in these wild regions was not like the shore
elsewhere. Firm as it looked, the garden ground in front of the
reed-cutter's cottage was floating ground, that rose and fell and
oozed into puddles under the pressure of the foot. The boatmen
who guided the visitors warned them to keep to the path, and
pointed through gaps in the reeds and pollards to grassy places,
on which strangers would have walked confidently, where the crust
of earth was not strong enough to bear the weight of a child over
the unfathomed depths of slime and water beneath. The solitary
cottage, built of planks pitched black, stood on ground that had
been steadied and strengthened by resting it on piles. A little
wooden tower rose at one end of the roof, and served as a lookout
post in the fowling season. From this elevation the eye ranged
far and wide over a wilderness of winding water and lonesome
marsh. If the reed-cutter had lost his boat, he would have been
as completely isolated from all communication with town or
village as if his place of abode had been a light-vessel instead
of a cottage. Neither he nor his family complained of their
solitude, or looked in any way the rougher or the worse for it.
His wife received the visitors hospitably, in a snug little room,
with a raftered ceiling, and windows which looked like windows
in a cabin on board ship. His wife's father told stories of the
famous days when the smugglers came up from the sea at night,
rowing through the net-work of rivers with muffled oars till they
gained the lonely Broads, and sank their spirit casks in the
water, far from the coast-guard's reach. His wild little children
played at hide-and-seek with the visitors; and the visitors
ranged in and out of the cottage, and round and round the morsel
of firm earth on which it stood, surprised and delighted by the
novelty of all they saw. The one person who noticed the advance
of the evening--the one person who thought of the flying time and
the stationary Pentecosts in the boat--was young Pedgift. That
experienced pilot of the Broads looked askance at his watch, and
drew Allan aside at the first opportunity.

"I don't wish to hurry you, Mr. Armadale," said Pedgift Junior;
"but the time is getting on, and there's a lady in the case."

"A lady?" repeated Allan.

"Yes, sir," rejoined young Pedgift. "A lady from London;
connected (if you'll allow me to jog your memory) with a
pony-chaise and white harness."

"Good heavens, the governess!" cried Allan. "Why, we have
forgotten all about her!"

"Don't be alarmed, sir; there's plenty of time, if we only get
into the boat again. This is how it stands, Mr. Armadale. We
settled, if you remember, to have the gypsy tea-making at the
next 'Broad' to this--Hurle Mere?"

"Certainly," said Allan. "Hurle Mere is the place where my friend
Midwinter has promised to come and meet us."

"Hurle Mere is where the governess will be, sir, if your coachman
follows my directions," pursued young Pedgift. "We have got
nearly an hour's punting to do, along the twists and turns of the
narrow waters (which they call The Sounds here) between this and
Hurle Mere; and according to my calculations we must get on board
again in five minutes, if we are to be in time to meet the
governess and to meet your friend."

"We mustn't miss my friend on any account," said Allan; "or the
governess, either, of course. I'll tell the major."

Major Milroy was at that moment preparing to mount the wooden
watch-tower of the cottage to see the view. The ever useful
Pedgift volunteered to go up with him, and rattle off all
the necessary local explanations in half the time which the
reed-cutter would occupy in describing his own neighborhood
to a stranger.

Allan remained standing in front of the cottage, more quiet and
more thoughtful than usual. His interview with young Pedgift had
brought his absent friend to his memory for the first time since
the picnic party had started. He was surprised that Midwinter,
so much in his thoughts on all other occasions, should have been
so long out of his thoughts now. Something troubled him, like
a sense of self-reproach, as his mind reverted to the faithful
friend at home, toiling hard over the steward's books, in his
interests and for his sake. "Dear old fellow," thought Allan, "I
shall be so glad to see him at the Mere; the day's pleasure won't
be complete till he joins us!"

"Should I be right or wrong, Mr. Armadale, if I guessed that you
were thinking of somebody?" asked a voice, softly, behind him.

Allan turned, and found the major's daughter at his side. Miss
Milroy (not unmindful of a certain tender interview which had
taken place behind a carriage) had noticed her admirer standing
thoughtfully by himself, and had determined on giving him another
opportunity, while her father and young Pedgift were at the top
of the watch-tower.

"You know everything," said Allan, smiling. "I _was_ thinking of
somebody."

Miss Milroy stole a glance at him--a glance of gentle
encouragement. There could be but one human creature in Mr.
Armadale's mind after what had passed between them that morning!
It would be only an act of mercy to take him back again at once
to the interrupted conversation of a few hours since on the
subject of names.

"I have been thinking of somebody, too," she said, half-inviting,
half-repelling the coming avowal. "If I tell you the first letter
of my Somebody's name, will you tell me the first letter of
yours?"

"I will tell you anything you like," rejoined Allan, with the
utmost enthusiasm.

She still shrank coquettishly from the very subject that she
wanted to approach. "Tell me your letter first," she said, in
low tones, looking away from him.

Allan laughed. "M," he said, "is my first letter."

She started a little. Strange that he should be thinking of her
by her surname instead of her Christian name; but it mattered
little as long as he _was_ thinking of her.

"What is your letter?" asked Allan.

She blushed and smiled. "A--if you will have it!" she answered,
in a reluctant little whisper. She stole another look at him, and
luxuriously protracted her enjoyment of the coming avowal once
more. "How many syllables is the name in?" she asked, drawing
patterns shyly on the ground with the end of the parasol.

No man with the slightest knowledge of the sex would have been
rash enough, in Allan's position, to tell her the truth. Allan,
who knew nothing whatever of woman's natures, and who told the
truth right and left in all mortal emergencies, answered as if
he had been under examination in a court of justice.

"It's a name in three syllables," he said.

Miss Milroy's downcast eyes flashed up at him like lightning.
"Three!" she repeated in the blankest astonishment.

Allan was too inveterately straightforward to take the warning
even now. "I'm not strong at my spelling, I know," he said, with
his lighthearted laugh. "But I don't think I'm wrong, in calling
Midwinter a name in three syllables. I was thinking of my friend;
but never mind my thoughts. Tell me who A is--tell me whom _you_
were thinking of?"

"Of the first letter of the alphabet, Mr. Armadale, and I beg
positively to inform you of nothing more!"

With that annihilating answer the major's daughter put up her
parasol and walked back by herself to the boat.

Allan stood petrified with amazement. If Miss Milroy had actually
boxed his ears (and there is no denying that she had privately
longed to devote her hand to that purpose), he could hardly have
felt more bewildered than he felt now. "What on earth have I
done?" he asked himself, helplessly, as the major and young
Pedgift joined him, and the three walked down together to the
water-side. "I wonder what she'll say to me next?"

She said absolutely nothing; she never so much as looked at Allan
when he took his place in the boat. There she sat, with her eyes
and her complexion both much brighter than usual, taking the
deepest interest in the curate's progress toward recovery; in the
state of Mrs. Pentecost's spirits; in Pedgift Junior (for whom
she ostentatiously made room enough to let him sit beside her);
in the scenery and the reed-cutter's cottage; in everybody and
everything but Allan--whom she would have married with the
greatest pleasure five minutes since. "I'll never forgive him,"
thought the major's daughter. "To be thinking of that ill-bred
wretch when I was thinking of _him_; and to make me all but
confess it before I found him out! Thank Heaven, Mr. Pedgift
is in the boat!"

In this frame of mind Miss Neelie applied herself forthwith to
the fascination of Pedgift and the discomfiture of Allan. "Oh,
Mr. Pedgift, how extremely clever and kind of you to think of
showing us that sweet cottage! Lonely, Mr. Armadale? I don't
think it's lonely at all; I should like of all things to live
there. What would this picnic have been without you, Mr. Pedgift;
you can't think how I have enjoyed it since we got into the boat.
Cool, Mr. Armadale? What can you possibly mean by saying it's
cool; it's the warmest evening we've had this summer. And the
music, Mr. Pedgift; how nice it was of you to bring your
concertina! I wonder if I could accompany you on the piano? I
would so like to try. Oh, yes, Mr. Armadale, no doubt you meant
to do something musical, too, and I dare say you sing very well
when you know the words; but, to tell you the truth, I always
did, and always shall, hate Moore's Melodies!"

Thus, with merciless dexterity of manipulation, did Miss Milroy
work that sharpest female weapon of offense, the tongue; and thus
she would have used it for some time longer, if Allan had only
shown the necessary jealousy, or if Pedgift had only afforded the
necessary encouragement. But adverse fortune had decreed that she
should select for her victims two men essentially unassailable
under existing circumstances. Allan was too innocent of all
knowledge of female subtleties and susceptibilities to understand
anything, except that the charming Neelie was unreasonably out of
temper with him without the slightest cause. The wary Pedgift, as
became one of the quick-witted youth of the present generation,
submitted to female influence, with his eye fixed immovably all
the time on his own interests. Many a young man of the past
generation, who was no fool, has sacrificed everything for love.
Not one young man in ten thousand of the present generation,
_except_ the fools, has sacrificed a half-penny. The daughters of
Eve still inherit their mother's merits and commit their mother's
faults. But the sons of Adam, in these latter days, are men who
would have handed the famous apple back with a bow, and a
"Thanks, no; it might get me into a scrape." When Allan
--surprised and disappointed--moved away out of Miss Milroy's
reach to the forward part of the boat, Pedgift Junior rose and
followed him. "You're a very nice girl," thought this shrewdly
sensible young man; "but a client's a client; and I am sorry to
inform you, miss, it won't do." He set himself at once to rouse
Allan's spirits by diverting his attention to a new subject.
There was to be a regatta that autumn on one of the Broads, and
his client's opinion as a yachtsman might be valuable to the
committee. "Something new, I should think, to you, sir, in a
sailing match on fresh water?" he said, in his most ingratiatory
manner. And Allan, instantly interested, answered, "Quite new.
Do tell me about it!"

As for the rest of the party at the other end of the boat, they
were in a fair way to confirm Mrs. Pentecost's doubts whether
the hilarity of the picnic would last the day out. Poor Neelie's
natural feeling of irritation under the disappointment which
Allan's awkwardness had inflicted on her was now exasperated
into silent and settled resentment by her own keen sense of
humiliation and defeat. The major had relapsed into his
habitually dreamy, absent manner; his mind was turning
monotonously with the wheels of his clock. The curate still
secluded his indigestion from public view in the innermost
recesses of the cabin; and the curate's mother, with a second
dose ready at a moment's notice, sat on guard at the door. Women
of Mrs. Pentecost's age and character generally enjoy their own
bad spirits. "This," sighed the old lady, wagging her head with a
smile of sour satisfaction "is what you call a day's pleasure, is
it? Ah, what fools we all were to leave our comfortable homes!"

Meanwhile the boat floated smoothly along the windings of the
watery labyrinth which lay between the two Broads. The view on
either side was now limited to nothing but interminable rows
of reeds. Not a sound was heard, far or near; not so much as a
glimpse of cultivated or inhabited land appeared anywhere. "A
trifle dreary hereabouts, Mr. Armadale," said the ever-cheerful
Pedgift. "But we are just out of it now. Look ahead, sir! Here
we are at Hurle Mere."

The reeds opened back on the right hand and the left, and the
boat glided suddenly into the wide circle of a pool. Round the
nearer half of the circle, the eternal reeds still fringed the
margin of the water. Round the further half, the land appeared
again, here rolling back from the pool in desolate sand-hills,
there rising above it in a sweep of grassy shore. At one point
the ground was occupied by a plantation, and at another by the
out-buildings of a lonely old red brick house, with a strip of
by-road near, that skirted the garden wall and ended at the pool.
The sun was sinking in the clear heaven, and the water, where the
sun's reflection failed to tinge it, was beginning to look black
and cold. The solitude that had been soothing, the silence that
had felt like an enchantment, on the other Broad, in the day's
vigorous prime, was a solitude that saddened here--a silence
that struck cold, in the stillness and melancholy of the day's
decline.

The course of the boat was directed across the Mere to a creek
in the grassy shore. One or two of the little flat-bottomed
punts peculiar to the Broads lay in the creek; and the reed
cutters to whom the punts belonged, surprised at the appearance
of strangers, came out, staring silently, from behind an angle
of the old garden wall. Not another sign of life was visible
anywhere. No pony-chaise had been seen by the reed cutters;
no stranger, either man or woman, had approached the shores
of Hurle Mere that day.

Young Pedgift took another look at his watch, and addressed
himself to Miss Milroy. "You may, or may not, see the governess
when you get back to Thorpe Ambrose," he said; "but, as the time
stands now, you won't see her here. You know best, Mr. Armadale,"
he added, turning to Allan, "whether your friend is to be
depended on to keep his appointment?"

"I am certain he is to be depended on," replied Allan, looking
about him--in unconcealed disappointment at Midwinter's absence.

"Very good," pursued Pedgift Junior. "If we light the fire for
our gypsy tea-making on the open ground there, your friend may
find us out, sir, by the smoke. That's the Indian dodge for
picking up a lost man on the prairie, Miss Milroy and it's pretty
nearly wild enough (isn't it?) to be a prairie here!"

There are some temptations--principally those of the smaller
kind--which it is not in the defensive capacity of female human
nature to resist. The temptation to direct the whole force of her
influence, as the one young lady of the party, toward the instant
overthrow of Allan's arrangement for meeting his friend, was too
much for the major's daughter. She turned on the smiling Pedgift
with a look which ought to have overwhelmed him. But who ever
overwhelmed a solicitor?

"I think it's the most lonely, dreary, hideous place I ever saw
in my life!" said Miss Neelie. "If you insist on making tea here,
Mr. Pedgift, don't make any for me. No! I shall stop in the boat;
and, though I am absolutely dying with thirst, I shall touch
nothing till we get back again to the other Broad!"

The major opened his lips to remonstrate. To his daughter's
infinite delight, Mrs. Pentecost rose from her seat before
he could say a word, and, after surveying the whole landward
prospect, and seeing nothing in the shape of a vehicle anywhere,
asked indignantly whether they were going all the way back again
to the place where they had left the carriages in the middle of
the day. On ascertaining that this was, in fact, the arrangement
proposed, and that, from the nature of the country, the carriages
could not have been ordered round to Hurle Mere without, in the
first instance, sending them the whole of the way back to Thorpe
Ambrose, Mrs. Pentecost (speaking in her son's interests)
instantly declared that no earthly power should induce her to
be out on the water after dark. "Call me a boat!" cried the old
lady, in great agitation. "Wherever there's water, there's a
night mist, and wherever there's a night mist, my son Samuel
catches cold. Don't talk to _me_ about your moonlight and your
tea-making--you're all mad! Hi! you two men there!" cried Mrs.
Pentecost, hailing the silent reed cutters on shore. "Sixpence
apiece for you, if you'll take me and my son back in your boat!"

Before young Pedgift could interfere, Allan himself settled the
difficulty this time, with perfect patience and good temper.

"I can't think, Mrs. Pentecost, of your going back in any boat
but the boat you have come out in," he said. "There is not the
least need (as you and Miss Milroy don't like the place) for
anybody to go on shore here but me. I _must_ go on shore. My
friend Midwinter never broke his promise to me yet; and I can't
consent to leave Hurle Mere as long as there is a chance of his
keeping his appointment. But there's not the least reason in the
world why I should stand in the way on that account. You have the
major and Mr. Pedgift to take care of you; and you can get back
to the carriages before dark, if you go at once. I will wait
here, and give my friend half an hour more, and then I can follow
you in one of the reed-cutters' boats."

"That's the most sensible thing, Mr. Armadale, you've said
to-day," remarked Mrs. Pentecost, seating herself again in a
violent hurry

"Tell them to be quick! " cried the old lady, shaking her fist
at the boatmen. "Tell them to be quick!"

Allan gave the necessary directions, and stepped on shore. The
wary Pedgift (sticking fast to his client) tried to follow.

"We can't leave you here alone, sir," he said, protesting eagerly
in a whisper. "Let the major take care of the ladies, and let me
keep you company at the Mere."

"No, no!" said Allan, pressing him back. "They're all in low
spirits on board. If you want to be of service to me, stop like a
good fellow where you are, and do your best to keep the thing
going."

He waved his hand, and the men pushed the boat off from the
shore. The others all waved their hands in return except the
major's daughter, who sat apart from the rest, with her face
hidden under her parasol. The tears stood thick in Neelie's eyes.
Her last angry feeling against Allan died out, and her heart went
back to him penitently the moment he left the boat. "How good he
is to us all!" she thought, "and what a wretch I am!" She got up
with every generous impulse in her nature urging her to make
atonement to him. She got up, reckless of appearances and looked
after him with eager eyes and flushed checks, as he stood alone
on the shore. "Don't be long, Mr. Armadale!" she said, with a
desperate disregard of what the rest of the company thought of
her.

The boat was already far out in the water, and with all Neelie's
resolution the words were spoken in a faint little voice, which
failed to reach Allan's ears. The one sound he heard, as the boat
gained the opposite extremity of the Mere, and disappeared
slowly among the reeds, was the sound of the concertina. The
indefatigable Pedgift was keeping things going--evidently under
the auspices of Mrs. Pentecost--by performing a sacred melody.

Left by himself, Allan lit a cigar, and took a turn backward
and forward on the shore. "She might have said a word to me at
parting!" he thought. "I've done everything for the best; I've
as good as told her how fond of her I am, and this is the way she
treats me!" He stopped, and stood looking absently at the sinking
sun, and the fast-darkening waters of the Mere. Some inscrutable
influence in the scene forced its way stealthily into his mind,
and diverted his thoughts from Miss Milroy to his absent friend.
He started, and looked about him.

The reed-cutters had gone back to their retreat behind the angle
of the wall, not a living creature was visible, not a sound rose
anywhere along the dreary shore. Even Allan's spirits began
to get depressed. It was nearly an hour after the time when
Midwinter had promised to be at Hurle Mere. He had himself
arranged to walk to the pool (with a stable-boy from Thorpe
Ambrose as his guide), by lanes and footpaths which shortened
the distance by the road. The boy knew the country well, and
Midwinter was habitually punctual at all his appointments. Had
anything gone wrong at Thorpe Ambrose? Had some accident happened
on the way? Determined to remain no longer doubting and idling by
himself, Allan made up his mind to walk inland from the Mere, on
the chance of meeting his friend. He went round at once to the
angle in the wall, and asked one of the reedcutters to show him
the footpath to Thorpe Ambrose.

The man led him away from the road, and pointed to a barely
perceptible break in the outer trees of the plantation. After
pausing for one more useless look around him, Allan turned his
back on the Mere and made for the trees.

For a few paces, the path ran straight through the plantation.
Thence it took a sudden turn; and the water and the open country
became both lost to view. Allan steadily followed the grassy
track before him, seeing nothing and hearing nothing, until
he came to another winding of the path. Turning in the new
direction, he saw dimly a human figure sitting alone at the foot
of one of the trees. Two steps nearer were enough to make
the figure familiar to him. "Midwinter!" he exclaimed, in
astonishment. "This is not the place where I was to meet you!
What are you waiting for here?"

Midwinter rose, without answering. The evening dimness among
the trees, which obscured his face, made his silence doubly
perplexing.

Allan went on eagerly questioning him. "Did you come here by
yourself?" he asked. "I thought the boy was to guide you?"

This time Midwinter answered. "When we got as far as these
trees," he said, "I sent the boy back. He told me I was close
to the place, and couldn't miss it."

"What made you stop here when he left you?" reiterated Allan.
"Why didn't you walk on?"

"Don't despise me," answered the other. "I hadn't the courage!"

"Not the courage?" repeated Allan. He paused a moment. "Oh,
I know!" he resumed, putting his hand gayly on Midwinter's
shoulder. "You're still shy of the Milroys. What nonsense, when
I told you myself that your peace was made at the cottage!"

"I wasn't thinking, Allan, of your friends at the cottage.
The truth is, I'm hardly myself to-day. I am ill and unnerved;
trifles startle me." He stopped, and shrank away, under the
anxious scrutiny of Allan's eyes. "If you _will_ have it," he
burst out, abruptly, "the horror of that night on board the Wreck
has got me again; there's a dreadful oppression on my head;
there's a dreadful sinking at my heart. I am afraid of something
happening to us, if we don't part before the day is out. I can't
break my promise to you; for God's sake, release me from it, and
let me go back!"

Remonstrance, to any one who knew Midwinter, was plainly useless
at that moment. Allan humored him. "Come out of this dark,
airless place," he said, "and we will talk about it. The water
and the open sky are within a stone's throw of us. I hate a wood
in the evening; it even gives _me_ the horrors. You have been
working too hard over the steward's books. Come and breathe
freely in the blessed open air."

Midwinter stopped, considered for a moment, and suddenly
submitted.

"You're right," he said, "and I'm wrong, as usual. I'm wasting
time and distressing you to no purpose. What folly to ask you
to let me go back! Suppose you had said yes?"

"Well?" asked Allan.

"Well," repeated Midwinter, "something would have happened at
the first step to stop me, that's all. Come on."

They walked together in silence on the way to the Mere.

At the last turn in the path Allan's cigar went out. While he
stopped to light it again, Midwinter walked on before him, and
was the first to come in sight of the open ground.

Allan had just kindled the match, when, to his surprise, his
friend came back to him round the turn in the path. There was
light enough to show objects more clearly in this part of the
plantation. The match, as Midwinter faced him, dropped on the
instant from Allan's hand.

"Good God!" he cried, starting back, "you look as you looked
on board the Wreck!"

Midwinter held up his band for silence. He spoke with his wild
eyes riveted on Allan's face, with his white lips close at
Allan's ear.

"You remember how I _looked_," he answered, in a whisper. "Do you
remember what I _said_ when you and the doctor were talking of
the Dream?"

"I have forgotten the Dream," said Allan.

As he made that answer, Midwinter took his hand, and led him
round the last turn in the path.

"Do you remember it now?" he asked, and pointed to the Mere.

The sun was sinking in the cloudless westward heaven. The waters
of the Mere lay beneath, tinged red by the dying light. The open
country stretched away, darkening drearily already on the right
hand and the left. And on the near margin of the pool, where all
had been solitude before, there now stood, fronting the sunset,
the figure of a woman.

The two Armadales stood together in silence, and looked at the
lonely figure and the dreary view.

Midwinter was the first to speak.

"Your own eyes have seen it," he said. "Now look at our own
words."

He opened the narrative of the Dream, and held it under Allan's
eyes. His finger pointed to the lines which recorded the first
Vision; his voice, sinking lower and lower, repeated the words:

"The sense came to me of being left alone in the darkness.

"I waited.

"The darkness opened, and showed me the vision--as in a picture
--of a broad, lonely pool, surrounded by open ground. Above
the further margin of the pool I saw the cloudless western sky,
red with the light of sunset.

"On the near margin of the pool there stood the Shadow of
a Woman."

He ceased, and let the hand which held the manuscript drop to his
side. The other hand pointed to the lonely figure, standing with
its back turned on them, fronting the setting sun.

"There," he said, "stands the living Woman, in the Shadow's
place! There speaks the first of the dream warnings to you and
to me! Let the future time find us still together, and the second
figure that stands in the Shadow's place will be Mine."

Even Allan was silenced by the terrible certainty of conviction
with which he spoke.

In the pause that followed, the figure at the pool moved, and
walked slowly away round the margin of the shore. Allan stepped
out beyond the last of the trees, and gained a wider view of
the open ground. The first object that met his eyes was the
pony-chaise from Thorpe Ambrose.

He turned back to Midwinter with a laugh of relief. "What
nonsense have you been talking!" he said. "And what nonsense
have I been listening to! It's the governess at last."

Midwinter made no reply. Allan took him by the arm, and tried to
lead him on. He released himself suddenly, and seized Allan with
both hands, holding him back from the figure at the pool, as he
had held him back from the cabin door on the deck of the timber
ship. Once again the effort was in vain. Once again Allan broke
away as easily as he had broken away in the past time.

"One of us must speak to her," he said. "And if you won't,
I will."

He had only advanced a few steps toward the Mere, when he heard,
or thought he heard, a voice faintly calling after him, once
and once only, the word Farewell. He stopped, with a feeling of
uneasy surprise, and looked round.

"Was that you, Midwinter?" he asked.

There was no answer. After hesitating a moment more, Allan
returned to the plantation. Midwinter was gone.

He looked back at the pool, doubtful in the new emergency what
to do next. The lonely figure had altered its course in the
interval; it had turned, and was advancing toward the trees.
Allan had been evidently either heard or seen. It was impossible
to leave a woman unbefriended, in that helpless position and
in that solitary place. For the second time Allan went out from
the trees to meet her.

As he came within sight of her face, he stopped in ungovernable
astonishment. The sudden revelation of her beauty, as she smiled
and looked at him inquiringly, suspended the movement in his
limbs and the words on his lips. A vague doubt beset him whether
it was the governess, after all.

He roused himself, and, advancing a few paces, mentioned his
name. "May I ask," he added, "if I have the pleasure--?"

The lady met him easily and gracefully half-way. "Major Milroy's
governess," she said. "Miss Gwilt."

CHAPTER X

THE HOUSE-MAID'S FACE.

ALL was quiet at Thorpe Ambrose. The hall was solitary, the rooms
were dark. The servants, waiting for the supper hour in the
garden at the back of the house, looked up at the clear heaven
and the rising moon, and agreed that there was little prospect
of the return of the picnic party until later in the night. The
general opinion, led by the high authority of the cook, predicted
that they might all sit down to supper without the least fear of
being disturbed by the bell. Having arrived at this conclusion,
the servants assembled round the table, and exactly at the moment
when they sat down the bell rang.

The footman, wondering, went up stairs to open the door,
and found to his astonishment Midwinter waiting alone on the
threshold, and looking (in the servant's opinion) miserably ill.
He asked for a light, and, saying he wanted nothing else,
withdrew at once to his room. The footman went back to his
fellow-servants, and reported that something had certainly
happened to his master's friend.

On entering his room, Midwinter closed the door, and hurriedly
filled a bag with the necessaries for traveling. This done, he
took from a locked drawer, and placed in the breast pocket of his
coat, some little presents which Allan had given him--a cigar
case, a purse, and a set of studs in plain gold. Having possessed
himself of these memorials, he snatched up the bag and laid his
hand on the door. There, for the first time, he paused. There,
the headlong haste of all his actions thus far suddenly ceased,
and the hard despair in his face began to soften: he waited, with
the door in his hand.

Up to that moment he had been conscious of but one motive that
animated him, but one purpose that he was resolute to achieve.
"For Allan's sake!" he had said to himself, when he looked back
toward the fatal landscape and saw his friend leaving him to meet
the woman at the pool. "For Allan's sake!" he had said again,
when he crossed the open country beyond the wood, and saw afar,
in the gray twilight, the long line of embankment and the distant
glimmer of the railway lamps beckoning him away already to the
iron road.

It was only when he now paused before he closed the door behind
him--it was only when his own impetuous rapidity of action came
for the first time to a check, that the nobler nature of the man
rose in protest against the superstitious despair which was
hurrying him from all that he held dear. His conviction of the
terrible necessity of leaving Allan for Allan's good had not been
shaken for an instant since he had seen the first Vision of the
Dream realized on the shores of the Mere. But now, for the first
time, his own heart rose against him in unanswerable rebuke. "Go,
if you must and will! but remember the time when you were ill,
and he sat by your bedside; friendless, and he opened his heart
to you--and write, if you fear to speak; write and ask him to
forgive you, before you leave him forever!"

The half-opened door closed again softly. Midwinter sat down at
the writing-table and took up the pen.

He tried again and again, and yet again, to write the farewell
words; he tried, till the floor all round him was littered with
torn sheets of paper. Turn from them which way he would, the old
times still came back and faced him reproachfully. The spacious
bed-chamber in which he sat, narrowed, in spite of him, to the
sick usher's garret at the west-country inn. The kind hand that
had once patted him on the shoulder touched him again; the kind
voice that had cheered him spoke unchangeably in the old friendly
tones. He flung his arms on the table and dropped his head on
them in tearless despair. The parting words that his tongue was
powerless to utter his pen was powerless to write. Mercilessly in
earnest, his superstition pointed to him to go while the time was
his own. Mercilessly in earnest, his love for Allan held him back
till the farewell plea for pardon and pity was written.

He rose with a sudden resolution, and rang for the servant, "When
Mr. Armadale returns," he said, "ask him to excuse my coming
downstairs, and say that I am trying to get to sleep." He locked
the door and put out the light, and sat down alone in the
darkness. "The night will keep us apart," he said; "and time
may help me to write. I may go in the early morning; I may go
while--" The thought died in him uncompleted; and the sharp agony
of the struggle forced to his lips the first cry of suffering
that had escaped him yet.

He waited in the darkness.

As the time stole on, his senses remained mechanically awake, but
his mind began to sink slowly under the heavy strain that had now
been laid on it for some hours past. A dull vacancy possessed
him; he made no attempt to kindle the light and write once more.
He never started; he never moved to the open window, when the
first sound of approaching wheels broke in on the silence of the
night. He heard the carriages draw up at the door; he heard the
horses champing their bits; he heard the voices of Allan and
young Pedgift on the steps; and still he sat quiet in the
darkness, and still no interest was aroused in him by the sounds
that reached his ear from outside.

The voices remained audible after the carriages had been driven
away; the two young men were evidently lingering on the steps
before they took leave of each other. Every word they said
reached Midwinter through the open window. Their one subject of
conversation was the new governess. Allan's voice was loud in her
praise. He had never passed such an hour of delight in his life
as the hour he had spent with Miss Gwilt in the boat, on the way
from Hurle Mere to the picnic party waiting at the other Broad.
Agreeing, on his side, with all that his client said in praise
of the charming stranger, young Pedgift appeared to treat the
subject, when it fell into his hands, from a different point of
view. Miss Gwilt's attractions had not so entirely absorbed his
attention as to prevent him from noticing the impression which
the new governess had produced on her employer and her pupil.

"There's a screw loose somewhere, sir, in Major Milroy's family,"
said the voice of young Pedgift. "Did you notice how the major
and his daughter looked when Miss Gwilt made her excuses for
being late at the Mere? You don't remember? Do you remember what
Miss Gwilt said?"

"Something about Mrs. Milroy, wasn't it?" Allan rejoined.

Young Pedgift's voice dropped mysteriously a note lower.

"Miss Gwilt reached the cottage this afternoon, sir, at the time
when I told you she would reach it, and she would have joined us
at the time I told you she would come, but for Mrs. Milroy. Mrs.
Milroy sent for her upstairs as soon as she entered the house,
and kept her upstairs a good half-hour and more. That was Miss
Gwilt's excuse, Mr. Armadale, for being late at the Mere."

"Well, and what then?"

"You seem to forget, sir, what the whole neighborhood has heard
about Mrs. Milroy ever since the major first settled among us. We
have all been told, on the doctor's own authority, that she is
too great a sufferer to see strangers. Isn't it a little odd that
she should have suddenly turned out well enough to see Miss Gwilt
(in her husband's absence) the moment Miss Gwilt entered the
house?"

"Not a bit of it! Of course she was anxious to make acquaintance
with her daughter's governess."

"Likely enough, Mr. Armadale. But the major and Miss Neelie don't
see it in that light, at any rate. I had my eye on them both when
the governess told them that Mrs. Milroy had sent for her. If
ever I saw a girl look thoroughly frightened, Miss Milroy was
that girl; and (if I may be allowed, in the strictest confidence,
to libel a gallant soldier) I should say that the major himself
was much in the same condition. Take my word for it, sir, there's
something wrong upstairs in that pretty cottage of yours; and
Miss Gwilt is mixed up in it already!"

There was a minute of silence. When the voices were next heard
by Midwinter, they were further away from the house--Allan was
probably accompanying young Pedgift a few steps on his way back.

After a while, Allan's voice was audible once more under the
portico, making inquiries after his friend; answered by the
servant's voice giving Midwinter's message. This brief
interruption over, the silence was not broken again till the time
came for shutting up the house. The servants' footsteps passing
to and fro, the clang of closing doors, the barking of a
disturbed dog in the stable-yard--these sounds warned Midwinter
it was getting late. He rose mechanically to kindle a light.
But his head was giddy, his hand trembled; he laid aside the
match-box, and returned to his chair. The conversation between
Allan and young Pedgift had ceased to occupy his attention the
instant he ceased to hear it; and now again, the sense that the
precious time was failing him became a lost sense as soon as the
house noises which had awakened it had passed away. His energies
of body and mind were both alike worn out; he waited with a
stolid resignation for the trouble that was to come to him with
the coming day.

An interval passed, and the silence was once more disturbed by
voices outside; the voices of a man and a woman this time. The
first few words exchanged between them indicated plainly enough
a meeting of the clandestine kind; and revealed the man as one
of the servants at Thorpe Ambrose, and the woman as one of the
servants at the cottage.

Here again, after the first greetings were over, the subject
of the new governess became the all-absorbing subject of
conversation.

The major's servant was brimful of forebodings (inspired solely
by Miss Gwilt's good looks) which she poured out irrepressibly on
her "sweetheart," try as he might to divert her to other topics.
Sooner or later, let him mark her words, there would be an awful
"upset" at the cottage. Her master, it might be mentioned in
confidence, led a dreadful life with her mistress. The major was
the best of men; he hadn't a thought in his heart beyond his
daughter and his everlasting clock. But only let a nice-looking
woman come near the place, and Mrs. Milroy was jealous of
her--raging jealous, like a woman possessed, on that miserable
sick-bed of hers. If Miss Gwilt (who was certainly good-looking,
in spite of her hideous hair) didn't blow the fire into a flame
before many days more were over their heads, the mistress was
the mistress no longer, but somebody else. Whatever happened,
the fault, this time, would lie at the door of the major's mother.
The old lady and the mistress had had a dreadful quarrel two years
since; and the old lady had gone away in a fury, telling her son,
before all the servants, that, if he had a spark of spirit in
him, he would never submit to his wife's temper as he did. It
would be too much, perhaps, to accuse the major's mother of
purposely picking out a handsome governess to spite the major's
wife. But it might be safely said that the old lady was the last
person in the world to humor the mistress's jealousy, by
declining to engage a capable and respectable governess for her
granddaughter because that governess happened to be blessed with
good looks. How it was all to end (except that it was certain to
end badly) no human creature could say. Things were looking as
black already as things well could. Miss Neelie was crying, after
the day's pleasure (which was one bad sign); the mistress had
found fault with nobody (which was another); the master had
wished her good-night through the door (which was a third); and
the governess had locked herself up in her room (which was the
worst sign of all, for it looked as if she distrusted the
servants). Thus the stream of the woman's gossip ran on, and thus
it reached Midwinter's ears through the window, till the clock in
the stable-yard struck, and stopped the talking. When the last
vibrations of the bell had died away, the voices were not audible
again, and the silence was broken no more.

Another interval passed, and Midwinter made a new effort to rouse
himself. This time he kindled the light without hesitation, and
took the pen in hand.

He wrote at the first trial with a sudden facility of expression,
which, surprising him as he went on, ended in rousing in him
some vague suspicion of himself. He left the table, and bathed
his head and face in water, and came back to read what he had
written. The language was barely intelligible; sentences were
left unfinished; words were misplaced one for the other.
Every line recorded the protest of the weary brain against the
merciless will that had forced it into action. Midwinter tore up
the sheet of paper as he had torn up the other sheets before it,
and, sinking under the struggle at last, laid his weary head on
the pillow. Almost on the instant, exhaustion overcame him, and
before he could put the light out he fell asleep.

He was roused by a noise at the door. The sunlight was pouring
into the room, the candle had burned down into the socket, and
the servant was waiting outside with a letter which had come for
him by the morning's post.

"I ventured to disturb you, sir," said the man, when Midwinter
opened the door, "because the letter is marked 'Immediate,' and
I didn't know but it might be of some consequence."

Midwinter thanked him, and looked at the letter. It _was_ of some
consequence--the handwriting was Mr. Brock's.

He paused to collect his faculties. The torn sheets of paper
on the floor recalled to him in a moment the position in which
he stood. He locked the door again, in the fear that Allan
might rise earlier than usual and come in to make inquiries.
Then--feeling strangely little interest in anything that the
rector could write to him now--he opened Mr. Brock's letter,
and read these lines:

"Tuesday.

"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--It is sometimes best to tell bad news
plainly, in few words. Let me tell mine at once, in one sentence.
My precautions have all been defeated: the woman has escaped me.

"This misfortune--for it is nothing less--happened yesterday
(Monday). Between eleven and twelve in the forenoon of that day,
the business which originally brought me to London obliged me to
go to Doctors' Commons, and to leave my servant Robert to watch
the house opposite our lodging until my return. About an hour
and a half after my departure he observed an empty cab drawn up
at the door of the house. Boxes and bags made their appearance
first; they were followed by the woman herself, in the dress I
had first seen her in. Having previously secured a cab, Robert
traced her to the terminus of the North-Western Railway, saw her
pass through the ticket office, kept her in view till she reached
the platform, and there, in the crowd and confusion caused by
the starting of a large mixed train, lost her. I must do him
the justice to say that he at once took the right course in
this emergency. Instead of wasting time in searching for her
on the platform, he looked along the line of carriages; and he
positively declares that he failed to see her in any one of them.
He admits, at the same time, that his search (conducted between
two o'clock, when he lost sight of her, and ten minutes past,
when the train started) was, in the confusion of the moment,
necessarily an imperfect one. But this latter circumstance, in
my opinion, matters little. I as firmly disbelieve in the woman's
actual departure by that train as if I had searched every one
of the carriages myself; and you, I have no doubt, will entirely
agree with me.

"You now know how the disaster happened. Let us not waste time
and words in lamenting it. The evil is done, and you and I
together must find the way to remedy it.

"What I have accomplished already, on my side, may be told in two
words. Any hesitation I might have previously felt at trusting
this delicate business in strangers' hands was at an end the
moment I heard Robert's news. I went back at once to the city,
and placed the whole matter confidentially before my lawyers.
The conference was a long one, and when I left the office it was
past the post hour, or I should have written to you on Monday
instead of writing today. My interview with the lawyers was not
very encouraging. They warn me plainly that serious difficulties
stand in the way of our recovering the lost trace. But they have
promised to do their best, and we have decided on the course to
be taken, excepting one point on which we totally differ. I must
tell you what this difference is; for, while business keeps me
away from Thorpe Ambrose, you are the only person whom I can
trust to put my convictions to the test.

"The lawyers are of opinion, then, that the woman has been
aware from the first that I was watching her; that there is,
consequently, no present hope of her being rash enough to appear
personally at Thorpe Ambrose; that any mischief she may have it
in contemplation to do will be done in the first instance by
deputy; and that the only wise course for Allan's friends and
guardians to take is to wait passively till events enlighten
them. My own idea is diametrically opposed to this. After what
has happened at the railway, I cannot deny that the woman must
have discovered that I was watching her. But she has no reason to
suppose that she has not succeeded in deceiving me; and I firmly
believe she is bold enough to take us by surprise, and to win or
force her way into Allan's confidence before we are prepared to
prevent her.

"You and you only (while I am detained in London) can decide
whether I am right or wrong--and you can do it in this way.
Ascertain at once whether any woman who is a stranger in the
neighborhood has appeared since Monday last at or near Thorpe
Ambrose. If any such person has been observed (and nobody escapes
observation in the country), take the first opportunity you can
get of seeing her, and ask yourself if her face does or does not
answer certain plain questions which I am now about to write down
for you. You may depend on my accuracy. I saw the woman unveiled
on more than one occasion, and the last time through an excellent
glass.

"1. Is her hair light brown, and (apparently) not very plentiful?
2. Is her forehead high, narrow, and sloping backward from the
brow? 3. Are her eyebrows very faintly marked, and are her eyes
small, and nearer dark than light--either gray or hazel (I have
not seen her close enough to be certain which)? 4. Is her nose
aquiline? 5 Are her lips thin, and is the upper lip long? 6. Does
her complexion look like an originally fair complexion, which has
deteriorated into a dull, sickly paleness? 7 (and lastly). Has
she a retreating chin, and is there on the left side of it a mark
of some kind--a mole or a scar, I can't say which?

"I add nothing about her expression, for you may see her under
circumstances which may partially alter it as seen by me. Test
her by her features, which no circumstances can change. If there
is a stranger in the neighborhood, and if her face answers my
seven questions, _you have found the woman_! Go instantly, in
that case, to the nearest lawyer, and pledge my name and credit
for whatever expenses may be incurred in keeping her under
inspection night and day. Having done this, take the speediest
means of communicating with me; and whether my business is
finished or not, I will start for Norfolk by the first train.

"Always your friend, DECIMUS BROCK."

Hardened by the fatalist conviction that now possessed him,
Midwinter read the rector's confession of defeat, from the
first line to the last, without the slightest betrayal either
of interest or surprise. The one part of the letter at which
he looked back was the closing part of it. "I owe much to Mr.
Brock's kindness," he thought; "and I shall never see Mr. Brock
again. It is useless and hopeless; but he asks me to do it,
and it shall be done. A moment's look at her will be enough--a
moment's look at her with his letter in my hand--and a line to
tell him that the woman is here!"

Again he stood hesitating at the half-opened door; again the
cruel necessity of writing his farewell to Allan stopped him,
and stared him in the face.

He looked aside doubtingly at the rector's letter. "I will write
the two together," he said. "One may help the other." His face
flushed deep as the words escaped him. He was conscious of doing
what he had not done yet--of voluntarily putting off the evil
hour; of making Mr. Brock the pretext for gaining the last
respite left, the respite of time.

The only sound that reached him through the open door was the
sound of Allan stirring noisily in the next room. He stepped at
once into the empty corridor, and meeting no one on the stairs,
made his way out of the house. The dread that his resolution to
leave Allan might fail him if he saw Allan again was as vividly
present to his mind in the morning as it had been all through the
night. He drew a deep breath of relief as he descended the house
steps--relief at having escaped the friendly greeting of the
morning, from the one human creature whom he loved!

He entered the shrubbery with Mr. Brock's letter in his hand,
and took the nearest way that led to the major's cottage. Not
the slightest recollection was in his mind of the talk which had
found its way to his ears during the night. His one reason for
determining to see the woman was the reason which the rector
had put in his mind. The one remembrance that now guided him
to the place in which she lived was the remembrance of Allan's
exclamation when he first identified the governess with the
figure at the pool.

Arrived at the gate of the cottage, he stopped. The thought
struck him that he might defeat his own object if he looked at
the rector's questions in the woman's presence. Her suspicions
would be probably roused, in the first instance, by his asking
to see her (as he had determined to ask, with or without an
excuse), and the appearance of the letter in his hand might
confirm them.

She might defeat him by instantly leaving the room. Determined
to fix the description in his mind first, and then to confront
her, he opened the letter; and, turning away slowly by the side
of the house, read the seven questions which he felt absolutely
assured beforehand the woman's face would answer.

In the morning quiet of the park slight noises traveled far.
A slight noise disturbed Midwinter over the letter.

He looked up and found himself on the brink of a broad grassy
trench, having the park on one side and the high laurel hedge
of an inclosure on the other. The inclosure evidently surrounded
the back garden of the cottage, and the trench was intended to
protect it from being damaged by the cattle grazing in the park.

Listening carefully as the slight sound which had disturbed him
grew fainter, he recognized in it the rustling of women's
dresses. A few paces ahead, the trench was crossed by a bridge
(closed by a wicket gate) which connected the garden with the
park. He passed through the gate, crossed the bridge, and,
opening a door at the other end, found himself in a summer-house
thickly covered with creepers, and commanding a full view of the
garden from end to end.

He looked, and saw the figures of two ladies walking slowly away
from him toward the cottage. The shorter of the two failed to
occupy his attention for an instant; he never stopped to think
whether she was or was not the major's daughter. His eyes were
riveted on the other figure--the figure that moved over the
garden walk with the long, lightly falling dress and the easy,
seductive grace. There, presented exactly as be had seen her once
already--there, with her back again turned on him, was the Woman
at the pool!

There was a chance that they might take another turn in the
garden--a turn back toward the summer-house. On that chance
Midwinter waited. No consciousness of the intrusion that he
was committing had stopped him at the door of the summer-house,
and no consciousness of it troubled him even now. Every finer
sensibility in his nature, sinking under the cruel laceration of
the past night, had ceased to feel. The dogged resolution to do
what he had come to do was the one animating influence left alive
in him. He acted, he even looked, as the most stolid man living
might have acted and looked in his place. He was self-possessed
enough, in the interval of expectation before governess and pupil
reached the end of the walk, to open Mr. Brock's letter, and to
fortify his memory by a last look at the paragraph which
described her face.

He was still absorbed over the description when he heard the
smooth rustle of the dresses traveling toward him again. Standing
in the shadow of the summer-house, he waited while she lessened
the distance between them. With her written portrait vividly
impressed on his mind, and with the clear light of the morning to
help him, his eyes questioned her as she came on; and these were
the answers that her face gave him back.

The hair in the rector's description was light brown and not
plentiful. This woman's hair, superbly luxuriant in its growth,
was of the one unpardonably remarkable shade of color which the
prejudice of the Northern nations never entirely forgives--it was
_red_! The forehead in the rector's description was high, narrow,
and sloping backward from the brow; the eyebrows were faintly
marked; and the eyes small, and in color either gray or hazel.
This woman's forehead was low, upright, and broad toward the
temples; her eyebrows, at once strongly and delicately marked,
were a shade darker than her hair; her eyes, large, bright, and
well opened, were of that purely blue color, without a tinge
in it of gray or green, so often presented to our admiration in
pictures and books, so rarely met with in the living face. The
nose in the rector's description was aquiline. The line of this
woman's nose bent neither outward nor inward: it was the
straight, delicately molded nose (with the short upper lip
beneath) of the ancient statues and busts. The lips in the
rector's description were thin and the upper lip long; the
complexion was of a dull, sickly paleness; the chin retreating
and the mark of a mole or a scar on the left side of it. This
woman's lips were full, rich, and sensual. Her complexion was
the lovely complexion which accompanies such hair as hers--so
delicately bright in its rosier tints, so warmly and softly white
in its gentler gradations of color on the forehead and the neck.
Her chin, round and dimpled, was pure of the slightest blemish
in every part of it, and perfectly in line with her forehead
to the end. Nearer and nearer, and fairer and fairer she came,
in the glow of the morning light--the most startling, the most
unanswerable contradiction that eye could see or mind conceive
to the description in the rector's letter.

Both governess and pupil were close to the summer-house before
they looked that way, and noticed Midwinter standing inside.
The governess saw him first.

"A friend of yours, Miss Milroy?" she asked, quietly, without
starting or betraying any sign of surprise.

Neelie recognized him instantly. Prejudiced against Midwinter
by his conduct when his friend had introduced him at the cottage,
she now fairly detested him as the unlucky first cause of her
misunderstanding with Allan at the picnic. Her face flushed
and she drew back from the summerhouse with an expression of
merciless surprise.

"He is a friend of Mr. Armadale's," she replied sharply. "I don't
know what he wants, or why he is here."

"A friend of Mr. Armadale's!" The governess's face lighted up
with a suddenly roused interest as she repeated the words, She
returned Midwinter's look, still steadily fixed on her, with
equal steadiness on her side.

"For my part," pursued Neelie, resenting Midwinter's
insensibility to her presence on the scene, "I think it a great
liberty to treat papa's garden as if it were the open park!"

The governess turned round, and gently interposed.

"My dear Miss Milroy," she remonstrated, "there are certain
distinctions to be observed. This gentleman is a friend of Mr.
Armadale's. You could hardly express yourself more strongly
if he was a perfect stranger."

"I express my opinion," retorted Neelie, chafing under the
satirically indulgent tone in which the governess addressed her.
"It's a matter of taste, Miss Gwilt; and tastes differ." She
turned away petulantly, and walked back by herself to the
cottage.

"She is very young," said Miss Gwilt, appealing with a smile
to Midwinter's forbearance; "and, as you must see for yourself,
sir, she is a spoiled child." She paused--showed, for an instant
only, her surprise at Midwinter's strange silence and strange
persistency in keeping his eyes still fixed on her--then set
herself, with a charming grace and readiness, to help him out of
the false position in which he stood. "As you have extended your
walk thus far," she resumed, "perhaps you will kindly favor me,
on your return, by taking a message to your friend? Mr. Armadale
has been so good as to invite me to see the Thorpe Ambrose
gardens this morning. Will you say that Major Milroy permits me
to accept the invitation (in company with Miss Milroy) between
ten and eleven o'clock?" For a moment her eyes rested, with a
renewed look of interest, on Midwinter's face. She waited, still
in vain, for an answering word from him--smiled, as if his
extraordinary silence amused rather than angered her--and
followed her pupil back to the cottage.

It was only when the last trace of her had disappeared that
Midwinter roused himself, and attempted to realize the position
in which he stood. The revelation of her beauty was in no respect
answerable for the breathless astonishment which had held him
spell-bound up to this moment. The one clear impression she had
produced on him thus far began and ended with his discovery of
the astounding contradiction that her face offered, in one
feature after another, to the description in Mr. Brock's letter.
All beyond this was vague and misty--a dim consciousness of a
tall, elegant woman, and of kind words, modestly and gracefully
spoken to him, and nothing more.

He advanced a few steps into the garden without knowing why--
stopped, glancing hither and thither like a man lost--recognized
the summer-house by an effort, as if years had elapsed since he
had seen it--and made his way out again, at last, into the park.
Even here, he wandered first in one direction, then in another.
His mind was still reeling under the shock that had fallen on it;
his perceptions were all confused. Something kept him
mechanically in action, walking eagerly without a motive,
walking he knew not where.

A far less sensitively organized man might have been overwhelmed,
as he was overwhelmed now, by the immense, the instantaneous
revulsion of feeling which the event of the last few minutes had
wrought in his mind.

At the memorable instant when he had opened the door of the
summer-house, no confusing influence troubled his faculties.
In all that related to his position toward his friend, he had
reached an absolutely definite conclusion by an absolutely
definite process of thought. The whole strength of the motive
which had driven him into the resolution to part from Allan
rooted itself in the belief that he had seen at Hurle Mere the
fatal fulfillment of the first Vision of the Dream. And this
belief, in its turn, rested, necessarily, on the conviction that
the woman who was the one survivor of the tragedy in Madeira
must be also inevitably the woman whom he had seen standing in
the Shadow's place at the pool. Firm in that persuasion, he had
himself compared the object of his distrust and of the rector's
distrust with the description written by the rector himself--a
description, carefully minute, by a man entirely trustworthy--and
his own eyes had informed him that the woman whom he had seen at
the Mere, and the woman whom Mr. Brock had identified in London,
were not one, but Two. In the place of the Dream Shadow, there
had stood, on the evidence of the rector's letter, not the
instrument of the Fatality--but a stranger!

No such doubts as might have troubled a less superstitious man,
were started in _his_ mind by the discovery that had now opened
on him.

It never occurred to him to ask himself whether a stranger might
not be the appointed instrument of the Fatality, now when the
letter had persuaded him that a stranger had been revealed as
the figure in the dream landscape. No such idea entered or could
enter his mind. The one woman whom _his_ superstition dreaded
was the woman who had entwined herself with the lives of the two
Armadales in the first generation, and with the fortunes of the
two Armadales in the second--who was at once the marked object of
his father's death-bed warning, and the first cause of the family
calamities which had opened Allan's way to the Thorpe Ambrose
estate--the woman, in a word, whom he would have known
instinctively, but for Mr. Brock's letter, to be the woman whom
he had now actually seen.

Looking at events as they had just happened, under the influence
of the misapprehension into which the rector had innocently
misled him, his mind saw and seized its new conclusion
instantaneously, acting precisely as it had acted in the past
time of his interview with Mr. Brock at the Isle of Man.

Exactly as he had once declared it to be an all-sufficient
refutation of the idea of the Fatality, that he had never met
with the timber-ship in any of his voyages at sea, so he now
seized on the similarly derived conclusion, that the whole claim
of the Dream to a supernatural origin stood self-refuted by the
disclosure of a stranger in the Shadow's place. Once started from
this point--once encouraged to let his love for Allan influence
him undividedly again, his mind hurried along the whole resulting
chain of thought at lightning speed. If the Dream was proved
to be no longer a warning from the other world, it followed
inevitably that accident and not fate had led the way to the
night on the Wreck, and that all the events which had happened
since Allan and he had parted from Mr. Brock were events in
themselves harmless, which his superstition had distorted from
their proper shape. In less than a moment his mobile imagination
had taken him back to the morning at Castletown when he had
revealed to the rector the secret of his name; when he had
declared to the rector, with his father's letter before his eyes,
the better faith that was in him. Now once more he felt his heart
holding firmly by the bond of brotherhood between Allan and
himself; now once more he could say with the eager sincerity
of the old time, "If the thought of leaving him breaks my heart,
the thought of leaving him is wrong!" As that nobler conviction
possessed itself again of his mind--quieting the tumult, clearing
the confusion within him--the house at Thorpe Ambrose, with Allan
on the steps, waiting, looking for him, opened on his eyes
through the trees. A sense of illimitable relief lifted his eager
spirit high above the cares, and doubts, and fears that had
oppressed it so long, and showed him once more the better and
brighter future of his early dreams. His eyes filled with tears,
and he pressed the rector's letter, in his wild, passionate way,
to his lips, as he looked at Allan through the vista of the
trees. "But for this morsel of paper," he thought, "my life might
have been one long sorrow to me, and my father's crime might have
parted us forever!"

Such was the result of the stratagem which had shown the
housemaid's face to Mr. Brock as the face of Miss Gwilt. And
so--by shaking Midwinter's trust in his own superstition, in the
one case in which that superstition pointed to the truth--did
Mother Oldershaw's cunning triumph over difficulties and dangers
which had never been contemplated by Mother Oldershaw herself.

CHAPTER XI.

MISS GWILT AMONG THE QUICKSANDS.

1. _From the Rev. Decimus Brock to Ozias Midwinter_.

"Thursday.

"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--No words can tell what a relief it was to me
to get your letter this morning, and what a happiness I honestly
feel in having been thus far proved to be in the wrong. The
precautions you have taken in case the woman should still confirm
my apprehensions by venturing herself at Thorpe Ambrose seem to
me to be all that can be desired. You are no doubt sure to hear
of her from one or other of the people in the lawyer's office,
whom you have asked to inform you of the appearance of a stranger
in the town.

"I am the more pleased at finding how entirely I can trust you
in this matter; for I am likely to be obliged to leave Allan's
interests longer than I supposed solely in your hands. My visit
to Thorpe Ambrose must, I regret to say, be deferred for two
months. The only one of my brother-clergymen in London who is
able to take my duty for me cannot make it convenient to remove
with his family to Somersetshire before that time. I have no
alternative but to finish my business here, and be back at my
rectory on Saturday next. If anything happens, you will, of
course, instantly communicate with me; and, in that case, be
the inconvenience what it may, I must leave home for Thorpe
Ambrose. If, on the other hand, all goes more smoothly than my
own obstinate apprehensions will allow me to suppose, then Allan
(to whom I have written) must not expect to see me till this day
two months.

"No result has, up to this time, rewarded our exertions to
recover the trace lost at the railway. I will keep my letter
open, however, until post time, in case the next few hours bring
any news.

"Always truly yours,

DECIMUS BROCK.

"P. S.--I have just heard from the lawyers. They have found out
the name the woman passed by in London. If this discovery (not
a very important one, I am afraid) suggests any new course of
proceeding to you, pray act on it at once. The name is--Miss
Gwilt."

2. _From Miss Gwilt to Mrs. Oldershaw_.

The Cottage, Thorpe Ambrose, Saturday, June 28.

"If you will promise not to be alarmed, Mamma Oldershaw, I will
begin this letter in a very odd way, by copying a page of a
letter written by somebody else. You have an excellent memory,
and you may not have forgotten that I received a note from Major
Milroy's mother (after she had engaged me as governess) on Monday
last. It was dated and signed; and here it is, as far as the
first page: 'June 23d, 1851. Dear Madam--Pray excuse my troubling
you, before you go to Thorpe Ambrose, with a word more about the
habits observed in my son's household. When I had the pleasure
of seeing you at two o'clock to-day, in Kingsdown Crescent, I had
another appointment in a distant part of London at three; and,
in the hurry of the moment, one or two little matters escaped me
which I think I ought to impress on your attention.' The rest
of the letter is not of the slightest importance, but the lines
that I have just copied are well worthy of all the attention you
can bestow on them. They have saved me from discovery, my dear,
before I have been a week in Major Milroy's service!

"It happened no later than yesterday evening, and it began and
ended in this manner:

"There is a gentleman here, (of whom I shall have more to say
presently) who is an intimate friend of young Armadale's, and
who bears the strange name of Midwinter. He contrived yesterday
to speak to me alone in the park. Almost as soon as he opened
his lips, I found that my name had been discovered in London
(no doubt by the Somersetshire clergyman); and that Mr. Midwinter
had been chosen (evidently by the same person) to identify the
Miss Gwilt who had vanished from Brompton with the Miss Gwilt
who had appeared at Thorpe Ambrose. You foresaw this danger, I
remember; but you could scarcely have imagined that the exposure
would threaten me so soon.

"I spare you the details of our conversation to come to the end.
Mr. Midwinter put the matter very delicately, declaring, to my
great surprise, that he felt quite certain himself that I was not
the Miss Gwilt of whom his friend was in search; and that he only
acted as he did out of regard to the anxiety of a person whose
wishes he was bound to respect. Would I assist him in setting
that anxiety completely at rest, as far as I was concerned, by
kindly answering one plain question--which he had no other right
to ask me than the right my indulgence might give him? The lost
'Miss Gwilt' had been missed on Monday last, at two o'clock, in
the crowd on the platform of the North-western Railway, in Euston
Square. Would I authorize him to say that on that day, and at
that hour, the Miss Gwilt who was Major Milroy's governess had
never been near the place?

"I need hardly tell you that I seized the fine opportunity he had
given me of disarming all future suspicion. I took a high tone
on the spot, and met him with the old lady's letter. He politely
refused to look at it. I insisted on his looking at it. 'I don't
choose to be mistaken,' I said, 'for a woman who may be a bad
character, because she happens to bear, or to have assumed, the
same name as mine. I insist on your reading the first part of
this letter for my satisfaction, if not for your own.' He was
obliged to comply; and there was the proof, in the old lady's
handwriting, that, at two o'clock on Monday last, she and I were
together in Kingsdown Crescent, which any directory would tell
him is a 'crescent' in Bayswater! I leave you to imagine his
apologies, and the perfect sweetness with which I received them.

"I might, of course, if I had not preserved the letter, have
referred him to you, or to the major's mother, with similar
results. As it is, the object has been gained without trouble or
delay. _I have been proved not to be myself_; and one of the many
dangers that threatened me at Thorpe Ambrose is a danger blown
over from this moment. Your house-maid's face may not be a very
handsome one; but there is no denying that it has done us
excellent service.

"So much for the past; now for the future. You shall hear how I
get on with the people about me; and you shall judge for yourself
what the chances are for and against my becoming mistress of
Thorpe Ambrose.

"Let me begin with young Armadale--because it is beginning with
good news. I have produced the right impression on him already,
and Heaven knows _that_ is nothing to boast of! Any moderately
good-looking woman who chose to take the trouble could make him
fall in love with her. He is a rattle-pated young fool--one of
those noisy, rosy, light-haired, good-tempered men whom I
particularly detest. I had a whole hour alone with him in a boat,
the first day I came here, and I have made good use of my time, I
can tell you, from that day to this. The only difficulty with him
is the difficulty of concealing my own feelings, especially when
he turns my dislike of him into downright hatred by sometimes
reminding me of his mother. I really never saw a man whom I
could use so ill, if I had the opportunity. He will give me the
opportunity, I believe, if no accident happens, sooner than we
calculated on. I have just returned from a party at the great
house, in celebration of the rent-day dinner, and the squire's
attentions to me, and my modest reluctance to receive them, have
already excited general remark.

"My pupil, Miss Milroy, comes next. She, too, is rosy and
foolish; and, what is more, awkward and squat and freckled, and
ill-tempered and ill-dressed. No fear of _her_, though she hates
me like poison, which is a great comfort, for I get rid of her
out of lesson time and walking time. It is perfectly easy to see
that she has made the most of her opportunities with young
Armadale (opportunities, by-the-by, which we never calculated
on), and that she has been stupid enough to let him slip through
her fingers. When I tell you that she is obliged, for the sake
of appearances, to go with her father and me to the little
entertainments at Thorpe Ambrose, and to see how young Armadale
admires me, you will understand the kind of place I hold in her
affections. She would try me past all endurance if I didn't see
that I aggravate her by keeping my temper, so, of course, I keep
it. If I do break out, it will be over our lessons--not over our
French, our grammar, history, and globes--but over our music.
No words can say how I feel for her poor piano. Half the musical
girls in England ought to have their fingers chopped off in the
interests of society, and, if I had my way, Miss Milroy's fingers
should be executed first.

"As for the major, I can hardly stand higher in his estimation
than I stand already. I am always ready to make his breakfast,
and his daughter is not. I can always find things for him when
he loses them, and his daughter can't. I never yawn when he
proses, and his daughter does. I like the poor dear harmless
old gentleman, so I won't say a word more about him.

"Well, here is a fair prospect for the future surely? My good
Oldershaw, there never was a prospect yet without an ugly place
in it. _My_ prospect has two ugly places in it. The name of one
of them is Mrs. Milroy, and the name of the other is Mr.
Midwinter.

"Mrs. Milroy first. Before I had been five minutes in the
cottage, on the day of my arrival, what do you think she did?
She sent downstairs and asked to see me. The message startled me
a little, after hearing from the old lady, in London, that her
daughter-in-law was too great a sufferer to see anybody; but,
of course, when I got her message, I had no choice but to go up
stairs to the sick-room. I found her bedridden with an incurable
spinal complaint, and a really horrible object to look at, but
with all her wits about her; and, if I am not greatly mistaken,
as deceitful a woman, with as vile a temper, as you could find
anywhere in all your long experience. Her excessive politeness,
and her keeping her own face in the shade of the bed-curtains
while she contrived to keep mine in the light, put me on my guard
the moment I entered the room. We were more than half an hour
together, without my stepping into any one of the many clever
little traps she laid for me. The only mystery in her behavior,
which I failed to see through at the time, was her perpetually
asking me to bring her things (things she evidently did not want)
from different parts of the room.

"Since then events have enlightened me. My first suspicions were
raised by overhearing some of the servants' gossip; and I have
been confirmed in my opinion by the conduct of Mrs. Milroy's
nurse.

"On the few occasions when I have happened to be alone with
the major, the nurse has also happened to want something of her
master, and has invariably forgotten to announce her appearance
by knocking, at the door. Do you understand now why Mrs. Milroy
sent for me the moment I got into the house, and what she wanted
when she kept me going backward and forward, first for one thing
and then for another? There is hardly an attractive light in
which my face and figure can be seen, in which that woman's
jealous eyes have not studied them already. I am no longer
puzzled to know why the father and daughter started, and looked
at each other, when I was first presented to them; or why the
servants still stare at me with a mischievous expectation in
their eyes when I ring the bell and ask them to do anything.
It is useless to disguise the truth, Mother Oldershaw, between
you and me. When I went upstairs into that sickroom, I marched
blindfold into the clutches of a jealous woman. If Mrs. Milroy
_can_ turn me out of the house, Mrs. Milroy _will_; and, morning
and night, she has nothing else to do in that bed prison of hers
but to find out the way.

"In this awkward position, my own cautious conduct is admirably
seconded by the dear old major's perfect insensibility. His
wife's jealousy of him is as monstrous a delusion as any that
could be found in a mad-house; it is the growth of her own vile
temper, under the aggravation of an incurable illness. The poor
man hasn't a thought beyond his mechanical pursuits; and I don't
believe he knows at this moment whether I am a handsome woman or
not. With this chance to help me, I may hope to set the nurse's
intrusions and the mistress's contrivances at defiance--for a
time, at any rate. But you know what a jealous woman is, and I
think I know what Mrs. Milroy is; and I own I shall breathe more
freely on the day when young Armadale opens his foolish lips to
some purpose, and sets the major advertising for a new governess.

"Armadale's name reminds me of Armadale's friend. There is more
danger threatening in that quarter; and, what is worse, I don't
feel half as well armed beforehand against Mr. Midwinter as I do
against Mrs. Milroy.

"Everything about this man is more or less mysterious, which
I don't like, to begin with. How does he come to be in the
confidence of the Somersetshire clergyman? How much has that
clergyman told him? How is it that he was so firmly persuaded,
when he spoke to me in the park, that I was not the Miss Gwilt
of whom his friend was in search? I haven't the ghost of an
answer to give to any of those three questions. I can't even
discover who he is, or how he and young Armadale first became
acquainted. I hate him. No, I don't; I only want to find out
about him. He is very young, little and lean, and active and
dark, with bright black eyes which say to me plainly, 'We
belong to a man with brains in his head and a will of his own;
a man who hasn't always been hanging about a country house, in
attendance on a fool.' Yes; I am positively certain Mr. Midwinter
has done something or suffered something in his past life, young
as he is; and I would give I don't know what to get at it. Don't
resent my taking up so much space in my writing about him. He
has influence enough over young Armadale to be a very awkward
obstacle in my way, unless I can secure his good opinion at
starting.

"Well, you may ask, and what is to prevent your securing his good
opinion? I am sadly afraid, Mother Oldershaw, I have got it on
terms I never bargained for I am sadly afraid the man is in love
with me already.

"Don't toss your head and say, 'Just like her vanity!' After
the horrors I have gone through, I have no vanity left; and
a man who admires me is a man who makes me shudder. There was
a time, I own--Pooh! what am I writing? Sentiment, I declare!
Sentiment to _you_! Laugh away, my dear. As for me, I neither
laugh nor cry; I mend my pen, and get on with my--what do
the men call it?--my report.

"The only thing worth inquiring is, whether I am right or wrong
in my idea of the impression I have made on him.

"Let me see; I have been four times in his company. The first
time was in the major's garden, where we met unexpectedly, face
to face. He stood looking at me, like a man petrified, without
speaking a word. The effect of my horrid red hair, perhaps? Quite
likely; let us lay it on my hair. The second time was in going
over the Thorpe Ambrose grounds, with young Armadale on one side
of me, and my pupil (in the sulks) on the other. Out comes Mr.
Midwinter to join us, though he had work to do in the steward's
office, which he had never been known to neglect on any other
occasion. Laziness, possibly? or an attachment to Miss Milroy?
I can't say; we will lay it on Miss Milroy, if you like; I only
know he did nothing but look at _me_. The third time was at the
private interview in the park, which I have told you of already.
I never saw a man so agitated at putting a delicate question to
a woman in my life. But _that_ might have been only awkwardness;
and his perpetually looking back after me when we had parted
might have been only looking back at the view. Lay it on the
view; by all means, lay it on the view! The fourth time was this
very evening, at the little party. They made me play; and, as the
piano was a good one, I did my best. All the company crowded
round me, and paid me their compliments (my charming pupil paid
hers, with a face like a cat's just before she spits), except Mr.
Midwinter. _He_ waited till it was time to go, and then he caught
me alone for a moment in the hall. There was just time for him to
take my hand, and say two words. Shall I tell you _how_ he took
my hand, and what his voice sounded like when he spoke? Quite
needless! You have always told me that the late Mr. Oldershaw
doted on you. Just recall the first time he took your hand, and
whispered a word or two addressed to your private ear. To what
did you attribute his behavior that occasion? I have no doubt, if
you had been playing on the piano in the course of the evening,
you would have attributed it entirely to the music!

"No! you may take my word for it, the harm is done. _This_ man is
no rattle-pated fool, who changes his fancies as readily as he
changes his clothes. The fire that lights those big black eyes of
his is not an easy fire, when a woman has once kindled it, for
that woman to put out. I don't wish to discourage you; I don't
say the changes are against us. But with Mrs. Milroy threatening
me on one side, and Mr. Midwinter on the other, the worst of all
risks to run is the risk of losing time. Young Armadale has
hinted already, as well as such a lout can hint, at a private
interview! Miss Milroy's eyes are sharp, and the nurse's eyes are
sharper; and I shall lose my place if either of them find me out.
No matter! I must take my chance, and give him the interview.
Only let me get him alone, only let me escape the prying eyes of
the women, and--if his friend doesn't come between us--I answer
for the result!

"In the meantime, have I anything more to tell you? Are there any
other people in our way at Thorpe Ambrose? Not another creature!
None of the resident families call here, young Armadale being,
most fortunately, in bad odor in the neighborhood. There are no
handsome highly-bred women to come to the house, and no persons
of consequence to protest against his attentions to a governess.
The only guests he could collect at his party to-night were the
lawyer and his family (a wife, a son, and two daughters), and a
deaf old woman and _her_ son--all perfectly unimportant people,
and all obedient humble servants of the stupid young squire.

"Talking of obedient humble servants, there is one other person
established here, who is employed in the steward's office--a
miserable, shabby, dilapidated old man, named Bashwood. He is a
perfect stranger to me, and I am evidently a perfect stranger to
him, for he has been asking the house-maid at the cottage who I
am. It is paying no great compliment to myself to confess it, but
it is not the less true that I produced the most extraordinary
impression on this feeble old creature the first time he saw me.
He turned all manner of colors, and stood trembling and staring
at me, as if there was something perfectly frightful in my face.
I felt quite startled for the moment, for, of all the ways in
which men have looked at me, no man ever looked at me in that way
before. Did you ever see the boa constrictor fed at the
Zoological Gardens? They put a live rabbit into his cage, and
there is a moment when the two creatures look at each other. I
declare Mr. Bashwood reminded me of the rabbit.

"Why do I mention this? I don't know why. Perhaps I have been
writing too long, and my head is beginning to fail me. Perhaps
Mr. Bashwood's manner of admiring me strikes my fancy by its
novelty. Absurd! I am exciting myself, and troubling you about
nothing. Oh, what a weary, long letter I have written! and how
brightly the stars look at me through the window, and how awfully
quiet the night is! Send me some more of those sleeping drops,
and write me one of your nice, wicked, amusing letters. You shall
hear from me again as soon as I know a little better how it is
all likely to end. Good-night, and keep a corner in your stony
old heart for

L. G."

3. _From Mrs. Oldershaw to Miss Gwilt_.

"Diana Street, Pimlico, Monday.

"MY DEAR LYDIA--I am in no state of mind to write you an amusing
letter. Your news is very discouraging, and the recklessness of
your tone quite alarms me. Consider the money I have already
advanced, and the interests we both have at stake. Whatever else
you are, don't be reckless, for Heaven's sake!

"What can I do? I ask myself, as a woman of business, what can
I do to help you? I can't give you advice, for I am not on the
spot, and I don't know how circumstances may alter from one day
to another. Situated as we are now, I can only be useful in one
way. I can discover a new obstacle that threatens you, and I
think I can remove it.

"You say, with great truth, that there never was a prospect yet
without an ugly place in it, and that there are two ugly places
in your prospect. My dear, there may be _three_ ugly places, if
I don't bestir myself to prevent it; and the name of the third
place will be--Brock! Is it possible you can refer, as you have
done, to the Somersetshire clergyman, and not see that the
progress you make with young Armadale will be, sooner or later,
reported to him by young Armadale's friend? Why, now I think of
it, you are doubly at the parson's mercy! You are at the mercy
of any fresh suspicion which may bring him into the neighborhood
himself at a day's notice; and you are at the mercy of his
interference the moment he hears that the squire is committing
himself with a neighbor's governess. If I can do nothing else,
I can keep this additional difficulty out of your way. And oh,
Lydia, with what alacrity I shall exert myself, after the manner
in which the old wretch insulted me when I told him that pitiable
story in the street! I declare I tingle with pleasure at this new
prospect of making a fool of Mr. Brock.

"And how is it to be done? Just as we have done it already, to be
sure. He has lost 'Miss Gwilt' (otherwise my house-maid), hasn't
he? Very well. He shall find her again, wherever he is now,
suddenly settled within easy reach of him. As long as _she_ stops
in the place, _he_ will stop in it; and as we know he is not at
Thorpe Ambrose, there you are free of him! The old gentleman's
suspicions have given us a great deal of trouble so far. Let us
turn them to some profitable account at last; let us tie him, by
his suspicions, to my house-maid's apron-string. Most refreshing.
Quite a moral retribution, isn't it?

"The only help I need trouble you for is help you can easily
give. Find out from Mr. Midwinter where the parson is now,
and let me know by return of post. If he is in London, I will
personally assist my housemaid in the necessary mystification
of him. If he is anywhere else, I will send her after him,
accompanied by a person on whose discretion I can implicitly
rely.

"You shall have the sleeping drops to-morrow. In the meantime,
I say at the end what I said at the beginning--no recklessness.
Don't encourage poetical feelings by looking at the stars; and
don't talk about the night being awfully quiet. There are people
(in observatories) paid to look at the stars for you; leave it to
them. And as for the night, do what Providence intended you to do
with the night when Providence provided you with eyelids--go to
sleep in it. Affectionately yours,

"MARIA OLDERSHAW."

4. _From the Reverend Decimus Brock to Ozias Midwinter_.

"Bascombe Rectory, West Somerset, Thursday, July 8.

"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--One line before the post goes out, to relieve
you of all sense of responsibility at Thorpe Ambrose, and to make
my apologies to the lady who lives as governess in Major Milroy's
family.

"_The_ Miss Gwilt--or perhaps I ought to say, the woman calling
herself by that name--has, to my unspeakable astonishment, openly
made her appearance here, in my own parish! She is staying at the
inn, accompanied by a plausible-looking man, who passes as her
brother. What this audacious proceeding really means--unless it
marks a new step in the conspiracy against Allan, taken under new
advice--is, of course, more than I can yet find out.

"My own idea is, that they have recognized the impossibility of
getting at Allan, without finding me (or you) as an obstacle in
their way; and that they are going to make a virtue of necessity
by boldly trying to open their communications through me. The man
looks capable of any stretch of audacity; and both he and the
woman had the impudence to bow when I met them in the village
half an hour since. They have been making inquiries already about
Allan's mother here, where her exemplary life may set their
closest scrutiny at defiance. If they will only attempt to extort
money, as the price of the woman's silence on the subject of poor
Mrs. Armadale's conduct in Madeira at the time of her marriage,
they will find me well prepared for them beforehand. I have
written by this post to my lawyers to send a competent man to
assist me, and he will stay at the rectory, in any character
which he thinks it safest to assume under present circumstances.

"You shall hear what happens in the next day or two.

"Always truly yours, DECIMUS BROCK."

CHAPTER XII.

THE CLOUDING OF THE SKY.

Nine days had passed, and the tenth day was nearly at an end,
since Miss Gwilt and her pupil had taken their morning walk in
the cottage garden.

The night was overcast. Since sunset, there had been signs in
the sky from which the popular forecast had predicted rain. The
reception-rooms at the great house were all empty and dark. Allan
was away, passing the evening with the Milroys; and Midwinter was
waiting his return--not where Midwinter usually waited, among the
books in the library, but in the little back room which Allan's
mother had inhabited in the last days of her residence at Thorpe
Ambrose.

Nothing had been taken away, but much had been added to the room,
since Midwinter had first seen it. The books which Mrs. Armadale
had left behind her, the furniture, the old matting on the floor,
the old paper on the walls, were all undisturbed. The statuette
of Niobe still stood on its bracket, and the French window still
opened on the garden. But now, to the relics left by the mother,
were added the personal possessions belonging to the son. The
wall, bare hitherto, was decorated with water-color drawings--
Jwith a portrait of Mrs. Armadale supported on one side by a view
of the old house in Somersetshire, and on the other by a picture
of the yacht. Among the books which bore in faded ink Mrs.
Armadale's inscriptions, "From my father," were other books
inscribed in the same handwriting, in brighter ink, "To my son."
Hanging to the wall, ranged on the chimney-piece, scattered over
the table, were a host of little objects, some associated with
Allan's past life, others necessary to his daily pleasures and
pursuits, and all plainly testifying that the room which he
habitually occupied at Thorpe Ambrose was the very room which had
once recalled to Midwinter the second vision of the dream. Here,
strangely unmoved by the scene around him, so lately the object
of his superstitious distrust, Allan's friend now waited
composedly for Allan's return; and here, more strangely still,
he looked on a change in the household arrangements, due in the
first instance entirely to himself. His own lips had revealed
the discovery which he had made on the first morning in the new
house; his own voluntary act had induced the son to establish
himself in the mother's room.

Under what motives had he spoken the words? Under no motives
which were not the natural growth of the new interests and the
new hopes that now animated him.

The entire change wrought in his convictions by the memorable
event that had brought him face to face with Miss Gwilt was
a change which it was not in his nature to hide from Allan's
knowledge. He had spoken openly, and had spoken as it was in his
character to speak. The merit of conquering his superstition was
a merit which he shrank from claiming, until he had first
unsparingly exposed that superstition in its worst and weakest
aspects to view.

It was only after he had unreservedly acknowledged the impulse
under which he had left Allan at the Mere, that he had taken
credit to himself for the new point of view from which he could
now look at the Dream. Then, and not till then, he had spoken
of the fulfillment of the first Vision as the doctor at the Isle
of Man might have spoken of it. He had asked, as the doctor might
have asked, Where was the wonder of their seeing a pool at
sunset, when they had a whole network of pools within a few
hours' drive of them? and what was there extraordinary in
discovering a woman at the Mere, when there were roads that led
to it, and villages in its neighborhood, and boats employed on
it, and pleasure parties visiting it? So again, he had waited
to vindicate the firmer resolution with which he looked to the
future, until he had first revealed all that he now saw himself
of the errors of the past. The abandonment of his friend's
interests, the unworthiness of the confidence that had given him
the steward's place, the forgetfulness of the trust that Mr.
Brock had reposed in him all implied in the one idea of leaving
Allan--were all pointed out. The glaring self-contradictions
betrayed in accepting the Dream as the revelation of a fatality,
and in attempting to escape that fatality by an exertion of
free-will--in toiling to store up knowledge of the steward's
duties for the future, and in shrinking from letting the future
find him in Allan's house--were, in their turn, unsparingly
exposed. To every error, to every inconsistency, he resolutely
confessed, before he ventured on the last simple appeal which
closed all, "Will you trust me in the future? Will you forgive
and forget the past?"

A man who could thus open his whole heart, without one lurking
reserve inspired by consideration for himself, was not a man to
forget any minor act of concealment of which his weakness might
have led him to be guilty toward his friend. It lay heavy on
Midwinter's conscience that he had kept secret from Allan a
discovery which he ought in Allan's dearest interests to have
revealed--the discovery of his mother's room.

But one doubt still closed his lips--the doubt whether Mrs.

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