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Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Part 8 out of 17

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Armadale's conduct in Madeira had been kept secret on her return
to England.

Careful inquiry, first among the servants, then among the
tenantry, careful consideration of the few reports current at the
time, as repeated to him by the few persons left who remembered
them, convinced him at last that the family secret had been
successfully kept within the family limits. Once satisfied that
whatever inquiries the son might make would lead to no disclosure
which could shake his respect for his mother's memory, Midwinter
had hesitated no longer. He had taken Allan into the room, and
had shown him the books on the shelves, and all that the writing
in the books disclosed. He had said plainly, "My one motive for
not telling you this before sprang from my dread of interesting
you in the room which I looked at with horror as the second of
the scenes pointed at in the Dream. Forgive me this also, and you
will have forgiven me all."

With Allan's love for his mother's memory, but one result could
follow such an avowal as this. He had liked the little room from
the first, as a pleasant contrast to the oppressive grandeur of
the other rooms at Thorpe Ambrose, and, now that he knew what
associations were connected with it, his resolution was at once
taken to make it especially his own. The same day, all his
personal possessions were collected and arranged in his mother's
room--in Midwinter's presence, and with Midwinter's assistance
given to the work.

Under those circumstances had the change now wrought in the
household arrangements been produced; and in this way had
Midwinter's victory over his own fatalism--by making Allan the
daily occupant of a room which he might otherwise hardly ever
have entered--actually favored the fulfillment of the Second
Vision of the Dream.

The hour wore on quietly as Allan's friend sat waiting for
Allan's return. Sometimes reading, sometimes thinking placidly,
he whiled away the time. No vexing cares, no boding doubts,
troubled him now. The rent-day, which he had once dreaded, had
come and gone harmlessly. A friendlier understanding had been
established between Allan and his tenants; Mr. Bashwood had
proved himself to be worthy of the confidence reposed in him;
the Pedgifts, father and son, had amply justified their client's
good opinion of them. Wherever Midwinter looked, the prospect
was bright, the future was without a cloud.

He trimmed the lamp on the table beside him and looked out at the
night. The stable clock was chiming the half-hour past eleven as
he walked to the window, and the first rain-drops were beginning
to fall. He had his hand on the bell to summon the servant, and
send him over to the cottage with an umbrella, when he was
stopped by hearing the familiar footstep on the walk outside.

"How late you are!" said Midwinter, as Allan entered through the
open French window. "Was there a party at the cottage?"

"No! only ourselves. The time slipped away somehow." He answered
in lower tones than usual, and sighed as he took his chair.

"You seem to be out of spirits?" pursued Midwinter. "What's the
matter?"

Allan hesitated. "I may as well tell you," he said, after a
moment. "It's nothing to be ashamed of; I only wonder you haven't
noticed it before! There's a woman in it, as usual--I'm in love."

Midwinter laughed. "Has Miss Milroy been more charming to-night
than ever?" he asked, gayly.

"Miss Milroy!" repeated Allan. "What are you thinking of! I'm not
in love with Miss Milroy."

"Who is it, then?"

"Who is it! What a question to ask! Who can it be but Miss
Gwilt?"

There was a sudden silence. Allan sat listlessly, with his hands
in his pockets, looking out through the open window at the
falling rain. If he had turned toward his friend when he
mentioned Miss Gwilt's name he might possibly have been a little
startled by the change he would have seen in Midwinter's face.

"I suppose you don't approve of it?" he said, after waiting a
little.

There was no answer.

"It's too late to make objections," proceeded Allan. "I really
mean it when I tell you I'm in love with her."

"A fortnight since you were in love with Miss Milroy," said the
other, in quiet, measured tones.

"Pooh! a mere flirtation. It's different this time. I'm in
earnest about Miss Gwilt."

He looked round as he spoke. Midwinter turned his face aside on
the instant, and bent it over a book.

"I see you don't approve of the thing," Allan went on. "Do you
object to her being only a governess? You can't do that, I'm
sure. If you were in my place, her being only a governess
wouldn't stand in the way with _you_?"

"No," said Midwinter; "I can't honestly say it would stand in
the way with me." He gave the answer reluctantly, and pushed his
chair back out of the light of the lamp.

"A governess is a lady who is not rich," said Allan, in an
oracular manner; "and a duchess is a lady who is not poor. And
that's all the difference I acknowledge between them. Miss Gwilt
is older than I am--I don't deny that. What age do you guess her
at, Midwinter? I say, seven or eight and twenty. What do you
say?"

"Nothing. I agree with you."

"Do you think seven or eight and twenty is too old for me? If you
were in love with a woman yourself, you wouldn't think seven or
eight and twenty too old--would you?"

"I can't say I should think it too old, if--"

"If you were really fond of her?"

Once more there was no answer.

"Well," resumed Allan, "if there's no harm in her being only a
governess, and no harm in her being a little older than I am,
what's the objection to Miss Gwilt?"

"I have made no objection."

"I don't say you have. But you don't seem to like the notion of
it, for all that."

There was another pause. Midwinter was the first to break the
silence this time.

"Are you sure of yourself, Allan?" he asked, with his face bent
once more over the book. "Are you really attached to this lady?
Have you thought seriously already of asking her to be your
wife?"

"I am thinking seriously of it at this moment," said Allan. "I
can't be happy--I can't live without her. Upon my soul, I worship
the very ground she treads on!"

"How long--" His voice faltered, and he stopped. "How long," he
reiterated, "have you worshipped the very ground she treads on?"

"Longer than you think for. I know I can trust you with all my
secrets--"

"Don't trust me!"

"Nonsense! I _will_ trust you. There is a little difficulty in
the way which I haven't mentioned yet. It's a matter of some
delicacy, and I want to consult you about it. Between ourselves,
I have had private opportunities with Miss Gwilt--"

Midwinter suddenly started to his feet, and opened the door.

"We'll talk of this to-morrow," he said. "Good-night."

Allan looked round in astonishment. The door was closed again,
and he was alone in the room.

"He has never shaken hands with me!" exclaimed Allan, looking
bewildered at the empty chair.

As the words passed his lips the door opened, and Midwinter
appeared again.

"We haven't shaken hands," he said, abruptly. "God bless you,
Allan! We'll talk of it to-morrow. Good-night."

Allan stood alone at the window, looking out at the pouring rain.
He felt ill at ease, without knowing why. "Midwinter's ways get
stranger and stranger," he thought. "What can he mean by putting
me off till to-morrow, when I wanted to speak to him to-night?"
He took up his bedroom candle a little impatiently, put it down
again, and, walking back to the open window, stood looking out in
the direction of the cottage. "I wonder if she's thinking of me?"
he said to himself softly.

She _was_ thinking of him. She had just opened her desk to write
to Mrs. Oldershaw; and her pen had that moment traced the opening
line: "Make your mind easy. I have got him!"

CHAPTER XIII.

EXIT.

It rained all through the night, and when the morning came it was
raining still.

Contrary to his ordinary habit, Midwinter was waiting in the
breakfast-room when Allan entered it. He looked worn and weary,
but his smile was gentler and his manner more composed than
usual. To Allan's surprise he approached the subject of the
previous night's conversation of his own accord as soon as the
servant was out of the room.

"I am afraid you thought me very impatient and very abrupt with
you last night," he said. "I will try to make amends for it this
morning. I will hear everything you wish to say to me on the
subject of Miss Gwilt."

"I hardly like to worry you," said Allan. "You look as if you had
had a bad night's rest."

"I have not slept well for some time past," replied Midwinter,
quietly. "Something has been wrong with me. But I believe I have
found out the way to put myself right again without troubling the
doctors. Late in the morning I shall have something to say to you
about this. Let us get back first to what you were talking of
last night. You were speaking of some difficulty--" He hesitated,
and finished the sentence in a tone so low that Allan failed to
hear him. "Perhaps it would be better," he went on, "if, instead
of speaking to me, you spoke to Mr. Brock?"

"I would rather speak to _you_," said Allan. "But tell me first,
was I right or wrong last night in thinking you disapproved of my
falling in love with Miss Gwilt?"

Midwinter's lean, nervous fingers began to crumble the bread in
his plate. His eyes looked away from Allan for the first time.

"If you have any objection," persisted Allan, "I should like to
hear it."

Midwinter suddenly looked up again, his cheeks turning ashy pale,
and his glittering black eyes fixed full on Allan's face.

"You love her," he said. "Does _she_ love _you_?"

"You won't think me vain?" returned Allan. "I told you yesterday
I had had private opportunities with her--"

Midwinter's eyes dropped again to the crumbs on his plate. "I
understand," he interposed, quickly. "You were wrong last night.
I had no objections to make."

"Don't you congratulate me?" asked Allan, a little uneasily.
"Such a beautiful woman! such a clever woman!"

Midwinter held out his hand. "I owe you more than mere
congratulations," he said. "In anything which is for your
happiness I owe you help." He took Allan's hand, and wrung it
hard. "Can I help you?" he asked, growing paler and paler as he
spoke.

"My dear fellow," exclaimed Allan, "what is the matter with you?
Your hand is as cold as ice."

Midwinter smiled faintly. "I am always in extremes," he said;
"my hand was as hot as fire the first time you took it at the old
west-country inn. Come to that difficulty which you have not come
to yet. You are young, rich, your own master--and she loves you.
What difficulty can there be?"

Allan hesitated. "I hardly know how to put it," he replied. "As
you said just now, I love her, and she loves me; and yet there
is a sort of strangeness between us. One talks a good deal about
one's self when one is in love, at least I do. I've told her all
about myself and my mother, and how I came in for this place, and
the rest of it. Well--though it doesn't strike me when we are
together--it comes across me now and then, when I'm away from
her, that she doesn't say much on her side. In fact, I know no
more about her than you do."

"Do you mean that you know nothing about Miss Gwilt's family
and friends?"

"That's it, exactly."

"Have you never asked her about them?"

"I said something of the sort the other day," returned Allan:
"and I'm afraid, as usual, I said it in the wrong way. She
looked--I can't quite tell you how; not exactly displeased,
but--oh, what things words are! I'd give the world, Midwinter,
if I could only find the right word when I want it as well as
you do."

"Did Miss Gwilt say anything to you in the way of a reply?"

"That's just what I was coming to. She said, 'I shall have a
melancholy story to tell you one of these days, Mr. Armadale,
about myself and my family; but you look so happy, and the
circumstances are so distressing, that I have hardly the heart to
speak of it now.' Ah, _she_ can express herself--with the tears
in her eyes, my dear fellow, with the tears in her eyes! Of
course, I changed the subject directly. And now the difficulty is
how to get back to it, delicately, without making her cry again.
We _must_ get back to it, you know. Not on my account; I am quite
content to marry her first and hear of her family misfortunes,
poor thing, afterward. But I know Mr. Brock. If I can't satisfy
him about her family when I write to tell him of this (which, of
course, I must do), he will be dead against the whole thing. I'm
my own master, of course, and I can do as I like about it. But
dear old Brock was such a good friend to my poor mother, and he
has been such a good friend to me--you see what I mean, don't
you?"

"Certainly, Allan; Mr. Brock has been your second father. Any
disagreement between you about such a serious matter as this
would be the saddest thing that could happen. You ought to
satisfy him that Miss Gwilt is (what I am sure Miss Gwilt will
prove to be) worthy, in every way worthy--" His voice sank in
spite of him, and he left the sentence unfinished.

"Just my feeling in the matter!" Allan struck in, glibly. "Now we
can come to what I particularly wanted to consult you about. If
this was your case, Midwinter, you would be able to say the right
words to her--you would put it delicately, even though you were
putting it quite in the dark. I can't do that. I'm a blundering
sort of fellow; and I'm horribly afraid, if I can't get some hint
at the truth to help me at starting, of saying something to
distress her. Family misfortunes are such tender subjects to
touch on, especially with such a refined woman, such a
tender-hearted woman, as Miss Gwilt. There may have been some
dreadful death in the family--some relation who has disgraced
himself--some infernal cruelty which has forced the poor thing
out on the world as a governess. Well, turning it over in my
mind, it struck me that the major might be able to put me on the
right tack. It is quite possible that he might have been informed
of Miss Gwilt's family circumstances before he engaged her, isn't
it?"

"It is possible, Allan, certainly."

"Just my feeling again! My notion is to speak to the major. If I
could only get the story from him first, I should know so much
better how to speak to Miss Gwilt about it afterward. You advise
me to try the major, don't you?"

There was a pause before Midwinter replied. When he did answer,
it was a little reluctantly.

"I hardly know how to advise you, Allan," he said. "This is a
very delicate matter."

"I believe you would try the major, if you were in my place,"
returned Allan, reverting to his inveterately personal way of
putting the question.

"Perhaps I might," said Midwinter, more and more unwillingly.
"But if I did speak to the major, I should be very careful, in
your place, not to put myself in a false position. I should be
very careful to let no one suspect me of the meanness of prying
into a woman's secrets behind her back."

Allan's face flushed. "Good heavens, Midwinter," he exclaimed,
"who could suspect me of that?"

"Nobody, Allan, who really knows you."

"The major knows me. The major is the last man in the world to
misunderstand me. All I want him to do is to help me (if he can)
to speak about a delicate subject to Miss Gwilt, without hurting
her feelings. Can anything be simpler between two gentlemen?"

Instead of replying, Midwinter, still speaking as constrainedly
as ever, asked a question on his side. "Do you mean to tell Major
Milroy," he said, "what your intentions really are toward Miss
Gwilt?"

Allan's manner altered. He hesitated, and looked confused.

"I have been thinking of that," he replied; "and I mean to feel
my way first, and then tell him or not afterward, as matters turn
out?"

A proceeding so cautious as this was too strikingly inconsistent
with Allan's character not to surprise any one who knew him.
Midwinter showed his surprise plainly.

"You forget that foolish flirtation of mine with Miss Milroy,"
Allan went on, more and more confusedly. "The major may have
noticed it, and may have thought I meant--well, what I didn't
mean. It might be rather awkward, mightn't it, to propose to his
face for his governess instead of his daughter?"

He waited for a word of answer, but none came. Midwinter opened
his lips to speak, and suddenly checked himself. Allan, uneasy
at his silence, doubly uneasy under certain recollections of the
major's daughter which the conversation had called up, rose from
the table and shortened the interview a little impatiently.

"Come! come!" he said, "don't sit there looking unutterable
things; don't make mountains out of mole-hills. You have such
an old, old head, Midwinter, on those young shoulders of yours!
Let's have done with all these _pros_ and _cons_. Do you mean to
tell me in plain words that it won't do to speak to the major?"

"I can't take the responsibility, Allan, of telling you that.
To be plainer still, I can't feel confident of the soundness of
any advice I may give you in--in our present position toward each
other. All I am sure of is that I cannot possibly be wrong in
entreating you to do two things."

"What are they?"

"If you speak to Major Milroy, pray remember the caution I have
given you! Pray think of what you say before you say it!"

"I'll think, never fear! What next?"

"Before you take any serious step in this matter, write and tell
Mr. Brock. Will you promise me to do that?"

"With all my heart. Anything more?"

"Nothing more. I have said my last words."

Allan led the way to the door. "Come into my room," he said, "and
I'll give you a cigar. The servants will be in here directly to
clear away, and I want to go on talking about Miss Gwilt."

"Don't wait for me," said Midwinter; "I'll follow you in a minute
or two."

He remained seated until Allan had closed the door, then rose,
and took from a corner of the room, where it lay hidden behind
one of the curtains, a knapsack ready packed for traveling. As he
stood at the window thinking, with the knapsack in his hand, a
strangely old, care-worn look stole over his face: he seemed to
lose the last of his youth in an instant.

What the woman's quicker insight had discovered days since, the
man's slower perception had only realized in the past night. The
pang that had wrung him when he heard Allan's avowal had set the
truth self-revealed before Midwinter for the first time. He had
been conscious of looking at Miss Gwilt with new eyes and a new
mind, on the next occasion when they met after the memorable
interview in Major Milroy's garden; but he had never until now
known the passion that she had roused in him for what it really
was. Knowing it at last, feeling it consciously in full
possession of him, he had the courage which no man with a happier
experience of life would have possessed--the courage to recall
what Allan had confided to him, and to look resolutely at the
future through his own grateful remembrances of the past.

Steadfastly, through the sleepless hours of the night, he had
bent his mind to the conviction that he must conquer the passion
which had taken possession of him, for Allan's sake; and that the
one way to conquer it was--to go. No after-doubt as to the
sacrifice had troubled him when morning came; and no after-doubt
troubled him now. The one question that kept him hesitating was
the question of leaving Thorpe Ambrose. Though Mr. Brock's letter
relieved him from all necessity of keeping watch in Norfolk for a
woman who was known to be in Somersetshire; though the duties of
the steward's office were duties which might be safely left in
Mr. Bashwood's tried and trustworthy hands--still, admitting
these considerations, his mind was not easy at the thought of
leaving Allan, at a time when a crisis was approaching in Allan's
life.

He slung the knapsack loosely over his shoulder and put the
question to his conscience for the last time. "Can you trust
yourself to see her, day by day as you must see her--can you
trust yourself to hear him talk of her, hour by hour, as you must
hear him--if you stay in this house?" Again the answer came, as
it had come all through the night. Again his heart warned him, in
the very interests of the friendship that he held sacred, to go
while the time was his own; to go before the woman who had
possessed herself of his love had possessed herself of his power
of self-sacrifice and his sense of gratitude as well.

He looked round the room mechanically before he turned to leave
it. Every remembrance of the conversation that had just taken
place between Allan and himself pointed to the same conclusion,
and warned him, as his own conscience had warned him, to go.

Had he honestly mentioned any one of the objections which he, or
any man, must have seen to Allan's attachment? Had he--as his
knowledge of his friend's facile character bound him to
do--warned Allan to distrust his own hasty impulses, and to test
himself by time and absence, before he made sure that the
happiness of his whole life was bound up in Miss Gwilt? No. The
bare doubt whether, in speaking of these things, he could feel
that he was speaking disinterestedly, had closed his lips, and
would close his lips for the future, till the time for speaking
had gone by. Was the right man to restrain Allan the man who
would have given the world, if he had it, to stand in Allan's
place? There was but one plain course of action that an honest
man and a grateful man could follow in the position in which he
stood. Far removed from all chance of seeing her, and from all
chance of hearing of her--alone with his own faithful
recollection of what he owed to his friend--he might hope to
fight it down, as he had fought down the tears in his childhood
under his gypsy master's stick; as he had fought down the misery
of his lonely youth time in the country bookseller's shop. "I
must go," he said, as he turned wearily from the window, "before
she comes to the house again. I must go before another hour is
over my head."

With that resolution he left the room; and, in leaving it, took
the irrevocable step from Present to Future.

The rain was still falling. The sullen sky, all round the
horizon, still lowered watery and dark, when Midwinter, equipped
for traveling, appeared in Allan's room.

"Good heavens!" cried Allan, pointing to the knapsack, "what does
_that_ mean?"

"Nothing very extraordinary," said Midwinter. "It only
means--good-by."

"Good-by!" repeated Allan, starting to his feet in astonishment.

Midwinter put him back gently into his chair, and drew a seat
near to it for himself.

"When you noticed that I looked ill this morning," he said, "I
told you that I had been thinking of a way to recover my health,
and that I meant to speak to you about it later in the day. That
latter time has come. I have been out of sorts, as the phrase is,
for some time past. You have remarked it yourself, Allan, more
than once; and, with your usual kindness, you have allowed it to
excuse many things in my conduct which would have been otherwise
unpardonable, even in your friendly eyes."

"My dear fellow," interposed Allan, "you don't mean to say you
are going out on a walking tour in this pouring rain!"

"Never mind the rain," rejoined Midwinter. "The rain and I are
old friends. You know something, Allan, of the life I led before
you met with me. From the time when I was a child, I have been
used to hardship and exposure. Night and day, sometimes for
months together, I never had my head under a roof. For years and
years, the life of a wild animal--perhaps I ought to say, the
life of a savage--was the life I led, while you were at home and
happy. I have the leaven of the vagabond--the vagabond animal, or
the vagabond man, I hardly know which--in me still. Does it
distress you to hear me talk of myself in this way? I won't
distress you. I will only say that the comfort and the luxury of
our life here are, at times, I think, a little too much for a man
to whom comforts and luxuries come as strange things. I want
nothing to put me right again but more air and exercise; fewer
good breakfasts and dinners, my dear friend, than I get here. Let
me go back to some of the hardships which this comfortable house
is expressly made to shut out. Let me meet the wind and weather
as I used to meet them when I was a boy; let me feel weary again
for a little while, without a carriage near to pick me up; and
hungry when the night falls, with miles of walking between my
supper and me. Give me a week or two away, Allan--up northward,
on foot, to the Yorkshire moors--and I promise to return to
Thorpe Ambrose, better company for you and for your friends. I
shall be back before you have time to miss me. Mr. Bashwood will
take care of the business in the office; it is only for a
fortnight, and it is for my own good--let me go!"

"I don't like it," said Allan. "I don't like your leaving me in
this sudden manner. There's something so strange and dreary about
it. Why not try riding, if you want more exercise; all the horses
in the stables are at your disposal. At all events, you can't
possibly go to-day. Look at the rain!"

Midwinter looked toward the window, and gently shook his head.

"I thought nothing of the rain," he said, "when I was a mere
child, getting my living with the dancing dogs--why should I
think anything of it now? _My_ getting wet, and _your_ getting
wet, Allan, are two very different things. When I was a
fisherman's boy in the Hebrides, I hadn't a dry thread on me for
weeks together. "

"But you're not in the Hebrides now," persisted Allan; "and I
expect our friends from the cottage to-morrow evening. You can't
start till after to-morrow. Miss Gwilt is going to give us some
more music, and you know you like Miss Gwilt's playing."

Midwinter turned aside to buckle the straps of his knapsack.
"Give me another chance of hearing Miss Gwilt when I come back,"
he said, with his head down, and his fingers busy at the straps.

"You have one fault, my dear fellow, and it grows on you,"
remonstrated Allan; "when you have once taken a thing into our
head, you're the most obstinate man alive. There's no persuading
you to listen to reason. If you _will_ go," added Allan, suddenly
rising, as Midwinter took up his hat and stick in silence, "I
have half a mind to go with you, and try a little roughing it
too!"

"Go with _me_!" repeated Midwinter, with a momentary bitterness
in his tone, "and leave Miss Gwilt!"

Allan sat down again, and admitted the force of the objection in
significant silence. Without a word more on his side, Midwinter
held out his hand to take leave. They were both deeply moved, and
each was anxious to hide his agitation from the other. Allan took
the last refuge which his friend's firmness left to him: he tried
to lighten the farewell moment by a joke.

"I'll tell you what," he said, "I begin to doubt if you're quite
cured yet of your belief in the Dream. I suspect you're running
away from me, after all!"

Midwinter looked at him, uncertain whether he was in jest or
earnest. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"What did you tell me," retorted Allan, "when you took me in here
the other day, and made a clean breast of it? What did you say
about this room, and the second vision of the dream? By Jupiter!"
he exclaimed, starting to his feet once more, "now I look again,
here _is_ the Second Vision! There's the rain pattering against
the window-there's the lawn and the garden outside--here am I
where I stood in the Dream--and there are you where the Shadow
stood. The whole scene complete, out-of-doors and in; and _I've_
discovered it this time!"

A moment's life stirred again in the dead remains of Midwinter's
superstition. His color changed, and he eagerly, almost fiercely,
disputed Allan's conclusion.

"No!" he said, pointing to the little marble figure on the
bracket, "the scene is _not_ complete--you have forgotten
something, as usual. The Dream is wrong this time, thank
God--utterly wrong! In the vision you saw, the statue was lying
in fragments on the floor, and you were stooping over them with
a troubled and an angry mind. There stands the statue safe and
sound! and you haven't the vestige of an angry feeling in your
mind, have you?" He seized Allan impulsively by the hand. At the
same moment the consciousness came to him that he was speaking
and acting as earnestly as if he still believed in the Dream. The
color rushed back over his face, and he turned away in confused
silence.

"What did I tell you?" said Allan, laughing, a little uneasily.
"That night on the Wreck is hanging on your mind as heavily as
ever."

"Nothing hangs heavy on me," retorted Midwinter, with a sudden
outburst of impatience, "but the knapsack on my back, and the
time I'm wasting here. I'll go out, and see if it's likely to
clear up."

"You'll come back?" interposed Allan.

Midwinter opened the French window, and stepped out into the
garden.

"Yes," he said, answering with all his former gentleness of
manner; "I'll come back in a fortnight. Good-by, Allan; and good
luck with Miss Gwilt!"

He pushed the window to, and was away across the garden before
his friend could open it again and follow him.

Allan rose, and took one step into the garden; then checked
himself at the window, and returned to his chair. He knew
Midwinter well enough to feel the total uselessness of attempting
to follow him or to call him back. He was gone, and for two weeks
to come there was no hope of seeing him again. An hour or more
passed, the rain still fell, and the sky still threatened. A
heavier and heavier sense of loneliness and despondency--the
sense of all others which his previous life had least fitted him
to understand and endure--possessed itself of Allan's mind. In
sheer horror of his own uninhabitably solitary house, he rang for
his hat and umbrella, and resolved to take refuge in the major's
cottage.

"I might have gone a little way with him," thought Allan, his
mind still running on Midwinter as he put on his hat. "I should
like to have seen the dear old fellow fairly started on his
journey."

He took his umbrella. If he had noticed the face of the servant
who gave it to him, he might possibly have asked some questions,
and might have heard some news to interest him in his present
frame of mind. As it was, he went out without looking at the man,
and without suspecting that his servants knew more of Midwinter's
last moments at Thorpe Ambrose than he knew himself. Not ten
minutes since, the grocer and butcher had called in to receive
payment of their bills, and the grocer and the butcher had seen
how Midwinter started on his journey.

The grocer had met him first, not far from the house, stopping
on his way, in the pouring rain, to speak to a little ragged imp
of a boy, the pest of the neighborhood. The boy's customary
impudence had broken out even more unrestrainedly than usual at
the sight of the gentleman's knapsack. And what had the gentleman
done in return? He had stopped and looked distressed, and had put
his two hands gently on the boy's shoulders. The grocer's own
eyes had seen that; and the grocer's own ears had heard him say,
"Poor little chap! I know how the wind gnaws and the rain wets
through a ragged jacket, better than most people who have got
a good coat on their backs." And with those words he had put his
hand in his pocket, and had rewarded the boy's impudence with
a present of a shilling. "Wrong here-abouts," said the grocer,
touching his forehead. "That's my opinion of Mr. Armadale's
friend!"

The butcher had seen him further on in the journey, at the other
end of the town. He had stopped--again in the pouring rain--and
this time to look at nothing more remarkable than a half-starved
cur, shivering on a doorstep. "I had my eye on him," said the
butcher; "and what do you think he did? He crossed the road over
to my shop, and bought a bit of meat fit for a Christian. Very
well. He says good-morning, and crosses back again; and, on the
word of a man, down he goes on his knees on the wet doorstep, and
out he takes his knife, and cuts up the meat, and gives it to the
dog. Meat, I tell you again, fit for a Christian! I'm not a hard
man, ma'am," concluded the butcher, addressing the cook, "but
meat's meat; and it will serve your master's friend right if he
lives to want it."

With those old unforgotten sympathies of the old unforgotten time
to keep him company on his lonely road, he had left the town
behind him, and had been lost to view in the misty rain. The
grocer and the butcher had seen the last of him, and had judged a
great nature, as all natures _are_ judged from the grocer and the
butcher point of view.

THE END OF THE SECOND BOOK.

BOOK THE THIRD.

CHAPTER I.

MRS. MILROY.

Two days after Midwinter's departure from Thorpe Ambrose, Mrs.
Milroy, having completed her morning toilet, and having dismissed
her nurse, rang the bell again five minutes afterward, and on the
woman's re-appearance asked impatiently if the post had come in.

"Post?" echoed the nurse. "Haven't you got your watch? Don't you
know that it's a good half-hour too soon to ask for your
letters?" She spoke with the confident insolence of a servant
long accustomed to presume on her mistress's weakness and her
mistress's necessities. Mrs. Milroy, on her side, appeared to be
well used to her nurses manner; she gave her orders composedly,
without noticing it.

"When the postman does come," she said, "see him yourself. I am
expecting a letter which I ought to have had two days since. I
don't understand it. I'm beginning to suspect the servants."

The nurse smiled contemptuously. "Whom will you suspect next?"
she asked. "There! don't put yourself out. I'll answer the
gate-bell this morning; and we'll see if I can't bring you a
letter when the postman comes." Saying those words, with the tone
and manner of a woman who is quieting a fractious child, the
nurse, without waiting to be dismissed, left the room.

Mrs. Milroy turned slowly and wearily on her bed, when she was
left by herself again, and let the light from the window fall on
her face. It was the face of a woman who had once been handsome,
and who was still, so far as years went, in the prime of her
life. Long-continued suffering of body and long-continued
irritation of mind had worn her away--in the roughly expressive
popular phrase--to skin and bone. The utter wreck of her beauty
was made a wreck horrible to behold, by her desperate efforts to
conceal the sight of it from her own eyes, from the eyes of her
husband and her child, from the eyes even of the doctor who
attended her, and whose business it was to penetrate to the
truth. Her head, from which the greater part of the hair had
fallen off; would have been less shocking to see than the
hideously youthful wig by which she tried to hide the loss. No
deterioration of her complexion, no wrinkling of her skin, could
have been so dreadful to look at as the rouge that lay thick on
her cheeks, and the white enamel plastered on her forehead. The
delicate lace, and the bright trimming on her dressing-gown, the
ribbons in her cap, and the rings on her bony fingers, all
intended to draw the eye away from the change that had passed
over her, directed the eye to it, on the contrary; emphasized it;
made it by sheer force of contrast more hopeless and more
horrible than it really was. An illustrated book of the fashions,
in which women were represented exhibiting their finery by means
of the free use of their limbs, lay on the bed, from which she
had not moved for years without being lifted by her nurse. A
hand-glass was placed with the book so that she could reach it
easily. She took up the glass after her attendant had left the
room, and looked at her face with an unblushing interest and
attention which she would have been ashamed of herself at the age
of eighteen.

"Older and older, and thinner and thinner!" she said. "The major
will soon be a free man; but I'll have that red-haired hussy out
of the house first!"

She dropped the looking-glass on the counterpane, and clinched
the hand that held it. Her eyes suddenly riveted themselves on
a little crayon portrait of her husband hanging on the opposite
wall; they looked at the likeness with the hard and cruel
brightness of the eyes of a bird of prey. "Red is your taste in
your old age is it?" she said to the portrait. "Red hair, and a
scrofulous complexion, and a padded figure, a ballet-girl's walk,
and a pickpocket's light fingers. _Miss_ Gwilt! _Miss_, with
those eyes, and that walk!" She turned her head suddenly on the
pillow, and burst into a harsh, jeering laugh. "_Miss_!" she
repeated over and over again, with the venomously pointed
emphasis of the most merciless of all human forms of
contempt--the contempt of one woman for another.

The age we live in is an age which finds no human creature
inexcusable. Is there an excuse for Mrs. Milroy? Let the story
of her life answer the question.

She had married the major at an unusually early age; and, in
marrying him, had taken a man for her husband who was old enough
to be her father--a man who, at that time, had the reputation,
and not unjustly, of having made the freest use of his social
gifts and his advantages of personal appearance in the society of
women. Indifferently educated, and below her husband in station,
she had begun by accepting his addresses under the influence of
her own flattered vanity, and had ended by feeling the
fascination which Major Milroy had exercised over women
infinitely her mental superiors in his earlier life. He had been
touched, on his side, by her devotion, and had felt, in his turn,
the attraction of her beauty, her freshness, and her youth. Up to
the time when their little daughter and only child had reached
the age of eight years, their married life had been an unusually
happy one. At that period the double misfortune fell on the
household, of the failure of the wife's health, and the almost
total loss of the husband's fortune; and from that moment the
domestic happiness of the married pair was virtually at an end.

Having reached the age when men in general are readier, under
the pressure of calamity, to resign themselves than to resist,
the major had secured the little relics of his property, had
retired into the country, and had patiently taken refuge in his
mechanical pursuits. A woman nearer to him in age, or a woman
with a better training and more patience of disposition than his
wife possessed, would have understood the major's conduct, and
have found consolation in the major's submission. Mrs. Milroy
found consolation in nothing. Neither nature nor training helped
her to meet resignedly the cruel calamity which had struck at her
in the bloom of womanhood and the prime of beauty. The curse of
incurable sickness blighted her at once and for life.

Suffering can, and does, develop the latent evil that there is
in humanity, as well as the latent good. The good that was in
Mrs. Milroy's nature shrank up, under that subtly deteriorating
influence in which the evil grew and flourished. Month by month,
as she became the weaker woman physically, she became the worse
woman morally. All that was mean, cruel, and false in her
expanded in steady proportion to the contraction of all that
had once been generous, gentle, and true. Old suspicions of her
husband's readiness to relapse into the irregularities of his
bachelor life, which, in her healthier days of mind and body, she
had openly confessed to him--which she had always sooner or later
seen to be suspicions that he had not deserved--came back, now
that sickness had divorced her from him, in the form of that
baser conjugal distrust which keeps itself cunningly secret;
which gathers together its inflammatory particles atom by atom
into a heap, and sets the slowly burning frenzy of jealousy
alight in the mind. No proof of her husband's blameless and
patient life that could now be shown to Mrs. Milroy; no appeal
that could be made to her respect for herself, or for her child
growing up to womanhood, availed to dissipate the terrible
delusion born of her hopeless illness, and growing steadily with
its growth. Like all other madness, it had its ebb and flow, its
time of spasmodic outburst, and its time of deceitful repose;
but, active or passive, it was always in her. It had injured
innocent servants, and insulted blameless strangers. It had
brought the first tears of shame and sorrow into her daughter's
eyes, and had set the deepest lines that scored it in her
husband's face. It had made the secret misery of the little
household for years; and it was now to pass beyond the family
limits, and to influence coming events at Thorpe Ambrose, in
which the future interests of Allan and Allan's friend were
vitally concerned.

A moment's glance at the posture of domestic affairs in the
cottage, prior to the engagement of the new governess, is
necessary to the due appreciation of the serious consequences
that followed Miss Gwilt's appearance on the scene.

On the marriage of the governess who had lived in his service
for many years (a woman of an age and an appearance to set even
Mrs. Milroy's jealousy at defiance), the major had considered
the question of sending his daughter away from home far more
seriously than his wife supposed. He was conscious that scenes
took place in the house at which no young girl should be present;
but he felt an invincible reluctance to apply the one efficient
remedy--the keeping his daughter away from home in school time
and holiday time alike. The struggle thus raised in his mind once
set at rest, by the resolution to advertise for a new governess,
Major Milroy's natural tendency to avoid trouble rather than
to meet it had declared itself in its customary manner. He had
closed his eyes again on his home anxieties as quietly as usual,
and had gone back, as he had gone back on hundreds of previous
occasions, to the consoling society of his old friend the clock.

It was far otherwise with the major's wife. The chance which her
husband had entirely overlooked, that the new governess who was
to come might be a younger and a more attractive woman than the
old governess who had gone, was the first chance that presented
itself as possible to Mrs. Milroy's mind. She had said nothing.
Secretly waiting, and secretly nursing her inveterate distrust,
she had encouraged her husband and her daughter to leave her on
the occasion of the picnic, with the express purpose of making an
opportunity for seeing the new governess alone. The governess had
shown herself; and the smoldering fire of Mrs. Milroy's jealousy
had burst into flame in the moment when she and the handsome
stranger first set eyes on each other.

The interview over, Mrs. Milroy's suspicions fastened at once and
immovably on her husband's mother.

She was well aware that there was no one else in London on whom
the major could depend to make the necessary inquiries; she was
well aware that Miss Gwilt had applied for the situation, in
the first instance, as a stranger answering an advertisement
published in a newspaper. Yet knowing this, she had obstinately
closed her eyes, with the blind frenzy of the blindest of all
the passions, to the facts straight before her; and, looking back
to the last of many quarrels between them which had ended in
separating the elder lady and herself, had seized on the
conclusion that Miss Gwilt's engagement was due to her
mother-in-law's vindictive enjoyment of making mischief in her
household. The inference which the very servants themselves,
witnesses of the family scandal, had correctly drawn--that the
major's mother, in securing the services of a well-recommended
governess for her son, had thought it no part of her duty to
consider that governess's looks in the purely fanciful interests
of the major's wife--was an inference which it was simply
impossible to convey into Mrs. Milroy's mind. Miss Gwilt had
barely closed the sick-room door when the whispered words hissed
out of Mrs. Milroy's lips, "Before another week is over your
head, my lady, you go!"

From that moment, through the wakeful night and the weary day,
the one object of the bedridden woman's life was to procure the
new governess's dismissal from the house.

The assistance of the nurse, in the capacity of spy, was
secured--as Mrs. Milroy had been accustomed to secure other extra
services which her attendant was not bound to render her--by
a present of a dress from the mistress's wardrobe. One after
another articles of wearing apparel which were now useless to
Mrs. Milroy had ministered in this way to feed the nurse's
greed--the insatiable greed of an ugly woman for fine clothes.
Bribed with the smartest dress she had secured yet, the household
spy took her secret orders, and applied herself with a vile
enjoyment of it to her secret work.

The days passed, the work went on; but nothing had come of it.
Mistress and servant had a woman to deal with who was a match for
both of them.

Repeated intrusions on the major, when the governess happened to
be in the same room with him, failed to discover the slightest
impropriety of word, look, or action, on either side. Stealthy
watching and listening at the governess's bedroom door detected
that she kept a light in her room at late hours of the night, and
that she groaned and ground her teeth in her sleep--and detected
nothing more. Careful superintendence in the day-time proved that
she regularly posted her own letters, instead of giving them to
the servant; and that on certain occasions, when the occupation
of her hours out of lesson time and walking time was left at her
own disposal, she had been suddenly missed from the garden, and
then caught coming back alone to it from the park. Once and once
only, the nurse had found an opportunity of following her out of
the garden, had been detected immediately in the park, and had
been asked with the most exasperating politeness if she wished
to join Miss Gwilt in a walk. Small circumstances of this kind,
which were sufficiently suspicious to the mind of a jealous
woman, were discovered in abundance. But circumstances, on which
to found a valid ground of complaint that might be laid before
the major, proved to be utterly wanting. Day followed day, and
Miss Gwilt remained persistently correct in her conduct, and
persistently irreproachable in her relations toward her employer
and her pupil.

Foiled in this direction, Mrs. Milroy tried next to find an
assailable place in the statement which the governess's reference
had made on the subject of the governess's character.

Obtaining from the major the minutely careful report which his
mother had addressed to him on this topic, Mrs. Milroy read and
reread it, and failed to find the weak point of which she was in
search in any part of the letter. All the customary questions on
such occasions had been asked, and all had been scrupulously and
plainly answered. The one sole opening for an attack which it was
possible to discover was an opening which showed itself, after
more practical matters had been all disposed of, in the closing
sentences of the letter.

"I was so struck," the passage ran, "by the grace and distinction
of Miss Gwilt's manners that I took an opportunity, when she was
out of the room, of asking how she first came to be governess.
'In the usual way,' I was told. 'A sad family misfortune, in
which she behaved nobly. She is a very sensitive person, and
shrinks from speaking of it among strangers--a natural reluctance
which I have always felt it a matter of delicacy to respect.'
Hearing this, of course, I felt the same delicacy on my side.
It was no part of my duty to intrude on the poor thing's private
sorrows; my only business was to do what I have now done, to make
sure that I was engaging a capable and respectable governess to
instruct my grandchild."

After careful consideration of these lines, Mrs. Milroy, having
a strong desire to find circumstances suspicious, found them
suspicious accordingly. She determined to sift the mystery of
Miss Gwilt's family misfortunes to the bottom, on the chance
of extracting from it something useful to her purpose. There
were two ways of doing this. She might begin by questioning
the governess herself, or she might begin by questioning the
governess's reference. Experience of Miss Gwilt's quickness of
resource in dealing with awkward questions at their introductory
interview decided her on taking the latter course. "I'll get the
particulars from the reference first," thought Mrs. Milroy, "and
then question the creature herself, and see if the two stories
agree."

The letter of inquiry was short, and scrupuously to the point.

Mrs. Milroy began by informing her correspondent that the state
of her health necessitated leaving her daughter entirely under
the governess's influence and control. On that account she was
more anxious than most mothers to be thoroughly informed in every
respect about the person to whom she confided the entire charge
of an only child; and feeling this anxiety, she might perhaps be
excused for putting what might be thought, after the excellent
character Miss Gwilt had received, a somewhat unnecessary
question. With that preface, Mrs. Milroy came to the point, and
requested to be informed of the circumstances which had obliged
Miss Gwilt to go out as a governess.

The letter, expressed in these terms, was posted the same day. On
the morning when the answer was due, no answer appeared. The next
morning arrived, and still there was no reply. When the third
morning came, Mrs. Milroy's impatience had broken loose from all
restraint. She had rung for the nurse in the manner which has
been already recorded, and had ordered the woman to be in waiting
to receive the letters of the morning with her own hands. In this
position matters now stood; and in these domestic circumstances
the new series of events at Thorpe Ambrose took their rise.

Mrs. Milroy had just looked at her watch, and had just put her
hand once more to the bell-pull, when the door opened and the
nurse entered the room.

"Has the postman come?" asked Mrs. Milroy.

The nurse laid a letter on the bed without answering, and waited,
with unconcealed curiosity, to watch the effect which it produced
on her mistress.

Mrs. Milroy tore open the envelope the instant it was in her
hand. A printed paper appeared (which she threw aside),
surrounding a letter (which she looked at) in her own
handwriting! She snatched up the printed paper. It was the
customary Post-office circular, informing her that her letter
had been duly presented at the right address, and that the person
whom she had written to was not to be found.

"Something wrong?" asked the nurse, detecting a change in her
mistress's face.

The question passed unheeded. Mrs. Milroy's writing-desk was
on the table at the bedside. She took from it the letter which
the major's mother had written to her son, and turned to the page
containing the name and address of Miss Gwilt's reference. "Mrs
Mandeville, 18 Kingsdown Crescent, Bayswater," she read, eagerly
to herself, and then looked at the address on her own returned
letter. No error had been committed: the directions were
identically the same.

"Something wrong?" reiterated the nurse, advancing a step nearer
to the bed.

"Thank God--yes!" cried Mrs. Milroy, with a sudden outburst of
exultation. She tossed the Post-office circular to the nurse,
and beat her bony hands on the bedclothes in an ecstasy of
anticipated triumph. "Miss Gwilt's an impostor! Miss Gwilt's an
impostor! If I die for it, Rachel, I'll be carried to the window
to see the police take her away!"

"It's one thing to say she's an impostor behind her back, and
another thing to prove it to her face," remarked the nurse. She
put her hand as she spoke into her apron pocket, and, with a
significant look at her mistress, silently produced a second
letter.

"For me?" asked Mrs. Milroy.

"No!" said the nurse; "for Miss Gwilt."

The two women eyed each other, and understood each other without
another word.

"Where is she?" said Mrs. Milroy.

The nurse pointed in the direction of the park. "Out again, for
another walk before breakfast--by herself."

Mrs. Milroy beckoned to the nurse to stoop close over her. "Can
you open it, Rachel?" she whispered.

Rachel nodded.

"Can you close it again, so that nobody would know?"

"Can you spare the scarf that matches your pearl gray dress?"
asked Rachel.

"Take it!" said Mrs. Milroy, impatiently.

The nurse opened the wardrobe in silence, took the scarf in
silence, and left the room in silence. In less than five minutes
she came back with the envelope of Miss Gwilt's letter open in
her hand.

"Thank you, ma'am, for the scarf," said Rachel, putting the open
letter composedly on the counterpane of the bed.

Mrs. Milroy looked at the envelope. It had been closed as usual
by means of adhesive gum, which had been made to give way by the
application of steam. As Mrs. Milroy took out the letter, her
hand trembled violently, and the white enamel parted into cracks
over the wrinkles on her forehead.

Rachel withdrew to the window to keep watch on the park. "Don't
hurry," she said. "No signs of her yet."

Mrs. Milroy still paused, keeping the all-important morsel of
paper folded in her hand. She could have taken Miss Gwilt's life,
but she hesitated at reading Miss Gwilt's letter.

"Are you troubled with scruples?" asked the nurse, with a sneer.
"Consider it a duty you owe to your daughter."

"You wretch!" said Mrs. Milroy. With that expression of opinion,
she opened the letter.

It was evidently written in great haste, was undated, and was
signed in initials only. Thus it ran:

"Diana Street.

"BY DEAR LYDIA--The cab is waiting at the door, and I have only
a moment to tell you that I am obliged to leave London, on
business, for three or four days, or a week at longest. My
letters will be forwarded if you write. I got yours yesterday,
and I agree with you that it is very important to put him off the
awkward subject of yourself and your family as long as you safely
can. The better you know him, the better you will be able to make
up the sort of story that will do. Once told, you will have to
stick to it; and, _having_ to stick to it, beware of making it
complicated, and beware of making it in a hurry. I will write
again about this, and give you my own ideas. In the meantime,
don't risk meeting him too often in the park.

"Yours, M. O."

"Well?" asked the nurse, returning to the bedside. "Have you done
with it?"

"Meeting him in the park!" repeated Mrs. Milroy, with her eyes
still fastened on the letter. "_Him_! Rachel, where is the
major?"

"In his own room."

"I don't believe it! "

"Have your own way. I want the letter and the envelope."

"Can you close it again so that she won't know?"

"What I can open I can shut. Anything more?"

"Nothing more."

Mrs. Milroy was left alone again, to review her plan of attack by
the new light that had now been thrown on Miss Gwilt.

The information that had been gained by opening the governess's
letter pointed plainly to the conclusion that an adventuress
had stolen her way into the house by means of a false reference.
But having been obtained by an act of treachery which it was
impossible to acknowledge, it was not information that could be
used either for warning the major or for exposing Miss Gwilt.
The one available weapon in Mrs. Milroy's hands was the weapon
furnished by her own returned letter, and the one question to
decide was how to make the best and speediest use of it.

The longer she turned the matter over in her mind, the more hasty
and premature seemed the exultation which she had felt at the
first sight of the Post-office circular. That a lady acting as
reference to a governess should have quitted her residence
without leaving any trace behind her, and without even mentioning
an address to which her letters could be forwarded, was a
circumstance in itself sufficiently suspicious to be mentioned to
the major. But Mrs. Milroy, however perverted her estimate of her
husband might be in some respects, knew enough of his character
to be assured that, if she told him what had happened, he would
frankly appeal to the governess herself for an explanation. Miss
Gwilt's quickness and cunning would, in that case, produce some
plausible answer on the spot, which the major's partiality would
be only too ready to accept; and she would at the same time, no
doubt, place matters in train, by means of the post, for the due
arrival of all needful confirmation on the part of her accomplice
in London. To keep strict silence for the present, and to
institute (without the governess's knowledge) such inquiries as
might be necessary to the discovery of undeniable evidence, was
plainly the only safe course to take with such a man as the
major, and with such a woman as Miss Gwilt. Helpless herself, to
whom could Mrs. Milroy commit the difficult and dangerous task
of investigation? The nurse, even if she was to be trusted, could
not be spared at a day's notice, and could not be sent away
without the risk of exciting remark. Was there any other
competent and reliable person to employ, either at Thorpe Ambrose
or in London? Mrs. Milroy turned from side to side of the bed,
searching every corner of her mind for the needful discovery, And
searching in vain. "Oh, if I could only lay my hand on some man I
could trust!" she thought, despairingly. "If I only knew where to
look for somebody to help me!"

As the idea passed through her mind, the sound of her daughter's
voice startled her from the other side of the door.

"May I come in?" asked Neelie.

"What do you want?" returned Mrs. Milroy, impatiently.

"I have brought up your breakfast, mamma."

"My breakfast?" repeated Mrs. Milroy, in surprise. "Why doesn't
Rachel bring it up as usual?" She considered a moment, and then
called out, sharply, "Come in!"

CHAPTER II.

THE MAN IS FOUND.

Neelie entered the room, carrying the tray with the tea, the dry
toast, and the pat of butter which composed the invalid's
invariable breakfast.

"What does this mean?" asked Mrs. Milroy, speaking and looking as
she might have spoken and looked if the wrong servant had come
into the room.

Neelie put the tray down on the bedside table. "I thought I
should like to bring you up your breakfast, mamma, for once in
a way," she replied, "and I asked Rachel to let me."

"Come here," said Mrs. Milroy, "and wish me good-morning."

Neelie obeyed. As she stooped to kiss her mother, Mrs. Milroy
caught her by the arm, and turned her roughly to the light. There
were plain signs of disturbance and distress in her daughter's
face. A deadly thrill of terror ran through Mrs. Milroy on the
instant. She suspected that the opening of the letter had been
discovered by Miss Gwilt, and that the nurse was keeping out of
the way in consequence.

"Let me go, mamma," said Neelie, shrinking under her mother's
grasp. "You hurt me."

"Tell me why you have brought up my breakfast this morning,"
persisted Mrs. Milroy.

"I have told you, mamma."

"You have not! You have made an excuse; I see it in your face.
Come! what is it?"

Neelie's resolution gave way before her mother's. She looked
aside uneasily at the things in the tray. "I have been vexed,"
she said, with an effort; "and I didn't want to stop in the
breakfast-room. I wanted to come up here, and to speak to you."

"Vexed? Who has vexed you? What has happened? Has Miss Gwilt
anything to do with it?"

Neelie looked round again at her mother in sudden curiosity and
alarm. "Mamma!" she said, "you read my thoughts. I declare you
frighten me. It _was_ Miss Gwilt."

Before Mrs. Milroy could say a word more on her side, the door
opened and the nurse looked in.

"Have you got what you want?" she asked, as composedly as usual.
"Miss, there, insisted on taking your tray up this morning. Has
she broken anything?"

"Go to the window. I want to speak to Rachel," said Mrs. Milroy.

As soon as her daughter's back was turned, she beckoned eagerly
to the nurse. "Anything wrong?" she asked, in a whisper. "Do you
think she suspects us?"

The nurse turned away with her hard, sneering smile. "I told you
it should be done," she said, "and it _has_ been done. She hasn't
the ghost of a suspicion. I waited in the room; and I saw her
take up the letter and open it."

Mrs. Milroy drew a deep breath of relief. "Thank you," she said,
loud enough for her daughter to hear. "I want nothing more."

The nurse withdrew; and Neelie came back from the window. Mrs.
Milroy took her by the hand, and looked at her more attentively
and more kindly than usual. Her daughter interested her that
morning; for her daughter had something to say on the subject
of Miss Gwilt.

"I used to think that you promised to be pretty, child," she
said, cautiously resuming the interrupted conversation in the
least direct way. "But you don't seem to be keeping your promise.
You look out of health and out of spirits. What is the matter
with you?"

If there had been any sympathy between mother and child, Neelie
might have owned the truth. She might have said frankly: "I am
looking ill, because my life is miserable to me. I am fond of Mr.
Armadale, and Mr. Armadale was once fond of me. We had one little
disagreement, only one, in which I was to blame. I wanted to tell
him so at the time, and I have wanted to tell him so ever since;
and Miss Gwilt stands between us and prevents me. She has made us
like strangers; she has altered him, and taken him away from me.
He doesn't look at me as he did; he doesn't speak to me as he
did; he is never alone with me as he used to be; I can't say the
words to him that I long to say; and I can't write to him, for it
would look as if I wanted to get him back. It is all over between
me and Mr. Armadale; and it is that woman's fault. There is
ill-blood between Miss Gwilt and me the whole day long; and say
what I may, and do what I may, she always gets the better of me,
and always puts me in the wrong. Everything I saw at Thorpe
Ambrose pleased me, everything I did at Thorpe Ambrose made me
happy, before she came. Nothing pleases me, and nothing makes me
happy now!" If Neelie had ever been accustomed to ask her
mother's advice and to trust herself to her mother's love, she
might have said such words as these. As. it was, the tears came
into her eyes, and she hung her head in silence.

"Come!" said Mrs. Milroy, beginning to lose patience. "You have
something to say to me about Miss Gwilt. What is it?"

Neelie forced back her tears, and made an effort to answer.

"She aggravates me beyond endurance, mamma; I can't bear her;
I shall do something--" Neelie stopped, and stamped her foot
angrily on the floor. "I shall throw something at her head if we
go on much longer like this! I should have thrown something this
morning if I hadn't left the room. Oh, do speak to papa about it!
Do find out some reason for sending her away! I'll go to
school--I'll do anything in the world to get rid of Miss Gwilt!"

To get rid of Miss Gwilt! At those words--at that echo from her
daughter's lips of the one dominant desire kept secret in her own
heart--Mrs. Milroy slowly raised herself in bed. What did it
mean? Was the help she wanted coming from the very last of all
quarters in which she could have thought of looking for it?

"Why do you want to get rid of Miss Gwilt?" she asked. "What have
you got to complain of?"

"Nothing!" said Neelie. "That's the aggravation of it. Miss Gwilt
won't let me have anything to complain of. She is perfectly
detestable; she is driving me mad; and she is the pink of
propriety all the time. I dare say it's wrong, but I don't
care--I hate her!"

Mrs. Milroy's eyes questioned her daughter's face as they had
never questioned it yet. There was something under the surface,
evidently--something which it might be of vital importance to her
own purpose to discover--which had not risen into view. She went
on probing her way deeper and deeper into Neelie's mind, with a
warmer and warmer interest in Neelie's secret.

"Pour me out a cup of tea," she said; "and don't excite yourself,
my dear. Why do you speak to _me_ about this? Why don't you speak
to your father?"

"I have tried to speak to papa," said Neelie. "But it's no use;
he is too good to know what a wretch she is. She is always on her
best behavior with him; she is always contriving to be useful to
him. I can't make him understand why I dislike Miss Gwilt; I
can't make _you_ understand--I only understand it myself." She
tried to pour out the tea, and in trying upset the cup. "I'll go
downstairs again!" exclaimed Neelie, with a burst of tears. "I'm
not fit for anything; I can't even pour out a cup of tea!"

Mrs. Milroy seized her hand and stopped her. Trifling as it was,
Neelie's reference to the relations between the major and Miss
Gwilt had roused her mother's ready jealousy. The restraints
which Mrs. Milroy had laid on herself thus far vanished in a
moment--vanished even in the presence of a girl of sixteen, and
that girl her own child!

"Wait here!" she said, eagerly. "You have come to the right place
and the right person. Go on abusing Miss Gwilt. I like to hear
you--I hate her, too!"

"You, mamma!" exclaimed Neelie, looking at her mother in
astonishment.

For a moment Mrs. Milroy hesitated before she said more. Some
last-left instinct of her married life in its earlier and happier
time pleaded hard with her to respect the youth and the sex of
her child. But jealousy respects nothing; in the heaven above
and on the earth beneath, nothing but itself. The slow fire
of self-torment, burning night and day in the miserable woman's
breast, flashed its deadly light into her eyes, as the next words
dropped slowly and venomously from her lips.

"If you had had eyes in your head, you would never have gone
to your father," she said. "Your father has reasons of his own
for hearing nothing that you can say, or that anybody can say,
against Miss Gwilt."

Many girls at Neelie's age would have failed to see the meaning
hidden under those words. It was the daughter's misfortune, in
this instance, to have had experience enough of the mother to
understand her. Neelie started back from the bedside, with her
face in a glow. "Mamma!" she said, "you are talking horribly!
Papa is the best, and dearest, and kindest--oh, I won't hear it!
I won't hear it!"

Mrs. Milroy's fierce temper broke out in an instant--broke out
all the more violently from her feeling herself, in spite of
herself, to have been in the wrong.

"You impudent little fool!" she retorted, furiously. "Do you
think I want _you_ to remind me of what I owe to your father? Am
I to learn how to speak of your father, and how to think of your
father, and how to love and honor your father, from a forward
little minx like you! I was finely disappointed, I can tell you,
when you were born--I wished for a boy, you impudent hussy! If
you ever find a man who is fool enough to marry you, he will be
a lucky man if you only love him half as well, a quarter as well,
a hundred-thousandth part as well, as I loved your father. Ah,
you can cry when it's too late; you can come creeping back to beg
your mother's pardon after you have insulted her. You little
dowdy, half-grown creature! I was handsomer than ever you will be
when I married your father. I would have gone through fire and
water to serve your father! If he had asked me to cut off one
of my arms, I would have done it--I would have done it to please
him!" She turned suddenly with her face to the wall, forgetting
her daughter, forgetting her husband, forgetting everything but
the torturing remembrance of her lost beauty. "My arms!" she
repeated to herself, faintly. "What arms I had when I was young!"
She snatched up the sleeve of her dressing-gown furtively, with
a shudder. "Oh, look at it now! look at it now!"

Neelie fell on her knees at the bedside and hid her face. In
sheer despair of finding comfort and help anywhere else, she had
cast herself impulsively on her mother's mercy; and this was how
it had ended! "Oh, mamma," she pleaded, "you know I didn't mean
to offend you! I couldn't help it when you spoke so of my father.
Oh, do, do forgive me!"

Mrs. Milroy turned again on her pillow, and looked at her
daughter vacantly. "Forgive you?" she repeated, with her mind
still in the past, groping its way back darkly to the present.

"I beg your pardon, mamma--I beg your pardon on my knees. I am so
unhappy; I do so want a little kindness! Won't you forgive me?"

"Wait a little," rejoined Mrs. Milroy. "Ah," she said, after an
interval, "now I know! Forgive you? Yes; I'll forgive you on one
condition." She lifted Neelie's head, and looked her searchingly
in the face. "Tell me why you hate Miss Gwilt! You've a reason
of your own for hating her, and you haven't confessed it yet."

Neelie's head dropped again. The burning color that she was
hiding by hiding her face showed itself on her neck. Her mother
saw it, and gave her time.

"Tell me," reiterated Mrs. Milroy, more gently, "why do you hate
her?"

The answer came reluctantly, a word at a time, in fragments.

"Because she is trying--"

"Trying what?"

"Trying to make somebody who is much--"

"Much what?"

"Much too young for her--"

"Marry her?"

"Yes, mamma."

Breathlessly interested, Mrs. Milroy leaned forward, and twined
her hand caressingly in her daughter's hair.

"Who is it, Neelie?" she asked, in a whisper.

"You will never say I told you, mamma?"

"Never! Who is it?"

"Mr. Armadale."

Mrs. Milroy leaned back on her pillow in dead silence. The plain
betrayal of her daughter's first love, by her daughter's own
lips, which would have absorbed the whole attention of other
mothers, failed to occupy her for a moment. Her jealousy,
distorting all things to fit its own conclusions, was busied
in distorting what she had just heard. "A blind," she thought,
"which has deceived my girl. It doesn't deceive _me_. Is Miss
Gwilt likely to succeed?" she asked, aloud. "Does Mr. Armadale
show any sort of interest in her?"

Neelie looked up at her mother for the first time. The hardest
part of the confession was over now. She had revealed the truth
about Miss Gwilt, and she had openly mentioned Allan's name.

"He shows the most unaccountable interest," she said. "It's
impossible to understand it. It's downright infatuation. I
haven't patience to talk about it!"

"How do _you_ come to be in Mr. Armadale's secrets?" inquired
Mrs. Milroy. "Has he informed _you_, of all the people in the
world, of his interest in Miss Gwilt?"

"Me!" exclaimed Neelie, indignantly. "It's quite bad enough that
he should have told papa."

At the re-appearance of the major in the narrative, Mrs. Milroy's
interest in the conversation rose to its climax. She raised
herself again from the pillow. "Get a chair," she said. "Sit
down, child, and tell me all about it. Every word, mind--every
word!"

"I can only tell you, mamma, what papa told me."

"When?"

"Saturday. I went in with papa's lunch to the workshop, and he
said, 'I have just had a visit from Mr. Armadale; and I want to
give you a caution while I think of it.' I didn't say anything,
mamma; I only waited. Papa went on, and told me that Mr. Armadale
had been speaking to him on the subject of Miss Gwilt, and that
he had been asking a question about her which nobody in his
position had a right to ask. Papa said he had been obliged,
good-humoredly, to warn Mr. Armadale to be a little more
delicate, and a little more careful next time. I didn't feel much
interested, mamma; it didn't matter to _me_ what Mr. Armadale
said or did. Why should I care about it?"

"Never mind yourself," interposed Mrs. Milroy, sharply. "Go on
with what your father said. What was he doing when he was talking
about Miss Gwilt? How did he look?"

"Much as usual, mamma. He was walking up and down the workshop;
and I took his arm and walked up and down with him."

"I don't care what _you_ were doing," said Mrs. Milroy, more and
more irritably. "Did your father tell you what Mr. Armadale's
question was, or did he not?"

"Yes, mamma. He said Mr. Armadale began by mentioning that he was
very much interested in Miss Gwilt, and he then went on to ask
whether papa could tell him anything about her family
misfortunes--"

"What!" cried Mrs. Milroy. The word burst from her almost in
a scream, and the white enamel on her face cracked in all
directions. "Mr. Armadale said _that_?" she went on, leaning out
further and further over the side of the bed.

Neelie started up, and tried to put her mother back on the
pillow.

"Mamma!" she exclaimed, "are you in pain? Are you ill? You
frighten me!"

"Nothing, nothing, nothing," said Mrs. Milroy. She was too
violently agitated to make any other than the commonest excuse.
"My nerves are bad this morning; don't notice it. I'll try the
other side of the pillow. Go on! go on!. I'm listening, though
I'm not looking at you." She turned her face to the wall, and
clinched her trembling hands convulsively beneath the bedclothes.
"I've got her!" she whispered to herself, under her breath. "I've
got her at last!"

"I'm afraid I've been talking too much," said Neelie. "I'm afraid
I've been stopping here too long. Shall I go downstairs, mamma,
and come back later in the day?"

"Go on," repeated Mrs. Milroy, mechanically. "What did your
father say next? Anything more about Mr. Armadale?"

"Nothing more, except how papa answered him," replied Neelie.
"Papa repeated his own words when he told me about it. He said,
'In the absence of any confidence volunteered by the lady
herself, Mr. Armadale, all I know or wish to know--and you must
excuse me for saying, all any one else need know or wish to
know--is that Miss Gwilt gave me a perfectly satisfactory
reference before she entered my house.' Severe, mamma, wasn't it?
I don't pity him in the least; he richly deserved it. The next
thing was papa's caution to _me_. He told me to check Mr.
Armadale's curiosity if he applied to me next. As if he was
likely to apply to me! And as if I should listen to him if he
did! That's all, mamma. You won't suppose, will you, that I have
told you this because I want to hinder Mr. Armadale from marrying
Miss Gwilt? Let him marry her if he pleases; I don't care!"
said Neelie, in a voice that faltered a little, and with a face
which was hardly composed enough to be in perfect harmony with
a declaration of indifference. "All I want is to be relieved from
the misery of having Miss Gwilt for my governess. I'd rather go
to school. I should like to go to school. My mind's quite changed
about all that, only I haven't the heart to tell papa. I don't
know what's come to me, I don't seem to have heart enough for
anything now; and when papa takes me on his knee in the evening,
and says, 'Let's have a talk, Neelie,' he makes me cry. Would you
mind breaking it to him, mamma, that I've changed my mind, and
I want to go to school?" The tears rose thickly in her eyes, and
she failed to see that her mother never even turned on the pillow
to look round at her.

"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Milroy, vacantly. "You're a good girl; you
shall go to school."

The cruel brevity of the reply, and the tone in which it was
spoken, told Neelie plainly that her mother's attention had been
wandering far away from her, and that it was useless and needless
to prolong the interview. She turned aside quietly, without a
word of remonstrance. It was nothing new in her experience to
find herself shut out from her mother's sympathies. She looked
at her eyes in the glass, and, pouring out some cold water,
bathed her face. "Miss Gwilt shan't see I've been crying!"
thought Neelie, as she went back to the bedside to take her
leave. "I've tired you out," mamma," she said, gently. "Let me go
now; and let me come back a little later when you have had some
rest."

"Yes," repeated her mother, as mechanically as ever; "a little
later when I have had some rest."

Neelie left the room. The minute after the door had closed on
her, Mrs. Milroy rang the bell for her nurse. In the face of the
narrative she had just heard, in the face of every reasonable
estimate of probabilities, she held to her own jealous
conclusions as firmly as ever. "Mr. Armadale may believe her,
and my daughter may believe her," thought the furious woman.
"But I know the major; and she can't deceive _me_!"

The nurse came in. "Prop me up," said Mrs. Milroy. "And give me
my desk. I want to write."

"You're excited," replied the nurse. "You're not fit to write."

"Give me the desk," reiterated Mrs. Milroy.

"Anything more?" asked Rachel, repeating her invariable formula
as she placed the desk on the bed.

"Yes. Come back in half an hour. I shall want you to take a
letter to the great house."

The nurse's sardonic composure deserted her for once. "Mercy on
us!" she exclaimed, with an accent of genuine surprise. "What
next? You don't mean to say you're going to write--?"

"I am going to write to Mr. Armadale," interposed Mrs. Milroy;
"and you are going to take the letter to him, and wait for an
answer; and, mind this, not a living soul but our two selves must
know of it in the house."

"Why are you writing to Mr. Armadale?" asked Rachel. "And why
is nobody to know of it but our two selves?"

"Wait," rejoined Mrs. Milroy, "and you will see."

The nurse's curiosity, being a woman's curiosity, declined to
wait.

"I'll help you with my eyes open," she said; "but I won't help
you blindfold."

"Oh, if I only had the use of my limbs!" groaned Mrs. Milroy.
"You wretch, if I could only do without you!"

"You have the use of your head," retorted the impenetrable nurse.
"And you ought to know better than to trust me by halves, at this
time of day."

It was brutally put; but it was true--doubly true, after the
opening of Miss Gwilt's letter. Mrs. Milroy gave way.

"What do you want to know?" she asked. "Tell me, and leave me."

"I want to know what you are writing to Mr. Armadale about?"

"About Miss Gwilt."

"What has Mr. Armadale to do with you and Miss Gwilt?"

Mrs. Milroy held up the letter that had been returned to her by
the authorities at the Post-office.

"Stoop," she said. "Miss Gwilt may be listening at the door. I'll
whisper."

The nurse stooped, with her eye on the door. "You know that the
postman went with this letter to Kingsdown Crescent?" said Mrs.
Milroy. "And you know that he found Mrs. Mandeville gone away,
nobody could tell where?"

"Well," whispered Rachel "what next?"

"This, next. When Mr. Armadale gets the letter that I am going to
write to him, he will follow the same road as the postman; and
we'll see what happens when he knocks at Mrs. Mandeville's door."

"How do you get him to the door?"

"I tell him to go to Miss Gwilt's reference."

"Is he sweet on Miss Gwilt?"

"Yes."

"Ah!" said the nurse. "I see!"

CHAPTER III.

THE BRINK OF DISCOVERY.

The morning of the interview between Mrs. Milroy and her daughter
at the cottage was a morning of serious reflection for the squire
at the great house.

Even Allan's easy-tempered nature had not been proof against the
disturbing influences exercised on it by the events of the last
three days. Midwinter's abrupt departure had vexed him; and Major
Milroy's reception of his inquiries relating to Miss Gwilt
weighed unpleasantly on his mind. Since his visit to the cottage,
he had felt impatient and ill at ease, for the first time in his
life, with everybody who came near him. Impatient with Pedgift
Junior, who had called on the previous evening to announce his
departure for London, on business, the next day, and to place
his services at the disposal of his client; ill at ease with Miss
Gwilt, at a secret meeting with her in the park that morning;
and ill at ease in his own company, as he now sat moodily smoking
in the solitude of his room. "I can't live this sort of life much
longer," thought Allan. "If nobody will help me to put the
awkward question to Miss Gwilt, I must stumble on some way of
putting it for myself."

What way? The answer to that question was as hard to find as
ever. Allan tried to stimulate his sluggish invention by walking
up and down the room, and was disturbed by the appearance of the
footman at the first turn.

"Now then! what is it?" he asked, impatiently.

"A letter, sir; and the person waits for an answer."

Allan looked at the address. It was in a strange handwriting.
He opened the letter, and a little note inclosed in it dropped
to the ground. The note was directed, still in the strange
handwriting, to "Mrs. Mandeville, 18 Kingsdown Crescent,
Bayswater. Favored by Mr. Armadale." More and more surprised,
Allan turned for information to the signature at the end of
the letter. It was "Anne Milroy."

"Anne Milroy?" he repeated. "It must be the major's wife. What
can she possibly want with me?" By way of discovering what she
wanted, Allan did at last what he might more wisely have done
at first. He sat down to read the letter.

["Private."] "The Cottage, Monday.

"DEAR SIR--The name at the end of these lines will, I fear,
recall to you a very rude return made on my part, some time
since, for an act of neighborly kindness on yours. I can only
say in excuse that I am a great sufferer, and that, if I was
ill-tempered enough, in a moment of irritation under severe pain,
to send back your present of fruit, I have regretted doing so
ever since. Attribute this letter, if you please, to my desire to
make some atonement, and to my wish to be of service to our good
friend and landlord, if I possibly can.

"I have been informed of the question which you addressed to my
husband, the day before yesterday, on the subject of Miss Gwilt.
From all I have heard of you, I am quite sure that your anxiety
to know more of this charming person than you know now is an
anxiety proceeding from the most honorable motives. Believing
this, I feel a woman's interest--incurable invalid as I am--in
assisting you. If you are desirous of becoming acquainted with
Miss Gwilt's family circumstances without directly appealing
to Miss Gwilt herself, it rests with you to make the discovery;
and I will tell you how.

"It so happens that, some few days since, I wrote privately to
Miss Gwilt's reference on this very subject. I had long observed
that my governess was singularly reluctant to speak of her family
and her friends; and, without attributing her silence to other
than perfectly proper motives, I felt it my duty to my daughter
to make some inquiry on the subject. The answer that I have
received is satisfactory as far as it goes. My correspondent
informs me that Miss Gwilt's story is a very sad one, and that
her own conduct throughout has been praiseworthy in the extreme.
The circumstances (of a domestic nature, as I gather) are all
plainly stated in a collection of letters now in the possession
of Miss Gwilt's reference. This lady is perfectly willing to let
me see the letters; but not possessing copies of them, and being
personally responsible for their security, she is reluctant, if
it can be avoided, to trust them to the post; and she begs me
to wait until she or I can find some reliable person who can be
employed to transmit the packet from her hands to mine.

"Under these circumstances, it has struck me that you might
possibly, with your interest in the matter, be not unwilling to
take charge of the papers. If I am wrong in this idea, and if
you are not disposed, after what I have told you, to go to the
trouble and expense of a journey to London, you have only to burn
my letter and inclosure, and to think no more about it. If you
decide on becoming my envoy, I gladly provide you with the
necessary introduction to Mrs. Mandeville. You have only, on
presenting it, to receive the letters in a sealed packet, to send
them here on your return to Thorpe Ambrose, and to wait an early
communication from me acquainting you with the result.

"In conclusion, I have only to add that I see no impropriety in
your taking (if you feel so inclined) the course that I propose
to you. Miss Gwilt's manner of receiving such allusions as I have
made to her family circumstances has rendered it unpleasant for
me (and would render it quite impossible for you) to seek
information in the first instance from herself. I am certainly
justified in applying to her reference; and you are certainly not
to blame for being the medium of safely transmitting a sealed
communication with one lady to another. If I find in that
communication family secrets which cannot honorably be mentioned
to any third person, I shall, of course, be obliged to keep you
waiting until I have first appealed to Miss Gwilt. If I find
nothing recorded but what is to her honor, and what is sure to
raise her still higher in your estimation, I am undeniably doing
her a service by taking you into my confidence. This is how I
look at the matter; but pray don't allow me to influence _you_.

"In any case, I have one condition to make, which I am sure you
will understand to be indispensable. The most innocent actions
are liable, in this wicked world, to the worst possible
interpretation I must, therefore, request that you will consider
this communication as strictly _private_. I write to you in a
confidence which is on no account (until circumstances may, in my
opinion, justify the revelation of it) to extend beyond our two
selves,

"Believe me, dear sir, truly yours,

"ANNE MILROY."

In this tempting form the unscrupulous ingenuity of the major's
wife had set the trap. Without a moment's hesitation, Allan
followed his impulses, as usual, and walked straight into it,
writing his answer and pursuing his own reflections
simultaneously in a highly characteristic state of mental
confusion.

"By Jupiter, this is kind of Mrs. Milroy!" ("My dear madam.")
"Just the thing I wanted, at the time when I needed it most!"
("I don't know how to express my sense of your kindness, except
by saying that I will go to London and fetch the letters with the
greatest pleasure.") "She shall have a basket of fruit regularly
every day, all through the season. " ("I will go at once, dear
madam, and be back to-morrow.") "Ah, nothing like the women for
helping one when one is in love! This is just what my poor mother
would have done in Mrs. Milroy's place." ("On my word of honor as
a gentleman, I will take the utmost care of the letters; and keep
the thing strictly private, as you request.") "I would have given
five hundred pounds to anybody who would have put me up to the
right way to speak to Miss Gwilt; and here is this blessed woman
does it for nothing." ("Believe me, my dear madam, gratefully
yours, Allan Armadale.")

Having sent his reply out to Mrs. Milroy's messenger, Allan
paused in a momentary perplexity. He had an appointment with
Miss Gwilt in the park for the next morning. It was absolutely
necessary to let her know that he would be unable to keep it.
She had forbidden him to write, and he had no chance that day
of seeing her alone. In this difficulty, he determined to let
the necessary intimation reach her through the medium of
a message to the major, announcing his departure for London
on business, and asking if he could be of service to any member
of the family. Having thus removed the only obstacle to his
freedom of action, Allan consulted the time-table, and found,
to his disappointment, that there was a good hour to spare
before it would be necessary to drive to the railway station.
In his existing frame of mind he would infinitely have preferred
starting for London in a violent hurry.

When the time came at last, Allan, on passing the steward's
office, drummed at the door, and called through it to Mr.
Bashwood, "I'm going to town; back to-morrow." There was no
answer from within; and the servant, interposing, informed his
master that Mr. Bashwood, having no business to attend to that
day, had locked up the office, and had left some hours since.

On reaching the station, the first person whom Allan encountered
was Pedgift Junior, going to London on the legal business which
he had mentioned on the previous evening at the great house. The
necessary explanations exchanged, and it was decided that the two
should travel in the same carriage. Allan was glad to have a
companion; and Pedgift, enchanted as usual to make himself useful
to his client, bustled away to get the tickets and see to the
luggage. Sauntering to and fro on the platform, until his
faithful follower returned, Allan came suddenly upon no less a
person than Mr. Bashwood himself, standing back in a corner with
the guard of the train, and putting a letter (accompanied, to all
appearance, by a fee) privately into the man's hand.

"Halloo!" cried Allan, in his hearty way. "Something important
there, Mr. Bashwood, eh?"

If Mr. Bashwood had been caught in the act of committing murder,
he could hardly have shown greater alarm than he now testified at
Allan's sudden discovery of him. Snatching off his dingy old hat,
he bowed bare-headed, in a palsy of nervous trembling from head
to foot. "No, sir--no, sir; only a little letter, a little
letter, a little letter," said the deputy-steward, taking refuge
in reiteration, and bowing himself swiftly backward out of his
employer's sight.

Allan turned carelessly on his heel. "I wish I could take to that
fellow," he thought, "but I can't; he's such a sneak! What the
deuce was there to tremble about? Does he think I want to pry
into his secrets?"

Mr. Bashwood's secret on this occasion concerned Allan more
nearly than Allan supposed. The letter which he had just placed
in charge of the guard was nothing less than a word of warning
addressed to Mrs. Oldershaw, and written by Miss Gwilt.

"If you can hurry your business" (wrote the major's governess)
"do so, and come back to London immediately. Things are going
wrong here, and Miss Milroy is at the bottom of the mischief.
This morning she insisted on taking up her mother's breakfast,
always on other occasions taken up by the nurse. They had a long
confabulation in private; and half an hour later I saw the nurse
slip out with a letter, and take the path that leads to the great
house. The sending of the letter has been followed by young
Armadale's sudden departure for London--in the face of an
appointment which he had with me for tomorrow morning. This looks
serious. The girl is evidently bold enough to make a fight of it
for the position of Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose, and she has
found out some way of getting her mother to help her. Don't
suppose I am in the least nervous or discouraged, and don't do
anything till you hear from me again. Only get back to London,
for I may have serious need of your assistance in the course of
the next day or two.

"I send this letter to town (to save a post) by the midday train,
in charge of the guard. As you insist on knowing every step I
take at Thorpe Ambrose, I may as well tell you that my messenger
(for I can't go to the station myself) is that curious old
creature whom I mentioned to you in my first letter. Ever since
that time he has been perpetually hanging about here for a look
at me. I am not sure whether I frighten him or fascinate him;
perhaps I do both together. All you need care to know is that
I can trust him with my trifling errands, and possibly, as time
goes on, with something more. L. G."

Meanwhile the train had started from the Thorpe Ambrose station,
and the squire and his traveling companion were on their way to
London.

Some men, finding themselves in Allan's company under present
circumstances, might have felt curious to know the nature of his
business in the metropolis. Young Pedgift's unerring instinct as
a man of the world penetrated the secret without the slightest
difficulty. "The old story," thought this wary old head, wagging
privately on its lusty young shoulders, "There's a woman in the
case, as usual. Any other business would have been turned over
to me." Perfectly satisfied with this conclusion, Mr. Pedgift the
younger proceeded, with an eye to his professional interest, to
make himself agreeable to his client in the capacity of volunteer
courier. He seized on the whole administrative business of the
journey to London, as he had seized on the whole administrative
business of the picnic at the Broads. On reaching the terminus,
Allan was ready to go to any hotel that might be recommended. His
invaluable solicitor straight-way drove him to a hotel at which
the Pedgift family had been accustomed to put up for three
generations.

"You don't object to vegetables, sir?" said the cheerful Pedgift,
as the cab stopped at a hotel in Covent Garden Market. "Very
good; you may leave the rest to my grandfather, my father, and
me. I don't know which of the three is most beloved and respected
in this house. How d'ye do, William? (Our head-waiter, Mr.
Armadale.) Is your wife's rheumatism better, and does the little
boy get on nicely at school? Your master's out, is he? Never
mind, you'll do. This, William, is Mr. Armadale of Thorpe
Ambrose. I have prevailed on Mr. Armadale to try our house. Have
you got the bedroom I wrote for? Very good. Let Mr. Armadale have

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