Part 9 out of 17
it instead of me (my grandfather's favorite bedroom, sir; No. 57,
on the second floor); pray take it; I can sleep anywhere. Will
you have the mattress on the top of the feather-bed? You hear,
William? Tell Matilda, the mattress on the top of the
feather-bed. How is Matilda? Has she got the toothache, as usual?
The head-chambermaid, Mr. Armadale, and a most extraordinary
woman; she will _not_ part with a hollow tooth in her lower jaw.
My grandfather says, 'Have it out;' my father says, 'Have it
out;' I say, 'Have it out;' and Matilda turns a deaf ear to all
three of us. Yes, William, yes; if Mr. Armadale approves, this
sitting-room will do. About dinner, sir? Shall we say, in that
case, half-past seven? William, half-past seven. Not the least
need to order anything, Mr. Armadale. The head-waiter has only
to give my compliments to the cook, and the best dinner in London
will be sent up, punctual to the minute, as a necessary
consequence. Say, Mr. Pedgift Junior, if you please, William;
otherwise, sir, we might get my grandfather's dinner or my
father's dinner, and they _might_ turn out a little too heavy
and old-fashioned in their way of feeding for you and me. As to
the wine, William. At dinner, _my_ Champagne, and the sherry that
my father thinks nasty. After dinner, the claret with the blue
seal--the wine my innocent grandfather said wasn't worth sixpence
a bottle. Ha! ha! poor old boy! You will send up the evening
papers and the play-bills, just as usual, and--that will do?
I think, William, for the present. An invaluable servant, Mr.
Armadale; they're all invaluable servants in this house. We may
not be fashionable here, sir, but by the Lord Harry we are snug!
A cab? you would like a cab? Don't stir! I've rung the bell
twice--that means, Cab wanted in a hurry. Might I ask, Mr.
Armadale, which way your business takes you? Toward Bayswater?
Would you mind dropping me in the park? It's a habit of mine when
I'm in London to air myself among the aristocracy. Yours truly,
sir, has an eye for a fine woman and a fine horse; and when
he's in Hyde Park he's quite in his native element." Thus the
all-accomplished Pedgift ran on; and by these little arts did
he recommend himself to the good opinion of his client.
When the dinner hour united the traveling companions again in
their sitting-room at the hotel, a far less acute observer than
young Pedgift must have noticed the marked change that appeared
in Allan's manner. He looked vexed and puzzled, and sat drumming
with his fingers on the dining-table without uttering a word.
"I'm afraid something has happened to annoy you, sir, since we
parted company in the Park?" said Pedgift Junior. "Excuse the
question; I only ask it in case I can be of any use."
"Something that I never expected has happened," returned Allan;
"I don't know what to make of it. I should like to have your
opinion," he added, after a little hesitation; "that is to say,
if you will excuse my not entering into any particulars?"
"Certainly!" assented young Pedgift. "Sketch it in outline, sir.
The merest hint will do; I wasn't born yesterday." ("Oh, these
women!" thought the youthful philosopher, in parenthesis.)
"Well," began Allan, "you know what I said when we got to this
hotel; I said I had a place to go to in Bayswater" (Pedgift
mentally checked off the first point: Case in the suburbs,
Bayswater); "and a person--that is to say--no--as I said before,
a person to inquire after." (Pedgift checked off the next point:
Person in the case. She-person, or he-person? She-person,
unquestionably!) "Well, I went to the house, and when I asked
for her--I mean the person--she--that is to say, the person--oh,
confound it!" cried Allan, "I shall drive myself mad, and you,
too, if I try to tell my story in this roundabout way. Here it is
in two words. I went to No. 18 Kingsdown Crescent, to see a lady
named Mandeville; and, when I asked for her, the servant said
Mrs. Mandeville had gone away, without telling anybody where, and
without even leaving an address at which letters could be sent to
her. There! it's out at last. And what do you think of it now?"
"Tell me first, sir," said the wary Pedgift, "what inquiries you
made when you found this lady had vanished?"
"Inquiries!" repeated Allan. "I was utterly staggered; I didn't
say anything. What inquiries ought I to have made?"
Pedgift Junior cleared his throat, and crossed his legs in a
strictly professional manner.
"I have no wish, Mr. Armadale," he began, "to inquire into your
business with Mrs. Mandeville--"
"No," interposed Allan, bluntly; "I hope you won't inquire into
that. My business with Mrs. Mandeville must remain a secret."
"But," pursued Pedgift, laying down the law with the forefinger
of one hand on the outstretched palm of the other, "I may,
perhaps, be allowed to ask generally whether your business with
Mrs. Mandeville is of a nature to interest you in tracing her
from Kingsdown Crescent to her present residence?"
"Certainly!" said Allan. "I have a very particular reason for
wishing to see her."
"In that case, sir," returned Pedgift Junior, "there were two
obvious questions which you ought to have asked, to begin
with--namely, on what date Mrs. Mandeville left, and how she
left. Having discovered this, you should have ascertained next
under what domestic circumstances she went away--whether there
was a misunderstanding with anybody; say a difficulty about money
matters. Also, whether she went away alone, or with somebody
else. Also, whether the house was her own, or whether she only
lodged in it. Also, in the latter event--"
"Stop! stop! you're making my head swim," cried Allan. "I don't
understand all these ins and outs. I'm not used to this sort of
"I've been used to it myself from my childhood upward, sir,"
remarked Pedgift. "And if I can be of any assistance, say the
"You're very kind," returned Allan. "If you could only help me to
find Mrs. Mandeville; and if you wouldn't mind leaving the thing
afterward entirely in my hands--?"
"I'll leave it in your hands, sir, with all the pleasure in
life," said Pedgift Junior. ("And I'll lay five to one," he
added, mentally, "when the time comes, you'll leave it in mine!")
"We'll go to Bayswater together, Mr. Armadale, tomorrow morning.
In the meantime. here's the soup. The case now before the court
is, Pleasure versus Business. I don't know what you say, sir;
I say, without a moment's hesitation, Verdict for the plaintiff.
Let us gather our rosebuds while we may. Excuse my high spirits,
Mr. Armadale. Though buried in the country, I was made for a
London life; the very air of the metropolis intoxicates me."
With that avowal the irresistible Pedgift placed a chair for
his patron, and issued his orders cheerfully to his viceroy,
the head-waiter. "Iced punch, William, after the soup. I answer
for the punch, Mr. Armadale; it's made after a recipe of my
great-uncle's. He kept a tavern, and founded the fortunes of the
family. I don't mind telling you the Pedgifts have had a publican
among them; there's no false pride about me. 'Worth makes the man
(as Pope says) and want of it the fellow; the rest is all but
leather and prunella.' I cultivate poetry as well as music, sir,
in my leisure hours; in fact, I'm more or less on familiar terms
with the whole of the nine Muses. Aha! here's the punch! The
memory of my great-uncle, the publican, Mr. Armadale--drunk in
Allan tried hard to emulate his companion's gayety and good
humor, but with very indifferent success. His visit to Kingsdown
Crescent recurred ominously again and again to his memory all
through the dinner, and all through the public amusements to
which he and his legal adviser repaired at a later hour of the
evening. When Pedgift Junior put out his candle that night, he
shook his wary head, and regretfully apostrophized "the women"
for the second time.
By ten o'clock the next morning the indefatigable Pedgift was on
the scene of action. To Allan's great relief, he proposed making
the necessary inquiries at Kingsdown Crescent in his own person,
while his patron waited near at hand, in the cab which had
brought them from the hotel. After a delay of little more than
five minutes, he reappeared, in full possession of all attainable
particulars. His first proceeding was to request Allan to step
out of the cab, and to pay the driver. Next, he politely offered
his arm, and led the way round the corner of the crescent, across
a square, and into a by-street, which was rendered exceptionally
lively by the presence of the local cab-stand. Here he stopped,
and asked jocosely whether Mr. Armadale saw his way now, or
whether it would be necessary to test his patience by making an
"See my way?" repeated Allan, in bewilderment. "I see nothing
but a cab-stand."
Pedgift Junior smiled compassionately, and entered on his
explanation. It was a lodging-house at Kingsdown Crescent, he
begged to state to begin with. He had insisted on seeing the
landlady. A very nice person, with all the remains of having been
a fine girl about fifty years ago; quite in Pedgift's style--if
he had only been alive at the beginning of the present
century--quite in Pedgift's style. But perhaps Mr. Armadale would
prefer hearing about Mrs. Mandeville? Unfortunately, there was
nothing to tell. There had been no quarreling, and not a farthing
left unpaid: the lodger had gone, and there wasn't an explanatory
circumstance to lay hold of anywhere. It was either Mrs.
Mandeville's way to vanish, or there was something under the
rose, quite undiscoverable so far. Pedgift had got the date on
which she left, and the time of day at which she left, and the
means by which she left. The means might help to trace her. She
had gone away in a cab which the servant had fetched from the
nearest stand. The stand was now before their eyes; and the
waterman was the first person to apply to--going to the waterman
for information being clearly (if Mr. Armadale would excuse the
joke) going to the fountain-head. Treating the subject in this
airy manner, and telling Allan that he would be back in a moment,
Pedgift Junior sauntered down the street, and beckoned the
waterman confidentially into the nearest public-house.
In a little while the two re-appeared, the waterman taking
Pedgift in succession to the first, third, fourth, and sixth
of the cabmen whose vehicles were on the stand. The longest
conference was held with the sixth man; and it ended in the
sudden approach of the sixth cab to the part of the street
where Allan was waiting.
"Get in, sir," said Pedgift, opening the door; "I've found the
man. He remembers the lady; and, though he has forgotten the name
of the street, he believes he can find the place he drove her to
when he once gets back into the neighborhood. I am charmed to
inform you, Mr. Armadale, that we are in luck's way so far. I
asked the waterman to show me the regular men on the stand; and
it turns out that one of the regular men drove Mrs. Mandeville.
The waterman vouches for him; he's quite an anomaly--a
respectable cabman; drives his own horse, and has never been in
any trouble. These are the sort of men, sir, who sustain one's
belief in human nature. I've had a look at our friend, and I
agree with the waterman; I think we can depend on him."
The investigation required some exercise of patience at the
outset. It was not till the cab had traversed the distance
between Bayswater and Pimlico that the driver began to slacken
his pace and look about him. After once or twice retracing its
course, the vehicle entered a quiet by-street, ending in a dead
wall, with a door in it; and stopped at the last house on the
left-hand side, the house next to the wall.
"Here it is, gentlemen," said the man, opening the cab door.
Allan and Allan's adviser both got out, and both looked at the
house, with the same feeling of instinctive distrust.
Buildings have their physiognomy--especially buildings in great
cities--and the face of this house was essentially furtive in its
expression. The front windows were all shut, and the front blinds
were all drawn down. It looked no larger than the other houses in
the street, seen in front; but it ran back deceitfully and gained
its greater accommodation by means of its greater depth. It
affected to be a shop on the ground-floor; but it exhibited
absolutely nothing in the space that intervened between the
window and an inner row of red curtains, which hid the interior
entirely from view. At one side was the shop door, having more
red curtains behind the glazed part of it, and bearing a brass
plate on the wooden part of it, inscribed with the name of
"Oldershaw." On the other side was the private door, with a bell
marked Professional; and another brass plate, indicating a
medical occupant on this side of the house, for the name on it
was, "Doctor Downward." If ever brick and mortar spoke yet, the
brick and mortar here said plainly, "We have got our secrets
inside, and we mean to keep them."
"This can't be the place," said Allan; "there must be some
'You know best, sir," remarked Pedgift Junior, with his sardonic
gravity. "You know Mrs. Mandeville's habits."
"I!" exclaimed Allan. "You may be surprised to hear it; but Mrs.
Mandeville is a total stranger to me."
"I'm not in the least surprised to hear it, sir; the landlady at
Kingsdown Crescent informed me that Mrs. Mandeville was an old
woman. Suppose we inquire?" added the impenetrable Pedgift,
looking at the red curtains in the shop window with a strong
suspicion that Mrs. Mandeville's granddaughter might possibly
be behind them.
They tried the shop door first. It was locked. They rang. A lean
and yellow young woman, with a tattered French novel in her hand,
"Good-morning, miss," said Pedgift. "Is Mrs. Mandeville at home?"
The yellow young woman stared at him in astonishment. "No person
of that name is known here," she answered, sharply, in a foreign
"Perhaps they know her at the private door?" suggested Pedgift
"Perhaps they do," said the yellow young woman, and shut the door
in his face.
"Rather a quick-tempered young person that, sir," said Pedgift.
"I congratulate Mrs. Mandeville on not being acquainted with
her." He led the way, as he spoke, to Doctor Downward's side
of the premises, and rang the bell.
The door was opened this time by a man in a shabby livery. He,
too, stared when Mrs. Mandeville's name was mentioned; and he,
too, knew of no such person in the house.
"Very odd," said Pedgift, appealing to Allan.
"What is odd?" asked a softly stepping, softly speaking gentleman
in black, suddenly appearing on the threshold of the parlor door.
Pedgift Junior politely explained the circumstances, and begged
to know whether he had the pleasure of speaking to Doctor
The doctor bowed. If the expression may be pardoned, he was
one of those carefully constructed physicians in whom the
public--especially the female public--implicitly trust. He had
the necessary bald head, the necessary double eyeglass, the
necessary black clothes, and the necessary blandness of manner,
all complete. His voice was soothing, his ways were deliberate,
his smile was confidential. What particular branch of his
profession Doctor Downward followed was not indicated on his
door-plate; but he had utterly mistaken his vocation if he was
not a ladies' medical man.
"Are you quite sure there is no mistake about the name?" asked
the doctor, with a strong underlying anxiety in his manner. "I
have known very serious inconvenience to arise sometimes from
mistakes about names. No? There is really no mistake? In that
case, gentlemen, I can only repeat what my servant has already
told you. Don't apologize, pray. Good-morning." The doctor
withdrew as noiselessly as he had appeared; the man in the shabby
livery silently opened the door; and Allan and his companion
found themselves in the street again.
"Mr. Armadale," said Pedgift, "I don't know how you feel; I feel
"That's awkward," returned Allan. "I was just going to ask you
what we ought to do next."
"I don't like the look of the place, the look of the shop-woman,
or the look of the doctor," pursued the other. "And yet I can't
say I think they are deceiving us; I can't say I think they
really know Mrs. Mandeville's name."
The impressions of Pedgift Junior seldom misled him; and they had
not misled him in this case. The caution which had dictated Mrs.
Oldershaw's private removal from Bayswater was the caution which
frequently overreaches itself. It had warned her to trust nobody
at Pimlico with the secret of the name she had assumed as Miss
Gwilt's reference; but it had entirely failed to prepare her for
the emergency that had really happened. In a word, Mrs. Oldershaw
had provided for everything except for the one unimaginable
contingency of an after-inquiry into the character of Miss Gwilt.
"We must do something," said Allan; "it seems useless to stop
Nobody had ever yet caught Pedgift Junior at the end of his
resources; and Allan failed to catch him at the end of them now.
"I quite agree with you, sir," he said; "we must do something.
We'll cross-examine the cabman."
The cabman proved to be immovable. Charged with mistaking the
place, he pointed to the empty shop window. "I don't know what
you may have seen, gentlemen," he remarked; "but there's the only
shop window I ever saw with nothing at all inside it. _That_
fixed the place in my mind at the time, and I know it again when
I see it." Charged with mistaking the person or the day, or the
house at which he had taken the person up, the cabman proved to
be still unassailable. The servant who fetched him was marked
as a girl well known on the stand. The day was marked as the
unluckiest working-day he had had since the first of the year;
and the lady was marked as having had her money ready at the
right moment (which not one elderly lady in a hundred usually
had), and having paid him his fare on demand without disputing
it (which not one elderly lady in a hundred usually did). "Take
my number, gentlemen," concluded the cabman, "and pay me for my
time; and what I've said to you, I'll swear to anywhere."
Pedgift made a note in his pocket-book of the man's number.
Having added to it the name of the street, and the names on the
two brass plates, he quietly opened the cab door. "We are quite
in the dark, thus far," he said. "Suppose we grope our way back
to the hotel?"
He spoke and looked more seriously than usual The mere fact of
"Mrs. Mandeville's" having changed her lodging without telling
any one where she was going, and without leaving any address
at which letters could be forwarded to her--which the jealous
malignity of Mrs. Milroy had interpreted as being undeniably
suspicious in itself--had produced no great impression on the
more impartial judgment of Allan's solicitor. People frequently
left their lodgings in a private manner, with perfectly
producible reasons for doing so. But the appearance of the place
to which the cabman persisted in declaring that he had driven
"Mrs. Mandeville" set the character and proceedings of that
mysterious lady before Pedgift Junior in a new light. His
personal interest in the inquiry suddenly strengthened, and he
began to feel a curiosity to know the real nature of Allan's
business which he had not felt yet.
"Our next move, Mr. Armadale, is not a very easy move to see,"
he said, as they drove back to the hotel. "Do you think you could
put me in possession of any further particulars?"
Allan hesitated; and Pedgift Junior saw that he had advanced a
little too far. "I mustn't force it," he thought; "I must give it
time, and let it come of its own accord." "In the absence of any
other information, sir," he resumed, "what do you say to my
making some inquiry about that queer shop, and about those two
names on the door-plate? My business in London, when I leave you,
is of a professional nature; and I am going into the right
quarter for getting information, if it is to be got."
"There can't be any harm, I suppose, in making inquiries,"
He, too, spoke more seriously than usual; he, too, was beginning
to feel an all-mastering curiosity to know more. Some vague
connection, not to be distinctly realized or traced out, began
to establish itself in his mind between the difficulty of
approaching Miss Gwilt's family circumstances and the difficulty
of approaching Miss Gwilt's reference. "I'll get down and walk,
and leave you to go on to your business," he said. "I want to
consider a little about this, and a walk and a cigar will help
"My business will be done, sir, between one and two," said
Pedgift, when the cab had been stopped, and Allan had got out.
"Shall we meet again at two o'clock, at the hotel?"
Allan nodded, and the cab drove off.
ALLAN AT BAY.
Two o'clock came; and Pedgift Junior, punctual to his time,
came with it. His vivacity of the morning had all sparkled out;
he greeted Allan with his customary politeness, but without his
customary smile; and, when the headwaiter came in for orders,
his dismissal was instantly pronounced in words never yet heard
to issue from the lips of Pedgift in that hotel: "Nothing at
"You seem to be in low spirits," said Allan. "Can't we get our
information? Can nobody tell you anything about the house in
"Three different people have told me about it, Mr. Armadale,
and they have all three said the same thing."
Allan eagerly drew his chair nearer to the place occupied by his
traveling companion. His reflections in the interval since they
had last seen each other had not tended to compose him. That
strange connection, so easy to feel, so hard to trace, between
the difficulty of approaching Miss Gwilt's family circumstances
and the difficulty of approaching Miss Gwilt's reference, which
had already established itself in his thoughts, had by this time
stealthily taken a firmer and firmer hold on his mind. Doubts
troubled him which he could neither understand nor express.
Curiosity filled him, which he half longed and half dreaded to
"I am afraid I must trouble you with a question or two, sir,
before I can come to the point," said Pedgift Junior. "I don't
want to force myself into your confidence. I only want to see
my way, in what looks to me like a very awkward business. Do you
mind telling me whether others besides yourself are interested
in this inquiry of ours?"
"Other people _are_ interested in it," replied Allan. "There's
no objection to telling you that."
"Is there any other person who is the object of the inquiry
besides Mrs. Mandeville, herself?" pursued Pedgift, winding
his way a little deeper into the secret.
"Yes; there is another person," said Allan, answering rather
"Is the person a young woman, Mr. Armadale?"
Allan started. "How do you come to guess that?" he began, then
checked himself, when it was too late. "Don't ask me any more
questions," he resumed. "I'm a bad hand at defending myself
against a sharp fellow like you; and I'm bound in honor toward
other people to keep the particulars of this business to myself."
Pedgift Junior had apparently heard enough for his purpose. He
drew his chair, in his turn, nearer to Allan. He was evidently
anxious and embarrassed; but his professional manner began to
show itself again from sheer force of habit.
"I've done with my questions, sir," he said; "and I have
something to say now on my side. In my father's absence, perhaps
you may be kindly disposed to consider me as your legal adviser.
If you will take my advice, you will not stir another step in
"What do you mean?" interposed Allan.
"It is just possible, Mr. Armadale, that the cabman, positive as
he is, may have been mistaken. I strongly recommend you to take
it for granted that he _is_ mistaken, and to drop it there."
The caution was kindly intended; but it came too late. Allan did
what ninety-nine men out of a hundred in his position would have
done--he declined to take his lawyer's advice.
"Very well, sir," said Pedgift Junior; "if you will have it, you
must have it."
He leaned forward close to Allan's ear, and whispered what he had
heard of the house in Pimlico, and of the people who occupied it.
"Don't blame me, Mr. Armadale," he added, when the irrevocable
words had been spoken. "I tried to spare you."
Allan suffered the shock, as all great shocks are suffered,
in silence. His first impulse would have driven him headlong
for refuge to that very view of the cabman's assertion which had
just been recommended to him, but for one damning circumstance
which placed itself inexorably in his way. Miss Gwilt's marked
reluctance to approach the story of her past life rose
irrepressibly on his memory, in indirect but horrible
confirmation of the evidence which connected Miss Gwilt's
reference with the house in Pimlico. One conclusion, and one
only--the conclusion which any man must have drawn, hearing
what he had just heard, and knowing no more than he knew--forced
itself into his mind. A miserable, fallen woman, who had
abandoned herself in her extremity to the help of wretches
skilled in criminal concealment, who had stolen her way back to
decent society and a reputable employment by means of a false
character, and whose position now imposed on her the dreadful
necessity of perpetual secrecy and perpetual deceit in relation
to her past life--such was the aspect in which the beautiful
governess at Thorpe Ambrose now stood revealed to Allan's eyes!
Falsely revealed, or truly revealed? Had she stolen her way back
to decent society and a reputable employment by means of a false
character? She had. Did her position impose on her the dreadful
necessity of perpetual secrecy and perpetual deceit in relation
to her past life? It did. Was she some such pitiable victim to
the treachery of a man unknown as Allan had supposed? _She was no
such pitiable victim_. The conclusion which Allan had drawn--the
conclusion literally forced into his mind by the facts before
him--was, nevertheless, the conclusion of all others that was
furthest even from touching on the truth. The true story of Miss
Gwilt's connection with the house in Pimlico and the people who
inhabited it--a house rightly described as filled with wicked
secrets, and people rightly represented as perpetually in danger
of feeling the grasp of the law--was a story which coming events
were yet to disclose: a story infinitely less revolting, and yet
infinitely more terrible, than Allan or Allan's companion had
either of them supposed.
"I tried to spare you, Mr. Armadale," repeated Pedgift. "I was
anxious, if I could possibly avoid it, not to distress you."
Allan looked up, and made an effort to control himself. "You have
distressed me dreadfully," he said. "You have quite crushed me
down. But it is not your fault. I ought to feel you have done me
a service; and what I ought to do I will do, when I am my own man
again. There is one thing," Allan added, after a moment's painful
consideration, "which ought to be understood between us at once.
The advice you offered me just now was very kindly meant, and
it was the best advice that could be given. I will take it
gratefully. We will never talk of this again, if you please;
and I beg and entreat you will never speak about it to any other
person. Will you promise me that?"
Pedgift gave the promise with very evident sincerity, but without
his professional confidence of manner. The distress in Allan's
face seemed to daunt him. After a moment of very uncharacteristic
hesitation, he considerately quitted the room.
Left by himself, Allan rang for writing materials, and took out
of his pocket-book the fatal letter of introduction to "Mrs.
Mandeville" which he had received from the major's wife.
A man accustomed to consider consequences and to prepare himself
for action by previous thought would, in Allan's present
circumstances, have felt some difficulty as to the course which
it might now be least embarrassing and least dangerous to pursue.
Accustomed to let his impulses direct him on all other occasions,
Allan acted on impulse in the serious emergency that now
confronted him. Though his attachment to Miss Gwilt was nothing
like the deeply rooted feeling which he had himself honestly
believed it to be, she had taken no common place in his
admiration, and she filled him with no common grief when he
thought of her now. His one dominant desire, at that critical
moment in his life, was a man's merciful desire to protect from
exposure and ruin the unhappy woman who had lost her place in
his estimation, without losing her claim to the forbearance that
could spare, and to the compassion that could shield her. "I
can't go back to Thorpe Ambrose; I can't trust myself to speak
to her, or to see her again. But I can keep her miserable secret;
and I will!" With that thought in his heart, Allan set himself to
perform the first and foremost duty which now claimed him--the
duty of communicating with Mrs. Milroy. If he had possessed a
higher mental capacity and a clearer mental view, he might have
found the letter no easy one to write. As it was, he calculated
no consequences, and felt no difficulty. His instinct warned him
to withdraw at once from the position in which he now stood
toward the major's wife, and he wrote what his instinct counseled
him to write under those circumstances, as rapidly as the pen
could travel over the paper:
"Dunn's Hotel, Covent Garden, Tuesday.
"DEAR MADAM--Pray excuse my not returning to Thorpe Ambrose
today, as I said I would. Unforeseen circumstances oblige me to
stop in London. I am sorry to say I have not succeeded in seeing
Mrs. Mandeville, for which reason I cannot perform your errand;
and I beg, therefore, with many apologies, to return the letter
of introduction. I hope you will allow me to conclude by saying
that I am very much obliged to you for your kindness, and that
I will not venture to trespass on it any further.
"I remain, dear madam, yours truly,
In those artless words, still entirely unsuspicious of the
character of the woman he had to deal with, Allan put the weapon
she wanted into Mrs. Milroy's hands.
The letter and its inclosure once sealed up and addressed, he was
free to think of himself and his future. As he sat idly drawing
lines with his pen on the blotting-paper, the tears came into
his eyes for the first time--tears in which the woman who had
deceived him had no share. His heart had gone back to his dead
mother. "If she had been alive," he thought, "I might have
trusted _her_, and she would have comforted me." It was useless
to dwell on it; he dashed away the tears, and turned his
thoughts, with the heart-sick resignation that we all know,
to living and present things.
He wrote a line to Mr. Bashwood, briefly informing the deputy
steward that his absence from Thorpe Ambrose was likely to be
prolonged for some little time, and that any further instructions
which might be necessary, under those circumstances, would reach
him through Mr. Pedgift the elder. This done, and the letters
sent to the post, his thoughts were forced back once more on
himself. Again the blank future waited before him to be filled
up; and again his heart shrank from it to the refuge of the past.
This time other images than the image of his mother filled
his mind. The one all-absorbing interest of his earlier days
stirred living and eager in him again. He thought of the sea;
he thought of his yacht lying idle in the fishing harbor at his
west-country home. The old longing got possession of him to hear
the wash of the waves; to see the filling of the sails; to feel
the vessel that his own hands had helped to build bounding under
him once more. He rose in his impetuous way to call for the
time-table, and to start for Somersetshire by the first train,
when the dread of the questions which Mr. Brock might ask, the
suspicion of the change which Mr. Brock might see in him, drew
him back to his chair. "I'll write," he thought, "to have the
yacht rigged and refitted, and I'll wait to go to Somersetshire
myself till Midwinter can go with me." He sighed as his memory
reverted to his absent friend. Never had he felt the void made
in his life by Midwinter's departure so painfully as he felt it
now, in the dreariest of all social solitudes--the solitude of
a stranger in London, left by himself at a hotel.
Before long, Pedgift Junior looked in, with an apology for his
intrusion. Allan felt too lonely and too friendless not to
welcome his companion's re-appearance gratefully. "I'm not going
back to Thorpe Ambrose," he said; "I'm going to stay a little
while in London. I hope you will be able to stay with me?" To do
him justice, Pedgift was touched by the solitary position in
which the owner of the great Thorpe Ambrose estate now appeared
before him. He had never, in his relations with Allan, so
entirely forgotten his business interests as he forgot them now.
"You are quite right, sir, to stop here; London's the place to
divert your mind," said Pedgift, cheerfully. "All business is
more or less elastic in its nature, Mr. Armadale; I'll spin _my_
business out, and keep you company with the greatest pleasure.
We are both of us on the right side of thirty, sir; let's enjoy
ourselves. What do you say to dining early, and going to the
play, and trying the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park to-morrow
morning, after breakfast? If we only live like fighting-cocks,
and go in perpetually for public amusements, we shall arrive
in no time at the _mens sana in corpore sano_ of the ancients.
Don't be alarmed at the quotation, sir. I dabble a little in
Latin after business hours, and enlarge my sympathies by
occasional perusal of the Pagan writers, assisted by a crib.
William, dinner at five; and, as it's particularly important
to-day, I'll see the cook myself."
The evening passed; the next day passed; Thursday morning came,
and brought with it a letter for Allan. The direction was in
Mrs. Milroy's handwriting; and the form of address adopted in
the letter warned Allan, the moment he opened it, that something
had gone wrong.
"The Cottage, Thorpe Ambrose, Wednesday.
"SIR--I have just received your mysterious letter. It has more
than surprised, it has really alarmed me. After having made the
friendliest advances to you on my side, I find myself suddenly
shut out from your confidence in the most unintelligible, and,
I must add, the most discourteous manner. It is quite impossible
that I can allow the matter to rest where you have left it. The
only conclusion I can draw from your letter is that my confidence
must have been abused in some way, and that you know a great deal
more than you are willing to tell me. Speaking in the interest
of my daughter's welfare, I request that you will inform me
what the circumstances are which have prevented your seeing
Mrs. Mandeville, and which have led to the withdrawal of the
assistance that you unconditionally promised me in your letter
of Monday last.
"In my state of health, I cannot involve myself in a lengthened
correspondence. I must endeavor to anticipate any objections you
may make, and I must say all that I have to say in my present
letter. In the event (which I am most unwilling to consider
possible) of your declining to accede to the request that I have
just addressed to you, I beg to say that I shall consider it my
duty to my daughter to have this very unpleasant matter cleared
up. If I don't hear from you to my full satisfaction by return
of post, I shall be obliged to tell my husband that circumstances
have happened which justify us in immediately testing the
respectability of Miss Gwilt's reference. And when he asks me
for my authority, I will refer him to you.
"Your obedient servant, ANNE MILROY."
In those terms the major's wife threw off the mask, and left her
victim to survey at his leisure the trap in which she had caught
him. Allan's belief in Mrs. Milroy's good faith had been so
implicitly sincere that her letter simply bewildered him. He saw
vaguely that he had been deceived in some way, and that Mrs.
Milroy's neighborly interest in him was not what it had looked on
the surface; and he saw no more. The threat of appealing to the
major--on which, with a woman's ignorance of the natures of men,
Mrs. Milroy had relied for producing its effect--was the only
part of the letter to which Allan reverted with any satisfaction:
it relieved instead of alarming him. "If there _is_ to be a
quarrel," he thought, "it will be a comfort, at any rate, to have
it out with a man."
Firm in his resolution to shield the unhappy woman whose secret
he wrongly believed himself to have surprised, Allan sat down to
write his apologies to the major's wife. After setting up three
polite declarations, in close marching order, he retired from the
field. "He was extremely sorry to have offended Mrs. Milroy. He
was innocent of all intention to offend Mrs. Milroy. And he
begged to remain Mrs. Milroy's truly." Never had Allan's habitual
brevity as a letter-writer done him better service than it did
him now. With a little more skillfulness in the use of his pen,
he might have given his enemy even a stronger hold on him than
the hold she had got already.
The interval day passed, and with the next morning's post Mrs.
Milroy's threat came realized in the shape of a letter from her
husband. The major wrote less formally than his wife had written,
but his questions were mercilessly to the point:
"The Cottage, Thorpe Ambrose, Friday, July 11, 1851.
"DEAR SIR--When you did me the favor of calling here a few days
since, you asked a question relating to my governess, Miss Gwilt,
which I thought rather a strange one at the time, and which
caused, as you may remember, a momentary embarrassment between
"This morning the subject of Miss Gwilt has been brought to
my notice again in a manner which has caused me the utmost
astonishment. In plain words, Mrs. Milroy has informed me
that Miss Gwilt has exposed herself to the suspicion of having
deceived us by a false reference. On my expressing the surprise
which such an extraordinary statement caused me, and requesting
that it might be instantly substantiated, I was still further
astonished by being told to apply for all particulars to no less
a person than Mr. Armadale. I have vainly requested some further
explanation from Mrs. Milroy; she persists in maintaining
silence, and in referring me to yourself.
"Under these extraordinary circumstances, I am compelled, in
justice to all parties, to ask you certain questions which I will
endeavor to put as plainly as possible, and which I am quite
ready to believe (from my previous experience of you) that you
will answer frankly on your side.
"I beg to inquire, in the first place, whether you admit or deny
Mrs. Milroy's assertion that you have made yourself acquainted
with particulars relating either to Miss Gwilt or to Miss Gwilt's
reference, of which I am entirely ignorant? In the second place,
if you admit the truth of Mrs. Milroy's statement, I request to
know how you became acquainted with those particulars? Thirdly,
and lastly, I beg to ask you what the particulars are?
"If any special justification for putting these questions be
needed--which, purely as a matter of courtesy toward yourself,
I am willing to admit--I beg to remind you that the most precious
charge in my house, the charge of my daughter, is confided to
Miss Gwilt; and that Mrs. Milroy's statement places you, to all
appearance, in the position of being competent to tell me whether
that charge is properly bestowed or not.
"I have only to add that, as nothing has thus far occurred to
justify me in entertaining the slightest suspicion either of my
governess or her reference, I shall wait before I make any appeal
to Miss Gwilt until I have received your answer--which I shall
expect by return of post. Believe me, dear sir, faithfully yours,
This transparently straightforward letter at once dissipated
the confusion which had thus far existed in Allan's mind. He saw
the snare in which he had been caught (though he was still
necessarily at a loss to understand why it had been set for him)
as he had not seen it yet. Mrs. Milroy had clearly placed him
between two alternatives--the alternative of putting himself in
the wrong, by declining to answer her husband's questions; or the
alternative of meanly sheltering his responsibility behind the
responsibility of a woman, by acknowledging to the major's own
face that the major's wife had deceived him.
In this difficulty Allan acted as usual, without hesitation. His
pledge to Mrs. Milroy to consider their correspondence private
still bound him, disgracefully as she had abused it. And his
resolution was as immovable as ever to let no earthly
consideration tempt him into betraying Miss Gwilt. "I may have
behaved like a fool," he thought, "but I won't break my word;
and I won't be the means of turning that miserable woman adrift
in the world again."
He wrote to the major as artlessly and briefly as he had written
to the major's wife. He declared his unwillingness to cause a
friend and neighbor any disappointment, if he could possibly help
it. On this occasion he had no other choice. The questions the
major asked him were questions which he could not consent to
answer. He was not very clever at explaining himself, and he
hoped he might be excused for putting it in that way, and saying
Monday's post brought with it Major Milroy's rejoinder, and
closed the correspondence.
"The Cottage, Thorpe Ambrose, Sunday.
"SIR--Your refusal to answer my questions, unaccompanied as
it is by even the shadow of an excuse for such a proceeding,
can be interpreted but in one way. Besides being an implied
acknowledgment of the correctness of Mrs. Milroy's statement,
it is also an implied reflection on my governess's character.
As an act of justice toward a lady who lives under the protection
of my roof, and who has given me no reason whatever to distrust
her, I shall now show our correspondence to Miss Gwilt; and I
shall repeat to her the conversation which I had with Mrs.
Milroy on the subject, in Mrs. Milroy's presence.
"One word more respecting the future relations between us, and
I have done. My ideas on certain subjects are, I dare say, the
ideas of an old-fashioned man. In my time, we had a code of honor
by which we regulated our actions. According to that code, if a
man made private inquiries into a lady's affairs, without being
either her husband, her father, or her brother, he subjected
himself to the responsibility of justifying his conduct in the
estimation of others; and, if he evaded that responsibility, he
abdicated the position of a gentleman. It is quite possible that
this antiquated way of thinking exists no longer; but it is too
late for me, at my time of life, to adopt more modern views. I am
scrupulously anxious, seeing that we live in a country and a time
in which the only court of honor is a police-court, to express
myself with the utmost moderation of language upon this the last
occasion that I shall have to communicate with you. Allow me,
therefore, merely to remark that our ideas of the conduct which
is becoming in a gentleman differ seriously; and permit me on
this account to request that you will consider yourself for the
future as a stranger to my family and to myself.
"Your obedient servant,
The Monday morning on which his client received the major's
letter was the blackest Monday that had yet been marked in
Pedgift's calendar. When Allan's first angry sense of the tone
of contempt in which his friend and neighbor pronounced sentence
on him had subsided, it left him sunk in a state of depression
from which no efforts made by his traveling companion could rouse
him for the rest of the day. Reverting naturally, now that his
sentence of banishment had been pronounced, to his early
intercourse with the cottage, his memory went back to Neelie,
more regretfully and more penitently than it had gone back to her
yet." If _she_ had shut the door on me, instead of her father,"
was the bitter reflection with which Allan now reviewed the past,
"I shouldn't have had a word to say against it; I should have
felt it served me right."
The next day brought another letter--a welcome letter this time,
from Mr. Brock. Allan had written to Somersetshire on the subject
of refitting the yacht some days since. The letter had found the
rector engaged, as he innocently supposed, in protecting his old
pupil against the woman whom he had watched in London, and whom
he now believed to have followed him back to his own home. Acting
under the directions sent to her, Mrs. Oldershaw's house-maid had
completed the mystification of Mr. Brock. She had tranquilized
all further anxiety on the rector's part by giving him a written
undertaking (in the character of Miss Gwilt), engaging never to
approach Mr. Armadale, either personally or by letter! Firmly
persuaded that he had won the victory at last, poor Mr. Brock
answered Allan's note in the highest spirits, expressing some
natural surprise at his leaving Thorpe Ambrose, but readily
promising that the yacht should be refitted, and offering the
hospitality of the rectory in the heartiest manner.
This letter did wonders in raising Allan's spirits. It gave him
a new interest to look to, entirely disassociated from his past
life in Norfolk. He began to count the days that were still to
pass before the return of his absent friend. It was then Tuesday.
If Midwinter came back from his walking trip, as he had engaged
to come back, in a fortnight, Saturday would find him at Thorpe
Ambrose. A note sent to meet the traveler might bring him to
London the same night; and, if all went well, before another
week was over they might be afloat together in the yacht.
The next day passed, to Allan's relief, without bringing any
letters. The spirits of Pedgift rose sympathetically with the
spirits of his client. Toward dinner time he reverted to the
_mens sana in corpore sano_ of the ancients, and issued his
orders to the head-waiter more royally than ever.
Thursday came, and brought the fatal postman with more news from
Norfolk. A letter-writer now stepped on the scene who had not
appeared there yet; and the total overthrow of all Allan's plans
for a visit to Somersetshire was accomplished on the spot.
Pedgift Junior happened that morning to be the first at the
breakfast table. When Allan came in, he relapsed into his
professional manner, and offered a letter to his patron with
a bow performed in dreary silence.
"For me?" inquired Allan, shrinking instinctively from a new
"For you, sir--from my father," replied Pedgift, "inclosed in one
to myself. Perhaps you will allow me to suggest, by way of
preparing you for--for something a little unpleasant--that we
shall want a particularly good dinner to-day; and (if they're not
performing any modern German music to-night) I think we should do
well to finish the evening melodiously at the Opera."
"Something wrong at Thorpe Ambrose?" asked Allen.
"Yes, Mr. Armadale; something wrong at Thorpe Ambrose."
Allan sat down resignedly, and opened the letter.
["Private and Confidential."]
"High Street Thorpe Ambrose, 17th July, 1851.
"DEAR SIR--I cannot reconcile it with my sense of duty to your
interests to leave you any longer in ignorance of reports current
in this town and its neighborhood, which, I regret to say, are
reports affecting yourself.
"The first intimation of anything unpleasant reached me on Monday
last. It was widely rumored in the town that something had gone
wrong at Major Milroy's with the new governess, and that Mr.
Armadale was mixed up in it. I paid no heed to this, believing it
to be one of the many trumpery pieces of scandal perpetually set
going here, and as necessary as the air they breathe to the
comfort of the inhabitants of this highly respectable place.
"Tuesday, however, put the matter in a new light. The most
interesting particulars were circulated on the highest authority.
On Wednesday, the gentry in the neighborhood took the matter up,
and universally sanctioned the view adopted by the town. To-day
the public feeling has reached its climax, and I find myself
under the necessity of making you acquainted with what has
"To begin at the beginning. It is asserted that a correspondence
took place last week between Major Milroy and yourself; in which
you cast a very serious suspicion on Miss Gwilt's respectability,
without defining your accusations and without (on being applied
to) producing your proofs. Upon this, the major appears to have
felt it his duty (while assuring his governess of his own firm
belief in her respectability) to inform her of what had happened,
in order that she might have no future reason to complain of his
having had any concealments from her in a matter affecting her
character. Very magnanimous on the major's part; but you will see
directly that Miss Gwilt was more magnanimous still. After
expressing her thanks in a most becoming manner, she requested
permission to withdraw herself from Major Milroy's service.
"Various reports are in circulation as to the governess's reason
for taking this step.
"The authorized version (as sanctioned by the resident gentry)
represents Miss Gwilt to have said that she could not
condescend--in justice to herself, and in justice to her highly
respectable reference--to defend her reputation against undefined
imputations cast on it by a comparative stranger. At the same
time it was impossible for her to pursue such a course of conduct
as this, unless she possessed a freedom of action which was quite
incompatible with her continuing to occupy the dependent position
of a governess. For that reason she felt it incumbent on her to
leave her situation. But, while doing this, she was equally
determined not to lead to any misinterpretation of her motives
by leaving the neighborhood. No matter at what inconvenience to
herself, she would remain long enough at Thorpe Ambrose to await
any more definitely expressed imputations that might be made on
her character, and to repel them publicly the instant they
assumed a tangible form.
"Such is the position which this high-minded lady has taken up,
with an excellent effect on the public mind in these parts. It
is clearly her interest, for some reason, to leave her situation,
without leaving the neighborhood. On Monday last she established
herself in a cheap lodging on the outskirts of the town. And on
the same day she probably wrote to her reference, for yesterday
there came a letter from that lady to Major Milroy, full of
virtuous indignation, and courting the fullest inquiry. The
letter has been shown publicly, and has immensely strengthened
Miss Gwilt's position. She is now considered to be quite a
heroine. The _Thorpe Ambrose Mercury_ has got a leading article
about her, comparing her to Joan of Arc. It is considered
probable that she will be referred to in the sermon next Sunday.
We reckon five strong-minded single ladies in this
neighborhood--and all five have called on her. A testimonial was
suggested; but it has been given up at Miss Gwilt's own request,
and a general movement is now on foot to get her employment as a
teacher of music. Lastly, I have had the honor of a visit from
the lady herself, in her capacity of martyr, to tell me, in the
sweetest manner, that she doesn't blame Mr. Armadale, and that
she considers him to be an innocent instrument in the hands of
other and more designing people. I was carefully on my guard with
her; for I don't altogether believe in Miss Gwilt, and I have my
lawyer's suspicions of the motive that is at the bottom of her
"I have written thus far, my dear sir, with little hesitation or
embarrassment. But there is unfortunately a serious side to this
business as well as a ridiculous side; and I must unwillingly
come to it before I close my letter.
"It is, I think, quite impossible that you can permit yourself
to be spoken of as you are spoken of now, without stirring
personally in the matter. You have unluckily made many enemies
here, and foremost among them is my colleague, Mr. Darch. He has
been showing everywhere a somewhat rashly expressed letter you
wrote to him on the subject of letting the cottage to Major
Milroy instead of to himself, and it has helped to exasperate the
feeling against you. It is roundly stated in so many words that
you have been prying into Miss Gwilt's family affairs, with the
most dishonorable motives; that you have tried, for a profligate
purpose of your own, to damage her reputation, and to deprive her
of the protection of Major Milroy's roof; and that, after having
been asked to substantiate by proof the suspicions that you have
cast on the reputation of a defenseless woman, you have
maintained a silence which condemns you in the estimation of all
"I hope it is quite unnecessary for me to say that I don't attach
the smallest particle of credit to these infamous reports. But
they are too widely spread and too widely believed to be treated
with contempt. I strongly urge you to return at once to this
place, and to take the necessary measures for defending your
character, in concert with me, as your legal adviser. I have
formed, since my interview with Miss Gwilt, a very strong opinion
of my own on the subject of that lady which it is not necessary
to commit to paper. Suffice it to say here that I shall have a
means to propose to you for silencing the slanderous tongues of
your neighbors, on the success of which I stake my professional
reputation, if you will only back me by your presence and
"It may, perhaps, help to show you the necessity there is
for your return, if I mention one other assertion respecting
yourself, which is in everybody's mouth. Your absence is, I
regret to tell you, attributed to the meanest of all motives.
It is said that you are remaining in London because you are
afraid to show your face at Thorpe Ambrose.
"Believe me, dear sir, your faithful servant,
"A. PEDGIFT, Sen."
Allan was of an age to feel the sting contained in the last
sentence of his lawyer's letter. He started to his feet in a
paroxysm of indignation, which revealed his character to Pedgift
Junior in an entirely new light.
"Where's the time-table?" cried Allan. "I must go back to Thorpe
Ambrose by the next train! If it doesn't start directly, I'll
have a special engine. I must and will go back instantly, and
I don't care two straws for the expense!"
"Suppose we telegraph to my father, sir?" suggested the judicious
Pedgift. "It's the quickest way of expressing your feelings, and
"So it is," said Allan. "Thank you for reminding me of it.
Telegraph to them! Tell your father to give every man in Thorpe
Ambrose the lie direct, in my name. Put it in capital letters,
Pedgift--put it in capital letters!"
Pedgift smiled and shook his head. If he was acquainted with no
other variety of human nature, he thoroughly knew the variety
that exists in country towns.
"It won't have the least effect on them, Mr. Armadale," he
remarked quietly. "They'll only go on lying harder than ever. If
you want to upset the whole town, one line will do it. With five
shillings' worth of human labor and electric fluid, sir (I dabble
a little in science after business hours), we'll explode a
bombshell in Thorpe Ambrose!" He produced the bombshell on
a slip of paper as he spoke: "A. Pedgift, Junior, to A. Pedgift,
Senior.--Spread it all over the place that Mr. Armadale is coming
down by the next train."
"More words!" suggested Allan, looking over his shoulder. "Make
"Leave my father to make it stronger, sir," returned the wary
Pedgift. "My father is on the spot, and his command of language
is something quite extraordinary." He rang the bell, and
dispatched the telegram.
Now that something had been done, Allan subsided gradually
into a state of composure. He looked back again at Mr. Pedgift's
letter, and then handed it to Mr. Pedgift's son.
"Can you guess your father's plan for setting me right in the
neighborhood?" he asked.
Pedgift the younger shook his wise head. "His plan appears to be
connected in some way, sir, with his opinion of Miss Gwilt."
"I wonder what he thinks of her?" said Allan.
"I shouldn't be surprised, Mr. Armadale," returned Pedgift
Junior, "if his opinion staggers you a little, when you come to
hear it. My father has had a large legal experience of the shady
side of the sex, and he learned his profession at the Old
Allan made no further inquiries. He seemed to shrink from
pursuing the subject, after having started it himself. "Let's
be doing something to kill the time," he said. "Let's pack up
and pay the bill."
They packed up and paid the bill. The hour came, and the train
left for Norfolk at last.
While the travelers were on their way back, a somewhat longer
telegraphic message than Allan's was flashing its way past them
along the wires, in the reverse direction--from Thorpe Ambrose
to London. The message was in cipher, and, the signs being
interpreted, it ran thus: "From Lydia Gwilt to Maria
Oldershaw.--Good news! He is coming back. I mean to have an
interview with him. Everything looks well. Now I have left the
cottage, I have no women's prying eyes to dread, and I can come
and go as I please. Mr. Midwinter is luckily out of the way.
I don't despair of becoming Mrs. Armadale yet. Whatever happens,
depend on my keeping away from London until I am certain of not
taking any spies after me to your place. I am in no hurry to
leave Thorpe Ambrose. I mean to be even with Miss Milroy first."
Shortly after that message was received in London, Allan was back
again in his own house.
It was evening--Pedgift Junior had just left him--and Pedgift
Senior was expected to call on business in half an hour's time.
After waiting to hold a preliminary consultation with his son,
Mr. Pedgift the elder set forth alone for his interview with
Allan at the great house.
Allowing for the difference in their ages, the son was, in this
instance, so accurately the reflection of the father, that
an acquaintance with either of the two Pedgifts was almost
equivalent to an acquaintance with both. Add some little height
and size to the figure of Pedgift Junior, give more breadth and
boldness to his humor, and some additional solidity and composure
to his confidence in himself, and the presence and character of
Pedgift Senior stood, for all general purposes, revealed before
The lawyer's conveyance to Thorpe Ambrose was his own smart gig,
drawn by his famous fast-trotting mare. It was his habit to drive
himself; and it was one among the trifling external peculiarities
in which he and his son differed a little, to affect something of
the sporting character in his dress. The drab trousers of Pedgift
the elder fitted close to his legs; his boots, in dry weather
and wet alike, were equally thick in the sole; his coat pockets
overlapped his hips, and his favorite summer cravat was of light
spotted muslin, tied in the neatest and smallest of bows. He used
tobacco like his son, but in a different form. While the younger
man smoked, the elder took snuff copiously; and it was noticed
among his intimates that he always held his "pinch" in a state of
suspense between his box and his nose when he was going to clinch
a good bargain or to say a good thing. The art of diplomacy
enters largely into the practice of all successful men in
the lower branch of the law. Mr. Pedgift's form of diplomatic
practice had been the same throughout his life, on every occasion
when he found his arts of persuasion required at an interview
with another man. He invariably kept his strongest argument,
or his boldest proposal, to the last, and invariably remembered
it at the door (after previously taking his leave), as if it was
a purely accidental consideration which had that instant occurred
to him. Jocular friends, acquainted by previous experience with
this form of proceeding, had given it the name of "Pedgift's
postscript." There were few people in Thorpe Ambrose who did not
know what it meant when the lawyer suddenly checked his exit
at the opened door; came back softly to his chair, with his pinch
of snuff suspended between his box and his nose; said, "By-the-by,
there's a point occurs to me;" and settled the question off-hand,
after having given it up in despair not a minute before.
This was the man whom the march of events at Thorpe Ambrose had
now thrust capriciously into a foremost place. This was the one
friend at hand to whom Allan in his social isolation could turn
for counsel in the hour of need.
"Good-evening, Mr. Armadale. Many thanks for your prompt
attention to my very disagreeable letter," said Pedgift Senior,
opening the conversation cheerfully the moment he entered his
client's house. "I hope you understand, sir, that I had really
no choice under the circumstances but to write as I did?"
"I have very few friends, Mr. Pedgift," returned Allan, simply.
"And I am sure you are one of the few."
"Much obliged, Mr. Armadale. I have always tried to deserve your
good opinion, and I mean, if I can, to deserve it now. You found
yourself comfortable, I hope, sir, at the hotel in London? We
call it Our hotel. Some rare old wine in the cellar, which I
should have introduced to your notice if I had had the honor of
being with you. My son unfortunately knows nothing about wine."
Allan felt his false position in the neighborhood far too acutely
to be capable of talking of anything but the main business of the
evening. His lawyer's politely roundabout method of approaching
the painful subject to be discussed between them rather irritated
than composed him. He came at once to the point, in his own
bluntly straightforward way.
"The hotel was very comfortable, Mr. Pedgift, and your son was
very kind to me. But we are not in London now; and I want to talk
to you about how I am to meet the lies that are being told of me
in this place. Only point me out any one man," cried Allan, with
a rising voice and a mounting color--"any one man who says I am
afraid to show my face in the neighborhood, and I'll horsewhip
him publicly before another day is over his head!"
Pedgift Senior helped himself to a pinch of snuff, and held it
calmly in suspense midway between his box and his nose.
"You can horsewhip a man, sir; but you can't horsewhip a
neighborhood," said the lawyer, in his politely epigrammatic
manner. "We will fight our battle, if you please, without
borrowing our weapons of the coachman yet a while, at any rate."
"But how are we to begin?" asked Allan, impatiently. "How am I
to contradict the infamous things they say of me?"
"There are two ways of stepping out of your present awkward
position, sir--a short way, and a long way," replied Pedgift
Senior. "The short way (which is always the best) has occurred to
me since I have heard of your proceedings in London from my son.
I understand that you permitted him, after you received my
letter, to take me into your confidence. I have drawn various
conclusions from what he has told me, which I may find it
necessary to trouble you with presently. In the meantime I should
be glad to know under what circumstances you went to London to
make these unfortunate inquiries about Miss Gwilt? Was it your
own notion to pay that visit to Mrs. Mandeville? or were you
acting under the influence of some other person?"
Allan hesitated. "I can't honestly tell you it was my own
notion," he replied, and said no more.
"I thought as much!" remarked Pedgift Senior, in high triumph.
"The short way out of our present difficulty, Mr. Armadale, lies
straight through that other person, under whose influence you
acted. That other person must be presented forthwith to public
notice, and must stand in that other person's proper place.
The name, if you please, sir, to begin with--we'll come to the
"I am sorry to say, Mr. Pedgift, that we must try the longest
way, if you have no objection," replied Allan, quietly. "The
short way happens to be a way I can't take on this occasion."
The men who rise in the law are the men who decline to take No
for an answer. Mr. Pedgift the elder had risen in the law; and
Mr. Pedgift the elder now declined to take No for an answer. But
all pertinacity--even professional pertinacity included--sooner
or later finds its limits; and the lawyer, doubly fortified as
he was by long experience and copious pinches of snuff, found
his limits at the very outset of the interview. It was impossible
that Allan could respect the confidence which Mrs. Milroy had
treacherously affected to place in him. But he had an honest
man's regard for his own pledged word--the regard which looks
straightforward at the fact, and which never glances sidelong at
the circumstances--and the utmost persistency of Pedgift Senior
failed to move him a hairbreadth from the position which he had
taken up. "No" is the strongest word in the English language,
in the mouth of any man who has the courage to repeat it often
enough, and Allan had the courage to repeat it often enough on
"Very good, sir," said the lawyer, accepting his defeat without
the slightest loss of temper. "The choice rests with you, and you
have chosen. We will go the long way. It starts (allow me to
inform you) from my office; and it leads (as I strongly suspect)
through a very miry road to--Miss Gwilt."
Allan looked at his legal adviser in speechless astonishment.
"If you won't expose the person who is responsible in the first
instance, sir, for the inquiries to which you unfortunately lent
yourself," proceeded Mr. Pedgift the elder, "the only other
alternative, in your present position, is to justify the
"And how is that to be done?" inquired Allan.
"By proving to the whole neighborhood, Mr. Armadale, what I
firmly believe to be the truth--that the pet object of the public
protection is an adventuress of the worst class; an undeniably
worthless and dangerous woman. In plainer English still, sir,
by employing time enough and money enough to discover the truth
about Miss Gwilt."
Before Allan could say a word in answer, there was an
interruption at the door. After the usual preliminary knock,
one of the servants came in.
"I told you I was not to be interrupted," said Allan, irritably.
"Good heavens! am I never to have done with them? Another
"Yes, sir," said the man, holding it out. "And," he added,
speaking words of evil omen in his master's ears, "the person
waits for an answer."
Allan looked at the address of the letter with a natural
expectation of encountering the handwriting of the major's wife.
The anticipation was not realized. His correspondent was plainly
a lady, but the lady was not Mrs. Milroy.
"Who can it be?" he said, looking mechanically at Pedgift Senior
as he opened the envelope.
Pedgift Senior gently tapped his snuff-box, and said, without a
moment's hesitation, "Miss Gwilt."
Allan opened the letter. The first two words in it were the echo
of the two words the lawyer had just pronounced. It _was_ Miss
Once more, Allan looked at his legal adviser in speechless
"I have known a good many of them in my time, sir," explained
Pedgift Senior, with a modesty equally rare and becoming in a man
of his age. "Not as handsome as Miss Gwilt, I admit. But quite as
bad, I dare say. Read your letter, Mr. Armadale--read your
Allan read these lines:
"Miss Gwilt presents her compliments to Mr. Armadale and begs
to know if it will be convenient to him to favor her with an
interview, either this evening or to-morrow morning. Miss Gwilt
offers no apology for making her present request. She believes
Mr. Armadale will grant it as an act of justice toward a
friendless woman whom he has been innocently the means of
injuring, and who is earnestly desirous to set herself right
in his estimation."
Allan handed the letter to his lawyer in silent perplexity and
The face of Mr. Pedgift the elder expressed but one feeling when
he had read the letter in his turn and had handed it back--a
feeling of profound admiration. "What a lawyer she would have
made," he exclaimed, fervently, "if she had only been a man!"
"I can't treat this as lightly as you do, Mr. Pedgift," said
Allan. "It's dreadfully distressing to me. I was so fond of her,"
he added, in a lower tone--"I was so fond of her once."
Mr. Pedgift Senior suddenly became serious on his side.
"Do you mean to say, sir, that you actually contemplate seeing
Miss Gwilt?" he asked, with an expression of genuine dismay.
"I can't treat her cruelly," returned Allan. "I have been the
means of injuring her--without intending it, God knows! I can't
treat her cruelly after that! "
"Mr. Armadale," said the lawyer, "you did me the honor, a little
while since, to say that you considered me your friend. May I
presume on that position to ask you a question or two, before you
go straight to your own ruin?"
"Any questions you like," said Allan, looking back at the
letter--the only letter he had ever received from Miss Gwilt.
"You have had one trap set for you already, sir, and you have
fallen into it. Do you want to fall into another?"
"You know the answer to that question, Mr. Pedgift, as well as
"I'll try again, Mr. Armadale; we lawyers are not easily
discouraged. Do you think that any statement Miss Gwilt might
make to you, if you do see her, would be a statement to be relied
on, after what you and my son discovered in London?"
"She might explain what we discovered in London," suggested
Allan, still looking at the writing, and thinking of the hand
that had traced it.
"_Might_ explain it? My dear sir, she is quite certain to explain
it! I will do her justice: I believe she would make out a case
without a single flaw in it from beginning to end."
That last answer forced Allan's attention away from the letter.
The lawyer's pitiless common sense showed him no mercy.
"If you see that woman again, sir," proceeded Pedgift Senior,
"you will commit the rashest act of folly I ever heard of in all
my experience. She can have but one object in coming here--to
practice on your weakness for her. Nobody can say into what false
step she may not lead you, if you once give her the opportunity.
You admit yourself that you have been fond of her; your
attentions to her have been the subject of general remark;
if you haven't actually offered her the chance of becoming Mrs.
Armadale, you have done the next thing to it; and knowing all
this, you propose to see her, and to let her work on you with her
devilish beauty and her devilish cleverness, in the character of
your interesting victim! You, who are one of the best matches in
England! You, who are the natural prey of all the hungry single
women in the community! I never heard the like of it; I never, in
all my professional experience, heard the like of it! If you must
positively put yourself in a dangerous position, Mr. Armadale,"
concluded Pedgift the elder, with the everlasting pinch of snuff
held in suspense between his box and his nose, "there's a
wild-beast show coming to our town next week. Let in the tigress,
sir; don't let in Miss Gwilt!"
For the third time Allan looked at his lawyer. And for the third
time his lawyer looked back at him quite unabashed.
"You seem to have a very bad opinion of Miss Gwilt," said Allan.
"The worst possible opinion, Mr. Armadale," retorted Pedgift
Senior, coolly. "We will return to that when we have sent the
lady's messenger about his business. Will you take my advice?
Will you decline to see her?"
"I would willingly decline--it would be so dreadfully distressing
to both of us," said Allan. "I would willingly decline, if I only
"Bless my soul, Mr. Armadale, it's easy enough! Don't commit
_you_ yourself in writing. Send out to the messenger, and say
there's no answer."
The short course thus suggested was a course which Allan
positively declined to take. "It's treating her brutally,"
he said; "I can't and won't do it."
Once more the pertinacity of Pedgift the elder found its limits,
and once more that wise man yielded gracefully to a compromise.
On receiving his client's promise not to see Miss Gwilt, he
consented to Allan's committing himself in writing under his
lawyer's dictation. The letter thus produced was modeled in
Allan's own style; it began and ended in one sentence. "Mr.
Armadale presents his compliments to Miss Gwilt, and regrets
that he cannot have the pleasure of seeing her at Thorpe
Ambrose." Allan had pleaded hard for a second sentence,
explaining that he only declined Miss Gwilt's request from
a conviction that an interview would be needlessly distressing
on both sides. But his legal adviser firmly rejected the proposed
addition to the letter. "When you say No to a woman, sir,"
remarked Pedgift Senior, "always say it in one word. If you give
her your reasons, she invariably believes that you mean Yes."
Producing that little gem of wisdom from the rich mine of his
professional experience, Mr. Pedgift the elder sent out the
answer to Miss Gwilt's messenger, and recommended the servant
to "see the fellow, whoever he was, well clear of the house."
"Now, sir," said the lawyer, "we will come back, if you like,
to my opinion of Miss Gwilt. It doesn't at all agree with yours,
I'm afraid. You think her an object of pity--quite natural at
your age. I think her an object for the inside of a prison--quite
natural at mine. You shall hear the grounds on which I have
formed my opinion directly. Let me show you that I am in earnest
by putting the opinion itself, in the first place, to a practical
test. Do you think Miss Gwilt is likely to persist in paying you
a visit, Mr. Armadale, after the answer you have just sent to
"Quite impossible!" cried Allan, warmly. "Miss Gwilt is a lady;
after the letter I have sent to her, she will never come near me
"There we join issue, sir," cried Pedgift Senior. "I say she will
snap her fingers at your letter (which was one of the reasons why
I objected to your writing it). I say, she is in all probability
waiting her messenger's return, in or near your grounds at this
moment. I say, she will try to force her way in here, before
four-and-twenty hours more are over your head. Egad, sir!" cried
Mr. Pedgift, looking at his watch, "it's only seven o'clock now.
She's bold enough and clever enough to catch you unawares this
very evening. Permit me to ring for the servant--permit me to
request that you will give him orders immediately to say you are
not at home. You needn't hesitate, Mr. Armadale! If you're right
about Miss Gwilt, it's a mere formality. If I'm right, it's a
wise precaution. Back your opinion, sir," said Mr. Pedgift,
ringing the bell; "I back mine!"
Allan was sufficiently nettled when the bell rang to feel ready
to give the order. But when the servant came in, past
remembrances got the better of him, and the words stuck in his
throat. "You give the order," he said to Mr. Pedgift, and walked
away abruptly to the window. "You're a good fellow!" thought the
old lawyer, looking after him, and penetrating his motive on the
instant. "The claws of that she-devil shan't scratch you if I can
The servant waited inexorably for his orders.
"If Miss Gwilt calls here, either this evening, or at any other
time," said Pedgift Senior, "Mr. Armadale is not at home. Wait!
If she asks when Mr. Armadale will be back, you don't know. Wait!
If she proposes coming in and sitting down, you have a general
order that nobody is to come in and sit down unless they have a
previous appointment with Mr. Armadale. Come!" cried old Pedgift,
rubbing his hands cheerfully when the servant had left the room,
"I've stopped her out now, at any rate! The orders are all given,
Mr. Armadale. We may go on with our conversation."
Allan came back from the window. "The conversation is not a very
pleasant one," he said. "No offense to you, but I wish it was
"We will get it over as soon as possible, sir," said Pedgift
Senior, still persisting, as only lawyers and women _can_
persist, in forcing his way little by little nearer and nearer to
his own object. "Let us go back, if you please, to the practical
suggestion which I offered to you when the servant came in with
Miss Gwilt's note. There is, I repeat, only one way left for you,
Mr. Armadale, out of your present awkward position. You must
pursue your inquiries about this woman to an end--on the chance
(which I consider next to a certainty) that the end will justify
you in the estimation of the neighborhood."
"I wish to God I had never made any inquiries at all!" said
Allan. "Nothing will induce me, Mr. Pedgift, to make any more."
"Why?" asked the lawyer.
"Can you ask me why," retorted Allan, hotly, "after your son has
told you what we found out in London? Even if I had less cause to
be--to be sorry for Miss Gwilt than I have; even if it was some
other woman, do you think I would inquire any further into the
secret of a poor betrayed creature--much less expose it to the
neighborhood? I should think myself as great a scoundrel as the
man who has cast her out helpless on the world, if I did anything
of the kind. I wonder you can ask me the question--upon my soul,
I wonder you can ask me the question!"
"Give me your hand, Mr. Armadale!" cried Pedgift Senior, warmly;
"I honor you for being so angry with me. The neighborhood may say
what it pleases; you're a gentleman, sir, in the best sense
of the word. Now," pursued the lawyer, dropping Allan's hand,
and lapsing back instantly from sentiment to business, "just hear
what I have got to say in my own defense. Suppose Miss Gwilt's
real position happens to be nothing like what you are generously
determined to believe it to be?"
"We have no reason to suppose that," said Allan, resolutely.
"Such is your opinion, sir," persisted Pedgift. "Mine, founded on
what is publicly known of Miss Gwilt's proceedings here, and on
what I have seen of Miss Gwilt herself, is that she is as far as
I am from being the sentimental victim you are inclined to make
her out. Gently, Mr. Armadale! remember that I have put my
opinion to a practical test, and wait to condemn it off-hand
until events have justified you. Let me put my points, sir--make
allowances for me as a lawyer--and let me put my points. You and
my son are young men; and I don't deny that the circumstances, on
the surface, appear to justify the interpretation which, as young
men, you have placed on them. I am an old man--I know that
circumstances are not always to be taken as they appear on the
surface--and I possess the great advantage, in the present case,
of having had years of professional experience among some of the
wickedest women who ever walked this earth."
Allan opened his lips to protest, and checked himself, in despair
of producing the slightest effect. Pedgift Senior bowed in polite
acknowledgment of his client's self-restraint, and took instant
advantage of it to go on.
"All Miss Gwilt's proceedings," he resumed, "since your
unfortunate correspondence with the major show me that she
is an old hand at deceit. The moment she is threatened with
exposure--exposure of some kind, there can be no doubt, after
what you discovered in London--she turns your honorable silence
to the best possible account, and leaves the major's service in
the character of a martyr. Once out of the house, what does she
do next? She boldly stops in the neighborhood, and serves three
excellent purposes by doing so. In the first place, she shows
everybody that she is not afraid of facing another attack on her
reputation. In the second place, she is close at hand to twist
you round her little finger, and to become Mrs. Armadale in spite
of circumstances, if you (and I) allow her the opportunity. In
the third place, if you (and I) are wise enough to distrust her,
she is equally wise on her side, and doesn't give us the first
great chance of following her to London, and associating her
with her accomplices. Is this the conduct of an unhappy woman who
has lost her character in a moment of weakness, and who has been
driven unwillingly into a deception to get it back again?"
"You put it cleverly," said Allan, answering with marked
reluctance; "I can't deny that you put it cleverly."
"Your own common sense, Mr. Armadale, is beginning to tell you
that I put it justly," said Pedgift Senior. "I don't presume
to say yet what this woman's connection may be with those people
at Pimlico. All I assert is that it is not the connection you
suppose. Having stated the facts so far, I have only to add my
own personal impression of Miss Gwilt. I won't shock you, if
I can help it; I'll try if I can't put it cleverly again. She
came to my office (as I told you in my letter), no doubt to make
friends with your lawyer, if she could; she came to tell me, in
the most forgiving and Christian manner, that she didn't blame
"Do you ever believe in anybody, Mr. Pedgift?" interposed Allan.
"Sometimes, Mr. Armadale," returned Pedgift the elder, as
unabashed as ever. "I believe as often as a lawyer can. To
proceed, sir. When I was in the criminal branch of practice,
it fell to my lot to take instructions for the defense of women
committed for trial from the women's own lips. Whatever other
difference there might be among them, I got, in time, to notice,
among those who were particularly wicked and unquestionably
guilty, one point in which they all resembled each other. Tall
and short, old and young, handsome and ugly, they all had a
secret self-possession that nothing could shake. On the surface
they were as different as possible. Some of them were in a state
of indignation; some of them were drowned in tears; some of them
were full of pious confidence; and some of them were resolved to
commit suicide before the night was out. But only put your finger
suddenly on the weak point in the story told by any one of them,
and there was an end of her rage, or her tears, or her piety, or
her despair; and out came the genuine woman, in full possession
of all her resources with a neat little lie that exactly suited
the circumstances of the case. Miss Gwilt was in tears,
sir--becoming tears that didn't make her nose red--and I put my
finger suddenly on the weak point in _her_ story. Down dropped
her pathetic pocket-handkerchief from her beautiful blue eyes,
and out came the genuine woman with the neat little lie that
exactly suited the circumstances! I felt twenty years younger,
Mr. Armadale, on the spot. I declare I thought I was in Newgate
again, with my note-book in my hand, taking my instructions for
"The next thing you'll say, Mr. Pedgift," cried Allan, angrily,
"is that Miss Gwilt has been in prison!"
Pedgift Senior calmly rapped his snuff-box, and had his answer
ready at a moment's notice.
"She may have richly deserved to see the inside of a prison,
Mr. Armadale; but, in the age we live in, that is one excellent
reason for her never having been near any place of the kind.
A prison, in the present tender state of public feeling, for a
charming woman like Miss Gwilt! My dear sir, if she had attempted
to murder you or me, and if an inhuman judge and jury had decided
on sending her to a prison, the first object of modern society
would be to prevent her going into it; and, if that couldn't be
done, the next object would be to let her out again as soon as
possible. Read your newspaper, Mr. Armadale, and you'll find we
live in piping times for the black sheep of the community--if
they are only black enough. I insist on asserting, sir, that
we have got one of the blackest of the lot to deal with in this
case. I insist on asserting that you have had the rare luck,
in these unfortunate inquiries, to pitch on a woman who happens
to be a fit object for inquiry, in the interests of the public
protection. Differ with me as strongly as you please, but don't
make up your mind finally about Miss Gwilt until events have put
those two opposite opinions of ours to the test that I have
proposed. A fairer test there can't be. I agree with you that no
lady worthy of the name could attempt to force her way in here,
after receiving your letter. But I deny that Miss Gwilt is worthy
of the name; and I say she will try to force her way in here in
spite of you."
"And I say she won't!" retorted Allan, firmly.
Pedgift Senior leaned back in his chair and smiled. There was
a momentary silence, and in that silence the door-bell rang.
The lawyer and the client both looked expectantly in the
direction of the hall.
"No," cried Allan, more angrily than ever.
"Yes!" cried Pedgift Senior, contradicting him with the utmost
They waited the event. The opening of the house door was audible,
but the room was too far from it for the sound of voices to reach
the ear as well. After a long interval of expectation, the
closing of the door was heard at last. Allan rose impetuously
and rang the bell. Mr. Pedgift the elder sat sublimely calm,
and enjoyed, with a gentle zest, the largest pinch of snuff
he had taken yet.
"Anybody for me?" asked Allan, when the servant came in.
The man looked at Pedgift Senior, with an expression of
unutterable reverence, and answered, "Miss Gwilt."
"I don't want to crow over you, sir," said Mr. Pedgift the elder,
when the servant had withdrawn. "But what do you think of Miss
Allan shook his head in silent discouragement and distress.
"Time is of some importance, Mr. Armadale. After what has just
happened, do you still object to taking the course I have had
the honor of suggesting to you?"
"I can't, Mr. Pedgift," said Allan. "I can't be the means of
disgracing her in the neighborhood. I would rather be disgraced
myself--as I am."
"Let me put it in another way, sir. Excuse my persisting. You
have been very kind to me and my family; and I have a personal
interest, as well as a professional interest, in you. If you
can't prevail on yourself to show this woman's character in its
true light, will you take common precautions to prevent her doing
any more harm? Will you consent to having her privately watched
as long as she remains in this neighborhood?"
For the second time Allan shook his head.
"Is that your final resolution, sir?"
"It is, Mr. Pedgift; but I am much obliged to you for your
advice, all the same."
Pedgift Senior rose in a state of gentle resignation, and took up
his hat "Good-evening, sir," he said, and made sorrowfully for
the door. Allan rose on his side, innocently supposing that
the interview was at an end. Persons better acquainted with the
diplomatic habits of his legal adviser would have recommended him
to keep his seat. The time was ripe for "Pedgift's postscript,"
and the lawyer's indicative snuff-box was at that moment in one
of his hands, as he opened the door with the other.
"Good-evening," said Allan.
Pedgift Senior opened the door, stopped, considered, closed
the door again, came back mysteriously with his pinch of snuff
in suspense between his box and his nose, and repeating his
invariable formula, "By-the-by, there's a point occurs to me,"
quietly resumed possession of his empty chair
Allan, wondering, took the seat, in his turn, which he had just
left. Lawyer and client looked at each other once more, and the
inexhaustible interview began again.
"I mentioned that a point had occurred to me, sir," remarked
"You did," said Allan.
"Would you like to hear what it is, Mr. Armadale?"
"If you please," said Allan.
"With all my heart, sir! This is the point. I attach considerable
importance--if nothing else can be done--to having Miss Gwilt
privately looked after, as long as she stops at Thorpe Ambrose.
It struck me just now at the door, Mr. Armadale, that what you
are not willing to do for your own security, you might be willing
to do for the security of another person."
"What other person?" inquired Allan.
"A young lady who is a near neighbor of yours, sir. Shall I
mention the name in confidence? Miss Milroy."
Allan started, and changed color.
"Miss Milroy!" he repeated. "Can _she_ be concerned in this
miserable business? I hope not, Mr. Pedgift; I sincerely hope
"I paid a visit, in your interests, sir, at the cottage this
morning," proceeded Pedgift Senior. "You shall hear what happened
there, and judge for yourself. Major Milroy has been expressing
his opinion of you pretty freely; and I thought it highly
desirable to give him a caution. It's always the way with those
quiet addle-headed men: when they do once wake up, there's no
reasoning with their obstinacy, and no quieting their violence.
Well, sir, this morning I went to the cottage. The major and Miss
Neelie were both in the parlor--miss not looking so pretty as
usual; pale, I thought, pale, and worn, and anxious. Up jumps the
addle-headed major (I wouldn't give _that_, Mr. Armadale, for
the brains of a man who can occupy himself for half his lifetime
n making a clock!)--up jumps the addle-headed major, in the
loftiest manner, and actually tries to look me down. Ha! ha! the
idea of anybody looking _me_ down, at my time of life. I behaved
like a Christian; I nodded kindly to old What's-o'clock 'Fine
morning, major,' says I. 'Have you any business with me?' says
he. 'Just a word,' says I. Miss Neelie, like the sensible girl
she is, gets up to leave the room; and what does her ridiculous
father do? He stops her. 'You needn't go, my dear, I have nothing
to say to Mr. Pedgift,' says this old military idiot, and turns
my way, and tries to look me down again. 'You are Mr. Armadale's
lawyer,' says he; 'if you come on any business relating to Mr.
Armadale, I refer you to my solicitor.' (His solicitor is Darch;
and Darch has had enough of _me_ in business, I can tell you!)
'My errand here, major, does certainly relate to Mr. Armadale,'
says I; 'but it doesn't concern your lawyer--at any rate, just
yet. I wish to caution you to suspend your opinion of my client,
or, if you won't do that, to be careful how you express it in
public. I warn you that our turn is to come, and that you are not
at the end yet of this scandal about Miss Gwilt.' It struck me
as likely that he would lose his temper when he found himself
tackled in that way, and he amply fulfilled my expectations.
He was quite violent in his language--the poor weak
creature--actually violent with _me_! I behaved like a Christian
again; I nodded kindly, and wished him good-morning. When I
looked round to wish Miss Neelie good-morning, too, she was gone.
You seem restless, Mr. Armadale," remarked Pedgift Senior, as
Allan, feeling the sting of old recollections, suddenly started
out of his chair, and began pacing up and down the room. "I won't
try your patience much longer, sir; I am coming to the point."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Pedgift," said Allan, returning to his
seat, and trying to look composedly at the lawyer through the
intervening image of Neelie which the lawyer had called up.
"Well, sir, I left the cottage," resumed Pedgift Senior. "Just
as I turned the corner from the garden into the park, whom should
I stumble on but Miss Neelie herself, evidently on the lookout
for me. 'I want to speak to you for one moment, Mr. Pedgift!'
says she. 'Does Mr. Armadale think _me_ mixed up in this matter?'
She was violently agitated--tears in her eyes, sir, of the sort
which my legal experience has _not_ accustomed me to see. I quite
forgot myself; I actually gave her my arm, and led her away
gently among the trees. (A nice position to find me in, if any
of the scandal-mongers of the town had happened to be walking
in that direction!) 'My dear Miss Milroy,' says I, 'why should
Mr. Armadale think _you_ mixed up in it?' "
"You ought to have told her at once that I thought nothing of
the kind!" exclaimed Allan, indignantly. "Why did you leave her
a moment in doubt about it?"
"Because I am a lawyer, Mr. Armadale," rejoined Pedgift Senior,
dryly. "Even in moments of sentiment, under convenient trees,
with a pretty girl on my arm, I can't entirely divest myself of
my professional caution. Don't look distressed, sir, pray! I set
things right in due course of time. Before I left Miss Milroy,
I told her, in the plainest terms, no such idea had ever entered
"Did she seem relieved?" asked Allan.
"She was able to dispense with the use of my arm, sir," replied
old Pedgift, as dryly as ever, "and to pledge me to inviolable
secrecy on the subject of our interview. She was particularly
desirous that _you_ should hear nothing about it. If you are
at all anxious on your side to know why I am now betraying her
confidence, I beg to inform you that her confidence related to
no less a person than the lady who favored you with a call just
Allan, who had been once more restlessly pacing the room,
stopped, and returned to his chair.
"Is this serious?" he asked.
"Most serious, sir," returned Pedgift Senior. "I am betraying
Miss Neelie's secret, in Miss Neelie's own interest. Let us go
back to that cautious question I put to her. She found some
little difficulty in answering it, for the reply involved her in
a narrative of the parting interview between her governess and
herself. This is the substance of it. The two were alone when
Miss Gwilt took leave of her pupil; and the words she used (as
reported to me by Miss Neelie) were these. She said, 'Your mother
has declined to allow me to take leave of her. Do you decline
too?' Miss Neelie's answer was a remarkably sensible one for a
girl of her age. 'We have not been good friends,' she said, 'and
I believe we are equally glad to part with each other. But I have
no wish to decline taking leave of you.' Saying that, she held
out her hand. Miss Gwilt stood looking at her steadily, without
taking it, and addressed her in these words: '_You are not Mrs.
Armadale yet_.' Gently, sir! Keep your temper. It's not at all
wonderful that a woman, conscious of having her own mercenary
designs on you, should attribute similar designs to a young lady
who happens to be your near neighbor. Let me go on. Miss Neelie,
by her own confession (and quite naturally, I think), was
excessively indignant. She owns to having answered, 'You
shameless creature, how dare you say that to me!' Miss Gwilt's
rejoinder was rather a remarkable one--the anger, on her side,
appears to have been of the cool, still, venomous kind. 'Nobody
ever yet injured me, Miss Milroy,' she said, 'without sooner or
later bitterly repenting it. _You_ will bitterly repent it.' She
stood looking at her pupil for a moment in dead silence, and then
left the room. Miss Neelie appears to have felt the imputation
fastened on her, in connection with you, far more sensitively
than she felt the threat. She had previously known, as everybody
had known in the house, that some unacknowledged proceedings of
yours in London had led to Miss Gwilt's voluntary withdrawal from
her situation. And she now inferred, from the language addressed
to her, that she was actually believed by Miss Gwilt to have set
those proceedings on foot, to advance herself, and to injure her
governess, in your estimation. Gently, sir, gently! I haven't
quite done yet. As soon as Miss Neelie had recovered herself, she
went upstairs to speak to Mrs. Milroy. Miss Gwilt's abominable
imputation had taken her by surprise; and she went to her mother
first for enlightenment and advice. She got neither the one nor
the other. Mrs. Milroy declared she was too ill to enter on the
subject, and she has remained too ill to enter on it ever since.
Miss Neelie applied next to her father. The major stopped her the
moment your name passed her lips: he declared he would never hear
you mentioned again by any member of his family. She has been
left in the dark from that time to this, not knowing how she
might have been misrepresented by Miss Gwilt, or what falsehoods
you might have been led to believe of her. At my age and in my
profession, I don't profess to have any extraordinary softness of
heart. But I do think, Mr. Armadale, that Miss Neelie's position
deserves our sympathy."
"I'll do anything to help her!" cried Allan, impulsively.
"You don't know, Mr. Pedgift, what reason I have--" He checked
himself, and confusedly repeated his first words. "I'll do
anything," he reiterated earnestly--"anything in the world
to help her!"
"Do you really mean that, Mr. Armadale? Excuse my asking; but
you can very materially help Miss Neelie, if you choose!"
"How?" asked Allan. "Only tell me how!"
"By giving me your authority, sir, to protect her from Miss
Having fired that shot pointblank at his client, the wise lawyer
waited a little to let it take its effect before he said any
Allan's face clouded, and he shifted uneasily from side to side
of his chair.
"Your son is hard enough to deal with, Mr. Pedgift," he said,
"and you are harder than your son."
"Thank you, sir," rejoined the ready Pedgift, "in my son's name
and my own, for a handsome compliment to the firm. If you really
wish to be of assistance to Miss Neelie," he went on, more
seriously, "I have shown you the way. You can do nothing to quiet
her anxiety which I have not done already. As soon as I had
assured her that no misconception of her conduct existed in your
mind, she went away satisfied. Her governess's parting threat
doesn't seem to have dwelt on her memory. I can tell you, Mr.
Armadale, it dwells on mine! You know my opinion of Miss Gwilt;
and you know what Miss Gwilt herself has done this very evening
to justify that opinion even in your eyes. May I ask, after all
that has passed, whether you think she is the sort of woman who
can be trusted to confine herself to empty threats?"
The question was a formidable one to answer. Forced steadily
back from the position which he had occupied at the outset
of the interview, by the irresistible pressure of plain facts,
Allan began for the first time to show symptoms of yielding on
the subject of Miss Gwilt. "Is there no other way of protecting