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THE MARCH OF EVENTS.
Midwinter's face darkened when the last trace of the carriage
had disappeared from view. "I have done my best," he said, as he
turned back gloomily into the house "If Mr. Brock himself were
here, Mr. Brock could do no more!"
He looked at the bunch of keys which Allan had thrust into his
hand, and a sudden longing to put himself to the test over the
steward's books took possession of his sensitive self-tormenting
nature. Inquiring his way to the room in which the various
movables of the steward's office had been provisionally placed
after the letting of the cottage, he sat down at the desk, and
tried how his own unaided capacity would guide him through the
business records of the Thorpe Ambrose estate. The result exposed
his own ignorance unanswerably before his own eyes. The ledgers
bewildered him; the leases, the plans, and even the
correspondence itself, might have been written, for all he could
understand of them, in an unknown tongue. His memory reverted
bitterly as he left the room again to his two years' solitary
self-instruction in the Shrewsbury book-seller's shop. "If I
could only have worked at a business!" he thought. "If I could
only have known that the company of poets and philosophers was
company too high for a vagabond like me!"
He sat down alone in the great hall; the silence of it fell
heavier and heavier on his sinking spirits; the beauty of it
exasperated him, like an insult from a purse-proud man. "Curse
the place!" he said, snatching up his hat and stick. "I like the
bleakest hillside I ever slept on better than I like this house!"
He impatiently descended the door-steps, and stopped on the
drive, considering, by which direction he should leave the park
for the country beyond. If he followed the road taken by the
carriage, he might risk unsettling Allan by accidentally meeting
him in the town. If he went out by the back gate, he knew his own
nature well enough to doubt his ability to pass the room of the
dream without entering it again. But one other way remained: the
way which he had taken, and then abandoned again, in the morning.
There was no fear of disturbing Allan and the major's daughter
now. Without further hesitation, Midwinter set forth through the
gardens to explore the open country on that side of the estate.
Thrown off its balance by the events of the day, his mind was
full of that sourly savage resistance to the inevitable
self-assertion of wealth, so amiably deplored by the prosperous
and the rich; so bitterly familiar to the unfortunate and the
poor. "The heather-bell costs nothing!" he thought, looking
contemptuously at the masses of rare and beautiful flowers that
surrounded him; "and the buttercups and daisies are as bright as
the best of you!" He followed the artfully contrived ovals and
squares of the Italian garden with a vagabond indifference to the
symmetry of their construction and the ingenuity of their design.
"How many pounds a foot did _you_ cost?" he said, looking back
with scornful eyes at the last path as he left it. "Wind away
over high and low like the sheep-walk on the mountain side, if
He entered the shrubbery which Allan had entered before him;
crossed the paddock and the rustic bridge beyond; and reached
the major's cottage. His ready mind seized the right conclusion
at the first sight of it; and he stopped before the garden gate,
to look at the trim little residence which would never have been
empty, and would never have been let, but for Allan's ill-advised
resolution to force the steward's situation on his friend.
The summer afternoon was warm; the summer air was faint and
still. On the upper and the lower floor of the cottage the
windows were all open. From one of them, on the upper story, the
sound of voices was startlingly audible in the quiet of the park
as Midwinter paused on the outer side of the garden inclosure.
The voice of a woman, harsh, high, and angrily complaining--a
voice with all the freshness and the melody gone, and with
nothing but the hard power of it left--was the discordantly
predominant sound. With it, from moment to moment, there mingled
the deeper and quieter tones, soothing and compassionate, of the
voice of a man. Although the distance was too great to allow
Midwinter to distinguish the words that were spoken, he felt the
impropriety of remaining within hearing of the voices, and at
once stepped forward to continue his walk.
At the same moment, the face of a young girl (easily recognizable
as the face of Miss Milroy, from Allan's description of her)
appeared at the open window of the room. In spite of himself,
Midwinter paused to look at her. The expression of the bright
young face, which had smiled so prettily on Allan, was weary and
disheartened. After looking out absently over the park, she
suddenly turned her head back into the room, her attention having
been apparently struck by something that had just been said in
it. "Oh, mamma, mamma," she exclaimed, indignantly, "how _can_
you say such things!" The words were spoken close to the window;
they reached Midwinter's ears, and hurried him away before he
heard more. But the self-disclosure of Major Milroy's domestic
position had not reached its end yet. As Midwinter turned the
corner of the garden fence, a tradesman's boy was handing a
parcel in at the wicket gate to the woman servant. "Well," said
the boy, with the irrepressible impudence of his class, "how is
the missus?" The woman lifted her hand to box his ears. "How is
the missus?" she repeated, with an angry toss of her head, as the
boy ran off. "If it would only please God to take the missus, it
would be a blessing to everybody in the house."
No such ill-omened shadow as this had passed over the bright
domestic picture of the inhabitants of the cottage, which Allan's
enthusiasm had painted for the contemplation of his friend. It
was plain that the secret of the tenants had been kept from the
landlord so far. Five minutes more of walking brought Midwinter
to the park gates. "Am I fated to see nothing and hear nothing
to-day, which can give me heart and hope for the future?" he
thought, as he angrily swung back the lodge gate. "Even the
people Allan has let the cottage to are people whose lives are
imbittered by a household misery which it is _my_ misfortune to
have found out!"
He took the first road that lay before him, and walked on,
noticing little, immersed in his own thoughts.
More than an hour passed before the necessity of turning back
entered his mind. As soon as the idea occurred to him, he
consulted his watch, and determined to retrace his steps, so as
to be at the house in good time to meet Allan on his return. Ten
minutes of walking brought him back to a point at which three
roads met, and one moment's observation of the place satisfied
him that he had entirely failed to notice at the time by which of
the three roads he had advanced. No sign-post was to be seen; the
country on either side was lonely and flat, intersected by broad
drains and ditches. Cattle were grazing here and there, and a
windmill rose in the distance above the pollard willows that
fringed the low horizon. But not a house was to be seen, and not
a human creature appeared on the visible perspective of any one
of the three roads. Midwinter glanced back in the only direction
left to look at--the direction of the road along which he had
just been walking. There, to his relief, was the figure of a man,
rapidly advancing toward him, of whom he could ask his way.
The figure came on, clad from head to foot in dreary black--a
moving blot on the brilliant white surface of the sun-brightened
road. He was a lean, elderly, miserably respectable man. He wore
a poor old black dress-coat, and a cheap brown wig, which made no
pretense of being his own natural hair. Short black trousers
clung like attached old servants round his wizen legs; and rusty
black gaiters hid all they could of his knobbed, ungainly feet.
Black crape added its mite to the decayed and dingy wretchedness
of his old beaver hat; black mohair in the obsolete form of a
stock drearily encircled his neck and rose as high as his haggard
jaws. The one morsel of color he carried about him was a lawyer's
bag of blue serge, as lean and limp as himself. The one
attractive feature in his clean-shaven, weary old face was a neat
set of teeth--teeth (as honest as his wig) which said plainly to
all inquiring eyes, "We pass our nights on his looking-glass, and
our days in his mouth."
All the little blood in the man's body faintly reddened his
fleshless cheeks as Midwinter advanced to meet him, and asked the
way to Thorpe Ambrose. His weak, watery eyes looked hither and
thither in a bewilderment painful to see. If he had met with a
lion instead of a man, and if the few words addressed to him had
been words expressing a threat instead of a question, he could
hardly have looked more confused and alarmed than he looked now.
For the first time in his life, Midwinter saw his own shy
uneasiness in the presence of strangers reflected, with tenfold
intensity of nervous suffering, in the face of another man--and
that man old enough to be his father.
"Which do you please to mean, sir--the town or the house? I beg
your pardon for asking, but they both go by the same name in
He spoke with a timid gentleness of tone, an ingratiatory smile,
and an anxious courtesy of manner, all distressingly suggestive
of his being accustomed to receive rough answers in exchange for
his own politeness from the persons whom he habitually addressed.
"I was not aware that both the house and the town went by the
same name," said Midwinter; "I meant the house." He instinctively
conquered his own shyness as he answered in those words, speaking
with a cordiality of manner which was very rare with him in his
intercourse with strangers.
The man of miserable respectability seemed to feel the warm
return of his own politeness gratefully; he brightened and took a
little courage. His lean forefinger pointed eagerly to the right
road. "That way, sir," he said, "and when you come to two roads
next, please take the left one of the two. I am sorry I have
business the other way, I mean in the town. I should have been
happy to go with you and show you. Fine summer weather, sir, for
walking? You can't miss your way if you keep to the left. Oh,
don't mention it! I'm afraid I have detained you, sir. I wish you
a pleasant walk back, and--good-morning."
By the time he had made an end of speaking (under an impression
apparently that the more he talked the more polite he would be)
he had lost his courage again. He darted away down his own road,
as if Midwinter's attempt to thank him involved a series of
trials too terrible to confront. In two minutes more, his black
retreating figure had lessened in the distance till it looked
again, what it had once looked already, a moving blot on the
brilliant white surface of the sun-brightened road.
The man ran strangely in Midwinter's thoughts while he took his
way back to the house. He was at a loss to account for it. It
never occurred to him that he might have been insensibly reminded
of himself, when he saw the plain traces of past misfortune and
present nervous suffering in the poor wretch's face. He blindly
resented his own perverse interest in this chance foot passenger
on the high-road, as he had resented all else that had happened
to him since the beginning of the day. "Have I made another
unlucky discovery?" he asked himself, impatiently. "Shall I see
this man again, I wonder? Who can he be?"
Time was to answer both those questions before many days more had
passed over the inquirer's head.
Allan had not returned when Midwinter reached the house. Nothing
had happened but the arrival of a message of apology from the
cottage. "Major Milroy's compliments, and he was sorry that Mrs.
Milroy's illness would prevent his receiving Mr. Armadale that
day." It was plain that Mrs. Milroy's occasional fits of
suffering (or of ill temper) created no mere transitory
disturbance of the tranquillity of the household. Drawing this
natural inference, after what he had himself heard at the cottage
nearly three hours since, Midwinter withdrew into the library to
wait patiently among the books until his friend came back.
It was past six o'clock when the well-known hearty voice was
heard again in the hall. Allan burst into the library, in a state
of irrepressible excitement, and pushed Midwinter back
unceremoniously into the chair from which he was just rising,
before he could utter a word.
"Here's a riddle for you, old boy!" cried Allan. "Why am I like
the resident manager of the Augean stable, before Hercules was
called in to sweep the litter out? Because I have had my place to
keep up, and I've gone and made an infernal mess of it! Why don't
you laugh? By George, he doesn't see the point! Let's try again.
Why am I like the resident manager--"
"For God's sake, Allan, be serious for a moment!" interposed
Midwinter. "You don't know how anxious I am to hear if you have
recovered the good opinion of your neighbors."
"That's just what the riddle was intended to tell you!" rejoined
Allan. "But if you will have it in so many words, my own
impression is that you would have done better not to disturb me
under that tree in the park. I've been calculating it to a
nicety, and I beg to inform you that I have sunk exactly three
degrees lower in the estimation of the resident gentry since I
had the pleasure of seeing you last."
"You _will_ have your joke out," said Midwinter, bitterly. "Well,
if I can't laugh, I can wait."
"My dear fellow, I'm not joking; I really mean what I say. You
shall hear what happened; you shall have a report in full of my
first visit. It will do, I can promise you, as a sample for all
the rest. Mind this, in the first place, I've gone wrong with the
best possible intentions. When I started for these visits, I own
I was angry with that old brute of a lawyer, and I certainly had
a notion of carrying things with a high hand. But it wore off
somehow on the road; and the first family I called on, I went in,
as I tell you, with the best possible intentions. Oh, dear, dear!
there was the same spick-and-span reception-room for me to wait
in, with the neat conservatory beyond, which I saw again and
again and again at every other house I went to afterward. There
was the same choice selection of books for me to look at--a
religious book, a book about the Duke of Wellington, a book about
sporting, and a book about nothing in particular, beautifully
illustrated with pictures. Down came papa with his nice white
hair, and mamma with her nice lace cap; down came young mister
with the pink face and straw-colored whiskers, and young miss
with the plump cheeks and the large petticoats. Don't suppose
there was the least unfriendliness on my side; I always began
with them in the same way--I insisted on shaking hands all round.
That staggered them to begin with. When I came to the sore
subject next--the subject of the public reception--I give you my
word of honor I took the greatest possible pains with my
apologies. It hadn't the slightest effect; they let my apologies
in at one ear and out at the other, and then waited to hear more.
Some men would have been disheartened: I tried another way with
them; I addressed myself to the master of the house, and put it
pleasantly next. 'The fact is,' I said, 'I wanted to escape the
speechifying--my getting up, you know, and telling you to your
face you're the best of men, and I beg to propose your health;
and your getting up and telling me to my face I'm the best of
men, and you beg to thank me; and so on, man after man, praising
each other and pestering each other all round the table.' That's
how I put it, in an easy, light-handed, convincing sort of way.
Do you think any of them took it in the same friendly spirit?
Not one! It's my belief they had got their speeches ready for
the reception, with the flags and the flowers, and that they're
secretly angry with me for stopping their open mouths just as
they were ready to begin. Anyway, whenever we came to the matter
of the speechifying (whether they touched it first or I), down
I fell in their estimation the first of those three steps I told
you of just now. Don't suppose I made no efforts to get up again!
I made desperate efforts. I found they were all anxious to know
what sort of life I had led before I came in for the Thorpe
Ambrose property, and I did my best to satisfy them. And what
came of that, do you think? Hang me, if I didn't disappoint them
for the second time! When they found out that I had actually
never been to Eton or Harrow, or Oxford or Cambridge, they were
quite dumb with astonishment. I fancy they thought me a sort of
outlaw. At any rate, they all froze up again; and down I fell
the second step in their estimation. Never mind! I wasn't to be
beaten; I had promised you to do my best, and I did it. I tried
cheerful small-talk about the neighborhood next. The women said
nothing in particular; the men, to my unutterable astonishment,
all began to condole with me. I shouldn't be able to find a pack
of hounds, they said, within twenty miles of my house; and they
thought it only right to prepare me for the disgracefully
careless manner in which the Thorpe Ambrose covers had been
preserved. I let them go on condoling with me, and then what do
you think I did? I put my foot in it again. 'Oh, don't take that
to heart!' I said; 'I don't care two straws about hunting or
shooting, either. When I meet with a bird in my walk, I can't for
the life of me feel eager to kill it; I rather like to see the
bird flying about and enjoying itself.' You should have seen
their faces! They had thought me a sort of outlaw before; now
they evidently thought me mad. Dead silence fell upon them all;
and down I tumbled the third step in the general estimation. It
was just the same at the next house, and the next and the next.
The devil possessed us all, I think. It _would_ come out, now in
one way, and now in another, that I couldn't make speeches--that
I had been brought up without a university education--and that
I could enjoy a ride on horseback without galloping after a
wretched stinking fox or a poor distracted little hare. These
three unlucky defects of mine are not excused, it seems, in
a country gentleman (especially when he has dodged a public
reception to begin with). I think I got on best, upon the whole,
with the wives and daughters. The women and I always fell, sooner
or later, on the subject of Mrs. Blanchard and her niece. We
invariably agreed that they had done wisely in going to Florence;
and the only reason we had to give for our opinion was that we
thought their minds would be benefited after their sad
bereavement, by the contemplation of the masterpieces of Italian
art. Every one of the ladies--I solemnly declare it--at every
house I went to, came sooner or later to Mrs. and Miss
Blanchard's bereavement and the masterpieces of Italian art. What
we should have done without that bright idea to help us, I really
don't know. The one pleasant thing at any of the visits was when
we all shook our heads together, and declared that the
masterpieces would console them. As for the rest of it, there's
only one thing more to be said. What I might be in other places
I don't know: I'm the wrong man in the wrong place here. Let me
muddle on for the future in my own way, with my own few friends;
and ask me anything else in the world, as long as you don't ask
me to make any more calls on my neighbors."
With that characteristic request, Allan's report of his exploring
expedition among the resident gentry came to a close. For a
moment Midwinter remained silent. He had allowed Allan to run on
from first to last without uttering a word on his side. The
disastrous result of the visits--coming after what had happened
earlier in the day; and threatening Allan, as it did, with
exclusion from all local sympathies at the very outset of his
local career--had broken down Midwinter's power of resisting the
stealthily depressing influence of his own superstition. It was
with an effort that he now looked up at Allan; it was with an
effort that he roused himself to answer.
"It shall be as you wish," he said, quietly. "I am sorry for what
has happened; but I am not the less obliged to you, Allan, for
having done what I asked you."
His head sank on his breast, and the fatalist resignation which
had once already quieted him on board the wreck now quieted him
again. "What _must_ be, _will_ be," he thought once more. "What
have I to do with the future, and what has he?"
"Cheer up!" said Allan. "_Your_ affairs are in a thriving
condition, at any rate. I paid one pleasant visit in the town,
which I haven't told you of yet. I've seen Pedgift, and Pedgift's
son, who helps him in the office. They're the two jolliest
lawyers I ever met with in my life; and, what's more, they can
produce the very man you want to teach you the steward's
Midwinter looked up quickly. Distrust of Allan's discovery was
plainly written in his face already; but he said nothing.
"I thought of you," Allan proceeded, "as soon as the two Pedgifts
and I had had a glass of wine all round to drink to our friendly
connection. The finest sherry I ever tasted in my life; I've
ordered some of the same--but that's not the question just now.
In two words I told these worthy fellows your difficulty, and in
two seconds old Pedgift understood all about it. 'I have got the
man in my office,' he said, 'and before the audit-day comes, I'll
place him with the greatest pleasure at your friend's disposal.'"
At this last announcement, Midwinter's distrust found its
expression in words. He questioned Allan unsparingly.
The man's name, it appeared was Bashwood. He had been some time
(how long, Allan could not remember) in Mr. Pedgift's service.
He had been previously steward to a Norfolk gentleman (name
forgotten) in the westward district of the county. He had lost
the steward's place, through some domestic trouble, in connection
with his son, the precise nature of which Allan was not able to
specify. Pedgift vouched for him, and Pedgift would send him to
Thorpe Ambrose two or three days before the rent-day dinner. He
could not be spared, for office reasons, before that time. There
was no need to fidget about it; Pedgift laughed at the idea of
there being any difficulty with the tenants. Two or three day's
work over the steward's books with a man to help Midwinter who
practically understood that sort of thing would put him all right
for the audit; and the other business would keep till afterward.
"Have you seen this Mr. Bashwood yourself, Allan?" asked
Midwinter, still obstinately on his guard.
"No," replied Allan "he was out--out with the bag, as young
Pedgift called it. They tell me he's a decent elderly man. A
little broken by his troubles, and a little apt to be nervous and
confused in his manner with strangers; but thoroughly competent
and thoroughly to be depended on--those are Pedgift's own words."
Midwinter paused and considered a little, with a new interest in
the subject. The strange man whom he had just heard described,
and the strange man of whom he had asked his way where the three
roads met, were remarkably like each other. Was this another link
in the fast-lengthening chain of events? Midwinter grew doubly
determined to be careful, as the bare doubt that it might be so
passed through his mind.
"When Mr. Bashwood comes," he said, "will you let me see him, and
speak to him, before anything definite is done?"
"Of course I will!" rejoined Allan. He stopped and looked at his
watch. "And I'll tell you what I'll do for you, old boy, in the
meantime," he added; "I'll introduce you to the prettiest girl in
Norfolk! There's just time to run over to the cottage before
dinner. Come along, and be introduced to Miss Milroy."
"You can't introduce me to Miss Milroy today," replied Midwinter;
and he repeated the message of apology which had been brought
from the major that afternoon. Allan was surprised and
disappointed; but he was not to be foiled in his resolution to
advance himself in the good graces of the inhabitants of the
cottage. After a little consideration he hit on a means of
turning the present adverse circumstances to good account. "I'll
show a proper anxiety for Mrs. Milroy's recovery," he said,
gravely. "I'll send her a basket of strawberries, with my best
respects, to-morrow morning."
Nothing more happened to mark the end of that first day in the
The one noticeable event of the next day was another disclosure
of Mrs. Milroy's infirmity of temper. Half an hour after Allan's
basket of strawberries had been delivered at the cottage, it was
returned to him intact (by the hands of the invalid lady's
nurse), with a short and sharp message, shortly and sharply
delivered. "Mrs. Milroy's compliments and thanks. Strawberries
invariably disagreed with her." If this curiously petulant
acknowledgment of an act of politeness was intended to irritate
Allan, it failed entirely in accomplishing its object. Instead of
being offended with the mother, he sympathized with the daughter.
"Poor little thing," was all he said, "she must have a hard life
of it with such a mother as that!"
He called at the cottage himself later in the day, but Miss
Milroy was not to be seen; she was engaged upstairs. The major
received his visitor in his working apron--far more deeply
immersed in his wonderful clock, and far less readily accessible
to outer influences, than Allan had seen him at their first
interview. His manner was as kind as before; but not a word more
could be extracted from him on the subject of his wife than that
Mrs. Milroy "had not improved since yesterday."
The two next days passed quietly and uneventfully. Allan
persisted in making his inquiries at the cottage; but all he saw
of the major's daughter was a glimpse of her on one occasion at
a window on the bedroom floor. Nothing more was heard from Mr.
Pedgift; and Mr. Bashwood's appearance was still delayed.
Midwinter declined to move in the matter until time enough had
passed to allow of his first hearing from Mr. Brock, in answer to
the letter which he had addressed to the rector on the night of
his arrival at Thorpe Ambrose. He was unusually silent and quiet,
and passed most of his hours in the library among the books. The
time wore on wearily. The resident gentry acknowledged Allan's
visit by formally leaving their cards. Nobody came near the house
afterward; the weather was monotonously fine. Allan grew a little
restless and dissatisfied. He began to resent Mrs. Milroy's
illness; he began to think regretfully of his deserted yacht.
The next day--the twentieth--brought some news with it from the
outer world. A message was delivered from Mr. Pedgift, announcing
that his clerk, Mr. Bashwood, would personally present himself at
Thorpe Ambrose on the following day; and a letter in answer to
Midwinter was received from Mr. Brock.
The letter was dated the 18th, and the news which it contained
raised not Allan's spirits only, but Midwinter's as well.
On the day on which he wrote, Mr. Brock announced that he was
about to journey to London; having been summoned thither on
business connected with the interests of a sick relative, to whom
he stood in the position of trustee. The business completed, he
had good hope of finding one or other of his clerical friends in
the metropolis who would be able and willing to do duty for him
at the rectory; and, in that case, he trusted to travel on from
London to Thorpe Ambrose in a week's' time or less. Under these
circumstances, he would leave the majority of the subjects on
which Midwinter had written to him to be discussed when they met.
But as time might be of importance, in relation to the
stewardship of the Thorpe Ambrose estate, he would say at once
that he saw no reason why Midwinter should not apply his mind
to learning the steward's duties, and should not succeed in
rendering himself invaluably serviceable in that way to the
interests of his friend.
Leaving Midwinter reading and re-reading the rector's cheering
letter, as if he was bent on getting every sentence in it by
heart, Allan went out rather earlier than usual, to make his
daily inquiry at the cottage--or, in plainer words, to make a
fourth attempt at improving his acquaintance with Miss Milroy.
The day had begun encouragingly, and encouragingly it seemed
destined to go on. When Allan turned the corner of the second
shrubbery, and entered the little paddock where he and the
major's daughter had first met, there was Miss Milroy herself
loitering to and fro on the grass, to all appearance on the watch
She gave a little start when Allan appeared, and came forward
without hesitation to meet him. She was not in her best looks.
Her rosy complexion had suffered under confinement to the house,
and a marked expression of embarrassment clouded her pretty face.
"I hardly know how to confess it, Mr. Armadale," she said,
speaking eagerly, before Allan could utter a word, "but I
certainly ventured here this morning in the hope of meeting with
you. I have been very much distressed; I have only just heard, by
accident, of the manner in which mamma received the present of
fruit you so kindly sent to her. Will you try to excuse her? She
has been miserably ill for years, and she is not always quite
herself. After your being so very, very kind to me (and to papa),
I really could not help stealing out here in the hope of seeing
you, and telling you how sorry I was. Pray forgive and forget,
Mr. Armadale--pray do!" her voice faltered over the last words,
and, in her eagerness to make her mother's peace with him, she
laid her hand on his arm.
Allan was himself a little confused. Her earnestness took him by
surprise, and her evident conviction that he had been offended
honestly distressed him. Not knowing what else to do, he followed
his instincts, and possessed himself of her hand to begin with.
"My dear Miss Milroy, if you say a word more you will distress
_me_ next," he rejoined, unconsciously pressing her hand closer
and closer, in the embarrassment of the moment. "I never was in
the least offended; I made allowances--upon my honor I did--for
poor Mrs. Milroy's illness. Offended!" cried Allan, reverting
energetically to the old complimentary strain. "I should like to
have my basket of fruit sent back every day--if I could only be
sure of its bringing you out into the paddock the first thing in
Some of Miss Milroy's missing color began to appear again in her
cheeks. "Oh, Mr. Armadale, there is really no end to your
kindness," she said; "you don't know how you relieve me! She
paused; her spirits rallied with as happy a readiness of recovery
as if they had been the spirits of a child; and her native
brightness of temper sparkled again in her eyes, as she looked
up, shyly smiling in Allan's face. "Don't you think," she asked,
demurely, "that it is almost time now to let go of my hand?"
Their eyes met. Allan followed his instincts for the second time.
Instead of releasing her hand, he lifted it to his lips and
kissed it. All the missing tints of the rosier sort returned to
Miss Milroy's complexion on the instant. She snatched away her
hand as if Allan had burned it.
"I'm sure _that's_ wrong, Mr. Armadale," she said, and turned her
head aside quickly, for she was smiling in spite of herself.
"I meant it as an apology for--for holding your hand too long,"
stammered Allan. "An apology can't be wrong--can it?"
There are occasions, though not many, when the female mind
accurately appreciates an appeal to the force of pure reason.
This was one of the occasions. An abstract proposition had been
presented to Miss Milroy, and Miss Milroy was convinced. If it
was meant as an apology, that, she admitted, made all the
difference. "I only hope," said the little coquet, looking at him
slyly, "you're not misleading me. Not that it matters much now,"
she added, with a serious shake of her head. "If we have
committed any improprieties, Mr. Armadale, we are not likely
to have the opportunity of committing many more."
"You're not going away?" exclaimed Allan, in great alarm.
"Worse than that, Mr. Armadale. My new governess is coming."
"Coming?" repeated Allan. "Coming already?"
"As good as coming, I ought to have said--only I didn't know you
wished me to be so very particular. We got the answers to the
advertisements this morning. Papa and I opened them and read them
together half an hour ago; and we both picked out the same letter
from all the rest. I picked it out, because it was so prettily
expressed; and papa picked it out because the terms were so
reasonable. He is going to send the letter up to grandmamma in
London by today's post, and, if she finds everything satisfactory
on inquiry, the governess is to be engaged You don't know how
dreadfully nervous I am getting about it already; a strange
governess is such an awful prospect. But it is not quite so bad
as going to school; and I have great hopes of this new lady,
because she writes such a nice letter! As I said to papa, it
almost reconciles me to her horrid, unromantic name."
"What is her name?" asked Allan. "Brown? Grubb? Scraggs? Anything
of that sort?"
"Hush! hush! Nothing quite so horrible as that. Her name is
Gwilt. Dreadfully unpoetical, isn't it? Her reference must be a
respectable person, though; for she lives in the same part of
London as grandmamma. Stop, Mr. Armadale! we are going the wrong
way. No; I can't wait to look at those lovely flowers of yours
this morning, and, many thanks, I can't accept your arm. I have
stayed here too long already. Papa is waiting for his breakfast;
and I must run back every step of the way. Thank you for making
those kind allowances for mamma; thank you again and again, and
"Won't you shake hands?" asked Allan.
She gave him her hand. "No more apologies, if you please, Mr.
Armadale," she said, saucily. Once more their eyes met, and once
more the plump, dimpled little hand found its way to Allan's
lips. "It isn't an apology this time!" cried Allan, precipitately
defending himself. "It's--it's a mark of respect."
She started back a few steps, and burst out laughing. "You won't
find me in our grounds again, Mr. Armadale," she said, merrily,
"till I have got Miss Gwilt to take care of me!" With that
farewell, she gathered up her skirts, and ran back across the
paddock at the top of her speed.
Allan stood watching her in speechless admiration till she was
out of sight. His second interview with Miss Milroy had produced
an extraordinary effect on him. For the first time since he had
become the master of Thorpe Ambrose, he was absorbed in serious
consideration of what he owed to his new position in life. "The
question is," pondered Allan, "whether I hadn't better set myself
right with my neighbors by becoming a married man? I'll take the
day to consider; and if I keep in the same mind about it, I'll
consult Midwinter to-morrow morning."
When the morning came, and when Allan descended to the
breakfast-room, resolute to consult his friend on the obligations
that he owed to his neighbors in general, and to Miss Milroy in
particular, no Midwinter was to he seen. On making inquiry, it
appeared that he had been observed in the hall; that he had taken
from the table a letter which the morning's post had brought to
him; and that he had gone back immediately to his own room. Allan
at once ascended the stairs again, and knocked at his friend's
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Not just now," was the answer.
"You have got a letter, haven't you?" persisted Allan. "Any bad
news? Anything wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm not very well this morning. Don't wait breakfast
for me; I'll come down as soon as I can."
No more was said on either side. Allan returned to the
breakfast-room a little disappointed. He had set his heart on
rushing headlong into his consultation with Midwinter, and here
was the consultation indefinitely delayed. "What an odd fellow he
is!" thought Allan. "What on earth can he be doing, locked in
there by himself?"
He was doing nothing. He was sitting by the window, with the
letter which had reached him that morning open in his hand. The
handwriting was Mr. Brock's, and the words written were these:
"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--I have literally only two minutes before post
time to tell you that I have just met (in Kensington Gardens)
with the woman whom we both only know, thus far, as the woman
with the red Paisley shawl. I have traced her and her companion
(a respectable-looking elderly lady) to their residence--after
having distinctly heard Allan's name mentioned between them.
Depend on my not losing sight of the woman until I am satisfied
that she means no mischief at Thorpe Ambrose; and expect to hear
from me again as soon as I know how this strange discovery is to
"Very truly yours, DECIMUS BROCK."
After reading the letter for the second time, Midwinter folded it
up thoughtfully, and placed it in his pocket-book, side by side
with the manuscript narrative of Allan's dream.
"Your discovery will not end with _you_, Mr. Brock," he said. "Do
what you will with the woman, when the time comes the woman will
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