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MIDWINTER IN DISGUISE.
Toward noon on the day of the twenty-first, Miss Milroy was
loitering in the cottage garden--released from duty in the
sick-room by an improvement in her mother's health--when her
attention was attracted by the sound of voices in the park. One
of the voices she instantly recognized as Allan's; the other was
strange to her. She put aside the branches of a shrub near the
garden palings, and, peeping through, saw Allan approaching the
cottage gate, in company with a slim, dark, undersized man, who
was talking and laughing excitably at the top of his voice. Miss
Milroy ran indoors to warn her father of Mr. Armadale's arrival,
and to add that he was bringing with him a noisy stranger, who
was, in all probability, the friend generally reported to be
staying with the squire at the great house.
Had the major's daughter guessed right? Was the squire's
loud-talking, loud-laughing companion the shy, sensitive
Midwinter of other times? It was even so. In Allan's presence,
that morning, an extraordinary change had passed over the
ordinarily quiet demeanor of Allan's friend.
When Midwinter had first appeared in the breakfast-room, after
putting aside Mr. Brock's startling letter, Allan had been too
much occupied to pay any special attention to him. The undecided
difficulty of choosing the day for the audit dinner had pressed
for a settlement once more, and had been fixed at last (under the
butler's advice) for Saturday, the twenty-eighth of the month. It
was only on turning round to remind Midwinter of the ample space
of time which the new arrangement allowed for mastering the
steward's books, that even Allan's flighty attention had been
arrested by a marked change in the face that confronted him. He
had openly noticed the change in his usual blunt manner, and had
been instantly silenced by a fretful, almost an angry, reply.
The two had sat down together to breakfast without the usual
cordiality, and the meal had proceeded gloomily, till Midwinter
himself broke the silence by bursting into the strange outbreak
of gayety which had revealed in Allan's eyes a new side to the
character of his friend.
As usual with most of Allan's judgments, here again the
conclusion was wrong. It was no new side to Midwinter's character
that now presented itself--it was only a new aspect of the one
ever-recurring struggle of Midwinter's life.
Irritated by Allan's discovery of the change in him, and dreading
the next questions that Allan's curiosity might put, Midwinter
had roused himself to efface, by main force, the impression which
his own altered appearance had produced. It was one of those
efforts which no men compass so resolutely as the men of his
quick temper and his sensitive feminine organization. With his
whole mind still possessed by the firm belief that the Fatality
had taken one great step nearer to Allan and himself since the
rector's adventure in Kensington Gardens--with his face still
betraying what he had suffered, under the renewed conviction that
his father's death-bed warning was now, in event after event,
asserting its terrible claim to part him, at any sacrifice, from
the one human creature whom he loved--with the fear still busy at
his heart that the first mysterious vision of Allan's Dream might
be a vision realized, before the new day that now saw the two
Armadales together was a day that had passed over their
heads--with these triple bonds, wrought by his own superstition,
fettering him at that moment as they had never fettered him yet,
he mercilessly spurred his resolution to the desperate effort of
rivaling, in Allan's presence, the gayety and good spirits of
He talked and laughed, and heaped his plate indiscriminately from
every dish on the breakfast-table. He made noisily merry with
jests that had no humor, and stories that had no point. He first
astonished Allan, then amused him, then won his easily encouraged
confidence on the subject of Miss Milroy. He shouted with
laughter over the sudden development of Allan's views on
marriage, until the servants downstairs began to think that their
master's strange friend had gone mad. Lastly, he had accepted
Allan's proposal that he should be presented to the major's
daughter, and judge of her for himself, as readily, nay, more
readily than it would have been accepted by the least diffident
man living. There the two now stood at the cottage gate
--Midwinter's voice rising louder and louder over Allan's--
Midwinter's natural manner disguised (how madly and miserably
none but he knew!) in a coarse masquerade of boldness--the
outrageous, the unendurable boldness of a shy man.
They were received in the parlor by the major's daughter, pending
the arrival of the major himself.
Allan attempted to present his friend in the usual form. To his
astonishment, Midwinter took the words flippantly out of his
lips, and introduced himself to Miss Milroy with a confident
look, a hard laugh, and a clumsy assumption of ease which
presented him at his worst. His artificial spirits, lashed
continuously into higher and higher effervescence since the
morning, were now mounting hysterically beyond his own control.
He looked and spoke with that terrible freedom of license which
is the necessary consequence, when a diffident man has thrown off
his reserve, of the very effort by which he has broken loose from
his own restraints. He involved himself in a confused medley of
apologies that were not wanted, and of compliments that might
have overflattered the vanity of a savage. He looked backward and
forward from Miss Milroy to Allan, and declared jocosely that he
understood now why his friend's morning walks were always taken
in the same direction. He asked her questions about her mother,
and cut short the answers she gave him by remarks on the weather.
In one breath, he said she must feel the day insufferably hot,
and in another he protested that he quite envied her in her cool
The major came in.
Before he could say two words, Midwinter overwhelmed him with
the same frenzy of familiarity, and the same feverish fluency
of speech. He expressed his interest in Mrs. Milroy's health in
terms which would have been exaggerated on the lips of a friend
of the family. He overflowed into a perfect flood of apologies
for disturbing the major at his mechanical pursuits. He quoted
Allan's extravagant account of the clock, and expressed his own
anxiety to see it in terms more extravagant still. He paraded his
superficial book knowledge of the great clock at Strasbourg, with
far-fetched jests on the extraordinary automaton figures which
that clock puts in motion--on the procession of the Twelve
Apostles, which walks out under the dial at noon, and on the toy
cock, which crows at St. Peter's appearance--and this before a
man who had studied every wheel in that complex machinery, and
who had passed whole years of his life in trying to imitate it.
"I hear you have outnumbered the Strasbourg apostles, and
outcrowed the Strasbourg cock," he exclaimed, with the tone and
manner of a friend habitually privileged to waive all ceremony;
"and I am dying, absolutely dying, major, to see your wonderful
Major Milroy had entered the room with his mind absorbed in his
own mechanical contrivances as usual. But the sudden shock of
Midwinter's familiarity was violent enough to recall him
instantly to himself, and to make him master again, for the time,
of his social resources as a man of the world.
"Excuse me for interrupting you," he said, stopping Midwinter for
the moment, by a look of steady surprise. "I happen to have seen
the clock at Strasbourg; and it sounds almost absurd in my ears
(if you will pardon me for saying so) to put my little experiment
in any light of comparison with that wonderful achievement. There
is nothing else of the kind like it in the world!" He paused, to
control his own mounting enthusiasm; the clock at Strasbourg was
to Major Milroy what the name of Michael Angelo was to Sir Joshua
Reynolds. "Mr. Armadale's kindness has led him to exaggerate a
little," pursued the major, smiling at Allan, and passing over
another attempt of Midwinter's to seize on the talk, as if no
such attempt had been made. "But as there does happen to be this
one point of resemblance between the great clock abroad and the
little clock at home, that they both show what they can do on the
stroke of noon, and as it is close on twelve now, if you still
wish to visit my workshop, Mr. Midwinter, the sooner I show you
the way to it the better." He opened the door, and apologized to
Midwinter, with marked ceremony, for preceding him out of the
"What do you think of my friend?" whispered Allan, as he and Miss
"Must I tell you the truth, Mr. Armadale?" she whispered back.
"Then I don't like him at all!"
"He's the best and dearest fellow in the world, " rejoined the
outspoken Allan. "You'll like him better when you know him
better--I'm sure you will!"
Miss Milroy made a little grimace, implying supreme indifference
to Midwinter, and saucy surprise at Allan's earnest advocacy of
the merits of his friend. "Has he got nothing more interesting to
say to me than _that_," she wondered, privately, "after kissing
my hand twice yesterday morning?"
They were all in the major's workroom before Allan had the chance
of trying a more attractive subject. There, on the top of a rough
wooden case, which evidently contained the machinery, was the
wonderful clock. The dial was crowned by a glass pedestal placed
on rock-work in carved ebony; and on the top of the pedestal sat
the inevitable figure of Time, with his everlasting scythe in his
hand. Below the dial was a little platform, and at either end of
it rose two miniature sentry-boxes, with closed doors.
Externally, this was all that appeared, until the magic moment
came when the clock struck twelve noon.
It wanted then about three minutes to twelve; and Major Milroy
seized the opportunity of explaining what the exhibition was to
be, before the exhibition began.
"At the first words, his mind fell back again into its old
absorption over the one employment of his life. He turned to
Midwinter (who had persisted in talking all the way from the
parlor, and who was talking still) without a trace left in his
manner of the cool and cutting composure with which he had spoken
but a few minutes before. The noisy, familiar man, who had been
an ill-bred intruder in the parlor, became a privileged guest in
the workshop, for _there_ he possessed the all-atoning social
advantage of being new to the performances of the wonderful
"At the first stroke of twelve, Mr. Midwinter," said the major,
quite eagerly, "keep your eye on the figure of Time: he will move
his scythe, and point it downward to the glass pedestal. You will
next see a little printed card appear behind the glass, which
will tell you the day of the month and the day of the week. At
the last stroke of the clock, Time will lift his scythe again
into its former position, and the chimes will ring a peal. The
peal will be succeeded by the playing of a tune--the favorite
march of my old regiment--and then the final performance of the
clock will follow. The sentry-boxes, which you may observe at
each side, will both open at the same moment. In one of them you
will see the sentinel appear; and from the other a corporal and
two privates will march across the platform to relieve the guard,
and will then disappear, leaving the new sentinel at his post.
I must ask your kind allowances for this last part of the
performance. The machinery is a little complicated, and there are
defects in it which I am ashamed to say I have not yet succeeded
in remedying as I could wish. Sometimes the figures go all wrong,
and sometimes they go all right. I hope they may do their best on
the occasion of your seeing them for the first time."
As the major, posted near his clock, said the last words, his
little audience of three, assembled at the opposite end of the
room, saw the hour-hand and the minute-hand on the dial point
together to twelve. The first stroke sounded, and Time, true to
the signal, moved his scythe. The day of the month and the day of
the week announced themselves in print through the glass pedestal
next; Midwinter applauding their appearance with a noisy
exaggeration of surprise, which Miss Milroy mistook for coarse
sarcasm directed at her father's pursuits, and which Allan
(seeing that she was offended) attempted to moderate by touching
the elbow of his friend. Meanwhile, the performances of the clock
went on. At the last stroke of twelve, Time lifted his scythe
again, the chimes rang, the march tune of the major's old
regiment followed; and the crowning exhibition of the relief
of the guard announced itself in a preliminary trembling of the
sentry-boxes, and a sudden disappearance of the major at the back
of the clock.
The performance began with the opening of the sentry-box on
the right-hand side of the platform, as punctually as could be
desired; the door on the other side, however, was less
tractable--it remained obstinately closed. Unaware of this hitch
in the proceedings, the corporal and his two privates appeared
in their places in a state of perfect discipline, tottered out
across the platform, all three trembling in every limb, dashed
themselves headlong against the closed door on the other side,
and failed in producing the smallest impression on the immovable
sentry presumed to be within. An intermittent clicking, as of the
major's keys and tools at work, was heard in the machinery. The
corporal and his two privates suddenly returned, backward, across
the platform, and shut themselves up with a bang inside their own
door. Exactly at the same moment, the other door opened for the
first time, and the provoking sentry appeared with the utmost
deliberation at his post, waiting to be relieved. He was allowed
to wait. Nothing happened in the other box but an occasional
knocking inside the door, as if the corporal and his privates
were impatient to be let out. The clicking of the major's tools
was heard again among the machinery; the corporal and his party,
suddenly restored to liberty, appeared in a violent hurry, and
spun furiously across the platform. Quick as they were, however,
the hitherto deliberate sentry on the other side now perversely
showed himself to be quicker still. He disappeared like lightning
into his own premises, the door closed smartly after him, the
corporal and his privates dashed themselves headlong against it
for the second time, and the major, appearing again round the
corner of the clock, asked his audience innocently "if they would
be good enough to tell him whether anything had gone wrong?"
The fantastic absurdity of the exhibition, heightened by Major
Milroy's grave inquiry at the end of it, was so irresistibly
ludicrous that the visitors shouted with laughter; and even Miss
Milroy, with all her consideration for her father's sensitive
pride in his clock, could not restrain herself from joining in
the merriment which the catastrophe of the puppets had provoked.
But there are limits even to the license of laughter; and these
limits were ere long so outrageously overstepped by one of the
little party as to have the effect of almost instantly silencing
the other two. The fever of Midwinter's false spirits flamed out
into sheer delirium as the performance of the puppets came to
an end. His paroxysms of laughter followed each other with such
convulsive violence that Miss Milroy started back from him in
alarm, and even the patient major turned on him with a look which
said plainly, Leave the room! Allan, wisely impulsive for once
in his life, seized Midwinter by the arm, and dragged him out by
main force into the garden, and thence into the park beyond.
"Good heavens! what has come to you!" he exclaimed, shrinking
back from the tortured face before him, as he stopped and looked
close at it for the first time.
For the moment, Midwinter was incapable of answering. The
hysterical paroxysm was passing from one extreme to the other.
He leaned against a tree, sobbing and gasping for breath, and
stretched out his hand in mute entreaty to Allan to give him
"You had better not have nursed me through my fever," he said,
faintly, as soon as he could speak. "I'm mad and miserable,
Allan; I have never recovered it. Go back and ask them to forgive
me; I am ashamed to go and ask them myself. I can't tell how it
happened; I can only ask your pardon and theirs." He turned aside
his head quickly so as to conceal his face. "Don't stop here," he
said; "don't look at me; I shall soon get over it." Allan still
hesitated, and begged hard to be allowed to take him back to the
house. It was useless. "You break my heart with your kindness,"
he burst out, passionately. "For God's sake, leave me by my
Allan went back to she cottage, and pleaded there for indulgence
to Midwinter, with an earnestness and simplicity which raised him
immensely in the major's estimation, but which totally failed to
produce the same favorable impression on Miss Milroy. Little as
she herself suspected it, she was fond enough of Allan already to
be jealous of Allan's friend.
"How excessively absurd!" she thought, pettishly. "As if either
papa or I considered such a person of the slightest consequence!"
"You will kindly suspend your opinion, won't you, Major Milroy?"
said Allan, in his hearty way, at parting.
"With the greatest pleasure! " replied the major, cordially
"And you, too, Miss Milroy?" added Allan.
Miss Milroy made a mercilessly formal bow. "_My_ opinion, Mr.
Armadale, is not of the slightest consequence."
Allan left the cottage, sorely puzzled to account for Miss
Milroy's sudden coolness toward him. His grand idea of
conciliating the whole neighborhood by becoming a married man
underwent some modification as he closed the garden gate behind
him. The virtue called Prudence and the Squire of Thorpe Ambrose
became personally acquainted with each other, on this occasion,
for the first time; and Allan, entering headlong as usual on the
high-road to moral improvement, actually decided on doing nothing
in a hurry!
A man who is entering on a course of reformation ought, if
virtue is its own reward, to be a man engaged in an essentially
inspiriting pursuit. But virtue is not always its own reward; and
the way that leads to reformation is remarkably ill-lighted for
so respectable a thoroughfare. Allan seemed to have caught the
infection of his friend's despondency. As he walked home, he,
too, began to doubt--in his widely different way, and for his
widely different reasons--whether the life at Thorpe Ambrose was
promising quite as fairly for the future as it had promised at
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