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THE PLOT THICKENS.
Two messages were waiting for Allan when he returned to the
house. One had been left by Midwinter. "He had gone out for a
long walk, and Mr. Armadale was not to be alarmed if he did not
get back till late in the day." The other message had been left
by "a person from Mr. Pedgift's office," who had called,
according to appointment, while the two gentlemen were away at
the major's. "Mr. Bashwood's respects, and he would have the
honor of waiting on Mr. Armadale again in the course of the
Toward five o'clock, Midwinter returned, pale and silent. Allan
hastened to assure him that his peace was made at the cottage;
and then, to change the subject, mentioned Mr. Bashwood's
message. Midwinter's mind was so preoccupied or so languid that
he hardly seemed to remember the name. Allan was obliged to
remind him that Bashwood was the elderly clerk, whom Mr. Pedgift
had sent to be his instructor in the duties of the steward's
office. He listened without making any remark, and withdrew to
his room, to rest till dinner-time.
Left by himself, Allan went into the library, to try if he could
while away the time over a book.
He took many volumes off the shelves, and put a few of them back
again; and there he ended. Miss Milroy contrived in some
mysterious manner to get, in this case, between the reader and
the books. Her formal bow and her merciless parting speech dwelt,
try how he might to forget them, on Allan's mind; he began to
grow more and more anxious as the idle hour wore on, to recover
his lost place in her favor. To call again that day at the
cottage, and ask if he had been so unfortunate as to offend her,
was impossible. To put the question in writing with the needful
nicety of expression proved, on trying the experiment, to be a
task beyond his literary reach. After a turn or two up and down
the room, with his pen in his mouth, he decided on the more
diplomatic course (which happened, in this case, to be the
easiest course, too), of writing to Miss Milroy as cordially as
if nothing had happened, and of testing his position in her good
graces by the answer that she sent him back. An invitation of
some kind (including her father, of course, but addressed
directly to herself) was plainly the right thing to oblige her
to send a written reply; but here the difficulty occurred of what
the invitation was to be. A ball was not to be thought of, in his
present position with the resident gentry. A dinner-party, with
no indispensable elderly lady on the premises to receive Miss
Milroy--except Mrs. Gripper, who could only receive her in the
kitchen--was equally out of the question. What was the invitation
to be? Never backward, when he wanted help, in asking for it
right and left in every available direction, Allan, feeling
himself at the end of his own resources, coolly rang the bell,
and astonished the servant who answered it by inquiring how the
late family at Thorpe Ambrose used to amuse themselves, and what
sort of invitations they were in the habit of sending to their
"The family did what the rest of the gentry did, sir," said the
man, staring at his master in utter bewilderment. "They gave
dinner-parties and balls. And in fine summer weather, sir, like
this, they sometimes had lawn-parties and picnics--"
"That'll do!" shouted Allan. "A picnic's just the thing to please
her. Richard, you're an invaluable man; you may go downstairs
Richard retired wondering, and Richard's master seized his ready
"DEAR MISS MILROY--Since I left you it has suddenly struck me
that we might have a picnic. A little change and amusement (what
I should call a good shaking-up, if I wasn't writing to a young
lady) is just the thing for you, after being so long indoors
lately in Mrs. Milroy's room. A picnic is a change, and (when the
wine is good) amusement, too. Will you ask the major if he will
consent to the picnic, and come? And if you have got any friends
in the neighborhood who like a picnic, pray ask them too, for
I have got none. It shall be your picnic, but I will provide
everything and take everybody. You shall choose the day, and we
will picnic where you like. I have set my heart on this picnic.
"Believe me, ever yours,
On reading over his composition before sealing it up, Allan
frankly acknowledged to himself, this time, that it was not quite
faultless. " 'Picnic' comes in a little too often," he said.
"Never mind; if she likes the idea, she won't quarrel with that."
He sent off the letter on the spot, with strict instructions to
the messenger to wait for a reply.
In half an hour the answer came back on scented paper, without an
erasure anywhere, fragrant to smell, and beautiful to see.
The presentation of the naked truth is one of those exhibitions
from which the native delicacy of the female mind seems
instinctively to revolt. Never were the tables turned more
completely than they were now turned on Allan by his fair
correspondent. Machiavelli himself would never have suspected,
from Miss Milroy's letter, how heartily she had repented her
petulance to the young squire as soon as his back was turned,
how extravagantly delighted she was when his invitation was
placed in her hands. Her letter was the composition of a model
young lady whose emotions are all kept under parental lock and
key, and served out for her judiciously as occasion may require.
"Papa," appeared quite as frequently in Miss Milroy's reply as
"picnic" had appeared in Allan's invitation. "Papa" had been as
considerately kind as Mr. Armadale in wishing to procure her a
little change and amusement, and had offered to forego his usual
quiet habits and join the picnic. With "papa's" sanction,
therefore, she accepted, with much pleasure, Mr. Armadale's
proposal; and, at "papa's" suggestion, she would presume on Mr.
Armadale's kindness to add two friends of theirs recently settled
at Thorpe Ambrose, to the picnic party--a widow lady and her son;
the latter in holy orders and in delicate health. If Tuesday next
would suit Mr. Armadale, Tuesday next would suit "papa"--being
the first day he could spare from repairs which were required by
his clock. The rest, by "papa's" advice, she would beg to leave
entirely in Mr. Armadale's hands; and, in the meantime, she would
remain, with "papa's" compliments, Mr. Armadale's truly--ELEANOR
Who would ever have supposed that the writer of that letter had
jumped for joy when Allan's invitation arrived? Who would ever
have suspected that there was an entry already in Miss Milroy's
diary, under that day's date, to this effect: "The sweetest,
dearest letter from _I-know-who_; I'll never behave unkindly to
him again as long as I live?" As for Allan, he was charmed with
the sweet success of his maneuver. Miss Milroy had accepted his
invitation; consequently, Miss Milroy was not offended with him.
It was on the tip of his tongue to mention the correspondence to
his friend when they met at dinner. But there was something in
Midwinter's face and manner (even plain enough for Allan to see)
which warned him to wait a little before he said anything to
revive the painful subject of their visit to the cottage. By
common consent they both avoided all topics connected with Thorpe
Ambrose, not even the visit from Mr. Bashwood, which was to come
with the evening, being referred to by either of them. All
through the dinner they drifted further and further back into the
old endless talk of past times about ships and sailing. When the
butler withdrew from his attendance at table, he came downstairs
with a nautical problem on his mind, and asked his
fellow-servants if they any of them knew the relative merits "on
a wind" and "off a wind" of a schooner and a brig.
The two young men had sat longer at table than usual that day.
When they went out into the garden with their cigars, the summer
twilight fell gray and dim on lawn and flower bed, and narrowed
round them by slow degrees the softly fading circle of the
distant view. The dew was heavy, and, after a few minutes in the
garden, they agreed to go back to the drier ground on the drive
in front of the house.
They were close to the turning which led into the shrubbery, when
there suddenly glided out on them, from behind the foliage, a
softly stepping black figure--a shadow, moving darkly through the
dim evening light. Midwinter started back at the sight of it, and
even the less finely strung nerves of his friend were shaken for
"Who the devil are you?" cried Allan.
The figure bared its head in the gray light, and came slowly a
step nearer. Midwinter advanced a step on his side, and looked
closer. It was the man of the timid manners and the mourning
garments, of whom he had asked the way to Thorpe Ambrose where
the three roads met.
"Who are you?" repeated Allan.
"I humbly beg your pardon, sir," faltered the stranger, stepping
back again, confusedly. "The servants told me I should find Mr.
"What, are you Mr. Bashwood?"
"Yes, if you please, sir."
"I beg your pardon for speaking to you so roughly," said Allan;
"but the fact is, you rather startled me. My name is Armadale
(put on your hat, pray), and this is my friend, Mr. Midwinter,
who wants your help in the steward's office."
"We hardly stand in need of an introduction," said Midwinter.
"I met Mr. Bashwood out walking a few days since, and he was kind
enough to direct me when I had lost my way."
"Put on your hat," reiterated Allan, as Mr. Bashwood, still
bareheaded, stood bowing speechlessly, now to one of the young
men, and now to the other. "My good sir, put on your hat, and let
me show you the way back to the house. Excuse me for noticing
it," added Allan, as the man, in sheer nervous helplessness, let
his hat fall, instead of putting it back on his head; "but you
seem a little out of sorts; a glass of good wine will do you no
harm before you and my friend come to business. Whereabouts did
you meet with Mr. Bashwood, Midwinter, when you lost your way?"
"I am too ignorant of the neighborhood to know. I must refer you
to Mr. Bashwood."
"Come, tell us where it was," said Allan, trying, a little too
abruptly, to set the man at his ease, as they all three walked
back to the house.
The measure of Mr. Bashwood's constitutional timidity seemed to
be filled to the brim by the loudness of Allan's voice and the
bluntness of Allan's request. He ran over in the same feeble flow
of words with which he had deluged Midwinter on the occasion when
they first met.
"It was on the road, sir," he began, addressing himself
alternately to Allan, whom he called, "sir," and to Midwinter,
whom he called by his name, "I mean, if you please, on the road
to Little Gill Beck. A singular name, Mr. Midwinter, and a
singular place; I don't mean the village; I mean the
neighborhood--I mean the 'Broads' beyond the neighborhood.
Perhaps you may have heard of the Norfolk Broads, sir? What they
call lakes in other parts of England, they call Broads here. The
Broads are quite numerous; I think they would repay a visit. You
would have seen the first of them, Mr. Midwinter, if you had
walked on a few miles from where I had the honor of meeting you.
Remarkably numerous, the Broads, sir--situated between this and
the sea. About three miles from the sea, Mr. Midwinter--about
three miles. Mostly shallow, sir, with rivers running between
them. Beautiful; solitary. Quite a watery country, Mr. Midwinter;
quite separate, as it were, in itself. Parties sometimes visit
them, sir--pleasure parties in boats. It's quite a little network
of lakes, or, perhaps--yes, perhaps, more correctly, pools.
There is good sport in the cold weather. The wild fowl are quite
numerous. Yes; the Broads would repay a visit, Mr. Midwinter.
The next time you are walking that way. The distance from here
to Little Gill Beck, and then from Little Gill Beck to Girdler
Broad, which is the first you come to, is altogether not more--"
In sheer nervous inability to leave off, he would apparently
have gone on talking of the Norfolk Broads for the rest of the
evening, if one of his two listeners had not unceremoniously cut
him short before he could find his way into a new sentence.
"Are the Broads within an easy day's drive there and back from
this house?" asked Allan, feeling, if they were, that the place
for the picnic was discovered already.
"Oh, yes, sir; a nice drive--quite a nice easy drive from this
They were by this time ascending the portico steps, Allan leading
the way up, and calling to Midwinter and Mr. Bashwood to follow
him into the library, where there was a lighted lamp.
In the interval which elapsed before the wine made its
appearance, Midwinter looked at his chance acquaintance of the
high-road with strangely mingled feelings of compassion and
distrust--of compassion that strengthened in spite of him;
of distrust that persisted in diminishing, try as he might to
encourage it to grow. There, perched comfortless on the edge of
his chair, sat the poor broken-down, nervous wretch, in his worn
black garments, with his watery eyes, his honest old outspoken
wig, his miserable mohair stock, and his false teeth that were
incapable of deceiving anybody--there he sat, politely ill at
ease; now shrinking in the glare of the lamp, now wincing under
the shock of Allan's sturdy voice; a man with the wrinkles of
sixty years in his face, and the manners of a child in the
presence of strangers; an object of pity surely, if ever there
was a pitiable object yet!
"Whatever else you're afraid of, Mr. Bashwood," cried Allan,
pouring out a glass of wine, "don't be afraid of that! There
isn't a headache in a hogshead of it! Make yourself comfortable;
I'll leave you and Mr. Midwinter to talk your business over by
yourselves. It's all in Mr. Midwinter's hands; he acts for me,
and settles everything at his own discretion."
He said those words with a cautious choice of expression very
uncharacteristic of him, and, without further explanation, made
abruptly for the door. Midwinter, sitting near it, noticed his
face as he went out. Easy as the way was into Allan's favor, Mr.
Bashwood, beyond all kind of doubt, had in some unaccountable
manner failed to find it!
The two strangely assorted companions were left together--parted
widely, as it seemed on the surface, from any possible
interchange of sympathy; drawn invisibly one to the other,
nevertheless, by those magnetic similarities of temperament which
overleap all difference of age or station, and defy all apparent
incongruities of mind and character. From the moment when Allan
left the room, the hidden Influence that works in darkness began
slowly to draw the two men together, across the great social
desert which had lain between them up to this day.
Midwinter was the first to approach the subject of the interview.
"May I ask," he began, "if you have been made acquainted with my
position here, and if you know why it is that I require your
Mr. Bashwood--still hesitating and still timid, but manifestly
relieved by Allan's departure--sat further back in his chair, and
ventured on fortifying himself with a modest little sip of wine.
"Yes, sir," he replied; "Mr. Pedgift informed me of all--at least
I think I may say so--of all the circumstances. I am to instruct,
or perhaps, I ought to say to advise--"
"No, Mr. Bashwood; the first word was the best word of the two. I
am quite ignorant of the duties which Mr. Armadale's kindness has
induced him to intrust to me. If I understand right, there can be
no question of your capacity to instruct me, for you once filled
a steward's situation yourself. May I inquire where it was?"
"At Sir John Mellowship's, sir, in West Norfolk. Perhaps you
would like--I have got it with me--to see my testimonial?
Sir John might have dealt more kindly with me; but I have no
complaint to make; it's all done and over now!" His watery eyes
looked more watery still, and the trembling in his hands spread
to his lips as he produced an old dingy letter from his
pocket-book and laid it open on the table.
The testimonial was very briefly and very coldly expressed, but
it was conclusive as far as it went. Sir John considered it only
right to say that he had no complaint to make of any want of
capacity or integrity in his steward. If Mr. Bashwood's domestic
position had been compatible with the continued performance of
his duties on the estate, Sir John would have been glad to keep
him. As it was, embarrassments caused by the state of Mr.
Bashwood's personal affairs had rendered it undesirable that he
should continue in Sir John's service; and on that ground, and
that only, his employer and he had parted. Such was Sir John's
testimony to Mr. Bashwood's character. As Midwinter read the last
lines, he thought of another testimonial, still in his own
possession--of the written character which they had given him
at the school, when they turned their sick usher adrift in the
world. His superstition (distrusting all new events and all new
faces at Thorpe Ambrose) still doubted the man before him as
obstinately as ever. But when he now tried to put those doubts
into words, his heart upbraided him, and he laid the letter on
the table in silence.
The sudden pause in the conversation appeared to startle Mr.
Bashwood. He comforted himself with another little sip of wine,
and, leaving the letter untouched, burst irrepressibly into
words, as if the silence was quite unendurable to him.
"I am ready to answer any question, sir," he began. "Mr. Pedgift
told me that I must answer questions, because I was applying for
a place of trust. Mr. Pedgift said neither you nor Mr. Armadale
was likely to think the testimonial sufficient of itself. Sir
John doesn't say--he might have put it more kindly, but I don't
complain--Sir John doesn't say what the troubles were that lost
me my place. Perhaps you might wish to know--" He stopped
confusedly, looked at the testimonial, and said no more.
"If no interests but mine were concerned in the matter," rejoined
Midwinter, "the testimonial would, I assure you, be quite enough
to satisfy me. But while I am learning my new duties, the person
who teaches me will be really and truly the steward of my
friend's estate. I am very unwilling to ask you to speak on what
may be a painful subject, and I am sadly inexperienced in putting
such questions as I ought to put; but, perhaps, in Mr. Armadale's
interests, I ought to know something more, either from yourself,
or from Mr. Pedgift, if you prefer it--" He, too, stopped
confusedly, looked at the testimonial, and said no more.
There was another moment of silence. The night was warm, and Mr.
Bashwood, among his other misfortunes, had the deplorable
infirmity of perspiring in the palms of the hands. He took out a
miserable little cotton pocket-handkerchief, rolled it up into a
ball, and softly dabbed it to and fro, from one hand to the
other, with the regularity of a pendulum. Performed by other men,
under other circumstances, the action might have been ridiculous.
Performed by this man, at the crisis of the interview, the action
"Mr. Pedgift's time is too valuable, sir, to be wasted on me," he
said. "I will mention what ought to be mentioned myself--if you
will please to allow me. I have been unfortunate in my family.
It is very hard to bear, though it seems not much to tell. My
wife--" One of his hands closed fast on the pocket-handkerchief;
he moistened his dry lips, struggled with himself, and went on.
"My wife, sir," he resumed, "stood a little in my way; she did
me (I am afraid I must confess) some injury with Sir John. Soon
after I got the steward's situation, she contracted--she
took--she fell into habits (I hardly know how to say it) of
drinking. I couldn't break her of it, and I couldn't always
conceal it from Sir John's knowledge. She broke out, and--and
tried his patience once or twice, when he came to my office on
business. Sir John excused it, not very kindly; but still he
excused it. I don't complain of Sir John! I don't complain now
of my wife." He pointed a trembling finger at his miserable
crape-covered beaver hat on the floor. "I'm in mourning for her,"
he said, faintly. "She died nearly a year ago, in the county
His mouth began to work convulsively. He took up the glass of
wine at his side, and, instead of sipping it this time, drained
it to the bottom. "I'm not much used to wine, sir," he said,
conscious, apparently, of the flush that flew into his face as he
drank, and still observant of the obligations of politeness amid
all the misery of the recollections that he was calling up.
"I beg, Mr. Bashwood, you will not distress yourself by telling
me any more," said Midwinter, recoiling from any further sanction
on his part of a disclosure which had already bared the sorrows
of the unhappy man before him to the quick.
"I'm much obliged to you, sir," replied Mr. Bashwood. "But if
I don't detain you too long, and if you will please to remember
that Mr. Pedgift's directions to me were very particular--and,
besides, I only mentioned my late wife because if she hadn't
tried Sir John's patience to begin with, things might have turned
out differently--" He paused, gave up the disjointed sentence
in which he had involved himself, and tried another. "I had only
two children, sir," he went on, advancing to a new point in his
narrative, "a boy and a girl. The girl died when she was a baby.
My son lived to grow up; and it was my son who lost me my place.
I did my best for him; I got him into a respectable office in
London. They wouldn't take him without security. I'm afraid it
was imprudent; but I had no rich friends to help me, and I became
security. My boy turned out badly, sir. He--perhaps you will
kindly understand what I mean, if I say he behaved dishonestly.
His employers consented, at my entreaty, to let him off without
prosecuting. I begged very hard--I was fond of my son James--and
I took him home, and did my best to reform him. He wouldn't stay
with me; he went away again to London; he--I beg your pardon,
sir! I'm afraid I'm confusing things; I'm afraid I'm wandering
from the point."
"No, no," said Midwinter, kindly. "If you think it right to tell
me this sad story, tell it in your own way. Have you seen your
son since he left you to go to London?"
"No, sir. He's in London still, for all I know. When I last heard
of him, he was getting his bread--not very creditably. He was
employed, under the inspector, at the Private Inquiry Office in
He spoke those words--apparently (as events then stood) the most
irrelevant to the matter in hand that had yet escaped him;
actually (as events were soon to be) the most vitally important
that he had uttered yet--he spoke those words absently, looking
about him in confusion, and trying vainly to recover the lost
thread of his narrative.
Midwinter compassionately helped him. "You were telling me,"
he said, "that your son had been the cause of your losing your
place. How did that happen?"
"In this way, sir," said Mr. Bashwood, getting back again
excitedly into the right train of thought. "His employers
consented to let him off; but they came down on his security; and
I was the man. I suppose they were not to blame; the security
covered their loss. I couldn't pay it all out of my savings; I
had to borrow--on the word of a man, sir, I couldn't help it--I
had to borrow. My creditor pressed me; it seemed cruel, but, if
he wanted the money, I suppose it was only just. I was sold out
of house and home. I dare say other gentlemen would have said
what Sir John said; I dare say most people would have refused
to keep a steward who had had the bailiffs after him, and his
furniture sold in the neighborhood. That was how it ended, Mr.
Midwinter. I needn't detain you any longer--here is Sir John's
address, if you wish to apply to him." Midwinter generously
refused to receive the address.
"Thank you kindly, sir," said Mr. Bashwood, getting tremulously
on his legs. "There is nothing more, I think, except--except that
Mr. Pedgift will speak for me, if you wish to inquire into my
conduct in his service. I'm very much indebted to Mr. Pedgift;
he's a little rough with me sometimes, but, if he hadn't taken me
into his office, I think I should have gone to the workhouse when
I left Sir John, I was so broken down." He picked up his dingy
old hat from the floor. "I won't intrude any longer, sir. I shall
be happy to call again if you wish to have time to consider
before you decide-"
"I want no time to consider after what you have told me," replied
Midwinter, warmly, his memory busy, while he spoke, with the time
when _he_ had told _his_ story to Mr. Brock, and was waiting for
a generous word in return, as the man before him was waiting now.
"To-day is Saturday," he went on. "Can you come and give me my
first lesson on Monday morning? I beg your pardon," he added,
interrupting Mr. Bashwood's profuse expressions of
acknowledgment, and stopping him on his way out of the room;
"there is one thing we ought to settle, ought we not? We haven't
spoken yet about your own interest in this matter; I mean, about
the terms." He referred, a little confusedly, to the pecuniary
part of the subject. Mr. Bashwood (getting nearer and nearer to
the door) answered him more confusedly still.
"Anything, sir--anything you think right. I won't intrude any
longer; I'll leave it to you and Mr. Armadale."
"I will send for Mr. Armadale, if you like," said Midwinter,
following him into the hall. "But I am afraid he has as little
experience in matters of this kind as I have. Perhaps, if you see
no objection, we might be guided by Mr. Pedgift?"
Mr. Bashwood caught eagerly at the last suggestion, pushing his
retreat, while he spoke, as far as the front door. "Yes, sir--oh,
yes, yes! nobody better than Mr. Pedgift. Don't--pray don't
disturb Mr. Armadale!" His watery eyes looked quite wild with
nervous alarm as he turned round for a moment in the light of the
hall lamp to make that polite request. If sending for Allan had
been equivalent to unchaining a ferocious watch-dog, Mr. Bashwood
could hardly have been more anxious to stop the proceeding. "I
wish you kindly good-evening, sir," he went on, getting out to
the steps. "I'm much obliged to you. I will be scrupulously
punctual on Monday morning--I hope--I think--I'm sure you will
soon learn everything I can teach you. It's not difficult--oh
dear, no--not difficult at all! I wish you kindly good-evening,
sir. A beautiful night; yes, indeed, a beautiful night for a walk
With those words, all dropping out of his lips one on the top of
the other, and without noticing, in his agony of embarrassment at
effecting his departure, Midwinter's outstretched hand, he went
noiselessly down the steps, and was lost in the darkness of the
As Midwinter turned to re-enter the house, the dining-room door
opened and his friend met him in the hall.
"Has Mr. Bashwood gone?" asked Allan.
"He has gone," replied Midwinter, "after telling me a very sad
story, and leaving me a little ashamed of myself for having
doubted him without any just cause. I have arranged that he is
to give me my first lesson in the steward's office on Monday
"All right," said Allan. "You needn't be afraid, old boy, of my
interrupting you over your studies. I dare say I'm wrong--but I
don't like Mr. Bashwood."
"I dare say _I'm_ wrong," retorted the other, a little
petulantly. "I do."
The Sunday morning found Midwinter in the park, waiting to
intercept the postman, on the chance of his bringing more news
from Mr. Brock.
At the customary hour the man made his appearance, and placed the
expected letter in Midwinter's hands. He opened it, far away from
all fear of observation this time, and read these lines:
"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--I write more for the purpose of quieting your
anxiety than because I have anything definite to say. In my last
hurried letter I had no time to tell you that the elder of the
two women whom I met in the Gardens had followed me, and spoken
to me in the street. I believe I may characterize what she said
(without doing her any injustice) as a tissue of falsehoods from
beginning to end. At any rate, she confirmed me in the suspicion
that some underhand proceeding is on foot, of which Allan is
destined to be the victim, and that the prime mover in the
conspiracy is the vile woman who helped his mother's marriage and
who hastened his mother's death.
"Feeling this conviction, I have not hesitated to do, for Allan's
sake, what I would have done for no other creature in the world.
I have left my hotel, and have installed myself (with my old
servant Robert) in a house opposite the house to which I traced
the two women. We are alternately on the watch (quite
unsuspected, I am certain, by the people opposite) day and night.
All my feelings, as a gentleman and a clergyman, revolt from such
an occupation as I am now engaged in; but there is no other
choice. I must either do this violence to my own self-respect, or
I must leave Allan, with his easy nature, and in his assailable
position, to defend himself against a wretch who is prepared, I
firmly believe, to take the most unscrupulous advantage of his
weakness and his youth. His mother's dying entreaty has never
left my memory; and, God help me, I am now degrading myself in my
own eyes in consequence.
"There has been some reward already for the sacrifice. This day
(Saturday) I have gained an immense advantage--I have at last
seen the woman's face. She went out with her veil down as before;
and Robert kept her in view, having my instructions, if she
returned to the house, not to follow her back to the door. She
did return to the house; and the result of my precaution was,
as I had expected, to throw her off her guard. I saw her face
unveiled at the window, and afterward again in the balcony. If
any occasion should arise for describing her particularly, you
shall have the description. At present I need only say that she
looks the full age (five-and-thirty) at which you estimated her,
and that she is by no means so handsome a woman as I had (I
hardly know why) expected to see.
"This is all I can now tell you. If nothing more happens by
Monday or Tuesday next, I shall have no choice but to apply to my
lawyers for assistance; though I am most unwilling to trust this
delicate and dangerous matter in other hands than mine. Setting
my own feelings however, out of the question, the business which
has been the cause of my journey to London is too important to be
trifled with much longer as I am trifling with it now. In any and
every case, depend on my keeping you informed of the progress of
events, and believe me yours truly,
Midwinter secured the letter as he had secured the letter that
preceded it--side by side in his pocket-book with the narrative
of Allan's Dream.
"How many days more?" he asked himself, as he went back to the
house. "How many days more?"
Not many. The time he was waiting for was a time close at hand.
Monday came, and brought Mr. Bashwood, punctual to the appointed
hour. Monday came, and found Allan immersed in his preparations
for the picnic. He held a series of interviews, at home and
abroad, all through the day. He transacted business with Mrs.
Gripper, with the butler, and with the coachman, in their three
several departments of eating, drinking, and driving. He went to
the town to consult his professional advisers on the subject of
the Broads, and to invite both the lawyers, father and son (in
the absence of anybody else in the neighborhood whom he could
ask), to join the picnic. Pedgift Senior (in his department)
supplied general information, but begged to be excused from
appearing at the picnic, on the score of business engagements.
Pedgift Junior (in his department) added all the details; and,
casting business engagements to the winds, accepted the
invitation with the greatest pleasure. Returning from the
lawyer's office, Allan's next proceeding was to go to the major's
cottage and obtain Miss Milroy's approval of the proposed
locality for the pleasure party. This object accomplished, he
returned to his own house, to meet the last difficulty now left
to encounter--the difficulty of persuading Midwinter to join the
expedition to the Broads.
On first broaching the subject, Allan found his friend
impenetrably resolute to remain at home. Midwinter's natural
reluctance to meet the major and his daughter after what had
happened at the cottage, might probably have been overcome. But
Midwinter's determination not to allow Mr. Bashwood's course of
instruction to be interrupted was proof against every effort that
could be made to shake it. After exerting his influence to the
utmost, Allan was obliged to remain contented with a compromise.
Midwinter promised, not very willingly, to join the party toward
evening, at the place appointed for a gypsy tea-making, which was
to close the proceedings of the day. To this extent he would
consent to take the opportunity of placing himself on a friendly
footing with the Milroys. More he could not concede, even to
Allan's persuasion, and for more it would he useless to ask.
The day of the picnic came. The lovely morning, and the cheerful
bustle of preparation for the expedition, failed entirely to
tempt Midwinter into altering his resolution. At the regular hour
he left the breakfast-table to join Mr. Bashwood in the steward's
office. The two were quietly closeted over the books, at the back
of the house, while the packing for the picnic went on in front.
Young Pedgift (short in stature, smart in costume, and
self-reliant in manner) arrived some little time before the hour
for starting, to revise all the arrangements, and to make any
final improvements which his local knowledge might suggest. Allan
and he were still busy in consultation when the first hitch
occurred in the proceedings. The woman-servant from the cottage
was reported to be waiting below for an answer to a note from her
young mistress, which was placed in Allan's hands.
On this occasion Miss Milroy's emotions had apparently got the
better of her sense of propriety. The tone of the letter was
feverish, and the handwriting wandered crookedly up and down in
deplorable freedom from all proper restraint.
"Oh, Mr. Armadale" (wrote the major's daughter), "such a
misfortune! What _are_ we to do? Papa has got a letter from
grandmamma this morning about the new governess. Her reference
has answered all the questions, and she's ready to come at the
shortest notice. Grandmamma thinks (how provoking!) the sooner
the better; and she says we may expect her--I mean the
governess--either to-day or to-morrow. Papa says (he _will_ be so
absurdly considerate to everybody!) that we can't allow Miss
Gwilt to come here (if she comes to-day) and find nobody at home
to receive her. What is to be done? I am ready to cry with
vexation. I have got the worst possible impression (though
grandmamma says she is a charming person) of Miss Gwilt. _Can_
you suggest something, dear Mr. Armadale? I'm sure papa would
give way if you could. Don't stop to write; send me a message
back. I have got a new hat for the picnic; and oh, the agony of
not knowing whether I am to keep it on or take it off. Yours
truly, E. M."
"The devil take Miss Gwilt!" said Allan, staring at his legal
adviser in a state of helpless consternation.
"With all my heart, sir--I don't wish to interfere," remarked
Pedgift Junior. "May I ask what's the matter?"
Allan told him. Mr. Pedgift the younger might have his faults,
but a want of quickness of resource was not among them.
"There's a way out of the difficulty, Mr. Armadale," he said. "If
the governess comes today, let's have her at the picnic."
Allan's eyes opened wide in astonishment.
"All the horses and carriages in the Thorpe Ambrose stables are
not wanted for this small party of ours," proceeded Pedgift
Junior. "Of course not! Very good. If Miss Gwilt comes to-day,
she can't possibly get here before five o'clock. Good again. You
order an open carriage to be waiting at the major's door at that
time, Mr. Armadale, and I'll give the man his directions where to
drive to. When the governess comes to the cottage, let her find
a nice little note of apology (along with the cold fowl, or
whatever else they give her after her journey) begging her to
join us at the picnic, and putting a carriage at her own sole
disposal to take her there. Gad, sir!" said young Pedgift, gayly,
"she _must_ be a Touchy One if she thinks herself neglected after
"Capital!" cried Allan. "She shall have every attention. I'll
give her the pony-chaise and the white harness, and she shall
drive herself, if she likes."
He scribbled a line to relieve Miss Milroy's apprehensions, and
gave the necessary orders for the pony-chaise. Ten minutes later,
the carriages for the pleasure party were at the door.
"Now we've taken all this trouble about her," said Allan,
reverting to the governess as they left the house, "I wonder, if
she does come today, whether we shall see her at the picnic!"
"Depends, entirely on her age, sir," remarked young Pedgift,
pronouncing judgment with the happy confidence in himself which
eminently distinguished him. "If she's an old one, she'll be
knocked up with the journey, and she'll stick to the cold fowl
and the cottage. If she's a young one, either I know nothing of
women, or the pony in the white harness will bring her to the
They started for the major's cottage.
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