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THE CLOUDING OF THE SKY.
Nine days had passed, and the tenth day was nearly at an end,
since Miss Gwilt and her pupil had taken their morning walk in
the cottage garden.
The night was overcast. Since sunset, there had been signs in
the sky from which the popular forecast had predicted rain. The
reception-rooms at the great house were all empty and dark. Allan
was away, passing the evening with the Milroys; and Midwinter was
waiting his return--not where Midwinter usually waited, among the
books in the library, but in the little back room which Allan's
mother had inhabited in the last days of her residence at Thorpe
Nothing had been taken away, but much had been added to the room,
since Midwinter had first seen it. The books which Mrs. Armadale
had left behind her, the furniture, the old matting on the floor,
the old paper on the walls, were all undisturbed. The statuette
of Niobe still stood on its bracket, and the French window still
opened on the garden. But now, to the relics left by the mother,
were added the personal possessions belonging to the son. The
wall, bare hitherto, was decorated with water-color drawings--
Jwith a portrait of Mrs. Armadale supported on one side by a view
of the old house in Somersetshire, and on the other by a picture
of the yacht. Among the books which bore in faded ink Mrs.
Armadale's inscriptions, "From my father," were other books
inscribed in the same handwriting, in brighter ink, "To my son."
Hanging to the wall, ranged on the chimney-piece, scattered over
the table, were a host of little objects, some associated with
Allan's past life, others necessary to his daily pleasures and
pursuits, and all plainly testifying that the room which he
habitually occupied at Thorpe Ambrose was the very room which had
once recalled to Midwinter the second vision of the dream. Here,
strangely unmoved by the scene around him, so lately the object
of his superstitious distrust, Allan's friend now waited
composedly for Allan's return; and here, more strangely still,
he looked on a change in the household arrangements, due in the
first instance entirely to himself. His own lips had revealed
the discovery which he had made on the first morning in the new
house; his own voluntary act had induced the son to establish
himself in the mother's room.
Under what motives had he spoken the words? Under no motives
which were not the natural growth of the new interests and the
new hopes that now animated him.
The entire change wrought in his convictions by the memorable
event that had brought him face to face with Miss Gwilt was
a change which it was not in his nature to hide from Allan's
knowledge. He had spoken openly, and had spoken as it was in his
character to speak. The merit of conquering his superstition was
a merit which he shrank from claiming, until he had first
unsparingly exposed that superstition in its worst and weakest
aspects to view.
It was only after he had unreservedly acknowledged the impulse
under which he had left Allan at the Mere, that he had taken
credit to himself for the new point of view from which he could
now look at the Dream. Then, and not till then, he had spoken
of the fulfillment of the first Vision as the doctor at the Isle
of Man might have spoken of it. He had asked, as the doctor might
have asked, Where was the wonder of their seeing a pool at
sunset, when they had a whole network of pools within a few
hours' drive of them? and what was there extraordinary in
discovering a woman at the Mere, when there were roads that led
to it, and villages in its neighborhood, and boats employed on
it, and pleasure parties visiting it? So again, he had waited
to vindicate the firmer resolution with which he looked to the
future, until he had first revealed all that he now saw himself
of the errors of the past. The abandonment of his friend's
interests, the unworthiness of the confidence that had given him
the steward's place, the forgetfulness of the trust that Mr.
Brock had reposed in him all implied in the one idea of leaving
Allan--were all pointed out. The glaring self-contradictions
betrayed in accepting the Dream as the revelation of a fatality,
and in attempting to escape that fatality by an exertion of
free-will--in toiling to store up knowledge of the steward's
duties for the future, and in shrinking from letting the future
find him in Allan's house--were, in their turn, unsparingly
exposed. To every error, to every inconsistency, he resolutely
confessed, before he ventured on the last simple appeal which
closed all, "Will you trust me in the future? Will you forgive
and forget the past?"
A man who could thus open his whole heart, without one lurking
reserve inspired by consideration for himself, was not a man to
forget any minor act of concealment of which his weakness might
have led him to be guilty toward his friend. It lay heavy on
Midwinter's conscience that he had kept secret from Allan a
discovery which he ought in Allan's dearest interests to have
revealed--the discovery of his mother's room.
But one doubt still closed his lips--the doubt whether Mrs.
Armadale's conduct in Madeira had been kept secret on her return
Careful inquiry, first among the servants, then among the
tenantry, careful consideration of the few reports current at the
time, as repeated to him by the few persons left who remembered
them, convinced him at last that the family secret had been
successfully kept within the family limits. Once satisfied that
whatever inquiries the son might make would lead to no disclosure
which could shake his respect for his mother's memory, Midwinter
had hesitated no longer. He had taken Allan into the room, and
had shown him the books on the shelves, and all that the writing
in the books disclosed. He had said plainly, "My one motive for
not telling you this before sprang from my dread of interesting
you in the room which I looked at with horror as the second of
the scenes pointed at in the Dream. Forgive me this also, and you
will have forgiven me all."
With Allan's love for his mother's memory, but one result could
follow such an avowal as this. He had liked the little room from
the first, as a pleasant contrast to the oppressive grandeur of
the other rooms at Thorpe Ambrose, and, now that he knew what
associations were connected with it, his resolution was at once
taken to make it especially his own. The same day, all his
personal possessions were collected and arranged in his mother's
room--in Midwinter's presence, and with Midwinter's assistance
given to the work.
Under those circumstances had the change now wrought in the
household arrangements been produced; and in this way had
Midwinter's victory over his own fatalism--by making Allan the
daily occupant of a room which he might otherwise hardly ever
have entered--actually favored the fulfillment of the Second
Vision of the Dream.
The hour wore on quietly as Allan's friend sat waiting for
Allan's return. Sometimes reading, sometimes thinking placidly,
he whiled away the time. No vexing cares, no boding doubts,
troubled him now. The rent-day, which he had once dreaded, had
come and gone harmlessly. A friendlier understanding had been
established between Allan and his tenants; Mr. Bashwood had
proved himself to be worthy of the confidence reposed in him;
the Pedgifts, father and son, had amply justified their client's
good opinion of them. Wherever Midwinter looked, the prospect
was bright, the future was without a cloud.
He trimmed the lamp on the table beside him and looked out at the
night. The stable clock was chiming the half-hour past eleven as
he walked to the window, and the first rain-drops were beginning
to fall. He had his hand on the bell to summon the servant, and
send him over to the cottage with an umbrella, when he was
stopped by hearing the familiar footstep on the walk outside.
"How late you are!" said Midwinter, as Allan entered through the
open French window. "Was there a party at the cottage?"
"No! only ourselves. The time slipped away somehow." He answered
in lower tones than usual, and sighed as he took his chair.
"You seem to be out of spirits?" pursued Midwinter. "What's the
Allan hesitated. "I may as well tell you," he said, after a
moment. "It's nothing to be ashamed of; I only wonder you haven't
noticed it before! There's a woman in it, as usual--I'm in love."
Midwinter laughed. "Has Miss Milroy been more charming to-night
than ever?" he asked, gayly.
"Miss Milroy!" repeated Allan. "What are you thinking of! I'm not
in love with Miss Milroy."
"Who is it, then?"
"Who is it! What a question to ask! Who can it be but Miss
There was a sudden silence. Allan sat listlessly, with his hands
in his pockets, looking out through the open window at the
falling rain. If he had turned toward his friend when he
mentioned Miss Gwilt's name he might possibly have been a little
startled by the change he would have seen in Midwinter's face.
"I suppose you don't approve of it?" he said, after waiting a
There was no answer.
"It's too late to make objections," proceeded Allan. "I really
mean it when I tell you I'm in love with her."
"A fortnight since you were in love with Miss Milroy," said the
other, in quiet, measured tones.
"Pooh! a mere flirtation. It's different this time. I'm in
earnest about Miss Gwilt."
He looked round as he spoke. Midwinter turned his face aside on
the instant, and bent it over a book.
"I see you don't approve of the thing," Allan went on. "Do you
object to her being only a governess? You can't do that, I'm
sure. If you were in my place, her being only a governess
wouldn't stand in the way with _you_?"
"No," said Midwinter; "I can't honestly say it would stand in
the way with me." He gave the answer reluctantly, and pushed his
chair back out of the light of the lamp.
"A governess is a lady who is not rich," said Allan, in an
oracular manner; "and a duchess is a lady who is not poor. And
that's all the difference I acknowledge between them. Miss Gwilt
is older than I am--I don't deny that. What age do you guess her
at, Midwinter? I say, seven or eight and twenty. What do you
"Nothing. I agree with you."
"Do you think seven or eight and twenty is too old for me? If you
were in love with a woman yourself, you wouldn't think seven or
eight and twenty too old--would you?"
"I can't say I should think it too old, if--"
"If you were really fond of her?"
Once more there was no answer.
"Well," resumed Allan, "if there's no harm in her being only a
governess, and no harm in her being a little older than I am,
what's the objection to Miss Gwilt?"
"I have made no objection."
"I don't say you have. But you don't seem to like the notion of
it, for all that."
There was another pause. Midwinter was the first to break the
silence this time.
"Are you sure of yourself, Allan?" he asked, with his face bent
once more over the book. "Are you really attached to this lady?
Have you thought seriously already of asking her to be your
"I am thinking seriously of it at this moment," said Allan. "I
can't be happy--I can't live without her. Upon my soul, I worship
the very ground she treads on!"
"How long--" His voice faltered, and he stopped. "How long," he
reiterated, "have you worshipped the very ground she treads on?"
"Longer than you think for. I know I can trust you with all my
"Don't trust me!"
"Nonsense! I _will_ trust you. There is a little difficulty in
the way which I haven't mentioned yet. It's a matter of some
delicacy, and I want to consult you about it. Between ourselves,
I have had private opportunities with Miss Gwilt--"
Midwinter suddenly started to his feet, and opened the door.
"We'll talk of this to-morrow," he said. "Good-night."
Allan looked round in astonishment. The door was closed again,
and he was alone in the room.
"He has never shaken hands with me!" exclaimed Allan, looking
bewildered at the empty chair.
As the words passed his lips the door opened, and Midwinter
"We haven't shaken hands," he said, abruptly. "God bless you,
Allan! We'll talk of it to-morrow. Good-night."
Allan stood alone at the window, looking out at the pouring rain.
He felt ill at ease, without knowing why. "Midwinter's ways get
stranger and stranger," he thought. "What can he mean by putting
me off till to-morrow, when I wanted to speak to him to-night?"
He took up his bedroom candle a little impatiently, put it down
again, and, walking back to the open window, stood looking out in
the direction of the cottage. "I wonder if she's thinking of me?"
he said to himself softly.
She _was_ thinking of him. She had just opened her desk to write
to Mrs. Oldershaw; and her pen had that moment traced the opening
line: "Make your mind easy. I have got him!"
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