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THE MAN REVEALED.
THE first cool breathings of the coming dawn fluttered through
the open window as Mr. Brock read the closing lines of the
Confession. He put it from him in silence, without looking up.
The first shock of discovery had struck his mind, and had passed
away again. At his age, and with his habits of thought, his grasp
was not strong enough to hold the whole revelation that had
fallen on him. All his heart, when he closed the manuscript, was
with the memory of the woman who had been the beloved friend of
his later and happier life; all his thoughts were busy with the
miserable secret of her treason to her own father which the
letter had disclosed.
He was startled out of the narrow limits of his own little grief
by the vibration of the table at which he sat, under a hand that
was laid on it heavily. The instinct of reluctance was strong in
him; but he conquered it, and looked up. There, silently
confronting him in the mixed light of the yellow candle flame and
the faint gray dawn, stood the castaway of the village inn--the
inheritor of the fatal Armadale name.
Mr. Brock shuddered as the terror of the present time and the
darker terror yet of the future that might be coming rushed back
on him at the sight of the man's face. The man saw it, and spoke
"Is my father's crime looking at you out of my eyes?" he asked.
"Has the ghost of the drowned man followed me into the room?"
The suffering and the passion that he was forcing back shook the
hand that he still kept on the table, and stifled the voice in
which he spoke until it sank to a whisper.
"I have no wish to treat you otherwise than justly and kindly,"
answered Mr. Brock. "Do me justice on my side, and believe that I
am incapable of cruelly holding you responsible for your father's
The reply seemed to compose him. He bowed his head in silence,
and took up the confession from the table.
"Have you read this through?" he asked, quietly.
"Every word of it, from first to last."
"Have I dealt openly with you so far. Has Ozias Midwinter--"
"Do you still call yourself by that name," interrupted Mr. Brock,
"now your true name is known to me?"
"Since I have read my father's confession," was the answer, "I
like my ugly alias better than ever. Allow me to repeat the
question which I was about to put to you a minute since: Has
Ozias Midwinter done his best thus far to enlighten Mr. Brock?"
The rector evaded a direct reply. "Few men in your position," he
said, "would have had the courage to show me that letter."
"Don't be too sure, sir, of the vagabond you picked up at the inn
till you know a little more of him than you know now. You have
got the secret of my birth, but you are not in possession yet of
the story of my life. You ought to know it, and you shall know
it, before you leave me alone with Mr. Armadale. Will you wait,
and rest a little while, or shall I tell it you now?"
"Now," said Mr. Brock, still as far away as ever from knowing the
real character of the man before him.
Everything Ozias Midwinter said, everything Ozias Midwinter did,
was against him. He had spoken with a sardonic indifference,
almost with an insolence of tone, which would have repelled the
sympathies of any man who heard him. And now, instead of placing
himself at the table, and addressing his story directly to the
rector, he withdrew silently and ungraciously to the window-seat.
There he sat, his face averted, his hands mechanically turning
the leaves of his father's letter till he came to the last. With
his eyes fixed on the closing lines of the manuscript, and with
a strange mixture of recklessness and sadness in his voice, he
began his promised narrative in these words:
"The first thing you know of me," he said, "is what my father's
confession has told you already. He mentions here that I was a
child, asleep on his breast, when he spoke his last words in this
world, and when a stranger's hand wrote them down for him at his
deathbed. That stranger's name, as you may have noticed, is
signed on the cover--'Alexander Neal, Writer to the Signet,
Edinburgh.' The first recollection I have is of Alexander Neal
beating me with a horsewhip (I dare say I deserved it), in the
character of my stepfather."
"Have you no recollection of your mother at the same time?" asked
"Yes; I remember her having shabby old clothes made up to fit me,
and having fine new frocks bought for her two children by her
second husband. I remember the servants laughing at me in my old
things, and the horsewhip finding its way to my shoulders again
for losing my temper and tearing my shabby clothes. My next
recollection gets on to a year or two later. I remember myself
locked up in a lumber-room, with a bit of bread and a mug of
water, wondering what it was that made my mother and my
stepfather seem to hate the very sight of me. I never settled
that question till yesterday, and then I solved the mystery,
when my father's letter was put into my hands. My mother knew
what had really happened on board the French timber-ship, and my
stepfather knew what had really happened, and they were both well
aware that the shameful secret which they would fain have kept
from every living creature was a secret which would be one day
revealed to _me_. There was no help for it--the confession was in
the executor's hands, and there was I, an ill-conditioned brat,
with my mother's negro blood in my face, and my murdering
father's passions in my heart, inheritor of their secret in spite
of them! I don't wonder at the horsewhip now, or the shabby old
clothes, or the bread and water in the lumber-room. Natural
penalties all of them, sir, which the child was beginning to pay
already for the father's sin."
Mr. Brock looked at the swarthy, secret face, still obstinately
turned away from him. "Is this the stark insensibility of a
vagabond," he asked himself, "or the despair, in disguise, of
a miserable man?"
"School is my next recollection," the other went on--"a cheap
place in a lost corner of Scotland. I was left there, with a bad
character to help me at starting. I spare you the story of the
master's cane in the schoolroom, and the boys' kicks in the
playground. I dare say there was ingrained ingratitude in my
nature; at any rate, I ran away. The first person who met me
asked my name. I was too young and too foolish to know the
importance of concealing it, and, as a matter of course, I was
taken back to school the same evening. The result taught me a
lesson which I have not forgotten since. In a day or two more,
like the vagabond I was, I ran away for the second time. The
school watch-dog had had his instructions, I suppose: he stopped
me before I got outside the gate. Here is his mark, among the
rest, on the back of my hand. His master's marks I can't show
you; they are all on my back. Can you believe in my perversity?
There was a devil in me that no dog could worry out. I ran away
again as soon as I left my bed, and this time I got off. At
nightfall I found myself (with a pocketful of the school oatmeal)
lost on a moor. I lay down on the fine soft heather, under the
lee of a great gray rock. Do you think I felt lonely? Not I!
I was away from the master's cane, away from my schoolfellows'
kicks, away from my mother, away from my stepfather; and I lay
down that night under my good friend the rock, the happiest boy
in all Scotland!"
Through the wretched childhood which that one significant
circumstance disclosed, Mr. Brock began to see dimly how little
was really strange, how little really unaccountable, in the
character of the man who was now speaking to him.
"I slept soundly," Midwinter continued, "under my friend the
rock. When I woke in the morning, I found a sturdy old man with a
fiddle sitting on one side of me, and two performing dogs on the
other. Experience had made me too sharp to tell the truth when
the man put his first questions. He didn't press them; he gave me
a good breakfast out of his knapsack, and he let me romp with the
dogs. 'I'll tell you what,' he said, when he had got my
confidence in this manner, 'you want three things, my man: you
want a new father, a new family, and a new name. I'll be your
father. I'll let you have the dogs for your brothers; and, if
you'll promise to be very careful of it, I'll give you my own
name into the bargain. Ozias Midwinter, Junior, you have had a
good breakfast; if you want a good dinner, come along with me!'
He got up, the dogs trotted after him, and I trotted after the
dogs. Who was my new father? you will ask. A half-breed gypsy,
sir; a drunkard, a ruffian, and a thief--and the best friend I
ever had! Isn't a man your friend who gives you your food, your
shelter, and your education? Ozias Midwinter taught me to dance
the Highland fling, to throw somersaults, to walk on stilts, and
to sing songs to his fiddle. Sometimes we roamed the country,
and performed at fairs. Sometimes we tried the large towns, and
enlivened bad company over its cups. I was a nice, lively little
boy of eleven years old, and bad company, the women especially,
took a fancy to me and my nimble feet. I was vagabond enough to
like the life. The dogs and I lived together, ate, and drank, and
slept together. I can't think of those poor little four-footed
brothers of mine, even now, without a choking in the throat. Many
is the beating we three took together; many is the hard day's
dancing we did together; many is the night we have slept
together, and whimpered together, on the cold hill-side. I'm not
trying to distress you, sir; I'm only telling you the truth. The
life with all its hardships was a life that fitted me, and the
half-breed gypsy who gave me his name, ruffian as he was, was a
ruffian I liked."
"A man who beat you!" exclaimed Mr. Brock, in astonishment.
"Didn't I tell you just now, sir, that I lived with the dogs? and
did you ever hear of a dog who liked his master the worse for
beating him? Hundreds of thousands of miserable men, women, and
children would have liked that man (as I liked him) if he had
always given them what he always gave me--plenty to eat. It was
stolen food mostly, and my new gypsy father was generous with it.
He seldom laid the stick on us when he was sober; but it diverted
him to hear us yelp when he was drunk. He died drunk, and enjoyed
his favorite amusement with his last breath. One day (when I had
been two years in his service), after giving us a good dinner
out on the moor, he sat down with his back against a stone, and
called us up to divert himself with his stick. He made the dogs
yelp first, and then he called to me. I didn't go very willingly;
he had been drinking harder than usual, and the more he drank
the better he liked his after-dinner amusement. He was in high
good-humor that day, and he hit me so hard that he toppled over,
in his drunken state, with the force of his own blow. He fell
with his face in a puddle, and lay there without moving. I and
the dogs stood at a distance, and looked at him: we thought he
was feigning, to get us near and have another stroke at us. He
feigned so long that we ventured up to him at last. It took me
some time to pull him over; he was a heavy man. When I did get
him on his back, he was dead. We made all the outcry we could;
but the dogs were little, and I was little, and the place was
lonely; and no help came to us. I took his fiddle and his stick;
I said to my two brothers, 'Come along, we must get our own
living now;' and we went away heavy-hearted, and left him on the
moor. Unnatural as it may seem to you, I was sorry for him. I
kept his ugly name through all my after-wanderings, and I have
enough of the old leaven left in me to like the sound of it
still. Midwinter or Armadale, never mind my name now, we will
talk of that afterward; you must know the worst of me first."
"Why not the best of you?" said Mr. Brock, gently.
"Thank you, sir; but I am here to tell the truth. We will get on,
if you please, to the next chapter in my story. The dogs and I
did badly, after our master's death; our luck was against us. I
lost one of my little brothers--the best performer of the two; he
was stolen, and I never recovered him. My fiddle and my stilts
were taken from me next, by main force, by a tramp who was
stronger than I. These misfortunes drew Tommy and me--I beg your
pardon, sir, I mean the dog--closer together than ever.
I think we had some kind of dim foreboding on both sides that we
had not done with our misfortunes yet; anyhow, it was not very
long before we were parted forever. We were neither of us thieves
(our master had been satisfied with teaching us to dance); but we
both committed an invasion of the rights of property, for all
that. Young creatures, even when they are half starved, cannot
resist taking a run sometimes on a fine morning. Tommy and I
could not resist taking a run into a gentleman's plantation; the
gentleman preserved his game; and the gentleman's keeper knew his
business. I heard a gun go off; you can guess the rest. God
preserve me from ever feeling such misery again as I felt when I
lay down by Tommy, and took him, dead and bloody, in my arms! The
keeper attempted to part us; I bit him, like the wild animal I
was. He tried the stick on me next; he might as well have tried
it on one of the trees. The noise reached the ears of two young
ladies riding near the place--daughters of the gentleman on whose
property I was a trespasser. They were too well brought up to
lift their voices against the sacred right of preserving game,
but they were kind-hearted girls, and they pitied me, and took me
home with them. I remember the gentlemen of the house (keen
sportsmen all of them) roaring with laughter as I went by the
windows, crying, with my little dead dog in my arms. Don't
suppose I complain of their laughter; it did me good service; it
roused the indignation of the two ladies. One of them took me
into her own garden, and showed me a place where I might bury my
dog under the flowers, and be sure that no other hands should
ever disturb him again. The other went to her father, and
persuaded him to give the forlorn little vagabond a chance in
the house, under one of the upper servants. Yes! you have been
cruising in company with a man who was once a foot-boy. I saw you
look at me, when I amused Mr. Armadale by laying the cloth on
board the yacht. Now you know why I laid it so neatly, and forgot
nothing. It has been my good fortune to see something of society;
I have helped to fill its stomach and black its boots. My
experience of the servants' hall was not a long one. Before I had
worn out my first suit of livery, there was a scandal in the
house. It was the old story; there is no need to tell it over
again for the thousandth time. Loose money left on a table, and
not found there again; all the servants with characters to appeal
to except the foot-boy, who had been rashly taken on trial. Well!
well! I was lucky in that house to the last; I was not prosecuted
for taking what I had not only never touched, but never even
seen: I was only turned out. One morning I went in my old clothes
to the grave where I had buried Tommy. I gave the place a kiss;
I said good-by to my little dead dog; and there I was, out in the
world again, at the ripe age of thirteen years!"
"In that friendless state, and at that tender age," said Mr.
Brock, "did no thought cross your mind of going home again?"
"I went home again, sir, that very night--I slept on the
hill-side. What other home had I? In a day or two's time I
drifted back to the large towns and the bad company, the great
open country was so lonely to me, now I had lost the dogs! Two
sailors picked me up next. I was a handy lad, and I got a
cabin-boy's berth on board a coasting-vessel. A cabin-boy's
berth means dirt to live in, offal to eat, a man's work on a
boy's shoulders, and the rope's-end at regular intervals. The
vessel touched at a port in the Hebrides. I was as ungrateful as
usual to my best benefactors; I ran away again. Some women found
me, half dead of starvation, in the northern wilds of the Isle of
Skye. It was near the coast and I took a turn with the fishermen
next. There was less of the rope's-end among my new masters; but
plenty of exposure to wind and weather, and hard work enough to
have killed a boy who was not a seasoned tramp like me. I fought
through it till the winter came, and then the fishermen turned me
adrift again. I don't blame them; food was scarce, and mouths
were many. With famine staring the whole community in the face,
why should they keep a boy who didn't belong to them? A great
city was my only chance in the winter-time; so I went to Glasgow,
and all but stepped into the lion's mouth as soon as I got there.
I was minding an empty cart on the Broomielaw, when I heard my
stepfather's voice on the pavement side of the horse by which I
was standing. He had met some person whom he knew, and, to my
terror and surprise, they were talking about me. Hidden behind
the horse, I heard enough of their conversation to know that I
had narrowly escaped discovery before I went on board the
coasting-vessel. I had met at that time with another vagabond boy
of my own age; we had quarreled and parted. The day after, my
stepfather's inquiries were made in that very district, and it
became a question with him (a good personal description being
unattainable in either case) which of the two boys he should
follow. One of them, he was informed, was known as "Brown," and
the other as "Midwinter." Brown was just the common name which
a cunning runaway boy would be most likely to assume; Midwinter,
just the remarkable name which he would be most likely to avoid.
The pursuit had accordingly followed Brown, and had allowed me
to escape. I leave you to imagine whether I was not doubly and
trebly determined to keep my gypsy master's name after that.
But my resolution did not stop here. I made up my mind to leave
the country altogether. After a day or two's lurking about the
outward-bound vessels in port, I found out which sailed first,
and hid myself on board. Hunger tried hard to force me out before
the pilot had left; but hunger was not new to me, and I kept my
place. The pilot was out of the vessel when I made my appearance
on deck, and there was nothing for it but to keep me or throw me
overboard. The captain said (I have no doubt quite truly) that he
would have preferred throwing me overboard; but the majesty of
the law does sometimes stand the friend even of a vagabond like
me. In that way I came back to a sea-life. In that way I learned
enough to make me handy and useful (as I saw you noticed) on
board Mr. Armadale's yacht. I sailed more than one voyage, in
more than one vessel, to more than one part of the world, and I
might have followed the sea for life, if I could only have kept
my temper under every provocation that could be laid on it. I had
learned a great deal; but, not having learned that, I made the
last part of my last voyage home to the port of Bristol in irons;
and I saw the inside of a prison for the first time in my life,
on a charge of mutinous conduct to one of my officers. You have
heard me with extraordinary patience, sir, and I am glad to tell
you, in return, that we are not far now from the end of my story.
You found some books, if I remember right, when you searched my
luggage at the Somersetshire inn?"
Mr. Brock answered in the affirmative.
"Those books mark the next change in my life--and the last,
before I took the usher's place at the school. My term of
imprisonment was not a long one. Perhaps my youth pleaded for me;
perhaps the Bristol magistrates took into consideration the time
I had passed in irons on board ship. Anyhow, I was just turned
seventeen when I found myself out on the world again. I had no
friends to receive me; I had no place to go to. A sailor's life,
after what had happened, was a life I recoiled from in disgust.
I stood in the crowd on the bridge at Bristol, wondering what I
should do with my freedom now I had got it back. Whether I had
altered in the prison, or whether I was feeling the change in
character that comes with coming manhood, I don't know; but the
old reckless enjoyment of the old vagabond life seemed quite worn
out of my nature. An awful sense of loneliness kept me wandering
about Bristol, in horror of the quiet country, till after
nightfall. I looked at the lights kindling in the parlor windows,
with a miserable envy of the happy people inside. A word of
advice would have been worth something to me at that time. Well!
I got it: a policeman advised me to move on. He was quite right;
what else could I do? I looked up at the sky, and there was my
old friend of many a night's watch at sea, the north star. 'All
points of the compass are alike to me,' I thought to myself;
'I'll go _your_ way.' Not even the star would keep me company
that night. It got behind a cloud, and left me alone in the rain
and darkness. I groped my way to a cart-shed, fell asleep, and
dreamed of old times, when I served my gypsy master and lived
with the dogs. God! what I would have given when I woke to have
felt Tommy's little cold muzzle in my hand! Why am I dwelling on
these things? Why don't I get on to the end? You shouldn't
encourage me, sir, by listening, so patiently. After a week more
of wandering, without hope to help me, or prospects to look to,
I found myself in the streets of Shrewsbury, staring in at the
windows of a book-seller's shop. An old man came to the shop
door, looked about him, and saw me. 'Do you want a job?' he
asked. 'And are you not above doing it cheap?' The prospect of
having something to do, and some human creature to speak a word
to, tempted me, and I did a day's dirty work in the book-seller's
warehouse for a shilling. More work followed at the same rate.
In a week I was promoted to sweep out the shop and put up the
shutters. In no very long time after, I was trusted to carry the
books out; and when quarter-day came, and the shop-man left, I
took his place. Wonderful luck! you will say; here I had found my
way to a friend at last. I had found my way to one of the most
merciless misers in England; and I had risen in the little world
of Shrewsbury by the purely commercial process of underselling
all my competitors. The job in the warehouse had been declined
at the price by every idle man in the town, and I did it. The
regular porter received his weekly pittance under weekly protest.
I took two shillings less, and made no complaint. The shop-man
gave warning on the ground that he was underfed as well as
underpaid. I received half his salary, and lived contentedly on
his reversionary scraps. Never were two men so well suited to
each other as that book-seller and I. _His_ one object in life
was to find somebody who would work for him at starvation wages.
_My_ one object in life was to find somebody who would give me an
asylum over my head. Without a single sympathy in common--without
a vestige of feeling of any sort, hostile or friendly, growing up
between us on either side--without wishing each other good-night
when we parted on the house stairs, or good-morning when we met
at the shop counter, we lived alone in that house, strangers from
first to last, for two whole years. A dismal existence for a lad
of my age, was it not? You are a clergyman and a scholar--surely
you can guess what made the life endurable to me?"
Mr. Brock remembered the well-worn volumes which had been found
in the usher's bag. "The books made it endurable to you," he
The eyes of the castaway kindled with a new light.
"Yes!" he said, "the books--the generous friends who met me
without suspicion--the merciful masters who never used me ill!
The only years of my life that I can look back on with something
like pride are the years I passed in the miser's house. The only
unalloyed pleasure I have ever tasted is the pleasure that I
found for myself on the miser's shelves. Early and late, through
the long winter nights and the quiet summer days, I drank at the
fountain of knowledge, and never wearied of the draught. There
were few customers to serve, for the books were mostly of the
solid and scholarly kind. No responsibilities rested on me, for
the accounts were kept by my master, and only the small sums of
money were suffered to pass through my hands. He soon found out
enough of me to know that my honesty was to be trusted, and that
my patience might be counted on, treat me as he might. The one
insight into _his_ character which I obtained, on my side,
widened the distance between us to its last limits. He was a
confirmed opium-eater in secret--a prodigal in laudanum, though a
miser in all besides. He never confessed his frailty, and I never
told him I had found it out. He had his pleasure apart from me,
and I had my pleasure apart from _him_. Week after week, month
after month, there we sat, without a friendly word ever passing
between us--I, alone with my book at the counter; he, alone with
his ledger in the parlor, dimly visible to me through the dirty
window-pane of the glass door, sometimes poring over his figures,
sometimes lost and motionless for hours in the ecstasy of his
opium trance. Time passed, and made no impression on us; the
seasons of two years came and went, and found us still unchanged.
One morning, at the opening of the third year, my master did not
appear, as usual, to give me my allowance for breakfast. I went
upstairs, and found him helpless in his bed. He refused to trust
me with the keys of the cupboard, or to let me send for a doctor.
I bought a morsel of bread, and went back to my books, with no
more feeling for _him_ (I honestly confess it) than he would have
had for _me_ under the same circumstances. An hour or two later I
was roused from my reading by an occasional customer of ours, a
retired medical man. He went upstairs. I was glad to get rid of
him and return to my books. He came down again, and disturbed me
once more. 'I don't much like you, my lad,' he said; 'but I think
it my duty to say that you will soon have to shift for yourself.
You are no great favorite in the town, and you may have some
difficulty in finding a new place. Provide yourself with a
written character from your master before it is too late.' He
spoke to me coldly. I thanked him coldly on my side, and got my
character the same day. Do you think my master let me have it for
nothing? Not he! He bargained with me on his deathbed. I was his
creditor for a month's salary, and he wouldn't write a line of my
testimonial until I had first promised to forgive him the debt.
Three days afterward he died, enjoying to the last the happiness
of having overreached his shop-man. 'Aha!' he whispered, when the
doctor formally summoned me to take leave of him, 'I got you
cheap!' Was Ozias Midwinter's stick as cruel as that? I think
not. Well! there I was, out on the world again, but surely with
better prospects this time. I had taught myself to read Latin,
Greek, and German; and I had got my written character to speak
for me. All useless! The doctor was quite right; I was not liked
in the town. The lower order of the people despised me for
selling my services to the miser at the miser's price. As for
the better classes, I did with them (God knows how!) what I have
always done with everybody except Mr. Armadale--I produced a
disagreeable impression at first sight; I couldn't mend it
afterward; and there was an end of me in respectable quarters. It
is quite likely I might have spent all my savings, my puny little
golden offspring of two years' miserable growth, but for a school
advertisement which I saw in a local paper. The heartlessly mean
terms that were offered encouraged me to apply; and I got the
place. How I prospered in it, and what became of me next, there
is no need to tell you. The thread of my story is all wound off;
my vagabond life stands stripped of its mystery; and you know the
worst of me at last."
A moment of silence followed those closing words. Midwinter rose
from the window-seat, and came back to the table with the letter
from Wildbad in his hand.
"My father's confession has told you who I am; and my own
confession has told you what my life has been," he said,
addressing Mr. Brock, without taking the chair to which the
rector pointed. "I promised to make a clean breast of it when I
first asked leave to enter this room. Have I kept my word?"
"It is impossible to doubt it," replied Mr. Brock. "You have
established your claim on my confidence and my sympathy. I should
be insensible, indeed, if I could know what I now know of your
childhood and your youth, and not feel something of Allan's
kindness for Allan's friend."
"Thank you, sir," said Midwinter, simply and gravely.
He sat down opposite Mr. Brook at the table for the first time.
"In a few hours you will have left this place," he proceeded. "If
I can help you to leave it with your mind at ease, I will. There
is more to be said between us than we have said up to this time.
My future relations with Mr. Armadale are still left undecided;
and the serious question raised by my father's letter is a
question which we have neither of us faced yet."
He paused, and looked with a momentary impatience at the candle
still burning on the table, in the morning light. The struggle to
speak with composure, and to keep his own feelings stoically out
of view, was evidently growing harder and harder to him.
"It may possibly help your decision," he went on, "if I tell you
how I determined to act toward Mr. Armadale--in the matter of the
similarity of our names--when I first read this letter, and when
I had composed myself sufficiently to be able to think at all."
He stopped, and cast a second impatient look at the lighted
candle. "Will you excuse the odd fancy of an odd man?" he asked,
with a faint smile. "I want to put out the candle: I want to
speak of the new subject, in the new light."
He extinguished the candle as he spoke, and let the first
tenderness of the daylight flow uninterruptedly into the room.
"I must once more ask your patience," he resumed, "if I return
for a moment to myself and my circumstances. I have already told
you that my stepfather made an attempt to discover me some years
after I had turned my back on the Scotch school. He took that
step out of no anxiety of his own, but simply as the agent of my
father's trustees. In the exercise of their discretion, they had
sold the estates in Barbadoes (at the time of the emancipation of
the slaves, and the ruin of West Indian property) for what the
estates would fetch. Having invested the proceeds, they were
bound to set aside a sum for my yearly education. This
responsibility obliged them to make the attempt to trace me--a
fruitless attempt, as you already know. A little later (as I have
been since informed) I was publicly addressed by an advertisement
in the newspapers, which I never saw. Later still, when I was
twenty-one, a second advertisement appeared (which I did see)
offering a reward for evidence of my death. If I was alive, I had
a right to my half share of the proceeds of the estates on coming
of age; if dead, the money reverted to my mother. I went to the
lawyers, and heard from them what I have just told you. After
some difficulty in proving my identity--and after an interview
with my stepfather, and a message from my mother, which has
hopelessly widened the old breach between us--my claim was
allowed; and my money is now invested for me in the funds, under
the name that is really my own."
Mr. Brock drew eagerly nearer to the table. He saw the end now to
which the speaker was tending
"Twice a year," Midwinter pursued, "I must sign my own name to
get my own income. At all other times, and under all other
circumstances, I may hide my identity under any name I please. As
Ozias Midwinter, Mr. Armadale first knew me; as Ozias Midwinter
he shall know me to the end of my days. Whatever may be the
result of this interview--whether I win your confidence or
whether I lose it--of one thing you may feel sure: your pupil
shall never know the horrible secret which I have trusted to your
keeping. This is no extraordinary resolution; for, as you know
already, it costs me no sacrifice of feeling to keep my assumed
name. There is nothing in my conduct to praise; it comes
naturally out of the gratitude of a thankful man. Review the
circumstances for yourself, sir, and set my own horror of
revealing them to Mr. Armadale out of the question. If the story
of the names is ever told, there can be no limiting it to the
disclosure of my father's crime; it must go back to the story of
Mrs. Armadale's marriage. I have heard her son talk of her; I
know how he loves her memory. As God is my witness, he shall
never love it less dearly through _me_!"
Simply as the words were spoken, they touched the deepest
sympathies in the rector's nature: they took his thoughts back to
Mrs. Armadale's deathbed. There sat the man against whom she had
ignorantly warned him in her son's interests; and that man, of
his own free-will, had laid on himself the obligation of
respecting her secret for her son's sake! The memory of his own
past efforts to destroy the very friendship out of which this
resolution had sprung rose and reproached Mr. Brock. He held out
his hand to Midwinter for the first time. "In her name, and in
her son's name," he said, warmly, "I thank you."
Without replying, Midwinter spread the confession open before him
on the table.
"I think I have said all that it was my duty to say," he began,
"before we could approach the consideration of this letter.
Whatever may have appeared strange in my conduct toward you and
toward Mr. Armadale may be now trusted to explain itself. You can
easily imagine the natural curiosity and surprise that I must
have felt (ignorant as I then was of the truth) when the sound of
Mr. Armadale's name first startled me as the echo of my own. You
will readily understand that I only hesitated to tell him I was
his namesake, because I hesitated to damage my position--in your
estimation, if not in his--by confessing that I had come among
you under an assumed name. And, after all that you have just
heard of my vagabond life and my low associates, you will hardly
wonder at the obstinate silence I maintained about myself, at a
time when I did not feel the sense of responsibility which my
father's confession has laid on me. We can return to these small
personal explanations, if you wish it, at another time; they
cannot be suffered to keep us from the greater interests which we
must settle before you leave this place. We may come now--" His
voice faltered, and he suddenly turned his face toward the
window, so as to hide it from the rector's view. "We may come
now," he repeated, his hand trembling visibly as it held the
page, "to the murder on board the timber-ship, and to the warning
that has followed me from my father's grave."
Softly--as if he feared they might reach Allan, sleeping in the
neighboring room--he read the last terrible words which the
Scotchman's pen had written at Wildbad, as they fell from his
"Avoid the widow of the man I killed--if the widow still lives.
Avoid the maid whose wicked hand smoothed the way to the
marriage--if the maid is still in her service. And, more than
all, avoid the man who bears the same name as your own. Offend
your best benefactor, if that benefactor's influence has
connected you one with the other. Desert the woman who loves you,
if that woman is a link between you and him. Hide yourself from
him under an assumed name. Put the mountains and the seas between
you; be ungrateful; be unforgiving; be all that is most repellent
to your own gentler nature, rather than live under the same roof
and breathe the same air with that man. Never let the two Allan
Armadales meet in this world; never, never, never!"
After reading those sentences, he pushed the manuscript from him,
without looking up. The fatal reserve which he had been in a fair
way of conquering but a few minutes since, possessed itself of
him once more. Again his eyes wandered; again his voice sank in
tone. A stranger who had heard his story, and who saw him now,
would have said, "His look is lurking, his manner is bad; he is,
every inch of him, his father's son."
"I have a question to ask you," said Mr. Brock, breaking the
silence between them, on his side. "Why have you just read that
passage in your father's letter?"
"To force me into telling you the truth," was the answer. "You
must know how much there is of my father in me before you trust
me to be Mr. Armadale's friend. I got my letter yesterday, in the
morning. Some inner warning troubled me, and I went down on the
sea-shore by myself before I broke the seal. Do you believe the
dead can come back to the world they once lived in? I believe my
father came back in that bright morning light, through the glare
of that broad sunshine and the roar of that joyful sea, and
watched me while I read. When I got to the words that you have
just heard, and when I knew that the very end which he had died
dreading was the end that had really come, I felt the horror that
had crept over him in his last moments creeping over me. I
struggled against myself, as _he_ would have had me struggle. I
tried to be all that was most repellent to my own gentler nature;
I tried to think pitilessly of putting the mountains and the seas
between me and the man who bore my name. Hours passed before I
could prevail on myself to go back and run the risk of meeting
Allan Armadale in this house. When I did get back, and when he
met me at night on the stairs, I thought I was looking him in
the face as _my_ father looked _his_ father in the face when the
cabin door closed between them. Draw your own conclusions, sir.
Say, if you like, that the inheritance of my father's heathen
belief in fate is one of the inheritances he has left to me. I
won't dispute it; I won't deny that all through yesterday _his_
superstition was _my_ superstition. The night came before I could
find my way to calmer and brighter thoughts. But I did find my
way. You may set it down in my favor that I lifted myself at last
above the influence of this horrible letter. Do you know what
"Did you reason with yourself?"
"I can't reason about what I feel."
"Did you quiet your mind by prayer?"
"I was not fit to pray."
"And yet something guided you to the better feeling and the truer
"What was it?"
"My love for Allan Armadale."
He cast a doubting, almost a timid look at Mr. Brock as he gave
that answer, and, suddenly leaving the table, went back to the
"Have I no right to speak of him in that way?" he asked, keeping
his face hidden from the rector. "Have I not known him long
enough; have I not done enough for him yet? Remember what my
experience of other men had been when I first saw his hand held
out to me--when I first heard his voice speaking to me in my
sick-room. What had I known of strangers' hands all through my
childhood? I had only known them as hands raised to threaten and
to strike me. His hand put my pillow straight, and patted me on
the shoulder, and gave me my food and drink. What had I known of
other men's voices, when I was growing up to be a man myself? I
had only known them as voices that jeered, voices that cursed,
voices that whispered in corners with a vile distrust. _His_
voice said to me, 'Cheer up, Midwinter! we'll soon bring you
round again. You'll be strong enough in a week to go out for a
drive with me in our Somersetshire lanes.' Think of the gypsy's
stick; think of the devils laughing at me when I went by their
windows with my little dead dog in my arms; think of the master
who cheated me of my month's salary on his deathbed--and ask your
own heart if the miserable wretch whom Allan Armadale has treated
as his equal and his friend has said too much in saying that he
loves him? I do love him! It _will_ come out of me; I can't keep
it back. I love the very ground he treads on! I would give my
life--yes, the life that is precious to me now, because his
kindness has made it a happy one--I tell you I would give my
The next words died away on his lips; the hysterical passion
rose, and conquered him. He stretched out one of his hands with
a wild gesture of entreaty to Mr. Brock; his head sank on the
window-sill and he burst into tears.
Even then the hard discipline of the man's life asserted itself.
He expected no sympathy, he counted on no merciful human respect
for human weakness. The cruel necessity of self-suppression was
present to his mind, while the tears were pouring over his
cheeks. "Give me a minute," he said, faintly. "I'll fight it down
in a minute; I won't distress you in this way again."
True to his resolution, in a minute he had fought it down. In a
minute more he was able to speak calmly.
"We will get back, sir, to those better thoughts which have
brought me from my room to yours," he resumed. "I can only repeat
that I should never have torn myself from the hold which this
letter fastened on me, if I had not loved Allan Armadale with all
that I have in me of a brother's love. I said to myself, 'If the
thought of leaving him breaks my heart, the thought of leaving
him is wrong!' That was some hours since, and I am in the same
mind still. I can't believe--I won't believe--that a friendship
which has grown out of nothing but kindness on one side, and
nothing but gratitude on the other, is destined to lead to an
evil end. Judge, you who are a clergyman, between the dead
father, whose word is in these pages, and the living son, whose
word is now on his lips! What is it appointed me to do, now that
I am breathing the same air, and living under the same roof with
the son of the man whom my father killed--to perpetuate my
father's crime by mortally injuring him, or to atone for my
father's crime by giving him the devotion of my whole life? The
last of those two faiths is my faith, and shall be my faith,
happen what may. In the strength of that better conviction, I
have come here to trust you with my father's secret, and to
confess the wretched story of my own life. In the strength of
that better conviction, I can face you resolutely with the one
plain question, which marks the one plain end of all that I have
come here to say. Your pupil stands at the starting-point of his
new career, in a position singularly friendless; his one great
need is a companion of his own age on whom he can rely. The time
has come, sir, to decide whether I am to be that companion or
not. After all you have heard of Ozias Midwinter, tell me
plainly, will you trust him to be Allan Armadale's friend?"
Mr. Brock met that fearlessly frank question by a fearless
frankness on his side.
"I believe you love Allan," he said, "and I believe you have
spoken the truth. A man who has produced that impression on me
is a man whom I am bound to trust. I trust you."
Midwinter started to his feet, his dark face flushing deep; his
eyes fixed brightly and steadily, at last, on the rector's face.
"A light!" he exclaimed, tearing the pages of his father's
letter, one by one, from the fastening that held them. "Let us
destroy the last link that holds us to the horrible past! Let us
see this confession a heap of ashes before we part!"
"Wait!" said Mr. Brock. "Before you burn it, there is a reason
for looking at it once more."
The parted leaves of the manuscript dropped from Midwinter's
hands. Mr. Brock took them up, and sorted them carefully until
he found the last page.
"I view your father's superstition as you view it," said the
rector. "But there is a warning given you here, which you will
do well (for Allan's sake and for your own sake) not to neglect.
The last link with the past will not be destroyed when you have
burned these pages. One of the actors in this story of treachery
and murder is not dead yet. Read those words."
He pushed the page across the table, with his finger on one
sentence. Midwinter's agitation misled him. He mistook the
indication, and read, "Avoid the widow of the man I killed,
if the widow still lives."
"Not that sentence," said the rector. "The next."
Midwinter read it: "Avoid the maid whose wicked hand smoothed the
way to the marriage, if the maid is still in her service."
"The maid and the mistress parted," said Mr. Brock, "at the time
of the mistress's marriage. The maid and the mistress met again
at Mrs. Armadale's residence in Somersetshire last year. I myself
met the woman in the village, and I myself know that her visit
hastened Mrs. Armadale's death. Wait a little, and compose
yourself; I see I have startled you."
He waited as he was bid, his color fading away to a gray paleness
and the light in his clear brown eyes dying out slowly. What the
rector had said had produced no transient impression on him;
there was more than doubt, there was alarm in his face, as he sat
lost in his own thought. Was the struggle of the past night
renewing itself already? Did he feel the horror of his hereditary
superstition creeping over him again?
"Can you put me on my guard against her?" he asked, after a long
interval of silence. "Can you tell me her name?"
"I can only tell you what Mrs. Armadale told me," answered Mr.
Brock. "The woman acknowledged having been married in the long
interval since she and her mistress had last met. But not a word
more escaped her about her past life. She came to Mrs. Armadale
to ask for money, under a plea of distress. She got the money,
and she left the house, positively refusing, when the question
was put to her, to mention her married name."
"You saw her yourself in the village. What was she like?"
"She kept her veil down. I can't tell you."
"You can tell me what you _did_ see?"
"Certainly. I saw, as she approached me, that she moved very
gracefully, that she had a beautiful figure, and that she was a
little over the middle height. I noticed, when she asked me the
way to Mrs. Armadale's house, that her manner was the manner of
a lady, and that the tone of her voice was remarkably soft and
winning. Lastly, I remembered afterward that she wore a thick
black veil, a black bonnet, a black silk dress, and a red Paisley
shawl. I feel all the importance of your possessing some better
means of identifying her than I can give you. But unhappily--"
He stopped. Midwinter was leaning eagerly across the table, and
Midwinter's hand was laid suddenly on his arm.
"Is it possible that you know the woman?" asked Mr. Brock,
surprised at the sudden change in his manner.
"What have I said, then, that has startled you so?"
"Do you remember the woman who threw herself from the river
steamer?" asked the other--"the woman who caused that succession
of deaths which opened Allan Armadale's way to the Thorpe Ambrose
"I remember the description of her in the police report,"
answered the rector.
"_That_ woman," pursued Midwinter, "moved gracefully, and had a
beautiful figure. _That_ woman wore a black veil, a black bonnet,
a black silk gown, and a red Paisley shawl--" He stopped,
released his hold of Mr. Brock's arm, and abruptly resumed his
chair. "Can it be the same?" he said to himself in a whisper.
"_Is_ there a fatality that follows men in the dark? And is it
following _us_ in that woman's footsteps?"
If the conjecture was right, the one event in the past which had
appeared to be entirely disconnected with the events that had
preceded it was, on the contrary, the one missing link which
made the chain complete. Mr. Brock's comfortable common sense
instinctively denied that startling conclusion. He looked at
Midwinter with a compassionate smile.
"My young friend," he said, kindly, "have you cleared your mind
of all superstition as completely as you think? Is what you have
just said worthy of the better resolution at which you arrived
Midwinter's head drooped on his breast; the color rushed back
over his face; he sighed bitterly.
"You are beginning to doubt my sincerity," he said. "I can't
"I believe in your sincerity as firmly as ever," answered Mr.
Brock. "I only doubt whether you have fortified the weak places
in your nature as strongly as you yourself suppose. Many a man
has lost the battle against himself far oftener than you have
lost it yet, and has nevertheless won his victory in the end.
I don't blame you, I don't distrust you. I only notice what has
happened, to put you on your guard against yourself. Come! come!
Let your own better sense help you; and you will agree with me
that there is really no evidence to justify the suspicion that
the woman whom I met in Somersetshire, and the woman who
attempted suicide in London, are one and the same. Need an old
man like me remind a young man like you that there are thousands
of women in England with beautiful figures--thousands of women
who are quietly dressed in black silk gowns and red Paisley
Midwinter caught eagerly at the suggestion; too eagerly, as it
might have occurred to a harder critic on humanity than Mr.
"You are quite right, sir," he said, "and I am quite wrong. Tens
of thousands of women answer the description, as you say. I have
been wasting time on my own idle fancies, when I ought to have
been carefully gathering up facts. If this woman ever attempts to
find her way to Allan, I must be prepared to stop her." He began
searching restlessly among the manuscript leaves scattered about
the table, paused over one of the pages, and examined it
attentively. 'This helps me to something positive," he went on;
"this helps me to a knowledge of her age. She was twelve at the
time of Mrs. Armadale's marriage; add a year, and bring her to
thirteen; add Allan's age (twenty-two), and we make her a woman
of five-and-thirty at the present time. I know her age; and I
know that she has her own reasons for being silent about her
married life. This is something gained at the outset, and it may
lead, in time, to something more." He looked up brightly again at
Mr. Brock. "Am I in the right way now, sir? Am I doing my best to
profit by the caution which you have kindly given me?"
"You are vindicating your own better sense," answered the rector,
encouraging him to trample down his own imagination, with an
Englishman's ready distrust of the noblest of the human
faculties. "You are paving the way for your own happier life."
"Am I?" said the other, thoughtfully.
He searched among the papers once more, and stopped at another of
the scattered pages.
"The ship!" he exclaimed, suddenly, his color changing again, and
his manner altering on the instant.
"What ship?" asked the rector.
"The ship in which the deed was done," Midwinter answered, with
the first signs of impatience that he had shown yet. "The ship in
which my father's murderous hand turned the lock of the cabin
"What of it?" said Mr. Brock.
He appeared not to hear the question; his eyes remained fixed
intently on the page that he was reading.
"A French vessel, employed in the timber trade," he said, still
speaking to himself--"a French vessel, named _La Grace de Dieu_.
If my father's belief had been the right belief--if the fatality
had been following me, step by step, from my father's grave, in
one or other of my voyages, I should have fallen in with that
ship." He looked up again at Mr. Brock. "I am quite sure about
it now," he said. "Those women are two, and not one."
Mr. Brock shook his head.
"I am glad you have come to that conclusion," he said. "But I
wish you had reached it in some other way."
Midwinter started passionately to his feet, and, seizing on the
pages of the manuscript with both hands, flung them into the
"For God's sake let me burn it!" he exclaimed. "As long as there
is a page left, I shall read it. And, as long as I read it, my
father gets the better of me, in spite of myself!"
Mr. Brock pointed to the match-box. In another moment the
confession was in flames. When the fire had consumed the last
morsel of paper, Midwinter drew a deep breath of relief.
"I may say, like Macbeth: 'Why, so, being gone, I am a man
again!'" he broke out with a feverish gayety. "You look fatigued,
sir; and no wonder," he added, in a lower tone. "I have kept you
too long from your rest--I will keep you no longer. Depend on my
remembering what you have told me; depend on my standing between
Allan and any enemy, man or woman, who comes near him. Thank you,
Mr. Brock; a thousand thousand times, thank you! I came into this
room the most wretched of living men; I can leave it now as happy
as the birds that are singing outside!"
As he turned to the door, the rays of the rising sun streamed
through the window, and touched the heap of ashes lying black in
the black fireplace. The sensitive imagination of Midwinter
kindled instantly at the sight.
"Look!" he said, joyously. "The promise of the Future shining
over the ashes of the Past!"
An inexplicable pity for the man, at the moment of his life when
he needed pity least, stole over the rector's heart when the door
had closed, and he was left by himself again.
"Poor fellow! " he said, with an uneasy surprise at his own
compassionate impulse. "Poor fellow!"
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