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AN OLD MAN'S HEART.
Punctual to the moment, when the half hour's interval had
expired, Mr. Bashwood was announced at the office as waiting
to see Mr. Pedgift by special appointment.
The lawyer looked up from his papers with an air of annoyance:
he had totally forgotten the meeting by the roadside. "See what
he wants," said Pedgift Senior to Pedgift Junior, working in the
same room with him. "And if it's nothing of importance, put it
off to some other time."
Pedgift Junior swiftly disappeared and swiftly returned.
"Well?" asked the father.
"Well," answered the son, "he is rather more shaky and
unintelligible than usual. I can make nothing out of him, except
that he persists in wanting to see you. My own idea," pursued
Pedgift Junior, with his usual, sardonic gravity, "is that he
is going to have a fit, and that he wishes to acknowledge your
uniform kindness to him by obliging you with a private view
of the whole proceeding."
Pedgift Senior habitually matched everybody--his son included--
with their own weapons. "Be good enough to remember, Augustus,"
he rejoined, "that my Room is not a Court of Law. A bad joke
is not invariably followed by 'roars of laughter' _here_. Let
Mr. Bashwood come in."
Mr. Bashwood was introduced, and Pedgift Junior withdrew. "You
mustn't bleed him, sir," whispered the incorrigible joker, as
he passed the back of his father's chair. "Hot-water bottles
to the soles of his feet, and a mustard plaster on the pit of
his stomach--that's the modern treatment."
"Sit down, Bashwood," said Pedgift Senior when they were alone.
"And don't forget that time's money. Out with it, whatever it is,
at the quickest possible rate, and in the fewest possible words."
These preliminary directions, bluntly but not at all unkindly
spoken, rather increased than diminished the painful agitation
under which Mr. Bashwood was suffering. He stammered more
helplessly, he trembled more continuously than usual, as he made
his little speech of thanks, and added his apologies at the end
for intruding on his patron in business hours.
"Everybody in the place, Mr. Pedgift, sir, knows your time is
valuable. Oh, dear, yes! oh, dear, yes! most valuable, most
valuable! Excuse me, sir, I'm coming out with it. Your goodness
--or rather your business--no, your goodness gave me half an hour
to wait--and I have thought of what I had to say, and prepared
it, and put it short." Having got as far as that, he stopped
with a pained, bewildered look. He had put it away in his memory,
and now, when the time came, he was too confused to find it.
And there was Mr. Pedgift mutely waiting; his face and manner
expressive alike of that silent sense of the value of his own
time which every patient who has visited a great doctor, every
client who has consulted a lawyer in large practice, knows so
well. "Have you heard the news, sir?" stammered Mr. Bashwood,
shifting his ground in despair, and letting the uppermost idea
in his mind escape him, simply because it was the one idea in him
that was ready to come out.
"Does it concern _me_?" asked Pedgift Senior, mercilessly brief,
and mercilessly straight in coming to the point.
"It concerns a lady, sir--no, not a lady--a young man, I ought
to say, in whom you used to feel some interest. Oh, Mr. Pedgift,
sir, what do you think! Mr. Armadale and Miss Gwilt have gone
up to London together to-day--alone, sir--alone in a carriage
reserved for their two selves. Do you think he's going to marry
her? Do you really think, like the rest of them, he's going to
He put the question with a sudden flush in his face and a sudden
energy in his manner. His sense of the value of the lawyer's
time, his conviction of the greatness of the lawyer's
condescension, his constitutional shyness and timidity--all
yielded together to his one overwhelming interest in hearing Mr.
Pedgift's answer. He was loud for the first time in his life in
putting the question.
"After my experience of Mr. Armadale," said the lawyer, instantly
hardening in look and manner, "I believe him to be infatuated
enough to marry Miss Gwilt a dozen times over, if Miss Gwilt
chose to ask him. Your news doesn't surprise me in the least,
Bashwood. I'm sorry for him. I can honestly say that, though he
_has_ set my advice at defiance. And I'm more sorry still," he
continued, softening again as his mind reverted to his interview
with Neelie under the trees of the park--"I'm more sorry still
for another person who shall be nameless. But what have I to do
with all this? And what on earth is the matter with you?" he
resumed, noticing for the first time the abject misery in Mr.
Bashwood's manner, the blank despair in Mr. Bashwood's face,
which his answer had produced. "Are you ill? Is there something
behind the curtain that you're afraid to bring out? I don't
understand it. Have you come here--here in my private room, in
business hours--with nothing to tell me but that young Armadale
has been fool enough to ruin his prospects for life? Why, I
foresaw it all weeks since, and what is more, I as good as told
him so at the last conversation I had with him in the great
At those last words, Mr. Bashwood suddenly rallied. The lawyer's
passing reference to the great house had led him back in a moment
to the purpose that he had in view.
"That's it, sir!" he said, eagerly; "that's what I wanted to
speak to you about; that's what I've been preparing in my mind.
Mr. Pedgift, sir, the last time you were at the great house, when
you came away in your gig, you--you overtook me on the drive."
"I dare say I did," remarked Pedgift, resignedly. "My mare
happens to be a trifle quicker on her legs than you are on yours,
Bashwood. Go on, go on. We shall come in time, I suppose, to what
you are driving at."
"You stopped, and spoke to me, sir," proceeded Mr. Bashwood,
advancing more and more eagerly to his end. "You said you
suspected me of feeling some curiosity about Miss Gwilt, and you
told me (I remember the exact words, sir)--you told me to gratify
my curiosity by all means, for you didn't object to it."
Pedgift Senior began for the first time to look interested
in hearing more.
"I remember something of the sort," he replied; "and I also
remember thinking it rather remarkable that you should
_happen_--we won't put it in any more offensive way--to be
exactly under Mr. Armadale's open window while I was talking
to him. It might have been accident, of course; but it looked
rather more like curiosity. I could only judge by appearances,"
concluded Pedgift, pointing his sarcasm with a pinch of snuff;
"and appearances, Bashwood, were decidedly against you."
"I don't deny it, sir. I only mentioned the circumstance because
I wished to acknowledge that I _was_ curious, and _am_ curious
about Miss Gwilt."
"Why?" asked Pedgift Senior, seeing something under the surface
in Mr. Bashwood's face and manner, but utterly in the dark thus
far as to what that something might be.
There was silence for a moment. The moment passed, Mr. Bashwood
took the refuge usually taken by nervous, unready men, placed
in his circumstances, when they are at a loss for an answer.
He simply reiterated the assertion that he had just made.
"I feel some curiosity sir," he said, with a strange mixture
of doggedness and timidity, "about Miss Gwilt."
There was another moment of silence. In spite of his practiced
acuteness and knowledge of the world, the lawyer was more puzzled
than ever. The case of Mr. Bashwood presented the one human
riddle of all others which he was least qualified to solve.
Though year after year witnesses in thousands and thousands
of cases, the remorseless disinheriting of nearest and dearest
relations, the unnatural breaking-up of sacred family ties, the
deplorable severance of old and firm friendships, due entirely
to the intense self-absorption which the sexual passion can
produce when it enters the heart of an old man, the association
of love with infirmity and gray hairs arouses, nevertheless,
all the world over, no other idea than the idea of extravagant
improbability or extravagant absurdity in the general mind. If
the interview now taking place in Mr. Pedgift's consulting-room
had taken place at his dinner-table instead, when wine had opened
his mind to humorous influences, it is possible that he might, by
this time, have suspected the truth. But, in his business hours,
Pedgift Senior was in the habit of investigating men's motives
seriously from the business point of view; and he was on that
very account simply incapable of conceiving any improbability
so startling, any absurdity so enormous, as the absurdity and
improbability of Mr. Bashwood's being in love.
Some men in the lawyer's position would have tried to force their
way to enlightenment by obstinately repeating the unanswered
question. Pedgift Senior wisely postponed the question until he
had moved the conversation on another step. "Well," he resumed,
"let us say you feel a curiosity about Miss Gwilt. What next?"
The palms of Mr. Bashwood's hands began to moisten under the
influence of his agitation, as they had moistened in the past
days when he had told the story of his domestic sorrows
to Midwinter at the great house. Once more he rolled his
handkerchief into a ball, and dabbed it softly to and fro
from one hand to the other.
"May I ask if I am right, sir," he began, "in believing that you
have a very unfavorable opinion of Miss Gwilt? You are quite
convinced, I think--"
"My good fellow," interrupted Pedgift Senior, "why need you be
in any doubt about it? You were under Mr. Armadale's open window
all the while I was talking to him; and your ears, I presume,
were not absolutely shut."
Mr. Bashwood showed no sense of the interruption. The little
sting of the lawyer's sarcasm was lost in the nobler pain that
wrung him from the wound inflicted by Miss Gwilt.
"You are quite convinced, I think, sir," he resumed, "that there
are circumstances in this lady's past life which would be highly
discreditable to her if they were discovered at the present
"The window was open at the great house, Bashwood; and your ears,
I presume, were not absolutely shut."
Still impenetrable to the sting, Mr. Bashwood persisted more
obstinately than ever.
"Unless I am greatly mistaken," he said, "your long experience
in such things has even suggested to you, sir, that Miss Gwilt
might turn out to be known to the police?"
Pedgift Senior's patience gave way. "You have been over ten
minutes in this room," he broke out. "Can you, or can you not,
tell me in plain English what you want?"
In plain English--with the passion that had transformed him, the
passion which (in Miss Gwilt's own words) had made a man of him,
burning in his haggard cheeks--Mr. Bashwood met the challenge,
and faced the lawyer (as, the worried sheep faces the dog) on
his own ground.
"I wish to say, sir," he answered, "that your opinion in this
matter is my opinion too. I believe there is something wrong in
Miss Gwilt's past life which she keeps concealed from everybody,
and I want to be the man who knows it."
Pedgift Senior saw his chance, and instantly reverted to the
question that he had postponed. "Why?" he asked for the second
For the second time Mr. Bashwood hesitated.
Could he acknowledge that he had been mad enough to love her, and
mean enough to be a spy for her? Could he say, She has deceived
me from the first, and she has deserted me, now her object is
served. After robbing me of my happiness, robbing me of my honor,
robbing me of my last hope left in life, she has gone from me
forever, and left me nothing but my old man's longing, slow and
sly, and strong and changeless, for revenge. Revenge that I may
have, if I can poison her success by dragging her frailties into
the public view. Revenge that I will buy (for what is gold or
what is life to me?) with the last farthing of my hoarded money
and the last drop of my stagnant blood. Could he say that to the
man who sat waiting for his answer? No; he could only crush it
down and be silent.
The lawyer's expression began to harden once more.
"One of us must speak out," he said; "and as you evidently
won't, I will. I can only account for this extraordinary anxiety
of yours to make yourself acquainted with Miss Gwilt's secrets,
in one of two ways. Your motive is either an excessively mean
one (no offense, Bashwood, I am only putting the case), or an
excessively generous one. After my experience of your honest
character and your creditable conduct, it is only your due that I
should absolve you at once of the mean motive. I believe you are
as incapable as I am--I can say no more--of turning to mercenary
account any discoveries you might make to Miss Gwilt's prejudice
in Miss Gwilt's past life. Shall I go on any further? or would
you prefer, on second thoughts, opening your mind frankly to me
of your own accord?"
"I should prefer not interrupting you, sir," said Mr. Bashwood.
"As you please," pursued Pedgift Senior. "Having absolved you
of the mean motive, I come to the generous motive next. It is
possible that you are an unusually grateful man; and it is
certain that Mr. Armadale has been remarkably kind to you.
After employing you under Mr. Midwinter, in the steward's office,
he has had confidence enough in your honesty and your capacity,
now his friend has left him, to put his business entirely and
unreservedly in your hands. It's not in my experience of human
nature--but it may be possible, nevertheless---that you are
so gratefully sensible of that confidence, and so gratefully
interested in your employer's welfare, that you can't see him,
in his friendless position, going straight to his own disgrace
and ruin, without making an effort to save him. To put it in two
words. Is it your idea that Mr. Armadale might be prevented from
marrying Miss Gwilt, if he could be informed in time of her real
character? And do you wish to be the man who opens his eyes to
the truth? If that is the case--"
He stopped in astonishment. Acting under some uncontrollable
impulse, Mr. Bashwood had started to his feet. He stood, with
his withered face lit up by a sudden irradiation from within,
which made him look younger than his age by a good twenty
years--he stood, gasping for breath enough to speak, and
gesticulated entreatingly at the lawyer with both hands.
"Say it again, sir!" he burst out, eagerly, recovering his breath
before Pedgift Senior had recovered his surprise. "The question
about Mr. Armadale, sir!--only once more!--only once more, Mr.
With his practiced observation closely and distrustfully at work
on Mr. Bashwood' s face, Pedgift Senior motioned to him to sit
down again, and put the question for the second time.
"Do I think," said Mr. Bashwood, repeating the sense, but not
the words of the question, "that Mr. Armadale might be parted
from Miss Gwilt, if she could be shown to him as she really is?
Yes, sir! And do I wish to be the man who does it? Yes, sir!
yes, sir!! yes, sir!!!"
"It's rather strange," remarked the lawyer, looking at him
more and more distrustfully, "that you should be so violently
agitated, simply because my question happens to have hit the
The question happened to have hit a mark which Pedgift little
dreamed of. It had released Mr. Bashwood's mind in an instant
from the dead pressure of his one dominant idea of revenge, and
had shown him a purpose to be achieved by the discovery of Miss
Gwilt's secrets which had never occurred to him till that moment.
The marriage which he had blindly regarded as inevitable was
a marriage that might be stopped--not in Allan's interests, but
in his own--and the woman whom he believed that he had lost might
yet, in spite of circumstances, be a woman won! His brain whirled
as he thought of it. His own roused resolution almost daunted
him, by its terrible incongruity with all the familiar habits
of his mind, and all the customary proceedings of his life.
Finding his last remark unanswered, Pedgift Senior considered
a little before he said anything more.
"One thing is clear," reasoned the lawyer with himself. "His true
motive in this matter is a motive which he is afraid to avow.
My question evidently offered him a chance of misleading me, and
he has accepted it on the spot. That's enough for _me_. If I was
Mr. Armadale's lawyer, the mystery might be worth investigating.
As things are, it's no interest of mine to hunt Mr. Bashwood
from one lie to another till I run him to earth at last. I have
nothing whatever to do with it; and I shall leave him free
to follow his own roundabout courses, in his own roundabout way."
Having arrived at that conclusion, Pedgift Senior pushed back
his chair, and rose briskly to terminate the interview.
"Don't be alarmed, Bashwood," he began. "The subject of our
conversation is a subject exhausted, so far as I am concerned.
I have only a few last words to say, and it's a habit of mine,
as you know, to say my last words on my legs. Whatever else I may
be in the dark about, I have made one discovery, at any rate.
I have found out what you really want with me--at last! You want
me to help you."
"If you would be so very, very kind, sir!" stammered Mr.
Bashwood. "If you would only give me the great advantage of
your opinion and advice."
"Wait a bit, Bashwood We will separate those two things, if you
please. A lawyer may offer an opinion like any other man; but
when a lawyer gives his advice--by the Lord Harry, sir, it's
Professional! You're welcome to my opinion in this matter; I have
disguised it from nobody. I believe there have been events in
Miss Gwilt's career which (if they could be discovered) would
even make Mr. Armadale, infatuated as he is, afraid to marry
her--supposing, of course, that he really _is_ going to marry
her; for, though the appearances are in favor of it so far,
it is only an assumption, after all. As to the mode of proceeding
by which the blots on this woman's character might or might not
be brought to light in time--she may be married by license in
a fortnight if she likes--_that_ is a branch of the question on
which I positively decline to enter. It implies speaking in my
character as a lawyer, and giving you, what I decline positively
to give you, my professional advice."
"Oh, sir, don't say that!" pleaded Mr. Bashwood. "Don't deny
me the great favor, the inestimable advantage of your advice!
I have such a poor head, Mr. Pedgift! I am so old and so slow,
sir, and I get so sadly startled and worried when I'm thrown out
of my ordinary ways. It's quite natural you should be a little
impatient with me for taking up your time--I know that time is
money, to a clever man like you. Would you excuse me--would you
please excuse me, if I venture to say that I have saved a little
something, a few pounds, sir; and being quite lonely, with nobody
dependent on me, I'm sure I may spend my savings as I please?"
Blind to every consideration but the one consideration of
propitiating Mr. Pedgift, he took out a dingy, ragged old
pocket-book, and tried, with trembling fingers, to open it on
the lawyer's table.
"Put your pocket-book back directly," said Pedgift Senior.
"Richer men than you have tried that argument with me, and have
found that there is such a thing (off the stage) as a lawyer
who is not to be bribed. I will have nothing to do with the case,
under existing circumstances. If you want to know why, I beg
to inform you that Miss Gwilt ceased to be professionally
interesting to me on the day when I ceased to be Mr. Armadale's
lawyer. I may have other reasons besides, which I don't think
it necessary to mention. The reason already given is explicit
enough. Go your own way, and take your responsibility on your own
shoulders. You _may_ venture within reach of Miss Gwilt's claws
and come out again without being scratched. Time will show. In
the meanwhile, I wish you good-morning--and I own, to my shame,
that I never knew till today what a hero you were."
This time, Mr. Bashwood felt the sting. Without another word
of expostulation or entreaty, without even saying "Good-morning"
on his side, he walked to the door, opened it, softly, and left
The parting look in his face, and the sudden silence that had
fallen on him, were not lost on Pedgift Senior. "Bashwood will
end badly," said the lawyer, shuffling his papers, and returning
impenetrably to his interrupted work.
The change in Mr. Bashwood's face and manner to something dogged
and self-contained was so startlingly uncharacteristic of him,
that it even forced itself on the notice of Pedgift Junior and
the clerks as he passed through the outer office. Accustomed to
make the old man their butt, they took a boisterously comic view
of the marked alteration in him. Deaf to the merciless raillery
with which he was assailed on all sides, he stopped opposite
young Pedgift, and, looking him attentively in the face, said,
in a quiet, absent manner, like a man thinking aloud, "I wonder
whether _you_ would help me?"
"Open an account instantly," said Pedgift Junior to the clerks,
"in the name of Mr. Bashwood. Place a chair for Mr. Bashwood,
with a footstool close by, in case he wants it. Supply me with
a quire of extra double-wove satin paper, and a gross of picked
quills, to take notes of Mr. Bashwood's case; and inform my
father instantly that I am going to leave him and set up in
business for myself, on the strength of Mr. Bashwood's patronage.
Take a seat, sir, pray take a seat, and express your feelings
Still impenetrably deaf to the raillery of which he was the
object, Mr. Bashwood waited until Pedgift Junior had exhausted
himself, and then turned quietly away.
"I ought to have known better," he said, in the same absent
manner as before. "He is his father's son all over--he would
make game of me on my death-bed." He paused a moment at the door,
mechanically brushing his hat with his hand, and went out into
The bright sunshine dazzled his eyes, the passing vehicles and
foot-passengers startled and bewildered him. He shrank into a
by-street, and put his hand over his eyes. "I'd better go home,"
he thought, "and shut myself up, and think about it in my own
His lodging was in a small house, in the poor quarter of the
town. He let himself in with his key, and stole softly upstairs.
The one little room he possessed met him cruelly, look round it
where he might, with silent memorials of Miss Gwilt. On the
chimney-piece were the flowers she had given him at various
times, all withered long since, and all preserved on a little
china pedestal, protected by a glass shade. On the wall hung
a wretched colored print of a woman, which he had caused to be
nicely framed and glazed, because there was a look in it that
reminded him of her face. In his clumsy old mahogany writing-desk
were the few letters, brief and peremptory, which she had written
to him at the time when he was watching and listening meanly at
Thorpe Ambrose to please _her_. And when, turning his back on
these, he sat down wearily on his sofa-bedstead--there, hanging
over one end of it, was the gaudy cravat of blue satin, which he
had bought because she had told him she liked bright colors, and
which he had never yet had the courage to wear, though he had
taken it out morning after morning with the resolution to put it
on! Habitually quiet in his actions, habitually restrained in his
language, he now seized the cravat as if it was a living thing
that could feel, and flung it to the other end of the room with
The time passed; and still, though his resolution to stand
between Miss Gwilt and her marriage remained unbroken, he was
as far as ever from discovering the means which might lead him
to his end. The more he thought and thought of it, the darker
and the darker his course in the future looked to him.
He rose again, as wearily as he had sat down, and went to his
cupboard. "I'm feverish and thirsty," he said; "a cup of tea
may help me." He opened his canister, and measured out his small
allowance of tea, less carefully than usual. "Even my own hands
won't serve me to-day!" he thought, as he scraped together the
few grains of tea that he had spilled, and put them carefully
back in the canister.
In that fine summer weather, the one fire in the house was the
kitchen fire. He went downstairs for the boiling water, with his
teapot in his hand.
Nobody but the landlady was in the kitchen. She was one of the
many English matrons whose path through this world is a path of
thorns; and who take a dismal pleasure, whenever the opportunity
is afforded them, in inspecting the scratched and bleeding feet
of other people in a like condition with themselves. Her one vice
was of the lighter sort--the vice of curiosity; and among the
many counterbalancing virtues she possessed was the virtue of
greatly respecting Mr. Bashwood, as a lodger whose rent was
regularly paid, and whose ways were always quiet and civil from
one year's end to another.
"What did you please to want, sir?" asked the landlady. "Boiling
water, is it? Did you ever know the water boil, Mr. Bashwood,
when you wanted it? Did you ever see a sulkier fire than that?
I'll put a stick or two in, if you'll wait a little, and give me
the chance. Dear, dear me, you'll excuse my mentioning it, sir,
but how poorly you do look to-day!"
The strain on Mr. Bashwood's mind was beginning to tell.
Something of the helplessness which he had shown at the station
appeared again in his face and manner as he put his teapot on
the kitchen table and sat down.
"I'm in trouble, ma'am," he said, quietly; "and I find trouble
gets harder to bear than it used to be."
"Ah, you may well say that!" groaned the landlady. "_I'm_ ready
for the undertaker, Mr. Bashwood, when _my_ time comes, whatever
you may be. You're too lonely, sir. When you're in trouble, it's
some help--though not much--to shift a share of it off on another
person's shoulders. If your good lady had only been alive now,
sir, what a comfort you would have found her, wouldn't you?"
A momentary spasm of pain passed across Mr. Bashwood's face.
The landlady had ignorantly recalled him to the misfortunes
of his married life. He had been long since forced to quiet her
curiosity about his family affairs by telling her that he was
a widower, and that his domestic circumstances had not been happy
ones; but he had taken her no further into his confidence than
this. The sad story which he had related to Midwinter, of his
drunken wife who had ended her miserable life in a lunatic
asylum, was a story which he had shrunk from confiding to the
talkative woman, who would have confided it in her turn to every
one else in the house.
"What I always say to my husband when he's low, sir," pursued the
landlady, intent on the kettle, "is, 'What would you do _now_,
Sam, without me?' When his temper don't get the better of him
(it will boil directly, Mr. Bashwood), he says, 'Elizabeth,
I could do nothing.' When his temper does get the better of him,
he says, 'I should try the public-house, missus; and I'll try it
now.' Ah, I've got _my_ troubles! A man with grown-up sons and
daughters tippling in a public-house! I don't call to mind, Mr.
Bashwood, whether _you_ ever had any sons and daughters? And
yet, now I think of it, I seem to fancy you said yes, you had.
Daughters, sir, weren't they? and, ah, dear! dear! to be sure!
"I had one daughter, ma'am," said Mr. Bashwood, patiently--"only
one, who died before she was a year old."
"Only one!" repeated the sympathizing landlady. "It's as near
boiling as it ever will be, sir; give me the tea-pot. Only one!
Ah, it comes heavier (don't it?) when it's an only child? You
said it was an only child, I think, didn't you, sir?"
For a moment, Mr. Bashwood looked at the woman with vacant eyes,
and without attempting to answer her. After ignorantly recalling
the memory of the wife who had disgraced him, she was now, as
ignorantly, forcing him back on the miserable remembrance of the
son who had ruined and deserted him. For the first time, since he
had told his story to Midwinter, at their introductory interview
in the great house, his mind reverted once more to the bitter
disappointment and disaster of the past. Again he thought of the
bygone days, when he had become security for his son, and when
that son's dishonesty had forced him to sell everything he
possessed to pay the forfeit that was exacted when the forfeit
was due. "I have a son, ma'am," he said, becoming conscious that
the landlady was looking at him in mute and melancholy surprise.
"I did my best to help him forward in the world, and he has
behaved very badly to me."
"Did he, now?" rejoined the landlady, with an appearance of
the greatest interest. "Behaved badly to you--almost broke your
heart, didn't he? Ah, it will come home to him, sooner or later.
Don't you fear! 'Honor your father and mother,' wasn't put on
Moses's tables of stone for nothing, Mr. Bashwood. Where may
he be, and what is he doing now, sir?"
The question was in effect almost the same as the question which
Midwinter had put when the circumstances had been described to
him. As Mr. Bashwood had answered it on the former occasion,
so (in nearly the same words) he answered it now.
"My son is in London, ma'am, for all I know to the contrary.
He was employed, when I last heard of him, in no very creditable
way, at the Private Inquiry Office--"
At those words he suddenly checked himself. His face flushed,
his eyes brightened; he pushed away the cup which had just been
filled for him, and rose from his seat. The landlady started back
a step. There was something in her lodger's face that she had
never seen in it before.
"I hope I've not offended you, sir," said the woman, recovering
her self-possession, and looking a little too ready to take
offense on her side, at a moment's notice.
"Far from it, ma'am, far from it!" he rejoined, in a strangely
eager, hurried way. "I have just remembered something--something
very important. I must go upstairs--it's a letter, a letter, a
letter. I'll come back to my tea, ma'am. I beg your pardon, I'm
much obliged to you, you've been very kind--I'll say good-by, if
you'll allow me, for the present." To the landlady's amazement,
he cordially shook hands with her, and made for the door, leaving
tea and tea-pot to take care of themselves.
The moment he reached his own room, he locked himself in. For
a little while he stood holding by the chimney-piece, waiting
to recover his breath. The moment he could move again, he opened
his writing-desk on the table. "That for you, Mr. Pedgift and
Son!" he said, with a snap of his fingers as he sat down. "I've
got a son too!"
There was a knock at the door--a knock, soft, considerate, and
confidential. The anxious landlady wished to know whether Mr.
Bashwood was ill, and begged to intimate for the second time
that she earnestly trusted she had given him no offense.
"No! no!" he called through the door. "I'm quite well--I'm
writing, ma'am, I'm writing--please to excuse me. She's a good
woman; she's an excellent woman," he thought, when the landlady
had retired. "I'll make her a little present. My mind's so
unsettled, I might never have thought of it but for her. Oh, if
my boy is at the office still! Oh, if I can only write a letter
that will make him pity me!"
He took up his pen, and sat thinking anxiously, thinking long,
before he touched the paper. Slowly, with many patient pauses to
think and think again, and with more than ordinary care to make
his writing legible, he traced these lines:
"MY DEAR JAMES--You will be surprised, I am afraid, to see my
handwriting. Pray don't suppose I am going to ask you for money,
or to reproach you for having sold me out of house and home when
you forfeited your security, and I had to pay. I am willing and
anxious to let by-gones be by-gones, and to forget the past.
"It is in your power (if you are still at the Private Inquiry
Office) to do me a great service. I am in sore anxiety and
trouble on the subject of a person in whom I am interested. The
person is a lady. Please don't make game of me for confessing
this, if you can help it. If you knew what I am now suffering,
I think you would be more inclined to pity than to make game
"I would enter into particulars, only I know your quick temper,
and I fear exhausting your patience. Perhaps it may be enough
to say that I have reason to believe the lady's past life has
not been a very creditable one, and that I am interested--more
interested than words can tell--in finding out what her life has
really been, and in making the discovery within a fortnight from
the present time.
"Though I know very little about the ways of business in an
office like yours, I can understand that, without first having
the lady's present address, nothing can be done to help me.
Unfortunately, I am not yet acquainted with her present address.
I only know that she went to town to-day, accompanied by a
gentleman, in whose employment I now am, and who (as I believe)
will be likely to write to me for money before many days more
are over his head.
"Is this circumstance of a nature to help us? I venture to say
'us,' because I count already, my dear boy, on your kind
assistance and advice. Don't let money stand between us; I have
saved a little something, and it is all freely at your disposal.
Pray, pray write to me by return of post! If you will only try
your best to end the dreadful suspense under which I am now
suffering, you will atone for all the grief and disappointment
you caused me in times that are past, and you will confer an
obligation that he will never forget on
"Your affectionate father,
After waiting a little, to dry his eyes, Mr. Bashwood added the
date and address, and directed the letter to his son, at "The
Private Inquiry Office, Shadyside Place, London." That done, he
went out at once, and posted his letter with his own hands. It
was then Monday; and, if the answer was sent by return of post,
the answer would be received on Wednesday morning.
The interval day, the Tuesday, was passed by Mr. Bashwood in
the steward's office at the great house. He had a double motive
for absorbing himself as deeply as might be in the various
occupations connected with the management of the estate. In
the first place, employment helped him to control the devouring
impatience with which he looked for the coming of the next day.
In the second place, the more forward he was with the business of
the office, the more free he would be to join his son in London,
without attracting suspicion to himself by openly neglecting the
interests placed under his charge.
Toward the Tuesday afternoon, vague rumors of something wrong
at the cottage found their way (through Major Milroy's servants)
to the servants at the great house, and attempted ineffectually
through this latter channel to engage the attention of Mr.
Bashwood, impenetrably fixed on other things. The major and Miss
Neelie had been shut up together in mysterious conference; and
Miss Neelie's appearance after the close of the interview plainly
showed that she had been crying. This had happened on the Monday
afternoon; and on the next day (that present Tuesday) the major
had startled the household by announcing briefly that his
daughter wanted a change to the air of the seaside, and that
he proposed taking her himself, by the next train, to Lowestoft.
The two had gone away together, both very serious and silent,
but both, apparently, very good friends, for all that. Opinions
at the great house attributed this domestic revolution to the
reports current on the subject of Allan and Miss Gwilt. Opinions
at the cottage rejected that solution of the difficulty, on
practical grounds. Miss Neelie had remained inaccessibly shut up
in her own room, from the Monday afternoon to the Tuesday morning
when her father took her away. The major, during the same
interval, had not been outside the door, and had spoken to nobody
And Mrs. Milroy, at the first attempt of her new attendant to
inform her of the prevailing scandal in the town, had sealed
the servant's lips by flying into one of her terrible passions
the instant Miss Gwilt's name was mentioned. Something must have
happened, of course, to take Major Milroy and his daughter so
suddenly from home; but that something was certainly not Mr.
Armadale's scandalous elopement, in broad daylight, with Miss
The afternoon passed, and the evening passed, and no other event
happened but the purely private and personal event which had
taken place at the cottage. Nothing occurred (for nothing in the
nature of things _could_ occur) to dissipate the delusion on
which Miss Gwilt had counted--the delusion which all Thorpe
Ambrose now shared with Mr. Bashwood, that she had gone privately
to London with Allan in the character of Allan's future wife.
On the Wednesday morning, the postman, entering the street
in which Mr. Bashwood lived, was encountered by Mr. Bashwood
himself, so eager to know if there was a letter for him that he
had come out without his hat. There _was_ a letter for him--the
letter that he longed for from his vagabond son.
These were the terms in which Bashwood the younger answered his
father's supplication for help--after having previously ruined
his father's prospects for life:
"Shadyside Place. Tuesday, July 29th.
"MY DEAR DAD--We have some little practice in dealing with
mysteries at this office; but the mystery of your letter beats
me altogether. Are you speculating on the interesting hidden
frailties of some charming woman? Or, after _your_ experience of
matrimony, are you actually going to give me a stepmother at this
time of day? Whichever it is, upon my life your letter interests
"I am not joking, mind--though the temptation is not an easy one
to resist. On the contrary, I have given you a quarter of an hour
of my valuable time already. The place you date from sounded
somehow familiar to me. I referred back to the memorandum book,
and found that I was sent down to Thorpe Ambrose to make private
inquiries not very long since. My employer was a lively old lady,
who was too sly to give us her right name and address. As a
matter of course, we set to work at once, and found out who she
was. Her name is Mrs. Oldershaw; and, if you think of _her_ for
my stepmother, I strongly recommend you to think again before
you make her Mrs. Bashwood.
"If it is not Mrs. Oldershaw, then all I can do, so far, is to
tell you how you may find out the unknown lady's address. Come
to town yourself as soon as you get the letter you expect from
the gentleman who has gone away with her (I hope he is not
a handsome young man, for your sake) and call here. I will send
somebody to help you in watching his hotel or lodgings; and if
he communicates with the lady, or the lady with him, you may
consider her address discovered from that moment. Once let me
identify her, and know where she is, and you shall see all her
charming little secrets as plainly as you see the paper on which
your affectionate son is now writing to you.
"A word more about the terms. I am as willing as you are to be
friends again; but, though I own you were out of pocket by me
once, I can't afford to be out of pocket by you. It must be
understood that you are answerable for all the expenses of
the inquiry. We may have to employ some of the women attached
to this office, if your lady is too wideawake or too nice-looking
to be dealt with by a man. There will be cab hire, and
postage-stamps--admissions to public amusements, if she is
inclined that way--shillings for pew-openers, if she is serious,
and takes our people into churches to hear popular preachers, and
so on. My own professional services you shall have gratis; but I
can't lose by you as well. Only remember that, and you shall have
your way. By-gones shall be by-gones, and we will forget the
"Your affectionate son,
In the ecstasy of seeing help placed at last within his reach,
the father put his son's atrocious letter to his lips. "My good
boy!" he murmured, tenderly--"my dear, good boy!"
He put the letter down, and fell into a new train of thought.
The next question to face was the serious question of time. Mr.
Pedgift had told him Miss Gwilt might be married in a fortnight.
One day of the fourteen had passed already, and another was
passing. He beat his hand impatiently on the table at his side,
wondering how soon the want of money would force Allan to write
to him from London. "To-morrow?" he asked himself. "Or next day?"
The morrow passed, and nothing happened. The next day came, and
the letter arrived! It was on business, as he had anticipated;
it asked for money, as he had anticipated; and there, at the end
of it, in a postscript, was the address added, concluding with
the words, "You may count on my staying here till further
He gave one deep gasp of relief, and instantly busied himself
--though there were nearly two hours to spare before the train
started for London--in packing his bag. The last thing he put in
was his blue satin cravat. "She likes bright colors," he said,
"and she may see me in it yet!"
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