II.6. Midwinter In Disguise
Toward noon on the day of the twenty-first, Miss Milroy was loitering in the
cottage garden--released from duty in the sick-room by an improvement in her
mother's health--when her attention was attracted by the sound of voices in the
park. One of the voices she instantly recognized as Allan's; the other was strange
to her. She put aside the branches of a shrub near the garden palings, and, peeping
through, saw Allan approaching the cottage gate, in company with a slim, dark,
undersized man, who was talking and laughing excitably at the top of his voice.
Miss Milroy ran indoors to warn her father of Mr. Armadale's arrival, and to add
that he was bringing with him a noisy stranger, who was, in all probability, the
friend generally reported to be staying with the squire at the great house.
Had the major's daughter guessed right? Was the squire's loud-talking, loud-
laughing companion the shy, sensitive Midwinter of other times? It was even so.
In Allan's presence, that morning, an extraordinary change had passed over the
ordinarily quiet demeanor of Allan's friend.
When Midwinter had first appeared in the breakfast-room, after putting aside Mr.
Brock's startling letter, Allan had been too much occupied to pay any special
attention to him. The undecided difficulty of choosing the day for the audit dinner
had pressed for a settlement once more, and had been fixed at last (under the
butler's advice) for Saturday, the twenty-eighth of the month. It was only on
turning round to remind Midwinter of the ample space of time which the new
arrangement allowed for mastering the steward's books, that even Allan's flighty
attention had been arrested by a marked change in the face that confronted him.
He had openly noticed the change in his usual blunt manner, and had been
instantly silenced by a fretful, almost an angry, reply. The two had sat down
together to breakfast without the usual cordiality, and the meal had proceeded
gloomily, till Midwinter himself broke the silence by bursting into the strange
outbreak of gayety which had revealed in Allan's eyes a new side to the character
of his friend.
As usual with most of Allan's judgments, here again the conclusion was wrong. It
was no new side to Midwinter's character that now presented itself--it was only a
new aspect of the one ever-recurring struggle of Midwinter's life.
Irritated by Allan's discovery of the change in him, and dreading the next
questions that Allan's curiosity might put, Midwinter had roused himself to efface,
by main force, the impression which his own altered appearance had produced. It
was one of those efforts which no men compass so resolutely as the men of his
quick temper and his sensitive feminine organization. With his whole mind still
possessed by the firm belief that the Fatality had taken one great step nearer to
Allan and himself since the rector's adventure in Kensington Gardens--with his
face still betraying what he had suffered, under the renewed conviction that his
father's death-bed warning was now, in event after event, asserting its terrible
claim to part him, at any sacrifice, from the one human creature whom he loved--
with the fear still busy at his heart that the first mysterious vision of Allan's