II.7. The Plot Thickens
Two messages were waiting for Allan when he returned to the house. One had
been left by Midwinter. "He had gone out for a long walk, and Mr. Armadale was
not to be alarmed if he did not get back till late in the day." The other message
had been left by "a person from Mr. Pedgift's office," who had called, according
to appointment, while the two gentlemen were away at the major's. "Mr.
Bashwood's respects, and he would have the honor of waiting on Mr. Armadale
again in the course of the evening."
Toward five o'clock, Midwinter returned, pale and silent. Allan hastened to assure
him that his peace was made at the cottage; and then, to change the subject,
mentioned Mr. Bashwood's message. Midwinter's mind was so preoccupied or so
languid that he hardly seemed to remember the name. Allan was obliged to
remind him that Bashwood was the elderly clerk, whom Mr. Pedgift had sent to
be his instructor in the duties of the steward's office. He listened without making
any remark, and withdrew to his room, to rest till dinner-time.
Left by himself, Allan went into the library, to try if he could while away the time
over a book.
He took many volumes off the shelves, and put a few of them back again; and
there he ended. Miss Milroy contrived in some mysterious manner to get, in this
case, between the reader and the books. Her formal bow and her merciless parting
speech dwelt, try how he might to forget them, on Allan's mind; he began to grow
more and more anxious as the idle hour wore on, to recover his lost place in her
favor. To call again that day at the cottage, and ask if he had been so unfortunate
as to offend her, was impossible. To put the question in writing with the needful
nicety of expression proved, on trying the experiment, to be a task beyond his
literary reach. After a turn or two up and down the room, with his pen in his
mouth, he decided on the more diplomatic course (which happened, in this case,
to be the easiest course, too), of writing to Miss Milroy as cordially as if nothing
had happened, and of testing his position in her good graces by the answer that
she sent him back. An invitation of some kind (including her father, of course, but
addressed directly to herself) was plainly the right thing to oblige her to send a
written reply; but here the difficulty occurred of what the invitation was to be. A
ball was not to be thought of, in his present position with the resident gentry. A
dinner-party, with no indispensable elderly lady on the premises to receive Miss
Milroy--except Mrs. Gripper, who could only receive her in the kitchen--was
equally out of the question. What was the invitation to be? Never backward, when
he wanted help, in asking for it right and left in every available direction, Allan,
feeling himself at the end of his own resources, coolly rang the bell, and
astonished the servant who answered it by inquiring how the late family at Thorpe
Ambrose used to amuse themselves, and what sort of invitations they were in the
habit of sending to their friends.