He tried again and again, and yet again, to write the farewell words; he tried, till
the floor all round him was littered with torn sheets of paper. Turn from them
which way he would, the old times still came back and faced him reproachfully.
The spacious bed-chamber in which he sat, narrowed, in spite of him, to the sick
usher's garret at the west-country inn. The kind hand that had once patted him on
the shoulder touched him again; the kind voice that had cheered him spoke
unchangeably in the old friendly tones. He flung his arms on the table and
dropped his head on them in tearless despair. The parting words that his tongue
was powerless to utter his pen was powerless to write. Mercilessly in earnest, his
superstition pointed to him to go while the time was his own. Mercilessly in
earnest, his love for Allan held him back till the farewell plea for pardon and pity
He rose with a sudden resolution, and rang for the servant, "When Mr. Armadale
returns," he said, "ask him to excuse my coming downstairs, and say that I am
trying to get to sleep." He locked the door and put out the light, and sat down
alone in the darkness. "The night will keep us apart," he said; "and time may help
me to write. I may go in the early morning; I may go while--" The thought died in
him uncompleted; and the sharp agony of the struggle forced to his lips the first
cry of suffering that had escaped him yet.
He waited in the darkness.
As the time stole on, his senses remained mechanically awake, but his mind began
to sink slowly under the heavy strain that had now been laid on it for some hours
past. A dull vacancy possessed him; he made no attempt to kindle the light and
write once more. He never started; he never moved to the open window, when the
first sound of approaching wheels broke in on the silence of the night. He heard
the carriages draw up at the door; he heard the horses champing their bits; he
heard the voices of Allan and young Pedgift on the steps; and still he sat quiet in
the darkness, and still no interest was aroused in him by the sounds that reached
his ear from outside.
The voices remained audible after the carriages had been driven away; the two
young men were evidently lingering on the steps before they took leave of each
other. Every word they said reached Midwinter through the open window. Their
one subject of conversation was the new governess. Allan's voice was loud in her
praise. He had never passed such an hour of delight in his life as the hour he had
spent with Miss Gwilt in the boat, on the way from Hurle Mere to the picnic party
waiting at the other Broad. Agreeing, on his side, with all that his client said in
praise of the charming stranger, young Pedgift appeared to treat the subject, when
it fell into his hands, from a different point of view. Miss Gwilt's attractions had
not so entirely absorbed his attention as to prevent him from noticing the
impression which the new governess had produced on her employer and her pupil.
"There's a screw loose somewhere, sir, in Major Milroy's family," said the voice
of young Pedgift. "Did you notice how the major and his daughter looked when
Miss Gwilt made her excuses for being late at the Mere? You don't remember?
Do you remember what Miss Gwilt said?"
"Something about Mrs. Milroy, wasn't it?" Allan rejoined.
Young Pedgift's voice dropped mysteriously a note lower.