Midwinter smiled faintly. "I am always in extremes," he said; "my hand was as
hot as fire the first time you took it at the old west-country inn. Come to that
difficulty which you have not come to yet. You are young, rich, your own master-
-and she loves you. What difficulty can there be?"
Allan hesitated. "I hardly know how to put it," he replied. "As you said just now, I
love her, and she loves me; and yet there is a sort of strangeness between us. One
talks a good deal about one's self when one is in love, at least I do. I've told her all
about myself and my mother, and how I came in for this place, and the rest of it.
Well--though it doesn't strike me when we are together--it comes across me now
and then, when I'm away from her, that she doesn't say much on her side. In fact, I
know no more about her than you do."
"Do you mean that you know nothing about Miss Gwilt's family and friends?"
"That's it, exactly."
"Have you never asked her about them?"
"I said something of the sort the other day," returned Allan: "and I'm afraid, as
usual, I said it in the wrong way. She looked--I can't quite tell you how; not
exactly displeased, but--oh, what things words are! I'd give the world, Midwinter,
if I could only find the right word when I want it as well as you do."
"Did Miss Gwilt say anything to you in the way of a reply?"
"That's just what I was coming to. She said, 'I shall have a melancholy story to tell
you one of these days, Mr. Armadale, about myself and my family; but you look
so happy, and the circumstances are so distressing, that I have hardly the heart to
speak of it now.' Ah, she can express herself--with the tears in her eyes, my dear
fellow, with the tears in her eyes! Of course, I changed the subject directly. And
now the difficulty is how to get back to it, delicately, without making her cry
again. We must get back to it, you know. Not on my account; I am quite content
to marry her first and hear of her family misfortunes, poor thing, afterward. But I
know Mr. Brock. If I can't satisfy him about her family when I write to tell him of
this (which, of course, I must do), he will be dead against the whole thing. I'm my
own master, of course, and I can do as I like about it. But dear old Brock was such
a good friend to my poor mother, and he has been such a good friend to me--you
see what I mean, don't you?"
"Certainly, Allan; Mr. Brock has been your second father. Any disagreement
between you about such a serious matter as this would be the saddest thing that
could happen. You ought to satisfy him that Miss Gwilt is (what I am sure Miss
Gwilt will prove to be) worthy, in every way worthy--" His voice sank in spite of
him, and he left the sentence unfinished.
"Just my feeling in the matter!" Allan struck in, glibly. "Now we can come to
what I particularly wanted to consult you about. If this was your case, Midwinter,
you would be able to say the right words to her--you would put it delicately, even
though you were putting it quite in the dark. I can't do that. I'm a blundering sort
of fellow; and I'm horribly afraid, if I can't get some hint at the truth to help me at
starting, of saying something to distress her. Family misfortunes are such tender
subjects to touch on, especially with such a refined woman, such a tender-hearted
woman, as Miss Gwilt. There may have been some dreadful death in the family--
some relation who has disgraced himself--some infernal cruelty which has forced