Her daughter interested her that morning; for her daughter had something to say
on the subject of Miss Gwilt.
"I used to think that you promised to be pretty, child," she said, cautiously
resuming the interrupted conversation in the least direct way. "But you don't seem
to be keeping your promise. You look out of health and out of spirits. What is the
matter with you?"
If there had been any sympathy between mother and child, Neelie might have
owned the truth. She might have said frankly: "I am looking ill, because my life is
miserable to me. I am fond of Mr. Armadale, and Mr. Armadale was once fond of
me. We had one little disagreement, only one, in which I was to blame. I wanted
to tell him so at the time, and I have wanted to tell him so ever since; and Miss
Gwilt stands between us and prevents me. She has made us like strangers; she has
altered him, and taken him away from me. He doesn't look at me as he did; he
doesn't speak to me as he did; he is never alone with me as he used to be; I can't
say the words to him that I long to say; and I can't write to him, for it would look
as if I wanted to get him back. It is all over between me and Mr. Armadale; and it
is that woman's fault. There is ill-blood between Miss Gwilt and me the whole
day long; and say what I may, and do what I may, she always gets the better of
me, and always puts me in the wrong. Everything I saw at Thorpe Ambrose
pleased me, everything I did at Thorpe Ambrose made me happy, before she
came. Nothing pleases me, and nothing makes me happy now!" If Neelie had ever
been accustomed to ask her mother's advice and to trust herself to her mother's
love, she might have said such words as these. As. it was, the tears came into her
eyes, and she hung her head in silence.
"Come!" said Mrs. Milroy, beginning to lose patience. "You have something to
say to me about Miss Gwilt. What is it?"
Neelie forced back her tears, and made an effort to answer.
"She aggravates me beyond endurance, mamma; I can't bear her; I shall do
something--" Neelie stopped, and stamped her foot angrily on the floor. "I shall
throw something at her head if we go on much longer like this! I should have
thrown something this morning if I hadn't left the room. Oh, do speak to papa
about it! Do find out some reason for sending her away! I'll go to school--I'll do
anything in the world to get rid of Miss Gwilt!"
To get rid of Miss Gwilt! At those words--at that echo from her daughter's lips of
the one dominant desire kept secret in her own heart--Mrs. Milroy slowly raised
herself in bed. What did it mean? Was the help she wanted coming from the very
last of all quarters in which she could have thought of looking for it?
"Why do you want to get rid of Miss Gwilt?" she asked. "What have you got to
"Nothing!" said Neelie. "That's the aggravation of it. Miss Gwilt won't let me
have anything to complain of. She is perfectly detestable; she is driving me mad;
and she is the pink of propriety all the time. I dare say it's wrong, but I don't care--
I hate her!"
Mrs. Milroy's eyes questioned her daughter's face as they had never questioned it
yet. There was something under the surface, evidently--something which it might
be of vital importance to her own purpose to discover--which had not risen into