"What do you mean?" interposed Allan.
"It is just possible, Mr. Armadale, that the cabman, positive as he is, may have
been mistaken. I strongly recommend you to take it for granted that he is
mistaken, and to drop it there."
The caution was kindly intended; but it came too late. Allan did what ninety-nine
men out of a hundred in his position would have done--he declined to take his
"Very well, sir," said Pedgift Junior; "if you will have it, you must have it."
He leaned forward close to Allan's ear, and whispered what he had heard of the
house in Pimlico, and of the people who occupied it.
"Don't blame me, Mr. Armadale," he added, when the irrevocable words had been
spoken. "I tried to spare you."
Allan suffered the shock, as all great shocks are suffered, in silence. His first
impulse would have driven him headlong for refuge to that very view of the
cabman's assertion which had just been recommended to him, but for one
damning circumstance which placed itself inexorably in his way. Miss Gwilt's
marked reluctance to approach the story of her past life rose irrepressibly on his
memory, in indirect but horrible confirmation of the evidence which connected
Miss Gwilt's reference with the house in Pimlico. One conclusion, and one only--
the conclusion which any man must have drawn, hearing what he had just heard,
and knowing no more than he knew--forced itself into his mind. A miserable,
fallen woman, who had abandoned herself in her extremity to the help of wretches
skilled in criminal concealment, who had stolen her way back to decent society
and a reputable employment by means of a false character, and whose position
now imposed on her the dreadful necessity of perpetual secrecy and perpetual
deceit in relation to her past life--such was the aspect in which the beautiful
governess at Thorpe Ambrose now stood revealed to Allan's eyes!
Falsely revealed, or truly revealed? Had she stolen her way back to decent society
and a reputable employment by means of a false character? She had. Did her
position impose on her the dreadful necessity of perpetual secrecy and perpetual
deceit in relation to her past life? It did. Was she some such pitiable victim to the
treachery of a man unknown as Allan had supposed? She was no such pitiable
victim. The conclusion which Allan had drawn--the conclusion literally forced
into his mind by the facts before him--was, nevertheless, the conclusion of all
others that was furthest even from touching on the truth. The true story of Miss
Gwilt's connection with the house in Pimlico and the people who inhabited it--a
house rightly described as filled with wicked secrets, and people rightly
represented as perpetually in danger of feeling the grasp of the law--was a story
which coming events were yet to disclose: a story infinitely less revolting, and yet
infinitely more terrible, than Allan or Allan's companion had either of them
"I tried to spare you, Mr. Armadale," repeated Pedgift. "I was anxious, if I could
possibly avoid it, not to distress you."
Allan looked up, and made an effort to control himself. "You have distressed me
dreadfully," he said. "You have quite crushed me down. But it is not your fault. I
ought to feel you have done me a service; and what I ought to do I will do, when I