"I have very few friends, Mr. Pedgift," returned Allan, simply. "And I am sure
you are one of the few."
"Much obliged, Mr. Armadale. I have always tried to deserve your good opinion,
and I mean, if I can, to deserve it now. You found yourself comfortable, I hope,
sir, at the hotel in London? We call it Our hotel. Some rare old wine in the cellar,
which I should have introduced to your notice if I had had the honor of being with
you. My son unfortunately knows nothing about wine."
Allan felt his false position in the neighborhood far too acutely to be capable of
talking of anything but the main business of the evening. His lawyer's politely
roundabout method of approaching the painful subject to be discussed between
them rather irritated than composed him. He came at once to the point, in his own
bluntly straightforward way.
"The hotel was very comfortable, Mr. Pedgift, and your son was very kind to me.
But we are not in London now; and I want to talk to you about how I am to meet
the lies that are being told of me in this place. Only point me out any one man,"
cried Allan, with a rising voice and a mounting color--"any one man who says I
am afraid to show my face in the neighborhood, and I'll horsewhip him publicly
before another day is over his head!"
Pedgift Senior helped himself to a pinch of snuff, and held it calmly in suspense
midway between his box and his nose.
"You can horsewhip a man, sir; but you can't horsewhip a neighborhood," said the
lawyer, in his politely epigrammatic manner. "We will fight our battle, if you
please, without borrowing our weapons of the coachman yet a while, at any rate."
"But how are we to begin?" asked Allan, impatiently. "How am I to contradict the
infamous things they say of me?"
"There are two ways of stepping out of your present awkward position, sir--a
short way, and a long way," replied Pedgift Senior. "The short way (which is
always the best) has occurred to me since I have heard of your proceedings in
London from my son. I understand that you permitted him, after you received my
letter, to take me into your confidence. I have drawn various conclusions from
what he has told me, which I may find it necessary to trouble you with presently.
In the meantime I should be glad to know under what circumstances you went to
London to make these unfortunate inquiries about Miss Gwilt? Was it your own
notion to pay that visit to Mrs. Mandeville? or were you acting under the
influence of some other person?"
Allan hesitated. "I can't honestly tell you it was my own notion," he replied, and
said no more.
"I thought as much!" remarked Pedgift Senior, in high triumph. "The short way
out of our present difficulty, Mr. Armadale, lies straight through that other person,
under whose influence you acted. That other person must be presented forthwith
to public notice, and must stand in that other person's proper place. The name, if
you please, sir, to begin with--we'll come to the circumstances directly."
"I am sorry to say, Mr. Pedgift, that we must try the longest way, if you have no
objection," replied Allan, quietly. "The short way happens to be a way I can't take
on this occasion."