III.8. She Comes Between Them
Appointed hours for the various domestic events of the day were things unknown
at Thorpe Ambrose. Irregular in all his habits, Allan accommodated himself to no
stated times (with the solitary exception of dinner-time) at any hour of the day or
night. He retired to rest early or late, and he rose early or late, exactly as he felt
inclined. The servants were forbidden to call him; and Mrs. Gripper was
accustomed to improvise the breakfast as she best might, from the time when the
kitchen fire was first lighted to the time when the clock stood on the stroke of
Toward nine o'clock on the morning after his return Midwinter knocked at Allan's
door, and on entering the room found it empty. After inquiry among the servants,
it appeared that Allan had risen that morning before the man who usually attended
on him was up, and that his hot water had been brought to the door by one of the
house-maids, who was then still in ignorance of Midwinter's return. Nobody had
chanced to see the master, either on the stairs or in the hall; nobody had heard him
ring the bell for breakfast, as usual. In brief, nobody knew anything about him,
except what was obviously clear to all--that he was not in the house.
Midwinter went out under the great portico. He stood at the head of the flight of
steps considering in which direction he should set forth to look for his friend.
Allan's unexpected absence added one more to the disquieting influences which
still perplexed his mind. He was in the mood in which trifles irritate a man, and
fancies are all-powerful to exalt or depress his spirits.
The sky was cloudy; and the wind blew in puffs from the south; there was every
prospect, to weather-wise eyes, of coming rain. While Midwinter was still
hesitating, one of the grooms passed him on the drive below. The man proved, on
being questioned, to be better informed about his master's movements than the
servants indoors. He had seen Allan pass the stables more than an hour since,
going out by the back way into the park with a nosegay in his hand.
A nosegay in his hand? The nosegay hung incomprehensibly on Midwinter's mind
as he walked round, on the chance of meeting Allan, to the back of the house.
"What does the nosegay mean?" he asked himself, with an unintelligible sense of
irritation, and a petulant kick at a stone that stood in his way.
It meant that Allan had been following his impulses as usual. The one pleasant
impression left on his mind after his interview with Pedgift Senior was the
impression made by the lawyer's account of his conversation with Neelie in the
park. The anxiety that he should not misjudge her, which the major's daughter had
so earnestly expressed, placed her before Allan's eyes in an irresistibly attractive
character--the character of the one person among all his neighbors who had some
respect still left for his good opinion. Acutely sensible of his social isolation, now
that there was no Midwinter to keep him company in the empty house, hungering
and thirsting in his solitude for a kind word and a friendly look, he began to think
more and more regretfully and more and more longingly of the bright young face
so pleasantly associated with his first happiest days at Thorpe Ambrose. To be