V.2. In The House
Noticing Mr. Bashwood's confusion (after a moment's glance at the change in his
personal appearance), Midwinter spoke first.
"I see I have surprised you," he said. "You are looking, I suppose, for somebody
else? Have you heard from Allan? Is he on his way home again already?"
The inquiry about Allan, though it would naturally have suggested itself to any
one in Midwinter's position at that moment, added to Mr. Bashwood's confusion.
Not knowing how else to extricate himself from the critical position in which he
was placed, he took refuge in simple denial.
"I know nothing about Mr. Armadale--oh dear, no, sir, I know nothing about Mr.
Armadale," he answered, with needless eagerness and hurry. "Welcome back to
England, sir," he went on, changing the subject in his nervously talkative manner.
"I didn't know you had been abroad. It's so long since we have had the pleasure--
since I have had the pleasure. Have you enjoyed yourself, sir, in foreign parts?
Such different manners from ours--yes, yes, yes--such different manners from
ours! Do you make a long stay in England, now you have come back?"
"I hardly know," said Midwinter. "I have been obliged to alter my plans, and to
come to England unexpectedly." He hesitated a little; his manner changed, and he
added, in lower tones: "A serious anxiety has brought me back. I can't say what
my plans will be until that anxiety is set at rest."
The light of a lamp fell on his face while he spoke, and Mr. Bashwood observed,
for the first time, that he looked sadly worn and changed.
"I'm sorry, sir--I'm sure I'm very sorry. If I could be of any use--" suggested Mr.
Bashwood, speaking under the influence in some degree of his nervous politeness,
and in some degree of his remembrance of what Midwinter had done for him at
Thorpe Ambrose in the by-gone time.
Midwinter thanked him and turned away sadly. "I am afraid you can be of no use,
Mr. Bashwood--but I am obliged to you for your offer, all the same." He stopped,
and considered a little, "Suppose she should not be ill? Suppose some misfortune
should have happened?" he resumed, speaking to himself, and turning again
toward the steward. "If she has left her mother, some trace of her might be found
by inquiring at Thorpe Ambrose."
Mr. Bashwood's curiosity was instantly aroused. The whole sex was interesting to
him now, for the sake of Miss Gwilt.
"A lady, sir?" he inquired. "Are you looking for a lady?"
"I am looking," said Midwinter, simply, "for my wife."
"Married, sir!" exclaimed Mr. Bashwood. "Married since I last had the pleasure of
seeing you! Might I take the liberty of asking--?"
Midwinter's eyes dropped uneasily to the ground.
"You knew the lady in former times," he said. "I have married Miss Gwilt."
The steward started back as he might have started back from a loaded pistol
leveled at his head. His eyes glared as if he had suddenly lost his senses, and the
nervous trembling to which he was subject shook him from head to foot.