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"What's the matter?" said Midwinter. There was no answer. "What is there so very
startling," he went on, a little impatiently, "in Miss Gwilt's being my wife?"
"Your wife?" repeated Mr. Bashwood, helplessly. "Mrs. Armadale--!" He checked
himself by a desperate effort, and said no more.
The stupor of astonishment which possessed the steward was instantly reflected in
Midwinter's face. The name in which he had secretly married his wife had passed
the lips of the last man in the world whom he would have dreamed of admitting
into his confidence! He took Mr. Bashwood by the arm, and led him away to a
quieter part of the terminus than the part of it in which they had hitherto spoken to
each other.
"You referred to my wife just now," he said; "and you spoke of Mrs. Armadale in
the same breath. What do you mean by that?"
Again there was no answer. Utterly incapable of understanding more than that he
had involved himself in some serious complication which was a complete mystery
to him, Mr. Bashwood struggled to extricate himself from the grasp that was laid
on him, and struggled in vain.
Midwinter sternly repeated the question. "I ask you again," he said, "what do you
mean by it?"
"Nothing, sir! I give you my word of honor, I meant nothing!" He felt the hand on
his arm tightening its grasp; he saw, even in the obscurity of the remote corner in
which they stood, that Midwinter's fiery temper was rising, and was not to be
trifled with. The extremity of his danger inspired him with the one ready capacity
that a timid man possesses when he is compelled by main force to face an
emergency--the capacity to lie. "I only meant to say, sir," he burst out, with a
desperate effort to look and speak confidently, "that Mr. Armadale would be
"You said Mrs. Armadale!"
"No, sir--on my word of honor, on my sacred word of honor, you are mistaken--
you are, indeed! I said Mr. Armadale--how could I say anything else? Please to let
me go, sir--I'm pressed for time. I do assure you I'm dreadfully pressed for time!"
For a moment longer Midwinter maintained his hold, and in that moment he
decided what to do.
He had accurately stated his motive for returning to England as proceeding from
anxiety about his wife--anxiety naturally caused (after the regular receipt of a
letter from her every other, or every third day) by the sudden cessation of the
correspondence between them on her side for a whole week. The first vaguely
terrible suspicion of some other reason for her silence than the reason of accident
or of illness, to which he had hitherto attributed it, had struck through him like a
sudden chill the instant he heard the steward associate the name of "Mrs.
Armadale" with the idea of his wife. Little irregularities in her correspondence
with him, which he had thus far only thought strange, now came back on his
mind, and proclaimed themselves to be suspicions as well. He had hitherto
believed the reasons she had given for referring him, when he answered her
letters, to no more definite address than an address at a post-office. Now he
suspected her reasons of being excuses, for the first time. He had hitherto
resolved, on reaching London, to inquire at the only place he knew of at which a