you shall know it, before you leave me alone with Mr. Armadale. Will you wait,
and rest a little while, or shall I tell it you now?"
"Now," said Mr. Brock, still as far away as ever from knowing the real character
of the man before him.
Everything Ozias Midwinter said, everything Ozias Midwinter did, was against
him. He had spoken with a sardonic indifference, almost with an insolence of
tone, which would have repelled the sympathies of any man who heard him. And
now, instead of placing himself at the table, and addressing his story directly to
the rector, he withdrew silently and ungraciously to the window-seat. There he
sat, his face averted, his hands mechanically turning the leaves of his father's
letter till he came to the last. With his eyes fixed on the closing lines of the
manuscript, and with a strange mixture of recklessness and sadness in his voice,
he began his promised narrative in these words:
"The first thing you know of me," he said, "is what my father's confession has told
you already. He mentions here that I was a child, asleep on his breast, when he
spoke his last words in this world, and when a stranger's hand wrote them down
for him at his deathbed. That stranger's name, as you may have noticed, is signed
on the cover--'Alexander Neal, Writer to the Signet, Edinburgh.' The first
recollection I have is of Alexander Neal beating me with a horsewhip (I dare say I
deserved it), in the character of my stepfather."
"Have you no recollection of your mother at the same time?" asked Mr. Brock.
"Yes; I remember her having shabby old clothes made up to fit me, and having
fine new frocks bought for her two children by her second husband. I remember
the servants laughing at me in my old things, and the horsewhip finding its way to
my shoulders again for losing my temper and tearing my shabby clothes. My next
recollection gets on to a year or two later. I remember myself locked up in a
lumber-room, with a bit of bread and a mug of water, wondering what it was that
made my mother and my stepfather seem to hate the very sight of me. I never
settled that question till yesterday, and then I solved the mystery, when my
father's letter was put into my hands. My mother knew what had really happened
on board the French timber-ship, and my stepfather knew what had really
happened, and they were both well aware that the shameful secret which they
would fain have kept from every living creature was a secret which would be one
day revealed to me. There was no help for it--the confession was in the executor's
hands, and there was I, an ill-conditioned brat, with my mother's negro blood in
my face, and my murdering father's passions in my heart, inheritor of their secret
in spite of them! I don't wonder at the horsewhip now, or the shabby old clothes,
or the bread and water in the lumber-room. Natural penalties all of them, sir,
which the child was beginning to pay already for the father's sin."
Mr. Brock looked at the swarthy, secret face, still obstinately turned away from
him. "Is this the stark insensibility of a vagabond," he asked himself, "or the
despair, in disguise, of a miserable man?"
"School is my next recollection," the other went on--"a cheap place in a lost
corner of Scotland. I was left there, with a bad character to help me at starting. I
spare you the story of the master's cane in the schoolroom, and the boys' kicks in
the playground. I dare say there was ingrained ingratitude in my nature; at any