He began setting in order the litter scattered about him on the cabin table and on
the floor. But it seemed as if fate had decided that his friend's personal
possessions should fall into his hands that morning, employ them where he might.
One among the first objects which he took up was Allan's tobacco jar, with the
stopper missing, and with a letter (which appeared by the bulk of it to contain
inclosures) crumpled into the mouth of the jar in the stopper's place.
"Did you know that you had put this here?" he asked. "Is the letter of any
Allan recognized it instantly. It was the first of the little series of letters which had
followed the cruising party to the Isle of Man--the letter which young Armadale
had briefly referred to as bringing him "more worries from those everlasting
lawyers," and had then dismissed from further notice as recklessly as usual.
"This is what comes of being particularly careful," said Allan; "here is an instance
of my extreme thoughtfulness. You may not think it but I put the letter there on
purpose. Every time I went to the jar, you know, I was sure to see the letter; and
every time I saw the letter, I was sure to say to myself, 'This must be answered.'
There's nothing to laugh at; it was a perfectly sensible arrangement, if I could only
have remembered where I put the jar. Suppose I tie a knot in my pocket-
handkerchief this time? You have a wonderful memory, my dear fellow. Perhaps
you'll remind me in the course of the day, in case I forget the knot next."
Midwinter saw his first chance, since Mr. Brock's departure, of usefully filling
Mr. Brock's place.
"Here is your writing-case," he said; "why not answer the letter at once? If you
put it away again, you may forget it again."
"Very true," returned Allan. "But the worst of it is, I can't quite make up my mind
what answer to write. I want a word of advice. Come and sit down here, and I'll
tell you all about it."
With his loud boyish laugh--echoed by Midwinter, who caught the infection of his
gayety--he swept a heap of miscellaneous incumbrances off the cabin sofa, and
made room for his friend and himself to take their places. In the high flow of
youthful spirits, the two sat down to their trifling consultation over a letter lost in
a tobacco jar. It was a memorable moment to both of them, lightly as they thought
of it at the time. Before they had risen again from their places, they had taken the
first irrevocable step together on the dark and tortuous road of their future lives.
Reduced to plain facts, the question on which Allan now required his friend's
advice may be stated as follows:
While the various arrangements connected with the succession to Thorpe
Ambrose were in progress of settlement, and while the new possessor of the estate
was still in London, a question had necessarily arisen relating to the person who
should be appointed to manage the property. The steward employed by the
Blanchard family had written, without loss of time, to offer his services. Although
a perfectly competent and trustworthy man, he failed to find favor in the eyes of
the new proprietor. Acting, as usual, on his first impulses, and resolved, at all
hazards, to install Midwinter as a permanent inmate at Thorpe Ambrose, Allan
had determined that the steward's place was the place exactly fitted for his friend,
for the simple reason that it would necessarily oblige his friend to live with him