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II.8. The Norfolk Broads
The little group gathered together in Major Milroy's parlor to wait for the
carriages from Thorpe Ambrose would hardly have conveyed the idea, to any
previously uninstructed person introduced among them, of a party assembled in
expectation of a picnic. They were almost dull enough, as far as outward
appearances went, to have been a party assembled in expectation of a marriage.
Even Miss Milroy herself, though conscious, of looking her best in her bright
muslin dress and her gayly feathered new hat, was at this inauspicious moment
Miss Milroy under a cloud. Although Allan's note had assured her, in Allan's
strongest language, that the one great object of reconciling the governess's arrival
with the celebration of the picnic was an object achieved, the doubt still remained
whether the plan proposed--whatever it might be--would meet with her father's
approval. In a word, Miss Milroy declined to feel sure of her day's pleasure until
the carriage made its appearance and took her from the door. The major, on his
side, arrayed for the festive occasion in a tight blue frock-coat which he had not
worn for years, and threatened with a whole long day of separation from his old
friend and comrade the clock, was a man out of his element, if ever such a man
existed yet. As for the friends who had been asked at Allan's request--the widow
lady (otherwise Mrs. Pentecost) and her son (the Reverend Samuel) in delicate
health--two people less capable, apparently of adding to the hilarity of the day
could hardly have been discovered in the length and breadth of all England. A
young man who plays his part in society by looking on in green spectacles, and
listening with a sickly smile, may be a prodigy of intellect and a mine of virtue,
but he is hardly, perhaps, the right sort of man to have at a picnic. An old lady
afflicted with deafness, whose one inexhaustible subject of interest is the subject
of her son, and who (on the happily rare occasions when that son opens his lips)
asks everybody eagerly, "What does my boy say?" is a person to be pitied in
respect of her infirmities, and a person to be admired in respect of her maternal
devotedness, but not a person, if the thing could possibly be avoided, to take to a
picnic. Such a man, nevertheless, was the Reverend Samuel Pentecost, and such a
woman was the Reverend Samuel's mother; and in the dearth of any other
producible guests, there they were, engaged to eat, drink, and be merry for the day
at Mr. Armadale's pleasure party to the Norfolk Broads.
The arrival of Allan, with his faithful follower, Pedgift Junior, at his heels, roused
the flagging spirits of the party at the cottage. The plan for enabling the governess
to join the picnic, if she arrived that day, satisfied even Major Milroy's anxiety to
show all proper attention to the lady who was coming into his house. After
writing the necessary note of apology and invitation, and addressing it in her very
best handwriting to the new governess, Miss Milroy ran upstairs to say good-by to
her mother, and returned with a smiling face and a side look of relief directed at
her father, to announce that there was nothing now to keep any of them a moment
longer indoors. The company at once directed their steps to the garden gate, and
were there met face to face by the second great difficulty of the day. How were