III.3. The Brink Of Discovery
The morning of the interview between Mrs. Milroy and her daughter at the
cottage was a morning of serious reflection for the squire at the great house.
Even Allan's easy-tempered nature had not been proof against the disturbing
influences exercised on it by the events of the last three days. Midwinter's abrupt
departure had vexed him; and Major Milroy's reception of his inquiries relating to
Miss Gwilt weighed unpleasantly on his mind. Since his visit to the cottage, he
had felt impatient and ill at ease, for the first time in his life, with everybody who
came near him. Impatient with Pedgift Junior, who had called on the previous
evening to announce his departure for London, on business, the next day, and to
place his services at the disposal of his client; ill at ease with Miss Gwilt, at a
secret meeting with her in the park that morning; and ill at ease in his own
company, as he now sat moodily smoking in the solitude of his room. "I can't live
this sort of life much longer," thought Allan. "If nobody will help me to put the
awkward question to Miss Gwilt, I must stumble on some way of putting it for
What way? The answer to that question was as hard to find as ever. Allan tried to
stimulate his sluggish invention by walking up and down the room, and was
disturbed by the appearance of the footman at the first turn.
"Now then! what is it?" he asked, impatiently.
"A letter, sir; and the person waits for an answer."
Allan looked at the address. It was in a strange handwriting. He opened the letter,
and a little note inclosed in it dropped to the ground. The note was directed, still
in the strange handwriting, to "Mrs. Mandeville, 18 Kingsdown Crescent,
Bayswater. Favored by Mr. Armadale." More and more surprised, Allan turned
for information to the signature at the end of the letter. It was "Anne Milroy."
"Anne Milroy?" he repeated. "It must be the major's wife. What can she possibly
want with me?" By way of discovering what she wanted, Allan did at last what he
might more wisely have done at first. He sat down to read the letter.
["Private."] "The Cottage, Monday.
"DEAR SIR--The name at the end of these lines will, I fear, recall to you a very
rude return made on my part, some time since, for an act of neighborly kindness
on yours. I can only say in excuse that I am a great sufferer, and that, if I was ill-
tempered enough, in a moment of irritation under severe pain, to send back your
present of fruit, I have regretted doing so ever since. Attribute this letter, if you
please, to my desire to make some atonement, and to my wish to be of service to
our good friend and landlord, if I possibly can.
"I have been informed of the question which you addressed to my husband, the
day before yesterday, on the subject of Miss Gwilt. From all I have heard of you, I
am quite sure that your anxiety to know more of this charming person than you
know now is an anxiety proceeding from the most honorable motives. Believing
this, I feel a woman's interest--incurable invalid as I am--in assisting you. If you
are desirous of becoming acquainted with Miss Gwilt's family circumstances