Armadale by Wilkie Collins - HTML preview
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"All Saints' Terrace, New Road, London, July 28th, Monday night.--I can hardly hold my head up, I am so tired. But in my situation, I dare not trust anything to memory. Before I go to bed, I must write my customary record of the events of the day.
"So far, the turn of luck in my favor (it was long enough before it took the turn!) seems likely to continue. I succeeded in forcing Armadale--the brute required nothing short of forcing!-- to leave Thorpe Ambrose for London, alone in the same carriage with me, before all the people in the station. There was a full attendance of dealers in small scandal, all staring hard at us, and all evidently drawing their own conclusions. Either I knew nothing of Thorpe Ambrose--or the town gossip is busy enough by this time with Mr. Armadale and Miss Gwilt. "I had some difficulty with him for the first half-hour after we left the station. The guard (delightful man! I felt so grateful to him!) had shut us up together, in expectation of half a crown at the end of the journey. Armadale was suspicious of me, and he showed it plainly. Little by little I tamed my wild beast--partly by taking care to display no curiosity about his journey to town, and partly by interesting him on the subject of his friend Midwinter; dwelling especially on the opportunity that now offered itself for a reconciliation between them. I kept harping on this string till I set his tongue going, and made him amuse me as a gentleman is bound to do when he has the honor of escorting a lady on a long railway journey.
"What little mind he has was full, of course, of his own affairs and Miss Milroy's. No words can express the clumsiness he showed in trying to talk about himself, without taking me into his confidence or mentioning Miss Milroy's name. "He was going to London, he gravely informed me, on a matter of indescribable interest to him. It was a secret for the present, but he hoped to tell it me soon; it had made a great difference already in the way in which he looked at the slanders spoken of him in Thorpe Ambrose; he was too happy to care what the scandalmongers said of him now, and he should soon stop their mouths by appearing in a new character that would surprise them all. So he blundered on, with the firm persuasion that he was keeping me quite in the dark. It was hard not to laugh, when I thought of my anonymous letter on its way to the major; but I managed to control myself--though, I must own, with some difficulty. As the time wore on, I began to feel a terrible excitement; the position was, I think, a little too much for me. There I was, alone with him, talking in the most innocent, easy, familiar manner, and having it in my mind all the time to brush his life out of my way, when the moment comes, as I might brush a stain off my gown. It made my blood leap, and my cheeks flush. I caught myself laughing once or twice much louder than I ought; and long before we got to London I thought it desirable to put my face in hiding by pulling down my veil.
"There was no difficulty, on reaching the terminus, in getting him to come in the cab with me to the hotel where Midwinter is staying. He was all eagerness to be reconciled with his dear friend--principally, I have no doubt, because he wants the dear friend to lend a helping hand to the elopement. The real difficulty lay, of course, with Midwinter. My sudden journey to London had allowed me no opportunity of writing to combat his superstitious conviction that he and his former friend are better apart. I thought it wise to leave Armadale in the cab at the door, and to go into the hotel by myself to pave the way for him.
"Fortunately, Midwinter had not gone out. His delight at seeing me some days sooner than he had hoped had something infectious in it, I suppose. Pooh! I may own the truth to my own diary! There was a moment when I forgot everything in the world but our two selves as completely as he did. I felt as if I was back in my teens--until I remembered the lout in the cab at the door. And then I was five-andthirty again in an instant.
"His face altered when he heard who was below, and what it was I wanted of him; he looked not angry, but distressed. He yielded, however, before long, not to my reasons, for I gave him none, but to my entreaties. His old fondness for his friend might possibly have had some share in persuading him against his will; but my own opinion is that he acted entirely under the influence of his fondness for Me. "I waited in the sitting-room while he went down to the door; so I knew nothing of what passed between them when they first saw each other again. But oh, the difference between the two men when the interval had passed, and they came upstairs together and joined me.
"They were both agitated, but in such different ways! The hateful Armadale, so loud and red and clumsy; the dear, lovable Midwinter, so pale and quiet, with such a gentleness in his voice when he spoke, and such tenderness in his eyes every time they turned my way. Armadale overlooked me as completely as if I had not been in the room. He referred to me over and over again in the conversation; he constantly looked at me to see what I thought, while I sat in my corner silently watching them; he wanted to go with me and see me safe to my lodgings, and spare me all trouble with the cabman and the luggage. When I thanked him and declined, Armadale looked unaffectedly relieved at the prospect of seeing my back turned, and of having his friend all to himself. I left him, with his awkward elbows half over the table, scrawling a letter (no doubt to Miss Milroy), and shouting to the waiter that he wanted a bed at the hotel. I had calculated on his staying, as a matter of course, where he found his friend staying. It was pleasant to find my anticipations realized, and to know that I have as good as got him now under my own eye.
"After promising to let Midwinter know where he could see me to-morrow, I went away in the cab to hunt for lodgings by myself.
"With some difficulty I have succeeded in getting an endurable sitting-room and bedroom in this house, where the people are perfect strangers to me. Having paid a week's rent in advance (for I naturally preferred dispensing with a reference), I find myself with exactly three shillings and ninepence left in my purse. It is impossible to ask Midwinter for money, after he has already paid Mrs. Oldershaw's note of hand. I must borrow something to-morrow on my watch and chain at the pawnbroker's. Enough to keep me going for a fortnight is all, and more than all, that I want. In that time, or in less than that time, Midwinter will have married me.
"July 29th.--Two o'clock.--Early in the morning I sent a line to Midwinter, telling him that he would find me here at three this afternoon. That done, I devoted the morning to two errands of my own. One is hardly worth mentioning--it was only to raise money on my watch and chain. I got more than I expected; and more (even supposing I buy myself one or two little things in the way of cheap summer dress) than I am at all likely to spend before the wedding-day.
"The other errand was of a far more serious kind. It led me into an attorney's office.
"I was well aware last night (though I was too weary to put it down in my diary), that I could not possibly see Midwinter this morning--in the position he now occupies toward me--without at least appearing to take him into my confidence on the subject of myself and my circumstances. Excepting one necessary consideration which I must be careful not to overlook. there is not the least difficulty in my drawing on my invention, and telling him any story I please--for thus far I have told no story to anybody. Midwinter went away to London before it was possible to approach the subject. As to the Milroys (having provided them with the customary reference), I could fortunately keep them at arms-length on all questions relating purely to myself. And lastly, when I affected my reconciliation with Armadale on the drive in front of the house, he was fool enough to be too generous to let me defend my character. When I had expressed my regret for having lost my temper and threatened Miss Milroy, and when I had accepted his assurance that my pupil had never done or meant to do me any injury, he was too magnanimous to hear a word on the subject of my private affairs. Thus I am quite unfettered by any former assertions of my own; and I may tell any story I please-with the one drawback hinted at already in the shape of a restraint. Whatever I may invent in the way of pure fiction, I must preserve the character in which I have appeared at Thorpe Ambrose; for, with the notoriety that is attached to my other name, I have no other choice but to marry Midwinter in my maiden name as 'Miss Gwilt.'
"This was the consideration that took me into the lawyer's office. I felt that I must inform myself, before I saw Midwinter later in the day, of any awkward consequences that may follow the marriage of a widow if she conceals her widow's name.
"Knowing of no other professional person whom I could trust, I went boldly to the lawyer who had my interests in his charge, at that terrible past time in my life, which I have more reason than ever to shrink from thinking of now. He was astonished, and, as I could plainly detect, by no means pleased to see me. I had hardly opened my lips before he said he hoped I was not consulting him again (with a strong emphasis on the word) on my own account. I took the hint, and put the question I had come to ask, in the interests of that accommodating personage on such occasions--an absent friend. The lawyer evidently saw through it at once; but he was sharp enough to turn my 'friend' to good account on his side. He said he would answer the question as a matter of courtesy toward a lady represented by myself; but he must make it a condition that this consultation of him by deputy should go no further.
"I accepted his terms; for I really respected the clever manner in which he contrived to keep me at arms-length without violating the laws of good-breeding. In two minutes I heard what he had to say, mastered it in my own mind, and went out.
"Short as it was, the consultation told me everything I wanted to know. I risk nothing by marrying Midwinter in my maiden instead of my widow's name. The marriage is a good marriage in this way: that it can only be set aside if my husband finds out the imposture, and takes proceedings to invalidate our marriage in my lifetime. That is the lawyer's answer in the lawyer's own words. It relieves me at once--in this direction, at any rate--of all apprehension about the future. The only imposture my husband will ever discover--and then only if he happens to be on the spot--is the imposture that puts me in the place, and gives me the income, of Armadale's widow; and by that time I shall have invalidated my own marriage forever.
"Half-past two! Midwinter will be here in half an hour. I must go and ask my glass how I look. I must rouse my invention, and make up my little domestic romance. Am I feeling nervous about it? Something flutters in the place where my heart used to be. At five-and-thirty, too! and after such a life as mine! Six o'clock.--He has just gone. The day for our marriage is a day determined on already.
"I have tried to rest and recover myself. I can't rest. I have come back to these leaves. There is much to be written in them since Midwinter has been here, that concerns me nearly.
"Let me begin with what I hate most to remember, and so be the sooner done with it--let me begin with the paltry string of falsehoods which I told him about my family troubles.
"What can be the secret of this man's hold on me? How is it that he alters me so that I hardly know myself again? I was like myself in the railway carriage yesterday with Armadale. It was surely frightful to be talking to the living man, through the whole of that long journey, with the knowledge in me all the while that I meant to be his widow--and yet I was only excited and fevered. Hour after hour I never shrunk once from speaking to Armadale; but the first trumpery falsehood I told Midwinter turned me cold when I saw that he believed it! I felt a dreadful hysterical choking in the throat when he entreated me not to reveal my troubles. And once--I am horrified when I think of it--once, when he said, 'If I could love you more dearly, I should love you more dearly now,' I was within a hair-breadth of turning traitor to myself. I was on the very point of crying out to him, 'Lies! all lies! I'm a fiend in human shape! Marry the wretchedest creature that prowls the streets, and you will marry a better woman than me!' Yes! the seeing his eyes moisten, the hearing his voice tremble, while I was deceiving him, shook me in that way. I have seen handsomer men by hundreds, cleverer men by dozens. What can this man have roused in me? Is it Love? I thought I had loved, never to love again. Does a woman not love when the man's hardness to her drives her to drown herself? A man drove me to that last despair in days gone by. Did all my misery at that time come from something which was not Love? Have I lived to be five-and-thirty, and am I only feeling now what Love really is?--now, when it is too late? Ridiculous! Besides, what is the use of asking? What do I know about it? What does any woman ever know? The more we think of it, the more we deceive ourselves. I wish I had been born an animal. My beauty might have been of some use to me then--it might have got me a good master. "Here is a whole page of my diary filled; and nothing written yet that is of the slightest use to me! My miserable made-up story must be told over again here, while the incidents are fresh in my memory--or how am I to refer to it consistently on after-occasions when I may be obliged to speak of it again?
"There was nothing new in what I told him; it was the commonplace rubbish of the circulating libraries. A dead father; a lost fortune; vagabond brothers, whom I dread ever seeing again; a bedridden mother dependent on my exertions--No! I can't write it down! I hate myself, I despise myself, when I remember that he believed it because I said it--that he was distressed by it because it was my story! I will face the chances of contradicting myself--I will risk discovery and ruin-anything rather than dwell on that contemptible deception of him a moment longer.
"My lies came to an end at last. And then he talked to me of himself and of his prospects. Oh, what a relief it was to turn to that at the time! What a relief it is to come to it now!
"He has accepted the offer about which he wrote to me at Thorpe Ambrose; and he is now engaged as occasional foreign correspondent to the new newspaper. His first destination is Naples. I wish it had been some other place, for I have certain past associations with Naples which I am not at all anxious to renew. It has been arranged that he is to leave England not later than the eleventh of next month. By that time, therefore, I, who am to go with him, must go with him as his wife. "There is not the slightest difficulty about the marriage. All this part of it is so easy that I begin to dread an accident.
"The proposal to keep the thing strictly private--which it might have embarrassed me to make--comes from Midwinter. Marrying me in his own name--the name that he has kept concealed from every living creature but myself and Mr. Brock-it is his interest that not a soul who knows him should be present at the ceremony; his friend Armadale least of all. He has been a week in London already. When another week has passed, he proposes to get the License, and to be married in the church belonging to the parish in which the hotel is situated. These are the only necessary formalities. I had but to say 'Yes' (he told me), and to feel no further anxiety about the future. I said 'Yes' with such a devouring anxiety about the future that I was afraid he would see it. What minutes the next few minutes were, when he whispered delicious words to me, while I hid my face on his breast! "I recovered myself first, and led him back to the subject of Armadale, having my own reasons for wanting to know what they said to each other after I had left them yesterday.
"The manner in which Midwinter replied showed me that he was speaking under the restraint of respecting a confidence placed in him by his friend. Long before he had done, I detected what the confidence was. Armadale had been consulting him (exactly as I anticipated) on the subject of the elopement. Although he appears to have remonstrated against taking the girl secretly away from her home, Midwinter seems to have felt some delicacy about speaking strongly, remembering (widely different as the circumstances are) that he was contemplating a private marriage himself. I gathered, at any rate, that he had produced very little effect by what he had said; and that Armadale had already carried out his absurd intention of consulting the head-clerk in the office of his London lawyers.
"Having got as far as this, Midwinter put the question which I felt must come sooner or later. He asked if I objected to our engagement being mentioned, in the strictest secrecy, to his friend.
"'I will answer,' he said, 'for Allan's respecting any confidence that I place in him. And I will undertake, when the time comes, so to use my influence over him as to prevent his being present at the marriage, and discovering (what he must never know) that my name is the same as his own. It would help me,' he went on, 'to speak more strongly about the object that has brought him to London, if I can requite the frankness with which he has spoken of his private affairs to me by the same frankness on my side.'
"I had no choice but to give the necessary permission, and I gave it. It is of the utmost importance to me to know what course Major Milroy takes with his daughter and Armadale after receiving my anonymous letter; and, unless I invite Armadale's confidence in some way, I am nearly certain to be kept in the dark. Let him once be trusted with the knowledge that I am to be Midwinter's wife, and what he tells his friend about his love affair he will tell me.
"When it had been understood between us that Armadale was to be taken into our confidence, we began to talk about ourselves again. How the time flew! What a sweet enchantment it was to forget everything in his arms! How he loves me!--ah, poor fellow, how he loves me!
"I have promised to meet him to-morrow morning in the Regent's Park. The less he is seen here the better. The people in this house are strangers to me, certainly; but it may be wise to consult appearances, as if I was still at Thorpe Ambrose, and not to produce the impression, even on their minds, that Midwinter is engaged to me. If any after-inquiries are made, when I have run my grand risk, the testimony of my London landlady might be testimony worth having.
"That wretched old Bashwood! Writing of Thorpe Ambrose reminds me of him. What will he say when the town gossip tells him that Armadale has taken me to London, in a carriage reserved for ourselves? It really is too absurd in a man of Bashwood's age and appearance to presume to be in love!....
"July 30th.---News at last! Armadale has heard from Miss Milroy. My anonymous letter has produced its effect. The girl is removed from Thorpe Ambrose already; and the whole project of the elopement is blown to the winds at once and forever. This was the substance of what Midwinter had to tell me when I met him in the Park. I affected to be excessively astonished, and to feel the necessary feminine longing to know all the particulars. 'Not that I expect to have my curiosity satisfied,' I added, 'for Mr. Armadale and I are little better than mere acquaintances, after all.'
"'You are far more than a mere acquaintance in Allan's eyes,' said Midwinter. 'Having your permission to trust him, I have already told him how near and dear you are to me.'
"Hearing this, I thought it desirable, before I put any questions about Miss Milroy, to attend to my own interests first, and to find out what effect the announcement of my coming marriage had produced on Armadale. It was possible that he might be still suspicious of me, and that the inquiries he made in London, at Mrs. Milroy's instigation, might be still hanging on his mind.
"'Did Mr. Armadale seem surprised,' I asked, 'when you told him of our engagement, and when you said it was to be kept a secret from everybody?' "'He seemed greatly surprised,' said Midwinter, 'to hear that we were going to be married. All he said when I told him it must be kept a secret was that he supposed there were reasons on your side for making the marriage a private one.' "'What did you say,' I inquired, 'when he made that remark?'
"'I said the reasons were on my side,' answered Midwinter. 'And I thought it right to add--considering that Allan had allowed himself to be misled by the ignorant distrust of you at Thorpe Ambrose--that you had confided to me the whole of your sad family story, and that you had amply justified your unwillingness; under any ordinary circumstances, to speak of your private affairs.'
("I breathed freely again. He had said just what was wanted, just in the right way.) "'Thank you,' I said, 'for putting me right in your friend's estimation. Does he wish to see me?' I added, by way of getting back to the other subject of Miss Milroy and the elopement.
"'He is longing to see you,' returned Midwinter. 'He is in great distress, poor fellow--distress which I have done my best to soothe, but which, I believe, would yield far more readily to a woman's sympathy than to mine.'
"'Where is he now?' I asked.
"He was at the hotel; and to the hotel I instantly proposed that we should go. It is a busy, crowded place; and (with my veil down) I have less fear of compromising myself there than at my quiet lodgings. Besides, it is vitally important to me to know what Armadale does next, under this total change of circumstances--for I must so control his proceedings as to get him away from England if I can. We took a cab: such was my eagerness to sympathize with the heart-broken lover, that we took a cab!
"Anything so ridiculous as Armadale's behavior under the double shock of discovering that his young lady has been taken away from him, and that I am to be married to Midwinter, I never before witnessed in all my experience. To say that he was like a child is a libel on all children who are not born idiots. He congratulated me on my coming marriage, and execrated the unknown wretch who had written the anonymous letter, little thinking that he was speaking of one and the same person in one and the same breath. Now he submissively acknowledged that Major Milroy had his rights as a father, and now he reviled the major as having no feeling for anything but his mechanics and his clock. At one moment he started up, with the tears in his eyes, and declared that his 'darling Neelie' was an angel on earth. At another he sat down sulkily, and thought that a girl of her spirit might have run away on the spot and joined him in London. After a good half-hour of this absurd exhibition, I succeeded in quieting him; and then a few words of tender inquiry produced what I had expressly come to the hotel to see--Miss Milroy's letter.
"It was outrageously long, and rambling, and confused; in short, the letter of a fool. I had to wade through plenty of vulgar sentiment and lamentation, and to lose time and patience over maudlin outbursts of affection, and nauseous kisses inclosed in circles of ink. However, I contrived to extract the information I wanted at last; and here it is:
"The major, on receipt of my anonymous warning, appears to have sent at once for his daughter, and to have shown her the letter. 'You know what a hard life I lead with your mother; don't make it harder still, Neelie, by deceiving me.' That was all the poor old gentleman said. I always did like the major; and, though he was afraid to show it, I know he always liked me. His appeal to his daughter (if her account of it is to be believed) cut her to the heart. She burst out crying (let her alone for crying at the right moment!) and confessed everything. "After giving her time to recover herself (if he had given her a good box on the ears it would have been more to the purpose!), the major seems to have put certain questions, and to have become convinced (as I was convinced myself) that his daughter's heart, or fancy, or whatever she calls it, was really and truly set on Armadale. The discovery evidently distressed as well as surprised him. He appears to have hesitated, and to have maintained his own unfavorable opinion of Miss Neelie's lover for some little time. But his daughter's tears and entreaties (so like the weakness of the dear old gentleman!) shook him at last. Though he firmly refused to allow of any marriage engagement at present, he consented to overlook the clandestine meetings in the park, and to put Armadale's fitness to become his son-in-law to the test, on certain conditions.
"These conditions are, that for the next six months to come all communication is to be broken off, both personally and by writing, between Armadale and Miss Milroy. That space of time is to be occupied by the young gentleman as he himself thinks best, and by the young lady in completing her education at school. If, when the six months have passed, they are both still of the same mind, and if Armadale's conduct in the interval has been such as to improve the major's opinion of him, he will be allowed to present himself in the character of Miss Milroy's suitor, and, in six months more, if all goes well, the marriage may take place.
"I declare I could kiss the dear old major, if I was only within reach of him! If I had been at his elbow, and had dictated the conditions myself, I could have asked for nothing better than this. Six months of total separation between Armadale and Miss Milroy! In half that time--with all communication cut off between the two-it must go hard with me, indeed, if I don't find myself dressed in the necessary mourning, and publicly recognized as Armadale's widow.
"But I am forgetting the girl's letter. She gives her father's reasons for making his conditions, in her father's own words. The major seems to have spoken so sensibly and so feelingly that he left his daughter no decent alternative--and he leaves Armadale no decent alternative--but to submit. As well as I can remember, he seems to have expressed himself to Miss Neelie in these, or nearly in these terms:
"'Don't think I am behaving cruelly to you, my dear: I am merely asking you to put Mr. Armadale to the proof. It is not only right, it is absolutely necessary, that you should hold no communication with him for some time to come; and I will show you why. In the first place, if you go to school, the necessary rules in such places--necessary for the sake of the other girls--would not permit you to see Mr. Armadale or to receive letters from him; and, if you are to become mistress of Thorpe Ambrose, to school you must go, for you would be ashamed, and I should be ashamed, if you occupied the position of a lady of station without having the accomplishments which all ladies of station are expected to possess. In the second place, I want to see whether Mr. Armadale will continue to think of you as he thinks now, without being encouraged in his attachment by seeing you, or reminded of it by hearing from you. If I am wrong in thinking him flighty and unreliable, and if your opinion of him is the right one, this is not putting the young man to an unfair test--true love survives much longer separations than a separation of six months. And when that time is over, and well over; and when I have had him under my own eye for another six months, and have learned to think as highly of him as you do--even then, my dear, after all that terrible delay, you will still be a married woman before you are eighteen. Think of this, Neelie, and show that you love me and trust me, by accepting my proposal. I will hold no communication with Mr. Armadale myself. I will leave it to you to write and tell him what has been decided on. He may write back one letter, and one only, to acquaint you with his decision. After that, for the sake of your reputation, nothing more is to be said, and nothing more is to be done, and the matter is to be kept strictly private until the six months' interval is at an end.'
"To this effect the major spoke. His behavior to that little slut of a girl has produced a stronger impression on me than anything else in the letter. It has set me thinking (me, of all the people in the world!) of what they call 'a moral difficulty.' We are perpetually told that there can be no possible connection between virtue and vice. Can there not? Here is Major Milroy doing exactly what an excellent father, at once kind and prudent, affectionate and firm, would do under the circumstances; and by that very course of conduct he has now smoothed the way for me, as completely as if he had been the chosen accomplice of that abominable creature, Miss Gwilt. Only think of my reasoning in this way! But I am in such good spirits, I can do anything to-day. I have not looked so bright and so young as I look now for months past!
"To return to the letter, for the last time--it is so excessively dull and stupid that I really can't help wandering away from it into reflections of my own, as a mere relief.
"After solemnly announcing that she meant to sacrifice herself to her beloved father's wishes (the brazen assurance of her setting up for a martyr after what has happened exceeds anything I ever heard or read of!), Miss Neelie next mentioned that the major proposed taking her to the seaside for change of air, during the few days that were still to elapse before she went to school. Armadale was to send his answer by return of post, and to address her, under cover to her father, at Lowestoft. With this, and with a last outburst of tender protestation, crammed crookedly into a corner of the page, the letter ended. (N.B.--The major's object in taking her to the seaside is plain enough. He still privately distrusts Armadale, and he is wisely determined to prevent any more clandestine meetings in the park before the girl is safely disposed of at school.)
"When I had done with the letter--I had requested permission to read parts of it which I particularly admired, for the second and third time!--we all consulted together in a friendly way about what Armadale was to do.
"He was fool enough, at the outset, to protest against submitting to Major Milroy's conditions. He declared, with his odious red face looking the picture of brute health, that he should never survive a six months' separation from his beloved Neelie. Midwinter (as may easily be imagined) seemed a little ashamed of him, and joined me in bringing him to his senses. We showed him, what would have been plain enough to anybody but a booby, that there was no honorable or even decent alternative left but to follow the example of submission set by the young lady. 'Wait, and you will have her for your wife,' was what I said. 'Wait, and you will force the major to alter his unjust opinion of you,' was what Midwinter added. With two clever people hammering common sense into his head at that rate, it is needless to say that his head gave way, and he submitted. "Having decided him to accept the major's conditions (I was careful to warn him, before he wrote to Miss Milroy, that my engagement to Midwinter was to be kept as strictly secret from her as from everybody else), the next question we had to settle related to his future proceedings. I was ready with the necessary arguments to stop him, if he had proposed returning to Thorpe Ambrose. But he proposed nothing of the sort. On the contrary, he declared, of his own accord, that nothing would induce him to go back. The place and the people were associated with everything that was hateful to him. There would be no Miss Milroy now to meet him in the park, and no Midwinter to keep him company in the solitary house. 'I'd rather break stones on the road,' was the sensible and cheerful way in which he put it, 'than go back to Thorpe Ambrose.'
"The first suggestion after this came from Midwinter. The sly old clergyman who gave Mrs. Oldershaw and me so much trouble has, it seems, been ill, but has been latterly reported better. 'Why not go to Somersetshire,' said Midwinter, 'and see your good friend, and my good friend, Mr. Brock?'
"Armadale caught at the proposal readily enough. He longed, in the first place, to see 'dear old Brock,' and he longed, in the second place, to see his yacht. After staying a few days more in London with Midwinter, he would gladly go to Somersetshire. But what after that?
"Seeing my opportunity, I came to the rescue this time. 'You have got a yacht, Mr. Armadale,' I said; 'and you know that Midwinter is going to Italy. When you are tired of Somersetshire, why not make a voyage to the Mediterranean, and meet your friend, and your friend's wife, at Naples?'
"I made the allusion to 'his friend's wife' with the most becoming modesty and confusion. Armadale was enchanted. I had hit on the best of all ways of occupying the weary time. He started up, and wrung my hand in quite an ecstasy of gratitude. How I do hate people who can only express their feelings by hurting other people's hands!
"Midwinter was as pleased with my proposal as Armadale; but he saw difficulties in the way of carrying it out. He considered the yacht too small for a cruise to the Mediterranean, and he thought it desirable to hire a larger vessel. His friend thought otherwise. I left them arguing the question. It was quite enough for me to have made sure, in the first place, that Armadale will not return to Thorpe Ambrose; and to have decided him, in the second place, on going abroad. He may go how he likes. I should prefer the small yacht myself; for there seems to be a chance that the small yacht might do me the inestimable service of drowning him....
"Five o'clock.--The excitement of feeling that I had got Armadale's future movements completely under my own control made me so restless, when I returned to my lodgings, that I was obliged to go out again, and do something. A new interest to occupy me being what I wanted, I went to Pimlico to have it out with Mother Oldershaw.
"I walked; and made up my mind, on the way, that I would begin by quarreling with her.
"One of my notes of hand being paid already, and Midwinter being willing to pay the other two when they fall due, my present position with the old wretch is as independent a one as I could desire. I always get the better of her when it comes to a downright battle between us, and find her wonderfully civil and obliging the moment I have made her feel that mine is the strongest will of the two. In my present situation, she might be of use to me in various ways, if I could secure her assistance, without trusting her with secrets which I am now more than ever determined to keep to myself. That was my idea as I walked to Pimlico. Upsetting Mother Oldershaw's nerves, in the first place, and then twisting her round my little finger, in the second, promised me, as I thought, an interesting occupation for the rest of the afternoon.
"When I got to Pimlico, a surprise was in store for we. The house was shut up-not only on Mrs. Oldershaw's side, but on Doctor Downward's as well. A padlock was on the shop door; and a man was hanging about on the watch, who might have been an ordinary idler certainly, but who looked, to my mind, like a policeman in disguise.
"Knowing the risks the doctor runs in his particular form of practice, I suspected at once that something serious had happened, and that even cunning Mrs. Oldershaw was compromised this time. Without stopping, or making any inquiry, therefore, I called the first cab that passed me, and drove to the post- office to which I had desired my letters to be forwarded if any came for me after I left my Thorpe Ambrose lodging.
"On inquiry a letter was produced for 'Miss Gwilt.' It was in Mother Oldershaw's handwriting, and it told me (as I had supposed) that the doctor had got into a serious difficulty--that she was herself most unfortunately mixed up in the matter, and that they were both in hiding for the present. The letter ended with some sufficiently venomous sentences about my conduct at Thorpe Ambrose, and with a warning that I have not heard the last of Mrs. Oldershaw yet. It relieved me to find her writing in this way--for she would have been civil and cringing if she had had any suspicion of what I have really got in view. I burned the letter as soon as the candles came up. And there, for the present, is an end of the connection between Mother Jezebel and me. I must do all my own dirty work now; and I shall be all the safer, perhaps, for trusting nobody's hands to do it but my own. "July 31st.--More useful information for me. I met Midwinter again in the Park (on the pretext that my reputation might suffer if he called too often at my lodgings), and heard the last news of Armadale since I left the hotel yesterday. "After he had written to Miss Milroy, Midwinter took the opportunity of speaking to him about the necessary business arrangements during his absence from the great house. It was decided that the servants should be put on board wages, and that Mr. Bashwood should be left in charge. (Somehow, I don't like this reappearance of Mr. Bashwood in connection with my present interests, but there is no help for it.) The next question--the question of money--was settled at once by Mr. Armadale himself. All his available ready-money (a large sum) is to be lodged by Mr. Bashwood in Coutts's Bank, and to be there deposited in Armadale's name. This, he said, would save him the worry of any further letterwriting to his steward, and would enable him to get what he wanted, when he went abroad, at a moment's notice. The plan thus proposed, being certainly the simplest and the safest, was adopted with Midwinter's full concurrence; and here the business discussion would have ended, if the everlasting Mr. Bashwood had not turned up again in the conversation, and prolonged it in an entirely new direction.
"On reflection, it seems to have struck Midwinter that the whole responsibility at Thorpe Ambrose ought not to rest on Mr. Bashwood's shoulders. Without in the least distrusting him, Midwinter felt, nevertheless, that he ought to have somebody set over him, to apply to in case of emergency. Armadale made no objection to this; he only asked, in his helpless way, who the person was to be? "The answer was not an easy one to arrive at.
"Either of the two solicitors at Thorpe Ambrose might have been employed, but Armadale was on bad terms with both of them. Any reconciliation with such a bitter enemy as the elder lawyer, Mr. Darch, was out of the question; and reinstating Mr. Pedgift in his former position implied a tacit sanction on Armadale's part of the lawyer's abominable conduct toward me, which was scarcely consistent with the respect and regard that he felt for a lady who was soon to be his friend's wife. After some further discussion, Midwinter hit on a new suggestion which appeared to meet the difficulty. He proposed that Armadale should write to a respectable solicitor at Norwich, stating his position in general terms, and requesting that gentleman to act as Mr. Bashwood's adviser and superintendent when occasion required. Norwich being within an easy railway ride of Thorpe Ambrose, Armadale saw no objection to the proposal, and promised to write to the Norwich lawyer. Fearing that he might make some mistake if he wrote without assistance, Midwinter had drawn him out a draft of the necessary letter, and Armadale was now engaged in copying the draft, and also in writing to Mr. Bashwood to lodge the money immediately in Coutts's Bank.
"These details are so dry and uninteresting in themselves that I hesitated at first about putting them down in my diary. But a little reflection has convinced me that they are too important to be passed over. Looked at from my point of view, they mean this--that Armadale's own act is now cutting him off from all communication with Thorpe Ambrose, even by letter. He is as good as dead already to everybody he leaves behind him. The causes which have led to such a result as that are causes which certainly claim the best place I can give them in these pages.
"August 1st.--Nothing to record, but that I have had a long, quiet, happy day with Midwinter. He hired a carriage, and we drove to Richmond, and dined there. After to-day's experience, it is impossible to deceive myself any longer. Come what may of it, I love him.
"I have fallen into low spirits since he left me. A persuasion has taken possession of my mind that the smooth and prosperous course of my affairs since I have been in London is too smooth and prosperous to last. There is something oppressing me to-night, which is more than the oppression of the heavy London air. "August 2d.--Three o'clock.--My presentiments, like other people's, have deceived me often enough; but I am almost afraid that my presentiment of last night was really prophetic, for once in a way.
"I went after breakfast to a milliner's in this neighborhood to order a few cheap summer things, and thence to Midwinter's hotel to arrange with him for another day in the country. I drove to the milliner's and to the hotel, and part of the way back. Then, feeling disgusted with the horrid close smell of the cab (somebody had been smoking in it, I suppose), I got out to walk the rest of the way. Before I had been two minutes on my feet, I discovered that I was being followed by a strange man.
"This may mean nothing but that an idle fellow has been struck by my figure, and my appearance generally. My face could have made no impression on him, for it was hidden as usual by my veil. Whether he followed me (in a cab, of course) from the milliner's, or from the hotel, I cannot say. Nor am I quite certain whether he did or did not track me to this door. I only know that I lost sight of him before I got back. There is no help for it but to wait till events enlighten me. If there is anything serious in what has happened, I shall soon discover it.
"Five o'clock.--It is serious. Ten minutes since, I was in my bedroom, which communicates with the sitting-room. I was just coming out, when I heard a strange voice on the landing outside--a woman's voice. The next instant the sitting-room door was suddenly opened; the woman's voice said, 'Are these the apartments you have got to let?' and though the landlady, behind her, answered, 'No! higher up, ma'am,' the woman came on straight to my bedroom, as if she had not heard. I had just time to slam the door in her face before she saw me. The necessary explanations and apologies followed between the landlady and the stranger in the sitting-room, and then I was left alone again.
"I have no time to write more. It is plain that somebody has an interest in trying to identify me, and that, but for my own quickness, the strange woman would have accomplished this object by taking me by surprise. She and the man who followed me in the street are, I suspect, in league together; and there is probably somebody in the background whose interests they are serving. Is Mother Oldershaw attacking me in the dark? or who else can it be? No matter who it is; my present situation is too critical to be trifled with. I must get away from this house to-night, and leave no trace behind me by which I can be followed to another place. "August 3d.--Gary Street, Tottenham Court Road.--I got away last night (after writing an excuse to Midwinter, in which 'my invalid mother' figured as the allsufficient cause of my disappearance); and I have found refuge here. It has cost me some money; but my object is attained! Nobody can possibly have traced me from All Saints' Terrace to this address.
"After paying my landlady the necessary forfeit for leaving her without notice, I arranged with her son that he should take my boxes in a cab to the cloak-room at the nearest railway station, and send me the ticket in a letter, to wait my application for it at the post-office. While he went his way in one cab, I went mine in another, with a few things for the night in my little hand-bag.
"I drove straight to the milliner's shop, which I had observed, when I was there yesterday, had a back entrance into a mews, for the apprentices to go in and out by. I went in at once, leaving the cab waiting for me at the door. 'A man is following me,' I said, 'and I want to get rid of him. Here is my cab fare; wait ten minutes before you give it to the driver, and let me out at once by the back way!' In a moment I was out in the mews; in another, I was in the next street; in a third, I hailed a passing omnibus, and was a free woman again.
"Having now cut off all communication between me and my last lodgings, the next precaution (in case Midwinter or Armadale are watched) is to cut off all communication, for some days to come at least, between me and the hotel. I have written to Midwinter--making my supposititious mother once more the excuse--to say that I am tied to my nursing duties, and that we must communicate by writing only for the present. Doubtful as I still am of who my hidden enemy really is, I can do no more to defend myself than I have done now.
"August 4th.--The two friends at the hotel had both written to me. Midwinter expresses his regret at our separation, in the tenderest terms. Armadale writes an entreaty for help under very awkward circumstances. A letter from Major Milroy has been forwarded to him from the great house, and he incloses it in his letter to me.
"Having left the seaside, and placed his daughter safely at the school originally chosen for her (in the neighborhood of Ely), the major appears to have returned to Thorpe Ambrose at the close of last week; to have heard then, for the first time, the reports about Armadale and me; and to have written instantly to Armadale to tell him so.
"The letter is stern and short. Major Milroy dismisses the report as unworthy of credit, because it is impossible for him to believe in such an act of 'cold-blooded treachery,' as the scandal would imply, if the scandal were true. He simply writes to warn Armadale that, if he is not more careful in his actions for the future, he must resign all pretensions to Miss Milroy's hand. 'I neither expect, nor wish for, an answer to this' (the letter ends), 'for I desire to receive no mere protestations in words. By your conduct, and by your conduct alone, I shall judge you as time goes on. Let me also add that I positively forbid you to consider this letter as an excuse for violating the terms agreed on between us, by writing again to my daughter. You have no need to justify yourself in her eyes, for I fortunately removed her from Thorpe Ambrose before this abominable report had time to reach her; and I shall take good care, for her sake, that she is not agitated and unsettled by hearing it where she is now.'
"Armadale's petition to me, under these circumstances, entreats (as I am the innocent cause of the new attack on his character) that I will write to the major to absolve him of all indiscretion in the matter, and to say that he could not, in common politeness, do otherwise than accompany me to London. "I forgive the impudence of his request, in consideration of the news that he sends me. It is certainly another circumstance in my favor that the scandal at Thorpe Ambrose is not to be allowed to reach Miss Milroy's ears. With her temper (if she did hear it) she might do something desperate in the way of claiming her lover, and might compromise me seriously. As for my own course with Armadale, it is easy enough. I shall quiet him by promising to write to Major Milroy; and I shall take the liberty, in my own private interests, of not keeping my word. "Nothing in the least suspicious has happened to-day. Whoever my enemies are, they have lost me, and between this and the time when I leave England they shall not find me again. I have been to the post-office, and have got the ticket for my luggage, inclosed to me in a letter from All Saints' Terrace, as I directed. The luggage itself I shall still leave at the cloak-room, until I see the way before me more clearly than I see it now.
"August 5th.--Two letters again from the hotel. Midwinter writes to remind me, in the prettiest possible manner, that he will have lived long enough in the parish by to-morrow to be able to get our marriage-license, and that he proposes applying for it in the usual way at Doctors' Commons. Now, if I am ever to say it, is the time to say No. I can't say No. There is the plain truth --and there is an end of it! "Armadale's letter is a letter of farewell. He thanks me for my kindness in consenting to write to the major, and bids me good-by, till we meet again at Naples. He has learned from his friend that there are private reasons which will oblige him to forbid himself the pleasure of being present at our marriage. Under these circumstances, there is nothing to keep him in London. He has made all his business arrangements; he goes to Somersetshire by to-night's train; and, after staying some time with Mr. Brock, he will sail for the Mediterranean from the Bristol Channel (in spite of Midwinter's objections) in his own yacht. "The letter incloses a jeweler's box, with a ring in it-- Armadale's present to me on my marriage. It is a ruby--but rather a small one, and set in the worst possible taste. He would have given Miss Milroy a ring worth ten times the money, if it had been her marriage present. There is no more hateful creature, in my opinion, than a miserly young man. I wonder whether his trumpery little yacht will drown him?
"I am so excited and fluttered, I hardly know what I am writing. Not that I shrink from what is coming--I only feel as if I was being hurried on faster than I quite like to go. At this rate, if nothing happens, Midwinter will have married me by the end of the week. And then--!
"August 6th.--If anything could startle me now, I should feel startled by the news that has reached me to-day.
"On his return to the hotel this morning, after getting the marriage-license, Midwinter found a telegram waiting for him. It contained an urgent message from Armadale, announcing that Mr. Brock had had a relapse, and that all hope of his recovery was pronounced by the doctors to be at an end. By the dying man's own desire, Midwinter was summoned to take leave of him, and was entreated by Armadale not to lose a moment in starting for the rectory by the first train. "The hurried letter which tells me this tells me also that, by the time I receive it, Midwinter will be on his way to the West. He promises to write at greater length, after he has seen Mr. Brock, by to-night's post.
"This news has an interest for me, which Midwinter little suspects. There is but one human creature, besides myself, who knows the secret of his birth and his name; and that one is the old man who now lies waiting for him at the point of death. What will they say to each other at the last moment? Will some chance word take them back to the time when I was in Mrs. Armadale's service at Madeira? Will they speak of Me?
"August 7th.--The promised letter has just reached me. No parting words have been exchanged between them: it was all over before Midwinter reached Somersetshire. Armadale met him at the rectory gate with the news that Mr. Brock was dead.
"I try to struggle against it, but, coming after the strange complication of circumstances that has been closing round me for weeks past, there is something in this latest event of all that shakes my nerves. But one last chance of detection stood in my way when I opened my diary yesterday. When I open it to-day, that chance is removed by Mr. Brock's death. It means something; I wish I knew what. "The funeral is to be on Saturday morning. Midwinter will attend it as well as Armadale. But he proposes returning to London first; and he writes word that he will call to-night, in the hope of seeing me, on his way from the station to the hotel. Even if there was any risk in it, I should see him, as things are now. But there is no risk if he comes here from the station instead of coming from the hotel. "Five o'clock.--I was not mistaken in believing that my nerves were all unstrung. Trifles that would not have cost me a second thought at other times weigh heavily on my mind now.
"Two hours since, in despair of knowing how to get through the day, I bethought myself of the milliner who is making my summer dress. I had intended to go and try it on yesterday; but it slipped out of my memory in the excitement of hearing about Mr. Brock. So I went this afternoon, eager to do anything that might help me to get rid of myself. I have returned, feeling more uneasy and more depressed than I felt when I went out; for I have come back fearing that I may yet have reason to repent not having left my unfinished dress on the milliner's hands. "Nothing happened to me, this time, in the street. It was only in the trying-on room that my suspicions were roused; and there it certainly did cross my mind that the attempt to discover me, which I defeated at All Saints' Terrace, was not given up yet, and that some of the shop-women had been tampered with, if not the mistress herself.
"Can I give myself anything in the shape of a reason for this impression? Let me think a little.
"I certainly noticed two things which were out of the ordinary routine, under the circumstances. In the first place, there were twice as many women as were needed in the trying-on room. This looked suspicious; and yet I might have accounted for it in more ways than one. Is it not the slack time now? and don't I know by experience that I am the sort of woman about whom other women are always spitefully curious? I thought again, in the second place, that one of the assistants persisted rather oddly in keeping me turned in a particular direction, with my face toward the glazed and curtained door that led into the work-room. But, after all, she gave a reason when I asked for it. She said the light fell better on me that way; and, when I looked round, there was the window to prove her right. Still, these trifles produced such an effect on me, at the time, that I purposely found fault with the dress, so as to have an excuse for trying it on again, before I told them where I lived, and had it sent home. Pure fancy, I dare say. Pure fancy, perhaps, at the present moment. I don't care; I shall act on instinct (as they say), and give up the dress. In plainer words still, I won't go back.
"Midnight.--Midwinter came to see me as he promised. An hour has passed since we said good-night; and here I still sit, with my pen in my hand, thinking of him. No words of mine can describe what has passed between us. The end of it is all I can write in these pages; and the end of it is that he has shaken my resolution. For the first time since I saw the easy way to Armadale's life at Thorpe Ambrose, I feel as if the man whom I have doomed in my own thoughts had a chance of escaping me.
"Is it my love for Midwinter that has altered me? Or is it his love for me that has taken possession not only of all I wish to give him, but of all I wish to keep from him as well? I feel as if I had lost myself--lost myself, I mean, in him--all through the evening. He was in great agitation about what had happened in Somersetshire; and he made me feel as disheartened and as wretched about it as he did. Though he never confessed it in words, I know that Mr. Brock's death has startled him as an ill omen for our marriage--I know it, because I feel Mr. Brock's death as an ill omen too. The superstition--his superstition-- took so strong a hold on me, that when we grew calmer and he spoke of time future--when he told me that he must either break his engagement with his new employers or go abroad, as he is pledged to go, on Monday next--I actually shrank at the thought of our marriage following close on Mr. Brock's funeral; I actually said to him, in the impulse of the moment, 'Go, and begin your new life alone! go, and leave me here to wait for happier times.'
"He took me in his arms. He sighed, and kissed me with an angelic tenderness. He said--oh, so softly and so sadly!--I have no life now, apart from you.' As those words passed his lips, the thought seemed to rise in my mind like an echo, 'Why not live out all the days that are left to me, happy and harmless in a love like this!' I can't explain it--I can't realize it. That was the thought in me at the time; and that is the thought in me still. I see my own hand while I write the words--and I ask myself whether it is really the hand of Lydia Gwilt!
"No! I will never write, I will never think of Armadale again.
"Yes! Let me write once more--let me think once more of him, because it quiets me to know that he is going away, and that the sea will have parted us before I am married. His old home is home to him no longer, now that the loss of his mother has been followed by the loss of his best and earliest friend. When the funeral is over, he has decided to sail the same day for the foreign seas. We may, or we may not, meet at Naples. Shall I be an altered woman if we do? I wonder; I wonder! "August 8th.--A line from Midwinter. He has gone back to Somersetshire to be in readiness for the funeral to-morrow; and he will return here (after bidding Armadale good-by) to-morrow evening.
"The last forms and ceremonies preliminary to our marriage have been complied with. I am to be his wife on Monday next. The hour must not be later than halfpast ten--which will give us just time, when the service is over, to get from the church door to the railway, and to start on our journey to Naples the same day. "To-day--Saturday--Sunday! I am not afraid of the time; the time will pass. I am not afraid of myself, if I can only keep all thoughts but one out of my mind. I love him! Day and night, till Monday comes, I will think of nothing but that. I love him!
"Four o'clock.--Other thoughts are forced into my mind in spite of me. My suspicions of yesterday were no mere fancies; the milliner has been tampered with. My folly in going back to her house has led to my being traced here. I am absolutely certain that I never gave the woman my address; and yet my new gown was sent home to me at two o'clock to-day!
"A man brought it with the bill, and a civil message, to say that, as I had not called at the appointed time to try it on again, the dress had been finished and sent to me. He caught me in the passage; I had no choice but to pay the bill, and dismiss him. Any other proceeding, as events have now turned out, would have been pure folly. The messenger (not the man who followed me in the street, but another spy sent to look at me, beyond all doubt) would have declared he knew nothing about it, if I had spoken to him. The milliner would tell me to my face, if I went to her, that I had given her my address. The one useful thing to do now is to set my wits to work in the interests of my own security, and to step out of the false position in which my own rashness has placed me--if I can.
"Seven o'clock.--My spirits have risen again. I believe I am in a fair way of extricating myself already.
"I have just come back from a long round in a cab. First, to the cloak-room of the Great Western, to get the luggage which I sent there from All Saints' Terrace. Next, to the cloak-room of the Southeastern, to leave my luggage (labeled in Midwinter's name), to wait for me till the starting of the tidal train on Monday. Next, to the General Post-office, to post a letter to Midwinter at the rectory, which he will receive to-morrow morning. Lastly, back again to this house--from which I shall move no more till Monday comes.
"My letter to Midwinter will, I have little doubt, lead to his seconding (quite innocently) the precautions that I am taking for my own safety. The shortness of the time at our disposal on Monday will oblige him to pay his bill at the hotel and to remove his luggage before the marriage ceremony takes place. All I ask him to do beyond this is to take the luggage himself to the Southeastern (so as to make any inquiries useless which may address themselves to the servants at the hotel)-and, that done, to meet me at the church door, instead of calling for me here. The rest concerns nobody but myself. When Sunday night or Monday morning comes, it will be hard, indeed--freed as I am now from all incumbrances--if I can't give the people who are watching me the slip for the second time.
"It seems needless enough to have written to Midwinter to-day, when he is coming back to me to-morrow night. But it was impossible to ask, what I have been obliged to ask of him, without making my false family circumstances once more the excuse; and having this to do--I must own the truth--I wrote to him because, after what I suffered on the last occasion, I can never again deceive him to his face.
"August 9th.--Two o'clock.--I rose early this morning, more depressed in spirits than usual. The re-beginning of one's life, at the re-beginning of every day, has already been something weary and hopeless to me for years past. I dreamed, too, all through the night--not of Midwinter and of my married life, as I had hoped to dream--but of the wretched conspiracy to discover me, by which I have been driven from one place to another, like a hunted animal. Nothing in the shape of a new revelation enlightened me in my sleep. All I could guess dreaming was what I had guessed waking, that Mother Oldershaw is the enemy who is attacking me in the dark.
"My restless night has, however, produced one satisfactory result. It has led to my winning the good graces of the servant here, and securing all the assistance she can give me when the time comes for making my escape.
"The girl noticed this morning that I looked pale and anxious. I took her into my confidence, to the extent of telling her that I was privately engaged to be married, and that I had enemies who were trying to part me from my sweetheart. This instantly roused her sympathy, and a present of a ten-shilling piece for her kind services to me did the rest. In the intervals of her housework she has been with me nearly the whole morning; and I found out, among other things, that her sweetheart is a private soldier in the Guards, and that she expects to see him tomorrow. I have got money enough left, little as it is, to turn the head of any Private in the British army; and, if the person appointed to watch me to-morrow is a man, I think it just possible that he may find his attention disagreeably diverted from Miss Gwilt in the course of the evening.
"When Midwinter came here last from the railway, he came at half-past eight. How am I to get through the weary, weary hours between this and the evening? I think I shall darken my bedroom, and drink the blessing of oblivion from my bottle of Drops.
"Eleven o'clock.--We have parted for the last time before the day comes that makes us man and wife.
"He has left me, as he left me before, with an absorbing subject of interest to think of in his absence. I noticed a change in him the moment he entered the room. When he told me of the funeral, and of his parting with Armadale on board the yacht, though he spoke with feelings deeply moved, he spoke with a mastery over himself which is new to me in my experience of him. It was the same when our talk turned next on our own hopes and prospects. He was plainly disappointed when he found that my family embarrassments would prevent our meeting tomorrow, and plainly uneasy at the prospect of leaving me to find my way by myself on Monday to the church. But there was a certain hopefulness and composure of manner underlying it all, which produced so strong an impression on me that I was obliged to notice it.
"'You know what odd fancies take possession of me sometimes,' I said. 'Shall I tell you the fancy that has taken possession of me now? I can't help thinking that something has happened since we last saw each other which you have not told me yet.
" Something has happened,' he answered. 'And it is something which you ought to know.'
"With those words he took out his pocket-book, and produced two written papers from it. One he looked at and put back. The other he placed on the table. "'Before I tell you what this is, and how it came into my possession,' he said, 'I must own something that I have concealed from you. It is no more serious confession than the confession of my own weakness.'
"He then acknowledged to me that the renewal of his friendship with Armadale had been clouded, through the whole period of their intercourse in London, by his own superstitious misgivings. He had obeyed the summons which called him to the rector's bedside, with the firm intention of confiding his previsions of coming trouble to Mr. Brock; and he had been doubly confirmed in his superstition when he found that Death had entered the house before him, and had parted them, in this world, forever. More than this, he had traveled back to be present at the funeral, with a secret sense of relief at the prospect of being parted from Armadale, and with a secret resolution to make the after-meeting agreed on between us three at Naples a meeting that should never take place. With that purpose in his heart, he had gone up alone to the room prepared for him on his arrival at the rectory, and had opened a letter which he found waiting for him on the table. The letter had only that day been discovered--dropped and lost--under the bed on which Mr. Brock had died. It was in the rector's handwriting throughout; and the person to whom it was addressed was Midwinter himself. "Having told me this, nearly in the words in which I have written it, he gave me the written paper that lay on the table between us.
" 'Read it,' he said; 'and you will not need to be told that my mind is at peace again, and that I took Allan's hand at parting with a heart that was worthier of Allan's love.'
"I read the letter. There was no superstition to be conquered in my mind; there were no old feelings of gratitude toward Armadale to be roused in my heart; and yet, the effect which the letter had had on Midwinter was, I firmly believe, more than matched by the effect that the letter now produced on me.
"It was vain to ask him to leave it, and to let me read it again (as I wished) when I was left by myself. He is determined to keep it side by side with that other paper which I had seen him take out of his pocket-book, and which contains the written narrative of Armadale's Dream. All I could do was to ask his leave to copy it; and this he granted readily. I wrote the copy in his presence; and I now place it here in my diary, to mark a day which is one of the memorable days in my life. "Boscombe Rectory, August 2d.
"MY DEAR MIDWINTER--For the first time since the beginning of my illness, I found strength enough yesterday to look over my letters. One among them is a letter from Allan, which has been lying unopened on my table for ten days past. He writes to me in great distress, to say that there has been dissension between you, and that you have left him. If you still remember what passed between us, when you first opened your heart to me in the Isle of Man, you will be at no loss to understand how I have thought over this miserable news, through the night that has now passed, and you will not be surprised to hear that I have roused myself this morning to make the effort of writing to you.
"I want no explanation of the circumstances which have parted you from your friend. If my estimate of your character is not founded on an entire delusion, the one influence which can have led to your estrangement from Allan is the influence of that evil spirit of Superstition which I have once already cast out of your heart--which I will once again conquer, please God, if I have strength enough to make my pen speak my mind to you in this letter.
"It is no part of my design to combat the belief which I know you to hold, that mortal creatures may be the objects of supernatural intervention in their pilgrimage through this world. Speaking as a reasonable man, I own that I cannot prove you to be wrong. Speaking as a believer in the Bible, I am bound to go further, and to admit that you possess a higher than any human warrant for the faith that is in you. The one object which I have it at heart to attain is to induce you to free yourself from the paralyzing fatalism of the heathen and the savage, and to look at the mysteries that perplex, and the portents that daunt you, from the Christian's point of view. If I can succeed in this, I shall clear your mind of the ghastly doubts that now oppress it, and I shall reunite you to your friend, never to be parted from him again.
"I have no means of seeing and questioning you. I can only send this letter to Allan to be forwarded, if he knows, or can discover, your present address. Placed in this position toward you, I am bound to assume all that can be assumed in your favor. I will take it for granted that something has happened to you or to Allan which to your mind has not only confirmed the fatalist conviction in which your father died, but has added a new and terrible meaning to the warning which he sent you in his death-bed letter.
"On this common ground I meet you. On this common ground I appeal to your higher nature and your better sense.
"Preserve your present conviction that the events which have happened (be they what they may) are not to be reconciled with ordinary mortal coincidences and ordinary mortal laws; and view your own position by the best and clearest light that your superstition can throw on it. What are you? You are a helpless instrument in the hands of Fate. You are doomed, beyond all human capacity of resistance, to bring misery and destruction blindfold on a man to whom you have harmlessly and gratefully united yourself in the bonds of a brother's love. All that is morally firmest in your will and morally purest in your aspirations avails nothing against the hereditary impulsion of you toward evil, caused by a crime which your father committed before you were born. In what does that belief end? It ends in the darkness in which you are now lost; in the self-contradictions in which you are now bewildered; in the stubborn despair by which a man profanes his own soul, and lowers himself to the level of the brutes that perish. "Look up, my poor suffering brother--look up, my hardly tried, my well-loved friend, higher than this! Meet the doubts that now assail you from the blessed vantage-ground of Christian courage and Christian hope; and your heart will turn again to Allan, and your mind will be at peace. Happen what may, God is allmerciful, God is all-wise: natural or supernatural, it happens through Him. The mystery of Evil that perplexes our feeble minds, the sorrow and the suffering that torture us in this little life, leave the one great truth unshaken that the destiny of man is in the hands of his Creator, and that God's blessed Son died to make us worthier of it. Nothing that is done in unquestioning submission to the wisdom of the Almighty is done wrong. No evil exists out of which, in obedience to his laws, Good may not come. Be true to what Christ tells you is true. Encourage in yourself, be the circumstances what they may, all that is loving, all that is grateful, all that is patient, all that is forgiving, toward your fellow-men. And humbly and trustfully leave the rest to the God who made you, and to the Saviour who loved you better than his own life.
"This is the faith in which I have lived, by the Divine help and mercy, from my youth upward. I ask you earnestly, I ask you confidently, to make it your faith, too. It is the mainspring of all the good I have ever done, of all the happiness I have ever known; it lightens my darkness, it sustains my hope; it comforts and quiets me, lying here, to live or die, I know not which. Let it sustain, comfort, and enlighten you. It will help you in your sorest need, as it has helped me in mine. It will show you another purpose in the events which brought you and Allan together than the purpose which your guilty father foresaw. Strange things, I do not deny it, have happened to you already. Stranger things still may happen before long, which I may not live to see. Remember, if that time comes, that I died firmly disbelieving in your influence over Allan being other than an influence for good. The great sacrifice of the Atonement--I say it reverently--has its mortal reflections, even in this world. If danger ever threatens Allan, you, whose father took his father's life--YOU, and no other, may be the man whom the providence of God has appointed to save him.
"Come to me if I live. Go back to the friend who loves you, whether I live or die. "Yours affectionately to the last,
"'You, and no other, may be the man whom the providence of God has appointed to save him!'
"Those are the words which have shaken me to the soul. Those are the words which make me feel as if the dead man had left his grave, and had put his hand on the place in my heart where my terrible secret lies hidden from every living creature but myself. One part of the letter has come true already. The danger that it foresees threatens Armadale at this moment--and threatens him from Me! "If the favoring circumstances which have driven me thus far drive me on to the end, and if that old man's last earthly conviction is prophetic of the truth, Armadale will escape me, do what I may. And Midwinter will be the victim who is sacrificed to save his life.
"It is horrible! it is impossible! it shall never be! At the thinking of it only, my hand trembles and my heart sinks. I bless the trembling that unnerves me! I bless the sinking that turns me faint! I bless those words in the letter which have revived the relenting thoughts that first came to me two days since! Is it hard, now that events are taking me, smoothly and safely, nearer and nearer to the End--is it hard to conquer the temptation to go on? No! If there is only a chance of harm coming to Midwinter, the dread of that chance is enough to decide me--enough to strengthen me to conquer the temptation, for his sake. I have never loved him yet, never, never, never as I love him now!
"Sunday, August 10th.--The eve of my wedding-day! I close and lock this book, never to write in it, never to open it again.
"I have won the great victory; I have trampled my own wickedness under foot. I am innocent; I am happy again. My love! my angel! when to-morrow gives me to you, I will not have a thought in my heart which is not your thought, as well as mine!"