Armadale/Book the Second/Chapter II
Early on the morning after his first night's rest at Thorpe Ambrose, Allan rose and surveyed the prospect from his bedroom window, lost in the dense mental bewilderment of feeling himself to be a stranger in his own house.
The bedroom looked out over the great front door, with its portico, its terrace and flight of steps beyond, and, further still, the broad sweep of the well-timbered park to close the view. The morning mist nestled lightly about the distant trees; and the cows were feeding sociably, close to the iron fence which railed off the park from the drive in front of the house. "All mine!" thought Allan, staring in blank amazement at the prospect of his own possessions. "Hang me if I can beat it into my head yet. All mine!"
He dressed, left his room, and walked along the corridor which led to the staircase and hall, opening the doors in succession as he passed them.
The rooms in this part of the house were bedrooms and dressing-rooms, light, spacious, perfectly furnished; and all empty, except the one bed-chamber next to Allan's, which had been appropriated to Midwinter. He was still sleeping when his friend looked in on him, having sat late into the night writing his letter to Mr. Brock. Allan went on to the end of the first corridor, turned at right angles into a second, and, that passed, gained the head of the great staircase. "No romance here," he said to himself, looking down the handsomely carpeted stone stairs into the bright modern hall. "Nothing to startle Midwinter's fidgety nerves in this house." There was nothing, indeed; Allan's essentially superficial observation had not misled him for once. The mansion of Thorpe Ambrose (built after the pulling down of the dilapidated old manor-house) was barely fifty years old. Nothing picturesque, nothing in the slightest degree suggestive of mystery and romance, appeared in any part of it. It was a purely conventional country house—the product of the classical idea filtered judiciously through the commercial English mind. Viewed on the outer side, it presented the spectacle of a modern manufactory trying to look like an ancient temple. Viewed on the inner side, it was a marvel of luxurious comfort in every part of it, from basement to roof. "And quite right, too," thought Allan, sauntering contentedly down the broad, gently graduated stairs. "Deuce take all mystery and romance! Let's be clean and comfortable, that's what I say."
Arrived in the hall, the new master of Thorpe Ambrose hesitated, and looked about him, uncertain which way to turn next.
The four reception-rooms on the ground-floor opened into the hall, two on either side. Allan tried the nearest door on his right hand at a venture, and found himself in the drawing-room. Here the first sign of life appeared, under life's most attractive form. A young girl was in solitary possession of the drawing-room. The duster in her hand appeared to associate her with the domestic duties of the house; but at that particular moment she was occupied in asserting the rights of nature over the obligations of service. In other words, she was attentively contemplating her own face in the glass over the mantelpiece.
"There! there! don't let me frighten you," said Allan, as the girl started away from the glass, and stared at him in unutterable confusion. "I quite agree with you, my dear; your face is well worth looking at. Who are you? Oh, the housemaid. And what's your name? Susan, eh? Come! I like your name, to begin with. Do you know who I am, Susan? I'm your master, though you may not think it. Your character? Oh, yes! Mrs. Blanchard gave you a capital character. You shall stop here; don't be afraid. And you'll be a good girl, Susan, and wear smart little caps and aprons and bright ribbons, and you'll look nice and pretty, and dust the furniture, won't you?" With this summary of a housemaid's duties, Allan sauntered back into the hall, and found more signs of life in that quarter. A man-servant appeared on this occasion, and bowed, as became a vassal in a linen jacket, before his liege lord in a wide-awake hat.
"And who may you be?" asked Allan. "Not the man who let us in last night? Ah, I thought not. The second footman, eh? Character? Oh, yes; capital character. Stop here, of course. You can valet me, can you? Bother valeting me! I like to put on my own clothes, and brush them, too, when they are on; and, if I only knew how to black my own boots, by George, I should like to do it! What room's this? Morning-room, eh? And here's the dining-room, of course. Good heavens, what a table! it's as long as my yacht, and longer. I say, by-the-by, what's your name? Richard, is it? Well, Richard, the vessel I sail in is a vessel of my own building! What do you think of that? You look to me just the right sort of man to be my steward on board. If you're not sick at sea—oh, you are sick at sea? Well, then, we'll say nothing more about it. And what room is this? Ah, yes; the library, of course—more in Mr. Midwinter's way than mine. Mr. Midwinter is the gentleman who came here with me last night; and mind this, Richard, you're all to show him as much attention as you show me. Where are we now? What's this door at the back? Billiard-room and smoking-room, eh? Jolly. Another door! and more stairs! Where do they go to? and who's this coming up? Take your time, ma'am; you're not quite so young as you were once—take your time."
The object of Allan's humane caution was a corpulent elderly woman of the type called "motherly." Fourteen stairs were all that separated her from the master of the house; she ascended them with fourteen stoppages and fourteen sighs. Nature, various in all things, is infinitely various in the female sex. There are some women whose personal qualities reveal the Loves and the Graces; and there are other women whose personal qualities suggest the Perquisites and the Grease Pot. This was one of the other women.
"Glad to see you looking so well, ma'am," said Allan, when the cook, in the majesty of her office, stood proclaimed before him. "Your name is Gripper, is it? I consider you, Mrs. Gripper, the most valuable person in the house. For this reason, that nobody in the house eats a heartier dinner every day than I do. Directions? Oh, no; I've no directions to give. I leave all that to you. Lots of strong soup, and joints done with the gravy in them—there's my notion of good feeding, in two words. Steady! Here's somebody else. Oh, to be sure—the butler! Another valuable person. We'll go right through all the wine in the cellar, Mr. Butler; and if I can't give you a sound opinion after that, we'll persevere boldly, and go right through it again. Talking of wine—halloo! here are more of them coming up stairs. There! there! don't trouble yourselves. You've all got capital characters, and you shall all stop here along with me. What was I saying just now? Something about wine; so it was. I'll tell you what, Mr. Butler, it isn't every day that a new master comes to Thorpe Ambrose; and it's my wish that we should all start together on the best possible terms. Let the servants have a grand jollification downstairs to celebrate my arrival, and give them what they like to drink my health in. It's a poor heart, Mrs. Gripper, that never rejoices, isn't it? No; I won't look at the cellar now: I want to go out, and get a breath of fresh air before breakfast. Where's Richard? I say, have I got a garden here? Which side of the house is it! That side, eh? You needn't show me round. I'll go alone, Richard, and lose myself, if I can, in my own property."
With those words Allan descended the terrace steps in front of the house, whistling cheerfully. He had met the serious responsibility of settling his domestic establishment to his own entire satisfaction. "People talk of the difficulty of managing their servants," thought Allan. "What on earth do they mean? I don't see any difficulty at all." He opened an ornamental gate leading out of the drive at the side of the house, and, following the footman's directions, entered the shrubbery that sheltered the Thorpe Ambrose gardens. "Nice shady sort of place for a cigar," said Allan, as he sauntered along with his hands in his pockets "I wish I could beat it into my head that it really belongs to me."
The shrubbery opened on the broad expanse of a flower garden, flooded bright in its summer glory by the light of the morning sun.
On one side, an archway, broken through, a wall, led into the fruit garden. On the other, a terrace of turf led to ground on a lower level, laid out as an Italian garden. Wandering past the fountains and statues, Allan reached another shrubbery, winding its way apparently to some remote part of the grounds. Thus far, not a human creature had been visible or audible anywhere; but, as he approached the end of the second shrubbery, it struck him that he heard something on the other side of the foliage. He stopped and listened. There were two voices speaking distinctly—an old voice that sounded very obstinate, and a young voice that sounded very angry.
"It's no use, miss," said the old voice. "I mustn't allow it, and I won't allow it. What would Mr. Armadale say?"
"If Mr. Armadale is the gentleman I take him for, you old brute!" replied the young voice, "he would say, 'Come into my garden, Miss Milroy, as often as you like, and take as many nosegays as you please.'" Allan's bright blue eyes twinkled mischievously. Inspired by a sudden idea, he stole softly to the end of the shrubbery, darted round the corner of it, and, vaulting over a low ring fence, found himself in a trim little paddock, crossed by a gravel walk. At a short distance down the wall stood a young lady, with her back toward him, trying to force her way past an impenetrable old man, with a rake in his hand, who stood obstinately in front of her, shaking his head.
"Come into my garden, Miss Milroy, as often as you like, and take as many nosegays as you please," cried Allan, remorselessly repeating her own words.
The young lady turned round, with a scream; her muslin dress, which she was holding up in front, dropped from her hand, and a prodigious lapful of flowers rolled out on the gravel walk.
Before another word could be said, the impenetrable old man stepped forward, with the utmost composure, and entered on the question of his own personal interests, as if nothing whatever had happened, and nobody was present but his new master and himself.
"I bid you humbly welcome to Thorpe Ambrose, sir," said this ancient of the gardens. "My name is Abraham Sage. I've been employed in the grounds for more than forty years; and I hope you'll be pleased to continue me in my place."
So, with vision inexorably limited to the horizon of his own prospects, spoke the gardener, and spoke in vain. Allan was down on his knees on the gravel walk, collecting the fallen flowers, and forming his first impressions of Miss Milroy from the feet upward.
She was pretty; she was not pretty; she charmed, she disappointed, she charmed again. Tried by recognized line and rule, she was too short and too well developed for her age. And yet few men's eyes would have wished her figure other than it was. Her hands were so prettily plump and dimpled that it was hard to see how red they were with the blessed exuberance of youth and health. Her feet apologized gracefully for her old and ill fitting shoes; and her shoulders made ample amends for the misdemeanor in muslin which covered them in the shape of a dress. Her dark-gray eyes were lovely in their clear softness of color, in their spirit, tenderness, and sweet good humor of expression; and her hair (where a shabby old garden hat allowed it to be seen) was of just that lighter shade of brown which gave value by contrast to the darker beauty of her eyes. But these attractions passed, the little attendant blemishes and imperfections of this self-contradictory girl began again. Her nose was too short, her mouth was too large, her face was too round and too rosy. The dreadful justice of photography would have had no mercy on her; and the sculptors of classical Greece would have bowed her regretfully out of their studios. Admitting all this, and more, the girdle round Miss Milroy's waist was the girdle of Venus nevertheless; and the passkey that opens the general heart was the key she carried, if ever a girl possessed it yet. Before Allan had picked up his second handful of flowers, Allan was in love with her.
"Don't! pray don't, Mr. Armadale!" she said, receiving the flowers under protest, as Allan vigorously showered them back into the lap of her dress. "I am so ashamed! I didn't mean to invite myself in that bold way into your garden; my tongue ran away with me—it did, indeed! What can I say to excuse myself? Oh, Mr. Armadale, what must you think of me?"
Allan suddenly saw his way to a compliment, and tossed it up to her forthwith, with the third handful of flowers.
"I'll tell you what I think, Miss Milroy," he said, in his blunt, boyish way. "I think the luckiest walk I ever took in my life was the walk this morning that brought me here."
He looked eager and handsome. He was not addressing a woman worn out with admiration, but a girl just beginning a woman's life; and it did him no harm, at any rate, to speak in the character of master of Thorpe Ambrose. The penitential expression on Miss Milroy's face gently melted away; she looked down, demure and smiling, at the flowers in her lap.
"I deserve a good scolding," she said. "I don't deserve compliments, Mr. Armadale—least of all from you."
"Oh, yes, you do!" cried the headlong Allan, getting briskly on his legs. "Besides, it isn't a compliment; it's true. You are the prettiest—I beg your pardon, Miss Milroy! my tongue ran away with me that time."
Among the heavy burdens that are laid on female human nature, perhaps the heaviest, at the age of sixteen, is the burden of gravity. Miss Milroy struggled, tittered, struggled again, and composed herself for the time being.
The gardener, who still stood where he had stood from the first, immovably waiting for his next opportunity, saw it now, and gently pushed his personal interests into the first gap of silence that had opened within his reach since Allan's appearance on the scene.
"I humbly bid you welcome to Thorpe Ambrose, sir," said Abraham Sage, beginning obstinately with his little introductory speech for the second time. "My name—"
Before he could deliver himself of his name, Miss Milroy looked accidentally in the horticulturist's pertinacious face, and instantly lost her hold on her gravity beyond recall. Allan, never backward in following a boisterous example of any sort, joined in her laughter with right goodwill. The wise man of the gardens showed no surprise, and took no offense. He waited for another gap of silence, and walked in again gently with his personal interests the moment the two young people stopped to take breath.
"I have been employed in the grounds," proceeded Abraham Sage, irrepressibly, "for more than forty years—"
"You shall be employed in the grounds for forty more, if you'll only hold your tongue and take yourself off!" cried Allan, as soon as he could speak.
"Thank you kindly, sir," said the gardener, with the utmost politeness, but with no present signs either of holding his tongue or of taking himself off.
"Well?" said Allan.
Abraham Sage carefully cleared his throat, and shifted his rake from one hand to the other. He looked down the length of his own invaluable implement, with a grave interest and attention, seeing, apparently, not the long handle of a rake, but the long perspective of a vista, with a supplementary personal interest established at the end of it. "When more convenient, sir," resumed this immovable man, "I should wish respectfully to speak to you about my son. Perhaps it may be more convenient in the course of the day? My humble duty, sir, and my best thanks. My son is strictly sober. He is accustomed to the stables, and he belongs to the Church of England—without incumbrances." Having thus planted his offspring provisionally in his master's estimation, Abraham Sage shouldered his invaluable rake, and hobbled slowly out of view.
"If that's a specimen of a trustworthy old servant," said Allan, "I think I'd rather take my chance of being cheated by a new one. You shall not be troubled with him again, Miss Milroy, at any rate. All the flower-beds in the garden are at your disposal, and all the fruit in the fruit season, if you'll only come here and eat it."
"Oh, Mr. Armadale, how very, very kind you are. How can I thank you?"
Allan saw his way to another compliment—an elaborate compliment, in the shape of a trap, this time.
"You can do me the greatest possible favor," he said. "You can assist me in forming an agreeable impression of my own grounds."
"Dear me! how?" asked Miss Milroy, innocently.
Allan judiciously closed the trap on the spot in these words: "By taking me with you, Miss Milroy, on your morning walk." He spoke, smiled, and offered his arm.
She saw the way, on her side, to a little flirtation. She rested her hand on his arm, blushed, hesitated, and suddenly took it away again.
"I don't think it's quite right, Mr. Armadale," she said, devoting herself with the deepest attention to her collection of flowers. "Oughtn't we to have some old lady here? Isn't it improper to take your arm until I know you a little better than I do now? I am obliged to ask; I have had so little instruction; I have seen so little of society, and one of papa's friends once said my manners were too bold for my age. What do you think?"
"I think it's a very good thing your papa's friend is not here now," answered the outspoken Allan; "I should quarrel with him to a dead certainty. As for society, Miss Milroy, nobody knows less about it than I do; but if we had an old lady here, I must say myself I think she would be uncommonly in the way. Won't you?" concluded Allan, imploringly offering his arm for the second time. "Do!"
Miss Milroy looked up at him sidelong from her flowers "You are as bad as the gardener, Mr. Armadale!" She looked down again in a flutter of indecision. "I'm sure it's wrong," she said, and took his arm the instant afterward without the slightest hesitation.
They moved away together over the daisied turf of the paddock, young and bright and happy, with the sunlight of the summer morning shining cloudless over their flowery path.
"And where are we going to, now?" asked Allan. "Into another garden?"
She laughed gayly. "How very odd of you, Mr. Armadale, not to know, when it all belongs to you! Are you really seeing Thorpe Ambrose this morning for the first time? How indescribably strange it must feel! No, no; don't say any more complimentary things to me just yet. You may turn my head if you do. We haven't got the old lady with us; and I really must take care of myself. Let me be useful; let me tell you all about your own grounds. We are going out at that little gate, across one of the drives in the park, and then over the rustic bridge, and then round the corner of the plantation—where do you think? To where I live, Mr. Armadale; to the lovely little cottage that you have let to papa. Oh, if you only knew how lucky we thought ourselves to get it!'
She paused, looked up at her companion, and stopped another compliment on the incorrigible Allan's lips.
"I'll drop your arm," she said coquettishly, "if you do! We were lucky to get the cottage, Mr. Armadale. Papa said he felt under an obligation to you for letting it, the day we got in. And I said I felt under an obligation, no longer ago than last week."
"You, Miss Milroy!" exclaimed Allan.
"Yes. It may surprise you to hear it; but if you hadn't let the cottage to papa, I believe I should have suffered the indignity and misery of being sent to school."
Allan's memory reverted to the half-crown that he had spun on the cabin-table of the yacht, at Castletown. "If she only knew that I had tossed up for it!" he thought, guiltily.
"I dare say you don't understand why I should feel such a horror of going to school," pursued Miss Milroy, misinterpreting the momentary silence on her companion's side. "If I had gone to school in early life—I mean at the age when other girls go—I shouldn't have minded it now. But I had no such chance at the time. It was the time of mamma's illness and of papa's unfortunate speculation; and as papa had nobody to comfort him but me, of course I stayed at home. You needn't laugh; I was of some use, I can tell you. I helped papa over his trouble, by sitting on his knee after dinner, and asking him to tell me stories of all the remarkable people he had known when he was about in the great world, at home and abroad. Without me to amuse him in the evening, and his clock to occupy him in the daytime—"
"His clock?" repeated Allan.
"Oh, yes! I ought to have told you. Papa is an extraordinary mechanical genius. You will say so, too, when you see his clock. It's nothing like so large, of course, but it's on the model of the famous clock at Strasbourg. Only think, he began it when I was eight years old; and (though I was sixteen last birthday) it isn't finished yet! Some of our friends were quite surprised he should take to such a thing when his troubles began. But papa himself set that right in no time; he reminded them that Louis the Sixteenth took to lock-making when his troubles began, and then everybody was perfectly satisfied." She stopped, and changed color confusedly. "Oh, Mr. Armadale," she said, in genuine embarrassment this time, "here is my unlucky tongue running away with me again! I am talking to you already as if I had known you for years! This is what papa's friend meant when he said my manners were too bold. It's quite true; I have a dreadful way of getting familiar with people, if—" She checked herself suddenly, on the brink of ending the sentence by saying, "if I like them."
"No, no; do go on!" pleaded Allan. "It's a fault of mine to be familiar, too. Besides, we must be familiar; we are such near neighbors. I'm rather an uncultivated sort of fellow, and I don't know quite how to say it; but I want your cottage to be jolly and friendly with my house, and my house to be jolly and friendly with your cottage. There's my meaning, all in the wrong words. Do go on, Miss Milroy; pray go on!"
She smiled and hesitated. "I don't exactly remember where I was," she replied, "I only remember I had something I wanted to tell you. This comes, Mr. Armadale, of my taking your arm. I should get on so much better, if you would only consent to walk separately. You won't? Well, then, will you tell me what it was I wanted to say? Where was I before I went wandering off to papa's troubles and papa's clock?"
"At school!" replied Allan, with a prodigious effort of memory.
"Not at school, you mean," said Miss Milroy; "and all through you. Now I can go on again, which is a great comfort. I am quite serious, Mr. Armadale, in saying that I should have been sent to school, if you had said No when papa proposed for the cottage. This is how it happened. When we began moving in, Mrs. Blanchard sent us a most kind message from the great house to say that her servants were at our disposal, if we wanted any assistance. The least papa and I could do, after that, was to call and thank her. We saw Mrs. Blanchard and Miss Blanchard. Mistress was charming, and miss looked perfectly lovely in her mourning. I'm sure you admire her? She's tall and pale and graceful—quite your idea of beauty, I should think?"
"Nothing like it," began Allan. "My idea of beauty at the present moment—"
Miss Milroy felt it coming, and instantly took her hand off his arm.
"I mean I have never seen either Mrs. Blanchard or her niece," added Allan, precipitately correcting himself.
Miss Milroy tempered justice with mercy, and put her hand back again.
"How extraordinary that you should never have seen them!" she went on. "Why, you are a perfect stranger to everything and everybody at Thorpe Ambrose! Well, after Miss Blanchard and I had sat and talked a little while, I heard my name on Mrs. Blanchard's lips and instantly held my breath. She was asking papa if I had finished my education. Out came papa's great grievance directly. My old governess, you must know, left us to be married just before we came here, and none of our friends could produce a new one whose terms were reasonable. 'I'm told, Mrs. Blanchard, by people who understand it better than I do,' says papa, 'that advertising is a risk. It all falls on me, in Mrs. Milroy's state of health, and I suppose I must end in sending my little girl to school. Do you happen to know of a school within the means of a poor man?' Mrs. Blanchard shook her head; I could have kissed her on the spot for doing it. 'All my experience, Major Milroy,' says this perfect angel of a woman, 'is in favor of advertising. My niece's governess was originally obtained by an advertisement, and you may imagine her value to us when I tell you she lived in our family for more than ten years.' I could have gone down on both my knees and worshipped Mrs. Blanchard then and there; and I only wonder I didn't! Papa was struck at the time—I could see that—and he referred to it again on the way home. 'Though I have been long out of the world, my dear,' says papa, 'I know a highly-bred woman and a sensible woman when I see her. Mrs. Blanchard's experience puts advertising in a new light; I must think about it.' He has thought about it, and (though he hasn't openly confessed it to me) I know that he decided to advertise, no later than last night. So, if papa thanks you for letting the cottage, Mr. Armadale, I thank you, too. But for you, we should never have known darling Mrs. Blanchard; and but for darling Mrs. Blanchard, I should have been sent to school."
Before Allan could reply, they turned the corner of the plantation, and came in sight of the cottage. Description of it is needless; the civilized universe knows it already. It was the typical cottage of the drawing-master's early lessons in neat shading and the broad pencil touch—with the trim thatch, the luxuriant creepers, the modest lattice-windows, the rustic porch, and the wicker bird-cage, all complete.
"Isn't it lovely?" said Miss Milroy. "Do come in!"
"May I?" asked Allan. "Won't the major think it too early?"
"Early or late, I am sure papa will be only too glad to see you."
She led the way briskly up the garden path, and opened the parlor door. As Allan followed her into the little room, he saw, at the further end of it, a gentleman sitting alone at an old-fashioned writing-table, with his back turned to his visitor.
"Papa! a surprise for you!" said Miss Milroy, rousing him from his occupation. "Mr. Armadale has come to Thorpe Ambrose; and I have brought him here to see you."
The major started; rose, bewildered for the moment; recovered himself immediately, and advanced to welcome his young landlord, with hospitable, outstretched hand.
A man with a larger experience of the world and a finer observation of humanity than Allan possessed would have seen the story of Major Milroy's life written in Major Milroy's face. The home troubles that had struck him were plainly betrayed in his stooping figure and his wan, deeply wrinkled cheeks, when he first showed himself on rising from his chair. The changeless influence of one monotonous pursuit and one monotonous habit of thought was next expressed in the dull, dreamy self-absorption of his manner and his look while his daughter was speaking to him. The moment after, when he had roused himself to welcome his guest, was the moment which made the self-revelation complete. Then there flickered in the major's weary eyes a faint reflection of the spirit of his happier youth. Then there passed over the major's dull and dreamy manner a change which told unmistakably of social graces and accomplishments, learned at some past time in no ignoble social school; a man who had long since taken his patient refuge from trouble in his own mechanical pursuit; a man only roused at intervals to know himself again for what he once had been. So revealed to all eyes that could read him aright, Major Milroy now stood before Allan, on the first morning of an acquaintance which was destined to be an event in Allan's life.
"I am heartily glad to see you, Mr. Armadale," he said, speaking in the changeless quiet, subdued tone peculiar to most men whose occupations are of the solitary and monotonous kind. "You have done me one favor already by taking me as your tenant, and you now do me another by paying this friendly visit. If you have not breakfasted already, let me waive all ceremony on my side, and ask you to take your place at our little table."
"With the greatest pleasure, Major Milroy, if I am not in the way," replied Allan, delighted at his reception. "I was sorry to hear from Miss Milroy that Mrs. Milroy is an invalid. Perhaps my being here unexpectedly; perhaps the sight of a strange face—"
"I understand your hesitation, Mr. Armadale," said the major; "but it is quite unnecessary. Mrs. Milroy's illness keeps her entirely confined to her own room. Have we got everything we want on the table, my love?" he went on, changing the subject so abruptly that a closer observer than Allan might have suspected it was distasteful to him. "Will you come and make tea?"
Miss Milroy's attention appeared to be already pre-engaged; she made no reply. While her father and Allan had been exchanging civilities, she had been putting the writing-table in order, and examining the various objects scattered on it with the unrestrained curiosity of a spoiled child. The moment after the major had spoken to her, she discovered a morsel of paper hidden between the leaves of the blotting-book, snatched it up, looked at it, and turned round instantly, with an exclamation of surprise.
"Do my eyes deceive me, papa?" she asked. "Or were you really and truly writing the advertisement when I came in?"
"I had just finished it," replied her father. "But, my dear, Mr. Armadale is here—we are waiting for breakfast."
"Mr. Armadale knows all about it," rejoined Miss Milroy. "I told him in the garden."
"Oh, yes!" said Allan. "Pray, don't make a stranger of me, major! If it's about the governess, I've got something (in an indirect sort of way) to do with it too."
Major Milroy smiled. Before he could answer, his daughter, who had been reading the advertisement, appealed to him eagerly, for the second time.
"Oh, papa," she said, "there's one thing here I don't like at all! Why do you put grandmamma's initials at the end? Why do you tell them to write to grandmamma's house in London?"
"My dear! your mother can do nothing in this matter, as you know. And as for me (even if I went to London), questioning strange ladies about their characters and accomplishments is the last thing in the world that I am fit to do. Your grandmamma is on the spot; and your grandmamma is the proper person to receive the letters, and to make all the necessary inquires."
"But I want to see the letters myself," persisted the spoiled child. "Some of them are sure to be amusing—"
"I don't apologize for this very unceremonious reception of you, Mr. Armadale," said the major, turning to Allan, with a quaint and quiet humor. "It may be useful as a warning, if you ever chance to marry and have a daughter, not to begin, as I have done, by letting her have her own way."
Allan laughed, and Miss Milroy persisted.
"Besides," she went on, "I should like to help in choosing which letters we answer, and which we don't. I think I ought to have some voice in the selection of my own governess. Why not tell them, papa, to send their letters down here—to the post-office or the stationer's, or anywhere you like? When you and I have read them, we can send up the letters we prefer to grandmamma; and she can ask all the questions, and pick out the best governess, just as you have arranged already, without leaving ME entirely in the dark, which I consider (don't you, Mr. Armadale?) to be quite inhuman. Let me alter the address, papa; do, there's a darling!"
"We shall get no breakfast, Mr. Armadale, if I don't say Yes," said the major good-humoredly. "Do as you like, my dear," he added, turning to his daughter. "As long as it ends in your grandmamma's managing the matter for us, the rest is of very little consequence."
Miss Milroy took up her father's pen, drew it through the last line of the advertisement, and wrote the altered address with her own hand as follows:
"Apply, by letter, to M., Post-office, Thorpe Ambrose, Norfolk."
"There!" she said, bustling to her place at the breakfast-table. "The advertisement may go to London now; and, if a governess does come of it, oh, papa, who in the name of wonder will she be? Tea or coffee, Mr. Armadale? I'm really ashamed of having kept you waiting. But it is such a comfort," she added, saucily, "to get all one's business off one's mind before breakfast!"
Father, daughter, and guest sat down together sociably at the little round table, the best of good neighbors and good friends already.
Three days later, one of the London newsboys got his business off his mind before breakfast. His district was Diana Street, Pimlico; and the last of the morning's newspapers which he disposed of was the newspaper he left at Mrs. Oldershaw's door.