Armadale/Book the Third/Chapter X
"July 21st, Monday night, eleven o'clock.—Midwinter has just left me. We parted by my desire at the path out of the coppice; he going his way to the hotel, and I going mine to my lodgings.
"I have managed to avoid making another appointment with him by arranging to write to him to-morrow morning. This gives me the night's interval to compose myself, and to coax my mind back (if I can) to my own affairs. Will the night pass, and the morning find me still thinking of the Letter that came to him from his father's deathbed? of the night he watched through on the Wrecked Ship; and, more than all, of the first breathless moment when he told me his real Name?
"Would it help me to shake off these impressions, I wonder, if I made the effort of writing them down? There would be no danger, in that case, of my forgetting anything important. And perhaps, after all, it may be the fear of forgetting something which I ought to remember that keeps this story of Midwinter's weighing as it does on my mind. At any rate, the experiment is worth trying. In my present situation I must be free to think of other things, or I shall never find my way through all the difficulties at Thorpe Ambrose that are still to come.
"Let me think. What haunts me, to begin with?
"The Names haunt me. I keep saying and saying to myself: Both alike!—Christian name and surname both alike! A light-haired Allan Armadale, whom I have long since known of, and who is the son of my old mistress. A dark-haired Allan Armadale, whom I only know of now, and who is only known to others under the name of Ozias Midwinter. Stranger still; it is not relationship, it is not chance, that has made them namesakes. The father of the light Armadale was the man who was born to the family name, and who lost the family inheritance. The father of the dark Armadale was the man who took the name, on condition of getting the inheritance—and who got it.
"So there are two of them—I can't help thinking of it—both unmarried. The light-haired Armadale, who offers to the woman who can secure him, eight thousand a year while he lives; who leaves her twelve hundred a year when he dies; who must and shall marry me for those two golden reasons; and whom I hate and loathe as I never hated and loathed a man yet. And the dark-haired Armadale, who has a poor little income, which might perhaps pay his wife's milliner, if his wife was careful; who has just left me, persuaded that I mean to marry him; and whom—well, whom I might have loved once, before I was the woman I am now.
"And Allan the Fair doesn't know he has a namesake. And Allan the Dark has kept the secret from everybody but the Somersetshire clergyman (whose discretion he can depend on) and myself.
"And there are two Allan Armadales—two Allan Armadales—two Allan Armadales. There! three is a lucky number. Haunt me again, after that, if you can!
"What next? The murder in the timber ship? No; the murder is a good reason why the dark Armadale, whose father committed it, should keep his secret from the fair Armadale, whose father was killed; but it doesn't concern me. I remember there was a suspicion in Madeira at the time of something wrong. Was it wrong? Was the man who had been tricked out of his wife to blame for shutting the cabin door, and leaving the man who had tricked him to drown in the wreck? Yes; the woman wasn't worth it.
"What am I sure of that really concerns myself?
"I am sure of one very important thing. I am sure that Midwinter—I must call him by his ugly false name, or I may confuse the two Armadales before I have done—I am sure that Midwinter is perfectly ignorant that I and the little imp of twelve years old who waited on Mrs. Armadale in Madeira, and copied the letters that were supposed to arrive from the West Indies, are one and the same. There are not many girls of twelve who could have imitated a man's handwriting, and held their tongues about it afterward, as I did; but that doesn't matter now. What does matter is that Midwinter's belief in the Dream is Midwinter's only reason for trying to connect me with Allan Armadale, by associating me with Allan Armadale's father and mother. I asked him if he actually thought me old enough to have known either of them. And he said No, poor fellow, in the most innocent, bewildered way. Would he say No if he saw me now? Shall I turn to the glass and see if I look my five-and-thirty years? or shall I go on writing? I will go on writing.
"There is one thing more that haunts me almost as obstinately as the Names.
"I wonder whether I am right in relying on Midwinter's superstition (as I do) to help me in keeping him at arms-length. After having let the excitement of the moment hurry me into saying more than I need have said, he is certain to press me; he is certain to come back, with a man's hateful selfishness and impatience in such things, to the question of marrying me. Will the Dream help me to check him? After alternately believing and disbelieving in it, he has got, by his own confession, to believing in it again. Can I say I believe in it, too? I have better reasons for doing so than he knows of. I am not only the person who helped Mrs. Armadale's marriage by helping her to impose on her own father: I am the woman who tried to drown herself; the woman who started the series of accidents which put young Armadale in possession of his fortune; the woman who has come Thorpe Ambrose to marry him for his fortune, now he has got it; and more extraordinary still, the woman who stood in the Shadow's place at the pool! These may be coincidences, but they are strange coincidences. I declare I begin to fancy that I believe in the Dream too!
"Suppose I say to him, 'I think as you think. I say what you said in your letter to me, Let us part before the harm is done. Leave me before the Third Vision of the Dream comes true. Leave me, and put the mountains and the seas between you and the man who bears your name!'
"Suppose, on the other side, that his love for me makes him reckless of everything else? Suppose he says those desperate words again, which I understand now: What is to be, will be. What have I to do with it, and what has she?' Suppose—suppose—
"I won't write any more. I hate writing. It doesn't relieve me—it makes me worse. I'm further from being able to think of all that I must think of than I was when I sat down. It is past midnight. To-morrow has come already; and here I am as helpless as the stupidest woman living! Bed is the only fit place for me.
"Bed? If it was ten years since, instead of to-day; and if I had married Midwinter for love, I might be going to bed now with nothing heavier on my mind than a visit on tiptoe to the nursery, and a last look at night to see if my children were sleeping quietly in their cribs. I wonder whether I should have loved my children if I had ever had any? Perhaps, yes—perhaps, no. It doesn't matter.
"Tuesday morning, ten o'clock.—Who was the man who invented laudanum? I thank him from the bottom of my heart whoever he was. If all the miserable wretches in pain of body and mind, whose comforter he has been, could meet together to sing his praises, what a chorus it would be! I have had six delicious hours of oblivion; I have woke up with my mind composed; I have written a perfect little letter to Midwinter; I have drunk my nice cup of tea, with a real relish of it; I have dawdled over my morning toilet with an exquisite sense of relief—and all through the modest little bottle of Drops, which I see on my bedroom chimney-piece at this moment. 'Drops,' you are a darling! If I love nothing else, I love you.
"My letter to Midwinter has been sent through the post; and I have told him to reply to me in the same manner.
"I feel no anxiety about his answer—he can only answer in one way. I have asked for a little time to consider, because my family circumstances require some consideration, in his interests as well as in mine. I have engaged to tell him what those circumstances are (what shall I say, I wonder?) when we next meet; and I have requested him in the meantime to keep all that has passed between us a secret for the present. As to what he is to do himself in the interval while I am supposed to be considering, I have left it to his own discretion—merely reminding him that his attempting to see me again (while our positions toward each other cannot be openly avowed) might injure my reputation. I have offered to write to him if he wishes it; and I have ended by promising to make the interval of our necessary separation as short as I can.
"This sort of plain, unaffected letter—which I might have written to him last night, if his story had not been running in my head as it did—has one defect, I know. It certainly keeps him out of the way, while I am casting my net, and catching my gold fish at the great house for the second time; but it also leaves an awkward day of reckoning to come with Midwinter if I succeed. How am I to manage him? What am I to do? I ought to face those two questions as boldly as usual; but somehow my courage seems to fail me, and I don't quite fancy meeting that difficulty, till the time comes when it must be met. Shall I confess to my diary that I am sorry for Midwinter, and that I shrink a little from thinking of the day when he hears that I am going to be mistress at the great house?
"But I am not mistress yet; and I can't take a step in the direction of the great house till I have got the answer to my letter, and till I know that Midwinter is out of the way. Patience! patience! I must go and forget myself at my piano. There is the 'Moonlight Sonata' open, and tempting me, on the music-stand. Have I nerve enough to play it, I wonder? Or will it set me shuddering with the mystery and terror of it, as it did the other day?
"Five o'clock.—I have got his answer. The slightest request I can make is a command to him. He has gone; and he sends me his address in London. 'There are two considerations' (he says) 'which help to reconcile me to leaving you. The first is that you wish it, and that it is only to be for a little while. The second is that I think I can make some arrangements in London for adding to my income by my own labor. I have never cared for money for myself; but you don't know how I am beginning already to prize the luxuries and refinements that money can provide, for my wife's sake.' Poor fellow! I almost wish I had not written to him as I did; I almost wish I had not sent him away from me.
"Fancy if Mother Oldershaw saw this page in my diary! I have had a letter from her this morning—a letter to remind me of my obligations, and to tell me she suspects things are all going wrong. Let her suspect! I shan't trouble myself to answer; I can't be worried with that old wretch in the state I am in now.
"It is a lovely afternoon—I want a walk—I mustn't think of Midwinter. Suppose I put on my bonnet, and try my experiment at once at the great house? Everything is in my favor. There is no spy to follow me, and no lawyer to keep me out, this time. Am I handsome enough, today? Well, yes; handsome enough to be a match for a little dowdy, awkward, freckled creature, who ought to be perched on a form at school, and strapped to a backboard to straighten her crooked shoulders.
"'The nursery lisps out in all they utter;
Besides, they always smell of bread-and-butter.'
"How admirably Byron has described girls in their teens!
"Eight o'clock.—I have just got back from Armadale's house. I have seen him, and spoken to him; and the end of it may be set down in three plain words. I have failed. There is no more chance of my being Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose than there is of my being Queen of England.
"Shall I write and tell Oldershaw? Shall I go back to London? Not till I have had time to think a little. Not just yet.
"Let me think; I have failed completely—failed, with all the circumstances in favor of success. I caught him alone on the drive in front of the house. He was excessively disconcerted, but at the same time quite willing to hear me. I tried him, first quietly—then with tears, and the rest of it. I introduced myself in the character of the poor innocent woman whom he had been the means of injuring. I confused, I interested, I convinced him. I went on to the purely Christian part of my errand, and spoke with such feeling of his separation from his friend, for which I was innocently responsible, that I turned his odious rosy face quite pale, and made him beg me at last not to distress him. But, whatever other feelings I roused in him, I never once roused his old feeling for me. I saw it in his eyes when he looked at me; I felt it in his fingers when we shook hands. We parted friends, and nothing more.
"It is for this, is it, Miss Milroy, that I resisted temptation, morning after morning, when I knew you were out alone in the park? I have just left you time to slip in, and take my place in Armadale's good graces, have I? I never resisted temptation yet without suffering for it in some such way as this! If I had only followed my first thoughts, on the day when I took leave of you, my young lady—well, well, never mind that now. I have got the future before me; you are not Mrs. Armadale yet! And I can tell you one other thing—whoever else he marries, he will never marry you. If I am even with you in no other way, trust me, whatever comes of it, to be even with you there!
"I am not, to my own surprise, in one of my furious passions. The last time I was in this perfectly cool state, under serious provocation, something came of it, which I daren't write down, even in my own private diary. I shouldn't be surprised if something comes of it now.
"On my way back, I called at Mr. Bashwood's lodgings in the town. He was not at home, and I left a message telling him to come here tonight and speak to me. I mean to relieve him at once of the duty of looking after Armadale and Miss Milroy. I may not see my way yet to ruining her prospects at Thorpe Ambrose as completely as she has ruined mine. But when the time comes, and I do see it, I don't know to what lengths my sense of injury may take me; and there may be inconvenience, and possibly danger, in having such a chicken-hearted creature as Mr. Bashwood in my confidence.
"I suspect I am more upset by all this than I supposed. Midwinter's story is beginning to haunt me again, without rhyme or reason.
"A soft, quick, trembling knock at the street door! I know who it is. No hand but old Bashwood's could knock in that way.
"Nine o'clock.—I have just got rid of him. He has surprised me by coming out in a new character.
"It seems (though I didn't detect him) that he was at the great house while I was in company with Armadale. He saw us talking on the drive, and he afterward heard what the servants said, who saw us too. The wise opinion below stairs is that we have 'made it up,' and that the master is likely to marry me after all. 'He's sweet on her red hair,' was the elegant expression they used in the kitchen. 'Little missie can't match her there; and little missie will get the worst of it.' How I hate the coarse ways of the lower orders!
"While old Bashwood was telling me this, I thought he looked even more confused and nervous than usual. But I failed to see what was really the matter until after I had told him that he was to leave all further observation of Mr. Armadale and Miss Milroy to me. Every drop of the little blood there is in the feeble old creature's body seemed to fly up into his face. He made quite an overpowering effort; he really looked as if he would drop down dead of fright at his own boldness; but be forced out the question for all that, stammering, and stuttering, and kneading desperately with both hands at the brim of his hideous great hat. 'I beg your pardon, Miss Gwi-Gwi-Gwilt! You are not really go-go-going to marry Mr. Armadale, are you? Jealous—if ever I saw it in a man's face yet, I saw it in his—actually jealous of Armadale at his age! If I had been in the humor for it, I should have burst out laughing in his face. As it was, I was angry, and lost all patience with him. I told him he was an old fool, and ordered him to go on quietly with his usual business until I sent him word that he was wanted again. He submitted as usual; but there was an indescribable something in his watery old eyes, when he took leave of me, which I have never noticed in them before. Love has the credit of working all sorts of strange transformations. Can it be really possible that Love has made Mr. Bashwood man enough to be angry with me?
"Wednesday.—My experience of Miss Milroy's habits suggested a suspicion to me last night which I thought it desirable to clear up this morning.
"It was always her way, when I was at the cottage, to take a walk early in the morning before breakfast. Considering that I used often to choose that very time for my private meetings with Armadale, it struck me as likely that my former pupil might be taking a leaf out of my book, and that I might make some desirable discoveries if I turned my steps in the direction of the major's garden at the right hour. I deprived myself of my Drops, to make sure of waking; passed a miserable night in consequence; and was ready enough to get up at six o'clock, and walk the distance from my lodgings to the cottage in the fresh morning air.
"I had not been five minutes on the park side of the garden inclosure before I sat her come out.
"She seemed to have had a bad night too; her eyes were heavy and red, and her lips and cheeks looked swollen as if she had been crying. There was something on her mind, evidently; something, as it soon appeared, to take her out of the garden into the park. She walked (if one can call it walking; with such legs as hers!) straight to the summer house, and opened the door, and crossed the bridge, and went on quicker and quicker toward the low ground in the park, where the trees are thickest. I followed her over the open space with perfect impunity in the preoccupied state she was in; and, when she began to slacken her pace among the trees, I was among the trees too, and was not afraid of her seeing me.
"Before long, there was a crackling and trampling of heavy feet coming up toward us through the under-wood in a deep dip of the ground. I knew that step as well as she knew it. 'Here I am,' she said, in a faint little voice. I kept behind the trees a few yards off, in some doubt on which side Armadale would come out of the under-wood to join her. He came out up the side of the dell, opposite to the tree behind which I was standing. They sat down together on the bank. I sat down behind the tree, and looked at them through the under-wood, and heard without the slightest difficulty every word that they said.
"The talk began by his noticing that she looked out of spirits, and asking if anything had gone wrong at the cottage. The artful little minx lost no time in making the necessary impression on him; she began to cry. He took her hand, of course, and tried, in his brutishly straightforward way, to comfort her. No; she was not to be comforted. A miserable prospect was before her; she had not slept the whole night for thinking of it. Her father had called her into his room the previous evening, had spoken about the state of her education, and had told her in so many words that she was to go to school. The place had been found, and the terms had been settled; and as soon as her clothes could he got ready, miss was to go.
"'While that hateful Miss Gwilt was in the house,' says this model young person, 'I would have gone to school willingly—I wanted to go. But it's all different now; I don't think of it in the same way; I feel too old for school. I'm quite heart-broken, Mr. Armadale.' There she stopped as if she had meant to say more, and gave him a look which finished the sentence plainly: 'I'm quite heart-broken, Mr. Armadale, now we are friendly again, at going away from you!' For downright brazen impudence, which a grown woman would be ashamed of, give me the young girls whose 'modesty' is so pertinaciously insisted on by the nauseous domestic sentimentalists of the present day!
"Even Armadale, booby as he is, understood her. After bewildering himself in a labyrinth of words that led nowhere, he took her—one can hardly say round the waist, for she hasn't got one—he took her round the last hook-and-eye of her dress, and, by way of offering her a refuge from the indignity of being sent to school at her age, made her a proposal of marriage in so many words.
"If I could have killed them both at that moment by lifting up my little finger, I have not the least doubt I should have lifted it. As things were, I only waited to see what Miss Milroy would do.
"She appeared to think it necessary—feeling, I suppose, that she had met him without her father's knowledge, and not forgetting that I had had the start of her as the favored object of Mr. Armadale's good opinion—to assert herself by an explosion of virtuous indignation. She wondered how he could think of such a thing after his conduct with Miss Gwilt, and after her father had forbidden him the house! Did he want to make her feel how inexcusably she had forgotten what was due to herself? Was it worthy of a gentleman to propose what he knew as well as she did was impossible? and so on, and so on. Any man with brains in his head would have known what all this rodomontade really meant. Armadale took it so seriously that he actually attempted to justify himself.
"He declared, in his headlong, blundering way, that he was quite in earnest; he and her father might make it up and be friends again; and, if the major persisted in treating him as a stranger, young ladies and gentlemen in their situation had made runaway marriages before now, and fathers and mothers who wouldn't forgive them before had forgiven them afterward. Such outrageously straightforward love-making as this left Miss Milroy, of course, but two alternatives—to confess that she had been saying No when she meant Yes, or to take refuge in another explosion. She was hypocrite enough to prefer another explosion. 'How dare you, Mr. Armadale? Go away directly! It's inconsiderate, it's heartless, it's perfectly disgraceful to say such things to me!' and so on, and so on. It seems incredible, but it is not the less true, that he was positively fool enough to take her at her word. He begged her pardon, and went away like a child that is put in the corner—the most contemptible object in the form of man that eyes ever looked on!
"She waited, after he had gone, to compose herself, and I waited behind the trees to see how she would succeed. Her eyes wandered round slyly to the path by which he had left her. She smiled (grinned would be the truer way of putting it, with such a mouth as hers); took a few steps on tiptoe to look after him; turned back again, and suddenly burst into a violent fit of crying. I am not quite so easily taken in as Armadale, and I saw what it all meant plainly enough.
"'To-morrow,' I thought to myself, 'you will be in the park again, miss, by pure accident. The next day, you will lead him on into proposing to you for the second time. The day after, he will venture back to the subject of runaway marriages, and you will only be becomingly confused. And the day after that, if he has got a plan to propose, and if your clothes are ready to be packed for school, you will listen to him.' Yes, yes; Time is always on the man's side, where a woman is concerned, if the man is only patient enough to let Time help him.
"I let her leave the place and go back to the cottage, quite unconscious that I had been looking at her. I waited among the trees, thinking. The truth is, I was impressed by what I had heard and seen, in a manner that it is not very easy to describe. It put the whole thing before me in a new light. It showed me—what I had never even suspected till this morning—that she is really fond of him.
"Heavy as my debt of obligation is to her, there is no fear now of my failing to pay it to the last farthing. It would have been no small triumph for me to stand between Miss Milroy and her ambition to be one of the leading ladies of the county. But it is infinitely more, where her first love is concerned, to stand between Miss Milroy and her heart's desire. Shall I remember my own youth and spare her? No! She has deprived me of the one chance I had of breaking the chain that binds me to a past life too horrible to be thought of. I am thrown back into a position, compared to which the position of an outcast who walks the streets is endurable and enviable. No, Miss Milroy—no, Mr. Armadale; I will spare neither of you.
"I have been back some hours. I have been thinking, and nothing has come of it. Ever since I got that strange letter of Midwinter's last Sunday, my usual readiness in emergencies has deserted me. When I am not thinking of him or of his story, my mind feels quite stupefied. I, who have always known what to do on other occasions, don't know what to do now. It would be easy enough, of course, to warn Major Milroy of his daughter's proceedings. But the major is fond of his daughter; Armadale is anxious to be reconciled with him; Armadale is rich and prosperous, and ready to submit to the elder man; and sooner or later they will be friends again, and the marriage will follow. Warning Major Milroy is only the way to embarrass them for the present; it is not the way to part them for good and all.
"What is the way? I can't see it. I could tear my own hair off my head! I could burn the house down! If there was a train of gunpowder under the whole world, I could light it, and blow the whole world to destruction—I am in such a rage, such a frenzy with myself for not seeing it!
"Poor dear Midwinter! Yes, 'dear.' I don't care. I'm lonely and helpless. I want somebody who is gentle and loving to make much of me; I wish I had his head on my bosom again; I have a good mind to go to London and marry him. Am I mad? Yes; all people who are as miserable as I am are mad. I must go to the window and get some air. Shall I jump out? No; it disfigures one so, and the coroner's inquest lets so many people see it.
"The air has revived me. I begin to remember that I have Time on my side, at any rate. Nobody knows but me of their secret meetings in the park the first thing in the morning. If jealous old Bashwood, who is slinking and sly enough for anything, tries to look privately after Armadale, in his own interests, he will try at the usual time when he goes to the steward's office. He knows nothing of Miss Milroy's early habits; and he won't be on the spot till Armadale has got back to the house. For another week to come, I may wait and watch them, and choose my own time and way of interfering the moment I see a chance of his getting the better of her hesitation, and making her say Yes.
"So here I wait, without knowing how things will end with Midwinter in London; with my purse getting emptier and emptier, and no appearance so far of any new pupils to fill it; with Mother Oldershaw certain to insist on having her money back the moment she knows I have failed; without prospects, friends, or hopes of any kind—a lost woman, if ever there was a lost woman yet. Well! I say it again and again and again—I don't care! Here I stop, if I sell the clothes off my back, if I hire myself at the public-house to play to the brutes in the tap-room; here I stop till the time comes, and I see the way to parting Armadale and Miss Milroy forever!
"Seven o'clock.—Any signs that the time is coming yet? I hardly know; there are signs of a change, at any rate, in my position in the neighborhood.
"Two of the oldest and ugliest of the many old and ugly ladies who took up my case when I left Major Milroy's service have just called, announcing themselves, with the insufferable impudence of charitable Englishwomen, as a deputation from my patronesses. It seems that the news of my reconciliation with Armadale has spread from the servants' offices at the great house, and has reached the town, with this result.
"It is the unanimous opinion of my 'patronesses' (and the opinion of Major Milroy also, who has been consulted) that I have acted with the most inexcusable imprudence in going to Armadale's house, and in there speaking on friendly terms with a man whose conduct toward myself has made his name a by-word in the neighborhood. My total want of self-respect in this matter has given rise to a report that I am trading as cleverly as ever on my good looks, and that I am as likely as not to end in making Armadale marry me, after all. My 'patronesses' are, of course, too charitable to believe this. They merely feel it necessary to remonstrate with me in a Christian spirit, and to warn me that any second and similar imprudence on my part would force all my best friends in the plate to withdraw the countenance and protection which I now enjoy.
"Having addressed me, turn and turn about, in these terms (evidently all rehearsed beforehand), my two Gorgon visitors straightened themselves in their chairs, and looked at me as much as to say, 'You may often have heard of Virtue, Miss Gwilt, but we don't believe you ever really saw it in full bloom till we came and called on you.'
"Seeing they were bent on provoking me, I kept my temper, and answered them in my smoothest, sweetest, and most lady-like manner. I have noticed that the Christianity of a certain class of respectable people begins when they open their prayer-books at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, and ends when they shut them up again at one o'clock on Sunday afternoon. Nothing so astonishes and insults Christians of this sort as reminding them of their Christianity on a week-day. On this hint, as the man says in the play, I spoke.
"'What have I done that is wrong?' I asked, innocently. 'Mr. Armadale has injured me; and I have been to his house and forgiven him the injury. Surely there must be some mistake, ladies? You can't have really come here to remonstrate with me in a Christian spirit for performing an act of Christianity?'
"The two Gorgons got up. I firmly believe some women have cats' tails as well as cats' faces. I firmly believe the tails of those two particular cats wagged slowly under their petticoats, and swelled to four times their proper size.
"'Temper we were prepared for, Miss Gwilt,' they said, 'but not Profanity. We wish you good-evening.'
"So they left me, and so 'Miss Gwilt' sinks out of the patronizing notice of the neighborhood
"I wonder what will come of this trumpery little quarrel? One thing will come of it which I can see already. The report will reach Miss Milroy's ears; she will insist on Armadale's justifying himself; and Armadale will end in satisfying her of his innocence by making another proposal. This will be quite likely to hasten matters between them; at least it would with me. If I was in her place, I should say to myself, 'I will make sure of him while I can.' Supposing it doesn't rain to-morrow morning, I think I will take another early walk in the direction of the park.
"Midnight.—As I can't take my drops, with a morning walk before me, I may as well give up all hope of sleeping, and go on with my diary. Even with my drops, I doubt if my head would be very quiet on my pillow to-night. Since the little excitement of the scene with my 'lady-patronesses' has worn off, I have been troubled with misgivings which would leave me but a poor chance, under any circumstances, of getting much rest.
"I can't imagine why, but the parting words spoken to Armadale by that old brute of a lawyer have come back to my mind! Here they are, as reported in Mr. Bashwood's letter: 'Some other person's curiosity may go on from the point where you (and I) have stopped, and some other person's hand may let the broad daylight in yet on Miss Gwilt.'
"What does he mean by that? And what did he mean afterward when he overtook old Bashwood in the drive, by telling him to gratify his curiosity? Does this hateful Pedgift actually suppose there is any chance—? Ridiculous! Why, I have only to look at the feeble old creature, and he daren't lift his little finger unless I tell him. He try to pry into my past life, indeed! Why, people with ten times his brains, and a hundred times his courage, have tried—and have left off as wise as they began.
"I don't know, though; it might have been better if I had kept my temper when Bashwood was here the other night. And it might be better still if I saw him to-morrow, and took him back into my good graces by giving him something to do for me. Suppose I tell him to look after the two Pedgifts, and to discover whether there is any chance of their attempting to renew their connection with Armadale? No such thing is at all likely; but if I gave old Bashwood this commission, it would flatter his sense of his own importance to me, and would at the same time serve the excellent purpose of keeping him out of my way.
"Thursday morning, nine o'clock.—I have just got back from the park.
"For once I have proved a true prophet. There they were together, at the same early hour, in the same secluded situation among the trees; and there was miss in full possession of the report of my visit to the great house, and taking her tone accordingly.
"After saying one or two things about me, which I promise him not to forget, Armadale took the way to convince her of his constancy which I felt beforehand he would be driven to take. He repeated his proposal of marriage, with excellent effect this time. Tears and kisses and protestations followed; and my late pupil opened her heart at last, in the most innocent manner. Home, she confessed, was getting so miserable to her now that it was only less miserable than going to school. Her mother's temper was becoming more violent and unmanageable every day. The nurse, who was the only person with any influence over her, had gone away in disgust. Her father was becoming more and more immersed in his clock, and was made more and more resolute to send her away from home by the distressing scenes which now took place with her mother almost day by day. I waited through these domestic disclosures on the chance of hearing any plans they might have for the future discussed between them; and my patience, after no small exercise of it, was rewarded at last.
"The first suggestion (as was only natural where such a fool as Armadale was concerned) came from the girl.
"She started an idea which I own I had not anticipated. She proposed that Armadale should write to her father; and, cleverer still, she prevented all fear of his blundering by telling him what he was to say. He was to express himself as deeply distressed at his estrangement from the major, and to request permission to call at the cottage, and say a few words in his own justification. That was all. The letter was not to be sent that day, for the applicants for the vacant place of Mrs. Milroy's nurse were coming, and seeing them and questioning them would put her father, with his dislike of such things, in no humor to receive Armadale's application indulgently. The Friday would be the day to send the letter, and on the Saturday morning if the answer was unfortunately not favorable, they might meet again, 'I don't like deceiving my father; he has always been so kind to me. And there will be no need to deceive him, Allan, if we can only make you friends again.' Those were the last words the little hypocrite said, when I left them.
"What will the major do? Saturday morning will show. I won't think of it till Saturday morning has come and gone. They are not man and wife yet; and again and again I say it, though my brains are still as helpless as ever, man and wife they shall never be.
"On my way home again, I caught Bashwood at his breakfast, with his poor old black tea-pot, and his little penny loaf, and his one cheap morsel of oily butter, and his darned dirty tablecloth. It sickens me to think of it.
"I coaxed and comforted the miserable old creature till the tears stood in his eyes, and he quite blushed with pleasure. He undertakes to look after the Pedgifts with the utmost alacrity. Pedgift the elder he described, when once roused, as the most obstinate man living; nothing will induce him to give way, unless Armadale gives way also on his side. Pedgift the younger is much the more likely of the two to make attempts at a reconciliation. Such, at least, is Bashwood's opinion. It is of very little consequence now what happens either way. The only important thing is to tie my elderly admirer safely again to my apron-string. And this is done.
"The post is late this morning. It has only just come in, and has brought me a letter from Midwinter.
"It is a charming letter; it flatters me and flutters me as if I was a young girl again. No reproaches for my never having written to him; no hateful hurrying of me, in plain words, to marry him. He only writes to tell me a piece of news. He has obtained, through his lawyers, a prospect of being employed as occasional correspondent to a newspaper which is about to be started in London. The employment will require him to leave England for the Continent, which would exactly meet his own wishes for the future, but he cannot consider the proposal seriously until he has first ascertained whether it would meet my wishes too. He knows no will but mine, and he leaves me to decide, after first mentioning the time allowed him before his answer must be sent in. It is the time, of course (if I agree to his going abroad), in which I must marry him. But there is not a word about this in his letter. He asks for nothing but a sight of my handwriting to help him through the interval while we are separated from each other.
"That is the letter; not very long, but so prettily expressed.
"I think I can penetrate the secret of his fancy for going abroad. That wild idea of putting the mountains and the seas between Armadale and himself is still in his mind. As if either he or I could escape doing what we are fated to do—supposing we really are fated—by putting a few hundred or a few thousand miles between Armadale and ourselves! What strange absurdity and inconsistency! And yet how I like him for being absurd and inconsistent; for don't I see plainly that I am at the bottom of it all? Who leads this clever man astray in spite of himself? Who makes him too blind to see the contradiction in his own conduct, which he would see plainly in the conduct of another person? How interested I do feel in him! How dangerously near I am to shutting my eyes on the past, and letting myself love him! Was Eve fonder of Adam than ever, I wonder, after she had coaxed him into eating the apple? I should have quite doted on him if I had been in her place. (Memorandum: To write Midwinter a charming little letter on my side, with a kiss in it; and as time is allowed him before he sends in his answer, to ask for time, too, before I tell him whether I will or will not go abroad.)
"Five o'clock.—A tiresome visit from my landlady; eager for a little gossip, and full of news which she thinks will interest me.
"She is acquainted, I find, with Mrs. Milroy's late nurse; and she has been seeing her friend off at the station this afternoon. They talked, of course, of affairs at the cottage, and my name found its way into the conversation. I am quite wrong, it seems, if the nurse's authority is to be trusted, in believing Miss Milroy to be responsible for sending Mr. Armadale to my reference in London. Miss Milroy really knew nothing about it, and it all originated in her mother's mad jealousy of me. The present wretched state of things at the cottage is due entirely to the same cause. Mrs. Milroy is firmly persuaded that my remaining at Thorpe Ambrose is referable to my having some private means of communicating with the major which it is impossible for her to discover. With this conviction in her mind, she has become so unmanageable that no person, with any chance of bettering herself, could possibly remain in attendance an her; and sooner or later, the major, object to it as he may, will be obliged to place her under proper medical care.
"That is the sum and substance of what the wearisome landlady, had to tell me. Unnecessary to say that I was not in the least interested by it. Even if the nurse's s assertion is to be depended on—which I persist in doubting—it is of no importance now. I know that Miss Milroy, and nobody but Miss Milroy has utterly ruined my prospect of becoming Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose, and I care to know nothing more. If her mother was really alone in the attempt to expose my false reference, her mother seems to be suffering for it, at any rate. And so good-by to Mrs. Milroy; and Heaven defend me from any more last glimpses at the cottages seen through the medium of my landlady's spectacles!
"Nine o'clock.—Bashwood has just left me, having come with news from the great house. Pedgift the younger has made his attempt at bringing about a reconciliation this very day, and has failed. I am the sole cause of the failure. Armadale is quite willing to be reconciled if Pedgift the elder will avoid all future occasion of disagreement between them by never recurring to the subject of Miss Gwilt. This, however, happens to be exactly the condition which Pedgift's father—with his opinion of me and my doings—should consider it his duty to Armadale not to accept. So lawyer and client remain as far apart as ever, and the obstacle of the Pedgifts is cleared out of my way.
"It might have been a very awkward obstacle, so far as Pedgift the elder is concerned, if one of his suggestions had been carried out; I mean, if an officer of the London police had been brought down here to look at me. It is a question, even now, whether I had better not take to the thick veil again, which I always wear in London and other large places. The only difficulty is that it would excite remark in this inquisitive little town to see me wearing a thick veil, for the first time, in the summer weather.
"It is close on ten o'clock; I have been dawdling over my diary longer than I supposed.
"No words can describe how weary and languid I feel. Why don't I take my sleeping drops and go to bed? There is no meeting between Armadale and Miss Milroy to force me into early rising to-morrow morning. Am I trying, for the hundredth time, to see my way clearly into the future—trying, in my present state of fatigue, to be the quick-witted woman I once was, before all these anxieties came together and overpowered me? or am I perversely afraid of my bed when I want it most? I don't know; I am tired and miserable; I am looking wretchedly haggard and old. With a little encouragement, I might be fool enough to burst out crying. Luckily, there is no one to encourage me. What sort of a night is it, I wonder?
"A cloudy night, with the moon showing at intervals, and the wind rising. I can just hear it moaning among the ins and outs of the unfinished cottages at the end of the street. My nerves must be a little shaken, I think. I was startled just now by a shadow on the wall. It was only after a moment or two that I mustered sense enough to notice where the candle was, and to see that the shadow was my own.
"Shadows remind me of Midwinter; or, if the shadows don't, something else does. I must have another look at his letter, and then I will positively go to bed.
"I shall end in getting fond of him. If I remain much longer in this lonely uncertain state—so irresolute, so unlike my usual self—I shall end in getting fond of him. What madness! As if I could ever be really fond of a man again!
"Suppose I took one of my sudden resolutions, and married him. Poor as he is, he would give me a name and a position if I became his wife. Let me see how the name—his own name—would look, if I really did consent to it for mine.
"'Mrs. Armadale!' Pretty.
"'Mrs. Allan Armadale!' Prettier still.
"My nerves must be shaken. Here is my own handwriting startling me now! It is so strange; it is enough to startle anybody. The similarity in the two names never struck me in this light before. Marry which of the two I might, my name would, of course, be the same. I should have been Mrs. Armadale, if I had married the light-haired Allan at the great house. And I can be Mrs. Armadale still, if I marry the dark-haired Allan in London. It's almost maddening to write it down—to feel that something ought to come of it—and to find nothing come.
"How can anything come of it? If I did go to London, and marry him (as of course I must marry him) under his real name, would he let me be known by it afterward? With all his reasons for concealing his real name, he would insist—no, he is too fond of me to do that—he would entreat me to take the name which he has assumed. Mrs. Midwinter. Hideous! Ozias, too, when I wanted to address him familiarly, as his wife should. Worse than hideous!
"And yet there would be some reason for humoring him in this if he asked me.
"Suppose the brute at the great house happened to leave this neighborhood as a single man; and suppose, in his absence, any of the people who know him heard of a Mrs. Allan Armadale, they would set her down at once as his wife. Even if they actually saw me—if I actually came among them with that name, and if he was not present to contradict it—his own servants would be the first to say, 'We knew she would marry him, after all!' And my lady-patronesses, who will be ready to believe anything of me now we have quarreled, would join the chorus sotto voce: 'Only think, my dear, the report that so shocked us actually turns out to be true!' No. If I marry Midwinter, I must either be perpetually putting my husband and myself in a false position—or I must leave his real name, his pretty, romantic name, behind me at the church door.
"My husband! As if I was really going to marry him! I am not going to marry him, and there's an end of it.
"Half-past ten.—Oh, dear! oh, dear! how my temples throb, and how hot my weary eyes feel! There is the moon looking at me through the window. How fast the little scattered clouds are flying before the wind! Now they let the moon in; and now they shut the moon out. What strange shapes the patches of yellow light take, and lose again, all in a moment! No peace and quiet for me, look where I may. The candle keeps flickering, and the very sky itself is restless to-night.
"'To bed! to bed!' as Lady Macbeth says. I wonder, by-the-by, what Lady Macbeth would have done in my position? She would have killed somebody when her difficulties first began. Probably Armadale.
"Friday morning.—A night's rest, thanks again to my Drops. I went to breakfast in better spirits, and received a morning welcome in the shape of a letter from Mrs. Oldershaw.
"My silence has produced its effect on Mother Jezebel. She attributes it to the right cause, and she shows her claws at last. If I am not in a position to pay my note of hand for thirty pounds, which is due on Tuesday next, her lawyer is instructed to 'take the usual course.' If I am not in a position to pay it! Why, when I have settled to-day with my landlord, I shall have barely five pounds left! There is not the shadow of a prospect between now and Tuesday of my earning any money; and I don't possess a friend in this place who would trust me with sixpence. The difficulties that are swarming round me wanted but one more to complete them, and that one has come.
"Midwinter would assist me, of course, if I could bring myself to ask him for assistance. But that means marrying him. Am I really desperate enough and helpless enough to end it in that way? No; not yet.
"My head feels heavy; I must get out into the fresh air, and think about it.
"Two o'clock.—I believe I have caught the infection of Midwinter's superstition. I begin to think that events are forcing me nearer and nearer to some end which I don't see yet, but which I am firmly persuaded is now not far off.
"I have been insulted—deliberately insulted before witnesses—by Miss Milroy.
"After walking, as usual, in the most unfrequented place I could pick out, and after trying, not very successfully, to think to some good purpose of what I am to do next, I remembered that I needed some note-paper and pens, and went back to the town to the stationer's shop. It might have been wiser to have sent for what I wanted. But I was weary of myself, and weary of my lonely rooms; and I did my own errand, for no better reason than that it was something to do.
"I had just got into the shop, and was asking for what I wanted, when another customer came in. We both looked up, and recognized each other at the same moment: Miss Milroy.
"A woman and a lad were behind the counter, besides the man who was serving me. The woman civilly addressed the new customer. 'What can we have the pleasure of doing for you, miss?' After pointing it first by looking me straight in the face, she answered, 'Nothing, thank you, at present. I'll come back when the shop is empty.'
"She went out. The three people in the shop looked at me in silence. In silence, on my side, I paid for my purchases, and left the place. I don't know how I might have felt if I had been in my usual spirits. In the anxious, unsettled state I am in now, I can't deny it, the girl stung me.
"In the weakness of the moment (for it was nothing else), I was on the point of matching her petty spitefulness by spitefulness quite as petty on my side. I had actually got as far as the whole length of the street on my way to the major's cottage, bent on telling him the secret of his daughter's morning walks, before my better sense came back to me. When I did cool down, I turned round at once, and took the way home. No, no, Miss Milroy; mere temporary mischief-making at the cottage, which would only end in your father forgiving you, and in Armadale profiting by his indulgence, will nothing like pay the debt I owe you. I don't forget that your heart is set on Armadale; and that the major, however he may talk, has always ended hitherto in giving you your own way. My head may be getting duller and duller, but it has not quite failed me yet.
"In the meantime, there is Mother Oldershaw's letter waiting obstinately to be answered; and here am I, not knowing what to do about it yet. Shall I answer it or not? It doesn't matter for the present; there are some hours still to spare before the post goes out.
"Suppose I asked Armadale to lend me the money? I should enjoy getting something out of him; and I believe, in his present situation with Miss Milroy, he would do anything to be rid of me. Mean enough this, on my part. Pooh! When you hate and despise a man, as I hate and despise Armadale, who cares for looking mean in his eyes?
"And yet my pride—or my something else, I don't know what—shrinks from it.
"Half-past two—only half-past two. Oh, the dreadful weariness of these long summer days! I can't keep thinking and thinking any longer; I must do something to relieve my mind. Can I go to my piano? No; I'm not fit for it. Work? No; I shall get thinking again if I take to my needle. A man, in my place, would find refuge in drink. I'm not a man, and I can't drink. I'll dawdle over my dresses, and put my things tidy. *** "Has an hour passed? More than an hour. It seems like a minute.
"I can't look back through these leaves, but I know I wrote somewhere that I felt myself getting nearer and nearer to some end that was still hidden from me. The end is hidden no longer. The cloud is off my mind, the blindness has gone from my eyes. I see it! I see it!
"It came to me—I never sought it. If I was lying on my death-bed, I could swear, with a safe conscience, I never sought it.
"I was only looking over my things; I was as idly and as frivolously employed as the most idle and most frivolous woman living. I went through my dresses, and my linen. What could be more innocent? Children go through their dresses and their linen.
"It was, such a long summer day, and I was so tired of myself. I went to my boxes next. I looked over the large box first, which I usually leave open; and then I tried the small box, which I always keep locked.
"From one thing to the other, I came at last to the bundle of letters at the bottom—the letters of the man for whom I once sacrificed and suffered everything; the man who has made me what I am.
"A hundred times I had determined to burn his letters; but I have never burned them. This, time, all I said was, 'I won't read his letters!' And I did read them.
"The villain—the false, cowardly, heartless villain—what have I to do with his letters now? Oh, the misery of being a woman! Oh, the meanness that our memory of a man can tempt us to, when our love for him is dead and gone! I read the letters—I was so lonely and so miserable, I read the letters.
"I came to the last—the letter he wrote to encourage me, when I hesitated as the terrible time came nearer and nearer; the letter that revived me when my resolution failed at the eleventh hour. I read on, line after line, till I came to these words:
"'...I really have no patience with such absurdities as you have written to me. You say I am driving you on to do what is beyond a woman's courage. Am I? I might refer you to any collection of Trials, English or foreign. to show that you were utterly wrong. But such collections may be beyond your reach; and I will only refer you to a case in yesterday's newspaper. The circumstances are totally different from our circumstances; but the example of resolution in a woman is an example worth your notice.
"'You will find, among the law reports, a married woman charged with fraudulently representing herself to be the missing widow of an officer in the merchant service, who was supposed to have been drowned. The name of the prisoner's husband (living) and the name of the officer (a very common one, both as to Christian and surname) happened to be identically the same. There was money to be got by it (sorely wanted by the prisoner's husband, to whom she was devotedly attached), if the fraud had succeeded. The woman took it all on herself. Her husband was helpless and ill, and the bailiffs were after him. The circumstances, as you may read for yourself, were all in her favor, and were so well managed by her that the lawyers themselves acknowledged she might have succeeded, if the supposed drowned man had not turned up alive and well in the nick of time to confront her. The scene took place at the lawyer's office, and came out in the evidence at the police court. The woman was handsome, and the sailor was a good-natured man. He wanted, at first, if the lawyers would have allowed him, to let her off. He said to her, among other things: "You didn't count on the drowned man coming back, alive and hearty, did you, ma'am?" "It's lucky for you," she said, "I didn't count on it. You have escaped the sea, but you wouldn't have escaped me." "Why, what would you have done, if you had known I was coming back?" says the sailor. She looked him steadily in the face, and answered: "I would have killed you." There! Do you think such a woman as that would have written to tell me I was pressing her further than she had courage to go? A handsome woman, too, like yourself. You would drive some men in my position to wish they had her now in your place.'
"I read no further. When I had got on, line by line, to those words, it burst on me like a flash of lightning. In an instant I saw it as plainly as I see it now. It is horrible, it is unheard of, it outdares all daring; but, if I can only nerve myself to face one terrible necessity, it is to be done. I may personate the richly provided widow of Allan Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose, if I can count on Allan Armadale's death in a given time.
"There, in plain words, is the frightful temptation under which I now feel myself sinking. It is frightful in more ways than one; for it has come straight out of that other temptation to which I yielded in the by-gone time.
"Yes; there the letter has been waiting for me in my box, to serve a purpose never thought of by the villain who wrote it. There is the Case, as he called it—only quoted to taunt me; utterly unlike my own case at the time—there it has been, waiting and lurking for me through all the changes in my life, till it has come to be like my case at last.
"It might startle any woman to see this, and even this is not the worst. The whole thing has been in my Diary, for days past, without my knowing it! Every idle fancy that escaped me has been tending secretly that one way! And I never saw, never suspected it, till the reading of the letter put my own thoughts before me in a new light—till I saw the shadow of my own circumstances suddenly reflected in one special circumstance of that other woman's case!
"It is to be done, if I can but look the necessity in the face. It is to be done, if I can count on Allan Armadale's death in a given time.
"All but his death is easy. The whole series of events under which I have been blindly chafing and fretting for more than a week past have been, one and all—though I was too stupid to see it—events in my favor; events paving the way smoothly and more smoothly straight to the end.
"In three bold steps—only three!—that end might be reached. Let Midwinter marry me privately, under his real name—step the first! Let Armadale leave Thorpe Ambrose a single man, and die in some distant place among strangers—step the second!
"Why am I hesitating? Why not go on to step the third, and last?
"I will go on. Step the third, and last, is my appearance, after the announcement of Armadale's death has reached this neighborhood, in the character of Armadale's widow, with my marriage certificate in my hand to prove my claim. It is as clear as the sun at noonday. Thanks to the exact similarity between the two names, and thanks to the careful manner in which the secret of that similarity has been kept, I may be the wife of the dark Allan Armadale, known as such to nobody but my husband and myself; and I may, out of that very position, claim the character of widow of the light Allan Armadale, with proof to support me (in the shape of my marriage certificate) which would be proof in the estimation of the most incredulous person living.
"To think of my having put all this in my Diary! To think of my having actually contemplated this very situation, and having seen nothing more in it, at the time, than a reason (if I married Midwinter) for consenting to appear in the world under my husband's assumed name!
"What is it daunts me? The dread of obstacles? The fear of discovery?
"Where are the obstacles? Where is the fear of discovery?
"I am actually suspected all over the neighborhood of intriguing to be mistress of Thorpe Ambrose. I am the only person who knows the real turn that Armadale's inclinations have taken. Not a creature but myself is as yet aware of his early morning meetings with Miss Milroy. If it is necessary to part them, I can do it at any moment by an anonymous line to the major. If it is necessary to remove Armadale from Thorpe Ambrose, I can get him away at three days' notice. His own lips informed me, when I last spoke to him, that he would go to the ends of the earth to be friends again with Midwinter, if Midwinter would let him. I have only to tell Midwinter to write from London, and ask to be reconciled; and Midwinter would obey me—and to London Armadale would go. Every difficulty, at starting, is smoothed over ready to my hand. Every after-difficulty I could manage for myself. In the whole venture—desperate as it looks to pass myself off for the widow of one man, while I am all the while the wife of the other—there is absolutely no necessity that wants twice considering, but the one terrible necessity of Armadale's death.
"His death! It might be a terrible necessity to any other woman; but is it, ought it to be terrible to Me?
"I hate him for his mother's sake. I hate him for his own sake. I hate him for going to London behind my back, and making inquiries about me. I hate him for forcing me out of my situation before I wanted to go. I hate him for destroying all my hopes of marrying him, and throwing me back helpless on my own miserable life. But, oh, after what I have done already in the past time, how can I? how can I?
"The girl, too—the girl who has come between us; who has taken him away from me; who has openly insulted me this very day—how the girl whose heart is set on him would feel it if he died! What a vengeance on her, if I did it! And when I was received as Armadale's widow what a triumph for me. Triumph! It is more than triumph—it is the salvation of me. A name that can't be assailed, a station that can't be assailed, to hide myself in from my past life! Comfort, luxury, wealth! An income of twelve hundred a year secured to me secured by a will which has been looked at by a lawyer: secured independently of anything Armadale can say or do himself! I never had twelve hundred a year. At my luckiest time, I never had half as much, really my own. What have I got now? Just five pounds left in the world—and the prospect next week of a debtor's prison.
"But, oh, after what I have done already in the past time, how can I? how can I?
"Some women—in my place, and with my recollections to look back on—would feel it differently. Some women would say, 'It's easier the second time than the first.' Why can't I? why can't I?
"Oh, you Devil tempting me, is there no Angel near to raise some timely obstacle between this and to-morrow which might help me to give it up?
"I shall sink under it—I shall sink, if I write or think of it any more! I'll shut up these leaves and go out again. I'll get some common person to come with me, and we will talk of common things. I'll take out the woman of the house, and her children. We will go and see something. There is a show of some kind in the town—I'll treat them to it. I'm not such an ill-natured woman when I try; and the landlady has really been kind to me. Surely I might occupy my mind a little in seeing her and her children enjoying themselves.
"A minute since, I shut up these leaves as I said I would; and now I have opened them again, I don't know why. I think my brain is turned. I feel as if something was lost out of my mind; I feel as if I ought to find it here
"I have found it! Midwinter!!!
"Is it possible that I can have been thinking of the reasons For and Against, for an hour past—writing Midwinter's name over and over again—speculating seriously on marrying him—and all the time not once remembering that, even with every other impediment removed, he alone, when the time came, would be an insurmountable obstacle in my way? Has the effort to face the consideration of Armadale's death absorbed me to that degree? I suppose it has. I can't account for such extraordinary forgetfulness on my part in any other way.
"Shall I stop and think it out, as I have thought out all the rest? Shall I ask myself if the obstacle of Midwinter would, after all, when the time came, be the unmanageable obstacle that it looks at present? No! What need is there to think of it? I have made up my mind to get the better of the temptation. I have made up my mind to give my landlady and her children a treat; I have made up my mind to close my Diary. And closed it shall be.
"Six o'clock.—The landlady's gossip is unendurable; the landlady's children distract me. I have left them to run back here before post time and write a line to Mrs. Oldershaw.
"The dread that I shall sink under the temptation has grown stronger and stronger on me. I have determined to put it beyond my power to have my own way and follow my own will. Mother Oldershaw shall be the salvation of me for the first time since I have known her. If I can't pay my note of hand, she threatens me with an arrest. Well, she shall arrest me. In the state my mind is in now, the best thing that can happen to me is to be taken away from Thorpe Ambrose, whether I like it or not. I will write and say that I am to be found here I will write and tell her, in so many words, that the best service she can render me is to lock me up.
"Seven o'clock.—The letter has gone to the post. I had begun to feel a little easier, when the children came in to thank me for taking them to the show. One of them is a girl, and the girl upset me. She is a forward child, and her hair is nearly the color of mine. She said, 'I shall be like you when I have grown bigger, shan't I?' Her idiot of a mother said, 'Please to excuse her, miss,' and took her out of the room, laughing. Like me! I don't pretend to be fond of the child; but think of her being like me!
"Saturday morning.—I have done well for once in acting on impulse, and writing as I did to Mrs. Oldershaw. The only new circumstance that has happened is another circumstance in my favor!
"Major Milroy has answered Armadale's letter, entreating permission to call at the cottage and justify himself. His daughter read it in silence, when Armadale handed it to her at their meeting this morning, in the park. But they talked about it afterward, loud enough for me to hear them. The major persists in the course he has taken. He says his opinion of Armadale's conduct has been formed, not on common report, but on Armadale's own letters, and he sees no reason to alter the conclusion at which he arrived when the correspondence between them was closed.
"This little matter had, I confess, slipped out of my memory. It might have ended awkwardly for me. If Major Milroy had been less obstinately wedded to his own opinion, Armadale might have justified himself; the marriage engagement might have been acknowledged; and all my power of influencing the matter might have been at an end. As it is, they must continue to keep the engagement strictly secret; and Miss Milroy, who has never ventured herself near the great house since the thunder-storm forced her into it for shelter, will be less likely than ever to venture there now. I can part them when I please; with an anonymous line to the major, I can part them when I please!
"After having discussed the letter, the talk between them turned on what they were to do next. Major Milroy's severity, as it soon appeared, produced the usual results. Armadale returned to the subject of the elopement; and this time she listened to him. There is everything to drive her to it. Her outfit of clothes is nearly ready; and the summer holidays, at the school which has been chosen for her, end at the end of next week. When I left them, they had decided to meet again and settle something on Monday.
"The last words I heard him address to her, before I went away, shook me a little. He said: 'There is one difficulty, Neelie, that needn't trouble us, at any rate. I have got plenty of money.' And then he kissed her. The way to his life began to look an easier way to me when he talked of his money, and kissed her.
"Some hours have passed, and the more I think of it, the more I fear the blank interval between this time and the time when Mrs. Oldershaw calls in the law, and protects me against myself. It might have been better if I had stopped at home this morning. But how could I? After the insult she offered me yesterday, I tingled all over to go and look at her.
"To-day; Sunday; Monday; Tuesday. They can't arrest me for the money before Wednesday. And my miserable five pounds are dwindling to four! And he told her he had plenty of money! And she blushed and trembled when he kissed her. It might have been better for him, better for her, and better for me, if my debt had fallen due yesterday, and if the bailiffs had their hands on me at this moment.
"Suppose I had the means of leaving Thorpe Ambrose by the next train, and going somewhere abroad, and absorbing myself in some new interest, among new people. Could I do it, rather than look again at that easy way to his life which would smooth the way to everything else?
"Perhaps I might. But where is the money to come from? Surely some way of getting it struck me a day or two since? Yes; that mean idea of asking Armadale to help me! Well; I will be mean for once. I'll give him the chance of making a generous use of that well-filled purse which it is such a comfort to him to reflect on in his present circumstances. It would soften my heart toward any man if he lent me money in my present extremity; and, if Armadale lends me money, it might soften my heart toward him. When shall I go? At once! I won't give myself time to feel the degradation of it, and to change my mind.
"Three 'clock.—I mark the hour. He has sealed his own doom. He has insulted me.
"Yes! I have suffered it once from Miss Milroy. And I have now suffered it a second time from Armadale himself. An insult—a marked, merciless, deliberate insult in the open day!
"I had got through the town, and had advanced a few hundred yards along the road that leads to the great house, when I saw Armadale at a little distance, coming toward me. He was walking fast—evidently with some errand of his own to take him to the town. The instant he caught sight of me he stopped, colored up, took off his hat, hesitated, and turned aside down a lane behind him, which I happen to know would take him exactly in the contrary direction to the direction in which he was walking when he first saw me. His conduct said in so many words, 'Miss Milroy may hear of it; I daren't run the risk of being seen speaking to you.' Men have used me heartlessly; men have done and said hard things to me; but no man living ever yet treated me as if I was plague-struck, and as if the very air about me was infected by my presence!
"I say no more. When he walked away from me down that lane, he walked to his death. I have written to Midwinter to expect me in London nest week, and to be ready for our marriage soon afterward.
"Four o'clock.—Half an hour since, I put on my bonnet to go out and post the letter to Midwinter myself. And here I am, still in my room, with my mind torn by doubts, and my letter on the table.
"Armadale counts for nothing in the perplexities that are now torturing me. It is Midwinter who makes me hesitate. Can I take the first of those three steps that lead me to the end, without the common caution of looking at consequences? Can I marry Midwinter, without knowing beforehand how to meet the obstacle of my husband, when the time comes which transforms me from the living Armadale's wife to the dead Armadale's widow?
"Why can't I think of it, when I know I must think of it? Why can't I look at it as steadily as I have looked at all the rest? I feel his kisses on my lips; I feel his tears on my bosom; I feel his arms round me again. He is far away in London; and yet, he is here and won't let me think of it!
"Why can't I wait a little? Why can't I let Time help me? Time? It's Saturday! What need is there to think of it, unless I like? There is no post to London to-day. I must wait. If I posted the letter, it wouldn't go. Besides, to- morrow I may hear from Mrs. Oldershaw. I ought to wait to hear from Mrs. Oldershaw. I can't consider myself a free woman till I know what Mrs. Oldershaw means to do. There is a necessity for waiting till to-morrow. I shall take my bonnet off, and lock the letter up in my desk.
"Sunday morning.—There is no resisting it! One after another the circumstances crowd on me. They come thicker and thicker, and they all force me one way.
"I have got Mother Oldershaw's answer. The wretch fawns on me, and cringes to me. I can see, as plainly as if she had acknowledged it, that she suspects me of seeing my own way to success at Thorpe Ambrose without her assistance. Having found threatening me useless, she tries coaxing me now. I am her darling Lydia again! She is quite shocked that I could imagine she ever really intended to arrest her bosom friend; and she has only to entreat me, as a favor to herself, to renew the bill!
"I say once more, no mortal creature could resist it! Time after time I have tried to escape the temptation; and time after time the circumstances drive me back again. I can struggle no longer. The post that takes the letters to-night shall take my letter to Midwinter among the rest.
"To-night! If I give myself till to-night, something else may happen. If I give myself till to-night, I may hesitate again. I'm weary of the torture of hesitating. I must and will have relief in the present, cost what it may in the future. My letter to Midwinter will drive me mad if I see it staring and staring at me in my desk any longer. I can post it in ten minutes' time—and I will!
"It is done. The first of the three steps that lead me to the end is a step taken. My mind is quieter—the letter is in the post.
"By to-morrow Midwinter will receive it. Before the end of the week Armadale must be publicly seen to leave Thorpe Ambrose; and I must be publicly seen to leave with him.
"Have I looked at the consequences of my marriage to Midwinter? No! Do I know how to meet the obstacle of my husband, when the time comes which transforms me from the living Armadale's wife to the dead Armadale's widow?
"No! When the time comes, I must meet the obstacle as I best may. I am going blindfold, then—so far as Midwinter is concerned— into this frightful risk? Yes; blindfold. Am I out of my senses? Very likely. Or am I a little too fond of him to look the thing in the face? I dare say. Who cares?
"I won't, I won't, I won't think of it! Haven't I a will of my own? And can't I think, if I like, of something else?
"Here is Mother Jezebel's cringing letter. That is something else to think of. I'll answer it. I am in a fine humor for writing to Mother Jezebel. *** Conclusion of Miss Gwilt's Letter to Mrs. Oldershaw.
"...I told you, when I broke off, that I would wait before I finished this, and ask my Diary if I could safely tell you what I have now got it in my mind to do. Well, I have asked; and my Diary says, 'Don't tell her!' Under these circumstances I close my letter—with my best excuses for leaving you in the dark.
"I shall probably be in London before long—and I may tell you by word of mouth what I don't think it safe to write here. Mind, I make no promise! It all depends on how I feel toward you at the time. I don't doubt your discretion; but (under certain circumstances) I am not so sure of your courage. L. G."
"P. S.—My best thanks for your permission to renew the bill. I decline profiting by the proposal. The money will be ready when the money is due. I have a friend now in London who will pay it if I ask him. Do you wonder who the friend is? You will wonder at one or two other things, Mrs. Oldershaw, before many weeks more are over your head and mine."