Armadale, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter III.

The Claims of Society.

More than an hour after Allan had set forth on his exploring expedition through his own grounds, Midwinter rose, and enjoyed, in his turn, a full view by daylight of the magnificence of the new house.

Refreshed by his long night’s rest, he descended the great staircase as cheerfully as Allan himself. One after another, he, too, looked into the spacious rooms on the ground floor in breathless astonishment at the beauty and the luxury which surrounded him. “The house where I lived in service when I was a boy, was a fine one,” he thought, gayly; “but it was nothing to this! I wonder if Allan is as surprised and delighted as I am?” The beauty of the summer morning drew him out through the open hall door, as it had drawn his friend out before him. He ran briskly down the steps, humming the burden of one of the old vagabond tunes which he had danced to long since in the old vagabond time. Even the memories of his wretched childhood took their color, on that happy morning. from the bright medium through which he looked back at them. “If I was not out of practice,” he thought to himself, as he leaned on the fence and looked over at the park, “I could try some of my old tumbling tricks on that delicious grass.” He turned, noticed two of the servants talking together near the shrubbery, and asked for news of the master of the house.

The men pointed with a smile in the direction of the gardens; Mr. Armadale had gone that way more than an hour since, and had met (as had been reported) with Miss Milroy in the grounds. Midwinter followed the path through the shrubbery, but, on reaching the flower garden, stopped, considered a little, and retraced his steps. “If Allan has met with the young lady,” he said to himself, “Allan doesn’t want me.” He laughed as he drew that inevitable inference, and turned considerately to explore the beauties of Thorpe Ambrose on the other side of the house.

Passing the angle of the front wall of the building, he descended some steps, advanced along a paved walk, turned another angle, and found himself in a strip of garden ground at the back of the house.

Behind him was a row of small rooms situated on the level of the servants’ offices. In front of him, on the further side of the little garden, rose a wall, screened by a laurel hedge, and having a door at one end of it, leading past the stables to a gate that opened on the high-road. Perceiving that he had only discovered thus far the shorter way to the house, used by the servants and trades-people, Midwinter turned back again, and looked in at the window of one of the rooms on the basement story as he passed it. Were these the servants’ offices? No; the offices were apparently in some other part of the ground-floor; the window he had looked in at was the window of a lumber-room. The next two rooms in the row were both empty. The fourth window, when he approached it, presented a little variety. It served also as a door; and it stood open to the garden at that moment.

Attracted by the book-shelves which he noticed on one of the walls, Midwinter stepped into the room.

The books, few in number, did not detain him long; a glance at their backs was enough without taking them down. The Waverley Novels, Tales by Miss Edgeworth, and by Miss Edgeworth’s many followers, the Poems of Mrs. Hemans, with a few odd volumes of the illustrated gift-books of the period, composed the bulk of the little library. Midwinter turned to leave the room, when an object on one side of the window, which he had not previously noticed, caught his attention and stopped him. It was a statuette standing on a bracket — a reduced copy of the famous Niobe of the Florence Museum. He glanced from the statuette to the window, with a sudden doubt which set his heart throbbing fast. It was a French window. He looked out with a suspicion which he had not felt yet. The view before him was the view of a lawn and garden. For a moment his mind struggled blindly to escape the conclusion which had seized it, and struggled in vain. Here, close round him and close before him — here, forcing him mercilessly back from the happy present to the horrible past, was the room that Allan had seen in the Second Vision of the Dream.

He waited, thinking and looking round him while he thought. There was wonderfully little disturbance in his face and manner; he looked steadily from one to the other of the few objects in the room, as if the discovery of it had saddened rather than surprised him. Matting of some foreign sort covered the floor. Two cane chairs and a plain table comprised the whole of the furniture. The walls were plainly papered, and bare — broken to the eye in one place by a door leading into the interior of the house; in another, by a small stove; in a third, by the book-shelves which Midwinter had already noticed. He returned to the books, and this time he took some of them down from the shelves.

The first that he opened contained lines in a woman’s handwriting, traced in ink that had faded with time. He read the inscription —“Jane Armadale, from her beloved father. Thorpe Ambrose, October, 1828.” In the second, third, and fourth volumes that he opened, the same inscription re-appeared. His previous knowledge of dates and persons helped him to draw the true inference from what he saw. The books must have belonged to Allan’s mother; and she must have inscribed them with her name, in the interval of time between her return to Thorpe Ambrose from Madeira and the birth of her son. Midwinter passed on to a volume on another shelf — one of a series containing the writings of Mrs. Hemans. In this case, the blank leaf at the beginning of the book was filled on both sides with a copy of verses, the writing being still in Mrs. Armadale’s hand. The verses were headed “Farewell to Thorpe Ambrose,” and were dated “March, 1829”— two months only after Allan had been born.

Entirely without merit in itself, the only interest of the little poem was in the domestic story that it told.

The very room in which Midwinter then stood was described — with the view on the garden, the window made to open on it, the bookshelves, the Niobe, and other more perishable ornaments which Time had destroyed. Here, at variance with her brothers, shrinking from her friends, the widow of the murdered man had, on her own acknowledgment, secluded herself, without other comfort than the love and forgiveness of her father, until her child was born. The father’s mercy and the father’s recent death filled many verses, happily too vague in their commonplace expression of penitence and despair to give any hint of the marriage story in Madeira to any reader who looked at them ignorant of the truth. A passing reference to the writer’s estrangement from her surviving relatives, and to her approaching departure from Thorpe Ambrose, followed. Last came the assertion of the mother’s resolution to separate herself from all her old associations; to leave behind her every possession, even to the most trifling thing she had, that could remind her of the miserable past; and to date her new life in the future from the birthday of the child who had been spared to console her — who was now the one earthly object that could still speak to her of love and hope. So the old story of passionate feeling that finds comfort in phrases rather than not find comfort at all was told once again. So the poem in the faded ink faded away to its end.

Midwinter put the book back with a heavy sigh, and opened no other volume on the shelves. “Here in the country house, or there on board the wreck,” he said, bitterly, “the traces of my father’s crime follow me, go where I may.” He advanced toward the window, stopped, and looked back into the lonely, neglected little room. “Is this chance?” he asked himself. “The place where his mother suffered is the place he sees in the Dream; and the first morning in the new house is the morning that reveals it, not to him, but to me. Oh, Allan! Allan! how will it end?”

The thought had barely passed through his mind before he heard Allan’s voice, from the paved walk at the side of the house, calling to him by his name. He hastily stepped out into the garden. At the same moment Allan came running round the corner, full of voluble apologies for having forgotten, in the society of his new neighbors, what was due to the laws of hospitality and the claims of his friend.

“I really haven’t missed you,” said Midwinter; “and I am very, very glad to hear that the new neighbors have produced such a pleasant impression on you already.”

He tried, as he spoke, to lead the way back by the outside of the house; but Allan’s flighty attention had been caught by the open window and the lonely little room. He stepped in immediately. Midwinter followed, and watched him in breathless anxiety as he looked round. Not the slightest recollection of the Dream troubled Allan’s easy mind. Not the slightest reference to it fell from the silent lips of his friend.

“Exactly the sort of place I should have expected you to hit on!” exclaimed Allan, gayly. “Small and snug and unpretending. I know you, Master Midwinter! You’ll be slipping off here when the county families come visiting, and I rather think on those dreadful occasions you won’t find me far behind you. What’s the matter? You look ill and out of spirits. Hungry? Of course you are! unpardonable of me to have kept you waiting. This door leads somewhere, I suppose; let’s try a short cut into the house. Don’t be afraid of my not keeping you company at breakfast. I didn’t eat much at the cottage; I feasted my eyes on Miss Milroy, as the poets say. Oh, the darling! the darling! she turns you topsy-turvy the moment you look at her. As for her father, wait till you see his wonderful clock! It’s twice the size of the famous clock at Strasbourg, and the most tremendous striker ever heard yet in the memory of man!”

Singing the praises of his new friends in this strain at the top of his voice, Allan hurried Midwinter along the stone passages on the basement floor, which led, as he had rightly guessed, to a staircase communicating with the hall. They passed the servants’ offices on the way. At the sight of the cook and the roaring fire, disclosed through the open kitchen door, Allan’s mind went off at a tangent, and Allan’s dignity scattered itself to the four winds of heaven, as usual.

“Aha, Mrs. Gripper, there you are with your pots and pans, and your burning fiery furnace! One had need be Shadrach, Meshach, and the other fellow to stand over that. Breakfast as soon as ever you like. Eggs, sausages, bacon, kidneys, marmalade, water-cresses, coffee, and so forth. My friend and I belong to the select few whom it’s a perfect privilege to cook for. Voluptuaries, Mrs. Gripper, voluptuaries, both of us. You’ll see,” continued Allan, as they went on toward the stairs, “I shall make that worthy creature young again; I’m better than a doctor for Mrs. Gripper. When she laughs, she shakes her fat sides, and when she shakes her fat sides, she exerts her muscular system; and when she exerts her muscular system — Ha! here’s Susan again. Don’t squeeze yourself flat against the banisters, my dear; if you don’t mind hustling me on the stairs, I rather like hustling you. She looks like a full-blown rose when she blushes, doesn’t she? Stop, Susan! I’ve orders to give. Be very particular with Mr. Midwinter’s room: shake up his bed like mad, and dust his furniture till those nice round arms of yours ache again. Nonsense, my dear fellow! I’m not too familiar with them; I’m only keeping them up to their work. Now, then, Richard! where do we breakfast? Oh, here. Between ourselves, Midwinter, these splendid rooms of mine are a size too large for me; I don’t feel as if I should ever be on intimate terms with my own furniture. My views in life are of the snug and slovenly sort — a kitchen chair, you know, and a low ceiling. Man wants but little here below, and wants that little long. That’s not exactly the right quotation; but it expresses my meaning, and we’ll let alone correcting it till the next opportunity.”

“I beg your pardon,” interposed Midwinter, “here is something waiting for you which you have not noticed yet.”

As he spoke, he pointed a little impatiently to a letter lying on the breakfast-table. He could conceal the ominous discovery which he had made that morning, from Allan’s knowledge; but he could not conquer the latent distrust of circumstances which was now raised again in his superstitious nature — the instinctive suspicion of everything that happened, no matter how common or how trifling the event, on the first memorable day when the new life began in the new house.

Allan ran his eye over the letter, and tossed it across the table to his friend. “I can’t make head or tail of it,” he said, “can you?”

Midwinter read the letter, slowly, aloud. “Sir — I trust you will pardon the liberty I take in sending these few lines to wait your arrival at Thorpe Ambrose. In the event of circumstances not disposing you to place your law business in the hands of Mr. Darch —” He suddenly stopped at that point, and considered a little.

“Darch is our friend the lawyer,” said Allan, supposing Midwinter had forgotten the name. “Don’t you remember our spinning the half-crown on the cabin table, when I got the two offers for the cottage? Heads, the major; tails, the lawyer. This is the lawyer.”

Without making any reply, Midwinter resumed reading the letter. “In the event of circumstances not disposing you to place your law business in the hands of Mr. Darch, I beg to say that I shall be happy to take charge of your interests, if you feel willing to honor me with your confidence. Inclosing a reference (should you desire it) to my agents in London, and again apologizing for this intrusion, I beg to remain, sir, respectfully yours, A. PEDGIFT, Sen.”

“Circumstances?” repeated Midwinter, as he laid the letter down. “What circumstances can possibly indispose you to give your law business to Mr. Darch?”

“Nothing can indispose me,” said Allan. “Besides being the family lawyer here, Darch was the first to write me word at Paris of my coming in for my fortune; and, if I have got any business to give, of course he ought to have it.”

Midwinter still looked distrustfully at the open letter on the table. “I am sadly afraid, Allan, there is something wrong already,” he said. “This man would never have ventured on the application he has made to you, unless he had some good reason for believing he would succeed. If you wish to put yourself right at starting, you will send to Mr. Darch this morning to tell him you are here, and you will take no notice for the present of Mr. Pedgift’s letter.”

Before more could be said on either side, the footman made his appearance with the breakfast tray. He was followed, after an interval, by the butler, a man of the essentially confidential kind, with a modulated voice, a courtly manner, and a bulbous nose. Anybody but Allan would have seen in his face that he had come into the room having a special communication to make to his master. Allan, who saw nothing under the surface, and whose head was running on the lawyer’s letter, stopped him bluntly with the point-blank question: “Who’s Mr. Pedgift?”

The butler’s sources of local knowledge opened confidentially on the instant. Mr. Pedgift was the second of the two lawyers in the town. Not so long established, not so wealthy, not so universally looked up to as old Mr. Darch. Not doing the business of the highest people in the county, and not mixing freely with the best society, like old Mr. Darch. A very sufficient man, in his way, nevertheless. Known as a perfectly competent and respectable practitioner all round the neighborhood. In short, professionally next best to Mr. Darch; and personally superior to him (if the expression might be permitted) in this respect — that Darch was a Crusty One, and Pedgift wasn’t.

Having imparted this information, the butler, taking a wise advantage of his position, glided, without a moment’s stoppage, from Mr. Pedgift’s character to the business that had brought him into the breakfast-room. The Midsummer Audit was near at hand; and the tenants were accustomed to have a week’s notice of the rent-day dinner. With this necessity pressing, and with no orders given as yet, and no steward in office at Thorpe Ambrose, it appeared desirable that some confidential person should bring the matter forward. The butler was that confidential person; and he now ventured accordingly to trouble his master on the subject.

At this point Allan opened his lips to interrupt, and was himself interrupted before he could utter a word.

“Wait!” interposed Midwinter, seeing in Allan’s face that he was in danger of being publicly announced in the capacity of steward. “Wait!” he repeated, eagerly, “till I can speak to you first.”

The butler’s courtly manner remained alike unruffled by Midwinter’s sudden interference and by his own dismissal from the scene. Nothing but the mounting color in his bulbous nose betrayed the sense of injury that animated him as he withdrew. Mr. Armadale’s chance of regaling his friend and himself that day with the best wine in the cellar trembled in the balance, as the butler took his way back to the basement story.

“This is beyond a joke, Allan,” said Midwinter, when they were alone. “Somebody must meet your tenants on the rent-day who is really fit to take the steward’s place. With the best will in the world to learn, it is impossible for me to master the business at a week’s notice. Don’t, pray don’t let your anxiety for my welfare put you in a false position with other people! I should never forgive myself if I was the unlucky cause —”

“Gently gently!’ cried Allan, amazed at his friend’s extraordinary earnestness. “If I write to London by to-night’s post for the man who came down here before, will that satisfy you?”

Midwinter shook his head. “Our time is short,” he said; “and the man may not be at liberty. Why not try in the neighborhood first? You were going to write to Mr. Darch. Send at once, and see if he can’t help us between this and post-time.”

Allan withdrew to a side-table on which writing materials were placed. “You shall breakfast in peace, you old fidget,” he replied, and addressed himself forthwith to Mr. Darch, with his usual Spartan brevity of epistolary expression. “Dear Sir — Here I am, bag and baggage. Will you kindly oblige me by being my lawyer? I ask this, because I want to consult you at once. Please look in in the course of the day, and stop to dinner if you possibly can. Yours truly. ALLAN ARMADALE.” Having read this composition aloud with unconcealed admiration of his own rapidity of literary execution, Allan addressed the letter to Mr. Darch, and rang the bell. “Here, Richard, take this at once, and wait for an answer. And, I say, if there’s any news stirring in the town, pick it up and bring it back with you. See how I manage my servants!” continued Allan, joining his friend at the breakfast-table. “See how I adapt myself to my new duties! I haven’t been down here one clear day yet, and I’m taking an interest in the neighborhood already.”

Breakfast over, the two friends went out to idle away the morning under the shade of a tree in the park. Noon came, and Richard never appeared. One o’clock struck, and still there were no signs of an answer from Mr. Darch. Midwinter’s patience was not proof against the delay. He left Allan dozing on the grass, and went to the house to make inquiries. The town was described as little more than two miles distant; but the day of the week happened to be market day, and Richard was being detained no doubt by some of the many acquaintances whom he would be sure to meet with on that occasion.

Half an hour later the truant messenger returned, and was sent out to report himself to his master under the tree in the park.

“Any answer from Mr. Darch?” asked Midwinter, seeing that Allan was too lazy to put the question for himself.

“Mr. Darch was engaged, sir. I was desired to say that he would send an answer.”

“Any news in the town?” inquired Allan, drowsily, without troubling himself to open his eyes.

“No, sir; nothing in particular.”

Observing the man suspiciously as he made that reply, Midwinter detected in his face that he was not speaking the truth. He was plainly embarrassed, and plainly relieved when his master’s silence allowed him to withdraw. After a little consideration, Midwinter followed, and overtook the retreating servant on the drive before the house.

“Richard,” he said, quietly, “if I was to guess that there is some news in the town, and that you don’t like telling it to your master, should I be guessing the truth?”

The man started and changed color. “I don’t know how you have found it out,” he said; “but I can’t deny you have guessed right.”

“If you let me hear what the news is, I will take the responsibility on myself of telling Mr. Armadale.”

After some little hesitation, and some distrustful consideration, on his side, of Midwinter’s face, Richard at last prevailed on himself to repeat what he had heard that day in the town.

The news of Allan’s sudden appearance at Thorpe Ambrose had preceded the servant’s arrival at his destination by some hours. Wherever he went, he found his master the subject of public discussion. The opinion of Allan’s conduct among the leading townspeople, the resident gentry of the neighborhood, and the principal tenants on the estate was unanimously unfavorable. Only the day before, the committee for managing the pubic reception of the new squire had sketched the progress of the procession; had settled the serious question of the triumphal arches; and had appointed a competent person to solicit subscriptions for the flags, the flowers, the feasting, the fireworks, and the band. In less than a week more the money could have been collected, and the rector would have written to Mr. Armadale to fix the day. And now, by Allan’s own act, the public welcome waiting to honor him had been cast back contemptuously in the public teeth! Everybody took for granted (what was unfortunately true) that he had received private information of the contemplated proceedings. Everybody declared that he had purposely stolen into his own house like a thief in the night (so the phrase ran) to escape accepting the offered civilities of his neighbors. In brief, the sensitive self-importance of the little town was wounded to the quick, and of Allan’s once enviable position in the estimation of the neighborhood not a vestige remained.

For a moment, Midwinter faced the messenger of evil tidings in silent distress. That moment past, the sense of Allan’s critical position roused him, now the evil was known, to seek the remedy.

“Has the little you have seen of your master, Richard, inclined you to like him?” he asked.

This time the man answered without hesitation, “A pleasanter and kinder gentleman than Mr. Armadale no one could wish to serve.”

“If you think that,” pursued Midwinter, “you won’t object to give me some information which will help your master to set himself right with his neighbors. Come into the house.”

He led the way into the library, and, after asking the necessary questions, took down in writing a list of the names and addresses of the most influential persons living in the town and its neighborhood. This done, he rang the bell for the head footman, having previously sent Richard with a message to the stables directing an open carriage to be ready in an hour’s time.

“When the late Mr. Blanchard went out to make calls in the neighborhood, it was your place to go with him, was it not?” he asked, when the upper servant appeared. “Very well. Be ready in an hour’s time, if you please, to go out with Mr. Armadale.” Having given that order, he left the house again on his way back to Allan, with the visiting list in his hand. He smiled a little sadly as he descended the steps. “Who would have imagined,” he thought, “that my foot-boy’s experience of the ways of gentlefolks would be worth looking back at one day for Allan’s sake?”

The object of the popular odium lay innocently slumbering on the grass, with his garden hat over his nose, his waistcoat unbuttoned, and his trousers wrinkled half way up his outstretched legs. Midwinter roused him without hesitation, and remorselessly repeated the servant’s news.

Allan accepted the disclosure thus forced on him without the slightest disturbance of temper. “Oh, hang ’em!” was all he said. “Let’s have another cigar.” Midwinter took the cigar out of his hand, and, insisting on his treating the matter seriously, told him in plain words that he must set himself right with his offended neighbors by calling on them personally to make his apologies. Allan sat up on the grass in astonishment; his eyes opened wide in incredulous dismay. Did Midwinter positively meditate forcing him into a “chimney-pot hat,” a nicely brushed frock-coat, and a clean pair of gloves? Was it actually in contemplation to shut him up in a carriage, with his footman on the box and his card-case in his hand, and send him round from house to house, to tell a pack of fools that he begged their pardon for not letting them make a public show of him? If anything so outrageously absurd as this was really to be done, it could not be done that day, at any rate. He had promised to go back to the charming Milroy at the cottage and to take Midwinter with him. What earthly need had he of the good opinion of the resident gentry? The only friends he wanted were the friends he had got already. Let the whole neighborhood turn its back on him if it liked; back or face, the Squire of Thorpe Ambrose didn’t care two straws about it.

After allowing him to run on in this way until his whole stock of objections was exhausted, Midwinter wisely tried his personal influence next. He took Allan affectionately by the hand. “I am going to ask a great favor,” he said. “If you won’t call on these people for your own sake, will you call on them to please me?”

Allan delivered himself of a groan of despair, stared in mute surprise at the anxious face of his friend, and good-humoredly gave way. As Midwinter took his arm, and led him back to the house, he looked round with rueful eyes at the cattle hard by, placidly whisking their tails in the pleasant shade. “Don’t mention it in the neighborhood,” he said; “I should like to change places with one of my own cows.”

Midwinter left him to dress, engaging to return when the carriage was at the door. Allan’s toilet did not promise to be a speedy one. He began it by reading his own visiting cards; and he advanced it a second stage by looking into his wardrobe, and devoting the resident gentry to the infernal regions. Before he could discover any third means of delaying his own proceedings, the necessary pretext was unexpectedly supplied by Richard’s appearance with a note in his hand. The messenger had just called with Mr. Darch’s answer. Allan briskly shut up the wardrobe, and gave his whole attention to the lawyer’s letter. The lawyer’s letter rewarded him by the following lines:

“SIR— I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of to-day’s date, honoring me with two proposals; namely, ONE inviting me to act as your legal adviser, and ONE inviting me to pay you a visit at your house. In reference to the first proposal, I beg permission to decline it with thanks. With regard to the second proposal, I have to inform you that circumstances have come to my knowledge relating to the letting of the cottage at Thorpe Ambrose which render it impossible for me (in justice to myself) to accept your invitation. I have ascertained, sir, that my offer reached you at the same time as Major Milroy’s; and that, with both proposals thus before you, you gave the preference to a total stranger, who addressed you through a house agent, over a man who had faithfully served your relatives for two generations, and who had been the first person to inform you of the most important event in your life. After this specimen of your estimate of what is due to the claims of common courtesy and common justice, I cannot flatter myself that I possess any of the qualities which would fit me to take my place on the list of your friends.

“I remain, sir, your obedient servant,

“JAMES DARCH.”

“Stop the messenger!” cried Allan, leaping to his feet, his ruddy face aflame with indignation. “Give me pen, ink, and paper! By the Lord Harry, they’re a nice set of people in these parts; the whole neighborhood is in a conspiracy to bully me!” He snatched up the pen in a fine frenzy of epistolary inspiration. “Sir — I despise you and your letter. —” At that point the pen made a blot, and the writer was seized with a momentary hesitation. “Too strong,” he thought; “I’ll give it to the lawyer in his own cool and cutting style.” He began again on a clean sheet of paper. “Sir — You remind me of an Irish bull. I mean that story in ‘Joe Miller’ where Pat remarked, in the hearing of a wag hard by, that ‘the reciprocity was all on one side.’ Your reciprocity is all on one side. You take the privilege of refusing to be my lawyer, and then you complain of my taking the privilege of refusing to be your landlord.” He paused fondly over those last words. “Neat!” he thought. “Argument and hard hitting both in one. I wonder where my knack of writing comes from?” He went on, and finished the letter in two more sentences. “As for your casting my invitation back in my teeth, I beg to inform you my teeth are none the worse for it. I am equally glad to have nothing to say to you, either in the capacity of a friend or a tenant. — ALLAN ARMADALE.” He nodded exultantly at his own composition, as he addressed it and sent it down to the messenger. “Darch’s hide must be a thick one,” he said, “if he doesn’t feel that!”

The sound of the wheels outside suddenly recalled him to the business of the day. There was the carriage waiting to take him on his round of visits; and there was Midwinter at his post, pacing to and fro on the drive.

“Read that,” cried Allan, throwing out the lawyer’s letter; “I’ve written him back a smasher.”

He bustled away to the wardrobe to get his coat. There was a wonderful change in him; he felt little or no reluctance to pay the visits now. The pleasurable excitement of answering Mr. Darth had put him in a fine aggressive frame of mind for asserting himself in the neighborhood. “Whatever else they may say of me, they shan’t say I was afraid to face them.” Heated red-hot with that idea, he seized his hat and gloves, and hurrying out of the room, met Midwinter in the corridor with the lawyer’s letter in his hand.

“Keep up your spirits!” cried Allan, seeing the anxiety in his friend’s face, and misinterpreting the motive of it immediately. “If Darch can’t be counted on to send us a helping hand into the steward’s office, Pedgift can.”

“My dear Allan, I was not thinking of that; I was thinking of Mr. Darch’s letter. I don’t defend this sour-tempered man; but I am afraid we must admit he has some cause for complaint. Pray don’t give him another chance of putting you in the wrong. Where is your answer to his letter?”

“Gone!” replied Allan. “I always strike while the iron’s hot — a word and a blow, and the blow first, that’s my way. Don’t, there’s a good fellow, don’t fidget about the steward’s books and the rent-day. Here! here’s a bunch of keys they gave me last night: one of them opens the room where the steward’s books are; go in and read them till I come back. I give you my sacred word of honor I’ll settle it all with Pedgift before you see me again.”

“One moment,” interposed Midwinter, stopping him resolutely on his way out to the carriage. “I say nothing against Mr. Pedgift’s fitness to possess your confidence, for I know nothing to justify me in distrusting him. But he has not introduced himself to your notice in a very delicate way; and he has not acknowledged (what is quite clear to my mind) that he knew of Mr. Darch’s unfriendly feeling toward you when he wrote. Wait a little before you go to this stranger; wait till we can talk it over together to-night.”

“Wait!” replied Allan. “Haven’t I told you that I always strike while the iron’s hot? Trust my eye for character, old boy, I’ll look Pedgift through and through, and act accordingly. Don’t keep me any longer, for Heaven’s sake. I’m in a fine humor for tackling the resident gentry; and if I don’t go at once, I’m afraid it may wear off.”

With that excellent reason for being in a hurry, Allan boisterously broke away. Before it was possible to stop him again, he had jumped into the carriage and had left the house.

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30