Armadale, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter III.

The Brink of Discovery.

The morning of the interview between Mrs. Milroy and her daughter at the cottage was a morning of serious reflection for the squire at the great house.

Even Allan’s easy-tempered nature had not been proof against the disturbing influences exercised on it by the events of the last three days. Midwinter’s abrupt departure had vexed him; and Major Milroy’s reception of his inquiries relating to Miss Gwilt weighed unpleasantly on his mind. Since his visit to the cottage, he had felt impatient and ill at ease, for the first time in his life, with everybody who came near him. Impatient with Pedgift Junior, who had called on the previous evening to announce his departure for London, on business, the next day, and to place his services at the disposal of his client; ill at ease with Miss Gwilt, at a secret meeting with her in the park that morning; and ill at ease in his own company, as he now sat moodily smoking in the solitude of his room. “I can’t live this sort of life much longer,” thought Allan. “If nobody will help me to put the awkward question to Miss Gwilt, I must stumble on some way of putting it for myself.”

What way? The answer to that question was as hard to find as ever. Allan tried to stimulate his sluggish invention by walking up and down the room, and was disturbed by the appearance of the footman at the first turn.

“Now then! what is it?” he asked, impatiently.

“A letter, sir; and the person waits for an answer.”

Allan looked at the address. It was in a strange handwriting. He opened the letter, and a little note inclosed in it dropped to the ground. The note was directed, still in the strange handwriting, to “Mrs. Mandeville, 18 Kingsdown Crescent, Bayswater. Favored by Mr. Armadale.” More and more surprised, Allan turned for information to the signature at the end of the letter. It was “Anne Milroy.”

“Anne Milroy?” he repeated. “It must be the major’s wife. What can she possibly want with me?” By way of discovering what she wanted, Allan did at last what he might more wisely have done at first. He sat down to read the letter.

[“Private.”] “The Cottage, Monday.

“DEAR SIR— The name at the end of these lines will, I fear, recall to you a very rude return made on my part, some time since, for an act of neighborly kindness on yours. I can only say in excuse that I am a great sufferer, and that, if I was ill-tempered enough, in a moment of irritation under severe pain, to send back your present of fruit, I have regretted doing so ever since. Attribute this letter, if you please, to my desire to make some atonement, and to my wish to be of service to our good friend and landlord, if I possibly can.

“I have been informed of the question which you addressed to my husband, the day before yesterday, on the subject of Miss Gwilt. From all I have heard of you, I am quite sure that your anxiety to know more of this charming person than you know now is an anxiety proceeding from the most honorable motives. Believing this, I feel a woman’s interest — incurable invalid as I am — in assisting you. If you are desirous of becoming acquainted with Miss Gwilt’s family circumstances without directly appealing to Miss Gwilt herself, it rests with you to make the discovery; and I will tell you how.

“It so happens that, some few days since, I wrote privately to Miss Gwilt’s reference on this very subject. I had long observed that my governess was singularly reluctant to speak of her family and her friends; and, without attributing her silence to other than perfectly proper motives, I felt it my duty to my daughter to make some inquiry on the subject. The answer that I have received is satisfactory as far as it goes. My correspondent informs me that Miss Gwilt’s story is a very sad one, and that her own conduct throughout has been praiseworthy in the extreme. The circumstances (of a domestic nature, as I gather) are all plainly stated in a collection of letters now in the possession of Miss Gwilt’s reference. This lady is perfectly willing to let me see the letters; but not possessing copies of them, and being personally responsible for their security, she is reluctant, if it can be avoided, to trust them to the post; and she begs me to wait until she or I can find some reliable person who can be employed to transmit the packet from her hands to mine.

“Under these circumstances, it has struck me that you might possibly, with your interest in the matter, be not unwilling to take charge of the papers. If I am wrong in this idea, and if you are not disposed, after what I have told you, to go to the trouble and expense of a journey to London, you have only to burn my letter and inclosure, and to think no more about it. If you decide on becoming my envoy, I gladly provide you with the necessary introduction to Mrs. Mandeville. You have only, on presenting it, to receive the letters in a sealed packet, to send them here on your return to Thorpe Ambrose, and to wait an early communication from me acquainting you with the result.

“In conclusion, I have only to add that I see no impropriety in your taking (if you feel so inclined) the course that I propose to you. Miss Gwilt’s manner of receiving such allusions as I have made to her family circumstances has rendered it unpleasant for me (and would render it quite impossible for you) to seek information in the first instance from herself. I am certainly justified in applying to her reference; and you are certainly not to blame for being the medium of safely transmitting a sealed communication with one lady to another. If I find in that communication family secrets which cannot honorably be mentioned to any third person, I shall, of course, be obliged to keep you waiting until I have first appealed to Miss Gwilt. If I find nothing recorded but what is to her honor, and what is sure to raise her still higher in your estimation, I am undeniably doing her a service by taking you into my confidence. This is how I look at the matter; but pray don’t allow me to influence you.

“In any case, I have one condition to make, which I am sure you will understand to be indispensable. The most innocent actions are liable, in this wicked world, to the worst possible interpretation I must, therefore, request that you will consider this communication as strictly private. I write to you in a confidence which is on no account (until circumstances may, in my opinion, justify the revelation of it) to extend beyond our two selves,

“Believe me, dear sir, truly yours,

“ANNE MILROY.”

In this tempting form the unscrupulous ingenuity of the major’s wife had set the trap. Without a moment’s hesitation, Allan followed his impulses, as usual, and walked straight into it, writing his answer and pursuing his own reflections simultaneously in a highly characteristic state of mental confusion.

“By Jupiter, this is kind of Mrs. Milroy!” (“My dear madam.”) “Just the thing I wanted, at the time when I needed it most!” (“I don’t know how to express my sense of your kindness, except by saying that I will go to London and fetch the letters with the greatest pleasure.”) “She shall have a basket of fruit regularly every day, all through the season. “ (“I will go at once, dear madam, and be back to-morrow.”) “Ah, nothing like the women for helping one when one is in love! This is just what my poor mother would have done in Mrs. Milroy’s place.” (“On my word of honor as a gentleman, I will take the utmost care of the letters; and keep the thing strictly private, as you request.”) “I would have given five hundred pounds to anybody who would have put me up to the right way to speak to Miss Gwilt; and here is this blessed woman does it for nothing.” (“Believe me, my dear madam, gratefully yours, Allan Armadale.”)

Having sent his reply out to Mrs. Milroy’s messenger, Allan paused in a momentary perplexity. He had an appointment with Miss Gwilt in the park for the next morning. It was absolutely necessary to let her know that he would be unable to keep it. She had forbidden him to write, and he had no chance that day of seeing her alone. In this difficulty, he determined to let the necessary intimation reach her through the medium of a message to the major, announcing his departure for London on business, and asking if he could be of service to any member of the family. Having thus removed the only obstacle to his freedom of action, Allan consulted the time-table, and found, to his disappointment, that there was a good hour to spare before it would be necessary to drive to the railway station. In his existing frame of mind he would infinitely have preferred starting for London in a violent hurry.

When the time came at last, Allan, on passing the steward’s office, drummed at the door, and called through it to Mr. Bashwood, “I’m going to town; back to-morrow.” There was no answer from within; and the servant, interposing, informed his master that Mr. Bashwood, having no business to attend to that day, had locked up the office, and had left some hours since.

On reaching the station, the first person whom Allan encountered was Pedgift Junior, going to London on the legal business which he had mentioned on the previous evening at the great house. The necessary explanations exchanged, and it was decided that the two should travel in the same carriage. Allan was glad to have a companion; and Pedgift, enchanted as usual to make himself useful to his client, bustled away to get the tickets and see to the luggage. Sauntering to and fro on the platform, until his faithful follower returned, Allan came suddenly upon no less a person than Mr. Bashwood himself, standing back in a corner with the guard of the train, and putting a letter (accompanied, to all appearance, by a fee) privately into the man’s hand.

“Halloo!” cried Allan, in his hearty way. “Something important there, Mr. Bashwood, eh?”

If Mr. Bashwood had been caught in the act of committing murder, he could hardly have shown greater alarm than he now testified at Allan’s sudden discovery of him. Snatching off his dingy old hat, he bowed bare-headed, in a palsy of nervous trembling from head to foot. “No, sir — no, sir; only a little letter, a little letter, a little letter,” said the deputy-steward, taking refuge in reiteration, and bowing himself swiftly backward out of his employer’s sight.

Allan turned carelessly on his heel. “I wish I could take to that fellow,” he thought, “but I can’t; he’s such a sneak! What the deuce was there to tremble about? Does he think I want to pry into his secrets?”

Mr. Bashwood’s secret on this occasion concerned Allan more nearly than Allan supposed. The letter which he had just placed in charge of the guard was nothing less than a word of warning addressed to Mrs. Oldershaw, and written by Miss Gwilt.

“If you can hurry your business” (wrote the major’s governess) “do so, and come back to London immediately. Things are going wrong here, and Miss Milroy is at the bottom of the mischief. This morning she insisted on taking up her mother’s breakfast, always on other occasions taken up by the nurse. They had a long confabulation in private; and half an hour later I saw the nurse slip out with a letter, and take the path that leads to the great house. The sending of the letter has been followed by young Armadale’s sudden departure for London — in the face of an appointment which he had with me for tomorrow morning. This looks serious. The girl is evidently bold enough to make a fight of it for the position of Mrs. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose, and she has found out some way of getting her mother to help her. Don’t suppose I am in the least nervous or discouraged, and don’t do anything till you hear from me again. Only get back to London, for I may have serious need of your assistance in the course of the next day or two.

“I send this letter to town (to save a post) by the midday train, in charge of the guard. As you insist on knowing every step I take at Thorpe Ambrose, I may as well tell you that my messenger (for I can’t go to the station myself) is that curious old creature whom I mentioned to you in my first letter. Ever since that time he has been perpetually hanging about here for a look at me. I am not sure whether I frighten him or fascinate him; perhaps I do both together. All you need care to know is that I can trust him with my trifling errands, and possibly, as time goes on, with something more. L. G.”

Meanwhile the train had started from the Thorpe Ambrose station, and the squire and his traveling companion were on their way to London.

Some men, finding themselves in Allan’s company under present circumstances, might have felt curious to know the nature of his business in the metropolis. Young Pedgift’s unerring instinct as a man of the world penetrated the secret without the slightest difficulty. “The old story,” thought this wary old head, wagging privately on its lusty young shoulders, “There’s a woman in the case, as usual. Any other business would have been turned over to me.” Perfectly satisfied with this conclusion, Mr. Pedgift the younger proceeded, with an eye to his professional interest, to make himself agreeable to his client in the capacity of volunteer courier. He seized on the whole administrative business of the journey to London, as he had seized on the whole administrative business of the picnic at the Broads. On reaching the terminus, Allan was ready to go to any hotel that might be recommended. His invaluable solicitor straight-way drove him to a hotel at which the Pedgift family had been accustomed to put up for three generations.

“You don’t object to vegetables, sir?” said the cheerful Pedgift, as the cab stopped at a hotel in Covent Garden Market. “Very good; you may leave the rest to my grandfather, my father, and me. I don’t know which of the three is most beloved and respected in this house. How d’ye do, William? (Our head-waiter, Mr. Armadale.) Is your wife’s rheumatism better, and does the little boy get on nicely at school? Your master’s out, is he? Never mind, you’ll do. This, William, is Mr. Armadale of Thorpe Ambrose. I have prevailed on Mr. Armadale to try our house. Have you got the bedroom I wrote for? Very good. Let Mr. Armadale have it instead of me (my grandfather’s favorite bedroom, sir; No. 57, on the second floor); pray take it; I can sleep anywhere. Will you have the mattress on the top of the feather-bed? You hear, William? Tell Matilda, the mattress on the top of the feather-bed. How is Matilda? Has she got the toothache, as usual? The head-chambermaid, Mr. Armadale, and a most extraordinary woman; she will not part with a hollow tooth in her lower jaw. My grandfather says, ‘Have it out;’ my father says, ‘Have it out;’ I say, ‘Have it out;’ and Matilda turns a deaf ear to all three of us. Yes, William, yes; if Mr. Armadale approves, this sitting-room will do. About dinner, sir? Shall we say, in that case, half-past seven? William, half-past seven. Not the least need to order anything, Mr. Armadale. The head-waiter has only to give my compliments to the cook, and the best dinner in London will be sent up, punctual to the minute, as a necessary consequence. Say, Mr. Pedgift Junior, if you please, William; otherwise, sir, we might get my grandfather’s dinner or my father’s dinner, and they might turn out a little too heavy and old-fashioned in their way of feeding for you and me. As to the wine, William. At dinner, my Champagne, and the sherry that my father thinks nasty. After dinner, the claret with the blue seal — the wine my innocent grandfather said wasn’t worth sixpence a bottle. Ha! ha! poor old boy! You will send up the evening papers and the play-bills, just as usual, and — that will do? I think, William, for the present. An invaluable servant, Mr. Armadale; they’re all invaluable servants in this house. We may not be fashionable here, sir, but by the Lord Harry we are snug! A cab? you would like a cab? Don’t stir! I’ve rung the bell twice — that means, Cab wanted in a hurry. Might I ask, Mr. Armadale, which way your business takes you? Toward Bayswater? Would you mind dropping me in the park? It’s a habit of mine when I’m in London to air myself among the aristocracy. Yours truly, sir, has an eye for a fine woman and a fine horse; and when he’s in Hyde Park he’s quite in his native element.” Thus the all-accomplished Pedgift ran on; and by these little arts did he recommend himself to the good opinion of his client.

When the dinner hour united the traveling companions again in their sitting-room at the hotel, a far less acute observer than young Pedgift must have noticed the marked change that appeared in Allan’s manner. He looked vexed and puzzled, and sat drumming with his fingers on the dining-table without uttering a word.

“I’m afraid something has happened to annoy you, sir, since we parted company in the Park?” said Pedgift Junior. “Excuse the question; I only ask it in case I can be of any use.”

“Something that I never expected has happened,” returned Allan; “I don’t know what to make of it. I should like to have your opinion,” he added, after a little hesitation; “that is to say, if you will excuse my not entering into any particulars?”

“Certainly!” assented young Pedgift. “Sketch it in outline, sir. The merest hint will do; I wasn’t born yesterday.” (“Oh, these women!” thought the youthful philosopher, in parenthesis.)

“Well,” began Allan, “you know what I said when we got to this hotel; I said I had a place to go to in Bayswater” (Pedgift mentally checked off the first point: Case in the suburbs, Bayswater); “and a person — that is to say — no — as I said before, a person to inquire after.” (Pedgift checked off the next point: Person in the case. She-person, or he-person? She-person, unquestionably!) “Well, I went to the house, and when I asked for her — I mean the person — she — that is to say, the person — oh, confound it!” cried Allan, “I shall drive myself mad, and you, too, if I try to tell my story in this roundabout way. Here it is in two words. I went to No. 18 Kingsdown Crescent, to see a lady named Mandeville; and, when I asked for her, the servant said Mrs. Mandeville had gone away, without telling anybody where, and without even leaving an address at which letters could be sent to her. There! it’s out at last. And what do you think of it now?”

“Tell me first, sir,” said the wary Pedgift, “what inquiries you made when you found this lady had vanished?”

“Inquiries!” repeated Allan. “I was utterly staggered; I didn’t say anything. What inquiries ought I to have made?”

Pedgift Junior cleared his throat, and crossed his legs in a strictly professional manner.

“I have no wish, Mr. Armadale,” he began, “to inquire into your business with Mrs. Mandeville —”

“No,” interposed Allan, bluntly; “I hope you won’t inquire into that. My business with Mrs. Mandeville must remain a secret.”

“But,” pursued Pedgift, laying down the law with the forefinger of one hand on the outstretched palm of the other, “I may, perhaps, be allowed to ask generally whether your business with Mrs. Mandeville is of a nature to interest you in tracing her from Kingsdown Crescent to her present residence?”

“Certainly!” said Allan. “I have a very particular reason for wishing to see her.”

“In that case, sir,” returned Pedgift Junior, “there were two obvious questions which you ought to have asked, to begin with — namely, on what date Mrs. Mandeville left, and how she left. Having discovered this, you should have ascertained next under what domestic circumstances she went away — whether there was a misunderstanding with anybody; say a difficulty about money matters. Also, whether she went away alone, or with somebody else. Also, whether the house was her own, or whether she only lodged in it. Also, in the latter event —”

“Stop! stop! you’re making my head swim,” cried Allan. “I don’t understand all these ins and outs. I’m not used to this sort of thing.”

“I’ve been used to it myself from my childhood upward, sir,” remarked Pedgift. “And if I can be of any assistance, say the word.”

“You’re very kind,” returned Allan. “If you could only help me to find Mrs. Mandeville; and if you wouldn’t mind leaving the thing afterward entirely in my hands —?”

“I’ll leave it in your hands, sir, with all the pleasure in life,” said Pedgift Junior. (“And I’ll lay five to one,” he added, mentally, “when the time comes, you’ll leave it in mine!”) “We’ll go to Bayswater together, Mr. Armadale, tomorrow morning. In the meantime. here’s the soup. The case now before the court is, Pleasure versus Business. I don’t know what you say, sir; I say, without a moment’s hesitation, Verdict for the plaintiff. Let us gather our rosebuds while we may. Excuse my high spirits, Mr. Armadale. Though buried in the country, I was made for a London life; the very air of the metropolis intoxicates me.” With that avowal the irresistible Pedgift placed a chair for his patron, and issued his orders cheerfully to his viceroy, the head-waiter. “Iced punch, William, after the soup. I answer for the punch, Mr. Armadale; it’s made after a recipe of my great-uncle’s. He kept a tavern, and founded the fortunes of the family. I don’t mind telling you the Pedgifts have had a publican among them; there’s no false pride about me. ‘Worth makes the man (as Pope says) and want of it the fellow; the rest is all but leather and prunella.’ I cultivate poetry as well as music, sir, in my leisure hours; in fact, I’m more or less on familiar terms with the whole of the nine Muses. Aha! here’s the punch! The memory of my great-uncle, the publican, Mr. Armadale — drunk in solemn silence!”

Allan tried hard to emulate his companion’s gayety and good humor, but with very indifferent success. His visit to Kingsdown Crescent recurred ominously again and again to his memory all through the dinner, and all through the public amusements to which he and his legal adviser repaired at a later hour of the evening. When Pedgift Junior put out his candle that night, he shook his wary head, and regretfully apostrophized “the women” for the second time.

By ten o’clock the next morning the indefatigable Pedgift was on the scene of action. To Allan’s great relief, he proposed making the necessary inquiries at Kingsdown Crescent in his own person, while his patron waited near at hand, in the cab which had brought them from the hotel. After a delay of little more than five minutes, he reappeared, in full possession of all attainable particulars. His first proceeding was to request Allan to step out of the cab, and to pay the driver. Next, he politely offered his arm, and led the way round the corner of the crescent, across a square, and into a by-street, which was rendered exceptionally lively by the presence of the local cab-stand. Here he stopped, and asked jocosely whether Mr. Armadale saw his way now, or whether it would be necessary to test his patience by making an explanation.

“See my way?” repeated Allan, in bewilderment. “I see nothing but a cab-stand.”

Pedgift Junior smiled compassionately, and entered on his explanation. It was a lodging-house at Kingsdown Crescent, he begged to state to begin with. He had insisted on seeing the landlady. A very nice person, with all the remains of having been a fine girl about fifty years ago; quite in Pedgift’s style — if he had only been alive at the beginning of the present century — quite in Pedgift’s style. But perhaps Mr. Armadale would prefer hearing about Mrs. Mandeville? Unfortunately, there was nothing to tell. There had been no quarreling, and not a farthing left unpaid: the lodger had gone, and there wasn’t an explanatory circumstance to lay hold of anywhere. It was either Mrs. Mandeville’s way to vanish, or there was something under the rose, quite undiscoverable so far. Pedgift had got the date on which she left, and the time of day at which she left, and the means by which she left. The means might help to trace her. She had gone away in a cab which the servant had fetched from the nearest stand. The stand was now before their eyes; and the waterman was the first person to apply to — going to the waterman for information being clearly (if Mr. Armadale would excuse the joke) going to the fountain-head. Treating the subject in this airy manner, and telling Allan that he would be back in a moment, Pedgift Junior sauntered down the street, and beckoned the waterman confidentially into the nearest public-house.

In a little while the two re-appeared, the waterman taking Pedgift in succession to the first, third, fourth, and sixth of the cabmen whose vehicles were on the stand. The longest conference was held with the sixth man; and it ended in the sudden approach of the sixth cab to the part of the street where Allan was waiting.

“Get in, sir,” said Pedgift, opening the door; “I’ve found the man. He remembers the lady; and, though he has forgotten the name of the street, he believes he can find the place he drove her to when he once gets back into the neighborhood. I am charmed to inform you, Mr. Armadale, that we are in luck’s way so far. I asked the waterman to show me the regular men on the stand; and it turns out that one of the regular men drove Mrs. Mandeville. The waterman vouches for him; he’s quite an anomaly — a respectable cabman; drives his own horse, and has never been in any trouble. These are the sort of men, sir, who sustain one’s belief in human nature. I’ve had a look at our friend, and I agree with the waterman; I think we can depend on him.”

The investigation required some exercise of patience at the outset. It was not till the cab had traversed the distance between Bayswater and Pimlico that the driver began to slacken his pace and look about him. After once or twice retracing its course, the vehicle entered a quiet by-street, ending in a dead wall, with a door in it; and stopped at the last house on the left-hand side, the house next to the wall.

“Here it is, gentlemen,” said the man, opening the cab door.

Allan and Allan’s adviser both got out, and both looked at the house, with the same feeling of instinctive distrust.

Buildings have their physiognomy — especially buildings in great cities — and the face of this house was essentially furtive in its expression. The front windows were all shut, and the front blinds were all drawn down. It looked no larger than the other houses in the street, seen in front; but it ran back deceitfully and gained its greater accommodation by means of its greater depth. It affected to be a shop on the ground-floor; but it exhibited absolutely nothing in the space that intervened between the window and an inner row of red curtains, which hid the interior entirely from view. At one side was the shop door, having more red curtains behind the glazed part of it, and bearing a brass plate on the wooden part of it, inscribed with the name of “Oldershaw.” On the other side was the private door, with a bell marked Professional; and another brass plate, indicating a medical occupant on this side of the house, for the name on it was, “Doctor Downward.” If ever brick and mortar spoke yet, the brick and mortar here said plainly, “We have got our secrets inside, and we mean to keep them.”

“This can’t be the place,” said Allan; “there must be some mistake.”

‘You know best, sir,” remarked Pedgift Junior, with his sardonic gravity. “You know Mrs. Mandeville’s habits.”

“I!” exclaimed Allan. “You may be surprised to hear it; but Mrs. Mandeville is a total stranger to me.”

“I’m not in the least surprised to hear it, sir; the landlady at Kingsdown Crescent informed me that Mrs. Mandeville was an old woman. Suppose we inquire?” added the impenetrable Pedgift, looking at the red curtains in the shop window with a strong suspicion that Mrs. Mandeville’s granddaughter might possibly be behind them.

They tried the shop door first. It was locked. They rang. A lean and yellow young woman, with a tattered French novel in her hand, opened it.

“Good-morning, miss,” said Pedgift. “Is Mrs. Mandeville at home?”

The yellow young woman stared at him in astonishment. “No person of that name is known here,” she answered, sharply, in a foreign accent.

“Perhaps they know her at the private door?” suggested Pedgift Junior.

“Perhaps they do,” said the yellow young woman, and shut the door in his face.

“Rather a quick-tempered young person that, sir,” said Pedgift. “I congratulate Mrs. Mandeville on not being acquainted with her.” He led the way, as he spoke, to Doctor Downward’s side of the premises, and rang the bell.

The door was opened this time by a man in a shabby livery. He, too, stared when Mrs. Mandeville’s name was mentioned; and he, too, knew of no such person in the house.

“Very odd,” said Pedgift, appealing to Allan.

“What is odd?” asked a softly stepping, softly speaking gentleman in black, suddenly appearing on the threshold of the parlor door.

Pedgift Junior politely explained the circumstances, and begged to know whether he had the pleasure of speaking to Doctor Downward.

The doctor bowed. If the expression may be pardoned, he was one of those carefully constructed physicians in whom the public — especially the female public — implicitly trust. He had the necessary bald head, the necessary double eyeglass, the necessary black clothes, and the necessary blandness of manner, all complete. His voice was soothing, his ways were deliberate, his smile was confidential. What particular branch of his profession Doctor Downward followed was not indicated on his door-plate; but he had utterly mistaken his vocation if he was not a ladies’ medical man.

“Are you quite sure there is no mistake about the name?” asked the doctor, with a strong underlying anxiety in his manner. “I have known very serious inconvenience to arise sometimes from mistakes about names. No? There is really no mistake? In that case, gentlemen, I can only repeat what my servant has already told you. Don’t apologize, pray. Good-morning.” The doctor withdrew as noiselessly as he had appeared; the man in the shabby livery silently opened the door; and Allan and his companion found themselves in the street again.

“Mr. Armadale,” said Pedgift, “I don’t know how you feel; I feel puzzled.”

“That’s awkward,” returned Allan. “I was just going to ask you what we ought to do next.”

“I don’t like the look of the place, the look of the shop-woman, or the look of the doctor,” pursued the other. “And yet I can’t say I think they are deceiving us; I can’t say I think they really know Mrs. Mandeville’s name.”

The impressions of Pedgift Junior seldom misled him; and they had not misled him in this case. The caution which had dictated Mrs. Oldershaw’s private removal from Bayswater was the caution which frequently overreaches itself. It had warned her to trust nobody at Pimlico with the secret of the name she had assumed as Miss Gwilt’s reference; but it had entirely failed to prepare her for the emergency that had really happened. In a word, Mrs. Oldershaw had provided for everything except for the one unimaginable contingency of an after-inquiry into the character of Miss Gwilt.

“We must do something,” said Allan; “it seems useless to stop here.”

Nobody had ever yet caught Pedgift Junior at the end of his resources; and Allan failed to catch him at the end of them now. “I quite agree with you, sir,” he said; “we must do something. We’ll cross-examine the cabman.”

The cabman proved to be immovable. Charged with mistaking the place, he pointed to the empty shop window. “I don’t know what you may have seen, gentlemen,” he remarked; “but there’s the only shop window I ever saw with nothing at all inside it. That fixed the place in my mind at the time, and I know it again when I see it.” Charged with mistaking the person or the day, or the house at which he had taken the person up, the cabman proved to be still unassailable. The servant who fetched him was marked as a girl well known on the stand. The day was marked as the unluckiest working-day he had had since the first of the year; and the lady was marked as having had her money ready at the right moment (which not one elderly lady in a hundred usually had), and having paid him his fare on demand without disputing it (which not one elderly lady in a hundred usually did). “Take my number, gentlemen,” concluded the cabman, “and pay me for my time; and what I’ve said to you, I’ll swear to anywhere.”

Pedgift made a note in his pocket-book of the man’s number. Having added to it the name of the street, and the names on the two brass plates, he quietly opened the cab door. “We are quite in the dark, thus far,” he said. “Suppose we grope our way back to the hotel?”

He spoke and looked more seriously than usual The mere fact of “Mrs. Mandeville’s” having changed her lodging without telling any one where she was going, and without leaving any address at which letters could be forwarded to her — which the jealous malignity of Mrs. Milroy had interpreted as being undeniably suspicious in itself — had produced no great impression on the more impartial judgment of Allan’s solicitor. People frequently left their lodgings in a private manner, with perfectly producible reasons for doing so. But the appearance of the place to which the cabman persisted in declaring that he had driven “Mrs. Mandeville” set the character and proceedings of that mysterious lady before Pedgift Junior in a new light. His personal interest in the inquiry suddenly strengthened, and he began to feel a curiosity to know the real nature of Allan’s business which he had not felt yet.

“Our next move, Mr. Armadale, is not a very easy move to see,” he said, as they drove back to the hotel. “Do you think you could put me in possession of any further particulars?”

Allan hesitated; and Pedgift Junior saw that he had advanced a little too far. “I mustn’t force it,” he thought; “I must give it time, and let it come of its own accord.” “In the absence of any other information, sir,” he resumed, “what do you say to my making some inquiry about that queer shop, and about those two names on the door-plate? My business in London, when I leave you, is of a professional nature; and I am going into the right quarter for getting information, if it is to be got.”

“There can’t be any harm, I suppose, in making inquiries,” replied Allan.

He, too, spoke more seriously than usual; he, too, was beginning to feel an all-mastering curiosity to know more. Some vague connection, not to be distinctly realized or traced out, began to establish itself in his mind between the difficulty of approaching Miss Gwilt’s family circumstances and the difficulty of approaching Miss Gwilt’s reference. “I’ll get down and walk, and leave you to go on to your business,” he said. “I want to consider a little about this, and a walk and a cigar will help me.”

“My business will be done, sir, between one and two,” said Pedgift, when the cab had been stopped, and Allan had got out. “Shall we meet again at two o’clock, at the hotel?”

Allan nodded, and the cab drove off.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/collins/wilkie/c71a/chapter24.html

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