Armadale, by Wilkie Collins

Epilogue.

Chapter I.

News From Norfolk.

From Mr. Pedgift, Senior (Thorpe Ambrose), to Mr. Pedgift, Junior (Paris).

“High Street, December 20th.

“My Dear AUGUSTUS— Your letter reached me yesterday. You seem to be making the most of your youth (as you call it) with a vengeance. Well! enjoy your holiday. I made the most of my youth when I was your age; and, wonderful to relate, I haven’t forgotten it yet!

“You ask me for a good budget of news, and especially for more information about that mysterious business at the Sanitarium.

“Curiosity, my dear boy, is a quality which (in our profession especially) sometimes leads to great results. I doubt, however, if you will find it leading to much on this occasion. All I know of the mystery of the Sanitarium, I know from Mr. Armadale: and he is entirely in the dark on more than one point of importance. I have already told you how they were entrapped into the house, and how they passed the night there. To this I can now add that something did certainly happen to Mr. Midwinter, which deprived him of consciousness; and that the doctor, who appears to have been mixed up in the matter, carried things with a high hand, and insisted on taking his own course in his own Sanitarium. There is not the least doubt that the miserable woman (however she might have come by her death) was found dead — that a coroner’s inquest inquired into the circumstances — that the evidence showed her to have entered the house as a patient — and that the medical investigation ended in discovering that she had died of apoplexy. My idea is that Mr. Midwinter had a motive of his own for not coming forward with the evidence that he might have given. I have also reason to suspect that Mr. Armadale, out of regard for him, followed his lead, and that the verdict at the inquest (attaching no blame to anybody) proceeded, like many other verdicts of the same kind, from an entirely superficial investigation of the circumstances.

“The key to the whole mystery is to be found, I firmly believe, in that wretched woman’s attempt to personate the character of Mr. Armadale’s widow when the news of his death appeared in the papers. But what first set her on this, and by what inconceivable process of deception she can have induced Mr. Midwinter to marry her (as the certificate proves) under Mr. Armadale’s name, is more than Mr. Armadale himself knows. The point was not touched at the inquest, for the simple reason that the inquest only concerned itself with the circumstances attending her death. Mr. Armadale, at his friend’s request, saw Miss Blanchard, and induced her to silence old Darch on the subject of the claim that had been made relating to the widow’s income. As the claim had never been admitted, even our stiff-necked brother practitioner consented for once to do as he was asked. The doctor’s statement that his patient was the widow of a gentleman named Armadale was accordingly left unchallenged, and so the matter has been hushed up. She is buried in the great cemetery, near the place where she died. Nobody but Mr. Midwinter and Mr. Armadale (who insisted on going with him) followed her to the grave; and nothing has been inscribed on the tombstone but the initial letter of her Christian name and the date of her death. So, after all the harm she has done, she rests at last; and so the two men whom she has injured have forgiven her.

“Is there more to say on this subject before we leave it? On referring to your letter, I find you have raised one other point, which may be worth a moment’s notice.

“You ask if there is reason to suppose that the doctor comes out of the matter with hands which are really as clean as they look? My dear Augustus, I believe the doctor to have been at the bottom of more of this mischief than we shall ever find out; and to have profited by the self-imposed silence of Mr. Midwinter and Mr. Armadale, as rogues perpetually profit by the misfortunes and necessities of honest men. It is an ascertained fact that he connived at the false statement about Miss Milroy, which entrapped the two gentlemen into his house; and that one circumstance (after my Old Bailey experience) is enough for me. As to evidence against him, there is not a jot; and as to Retribution overtaking him, I can only say I heartily hope Retribution may prove, in the long run, to be the more cunning customer of the two. There is not much prospect of it at present. The doctor’s friends and admirers are, I understand, about to present him with a Testimonial, ‘expressive of their sympathy under the sad occurrence which has thrown a cloud over the opening of his Sanitarium, and of their undiminished confidence in his integrity and ability as a medical man.’ We live, Augustus, in an age eminently favorable to the growth of all roguery which is careful enough to keep up appearances. In this enlightened nineteenth century, I look upon the doctor as one of our rising men.

“To turn now to pleasanter subjects than Sanitariums, I may tell you that Miss Neelie is as good as well again, and is, in my humble opinion, prettier than ever. She is staying in London under the care of a female relative; and Mr. Armadale satisfies her of the fact of his existence (in case she should forget it) regularly every day. They are to be married in the spring, unless Mrs. Milroy’s death causes the ceremony to be postponed. The medical men are of opinion that the poor lady is sinking at last. It may be a question of weeks or a question of months, they can say no more. She is greatly altered — quiet and gentle, and anxiously affectionate with her husband and her child. But in her case this happy change is, it seems, a sign of approaching dissolution, from the medical point of view. There is a difficulty in making the poor old, major understand this. He only sees that she has gone back to the likeness of her better self when he first married her; and he sits for hours by her bedside now, and tells her about his wonderful clock.

“Mr. Midwinter, of whom you will next expect me to say something, is improving rapidly. After causing some anxiety at first to the medical men (who declared that he was suffering from a serious nervous shock, produced by circumstances about which their patient’s obstinate silence kept them quite in the dark), he has rallied, as only men of his sensitive temperament (to quote the doctors again) can rally. He and Mr. Armadale are together in a quiet lodging. I saw him last week when I was in London. His face showed signs of wear and tear, very sad to see in so young a man. But he spoke of himself and his future with a courage and hopefulness which men of twice his years (if he has suffered as I suspect him to have suffered) might have envied. If I know anything of humanity, this is no common man; and we shall hear of him yet in no common way.

“You will wonder how I came to be in London. I went up, with a return ticket (from Saturday to Monday), about that matter in dispute at our agent’s. We had a tough fight; but, curiously enough, a point occurred to me just as I got up to go; and I went back to my chair, and settled the question in no time. Of course I stayed at Our Hotel in Covent Garden. William, the waiter, asked after you with the affection of a father; and Matilda, the chamber-maid, said you almost persuaded her that last time to have the hollow tooth taken out of her lower jaw. I had the agent’s second son (the young chap you nicknamed Mustapha, when he made that dreadful mess about the Turkish Securities) to dine with me on Sunday. A little incident happened in the evening which may be worth recording, as it connected itself with a certain old lady who was not ‘at home’ when you and Mr. Armadale blundered on that house in Pimlico in the bygone time.

“Mustapha was like all the rest of you young men of the present day — he got restless after dinner. ‘Let’s go to a public amusement, Mr. Pedgift,’ says he. ‘Public amusement? Why, it’s Sunday evening!’ says I. ‘All right, sir,’ says Mustapha. ‘They stop acting on the stage, I grant you, on Sunday evening — but they don’t stop acting in the pulpit. Come and see the last new Sunday performer of our time.’ As he wouldn’t have any more wine, there was nothing else for it but to go.

“We went to a street at the West End, and found it blocked up with carriages. If it hadn’t been Sunday night, I should have thought we were going to the opera. ‘What did I tell you?’ says Mustapha, taking me up to an open door with a gas star outside and a bill of the performance. I had just time to notice that I was going to one of a series of ‘Sunday Evening Discourses on the Pomps and Vanities of the World, by A Sinner Who Has Served Them,’ when Mustapha jogged my elbow, and whispered, ‘Half a crown is the fashionable tip.’ I found myself between two demure and silent gentlemen, with plates in their hands, uncommonly well filled already with the fashionable tip. Mustapha patronized one plate, and I the other. We passed through two doors into a long room, crammed with people. And there, on a platform at the further end, holding forth to the audience, was — not a man, as I had expected — but a Woman, and that woman, MOTHER OLDERSHAW! You never listened to anything more eloquent in your life. As long as I heard her she was never once at a loss for a word anywhere. I shall think less of oratory as a human accomplishment, for the rest of my days, after that Sunday evening. As for the matter of the sermon, I may describe it as a narrative of Mrs. Oldershaw’s experience among dilapidated women, profusely illustrated in the pious and penitential style. You will ask what sort of audience it was. Principally Women, Augustus — and, as I hope to be saved, all the old harridans of the world of fashion whom Mother Oldershaw had enameled in her time, sitting boldly in the front places, with their cheeks ruddled with paint, in a state of devout enjoyment wonderful to see! I left Mustapha to hear the end of it. And I thought to myself, as I went out, of what Shakespeare says somewhere, ‘Lord, what fools we mortals be!’

“Have I anything more to tell you before I leave off? Only one thing that I can remember.

“That wretched old Bashwood has confirmed the fears I told you I had about him when he was brought back here from London. There is no kind of doubt that he has really lost all the little reason he ever had. He is perfectly harmless, and perfectly happy. And he would do very well if we could only prevent him from going out in his last new suit of clothes, smirking and smiling and inviting everybody to his approaching marriage with the handsomest woman in England. It ends of course in the boys pelting him, and in his coming here crying to me, covered with mud. The moment his clothes are cleaned again he falls back into his favorite delusion, and struts about before the church gates, in the character of a bridegroom, waiting for Miss Gwilt. We must get the poor wretch taken care of somewhere for the rest of the little time he has to live. Who would ever have thought of a man at his age falling in love? And who would ever have believed that the mischief that woman’s beauty has done could have reached as far in the downward direction as our superannuated old clerk?

“Good-by, for the present, my dear boy. If you see a particularly handsome snuff-box in Paris, remember — though your father scorns Testimonials — he doesn’t object to receive a present from his son.

“Yours affectionately,

A. PEDGIFT, Sen.

“POSTSCRIPT. — I think it likely that the account you mention in the French papers, of a fatal quarrel among some foreign sailors in one of the Lipari Islands, and of the death of their captain, among others, may really have been a quarrel among the scoundrels who robbed Mr. Armadale and scuttled his yacht. Those fellows, luckily for society, can’t always keep up appearances; and, in their case, Rogues and Retribution do occasionally come into collision with each other.”

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