Armadale, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter II.

The Diary Continued.

“We went to the San Carlo. Armadale’s stupidity showed itself, even in such a simple matter as taking a box. He had confounded an opera with a play, and had chosen a box close to the stage, with the idea that one’s chief object at a musical performance is to see the faces of the singers as plainly as possible! Fortunately for our ears, Bellini’s lovely melodies are, for the most part, tenderly and delicately accompanied — or the orchestra might have deafened us.

“I sat back in the box at first, well out of sight; for it was impossible to be sure that some of my old friends of former days at Naples might not be in the theater. But the sweet music gradually tempted me out of my seclusion. I was so charmed and interested that I leaned forward without knowing it, and looked at the stage.

“I was made aware of my own imprudence by a discovery which, for the moment, literally chilled my blood. One of the singers, among the chorus of Druids, was looking at me while he sang with the rest. His head was disguised in the long white hair, and the lower part of his face was completely covered with the flowing white beard proper to the character. But the eyes with which he looked at me were the eyes of the one man on earth whom I have most reason to dread ever seeing again — Manuel!

“If it had not been for my smelling-bottle, I believe I should have lost my senses. As it was, I drew back again into the shadow. Even Armadale noticed the sudden change in me: he, as well as Midwinter, asked if I was ill. I said I felt the heat, but hoped I should be better presently; and then leaned back in the box, and tried to rally my courage. I succeeded in recovering self-possession enough to be able to look again at the stage (without showing myself) the next time the chorus appeared. There was the man again! But to my infinite relief he never looked toward our box a second time. This welcome indifference, on his part, helped to satisfy me that I had seen an extraordinary accidental resemblance, and nothing more. I still hold to this conclusion, after having had leisure to think; but my mind would be more completely at ease than it is if I had seen the rest of the man’s face without the stage disguises that hid it from all investigation.

“When the curtain fell on the first act, there was a tiresome ballet to be performed (according to the absurd Italian custom), before the opera went on. Though I had got over my first fright, I had been far too seriously startled to feel comfortable in the theater. I dreaded all sorts of impossible accidents; and when Midwinter and Armadale put the question to me, I told them I was not well enough to stay through the rest of the performance.

“At the door of the theater Armadale proposed to say good-night. But Midwinter — evidently dreading the evening with me — asked him to come back to supper, if I had no objection. I said the necessary words, and we all three returned together to this house.

“Ten minutes’ quiet in my own room (assisted by a little dose of eau-de-cologne and water) restored me to myself. I joined the men at the supper-table. They received my apologies for taking them away from the opera, with the complimentary assurance that I had not cost either of them the slightest sacrifice of his own pleasure. Midwinter declared that he was too completely worn out to care for anything but the two great blessings, unattainable at the theater, of quiet and fresh air. Armadale said — with an Englishman’s exasperating pride in his own stupidity wherever a matter of art is concerned — that he couldn’t make head or tail of the performance. The principal disappointment, he was good enough to add, was mine, for I evidently understood foreign music, and enjoyed it. Ladies generally did. His darling little Neelie —

“I was in no humor to be persecuted with his ‘Darling Neelie’ after what I had gone through at the theater. It might have been the irritated state of my nerves, or it might have been the eau-de-cologne flying to my head, but the bare mention of the girl seemed to set me in a flame. I tried to turn Armadale’s attention in the direction of the supper-table. He was much obliged, but he had no appetite for more. I offered him wine next, the wine of the country, which is all that our poverty allows us to place on the table. He was much obliged again. The foreign wine was very little more to his taste than the foreign music; but he would take some because I asked him; and he would drink my health in the old-fashioned way, with his best wishes for the happy time when we should all meet again at Thorpe Ambrose, and when there would be a mistress to welcome me at the great house.

“Was he mad to persist in this way? No; his face answered for him. He was under the impression that he was making himself particularly agreeable to me.

“I looked at Midwinter. He might have seen some reason for interfering to change the conversation, if he had looked at me in return. But he sat silent in his chair, irritable and overworked, with his eyes on the ground, thinking.

“I got up and went to the window. Still impenetrable to a sense of his own clumsiness, Armadale followed me. If I had been strong enough to toss him out of the window into the sea, I should certainly have done it at that moment. Not being strong enough, I looked steadily at the view over the bay, and gave him a hint, the broadest and rudest I could think of, to go.

“‘A lovely night for a walk,’ I said, ‘if you are tempted to walk back to the hotel.’

“I doubt if he heard me. At any rate, I produced no sort of effect on him. He stood staring sentimentally at the moonlight; and — there is really no other word to express it — blew a sigh. I felt a presentiment of what was coming, unless I stopped his mouth by speaking first.

“‘With all your fondness for England,’ I said, ‘you must own that we have no such moonlight as that at home.’

“He looked at me vacantly, and blew another sigh.

“‘I wonder whether it is fine to-night in England as it is here?’ he said. ‘I wonder whether my dear little girl at home is looking at the moonlight, and thinking of me?’

“I could endure it no longer. I flew out at him at last.

“‘Good heavens, Mr. Armadale!’ I exclaimed, ‘is there only one subject worth mentioning, in the narrow little world you live in? I’m sick to death of Miss Milroy. Do pray talk of something else?’

“His great, broad, stupid face colored up to the roots of his hideous yellow hair. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he stammered, with a kind of sulky surprise. ‘I didn’t suppose —’ He stopped confusedly, and looked from me to Midwinter. I understood what the look meant. ‘I didn’t suppose she could be jealous of Miss Milroy after marrying you!’ That is what he would have said to Midwinter, if I had left them alone together in the room!

“As it was, Midwinter had heard us. Before I could speak again — before Armadale could add another word — he finished his friend’s uncompleted sentence, in a tone that I now heard, and with a look that I now saw, for the first time.

“‘You didn’t suppose, Allan,’ he said, ‘that a lady’s temper could be so easily provoked.’

“The first bitter word of irony, the first hard look of contempt, I had ever had from him! And Armadale the cause of it!

“My anger suddenly left me. Something came in its place which steadied me in an instant, and took me silently out of the room.

“I sat down alone in the bedroom. I had a few minutes of thought with myself, which I don’t choose to put into words, even in these secret pages. I got up, and unlocked — never mind what. I went round to Midwinter’s side of the bed, and took — no matter what I took. The last thing I did before I left the room was to look at my watch. It was half-past ten, Armadale’s usual time for leaving us. I went back at once and joined the two men again.

“I approached Armadale good-humoredly, and said to him:

“No! On second thoughts. I won’t put down what I said to him, or what I did afterward. I’m sick of Armadale! he turns up at every second word I write. I shall pass over what happened in the course of the next hour — the hour between half-past ten and half-past eleven — and take up my story again at the time when Armadale had left us. Can I tell what took place, as soon as our visitor’s back was turned, between Midwinter and me in our own room? Why not pass over what happened, in that case as well as in the other? Why agitate myself by writing it down? I don’t know! Why do I keep a diary at all? Why did the clever thief the other day (in the English newspaper) keep the very thing to convict him in the shape of a record of everything he stole? Why are we not perfectly reasonable in all that we do? Why am I not always on my guard and never inconsistent with myself, like a wicked character in a novel? Why? why? why?

“I don’t care why! I must write down what happened between Midwinter and me to-night, because I must. There’s a reason that nobody can answer — myself included.

* * * * * * *

“It was half-past eleven. Armadale had gone. I had put on my dressing-gown, and had just sat down to arrange my hair for the night, when I was surprised by a knock at the door, and Midwinter came in.

“He was frightfully pale. His eyes looked at me with a terrible despair in them. He never answered when I expressed my surprise at his coming in so much sooner than usual; he wouldn’t even tell me, when I asked the question, if he was ill. Pointing peremptorily to the chair from which I had risen on his entering the room, he told me to sit down again; and then, after a moment, added these words: ‘I have something serious to say to you.’

“I thought of what I had done — or, no, of what I had tried to do — in that interval between half-past ten and half-past eleven, which I have left unnoticed in my diary — and the deadly sickness of terror, which I never felt at the time, came upon me now. I sat down again, as I had been told, without speaking to Midwinter, and without looking at him.

“He took a turn up and down the room, and then came and stood over me.

“‘If Allan comes here to-morrow,’ he began, ‘and if you see him —’

“His voice faltered, and he said no more. There was some dreadful grief at his heart that was trying to master him. But there are times when his will is a will of iron. He took another turn in the room, and crushed it down. He came back, and stood over me again.

“‘When Allan comes here to-morrow,’ he resumed, ‘let him come into my room, if he wants to see me. I shall tell him that I find it impossible to finish the work I now have on hand as soon as I had hoped, and that he must, therefore, arrange to find a crew for the yacht without any assistance on my part. If he comes, in his disappointment, to appeal to you, give him no hope of my being free in time to help him if he waits. Encourage him to take the best assistance he can get from strangers, and to set about manning the yacht without any further delay. The more occupation he has to keep him away from this house, and the less you encourage him to stay here if he does come, the better I shall be pleased. Don’t forget that, and don’t forget one last direction which I have now to give you. When the vessel is ready for sea, and when Allan invites us to sail with him, it is my wish that you should positively decline to go. He will try to make you change your mind; for I shall, of course, decline, on my side, to leave you in this strange house, and in this foreign country, by yourself. No matter what he says, let nothing persuade you to alter your decision. Refuse, positively and finally! Refuse, I insist on it, to set your foot on the new yacht!’

“He ended quietly and firmly, with no faltering in his voice, and no signs of hesitation or relenting in his face. The sense of surprise which I might otherwise have felt at the strange words he had addressed to me was lost in the sense of relief that they brought to my mind. The dread of those other words that I had expected to hear from him left me as suddenly as it had come. I could look at him, I could speak to him once more.

“‘You may depend,’ I answered, ‘on my doing exactly what you order me to do. Must I obey you blindly? Or may I know your reason for the extraordinary directions you have just given to me?’

“His, face darkened, and he sat down on the other side of my dressing-table, with a heavy, hopeless sigh.

“‘You may know the reason,’ he said, ‘if you wish it.’ He waited a little, and considered. ‘You have a right to know the reason,’ he resumed, ‘for you yourself are concerned in it.’ He waited a little again, and again went on. ‘I can only explain the strange request I have just made to you in one way,’ be said. ‘I must ask you to recall what happened in the next room, before Allan left us to-night.’

“He looked at me with a strange mixture of expressions in his face. At one moment I thought he felt pity for me. At another, it seemed more like horror of me. I began to feel frightened again; I waited for his next words in silence.

“‘I know that I have been working too hard lately,’ he went on, ‘and that my nerves are sadly shaken. It is possible, in the state I am in now, that I may have unconsciously misinterpreted, or distorted, the circumstances that really took place. You will do me a favor if you will test my recollection of what has happened by your own. If my fancy has exaggerated anything, if my memory is playing me false anywhere, I entreat you to stop me, and tell me of it.’

“I commanded myself sufficiently to ask what the circumstances were to which he referred, and in what way I was personally concerned in them.

“‘You were personally concerned in them in this way,’ he answered. ‘The circumstances to which I refer began with your speaking to Allan about Miss Milroy, in what I thought a very inconsiderate and very impatient manner. I am afraid I spoke just as petulantly on my side, and I beg your pardon for what I said to you in the irritation of the moment. You left the room. After a short absence, you came back again, and made a perfectly proper apology to Allan, which he received with his usual kindness and sweetness of temper. While this went on, you and he were both standing by the supper-table; and Allan resumed some conversation which had already passed between you about the Neapolitan wine. He said he thought he should learn to like it in time, and he asked leave to take another glass of the wine we had on the table. Am I right so far?’

“The words almost died on my lips; but I forced them out, and answered him that he was right so far.

“‘You took the flask out of Allan’s hand,’ he proceeded. ‘You said to him, good-humoredly, “You know you don’t really like the wine, Mr. Armadale. Let me make you something which may be more to your taste. I have a recipe of my own for lemonade. Will you favor me by trying it?” In those words, you made your proposal to him, and he accepted it. Did he also ask leave to look on, and learn how the lemonade was made? and did you tell him that he would only confuse you, and that you would give him the recipe in writing, if he wanted it?’

“This time the words did really die on my lips. I could only bow my head, and answer ‘Yes’ mutely in that way. Midwinter went on.

“‘Allan laughed, and went to the window to look out at the Bay, and I went with him. After a while Allan remarked, jocosely, that the mere sound of the liquids you were pouring out made him thirsty. When he said this, I turned round from the window. I approached you, and said the lemonade took a long time to make. You touched me, as I was walking away again, and handed me the tumbler filled to the brim. At the same time, Allan turned round from the window; and I, in my turn, handed the tumbler to him. — Is there any mistake so far?’

“The quick throbbing of my heart almost choked me. I could just shake my head — I could do no more.

“‘I saw Allan raise the tumbler to his lips. — Did you see it? I saw his face turn white in an instant. — Did you? I saw the glass fall from his hand on the floor. I saw him stagger, and caught him before he fell. Are these things true? For God’s sake, search your memory, and tell me — are these things true?’

“The throbbing at my heart seemed, for one breathless instant, to stop. The next moment something fiery, something maddening, flew through me. I started to my feet, with my temper in a flame, reckless of all consequences, desperate enough to say anything.

“‘Your questions are an insult! Your looks are an insult!’ I burst out. ‘Do you think I tried to poison him?’

“The words rushed out of my lips in spite of me. They were the last words under heaven that any woman, in such a situation as mine, ought to have spoken. And yet I spoke them!

“He rose in alarm and gave me my smelling-bottle. ‘Hush! hush!’ he said. ‘You, too, are overwrought — you, too, are overexcited by all that has happened to-night. You are talking wildly and shockingly. Good God! how can you have so utterly misunderstood me? Compose yourself — pray, compose yourself.’

“He might as well have told a wild animal to compose herself. Having been mad enough to say the words, I was mad enough next to return to the subject of the lemonade, in spite of his entreaties to me to be silent.

“‘I told you what I had put in the glass, the moment Mr. Armadale fainted,’ I went on; insisting furiously on defending myself, when no attack was made on me. ‘I told you I had taken the flask of brandy which you kept at your bedside, and mixed some of it with the lemonade. How could I know that he had a nervous horror of the smell and taste of brandy? Didn’t he say to me himself, when he came to his senses, It’s my fault; I ought to have warned you to put no brandy in it? Didn’t he remind you afterward of the time when you and he were in the Isle of Man together, and when the doctor there innocently made the same mistake with him that I made to-night?’

[“I laid a great stress on my innocence — and with some reason too. Whatever else I may be, I pride myself on not being a hypocrite. I was innocent — so far as the brandy was concerned. I had put it into the lemonade, in pure ignorance of Armadale’s nervous peculiarity, to disguise the taste of — never mind what! Another of the things I pride myself on is that I never wander from my subject. What Midwinter said next is what I ought to be writing about now.]

“He looked at me for a moment, as if he thought I had taken leave of my senses. Then he came round to my side of the table and stood over me again.

“‘If nothing else will satisfy you that you are entirely misinterpreting my motives,’ he said, ‘and that I haven’t an idea of blaming you in the matter — read this.’

“He took a paper from the breast-pocket of his coat, and spread it open under my eyes. It was the Narrative of Armadale’s Dream.

“In an instant the whole weight on my mind was lifted off it. I felt mistress of myself again — I understood him at last.

“‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked. ‘Do you remember what I said to you at Thorpe Ambrose about Allan’s Dream? I told you then that two out of the three Visions had already come true. I tell you now that the third Vision has been fulfilled in this house to-night.’

“He turned over the leaves of the manuscript, and pointed to the lines that he wished me to read.

“I read these, or nearly read these words, from the Narrative of the Dream, as Midwinter had taken it down from Armadale’s own lips:

“‘The darkness opened for the third time, and showed me the Shadow of the Man and the Shadow of the Woman together. The Man-Shade was the nearest; the Woman-Shadow stood back. From where she stood, I heard a sound like the pouring out of a liquid softly. I saw her touch the Shadow of the Man with one hand, and give him a glass with the other. He took the glass and handed it to me. At the moment when I put it to my lips, a deadly faintness overcame me. When I recovered my senses again, the Shadows had vanished, and the Vision was at an end.’

“For the moment, I was as completely staggered by this extraordinary coincidence as Midwinter himself.

“He put one hand on the open narrative and laid the other heavily on my arm.

“’Now do you understand my motive in coming here?’ he asked. ‘Now do you see that the last hope I had to cling to was the hope that your memory of the night’s events might prove my memory to be wrong? Now do you know why I won’t help Allan? Why I won’t sail with him? Why I am plotting and lying, and making you plot and lie too, to keep my best and dearest friend out of the house?’

“‘Have you forgotten Mr. Brock’s letter?’ I asked.

“He struck his hand passionately on the open manuscript. ‘If Mr. Brook had lived to see what we have seen to-night he would have felt what I feel, he would have said what I say!’ His voice sank mysteriously, and his great black eyes glittered at me as he made that answer. ‘Thrice the Shadows of the Vision warned Allan in his sleep,’ he went on; ‘and thrice those Shadows have been embodied in the after-time by You and by Me! You, and no other, stood in the Woman’s place at the pool. I, and no other, stood in the Man’s place at the window. And you and I together, when the last Vision showed the Shadows together, stand in the Man’s place and the Woman’s place still! For this, the miserable day dawned when you and I first met. For this, your influence drew me to you, when my better angel warned me to fly the sight of your face. There is a curse on our lives! there is a fatality in our footsteps! Allan’s future depends on his separation from us at once and forever. Drive him from the place we live in, and the air we breathe. Force him among strangers — the worst and wickedest of them will be more harmless, to him than we are! Let his yacht sail, though he goes on his knees to ask us, without you and without me; and let him know how I loved him in another world than this, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest!’

“His grief conquered him; his voice broke into a sob when he spoke those last words. He took the Narrative of the Dream from the table, and left me as abruptly as he had come in.

“As I heard his door locked between us, my mind went back to what he had said to me about myself. In remembering ‘the miserable day’ when we first saw each other, and ‘the better angel’ that had warned him to ‘fly the sight of my face,’ I forgot all else. It doesn’t matter what I felt — I wouldn’t own it, even if I had a friend to speak to. Who cares for the misery of such a woman as I am? who believes in it? Besides, he spoke under the influence of a mad superstition that has got possession of him again. There is every excuse for him — there is no excuse for me. If I can’t help being fond of him through it all, I must take the consequences and suffer. I deserve to suffer; I deserve neither love nor pity from anybody. — Good heavens, what a fool I am! And how unnatural all this would be, if it was written in a book!

“It has struck one. I can hear Midwinter still, pacing to and fro in his room.

“He is thinking, I suppose? Well! I can think too. What am I to do next? I shall wait and see. Events take odd turns sometimes; and events may justify the fatalism of the amiable man in the next room, who curses the day when he first saw my face. He may live to curse it for other reasons than he has now. If I am the Woman pointed at in the Dream, there will be another temptation put in my way before long; and there will be no brandy in Armadale’s lemonade if I mix it for him a second time.

“October 24th. — Barely twelve hours have passed since I wrote my yesterday’s entry; and that other temptation has come, tried, amid conquered me already!

“This time there was no alternative. Instant exposure and ruin stared me in the face: I had no choice but to yield in my own defense. In plainer words still, it was no accidental resemblance that startled me at the theater last night. The chorus-singer at the opera was Manuel himself!

“Not ten minutes after Midwinter had left the sitting-room for his study, the woman of the house came in with a dirty little three-cornered note in her hand. One look at the writing on the address was enough. He had recognized me in the box; and the ballet between the acts of the opera had given him time to trace me home. I drew that plain conclusion in the moment that elapsed before I opened the letter. It informed me, in two lines, that he was waiting in a by-street leading to the beach; and that, if I failed to make my appearance in ten minutes, he should interpret my absence as my invitation to him to call at the house.

“What I went through yesterday must have hardened me, I suppose. At any rate, after reading the letter, I felt more like the woman I once was than I have felt for months past. I put on my bonnet and went downstairs, and left the house as if nothing had happened.

“He was waiting for me at the entrance to the street.

“In the instant when we stood face to face, all my wretched life with him came back to me. I thought of my trust that he had betrayed; I thought of the cruel mockery of a marriage that he had practiced on me, when he knew that he had a wife living; I thought of the time when I had felt despair enough at his desertion of me to attempt my own life. When I recalled all this, and when the comparison between Midwinter and the mean, miserable villain whom I had once believed in forced itself into my mind, I knew for the first time what a woman feels when every atom of respect for herself has left her. If he had personally insulted me at that moment, I believe I should have submitted to it.

“But he had no idea of insulting me, in the more brutal meaning of the word. He had me at his mercy, and his way of making me feel it was to behave with an elaborate mockery of penitence and respect. I let him speak as he pleased, without interrupting him, without looking at him a second time, without even allowing my dress to touch him, as we walked together toward the quieter part of the beach. I had noticed the wretched state of his clothes, and the greedy glitter in his eyes, in my first look at him. And I knew it would end — as it did end — in a demand on me for money.

“Yes! After taking from me the last farthing I possessed of my own, and the last farthing I could extort for him from my old mistress, he turned on me as we stood by the margin of the sea, and asked if I could reconcile it to my conscience to let him be wearing such a coat as he then had on his back, and earning his miserable living as a chorus-singer at the opera!

“My disgust, rather than my indignation, roused me into speaking to him at last.

“‘You want money,’ I said. ‘Suppose I am too poor to give it to you?’

“‘In that case,’ he replied, ‘I shall be forced to remember that you are a treasure in yourself. And I shall be under the painful necessity of pressing my claim to you on the attention of one of those two gentlemen whom I saw with you at the opera — the gentleman, of course, who is now honored by your preference, and who lives provisionally in the light of your smiles.’

“I made him no answer, for I had no answer to give. Disputing his right to claim me from anybody would have been a mere waste of words. He knew as well as I did that he had not the shadow of a claim on me. But the mere attempt to raise it would, as he was well aware, lead necessarily to the exposure of my whole past life.

“Still keeping silence, I looked out over the sea. I don’t know why, except that I instinctively looked anywhere rather than look at him.

“A little sailing-boat was approaching the shore. The man steering was hidden from me by the sail; but the boat was so near that I thought I recognized the flag on the mast. I looked at my watch. Yes! It was Armadale coming over from Santa Lucia at his usual time, to visit us in his usual way.

“Before I had put my watch back in my belt, the means of extricating myself from the frightful position I was placed in showed themselves to me as plainly as I see them now.

“I turned and led the way to the higher part of the beach, where some fishing-boats were drawn up which completely screened us from the view of any one landing on the shore below. Seeing probably that I had a purpose of some kind, Manuel followed me without uttering a word. As soon as we were safely under the shelter of the boats, I forced myself, in my own defense, to look at him again.

“‘What should you say,’ I asked, ‘if I was rich instead of poor? What should you say if I could afford to give you a hundred pounds?’

“He started. I saw plainly that he had not expected so much as half the sum I had mentioned. It is needless to add that his tongue lied, while his face spoke the truth, and that when he replied to me the answer was, ‘Nothing like enough.’

“‘Suppose,’ I went on, without taking any notice of what he had said, ‘that I could show you a way of helping yourself to twice as much — three times as much — five times as much as a hundred pounds, are you bold enough to put out your hand and take it?’

“The greedy glitter came into his eyes once more. His voice dropped low, in breathless expectation of my next words.

“‘Who is the person?’ he asked. ‘And what is the risk?’

“I answered him at once, in the plainest terms. I threw Armadale to him, as I might have thrown a piece of meat to a wild beast who was pursuing me.

“‘The person is a rich young Englishman,’ I said. ‘He has just hired the yacht called the Dorothea, in the harbor here; and he stands in need of a sailing-master and a crew. You were once an officer in the Spanish navy — you speak English and Italian perfectly — you are thoroughly well acquainted with Naples and all that belongs to it. The rich young Englishman is ignorant of the language, and the interpreter who assists him knows nothing of the sea. He is at his wits’ end for want of useful help in this strange place; he has no more knowledge of the world than that child who is digging holes with a stick there in the sand; and he carries all his money with him in circular notes. So much for the person. As for the risk, estimate it for yourself.’

“The greedy glitter in his eyes grew brighter and brighter with every word I said. He was plainly ready to face the risk before I had done speaking.

“‘When can I see the Englishman?’ he asked, eagerly.

“I moved to the seaward end of the fishing-boat, and saw that Armadale was at that moment disembarking on the shore.

“‘You can see him now,’ I answered, and pointed to the place.

“After a long look at Armadale walking carelessly up the slope of the beach, Manuel drew back again under the shelter of the boat. He waited a moment, considering something carefully with himself, and put another question to me, in a whisper this time.

“‘When the vessel is manned,’ he said, ‘and the Englishman sails from Naples, how many friends sail with him?’

“‘He has but two friends here,’ I replied; ‘that other gentleman whom you saw with me at the opera, and myself. He will invite us both to sail with him; and when the time comes, we shall both refuse.’

“‘Do you answer for that?’

“‘I answer for it positively.’

“He walked a few steps away, and stood with his face hidden from me, thinking again. All I could see was that he took off his hat and passed his handkerchief over his forehead. All I could hear was that he talked to himself excitedly in his own language.

“There was a change in him when he came back. His face had turned to a livid yellow, and his eyes looked at me with a hideous distrust.

“‘One last question,’ he said, and suddenly came closer to me, suddenly spoke with a marked emphasis on his next words: ‘What is your interest in this?’

“I started back from him. The question reminded me that I had an interest in the matter, which was entirely unconnected with the interest of keeping Manuel and Midwinter apart. Thus far I had only remembered that Midwinter’s fatalism had smoothed the way for me, by abandoning Armadale beforehand to any stranger who might come forward to help him. Thus far the sole object I had kept in view was to protect myself, by the sacrifice of Armadale, from the exposure that threatened me. I tell no lies to my Diary. I don’t affect to have felt a moment’s consideration for the interests of Armadale’s purse or the safety of Armadale’s life. I hated him too savagely to care what pitfalls my tongue might be the means of opening under his feet. But I certainly did not see (until that last question was put to me) that, in serving his own designs, Manuel might — if he dared go all lengths for the money — be serving my designs too. The one overpowering anxiety to protect myself from exposure before Midwinter had (I suppose) filled all my mind, to the exclusion of everything else.

“Finding that I made no reply for the moment, Manuel reiterated his question, putting it in a new form.

“‘You have cast your Englishman at me,’ he said, ‘like the sop to Cerberus. Would you have been quite so ready to do that if you had not had a motive of your own? I repeat my question. You have an interest in this — what is it?’

“‘I have two interests,’ I answered. ‘The interest of forcing you to respect my position here, and the interest of ridding myself of the sight of you at once and forever!’ I spoke with a boldness he had not yet heard from me. The sense that I was making the villain an instrument in my hands, and forcing him to help my purpose blindly, while he was helping his own, roused my spirits, and made me feel like myself again.

“He laughed. ‘Strong language, on certain occasions, is a lady’s privilege,’ he said. ‘You may, or may not, rid yourself of the sight of me, at once and forever. We will leave that question to be settled in the future. But your other interest in this matter puzzles me. You have told me all I need know about the Englishman and his yacht, and you have made no conditions before you opened your lips. Pray, how are you to force me, as you say, to respect your position here?’

“‘I will tell you how,’ I rejoined. ‘You shall hear my conditions first. I insist on your leaving me in five minutes more. I insist on your never again coming near the house where I live; and I forbid your attempting to communicate in any way either with me or with that other gentleman whom you saw with me at the theater —’

“‘And suppose I say no?’ he interposed. ‘In that case, what will you do?’

“‘In that case,’ I answered, ‘I shall say two words in private to the rich young Englishman, and you will find yourself back again among the chorus at the opera.’

“‘You are a bold woman to take it for granted that I have my designs on the Englishman already, and that I am certain to succeed in them. How do you know —?’

“‘I know you,’ I said. ‘And that is enough.’

“There was a moment’s silence between us. He looked at me, and I looked at him. We understood each other.

“He was the first to speak. The villainous smile died out of his face, and his voice dropped again distrustfully to its lowest tones.

“‘I accept your terms,’ he said. ‘As long as your lips are closed, my lips shall be closed too — except in the event of my finding that you have deceived me; in which case the bargain is at an end, and you will see me again. I shall present myself to the Englishman to-morrow, with the necessary credentials to establish me in his confidence. Tell me his name?’

“I told it.

“‘Give me his address?’

“I gave it, and turned to leave him. Before I had stepped out of the shelter of the boats, I heard him behind me again.

“‘One last word,’ he said. ‘Accidents sometimes happen at sea. Have you interest enough in the Englishman — if an accident happens in his case — to wish to know what has become of him?’

“I stopped, and considered on my side. I had plainly failed to persuade him that I had no secret to serve in placing Armadale’s money and (as a probable consequence) Armadale’s life at his mercy. And it was now equally clear that he was cunningly attempting to associate himself with my private objects (whatever they might be) by opening a means of communication between us in the future. There could be no hesitation about how to answer him under such circumstances as these. If the ‘accident’ at which he hinted did really happen to Armadale, I stood in no need of Manuel’s intervention to give me the intelligence of it. An easy search through the obituary columns of the English papers would tell me the news — with the great additional advantage that the papers might be relied on, in such a matter as this, to tell the truth. I formally thanked Manuel, and declined to accept his proposal. ‘Having no interest in the Englishman,’ I said, ‘I have no wish whatever to know what becomes of him.’

“He looked at me for a moment with steady attention, and with an interest in me which he had not shown yet.

“‘What the game you are playing may be,’ he rejoined, speaking slowly and significantly, ‘I don’t pretend to know. But I venture on a prophecy, nevertheless — you will win it! If we ever meet again, remember I said that.’ He took off his hat, and bowed to me gravely. ‘Go your way, madam. And leave me to go mine!’

“With those words, he released me from the sight of him. I waited a minute alone, to recover myself in the air, and then returned to the house.

“The first object that met my eyes, on entering the sitting-room, was — Armadale himself!

“He was waiting on the chance of seeing me, to beg that I would exert my influence with his friend. I made the needful inquiry as to what he meant, and found that Midwinter had spoken as he had warned me he would speak when he and Armadale next met. He had announced that he was unable to finish his work for the newspaper as soon as he had hoped; and he had advised Armadale to find a crew for the yacht without waiting for any assistance on his part.

“All that it was necessary for me to do, on hearing this, was to perform the promise I had made to Midwinter, when he gave me my directions how to act in the matter. Armadale’s vexation on finding me resolved not to interfere expressed itself in the form of all others that is most personally offensive to me. He declined to believe my reiterated assurances that I possessed no influence to exert in his favor. ‘If I was married to Neelie,’ he said, ‘she could do anything she liked with me; and I am sure, when you choose, you can do anything you like with Midwinter.’ If the infatuated fool had actually tried to stifle the last faint struggles of remorse and pity left stirring in my heart, he could have said nothing more fatally to the purpose than this! I gave him a look which effectually silenced him, so far as I was concerned. He went out of the room grumbling and growling to himself. ‘It’s all very well to talk about manning the yacht. I don’t speak a word of their gibberish here; and the interpreter thinks a fisherman and a sailor means the same thing. Hang me if I know what to do with the vessel, now I have got her!’

“He will probably know by to-morrow. And if he only comes here as usual, I shall know too!

“October 25th. — Ten at night. — Manuel has got him!

“He has just left us, after staying here more than an hour, and talking the whole time of nothing but his own wonderful luck in finding the very help he wanted, at the time when he needed it most.

“At noon to-day he was on the Mole, it seems, with his interpreter, trying vainly to make himself understood by the vagabond population of the water-side. Just as he was giving it up in despair, a stranger standing by (Manuel had followed him, I suppose, to the Mole from his hotel) kindly interfered to put things right. He said, ‘I speak your language and their language, sir. I know Naples well; and I have been professionally accustomed to the sea. Can I help you?’ The inevitable result followed. Armadale shifted all his difficulties on to the shoulders of the polite stranger, in his usual helpless, headlong way. His new friend, however, insisted, in the most honorable manner, on complying with the customary formalities before he would consent to take the matter into his own hands. He begged leave to wait on Mr. Armadale, with his testimonials to character and capacity. The same afternoon he had come by appointment to the hotel, with all his papers, and with ‘the saddest story’ of his sufferings and privations as ‘a political refugee’ that Armadale had ever heard. The interview was decisive. Manuel left the hotel, commissioned to find a crew for the yacht, and to fill the post of sailing-master on the trial cruise.

“I watched Midwinter anxiously, while Armadale was telling us these particulars, and afterward, when he produced the new sailing-master’s testimonials, which he had brought with him for his friend to see.

“For the moment, Midwinter’s superstitious misgivings seemed to be all lost in his natural anxiety for his friend. He examined the stranger’s papers — after having told me that the sooner Armadale was in the hands of strangers the better! — with the closest scrutiny and the most business-like distrust. It is needless to say that the credentials were as perfectly regular and satisfactory as credentials could be. When Midwinter handed them back, his color rose: he seemed to feel the inconsistency of his conduct, and to observe for the first time that I was present noticing it. ‘There is nothing to object to in the testimonials, Allan: I am glad you have got the help you want at last.’ That was all he said at parting. As soon as Armadale’s back was turned, I saw no more of him. He has locked himself up again for the night, in his own room.

“There is now — so far as I am concerned — but one anxiety left. When the yacht is ready for sea, and when I decline to occupy the lady’s cabin, will Midwinter hold to his resolution, and refuse to sail without me?

“October 26th. — Warnings already of the coming ordeal. A letter from Armadale to Midwinter, which Midwinter has just sent in to me. Here it is:

“‘DEAR MID— I am too busy to come to-day. Get on with your work, for Heaven’s sake! The new sailing-master is a man of ten thousand. He has got an Englishman whom he knows to serve as mate on board already; and he is positively certain of getting the crew together in three or four days’ time. I am dying for a whiff of the sea, and so are you, or you are no sailor. The rigging is set up, the stores are coming on board, and we shall bend the sails to-morrow or next day. I never was in such spirits in my life. Remember me to your wife, and tell her she will be doing me a favor if she will come at once, and order everything she wants in the lady’s cabin. Yours affectionately, A. A.’

“Under this was written, in Midwinter’s hand: ‘Remember what I told you. Write (it will break it to him more gently in that way), and beg him to accept your apologies, and to excuse you from sailing on the trial cruise.’

“I have written without a moment’s loss of time. The sooner Manuel knows (which he is certain to do through Armadale) that the promise not to sail in the yacht is performed already, so far as I am concerned, the safer I shall feel.

“October 27th. — A letter from Armadale, in answer to mine. He is full of ceremonio us regrets at the loss of my company on the cruise; and he politely hopes that Midwinter may yet induce me to alter my mind. Wait a little, till he finds that Midwinter won’t sail with him either!. . . .

“October 30th. — Nothing new to record until to-day. To-day the change in our lives here has come at last!

“Armadale presented himself this morning, in his noisiest high spirits, to announce that the yacht was ready for sea, and to ask when Midwinter would be able to go on board. I told him to make the inquiry himself in Midwinter’s room. He left me, with a last request that I would consider my refusal to sail with him. I answered by a last apology for persisting in my resolution, and then took a chair alone at the window to wait the event of the interview in the next room.

“My whole future depended now on what passed between Midwinter and his friend! Everything had gone smoothly up to this time. The one danger to dread was the danger of Midwinter’s resolution, or rather of Midwinter’s fatalism, giving way at the last moment. If he allowed himself to be persuaded into accompanying Armadale on the cruise, Manuel’s exasperation against me would hesitate at nothing — he would remember that I had answered to him for Armadale’s sailing from Naples alone; and he would be capable of exposing my whole past life to Midwinter before the vessel left the port. As I thought of this, and as the slow minutes followed each other, and nothing reached my ears but the hum of voices in the next room, my suspense became almost unendurable. It was vain to try and fix my attention on what was going on in the street. I sat looking mechanically out of the window, and seeing nothing.

“Suddenly — I can’t say in how long or how short a time — the hum of voices ceased; the door opened; and Armadale showed himself on the threshold, alone.

“‘I wish you good-by,’ he said, roughly. ‘And I hope, when I am married, my wife may never cause Midwinter the disappointment that Midwinter’s wife has caused me!’

“He gave me an angry look, and made me an angry bow, and, turning sharply, left the room.

“I saw the people in the street again! I saw the calm sea, and the masts of the shipping in the harbor where the yacht lay! I could think, I could breathe freely once more! The words that saved me from Manuel — the words that might be Armadale’s sentence of death — had been spoken. The yacht was to sail without Midwinter, as well as without me!

“My first feeling of exultation was almost maddening. But it was the feeling of a moment only. My heart sank in me again when I thought of Midwinter alone in the next room.

“I went out into the passage to listen, and heard nothing. I tapped gently at his door, and got no answer. I opened the door and looked in. He was sitting at the table, with his face hidden in his hands. I looked at him in silence, and saw the glistening of the tears as they trickled through his fingers.

“‘Leave me,’ he said, without moving his hands. ‘I must get over it by myself.’

“I went back into the sitting-room. Who can understand women? we don’t even understand ourselves. His sending me away from him in that manner cut me to the heart. I don’t believe the most harmless and most gentle woman living could have felt it more acutely than I felt it. And this, after what I have been doing! this, after what I was thinking of, the moment before I went into his room! Who can account for it? Nobody — I least of all!

“Half an hour later his door opened, and I heard him hurrying down the stairs. I ran on without waiting to think, and asked if I might go with him. He neither stopped nor answered. I went back to the window, and saw him pass, walking rapidly away, with his back turned on Naples and the sea.

“I can understand now that he might not have heard me. At the time I thought him inexcusably and brutally unkind to me. I put on my bonnet, in a frenzy of rage with him; I sent out for a carriage, and told the man to take me where he liked. He took me, as he took other strangers, to the Museum to see the statues and the pictures. I flounced from room to room, with my face in a flame, and the people all staring at me. I came to myself again, I don’t know how. I returned to the carriage, and made the man drive me back in a violent hurry, I don’t know why. I tossed off my cloak and bonnet, and sat down once more at the window. The sight of the sea cooled me. I forgot Midwinter, and thought of Armadale and his yacht. There wasn’t a breath of wind; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; the wide waters of the Bay were as smooth as the surface of a glass.

“The sun sank; the short twilight came and went. I had some tea, and sat at the table thinking and dreaming over it. When I roused myself and went back to the window, the moon was up; but the quiet sea was as quiet as ever.

“I was still looking out, when I saw Midwinter in the street below, coming back. I was composed enough by this time to remember his habits, and to guess that he had been trying to relieve the oppression on his mind by one of his long solitary walks. When I heard him go into his own room, I was too prudent to disturb him again: I waited his pleasure where I was.

“Before long I heard his window opened, and I saw him, from my window, step into the balcony, and, after a look at the sea, hold up his hand to the air. I was too stupid, for the moment, to remember that he had once been a sailor, and to know what this meant. I waited, and wondered what would happen next.

“He went in again; and, after an interval, came out once more, and held up his hand as before to the air. This time he waited, leaning on the balcony rail, and looking out steadily, with all his attention absorbed by the sea.

“For a long, long time he never moved. Then, on a sudden, I saw him start. The next moment he sank on his knees, with his clasped hands resting on the balcony rail. ‘God Almighty bless and keep you, Allan!’ he said, fervently. ‘Good-by, forever!’

“I looked out to the sea. A soft, steady breeze was blowing, and the rippled surface of the water was sparkling in the quiet moonlight. I looked again, and there passed slowly, between me and the track of the moon, a long black vessel with tall, shadowy, ghostlike sails, gliding smooth and noiseless through the water, like a snake.

“The wind had come fair with the night; and Armadale’s yacht had sailed on the trial cruise.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52