III. The Wreck of the Timber Ship
NO one answered the doctor's knock when he and his companion
reached the antechamber door of Mr. Armadale's apartments. They
entered unannounced; and when they looked into the sitting-room,
the sitting-room was empty.
"I must see Mrs. Armadale," said Mr. Neal. "I decline acting in
the matter unless Mrs. Armadale authorizes my interference with her
"Mrs. Armadale is probably with her husband," replied the
doctor. He approached a door at the inner end of the sitting-room
while he spoke—hesitated—and, turning round again, looked at his
sour companion anxiously. "I am afraid I spoke a little harshly,
sir, when we were leaving your room," he said. "I beg your pardon
for it, with all my heart. Before this poor afflicted lady comes
in, will you—will you excuse my asking your utmost gentleness and
consideration for her?"
"No, sir," retorted the other harshly; "I won't excuse you. What
right have I given you to think me wanting in gentleness and
consideration toward anybody?"
The doctor saw it was useless. "I beg your pardon again," he
said, resignedly, and left the unapproachable stranger to
Mr. Neal walked to the window, and stood there, with his eyes
mechanically fixed on the prospect, composing his mind for the
It was midday; the sun shone bright and warm; and all the little
world of Wildbad was alive and merry in the genial springtime. Now
and again heavy wagons, with black-faced carters in charge, rolled
by the window, bearing their precious lading of charcoal from the
forest. Now and again, hurled over the headlong current of the
stream that runs through the town, great lengths of timber, loosely
strung together in interminable series—with the booted raftsmen,
pole in hand, poised watchful at either end—shot swift and
serpent-like past the houses on their course to the distant Rhine.
High and steep above the gabled wooden buildings on the river-bank,
the great hillsides, crested black with firs, shone to the shining
heavens in a glory of lustrous green. In and out, where the forest
foot-paths wound from the grass through the trees, from the trees
over the grass, the bright spring dresses of women and children, on
the search for wild flowers, traveled to and fro in the lofty
distance like spots of moving light. Below, on the walk by the
stream side, the booths of the little bazar that had opened
punctually with the opening season showed all their glittering
trinkets, and fluttered in the balmy air their splendor of
many-colored flags. Longingly, here the children looked at the
show; patiently the sunburned lasses plied their knitting as they
paced the walk; courteously the passing townspeople, by fours and
fives, and the passing visitors, by ones and twos, greeted each
other, hat in hand; and slowly, slowly, the cripple and the
helpless in their chairs on wheels came out in the cheerful
noontide with the rest, and took their share of the blessed light
that cheers, of the blessed sun that shines for all.
On this scene the Scotchman looked, with eyes that never noted
its beauty, with a mind far away from every lesson that it taught.
One by one he meditated the words he should say when the wife came
in. One by one he pondered over the conditions he might impose
before he took the pen in hand at the husband's bedside.
"Mrs. Armadale is here," said the doctor's voice, interposing
suddenly between his reflections and himself.
He turned on the instant, and saw before him, with the pure
midday light shining full on her, a woman of the mixed blood of the
European and the African race, with the Northern delicacy in the
shape of her face, and the Southern richness in its color—a woman
in the prime of her beauty, who moved with an inbred grace, who
looked with an inbred fascination, whose large, languid black eyes
rested on him gratefully, whose little dusky hand offered itself to
him in mute expression of her thanks, with the welcome that is
given to the coming of a friend. For the first time in his life the
Scotchman was taken by surprise. Every self-preservative word that
he had been meditating but an instant since dropped out of his
memory. His thrice impenetrable armor of habitual suspicion,
habitual self-discipline, and habitual reserve, which had never
fallen from him in a woman's presence before, fell from him in this
woman's presence, and brought him to his knees, a conquered man. He
took the hand she offered him, and bowed over it his first honest
homage to the sex, in silence.
She hesitated on her side. The quick feminine perception which,
in happier circumstances, would have pounced on the secret of his
embarrassment in an instant, failed her now. She attributed his
strange reception of her to pride, to reluctance—to any cause but
the unexpected revelation of her own beauty. "I have no words to
thank you," she said, faintly, trying to propitiate him. "I should
only distress you if I tried to speak." Her lip began to tremble,
she drew back a little, and turned away her head in silence.
The doctor, who had been standing apart, quietly observant in a
corner, advanced before Mr. Neal could interfere, and led Mrs.
Armadale to a chair. "Don't be afraid of him," whispered the good
man, patting her gently on the shoulder. "He was hard as iron in my
hands, but I think, by the look of him, he will be soft as wax in
yours. Say the words I told you to say, and let us take him to your
husband's room, before those sharp wits of his have time to recover
She roused her sinking resolution, and advanced half-way to the
window to meet Mr. Neal. "My kind friend, the doctor, has told me,
sir, that your only hesitation in coming here is a hesitation on my
account," she said, her head drooping a little, and her rich color
fading away while she spoke. "I am deeply grateful, but I entreat
you not to think of me. What my husband wishes—" Her
voice faltered; she waited resolutely, and recovered herself. "What
my husband wishes in his last moments, I wish too."
This time Mr. Neal was composed enough to answer her. In low,
earnest tones, he entreated her to say no more. "I was only anxious
to show you every consideration," he said. "I am only anxious now
to spare you every distress." As he spoke, something like a glow of
color rose slowly on his sallow face. Her eyes were looking at him,
softly attentive; and he thought guiltily of his meditations at the
window before she came in.
The doctor saw his opportunity. He opened the door that led into
Mr. Armadale's room, and stood by it, waiting silently. Mrs.
Armadale entered first. In a minute more the door was closed again;
and Mr. Neal stood committed to the responsibility that had been
forced on him—committed beyond recall.
The room was decorated in the gaudy continental fashion, and the
warm sunlight was shining in joyously. Cupids and flowers were
painted on the ceiling; bright ribbons looped up the white
window-curtains; a smart gilt clock ticked on a velvet-covered
mantelpiece; mirrors gleamed on the walls, and flowers in all the
colors of the rainbow speckled the carpet. In the midst of the
finery, and the glitter, and the light, lay the paralyzed man, with
his wandering eyes, and his lifeless lower face—his head propped
high with many pillows; his helpless hands laid out over the
bed-clothes like the hands of a corpse. By the bed head stood,
grim, and old, and silent, the shriveled black nurse; and on the
counter-pane, between his father's outspread hands, lay the child,
in his little white frock, absorbed in the enjoyment of a new toy.
When the door opened, and Mrs. Armadale led the way in, the boy was
tossing his plaything—a soldier on horseback—backward and forward
over the helpless hands on either side of him; and the father's
wandering eyes were following the toy to and fro, with a stealthy
and ceaseless vigilance—a vigilance as of a wild animal, terrible
The moment Mr. Neal appeared in the doorway, those restless eyes
stopped, looked up, and fastened on the stranger with a fierce
eagerness of inquiry. Slowly the motionless lips struggled into
movement. With thick, hesitating articulation, they put the
question which the eyes asked mutely, into words: "Are you the
Mr. Neal advanced to the bedside, Mrs. Armadale drawing back
from it as he approached, and waiting with the doctor at the
further end of the room. The child looked up, toy in hand, as the
stranger came near, opened his bright brown eyes in momentary
astonishment, and then went on with his game.
"I have been made acquainted with your sad situation, sir," said
Mr. Neal; "and I have come here to place my services at your
disposal—services which no one but myself, as your medical
attendant informs me, is in a position to render you in this
strange place. My name is Neal. I am a writer to the signet in
Edinburgh; and I may presume to say for myself that any confidence
you wish to place in me will be confidence not improperly
The eyes of the beautiful wife were not confusing him now. He
spoke to the helpless husband quietly and seriously, without his
customary harshness, and with a grave compassion in his manner
which presented him at his best. The sight of the death-bed had
"You wish me to write something for you?" he resumed, after
waiting for a reply, and waiting in vain.
"Yes!" said the dying man, with the all-mastering impatience
which his tongue was powerless to express, glittering angrily in
his eye. "My hand is gone, and my speech is going. Write!"
Before there was time to speak again, Mr. Neal heard the
rustling of a woman's dress, and the quick creaking of casters on
the carpet behind him. Mrs. Armadale was moving the writing-table
across the room to the foot of the bed. If he was to set up those
safeguards of his own devising that were to bear him harmless
through all results to come, now was the time, or never. He, kept
his back turned on Mrs. Armadale, and put his precautionary
question at once in the plainest terms.
"May I ask, sir, before I take the pen in hand, what it is you
wish me to write?"
The angry eyes of the paralyzed man glittered brighter and
brighter. His lips opened and closed again. He made no reply.
Mr. Neal tried another precautionary question, in a new
"When I have written what you wish me to write," he asked, "what
is to be done with it?"
This time the answer came:
"Seal it up in my presence, and post it to my ex—"
His laboring articulation suddenly stopped and he looked
piteously in the questioner's face for the next word.
"Do you mean your executor?"
"It is a letter, I suppose, that I am to post?" There was no
answer. "May I ask if it is a letter altering your will?"
"Nothing of the sort."
Mr. Neal considered a little. The mystery was thickening. The
one way out of it, so far, was the way traced faintly through that
strange story of the unfinished letter which the doctor had
repeated to him in Mrs. Armadale's words. The nearer he approached
his unknown responsibility, the more ominous it seemed of something
serious to come. Should he risk another question before he pledged
himself irrevocably? As the doubt crossed his mind, he felt Mrs.
Armadale's silk dress touch him on the side furthest from her
husband. Her delicate dark hand was laid gently on his arm; her
full deep African eyes looked at him in submissive entreaty. "My
husband is very anxious," she whispered. "Will you quiet his
anxiety, sir, by taking your place at the writing-table?"
It was from her lips that the request
came—from the lips of the person who had the best right to
hesitate, the wife who was excluded from the secret! Most men in
Mr. Neal's position would have given up all their safeguards on the
spot. The Scotchman gave them all up but one.
"I will write what you wish me to write," he said, addressing
Mr. Armadale. "I will seal it in your presence; and I will post it
to your executor myself. But, in engaging to do this, I must beg
you to remember that I am acting entirely in the dark; and I must
ask you to excuse me, if I reserve my own entire freedom of action,
when your wishes in relation to the writing and the posting of the
letter have been fulfilled."
"Do you give me your promise?"
"It you want my promise, sir, I will give it—subject to the
condition I have just named."
"Take your condition, and keep your promise. My desk," he added,
looking at his wife for the first time.
She crossed the room eagerly to fetch the desk from a chair in a
corner. Returning with it, she made a passing sign to the negress,
who still stood, grim and silent, in the place that she had
occupied from the first. The woman advanced, obedient to the sign,
to take the child from the bed. At the instant when she touched
him, the father's eyes—fixed previously on the desk—turned on her
with the stealthy quickness of a cat. "No!" he said. "No!" echoed
the fresh voice of the boy, still charmed with his plaything, and
still liking his place on the bed. The negress left the room, and
the child, in high triumph, trotted his toy soldier up and down on
the bedclothes that lay rumpled over his father's breast. His
mother's lovely face contracted with a pang of jealousy as she
looked at him.
"Shall I open your desk?" she asked, pushing back the child's
plaything sharply while she spoke. An answering look from her
husband guided her hand to the place under his pillow where the key
was hidden. She opened the desk, and disclosed inside some small
sheets of manuscript pinned together. "These?" she inquired,
"Yes," he said. "You can go now."
The Scotchman sitting at the writing-table, the doctor stirring
a stimulant mixture in a corner, looked at each other with an
anxiety in both their faces which they could neither of them
control. The words that banished the wife from the room were
spoken. The moment had come.
"You can go now," said Mr. Armadale, for the second time.
She looked at the child, established comfortably on the bed, and
an ashy paleness spread slowly over her face. She looked at the
fatal letter which was a sealed secret to her, and a torture of
jealous suspicion—suspicion of that other woman who had been the
shadow and the poison of her life—wrung her to the heart. After
moving a few steps from the bedside, she stopped, and came back
again. Armed with the double courage of her love and her despair,
she pressed her lips on her dying husband's cheek, and pleaded with
him for the last time. Her burning tears dropped on his face as she
whispered to him: "Oh, Allan, think how I have loved you! think how
hard I have tried to make you happy! think how soon I shall lose
you! Oh, my own love! don't, don't send me away!"
The words pleaded for her; the kiss pleaded for her; the
recollection of the love that had been given to him, and never
returned, touched the heart of the fast-sinking man as nothing had
touched it since the day of his marriage. A heavy sigh broke from
him. He looked at her, and hesitated.
"Let me stay," she whispered, pressing her face closer to
"It will only distress you," he whispered back.
"Nothing distresses me, but being sent away
He waited. She saw that he was thinking, and waited too.
"If I let you stay a little—?"
"Will you go when I tell you?"
"On your oath?"
The fetters that bound his tongue seemed to be loosened for a
moment in the great outburst of anxiety which forced that question
to his lips. He spoke those startling words as he had spoken no
"On my oath!" she repeated, and, dropping on her knees at the
bedside, passionately kissed his hand. The two strangers in the
room turned their heads away by common consent. In the silence that
followed, the one sound stirring was the small sound of the child's
toy, as he moved it hither and thither on the bed.
The doctor was the first who broke the spell of stillness which
had fallen on all the persons present. He approached the patient,
and examined him anxiously. Mrs. Armadale rose from her knees; and,
first waiting for her husband's permission, carried the sheets of
manuscript which she had taken out of the desk to the table at
which Mr. Neal was waiting. Flushed and eager, more beautiful than
ever in the vehement agitation which still possessed her, she
stooped over him as she put the letter into his hands, and, seizing
on the means to her end with a woman's headlong self-abandonment to
her own impulses, whispered to him, "Read it out from the
beginning. I must and will hear it!" Her eyes flashed their burning
light into his; her breath beat on his cheek. Before he could
answer, before he could think, she was back with her husband. In an
instant she had spoken, and in that instant her beauty had bent the
Scotchman to her will. Frowning in reluctant acknowledgment of his
own inability to resist her, he turned over the leaves of the
letter; looked at the blank place where the pen had dropped from
the writer's hand and had left a blot on the paper; turned back
again to the beginning, and said the words, in the wife's interest,
which the wife herself had put into his lips.
"Perhaps, sir, you may wish to make some corrections," he began,
with all his attention apparently fixed on the letter, and with
every outward appearance of letting his sour temper again get the
better of him. "Shall I read over to you what you have already
Mrs. Armadale, sitting at the bed head on one side, and the
doctor, with his fingers on the patient's pulse, sitting on the
other, waited with widely different anxieties for the answer to Mr.
Neal's question. Mr. Armadale's eyes turned searchingly from his
child to his wife.
"You will hear it?" he said. Her breath came
and went quickly; her hand stole up and took his; she bowed her
head in silence. Her husband paused, taking secret counsel with his
thoughts, and keeping his eyes fixed on his wife. At last he
decided, and gave the answer. "Read it," he said, "and stop when I
It was close on one o'clock, and the bell was ringing which
summoned the visitors to their early dinner at the inn. The quick
beat of footsteps, and the gathering hum of voices outside,
penetrated gayly into the room, as Mr. Neal spread the manuscript
before him on the table, and read the opening sentences in these
"I address this letter to my son, when my son is of an age to
understand it. Having lost all hope of living to see my boy grow up
to manhood, I have no choice but to write here what I would fain
have said to him at a future time with my own lips.
"I have three objects in writing. First, to reveal the
circumstances which attended the marriage of an English lady of my
acquaintance, in the island of Madeira. Secondly, to throw the true
light on the death of her husband a short time afterward, on board
the French timber ship La Grace de Dieu. Thirdly, to
warn my son of a danger that lies in wait for him—a danger that
will rise from his father's grave when the earth has closed over
his father's ashes.
"The story of the English lady's marriage begins with my
inheriting the great Armadale property, and my taking the fatal
"I am the only surviving son of the late Mathew Wrentmore, of
Barbadoes. I was born on our family estate in that island, and I
lost my father when I was still a child. My mother was blindly fond
of me; she denied me nothing, she let me live as I pleased. My
boyhood and youth were passed in idleness and self-indulgence,
among people—slaves and half-castes mostly—to whom my will was law.
I doubt if there is a gentleman of my birth and station in all
England as ignorant as I am at this moment. I doubt if there was
ever a young man in this world whose passions were left so entirely
without control of any kind as mine were in those early days.
"My mother had a woman's romantic objection to my father's
homely Christian name. I was christened Allan, after the name of a
wealthy cousin of my father's—the late Allan Armadale—who possessed
estates in our neighborhood, the largest and most productive in the
island, and who consented to be my godfather by proxy. Mr. Armadale
had never seen his West Indian property. He lived in England; and,
after sending me the customary godfather's present, he held no
further communication with my parents for years afterward. I was
just twenty-one before we heard again from Mr. Armadale. On that
occasion my mother received a letter from him asking if I was still
alive, and offering no less (if I was) than to make me the heir to
his West Indian property.
"This piece of good fortune fell to me entirely through the
misconduct of Mr. Armadale's son, an only child. The young man had
disgraced himself beyond all redemption; had left his home an
outlaw; and had been thereupon renounced by his father at once and
forever. Having no other near male relative to succeed him, Mr.
Armadale thought of his cousin's son and his own godson; and he
offered the West Indian estate to me, and my heirs after me, on one
condition—that I and my heirs should take his name. The proposal
was gratefully accepted, and the proper legal measures were adopted
for changing my name in the colony and in the mother country. By
the next mail information reached Mr. Armadale that his condition
had been complied with. The return mail brought news from the
lawyers. The will had been altered in my favor, and in a week
afterward the death of my benefactor had made me the largest
proprietor and the richest man in Barbadoes.
"This was the first event in the chain. The second event
followed it six weeks afterward.
"At that time there happened to be a vacancy in the clerk's
office on the estate, and there came to fill it a young man about
my own age who had recently arrived in the island. He announced
himself by the name of Fergus Ingleby. My impulses governed me in
everything; I knew no law but the law of my own caprice, and I took
a fancy to the stranger the moment I set eyes on him. He had the
manners of a gentleman, and he possessed the most attractive social
qualities which, in my small experience, I had ever met with. When
I heard that the written references to character which he had
brought with him were pronounced to be unsatisfactory, I
interfered, and insisted that he should have the place. My will was
law, and he had it.
"My mother disliked and distrusted Ingleby from the first. When
she found the intimacy between us rapidly ripening; when she found
me admitting this inferior to the closest companionship and
confidence (I had lived with my inferiors all my life, and I liked
it), she made effort after effort to part us, and failed in one and
all. Driven to her last resources, she resolved to try the one
chance left—the chance of persuading me to take a voyage which I
had often thought of—a voyage to England.
"Before she spoke to me on the subject, she resolved to interest
me in the idea of seeing England, as I had never been interested
yet. She wrote to an old friend and an old admirer of hers, the
late Stephen Blanchard, of Thorpe Ambrose, in Norfolk—a gentleman
of landed estate, and a widower with a grown-up family.
After-discoveries informed me that she must have alluded to their
former attachment (which was checked, I believe, by the parents on
either side); and that, in asking Mr. Blanchard's welcome for her
son when he came to England, she made inquiries about his daughter,
which hinted at the chance of a marriage uniting the two families,
if the young lady and I met and liked one another. We were equally
matched in every respect, and my mother's recollection of her
girlish attachment to Mr. Blanchard made the prospect of my
marrying her old admirer's daughter the brightest and happiest
prospect that her eyes could see. Of all this I knew nothing until
Mr. Blanchard's answer arrived at Barbadoes. Then my mother showed
me the letter, and put the temptation which was to separate me from
Fergus Ingleby openly in my way.
"Mr. Blanchard's letter was dated from the Island of Madeira. He
was out of health, and he had been ordered there by the doctors to
try the climate. His daughter was with him. After heartily
reciprocating all my mother's hopes and wishes, he proposed (if I
intended leaving Barbadoes shortly) that I should take Madeira on
my way to England, and pay him a visit at his temporary residence
in the island. If this could not be, he mentioned the time at which
he expected to be back in England, when I might be sure of finding
a welcome at his own house of Thorpe Ambrose. In conclusion, he
apologized for not writing at greater length; explaining that his
sight was affected, and that he had disobeyed the doctor's orders
by yielding to the temptation of writing to his old friend with his
"Kindly as it was expressed, the letter itself might have had
little influence on me. But there was something else besides the
letter; there was inclosed in it a miniature portrait of Miss
Blanchard. At the back of the portrait, her father had written,
half-jestingly, half-tenderly, 'I can't ask my daughter to spare my
eyes as usual, without telling her of your inquiries, and putting a
young lady's diffidence to the blush. So I send her in effigy
(without her knowledge) to answer for herself. It is a good
likeness of a good girl. If she likes your son—and if I like him,
which I am sure I shall—we may yet live, my good friend, to see our
children what we might once have been ourselves—man and wife.' My
mother gave me the miniature with the letter. The portrait at once
struck me—I can't say why, I can't say how—as nothing of the kind
had ever struck me before.
"Harder intellects than mine might have attributed the
extraordinary impression produced on me to the disordered condition
of my mind at that time; to the weariness of my own base pleasures
which had been gaining on me for months past, to the undefined
longing which that weariness implied for newer interests and
fresher hopes than any that had possessed me yet. I attempted no
such sober self-examination as this: I believed in destiny then, I
believe in destiny now. It was enough for me to know—as I did
know—that the first sense I had ever felt of something better in my
nature than my animal self was roused by that girl's face looking
at me from her picture as no woman's face had ever looked at me
yet. In those tender eyes—in the chance of making that gentle
creature my wife—I saw my destiny written. The portrait which had
come into my hands so strangely and so unexpectedly was the silent
messenger of happiness close at hand, sent to warn, to encourage,
to rouse me before it was too late. I put the miniature under my
pillow at night; I looked at it again the next morning. My
conviction of the day before remained as strong as ever; my
superstition (if you please to call it so) pointed out to me
irresistibly the way on which I should go. There was a ship in port
which was to sail for England in a fortnight, touching at Madeira.
In that ship I took my passage."
Thus far the reader had advanced with no interruption to disturb
him. But at the last words the tones of another voice, low and
broken, mingled with his own.
"Was she a fair woman," asked the voice, "or dark, like me?"
Mr. Neal paused, and looked up. The doctor was still at the bed
head, with his fingers mechanically on the patient's pulse. The
child, missing his midday sleep, was beginning to play languidly
with his new toy. The father's eyes were watching him with a rapt
and ceaseless attention. But one great change was visible in the
listeners since the narrative had begun. Mrs. Armadale had dropped
her hold of her husband's hand, and sat with her face steadily
turned away from him The hot African blood burned red in her dusky
cheeks as she obstinately repeated the question: "Was she a fair
woman, or dark, like me?"
"Fair," said her husband, without looking at her.
Her hands, lying clasped together in her lap, wrung each other
hard—she said no more. Mr. Neal's overhanging eyebrows lowered
ominously as he returned to the narrative. He had incurred his own
severe displeasure—he had caught himself in the act of secretly
"I have said"—the letter proceeded—"that Ingleby was admitted to
my closest confidence. I was sorry to leave him; and I was
distressed by his evident surprise and mortification when he heard
that I was going away. In my own justification, I showed him the
letter and the likeness, and told him the truth. His interest in
the portrait seemed to be hardly inferior to my own. He asked me
about Miss Blanchard's family and Miss Blanchard's fortune with the
sympathy of a true friend; and he strengthened my regard for him,
and my belief in him, by putting himself out of the question, and
by generously encouraging me to persist in my new purpose. When we
parted, I was in high health and spirits. Before we met again the
next day, I was suddenly struck by an illness which threatened both
my reason and my life.
"I have no proof against Ingleby. There was more than one woman
on the island whom I had wronged beyond all forgiveness, and whose
vengeance might well have reached me at that time. I can accuse
nobody. I can only say that my life was saved by my old black
nurse; and that the woman afterward acknowledged having used the
known negro antidote to a known negro poison in those parts. When
my first days of convalescence came, the ship in which my passage
had been taken had long since sailed. When I asked for Ingleby, he
was gone. Proofs of his unpardonable misconduct in his situation
were placed before me, which not even my partiality for him could
resist. He had been turned out of the office in the first days of
my illness, and nothing more was known of him but that he had left
"All through my sufferings the portrait had been under my
pillow. All through my convalescence it was my one consolation when
I remembered the past, and my one encouragement when I thought of
the future. No words can describe the hold that first fancy had now
taken of me—with time and solitude and suffering to help it. My
mother, with all her interest in the match, was startled by the
unexpected success of her own project. She had written to tell Mr.
Blanchard of my illness, but had received no reply. She now offered
to write again, if I would promise not to leave her before my
recovery was complete. My impatience acknowledged no restraint.
Another ship in port gave me another chance of leaving for Madeira.
Another examination of Mr. Blanchard's letter of invitation assured
me that I should find him still in the island, if I seized my
opportunity on the spot. In defiance of my mother's entreaties, I
insisted on taking my passage in the second ship—and this time,
when the ship sailed, I was on board.
"The change did me good; the sea-air made a man of me again.
After an unusually rapid voyage, I found myself at the end of my
pilgrimage. On a fine, still evening which I can never forget, I
stood alone on the shore, with her likeness in my bosom, and saw
the white walls of the house where I knew that she lived.
"I strolled round the outer limits of the grounds to compose
myself before I went in. Venturing through a gate and a shrubbery,
I looked into the garden, and saw a lady there, loitering alone on
the lawn. She turned her face toward me—and I beheld the original
of my portrait, the fulfillment of my dream! It is useless, and
worse than useless, to write of it now. Let me only say that every
promise which the likeness had made to my fancy the living woman
kept to my eyes in the moment when they first looked on her. Let me
say this—and no more.
"I was too violently agitated to trust myself in her presence. I
drew back undiscovered, and, making my way to the front door of the
house, asked for her father first. Mr. Blanchard had retired to his
room, and could see nobody. Upon that I took courage, and asked for
Miss Blanchard. The servant smiled. 'My young lady is not Miss
Blanchard any longer, sir,' he said. 'She is married.' Those words
would have struck some men, in my position, to the earth. They
fired my hot blood, and I seized the servant by the throat, in a
frenzy of rage 'It's a lie!' I broke out, speaking to him as if he
had been one of the slaves on my own estate. 'It's the truth,' said
the man, struggling with me; 'her husband is in the house at this
moment.' 'Who is he, you scoundrel?'The servant answered by
repeating my own name, to my own face: 'Allan
"You can now guess the truth. Fergus Ingleby was the outlawed
son whose name and whose inheritance I had taken. And Fergus
Ingleby was even with me for depriving him of his birthright.
"Some account of the manner in which the deception had been
carried out is necessary to explain—I don't say to justify—the
share I took in the events that followed my arrival at Madeira.
"By Ingleby's own confession, he had come to Barbadoes—knowing
of his father's death and of my succession to the estates—with the
settled purpose of plundering and injuring me. My rash confidence
put such an opportunity into his hands as he could never have hoped
for. He had waited to possess himself of the letter which my mother
wrote to Mr. Blanchard at the outset of my illness—had then caused
his own dismissal from his situation—and had sailed for Madeira in
the very ship that was to have sailed with me. Arrived at the
island, he had waited again till the vessel was away once more on
her voyage, and had then presented himself at Mr. Blanchard's—not
in the assumed name by which I shall continue to speak of him here,
but in the name which was as certainly his as mine, 'Allan
Armadale.' The fraud at the outset presented few difficulties. He
had only an ailing old man (who had not seen my mother for half a
lifetime) and an innocent, unsuspicious girl (who had never seen
her at all) to deal with; and he had learned enough in my service
to answer the few questions that were put to him as readily as I
might have answered them myself. His looks and manners, his winning
ways with women, his quickness and cunning, did the rest. While I
was still on my sickbed, he had won Miss Blanchard's affections.
While I was dreaming over the likeness in the first days of my
convalescence, he had secured Mr. Blanchard's consent to the
celebration of the marriage before he and his daughter left the
"Thus far Mr. Blanchard's infirmity of sight had helped the
deception. He had been content to send messages to my mother, and
to receive the messages which were duly invented in return. But
when the suitor was accepted, and the wedding-day was appointed, he
felt it due to his old friend to write to her, asking her formal
consent and inviting her to the marriage. He could only complete
part of the letter himself; the rest was finished, under his
dictation, by Miss Blanchard. There was no chance of being
beforehand with the post-office this time; and Ingleby, sure of his
place in the heart of his victim, waylaid her as she came out of
her father's room with the letter, and privately told her the
truth. She was still under age, and the position was a serious one.
If the letter was posted, no resource would be left but to wait and
be parted forever, or to elope under circumstances which made
detection almost a certainty. The destination of any ship which
took them away would be known beforehand; and the fast-sailing
yacht in which Mr. Blanchard had come to Madeira was waiting in the
harbor to take him back to England. The only other alternative was
to continue the deception by suppressing the letter, and to confess
the truth when they were securely married. What arts of persuasion
Ingleby used—what base advantage he might previously have taken of
her love and her trust in him to degrade Miss Blanchard to his own
level—I cannot say. He did degrade her. The letter never went to
its destination; and, with the daughter's privity and consent, the
father's confidence was abused to the very last.
"The one precaution now left to take was to fabricate the answer
from my mother which Mr. Blanchard expected, and which would arrive
in due course of post before the day appointed for the marriage.
Ingleby had my mother's stolen letter with him; but he was without
the imitative dexterity which would have enabled him to make use of
it for a forgery of her handwriting. Miss Blanchard, who had
consented passively to the deception, refused to take any active
share in the fraud practiced on her father. In this difficulty,
Ingleby found an instrument ready to his hand in an orphan girl of
barely twelve years old, a marvel of precocious ability, whom Miss
Blanchard had taken a romantic fancy to befriend and whom she had
brought away with her from England to be trained as her maid. That
girl's wicked dexterity removed the one serious obstacle left to
the success of the fraud. I saw the imitation of my mother's
writing which she had produced under Ingleby's instructions and (if
the shameful truth must be told) with her young mistress's
knowledge—and I believe I should have been deceived by it myself. I
saw the girl afterward—and my blood curdled at the sight of her. If
she is alive now, woe to the people who trust her! No creature more
innately deceitful and more innately pitiless ever walked this
"The forged letter paved the way securely for the marriage; and
when I reached the house, they were (as the servant had truly told
me) man and wife. My arrival on the scene simply precipitated the
confession which they had both agreed to make. Ingleby's own lips
shamelessly acknowledged the truth. He had nothing to lose by
speaking out—he was married, and his wife's fortune was beyond her
father's control. I pass over all that followed—my interview with
the daughter, and my interview with the father—to come to results.
For two days the efforts of the wife, and the efforts of the
clergyman who had celebrated the marriage, were successful in
keeping Ingleby and myself apart. On the third day I set my trap
more successfully, and I and the man who had mortally injured me
met together alone, face to face.
"Remember how my confidence had been abused; remember how the
one good purpose of my life had been thwarted; remember the violent
passions rooted deep in my nature, and never yet controlled—and
then imagine for yourself what passed between us. All I need tell
here is the end. He was a taller and a stronger man than I, and he
took his brute's advantage with a brute's ferocity. He struck
"Think of the injuries I had received at that man's hands, and
then think of his setting his mark on my face by a blow!
"I went to an English officer who had been my fellow-passenger
on the voyage from Barbadoes. I told him the truth, and he agreed
with me that a meeting was inevitable. Dueling had its received
formalities and its established laws in those days; and he began to
speak of them. I stopped him. 'I will take a pistol in my right
hand,' I said, 'and he shall take a pistol in his: I will take one
end of a handkerchief in my left hand, and he shall take the other
end in his; and across that handkerchief the duel shall be fought.'
The officer got up, and looked at me as if I had personally
insulted him. 'You are asking me to be present at a murder and a
suicide,' he said; 'I decline to serve you.' He left the room. As
soon as he was gone I wrote down the words I had said to the
officer and sent them by a messenger to Ingleby. While I was
waiting for an answer, I sat down before the glass, and looked at
his mark on my face. 'Many a man has had blood on his hands and
blood on his conscience,' I thought, 'for less than this.'
"The messenger came back with Ingleby's answer. It appointed a
meeting for three o'clock the next day, at a lonely place in the
interior of the island. I had resolved what to do if he refused;
his letter released me from the horror of my own resolution. I felt
grateful to him—yes, absolutely grateful to him—for writing it.
"The next day I went to the place. He was not there. I waited
two hours, and he never came. At last the truth dawned on me. 'Once
a coward, always a coward,' I thought. I went back to Mr.
Blanchard's house. Before I got there, a sudden misgiving seized
me, and I turned aside to the harbor. I was right; the harbor was
the place to go to. A ship sailing for Lisbon that afternoon had
offered him the opportunity of taking a passage for himself and his
wife, and escaping me. His answer to my challenge had served its
purpose of sending me out of the way into the interior of the
island. Once more I had trusted in Fergus Ingleby, and once more
those sharp wits of his had been too much for me.
"I asked my informant if Mr. Blanchard was aware as yet of his
daughter's departure. He had discovered it, but not until the ship
had sailed. This time I took a lesson in cunning from Ingleby.
Instead of showing myself at Mr. Blanchard's house, I went first
and looked at Mr. Blanchard's yacht.
"The vessel told me what the vessel's master might have
concealed—the truth. I found her in the confusion of a sudden
preparation for sea. All the crew were on board, with the exception
of some few who had been allowed their leave on shore, and who were
away in the interior of the island, nobody knew where. When I
discovered that the sailing-master was trying in, to supply their
places with the best men he could pick up at a moment's notice, my
resolution was instantly taken. I knew the duties on board a yacht
well enough, having had a vessel of my own, and having sailed her
myself. Hurrying into the town, I changed my dress for a sailor's
coat and hat, and, returning to the harbor, I offered myself as one
of the volunteer crew. I don't know what the sailing-master saw in
my face. My answers to his questions satisfied him, and yet he
looked at me and hesitated. But hands were scarce, and it ended in
my being taken on board. An hour later Mr. Blanchard joined us, and
was assisted into the cabin, suffering pitiably in mind and body
both. An hour after that we were at sea, with a starless night
overhead, and a fresh breeze behind us.
"As I had surmised, we were in pursuit of the vessel in which
Ingleby and his wife had left the island that afternoon. The ship
was French, and was employed in the timber trade: her name
was La Grace de Dieu. Nothing more was known of her
than that she was bound for Lisbon; that she had been driven out of
her course; and that she had touched at Madeira, short of men and
short of provisions. The last want had been supplied, but not the
first. Sailors distrusted the sea-worthiness of the ship, and
disliked the look of the vagabond crew. When those two serious
facts had been communicated to Mr. Blanchard, the hard words he had
spoken to his child in the first shock of discovering that she had
helped to deceive him smote him to the heart. He instantly
determined to give his daughter a refuge on board his own vessel,
and to quiet her by keeping her villain of a husband out of the way
of all harm at my hands. The yacht sailed three feet and more to
the ship's one. There was no doubt of our overtaking La
Grace de Dieu; the only fear was that we might pass her in the
"After we had been some little time out, the wind suddenly
dropped, and there fell on us an airless, sultry calm. When the
order came to get the topmasts on deck, and to shift the large
sails, we all knew what to expect. In little better than an hour
more, the storm was upon us, the thunder was pealing over our
heads, and the yacht was running for it. She was a powerful
schooner-rigged vessel of three hundred tons, as strong as wood and
iron could make her; she was handled by a sailing-master who
thoroughly understood his work, and she behaved nobly. As the new
morning came, the fury of the wind, blowing still from the
southwest quarter, subsided a little, and the sea was less heavy.
Just before daybreak we heard faintly, through the howling of the
gale, the report of a gun. The men collected anxiously on deck,
looked at each other, and said: 'There she is!'
"With the daybreak we saw the vessel, and the timber-ship it
was. She lay wallowing in the trough of the sea, her foremast and
her mainmast both gone—a water-logged wreck. The yacht carried
three boats; one amidships, and two slung to davits on the
quarters; and the sailing-master, seeing signs of the storm
renewing its fury before long, determined on lowering the
quarter-boats while the lull lasted. Few as the people were on
board the wreck, they were too many for one boat, and the risk of
trying two boats at once was thought less, in the critical state of
the weather, than the risk of making two separate trips from the
yacht to the ship. There might be time to make one trip in safety,
but no man could look at the heavens and say there would be time
enough for two.
"The boats were manned by volunteers from the crew, I being in
the second of the two. When the first boat was got alongside of the
timber-ship—a service of difficulty and danger which no words can
describe—all the men on board made a rash to leave the wreck
together. If the boat had not been pulled off again before the
whole of them had crowded in, the lives of all must have been
sacrificed. As our boat approached the vessel in its turn, we
arranged that four of us should get on board—two (I being one of
them) to see to the safety of Mr. Blanchard's daughter, and two to
beat back the cowardly remnant of the crew if they tried to crowd
in first. The other three—the coxswain and two oarsmen—were left in
the boat to keep her from being crushed by the ship. What the
others saw when they first boarded La Grace de
Dieu I don't know; what I saw was the woman whom I had
lost, the woman vilely stolen from me, lying in a swoon on the
deck. We lowered her, insensible, into the boat. The remnant of the
crew—five in number—were compelled by main force to follow her in
an orderly manner, one by one, and minute by minute, as the chance
offered for safely taking them in. I was the last who left; and, at
the next roll of the ship toward us, the empty length of the deck,
without a living creature on it from stem to stern, told the boat's
crew that their work was done. With the louder and louder howling
of the fast-rising tempest to warn them, they rowed for their lives
back to the yacht.
"A succession of heavy squalls had brought round the course of
the new storm that was coming, from the south to the north; and the
sailing-master, watching his opportunity, had wore the yacht to be
ready for it. Before the last of our men had got on board again, it
burst on us with the fury of a hurricane. Our boat was swamped, but
not a life was lost. Once more we ran before it, due south, at the
mercy of the wind. I was on deck with the rest, watching the one
rag of sail we could venture to set, and waiting to supply its
place with another, if it blew out of the bolt-ropes, when the mate
came close to me, and shouted in my ear through the thunder of the
storm: 'She has come to her senses in the cabin, and has asked for
her husband. Where is he?' Not a man on board knew. The yacht was
searched from one end to another without finding him. The men were
mustered in defiance of the weather—he was not among them. The
crews of the two boats were questioned. All the first crew could
say was that they had pulled away from the wreck when the rush into
their boat took place, and that they knew nothing of whom they let
in or whom they kept out. All the second crew could say was that
they had brought back to the yacht every living soul left by the
first boat on the deck of the timber-ship. There was no blaming
anybody; but, at the same time, there was no resisting the fact
that the man was missing.
"All through that day the storm, raging unabatedly, never gave
us even the shadow of a chance of returning and searching the
wreck. The one hope for the yacht was to scud. Toward evening the
gale, after having carried us to the southward of Madeira, began at
last to break—the wind shifted again—and allowed us to bear up for
the island. Early the next morning we got back into port. Mr.
Blanchard and his daughter were taken ashore, the sailing-master
accompanying them, and warning us that he should have something to
say on his return which would nearly concern the whole crew.
"We were mustered on deck, and addressed by the sailing-master
as soon as he came on board again. He had Mr. Blanchard's orders to
go back at once to the timber-ship and to search for the missing
man. We were bound to do this for his sake, and for the sake of his
wife, whose reason was despaired of by the doctors if something was
not done to quiet her. We might be almost sure of finding the
vessel still afloat, for her ladling of timber would keep her above
water as long as her hull held together. If the man was on
board—living or dead—he must be found and brought back. And if the
weather continued to be moderate, there was no reason why the men,
with proper assistance, should not bring the ship back, too, and
(their master being quite willing) earn their share of the salvage
with the officers of the yacht.
"Upon this the crew gave three cheers, and set to work forthwith
to get the schooner to sea again. I was the only one of them who
drew back from the enterprise. I told them the storm had upset me—I
was ill, and wanted rest. They all looked me in the face as I
passed through them on my way out of the yacht, but not a man of
them spoke to me.
"I waited through that day at a tavern on the port for the first
news from the wreck. It was brought toward night-fall by one of the
pilot-boats which had taken part in the enterprise—a successful
enterprise, as the event proved—for saving the abandoned
ship. La Grace de Dieu had been discovered still
floating, and the body of Ingleby had been found on board, drowned
in the cabin. At dawn the next morning the dead man was brought
back by the yacht; and on the same day the funeral took place in
the Protestant cemetery."
"Stop!" said the voice from the bed, before the reader could
turn to a new leaf and begin the next paragraph.
There was a change in the room, and there were changes in the
audience, since Mr. Neal had last looked up from the narrative. A
ray of sunshine was crossing the death-bed; and the child, overcome
by drowsiness, lay peacefully asleep in the golden light. The
father's countenance had altered visibly. Forced into action by the
tortured mind, the muscles of the lower face, which had never moved
yet, were moving distortedly now. Warned by the damps gathering
heavily on his forehead, the doctor had risen to revive the sinking
man. On the other side of the bed the wife's chair stood empty. At
the moment when her husband had interrupted the reading, she had
drawn back behind the bed head, out of his sight. Supporting
herself against the wall, she stood there in hiding, her eyes
fastened in hungering suspense on the manuscript in Mr. Neal's
In a minute more the silence was broken again by Mr.
"Where is she?" he asked, looking angrily at his wife's empty
chair. The doctor pointed to the place. She had no choice but to
come forward. She came slowly and stood before him.
"You promised to go when I told you," he said. "Go now."
Mr. Neal tried hard to control his hand as it kept his place
between the leaves of the manuscripts but it trembled in spite of
him. A suspicion which had been slowly forcing itself on his mind,
while he was reading, became a certainty when he heard those words.
From one revelation to another the letter had gone on, until it had
now reached the brink of a last disclosure to come. At that brink
the dying man had predetermined to silence the reader's voice,
before he had permitted his wife to hear the narrative read. There
was the secret which the son was to know in after years, and which
the mother was never to approach. From that resolution, his wife's
tenderest pleadings had never moved him an inch—and now, from his
own lips, his wife knew it.
She made him no answer. She stood there and looked at him;
looked her last entreaty—perhaps her last farewell. His eyes gave
her back no answering glance: they wandered from her mercilessly to
the sleeping boy. She turned speechless from the bed. Without a
look at the child—without a word to the two strangers breathlessly
watching her—she kept the promise she had given, and in dead
silence left the room.
There was something in the manner of her departure which shook
the self-possession of both the men who witnessed it. When the door
closed on her, they recoiled instinctively from advancing further
in the dark. The doctor's reluctance was the first to express
itself. He attempted to obtain the patient's permission to withdraw
until the letter was completed. The patient refused.
Mr. Neal spoke next at greater length and to more serious
"The doctor is accustomed in his profession," he began, "and I
am accustomed in mine, to have the secrets of others placed in our
keeping. But it is my duty, before we go further, to ask if you
really understand the extraordinary position which we now occupy
toward one another. You have just excluded Mrs. Armadale, before
our own eyes, from a place in your confidence. And you are now
offering that same place to two men who are total strangers to
"Yes," said Mr. Armadale, "because you are
Few as the words were, the inference to be drawn from them was
not of a nature to set distrust at rest. Mr. Neal put it plainly
"You are in urgent need of my help and of the doctor's help," he
said. "Am I to understand (so long as you secure our assistance)
that the impression which the closing passages of this letter may
produce on us is a matter of indifference to you?"
"Yes. I don't spare you. I don't spare myself.
I do spare my wife."
"You force me to a conclusion, sir, which is a very serious
one," said Mr. Neal. "If I am to finish this letter under your
dictation, I must claim permission—having read aloud the greater
part of it already—to read aloud what remains, in the hearing of
this gentleman, as a witness."
Gravely doubting, the doctor resumed his chair. Gravely
doubting, Mr. Neal turned the leaf, and read the next words:
"There is more to tell before I can leave the dead man to his
rest. I have described the finding of his body. But I have not
described the circumstances under which he met his death.
"He was known to have been on deck when the yacht's boats were
seen approaching the wreck; and he was afterward missed in the
confusion caused by the panic of the crew. At that time the water
was five feet deep in the cabin, and was rising fast. There was
little doubt of his having gone down into that water of his own
accord. The discovery of his wife's jewel box, close under him, on
the floor, explained his presence in the cabin. He was known to
have seen help approaching, and it was quite likely that he had
thereupon gone below to make an effort at saving the box. It was
less probable—though it might still have been inferred—that his
death was the result of some accident in diving, which had for the
moment deprived him of his senses. But a discovery made by the
yacht's crew pointed straight to a conclusion which struck the men,
one and all, with the same horror. When the course of their search
brought them to the cabin, they found the scuttle bolted, and the
door locked on the outside. Had some one closed the cabin, not
knowing he was there? Setting the panic-stricken condition of the
crew out of the question, there was no motive for closing the cabin
before leaving the wreck. But one other conclusion remained. Had
some murderous hand purposely locked the man in, and left him to
drown as the water rose over him?
"Yes. A murderous hand had locked him in, and left him to drown.
That hand was mine."
The Scotchman started up from the table; the doctor shrank from
the bedside. The two looked at the dying wretch, mastered by the
same loathing, chilled by the same dread. He lay there, with his
child's head on his breast; abandoned by the sympathies of man,
accursed by the justice of God—he lay there, in the isolation of
Cain, and looked back at them.
At the moment when the two men rose to their feet, the door
leading into the next room was shaken heavily on the outer side,
and a sound like the sound of a fall, striking dull on their ears,
silenced them both. Standing nearest to the door, the doctor opened
it, passed through, and closed it instantly. Mr. Neal turned his
back on the bed, and waited the event in silence. The sound, which
had failed to awaken the child, had failed also to attract the
father's notice. His own words had taken him far from all that was
passing at his deathbed. His helpless body was back on the wreck,
and the ghost of his lifeless hand was turning the lock of the
A bell rang in the next room—eager voices talked; hurried
footsteps moved in it—an interval passed, and the doctor returned.
"Was she listening?" whispered Mr. Neal, in German. "The women are
restoring her," the doctor whispered back. "She has heard it all.
In God's name, what are we to do next?" Before it was possible to
reply, Mr. Armadale spoke. The doctor's return had roused him to a
sense of present things.
"Go on," he said, as if nothing had happened.
"I refuse to meddle further with your infamous secret," returned
Mr. Neal. "You are a murderer on your own confession. If that
letter is to be finished, don't ask me to hold
the pen for you."
"You gave me your promise," was the reply, spoken with the same
immovable self-possession. "You must write for me, or break your
For the moment, Mr. Neal was silenced. There the man
lay—sheltered from the execration of his fellow-creatures, under
the shadow of Death—beyond the reach of all human condemnation,
beyond the dread of all mortal laws; sensitive to nothing but his
one last resolution to finish the letter addressed to his son.
Mr. Neal drew the doctor aside. "A word with you," he said, in
German. "Do you persist in asserting that he may be speechless
before we can send to Stuttgart?"
"Look at his lips," said the doctor, "and judge for
His lips answered for him: the reading of the narrative had left
its mark on them already. A distortion at the corners of his mouth,
which had been barely noticeable when Mr. Neal entered the room,
was plainly visible now. His slow articulation labored more and
more painfully with every word he uttered. The position was
emphatically a terrible one. After a moment more of hesitation, Mr.
Neal made a last attempt to withdraw from it.
"Now my eyes are open," he said, sternly, "do you dare hold me
to an engagement which you forced on me blindfold?"
"No," answered Mr. Armadale. "I leave you to break your
The look which accompanied that reply stung the Scotchman's
pride to the quick. When he spoke next, he spoke seated in his
former place at the table.
"No man ever yet said of me that I broke my word," he retorted,
angrily; "and not even you shall say it of me now. Mind this! If
you hold me to my promise, I hold you to my condition. I have
reserved my freedom of action, and I warn you I will use it at my
own sole discretion, as soon as I am released from the sight of
"Remember he is dying," pleaded the doctor, gently.
"Take your place, sir," said Mr. Neal, pointing to the empty
chair. "What remains to be read, I will only read in your hearing.
What remains to be written, I will only write in your
presence. You brought me here. I have a right to
insist—and I do insist—on your remaining as a witness to the
The doctor accepted his position without remonstrance. Mr. Neal
returned to the manuscript, and read what remained of it
uninterruptedly to the end:
"Without a word in my own defense, I have acknowledged my guilt.
Without a word in my own defense, I will reveal how the crime was
"No thought of him was in my mind, when I saw his wife
insensible on the deck of the timber-ship. I did my part in
lowering her safely into the boat. Then, and not till then, I felt
the thought of him coming back. In the confusion that prevailed
while the men of the yacht were forcing the men of the ship to wait
their time, I had an opportunity of searching for him unobserved. I
stepped back from the bulwark, not knowing whether he was away in
the first boat, or whether he was still on board—I stepped back,
and saw him mount the cabin stairs empty-handed, with the water
dripping from him. After looking eagerly toward the boat (without
noticing me), he saw there was time to spare before the crew were
taken. 'Once more!' he said to himself—and disappeared again, to
make a last effort at recovering the jewel box. The devil at my
elbow whispered, 'Don't shoot him like a man: drown him like a
dog!' He was under water when I bolted the scuttle. But his head
rose to the surface before I could close the cabin door. I looked
at him, and he looked at me—and I locked the door in his face. The
next minute, I was back among the last men left on deck. The minute
after, it was too late to repent. The storm was threatening us with
destruction, and the boat's crew were pulling for their lives from
"My son! I have pursued you from my grave with a confession
which my love might have spared you. Read on, and you will know
"I will say nothing of my sufferings; I will plead for no mercy
to my memory. There is a strange sinking at my heart, a strange
trembling in my hand, while I write these lines, which warns me to
hasten to the end. I left the island without daring to look for the
last time at the woman whom I had lost so miserably, whom I had
injured so vilely. When I left, the whole weight of the suspicion
roused by the manner of Ingleby's death rested on the crew of the
French vessel. No motive for the supposed murder could be brought
home to any of them; but they were known to be, for the most part,
outlawed ruffians capable of any crime, and they were suspected and
examined accordingly. It was not till afterward that I heard by
accident of the suspicion shifting round at last to me. The widow
alone recognized the vague description given of the strange man who
had made one of the yacht's crew, and who had disappeared the day
afterward. The widow alone knew, from that time forth, why her
husband had been murdered, and who had done the deed. When she made
that discovery, a false report of my death had been previously
circulated in the island. Perhaps I was indebted to the report for
my immunity from all legal proceedings; perhaps (no eye but
Ingleby's having seen me lock the cabin door) there was not
evidence enough to justify an inquiry; perhaps the widow shrank
from the disclosures which must have followed a public charge
against me, based on her own bare suspicion of the truth. However
it might be, the crime which I had committed unseen has remained a
crime unpunished from that time to this.
"I left Madeira for the West Indies in disguise. The first news
that met me when the ship touched at Barbadoes was the news of my
mother's death. I had no heart to return to the old scenes. The
prospect of living at home in solitude, with the torment of my own
guilty remembrances gnawing at me day and night, was more than I
had the courage to confront. Without landing, or discovering myself
to any one on shore, I went on as far as the ship would take me—to
the island of Trinidad.
"At that place I first saw your mother. It was my duty to tell
her the truth—and I treacherously kept my secret. It was my duty to
spare her the hopeless sacrifice of her freedom and her happiness
to such an existence as mine—and I did her the injury of marrying
her. If she is alive when you read this, grant her the mercy of
still concealing the truth. The one atonement I can make to her is
to keep her unsuspicious to the last of the man she has married.
Pity her, as I have pitied her. Let this letter be a sacred
confidence between father and son.
"The time when you were born was the time when my health began
to give way. Some months afterward, in the first days of my
recovery, you were brought to me; and I was told that you had been
christened during my illness. Your mother had done as other loving
mothers do—she had christened her first-born by his father's name.
You, too, were Allan Armadale. Even in that early time—even while I
was happily ignorant of what I have discovered since—my mind
misgave me when I looked at you, and thought of that fatal
"As soon as I could be moved, my presence was required at my
estates in Barbadoes. It crossed my mind—wild as the idea may
appear to you—to renounce the condition which compelled my son as
well as myself to take the Armadale name, or lose the succession to
the Armadale property. But, even in those days, the rumor of a
contemplated emancipation of the slaves—the emancipation which is
now close at hand—was spreading widely in the colony. No man could
tell how the value of West Indian property might be affected if
that threatened change ever took place. No man could tell—if I gave
you back my own paternal name, and left you without other provision
in the future than my own paternal estate—how you might one day
miss the broad Armadale acres, or to what future penury I might be
blindly condemning your mother and yourself. Mark how the
fatalities gathered one on the other! Mark how your Christian name
came to you, how your surname held to you, in spite of me!
"My health had improved in my old home—but it was for a time
only. I sank again, and the doctors ordered me to Europe. Avoiding
England (why, you may guess), I took my passage, with you and your
mother, for France. From France we passed into Italy. We lived
here; we lived there. It was useless. Death had got met and Death
followed me, go where I might. I bore it, for I had an alleviation
to turn to which I had not deserved. You may shrink in horror from
the very memory of me now. In those days, you comforted me. The
only warmth I still felt at my heart was the warmth you brought to
it. My last glimpses of happiness in this world were the glimpses
given me by my infant son.
"We removed from Italy, and went next to Lausanne—the place from
which I am now writing to you. The post of this morning has brought
me news, later and fuller than any I had received thus far, of the
widow of the murdered man. The letter lies before me while I write.
It comes from a friend of my early days, who has seen her, and
spoken to her—who has been the first to inform her that the report
of my death in Madeira was false. He writes, at a loss to account
for the violent agitation which she showed on hearing that I was
still alive, that I was married, and that I had an infant son. He
asks me if I can explain it. He speaks in terms of sympathy for
her—a young and beautiful woman, buried in the retirement of a
fishing-village on the Devonshire coast; her father dead; her
family estranged from her, in merciless disapproval of her
marriage. He writes words which might have cut me to the heart, but
for a closing passage in his letter, which seized my whole
attention the instant I came to it, and which has forced from me
the narrative that these pages contain.
"I now know what never even entered my mind as a suspicion till
the letter reached me. I now know that the widow of the man whose
death lies at my door has borne a posthumous child. That child is a
boy—a year older than my own son. Secure in her belief in my death,
his mother has done what my son's mother did: she has christened
her child by his father's name. Again, in the second generation,
there are two Allan Armadales as there were in the first. After
working its deadly mischief with the fathers, the fatal resemblance
of names has descended to work its deadly mischief with the
"Guiltless minds may see nothing thus far but the result of a
series of events which could lead no other way. I—with that man's
life to answer for—I, going down into my grave, with my crime
unpunished and unatoned, see what no guiltless minds can discern. I
see danger in the future, begotten of the danger in the
past—treachery that is the offspring
of his treachery, and crime that is the child
ofmy crime. Is the dread that now shakes me to the
soul a phantom raised by the superstition of a dying man? I look
into the Book which all Christendom venerates, and the Book tells
me that the sin of the father shall be visited on the child. I look
out into the world, and I see the living witnesses round me to that
terrible truth. I see the vices which have contaminated the father
descending, and contaminating the child; I see the shame which has
disgraced the father's name descending, and disgracing the child's.
I look in on myself, and I see my crime ripening again for the
future in the self-same circumstance which first sowed the seeds of
it in the past, and descending, in inherited contamination of evil,
from me to my son."
At those lines the writing ended. There the stroke had struck
him, and the pen had dropped from his hand.
He knew the place; he remembered the words. At the instant when
the reader's voice stopped, he looked eagerly at the doctor. "I
have got what comes next in my mind," he said, with slower and
slower articulation. "Help me to speak it."
The doctor administered a stimulant, and signed to Mr. Neal to
give him time. After a little delay, the flame of the sinking
spirit leaped up in his eyes once more. Resolutely struggling with
his failing speech, he summoned the Scotchman to take the pen, and
pronounced the closing sentences of the narrative, as his memory
gave them back to him, one by one, in these words:
"Despise my dying conviction if you will, but grant me, I
solemnly implore you, one last request. My son! the only hope I
have left for you hangs on a great doubt—the doubt whether we are,
or are not, the masters of our own destinies. It may be that mortal
free-will can conquer mortal fate; and that going, as we all do,
inevitably to death, we go inevitably to nothing that is before
death. If this be so, indeed, respect—though you respect nothing
else—the warning which I give you from my grave. Never, to your
dying day, let any living soul approach you who is associated,
directly or indirectly, with the crime which your father has
committed. Avoid the widow of the man I killed—if the widow still
lives. Avoid the maid whose wicked hand smoothed the way to the
marriage—if the maid is still in her service. And more than all,
avoid the man who bears the same name as your own. Offend your best
benefactor, if that benefactor's influence has connected you one
with the other. Desert the woman who loves you, if that woman is a
link between you and him. Hide yourself from him under an assumed
name. Put the mountains and the seas between you; be ungrateful, be
unforgiving; be all that is most repellent to your own gentler
nature, rather than live under the same roof, and breathe the same
air, with that man. Never let the two Allan Armadales meet in this
world: never, never, never!
"There lies the way by which you may escape—if any way there be.
Take it, if you prize your own innocence and your own happiness,
through all your life to come!
"I have done. If I could have trusted any weaker influence than
the influence of this confession to incline you to my will, I would
have spared you the disclosure which these pages contain. You are
lying on my breast, sleeping the innocent sleep of a child, while a
stranger's hand writes these words for you as they fall from my
lips. Think what the strength of my conviction must be, when I can
find the courage, on my death-bed, to darken all your young life at
its outset with the shadow of your father's crime. Think, and be
warned. Think, and forgive me if you can."
There it ended. Those were the father's last words to the
Inexorably faithful to his forced duty, Mr. Neal laid aside the
pen, and read over aloud the lines he had just written. "Is there
more to add?" he asked, with his pitilessly steady voice. There was
no more to add.
Mr. Neal folded the manuscript, inclosed it in a sheet of paper,
and sealed it with Mr. Armadale's own seal. "The address?" he said,
with his merciless business formality. "To Allan Armadale, junior,"
he wrote, as the words were dictated from the bed. "Care of Godfrey
Hammick, Esq., Offices of Messrs. Hammick and Ridge, Lincoln's Inn
Fields, London." Having written the address, he waited, and
considered for a moment. "Is your executor to open this?" he
"No! he is to give it to my son when my son is of an age to
"In that case," pursued Mr. Neal, with all his wits in
remorseless working order, "I will add a dated note to the address,
repeating your own words as you have just spoken them, and
explaining the circumstances under which my handwriting appears on
the document." He wrote the note in the briefest and plainest
terms, read it over aloud as he had read over what went before,
signed his name and address at the end, and made the doctor sign
next, as witness of the proceedings, and as medical evidence of the
condition in which Mr. Armadale then lay. This done, he placed the
letter in a second inclosure, sealed it as before, and directed it
to Mr. Hammick, with the superscription of "private" added to the
address. "Do you insist on my posting this?" he asked, rising with
the letter in his hand.
"Give him time to think," said the doctor. "For the child's
sake, give him time to think! A minute may change him."
"I will give him five minutes," answered Mr. Neal, placing his
watch on the table, implacable just to the very last.
They waited, both looking attentively at Mr. Armadale. The signs
of change which had appeared in him already were multiplying fast.
The movement which continued mental agitation had communicated to
the muscles of his face was beginning, under the same dangerous
influence, to spread downward. His once helpless hands lay still no
longer; they struggled pitiably on the bedclothes. At sight of that
warning token, the doctor turned with a gesture of alarm, and
beckoned Mr. Neal to come nearer. "Put the question at once," he
said; "if you let the five minutes pass, you may be too late."
Mr. Neal approached the bed. He, too, noticed the movement of
the hands. "Is that a bad sign?" he asked.
The doctor bent his head gravely. "Put your question at once,"
he repeated, "or you may be too late."
Mr. Neal held the letter before the eyes of the dying man "Do
you know what this is?"
"Do you insist on my posting it?"
He mastered his failing speech for the last time, and gave the
Mr. Neal moved to the door, with the letter in his hand. The
German followed him a few steps, opened his lips to plead for a
longer delay, met the Scotchman's inexorable eye, and drew back
again in silence. The door closed and parted them, without a word
having passed on either side.
The doctor went back to the bed and whispered to the sinking
man: "Let me call him back; there is time to stop him yet!" It was
useless. No answer came; nothing showed that he heeded, or even
heard. His eyes wandered from the child, rested for a moment on his
own struggling hand, and looked up entreatingly in the
compassionate face that bent over him. The doctor lifted the hand,
paused, followed the father's longing eyes back to the child, and,
interpreting his last wish, moved the hand gently toward the boy's
head. The hand touched it, and trembled violently. In another
instant the trembling seized on the arm, and spread over the whole
upper part of the body. The face turned from pale to red, from red
to purple, from purple to pale again. Then the toiling hands lay
still, and the shifting color changed no more.
The window of the next room was open, when the doctor entered it
from the death chamber, with the child in his arms. He looked out
as he passed by, and saw Mr. Neal in the street below, slowly
returning to the inn.
"Where is the letter?" he asked.
Three words sufficed for the Scotchman's answer.
"In the post."
THE END OF THE PROLOGUE.