Though my affections might now
be said to be fairly weaned from
Eliza Millward, I did not yet
entirely relinquish my visits
to the vicarage, because I wanted,
as it were, to let her down easy;
without raising much sorrow,
or incurring much resentment,
- or making myself the talk of
the parish; and besides, if I
had wholly kept away, the vicar,
who looked upon my visits as
paid chiefly, if not entirely,
to himself, would have felt himself
decidedly affronted by the neglect.
But when I called there the day
after my interview with Mrs.
Graham, he happened to be from
home - a circumstance by no means
so agreeable to me now as it
had been on former occasions.
Miss Millward was there, it is
true, but she, of course, would
be little better than a nonentity.
However, I resolved to make my
visit a short one, and to talk
to Eliza in a brotherly, friendly
sort of way, such as our long
acquaintance might warrant me
in assuming, and which, I thought,
could neither give offence nor
serve to encourage false hopes.
It was never my custom to talk
about Mrs. Graham either to her
or any one else; but I had not
been seated three minutes before
she brought that lady on to the
carpet herself in a rather remarkable
'Oh, Mr. Markham!' said she,
with a shocked expression and
voice subdued almost to a whisper,
'what do you think of these shocking
reports about Mrs. Graham? -
can you encourage us to disbelieve
'Ah, now! you know!' she slily
smiled and shook her head.
'I know nothing about them.
What in the world do you mean,
'Oh, don't ask me! I can't
explain it.' She took up the
cambric handkerchief which she
had been beautifying with a deep
lace border, and began to be
'What is it, Miss Millward?
what does she mean?' said I,
appealing to her sister, who
seemed to be absorbed in the
hemming of a large, coarse sheet.
'I don't know,' replied she.
'Some idle slander somebody has
been inventing, I suppose. I
never heard it till Eliza told
me the other day, - but if all
the parish dinned it in my ears,
I shouldn't believe a word of
it - I know Mrs. Graham too well!'
'Quite right, Miss Millward!
- and so do I - whatever it may
'Well,' observed Eliza, with
a gentle sigh, 'it's well to
have such a comfortable assurance
regarding the worth of those
we love. I only wish you may
not find your confidence misplaced.'
And she raised her face, and
gave me such a look of sorrowful
tenderness as might have melted
my heart, but within those eyes
there lurked a something that
I did not like; and I wondered
how I ever could have admired
them - her sister's honest face
and small grey optics appeared
far more agreeable. But I was
out of temper with Eliza at that
moment for her insinuations against
Mrs. Graham, which were false,
I was certain, whether she knew
it or not.
I said nothing more on the
subject, however, at the time,
and but little on any other;
for, finding I could not well
recover my equanimity, I presently
rose and took leave, excusing
myself under the plea of business
at the farm; and to the farm
I went, not troubling my mind
one whit about the possible truth
of these mysterious reports,
but only wondering what they
were, by whom originated, and
on what foundations raised, and
how they could the most effectually
be silenced or disproved.
A few days after this we had
another of our quiet little parties,
to which the usual company of
friends and neighbours had been
invited, and Mrs. Graham among
the number. She could not now
absent herself under the plea
of dark evenings or inclement
weather, and, greatly to my relief,
she came. Without her I should
have found the whole affair an
intolerable bore; but the moment
of her arrival brought new life
to the house, and though I might
not neglect the other guests
for her, or expect to engross
much of her attention and conversation
to myself alone, I anticipated
an evening of no common enjoyment.
Mr. Lawrence came too. He did
not arrive till some time after
the rest were assembled. I was
curious to see how he would comport
himself to Mrs. Graham. A slight
bow was all that passed between
them on his entrance; and having
politely greeted the other members
of the company, he seated himself
quite aloof from the young widow,
between my mother and Rose.
'Did you ever see such art?'
whispered Eliza, who was my nearest
neighbour. 'Would you not say
they were perfect strangers?'
'Almost; but what then?'
'What then; why, you can't
pretend to be ignorant?'
'Ignorant of what?' demanded
I, so sharply that she started
and replied, -
'Oh, hush! don't speak so loud.'
'Well, tell me then,' I answered
in a lower tone, 'what is it
you mean? I hate enigmas.'
'Well, you know, I don't vouch
for the truth of it - indeed,
far from it - but haven't you
'I've heard nothing, except
'You must be wilfully deaf
then, for anyone will tell you
that; but I shall only anger
you by repeating it, I see, so
I had better hold my tongue.'
She closed her lips and folded
her hands before her, with an
air of injured meekness.
'If you had wished not to anger
me, you should have held your
tongue from the beginning, or
else spoken out plainly and honestly
all you had to say.'
She turned aside her face,
pulled out her handkerchief,
rose, and went to the window,
where she stood for some time,
evidently dissolved in tears.
I was astounded, provoked, ashamed
- not so much of my harshness
as for her childish weakness.
However, no one seemed to notice
her, and shortly after we were
summoned to the tea-table: in
those parts it was customary
to sit to the table at tea-time
on all occasions, and make a
meal of it, for we dined early.
On taking my seat, I had Rose
on one side of me and an empty
chair on the other.
'May I sit by you?' said a
soft voice at my elbow.
'If you like,' was the reply;
and Eliza slipped into the vacant
chair; then, looking up in my
face with a half-sad, half-playful
smile, she whispered, - 'You're
so stern, Gilbert.'
I handed down her tea with
a slightly contemptuous smile,
and said nothing, for I had nothing
'What have I done to offend
you?' said she, more plaintively.
'I wish I knew.'
'Come, take your tea, Eliza,
and don't be foolish,' responded
I, handing her the sugar and
Just then there arose a slight
commotion on the other side of
me, occasioned by Miss Wilson's
coming to negotiate an exchange
of seats with Rose.
'Will you be so good as to
exchange places with me, Miss
Markham?' said she; 'for I don't
like to sit by Mrs. Graham. If
your mamma thinks proper to invite
such persons to her house, she
cannot object to her daughter's
keeping company with them.'
This latter clause was added
in a sort of soliloquy when Rose
was gone; but I was not polite
enough to let it pass.
'Will you be so good as to
tell me what you mean, Miss Wilson?'
The question startled her a
little, but not much.
'Why, Mr. Markham,' replied
she, coolly, having quickly recovered
her self-possession, 'it surprises
me rather that Mrs. Markham should
invite such a person as Mrs.
Graham to her house; but, perhaps,
she is not aware that the lady's
character is considered scarcely
'She is not, nor am I; and
therefore you would oblige me
by explaining your meaning a
'This is scarcely the time
or the place for such explanations;
but I think you can hardly be
so ignorant as you pretend -
you must know her as well as
'I think I do, perhaps a little
better; and therefore, if you
will inform me what you have
heard or imagined against her,
I shall, perhaps, be able to
set you right.'
'Can you tell me, then, who
was her husband, or if she ever
Indignation kept me silent.
At such a time and place I could
not trust myself to answer.
'Have you never observed,'
said Eliza, 'what a striking
likeness there is between that
child of hers and - '
'And whom?' demanded Miss Wilson,
with an air of cold, but keen
Eliza was startled; the timidly
spoken suggestion had been intended
for my ear alone.
'Oh, I beg your pardon!' pleaded
she; 'I may be mistaken - perhaps
I was mistaken.' But she accompanied
the words with a sly glance of
derision directed to me from
the corner of her disingenuous
'There's no need to ask my
pardon,' replied her friend,
'but I see no one here that at
all resembles that child, except
his mother, and when you hear
ill-natured reports, Miss Eliza,
I will thank you, that is, I
think you will do well, to refrain
from repeating them. I presume
the person you allude to is Mr.
Lawrence; but I think I can assure
you that your suspicions, in
that respect, are utterly misplaced;
and if he has any particular
connection with the lady at all
(which no one has a right to
assert), at least he has (what
cannot be said of some others)
sufficient sense of propriety
to withhold him from acknowledging
anything more than a bowing acquaintance
in the presence of respectable
persons; he was evidently both
surprised and annoyed to find
'Go it!' cried Fergus, who
sat on the other side of Eliza,
and was the only individual who
shared that side of the table
with us. 'Go it like bricks!
mind you don't leave her one
stone upon another.'
Miss Wilson drew herself up
with a look of freezing scorn,
but said nothing. Eliza would
have replied, but I interrupted
her by saying as calmly as I
could, though in a tone which
betrayed, no doubt, some little
of what I felt within, - 'We
have had enough of this subject;
if we can only speak to slander
our betters, let us hold our
Fergus, 'and so does our good
parson; he has been addressing
the company in his richest vein
all the while, and eyeing you,
from time to time, with looks
of stern distaste, while you
sat there, irreverently whispering
and muttering together; and once
he paused in the middle of a
story or a sermon, I don't know
which, and fixed his eyes upon
you, Gilbert, as much as to say, "When
Mr. Markham has done flirting
with those two ladies I will
What more was said at the tea-table
I cannot tell, nor how I found
patience to sit till the meal
was over. I remember, however,
that I swallowed with difficulty
the remainder of the tea that
was in my cup, and ate nothing;
and that the first thing I did
was to stare at Arthur Graham,
who sat beside his mother on
the opposite side of the table,
and the second to stare at Mr.
Lawrence, who sat below; and,
first, it struck me that there
was a likeness; but, on further
contemplation, I concluded it
was only in imagination.
Both, it is true, had more
delicate features and smaller
bones than commonly fall to the
lot of individuals of the rougher
sex, and Lawrence's complexion
was pale and clear, and Arthur's
delicately fair; but Arthur's
tiny, somewhat snubby nose could
never become so long and straight
as Mr. Lawrence's; and the outline
of his face, though not full
enough to be round, and too finely
converging to the small, dimpled
chin to be square, could never
be drawn out to the long oval
of the other's, while the child's
hair was evidently of a lighter,
warmer tint than the elder gentleman's
had ever been, and his large,
clear blue eyes, though prematurely
serious at times, were utterly
dissimilar to the shy hazel eyes
of Mr. Lawrence, whence the sensitive
soul looked so distrustfully
forth, as ever ready to retire
within, from the offences of
a too rude, too uncongenial world.
Wretch that I was to harbour
that detestable idea for a moment!
Did I not know Mrs. Graham? Had
I not seen her, conversed with
her time after time? Was I not
certain that she, in intellect,
in purity and elevation of soul,
was immeasurably superior to
any of her detractors; that she
was, in fact, the noblest, the
most adorable, of her sex I had
ever beheld, or even imagined
to exist? Yes, and I would say
with Mary Millward (sensible
girl as she was), that if all
the parish, ay, or all the world,
should din these horrible lies
in my ears, I would not believe
them, for I knew her better than
Meantime, my brain was on fire
with indignation, and my heart
seemed ready to burst from its
prison with conflicting passions.
I regarded my two fair neighbours
with a feeling of abhorrence
and loathing I scarcely endeavoured
to conceal. I was rallied from
several quarters for my abstraction
and ungallant neglect of the
ladies; but I cared little for
that: all I cared about, besides
that one grand subject of my
thoughts, was to see the cups
travel up to the tea-tray, and
not come down again. I thought
Mr. Millward never would cease
telling us that he was no tea-drinker,
and that it was highly injurious
to keep loading the stomach with
slops to the exclusion of more
wholesome sustenance, and so
give himself time to finish his
At length it was over; and
I rose and left the table and
the guests without a word of
apology - I could endure their
company no longer. I rushed out
to cool my brain in the balmy
evening air, and to compose my
mind or indulge my passionate
thoughts in the solitude of the
To avoid being seen from the
windows I went down a quiet little
avenue that skirted one side
of the inclosure, at the bottom
of which was a seat embowered
in roses and honeysuckles. Here
I sat down to think over the
virtues and wrongs of the lady
of Wildfell Hall; but I had not
been so occupied two minutes,
before voices and laughter, and
glimpses of moving objects through
the trees, informed me that the
whole company had turned out
to take an airing in the garden
too. However, I nestled up in
a corner of the bower, and hoped
to retain possession of it, secure
alike from observation and intrusion.
But no - confound it - there
was some one coming down the
avenue! Why couldn't they enjoy
the flowers and sunshine of the
open garden, and leave that sunless
nook to me, and the gnats and
But, peeping through my fragrant
screen of the interwoven branches
to discover who the intruders
were (for a murmur of voices
told me it was more than one),
my vexation instantly subsided,
and far other feelings agitated
my still unquiet soul; for there
was Mrs. Graham, slowly moving
down the walk with Arthur by
her side, and no one else. Why
were they alone? Had the poison
of detracting tongues already
spread through all; and had they
all turned their backs upon her?
I now recollected having seen
Mrs. Wilson, in the early part
of the evening, edging her chair
close up to my mother, and bending
forward, evidently in the delivery
of some important confidential
intelligence; and from the incessant
wagging of her head, the frequent
distortions of her wrinkled physiognomy,
and the winking and malicious
twinkle of her little ugly eyes,
I judged it was some spicy piece
of scandal that engaged her powers;
and from the cautious privacy
of the communication I supposed
some person then present was
the luckless object of her calumnies:
and from all these tokens, together
with my mother's looks and gestures
of mingled horror and incredulity,
I now concluded that object to
have been Mrs. Graham. I did
not emerge from my place of concealment
till she had nearly reached the
bottom of the walk, lest my appearance
should drive her away; and when
I did step forward she stood
still and seemed inclined to
turn back as it was.
'Oh, don't let us disturb you,
Mr. Markham!' said she. 'We came
here to seek retirement ourselves,
not to intrude on your seclusion.'
'I am no hermit, Mrs. Graham
- though I own it looks rather
like it to absent myself in this
uncourteous fashion from my guests.'
'I feared you were unwell,'
said she, with a look of real
'I was rather, but it's over
now. Do sit here a little and
rest, and tell me how you like
this arbour,' said I, and, lifting
Arthur by the shoulders, I planted
him in the middle of the seat
by way of securing his mamma,
who, acknowledging it to be a
tempting place of refuge, threw
herself back in one corner, while
I took possession of the other.
But that word refuge disturbed
me. Had their unkindness then
really driven her to seek for
peace in solitude?
'Why have they left you alone?'
'It is I who have left them,'
was the smiling rejoinder. 'I
was wearied to death with small
talk - nothing wears me out like
that. I cannot imagine how they
can go on as they do.'
I could not help smiling at
the serious depth of her wonderment.
'Is it that they think it a
duty to be continually talking,'
pursued she: 'and so never pause
to think, but fill up with aimless
trifles and vain repetitions
when subjects of real interest
fail to present themselves, or
do they really take a pleasure
in such discourse?'
'Very likely they do,' said
I; 'their shallow minds can hold
no great ideas, and their light
heads are carried away by trivialities
that would not move a better-furnished
skull; and their only alternative
to such discourse is to plunge
over head and ears into the slough
of scandal - which is their chief
'Not all of them, surely?'
cried the lady, astonished at
the bitterness of my remark.
'No, certainly; I exonerate
my sister from such degraded
tastes, and my mother too, if
you included her in your animadversions.'
'I meant no animadversions
against any one, and certainly
intended no disrespectful allusions
to your mother. I have known
some sensible persons great adepts
in that style of conversation
when circumstances impelled them
to it; but it is a gift I cannot
boast the possession of. I kept
up my attention on this occasion
as long as I could, but when
my powers were exhausted I stole
away to seek a few minutes' repose
in this quiet walk. I hate talking
where there is no exchange of
ideas or sentiments, and no good
given or received.'
'Well,' said I, 'if ever I
trouble you with my loquacity,
tell me so at once, and I promise
not to be offended; for I possess
the faculty of enjoying the company
of those I - of my friends as
well in silence as in conversation.'
'I don't quite believe you;
but if it were so you would exactly
suit me for a companion.'
'I am all you wish, then, in
'No, I don't mean that. How
beautiful those little clusters
of foliage look, where the sun
comes through behind them!' said
she, on purpose to change the
And they did look beautiful,
where at intervals the level
rays of the sun penetrating the
thickness of trees and shrubs
on the opposite side of the path
before us, relieved their dusky
verdure by displaying patches
of semi-transparent leaves of
resplendent golden green.
'I almost wish I were not a
painter,' observed my companion.
'Why so? one would think at
such a time you would most exult
in your privilege of being able
to imitate the various brilliant
and delightful touches of nature.'
'No; for instead of delivering
myself up to the full enjoyment
of them as others do, I am always
troubling my head about how I
could produce the same effect
upon canvas; and as that can
never be done, it is more vanity
and vexation of spirit.'
'Perhaps you cannot do it to
satisfy yourself, but you may
and do succeed in delighting
others with the result of your
'Well, after all, I should
not complain: perhaps few people
gain their livelihood with so
much pleasure in their toil as
I do. Here is some one coming.'
She seemed vexed at the interruption.
'It is only Mr. Lawrence and
Miss Wilson,' said I, 'coming
to enjoy a quiet stroll. They
will not disturb us.'
I could not quite decipher
the expression of her face; but
I was satisfied there was no
jealousy therein. What business
had I to look for it?
'What sort of a person is Miss
Wilson?' she asked.
'She is elegant and accomplished
above the generality of her birth
and station; and some say she
is ladylike and agreeable.'
'I thought her somewhat frigid
and rather supercilious in her
'Very likely she might be so
to you. She has possibly taken
a prejudice against you, for
I think she regards you in the
light of a rival.'
'Me! Impossible, Mr. Markham!'
said she, evidently astonished
'Well, I know nothing about
it,' returned I, rather doggedly;
for I thought her annoyance was
chiefly against myself.
The pair had now approached
within a few paces of us. Our
arbour was set snugly back in
a corner, before which the avenue
at its termination turned off
into the more airy walk along
the bottom of the garden. As
they approached this, I saw,
by the aspect of Jane Wilson,
that she was directing her companion's
attention to us; and, as well
by her cold, sarcastic smile
as by the few isolated words
of her discourse that reached
me, I knew full well that she
was impressing him with the idea,
that we were strongly attached
to each other. I noticed that
he coloured up to the temples,
gave us one furtive glance in
passing, and walked on, looking
grave, but seemingly offering
no reply to her remarks.
It was true, then, that he
had some designs upon Mrs. Graham;
and, were they honourable, he
would not be so anxious to conceal
them. She was blameless, of course,
but he was detestable beyond
While these thoughts flashed
through my mind, my companion
abruptly rose, and calling her
son, said they would now go in
quest of the company, and departed
up the avenue. Doubtless she
had heard or guessed something
of Miss Wilson's remarks, and
therefore it was natural enough
she should choose to continue
the TETE-E-TETE no longer, especially
as at that moment my cheeks were
burning with indignation against
my former friend, the token of
which she might mistake for a
blush of stupid embarrassment.
For this I owed Miss Wilson yet
another grudge; and still the
more I thought upon her conduct
the more I hated her.
It was late in the evening
before I joined the company.
I found Mrs. Graham already equipped
for departure, and taking leave
of the rest, who were now returned
to the house. I offered, nay,
begged to accompany her home.
Mr. Lawrence was standing by
at the time conversing with some
one else. He did not look at
us, but, on hearing my earnest
request, he paused in the middle
of a sentence to listen for her
reply, and went on, with a look
of quiet satisfaction, the moment
he found it was to be a denial.
A denial it was, decided, though
not unkind. She could not be
persuaded to think there was
danger for herself or her child
in traversing those lonely lanes
and fields without attendance.
It was daylight still, and she
should meet no one; or if she
did, the people were quiet and
harmless she was well assured.
In fact, she would not hear of
any one's putting himself out
of the way to accompany her,
though Fergus vouchsafed to offer
his services in case they should
be more acceptable than mine,
and my mother begged she might
send one of the farming-men to
When she was gone the rest
was all a blank or worse. Lawrence
attempted to draw me into conversation,
but I snubbed him and went to
another part of the room. Shortly
after the party broke up and
he himself took leave. When he
came to me I was blind to his
extended hand, and deaf to his
good-night till he repeated it
a second time; and then, to get
rid of him, I muttered an inarticulate
reply, accompanied by a sulky
'What is the matter, Markham?'
I replied by a wrathful and
'Are you angry because Mrs.
Graham would not let you go home
with her?' he asked, with a faint
smile that nearly exasperated
me beyond control.
But, swallowing down all fiercer
answers, I merely demanded, -
'What business is it of yours?'
'Why, none,' replied he with
provoking quietness; 'only,'
- and he raised his eyes to my
face, and spoke with unusual
solemnity, - 'only let me tell
you, Markham, that if you have
any designs in that quarter,
they will certainly fail; and
it grieves me to see you cherishing
false hopes, and wasting your
strength in useless efforts,
for - '
'Hypocrite!' I exclaimed; and
he held his breath, and looked
very blank, turned white about
the gills, and went away without
I had wounded him to the quick;
and I was glad of it.