When all were gone, I learnt
that the vile slander had indeed
been circulated throughout the
company, in the very presence
of the victim. Rose, however,
vowed she did not and would not
believe it, and my mother made
the same declaration, though
not, I fear, with the same amount
of real, unwavering incredulity.
It seemed to dwell continually
on her mind, and she kept irritating
me from time to time by such
expressions as - 'Dear, dear,
who would have thought it! -
Well! I always thought there
was something odd about her.
- You see what it is for women
to affect to be different to
other people.' And once it was,
- 'I misdoubted that appearance
of mystery from the very first
- I thought there would no good
come of it; but this is a sad,
sad business, to be sure!'
'Why, mother, you said you
didn't believe these tales,'
'No more I do, my dear; but
then, you know, there must be
'The foundation is in the wickedness
and falsehood of the world,'
said I, 'and in the fact that
Mr. Lawrence has been seen to
go that way once or twice of
an evening - and the village
gossips say he goes to pay his
addresses to the strange lady,
and the scandal- mongers have
greedily seized the rumour, to
make it the basis of their own
'Well, but, Gilbert, there
must be something in her manner
to countenance such reports.'
'Did you see anything in her
'No, certainly; but then, you
know, I always said there was
something strange about her.'
I believe it was on that very
evening that I ventured on another
invasion of Wildfell Hall. From
the time of our party, which
was upwards of a week ago, I
had been making daily efforts
to meet its mistress in her walks;
and always disappointed (she
must have managed it so on purpose),
had nightly kept revolving in
my mind some pretext for another
call. At length I concluded that
the separation could be endured
no longer (by this time, you
will see, I was pretty far gone);
and, taking from the book-case
an old volume that I thought
she might be interested in, though,
from its unsightly and somewhat
dilapidated condition, I had
not yet ventured to offer it
for perusal, I hastened away,
- but not without sundry misgivings
as to how she would receive me,
or how I could summon courage
to present myself with so slight
an excuse. But, perhaps, I might
see her in the field or the garden,
and then there would be no great
difficulty: it was the formal
knocking at the door, with the
prospect of being gravely ushered
in by Rachel, to the presence
of a surprised, uncordial mistress,
that so greatly disturbed me.
My wish, however, was not gratified.
Mrs. Graham herself was not to
be seen; but there was Arthur
playing with his frolicsome little
dog in the garden. I looked over
the gate and called him to me.
He wanted me to come in; but
I told him I could not without
his mother's leave.
'I'll go and ask her,' said
'No, no, Arthur, you mustn't
do that; but if she's not engaged,
just ask her to come here a minute.
Tell her I want to speak to her.'
He ran to perform my bidding,
and quickly returned with his
mother. How lovely she looked
with her dark ringlets streaming
in the light summer breeze, her
fair cheek slightly flushed,
and her countenance radiant with
smiles. Dear Arthur! what did
I not owe to you for this and
every other happy meeting? Through
him I was at once delivered from
all formality, and terror, and
constraint. In love affairs,
there is no mediator like a merry,
simple-hearted child - ever ready
to cement divided hearts, to
span the unfriendly gulf of custom,
to melt the ice of cold reserve,
and overthrow the separating
walls of dread formality and
'Well, Mr. Markham, what is
it?' said the young mother, accosting
me with a pleasant smile.
'I want you to look at this
book, and, if you please, to
take it, and peruse it at your
leisure. I make no apology for
calling you out on such a lovely
evening, though it be for a matter
of no greater importance.'
'Tell him to come in, mamma,'
'Would you like to come in?'
asked the lady.
'Yes; I should like to see
your improvements in the garden.'
'And how your sister's roots
have prospered in my charge,'
added she, as she opened the
And we sauntered through the
garden, and talked of the flowers,
the trees, and the book, and
then of other things. The evening
was kind and genial, and so was
my companion. By degrees I waxed
more warm and tender than, perhaps,
I had ever been before; but still
I said nothing tangible, and
she attempted no repulse, until,
in passing a moss rose-tree that
I had brought her some weeks
since, in my sister's name, she
plucked a beautiful half-open
bud and bade me give it to Rose.
'May I not keep it myself?'
'No; but here is another for
Instead of taking it quietly,
I likewise took the hand that
offered it, and looked into her
face. She let me hold it for
a moment, and I saw a flash of
ecstatic brilliance in her eye,
a glow of glad excitement on
her face - I thought my hour
of victory was come - but instantly
a painful recollection seemed
to flash upon her; a cloud of
anguish darkened her brow, a
marble paleness blanched her
cheek and lip; there seemed a
moment of inward conflict, and,
with a sudden effort, she withdrew
her hand, and retreated a step
or two back.
'Now, Mr. Markham,' said she,
with a kind of desperate calmness,
'I must tell you plainly that
I cannot do with this. I like
your company, because I am alone
here, and your conversation pleases
me more than that of any other
person; but if you cannot be
content to regard me as a friend
- a plain, cold, motherly, or
sisterly friend - I must beg
you to leave me now, and let
me alone hereafter: in fact,
we must be strangers for the
'I will, then - be your friend,
or brother, or anything you wish,
if you will only let me continue
to see you; but tell me why I
cannot be anything more?'
There was a perplexed and thoughtful
'Is it in consequence of some
'It is something of the kind,'
she answered. 'Some day I may
tell you, but at present you
had better leave me; and never,
Gilbert, put me to the painful
necessity of repeating what I
have just now said to you,' she
earnestly added, giving me her
hand in serious kindness. How
sweet, how musical my own name
sounded in her mouth!
'I will not,' I replied. 'But
you pardon this offence?'
'On condition that you never
'And may I come to see you
now and then?'
'Perhaps - occasionally; provided
you never abuse the privilege.'
'I make no empty promises,
but you shall see.'
'The moment you do our intimacy
is at an end, that's all.'
'And will you always call me
Gilbert? It sounds more sisterly,
and it will serve to remind me
of our contract.'
She smiled, and once more bid
me go; and at length I judged
it prudent to obey, and she re-entered
the house and I went down the
hill. But as I went the tramp
of horses' hoofs fell on my ear,
and broke the stillness of the
dewy evening; and, looking towards
the lane, I saw a solitary equestrian
coming up. Inclining to dusk
as it was, I knew him at a glance:
it was Mr. Lawrence on his grey
pony. I flew across the field,
leaped the stone fence, and then
walked down the lane to meet
him. On seeing me, he suddenly
drew in his little steed, and
seemed inclined to turn back,
but on second thought apparently
judged it better to continue
his course as before. He accosted
me with a slight bow, and, edging
close to the wall, endeavoured
to pass on; but I was not so
minded. Seizing his horse by
the bridle, I exclaimed, - 'Now,
Lawrence, I will have this mystery
explained! Tell me where you
are going, and what you mean
to do - at once, and distinctly!'
'Will you take your hand off
the bridle?' said he, quietly
- 'you're hurting my pony's mouth.'
'You and your pony be - '
'What makes you so coarse and
brutal, Markham? I'm quite ashamed
'You answer my questions -
before you leave this spot I
will know what you mean by this
'I shall answer no questions
till you let go the bridle, -
if you stand till morning.'
'Now then,' said I, unclosing
my hand, but still standing before
'Ask me some other time, when
you can speak like a gentleman,'
returned he, and he made an effort
to pass me again; but I quickly
re-captured the pony, scarce
less astonished than its master
at such uncivil usage.
'Really, Mr. Markham, this
is too much!' said the latter.
'Can I not go to see my tenant
on matters of business, without
being assaulted in this manner
'This is no time for business,
sir! - I'll tell you, now, what
I think of your conduct.'
'You'd better defer your opinion
to a more convenient season,'
interrupted he in a low tone
- 'here's the vicar.' And, in
truth, the vicar was just behind
me, plodding homeward from some
remote corner of his parish.
I immediately released the squire;
and he went on his way, saluting
Mr. Millward as he passed.
'What! quarrelling, Markham?'
cried the latter, addressing
himself to me, - 'and about that
young widow, I doubt?' he added,
reproachfully shaking his head.
'But let me tell you, young man'
(here he put his face into mine
with an important, confidential
air), 'she's not worth it!' and
he confirmed the assertion by
a solemn nod.
'MR. MILLWARD,' I exclaimed,
in a tone of wrathful menace
that made the reverend gentleman
look round - aghast - astounded
at such unwonted insolence, and
stare me in the face, with a
look that plainly said, 'What,
this to me!' But I was too indignant
to apologise, or to speak another
word to him: I turned away, and
hastened homewards, descending
with rapid strides the steep,
rough lane, and leaving him to
follow as he pleased.