Part 1 out of 10
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Scanned and proofed by David Price
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
While I acknowledge the success of the present work to have been
greater than I anticipated, and the praises it has elicited from a
few kind critics to have been greater than it deserved, I must also
admit that from some other quarters it has been censured with an
asperity which I was as little prepared to expect, and which my
judgment, as well as my feelings, assures me is more bitter than
just. It is scarcely the province of an author to refute the
arguments of his censors and vindicate his own productions; but I
may be allowed to make here a few observations with which I would
have prefaced the first edition, had I foreseen the necessity of
such precautions against the misapprehensions of those who would
read it with a prejudiced mind or be content to judge it by a hasty
My object in writing the following pages was not simply to amuse
the Reader; neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to
ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell
the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are
able to receive it. But as the priceless treasure too frequently
hides at the bottom of a well, it needs some courage to dive for
it, especially as he that does so will be likely to incur more
scorn and obloquy for the mud and water into which he has ventured
to plunge, than thanks for the jewel he procures; as, in like
manner, she who undertakes the cleansing of a careless bachelor's
apartment will be liable to more abuse for the dust she raises than
commendation for the clearance she effects. Let it not be
imagined, however, that I consider myself competent to reform the
errors and abuses of society, but only that I would fain contribute
my humble quota towards so good an aim; and if I can gain the
public ear at all, I would rather whisper a few wholesome truths
therein than much soft nonsense.
As the story of 'Agnes Grey' was accused of extravagant over-
colouring in those very parts that were carefully copied from the
life, with a most scrupulous avoidance of all exaggeration, so, in
the present work, I find myself censured for depicting CON AMORE,
with 'a morbid love of the coarse, if not of the brutal,' those
scenes which, I will venture to say, have not been more painful for
the most fastidious of my critics to read than they were for me to
describe. I may have gone too far; in which case I shall be
careful not to trouble myself or my readers in the same way again;
but when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain
it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would
wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive
light is, doubtless, the most agreeable course for a writer of
fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it
better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and
thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers?
Oh, reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of
facts - this whispering, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace,
there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes
who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.
I would not be understood to suppose that the proceedings of the
unhappy scapegrace, with his few profligate companions I have here
introduced, are a specimen of the common practices of society - the
case is an extreme one, as I trusted none would fail to perceive;
but I know that such characters do exist, and if I have warned one
rash youth from following in their steps, or prevented one
thoughtless girl from falling into the very natural error of my
heroine, the book has not been written in vain. But, at the same
time, if any honest reader shall have derived more pain than
pleasure from its perusal, and have closed the last volume with a
disagreeable impression on his mind, I humbly crave his pardon, for
such was far from my intention; and I will endeavour to do better
another time, for I love to give innocent pleasure. Yet, be it
understood, I shall not limit my ambition to this - or even to
producing 'a perfect work of art': time and talents so spent, I
should consider wasted and misapplied. Such humble talents as God
has given me I will endeavour to put to their greatest use; if I am
able to amuse, I will try to benefit too; and when I feel it my
duty to speak an unpalatable truth, with the help of God, I WILL
speak it, though it be to the prejudice of my name and to the
detriment of my reader's immediate pleasure as well as my own.
One word more, and I have done. Respecting the author's identity,
I would have it to he distinctly understood that Acton Bell is
neither Currer nor Ellis Bell, and therefore let not his faults be
attributed to them. As to whether the name be real or fictitious,
it cannot greatly signify to those who know him only by his works.
As little, I should think, can it matter whether the writer so
designated is a man, or a woman, as one or two of my critics
profess to have discovered. I take the imputation in good part, as
a compliment to the just delineation of my female characters; and
though I am bound to attribute much of the severity of my censors
to this suspicion, I make no effort to refute it, because, in my
own mind, I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so
whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are, or should
be, written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to
conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that
would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be
censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for
JULY 22nd, 1848.
THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL
You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827.
My father, as you know, was a sort of gentleman farmer in -shire;
and I, by his express desire, succeeded him in the same quiet
occupation, not very willingly, for ambition urged me to higher
aims, and self-conceit assured me that, in disregarding its voice,
I was burying my talent in the earth, and hiding my light under a
bushel. My mother had done her utmost to persuade me that I was
capable of great achievements; but my father, who thought ambition
was the surest road to ruin, and change but another word for
destruction, would listen to no scheme for bettering either my own
condition, or that of my fellow mortals. He assured me it was all
rubbish, and exhorted me, with his dying breath, to continue in the
good old way, to follow his steps, and those of his father before
him, and let my highest ambition be to walk honestly through the
world, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, and to
transmit the paternal acres to my children in, at least, as
flourishing a condition as he left them to me.
'Well! - an honest and industrious farmer is one of the most useful
members of society; and if I devote my talents to the cultivation
of my farm, and the improvement of agriculture in general, I shall
thereby benefit, not only my own immediate connections and
dependants, but, in some degree, mankind at large:- hence I shall
not have lived in vain.' With such reflections as these I was
endeavouring to console myself, as I plodded home from the fields,
one cold, damp, cloudy evening towards the close of October. But
the gleam of a bright red fire through the parlour window had more
effect in cheering my spirits, and rebuking my thankless repinings,
than all the sage reflections and good resolutions I had forced my
mind to frame; - for I was young then, remember - only four-and-
twenty - and had not acquired half the rule over my own spirit that
I now possess - trifling as that may be.
However, that haven of bliss must not be entered till I had
exchanged my miry boots for a clean pair of shoes, and my rough
surtout for a respectable coat, and made myself generally
presentable before decent society; for my mother, with all her
kindness, was vastly particular on certain points.
In ascending to my room I was met upon the stairs by a smart,
pretty girl of nineteen, with a tidy, dumpy figure, a round face,
bright, blooming cheeks, glossy, clustering curls, and little merry
brown eyes. I need not tell you this was my sister Rose. She is,
I know, a comely matron still, and, doubtless, no less lovely - in
your eyes - than on the happy day you first beheld her. Nothing
told me then that she, a few years hence, would be the wife of one
entirely unknown to me as yet, but destined hereafter to become a
closer friend than even herself, more intimate than that unmannerly
lad of seventeen, by whom I was collared in the passage, on coming
down, and well-nigh jerked off my equilibrium, and who, in
correction for his impudence, received a resounding whack over the
sconce, which, however, sustained no serious injury from the
infliction; as, besides being more than commonly thick, it was
protected by a redundant shock of short, reddish curls, that my
mother called auburn.
On entering the parlour we found that honoured lady seated in her
arm-chair at the fireside, working away at her knitting, according
to her usual custom, when she had nothing else to do. She had
swept the hearth, and made a bright blazing fire for our reception;
the servant had just brought in the tea-tray; and Rose was
producing the sugar-basin and tea-caddy from the cupboard in the
black oak side-board, that shone like polished ebony, in the
cheerful parlour twilight.
'Well! here they both are,' cried my mother, looking round upon us
without retarding the motion of her nimble fingers and glittering
needles. 'Now shut the door, and come to the fire, while Rose gets
the tea ready; I'm sure you must be starved; - and tell me what
you've been about all day; - I like to know what my children have
'I've been breaking in the grey colt - no easy business that -
directing the ploughing of the last wheat stubble - for the
ploughboy has not the sense to direct himself - and carrying out a
plan for the extensive and efficient draining of the low
'That's my brave boy! - and Fergus, what have you been doing?'
And here he proceeded to give a particular account of his sport,
and the respective traits of prowess evinced by the badger and the
dogs; my mother pretending to listen with deep attention, and
watching his animated countenance with a degree of maternal
admiration I thought highly disproportioned to its object.
'It's time you should be doing something else, Fergus,' said I, as
soon as a momentary pause in his narration allowed me to get in a
'What can I do?' replied he; 'my mother won't let me go to sea or
enter the army; and I'm determined to do nothing else - except make
myself such a nuisance to you all, that you will be thankful to get
rid of me on any terms.'
Our parent soothingly stroked his stiff, short curls. He growled,
and tried to look sulky, and then we all took our seats at the
table, in obedience to the thrice-repeated summons of Rose.
'Now take your tea,' said she; 'and I'll tell you what I've been
doing. I've been to call on the Wilsons; and it's a thousand
pities you didn't go with me, Gilbert, for Eliza Millward was
'Well! what of her?'
'Oh, nothing! - I'm not going to tell you about her; - only that
she's a nice, amusing little thing, when she is in a merry humour,
and I shouldn't mind calling her - '
'Hush, hush, my dear! your brother has no such idea!' whispered my
mother earnestly, holding up her finger.
'Well,' resumed Rose; 'I was going to tell you an important piece
of news I heard there - I have been bursting with it ever since.
You know it was reported a month ago, that somebody was going to
take Wildfell Hall - and - what do you think? It has actually been
inhabited above a week! - and we never knew!'
'Impossible!' cried my mother.
'Preposterous!!!' shrieked Fergus.
'It has indeed! - and by a single lady!'
'Good gracious, my dear! The place is in ruins!'
'She has had two or three rooms made habitable; and there she
lives, all alone - except an old woman for a servant!'
'Oh, dear! that spoils it - I'd hoped she was a witch,' observed
Fergus, while carving his inch-thick slice of bread and butter.
'Nonsense, Fergus! But isn't it strange, mamma?'
'Strange! I can hardly believe it.'
'But you may believe it; for Jane Wilson has seen her. She went
with her mother, who, of course, when she heard of a stranger being
in the neighbourhood, would be on pins and needles till she had
seen her and got all she could out of her. She is called Mrs.
Graham, and she is in mourning - not widow's weeds, but slightish
mourning - and she is quite young, they say, - not above five or
six and twenty, - but so reserved! They tried all they could to
find out who she was and where she came from, and, all about her,
but neither Mrs. Wilson, with her pertinacious and impertinent
home-thrusts, nor Miss Wilson, with her skilful manoeuvring, could
manage to elicit a single satisfactory answer, or even a casual
remark, or chance expression calculated to allay their curiosity,
or throw the faintest ray of light upon her history, circumstances,
or connections. Moreover, she was barely civil to them, and
evidently better pleased to say 'good-by,' than 'how do you do.'
But Eliza Millward says her father intends to call upon her soon,
to offer some pastoral advice, which he fears she needs, as, though
she is known to have entered the neighbourhood early last week, she
did not make her appearance at church on Sunday; and she - Eliza,
that is - will beg to accompany him, and is sure she can succeed in
wheedling something out of her - you know, Gilbert, she can do
anything. And we should call some time, mamma; it's only proper,
'Of course, my dear. Poor thing! How lonely she must feel!'
'And pray, be quick about it; and mind you bring me word how much
sugar she puts in her tea, and what sort of caps and aprons she
wears, and all about it; for I don't know how I can live till I
know,' said Fergus, very gravely.
But if he intended the speech to be hailed as a master-stroke of
wit, he signally failed, for nobody laughed. However, he was not
much disconcerted at that; for when he had taken a mouthful of
bread and butter and was about to swallow a gulp of tea, the humour
of the thing burst upon him with such irresistible force, that he
was obliged to jump up from the table, and rush snorting and
choking from the room; and a minute after, was heard screaming in
fearful agony in the garden.
As for me, I was hungry, and contented myself with silently
demolishing the tea, ham, and toast, while my mother and sister
went on talking, and continued to discuss the apparent or non-
apparent circumstances, and probable or improbable history of the
mysterious lady; but I must confess that, after my brother's
misadventure, I once or twice raised the cup to my lips, and put it
down again without daring to taste the contents, lest I should
injure my dignity by a similar explosion.
The next day my mother and Rose hastened to pay their compliments
to the fair recluse; and came back but little wiser than they went;
though my mother declared she did not regret the journey, for if
she had not gained much good, she flattered herself she had
imparted some, and that was better: she had given some useful
advice, which, she hoped, would not be thrown away; for Mrs.
Graham, though she said little to any purpose, and appeared
somewhat self-opinionated, seemed not incapable of reflection, -
though she did not know where she had been all her life, poor
thing, for she betrayed a lamentable ignorance on certain points,
and had not even the sense to be ashamed of it.
'On what points, mother?' asked I.
'On household matters, and all the little niceties of cookery, and
such things, that every lady ought to be familiar with, whether she
be required to make a practical use of her knowledge or not. I
gave her some useful pieces of information, however, and several
excellent receipts, the value of which she evidently could not
appreciate, for she begged I would not trouble myself, as she lived
in such a plain, quiet way, that she was sure she should never make
use of them. "No matter, my dear," said I; "it is what every
respectable female ought to know; - and besides, though you are
alone now, you will not be always so; you have been married, and
probably - I might say almost certainly - will be again." "You are
mistaken there, ma'am," said she, almost haughtily; "I am certain I
never shall." - But I told her I knew better.'
'Some romantic young widow, I suppose,' said I, 'come there to end
her days in solitude, and mourn in secret for the dear departed -
but it won't last long.'
'No, I think not,' observed Rose; 'for she didn't seem very
disconsolate after all; and she's excessively pretty - handsome
rather - you must see her, Gilbert; you will call her a perfect
beauty, though you could hardly pretend to discover a resemblance
between her and Eliza Millward.'
'Well, I can imagine many faces more beautiful than Eliza's, though
not more charming. I allow she has small claims to perfection; but
then, I maintain that, if she were more perfect, she would be less
'And so you prefer her faults to other people's perfections?'
'Just so - saving my mother's presence.'
'Oh, my dear Gilbert, what nonsense you talk! - I know you don't
mean it; it's quite out of the question,' said my mother, getting
up, and bustling out of the room, under pretence of household
business, in order to escape the contradiction that was trembling
on my tongue.
After that Rose favoured me with further particulars respecting
Mrs. Graham. Her appearance, manners, and dress, and the very
furniture of the room she inhabited, were all set before me, with
rather more clearness and precision than I cared to see them; but,
as I was not a very attentive listener, I could not repeat the
description if I would.
The next day was Saturday; and, on Sunday, everybody wondered
whether or not the fair unknown would profit by the vicar's
remonstrance, and come to church. I confess I looked with some
interest myself towards the old family pew, appertaining to
Wildfell Hall, where the faded crimson cushions and lining had been
unpressed and unrenewed so many years, and the grim escutcheons,
with their lugubrious borders of rusty black cloth, frowned so
sternly from the wall above.
And there I beheld a tall, lady-like figure, clad in black. Her
face was towards me, and there was something in it which, once
seen, invited me to look again. Her hair was raven black, and
disposed in long glossy ringlets, a style of coiffure rather
unusual in those days, but always graceful and becoming; her
complexion was clear and pale; her eyes I could not see, for, being
bent upon her prayer-book, they were concealed by their drooping
lids and long black lashes, but the brows above were expressive and
well defined; the forehead was lofty and intellectual, the nose, a
perfect aquiline and the features, in general, unexceptionable -
only there was a slight hollowness about the cheeks and eyes, and
the lips, though finely formed, were a little too thin, a little
too firmly compressed, and had something about them that betokened,
I thought, no very soft or amiable temper; and I said in my heart -
'I would rather admire you from this distance, fair lady, than be
the partner of your home.'
Just then she happened to raise her eyes, and they met mine; I did
not choose to withdraw my gaze, and she turned again to her book,
but with a momentary, indefinable expression of quiet scorn, that
was inexpressibly provoking to me.
'She thinks me an impudent puppy,' thought I. 'Humph! - she shall
change her mind before long, if I think it worth while.'
But then it flashed upon me that these were very improper thoughts
for a place of worship, and that my behaviour, on the present
occasion, was anything but what it ought to be. Previous, however,
to directing my mind to the service, I glanced round the church to
see if any one had been observing me; - but no, - all, who were not
attending to their prayer-books, were attending to the strange
lady, - my good mother and sister among the rest, and Mrs. Wilson
and her daughter; and even Eliza Millward was slily glancing from
the corners of her eyes towards the object of general attraction.
Then she glanced at me, simpered a little, and blushed, modestly
looked at her prayer-book, and endeavoured to compose her features.
Here I was transgressing again; and this time I was made sensible
of it by a sudden dig in the ribs, from the elbow of my pert
brother. For the present, I could only resent the insult by
pressing my foot upon his toes, deferring further vengeance till we
got out of church.
Now, Halford, before I close this letter, I'll tell you who Eliza
Millward was: she was the vicar's younger daughter, and a very
engaging little creature, for whom I felt no small degree of
partiality; - and she knew it, though I had never come to any
direct explanation, and had no definite intention of so doing, for
my mother, who maintained there was no one good enough for me
within twenty miles round, could not bear the thoughts of my
marrying that insignificant little thing, who, in addition to her
numerous other disqualifications, had not twenty pounds to call her
own. Eliza's figure was at once slight and plump, her face small,
and nearly as round as my sister's, - complexion, something similar
to hers, but more delicate and less decidedly blooming, - nose,
retrousse, - features, generally irregular; and, altogether, she
was rather charming than pretty. But her eyes - I must not forget
those remarkable features, for therein her chief attraction lay -
in outward aspect at least; - they were long and narrow in shape,
the irids black, or very dark brown, the expression various, and
ever changing, but always either preternaturally - I had almost
said diabolically - wicked, or irresistibly bewitching - often
both. Her voice was gentle and childish, her tread light and soft
as that of a cat:- but her manners more frequently resembled those
of a pretty playful kitten, that is now pert and roguish, now timid
and demure, according to its own sweet will.
Her sister, Mary, was several years older, several inches taller,
and of a larger, coarser build - a plain, quiet, sensible girl, who
had patiently nursed their mother, through her last long, tedious
illness, and been the housekeeper, and family drudge, from thence
to the present time. She was trusted and valued by her father,
loved and courted by all dogs, cats, children, and poor people, and
slighted and neglected by everybody else.
The Reverend Michael Millward himself was a tall, ponderous elderly
gentleman, who placed a shovel hat above his large, square,
massive-featured face, carried a stout walking-stick in his hand,
and incased his still powerful limbs in knee-breeches and gaiters,
- or black silk stockings on state occasions. He was a man of
fixed principles, strong prejudices, and regular habits, intolerant
of dissent in any shape, acting under a firm conviction that his
opinions were always right, and whoever differed from them must be
either most deplorably ignorant, or wilfully blind.
In childhood, I had always been accustomed to regard him with a
feeling of reverential awe - but lately, even now, surmounted, for,
though he had a fatherly kindness for the well-behaved, he was a
strict disciplinarian, and had often sternly reproved our juvenile
failings and peccadilloes; and moreover, in those days, whenever he
called upon our parents, we had to stand up before him, and say our
catechism, or repeat, 'How doth the little busy bee,' or some other
hymn, or - worse than all - be questioned about his last text, and
the heads of the discourse, which we never could remember.
Sometimes, the worthy gentleman would reprove my mother for being
over-indulgent to her sons, with a reference to old Eli, or David
and Absalom, which was particularly galling to her feelings; and,
very highly as she respected him, and all his sayings, I once heard
her exclaim, 'I wish to goodness he had a son himself! He wouldn't
be so ready with his advice to other people then; - he'd see what
it is to have a couple of boys to keep in order.'
He had a laudable care for his own bodily health - kept very early
hours, regularly took a walk before breakfast, was vastly
particular about warm and dry clothing, had never been known to
preach a sermon without previously swallowing a raw egg - albeit he
was gifted with good lungs and a powerful voice, - and was,
generally, extremely particular about what he ate and drank, though
by no means abstemious, and having a mode of dietary peculiar to
himself, - being a great despiser of tea and such slops, and a
patron of malt liquors, bacon and eggs, ham, hung beef, and other
strong meats, which agreed well enough with his digestive organs,
and therefore were maintained by him to be good and wholesome for
everybody, and confidently recommended to the most delicate
convalescents or dyspeptics, who, if they failed to derive the
promised benefit from his prescriptions, were told it was because
they had not persevered, and if they complained of inconvenient
results therefrom, were assured it was all fancy.
I will just touch upon two other persons whom I have mentioned, and
then bring this long letter to a close. These are Mrs. Wilson and
her daughter. The former was the widow of a substantial farmer, a
narrow-minded, tattling old gossip, whose character is not worth
describing. She had two sons, Robert, a rough countrified farmer,
and Richard, a retiring, studious young man, who was studying the
classics with the vicar's assistance, preparing for college, with a
view to enter the church.
Their sister Jane was a young lady of some talents, and more
ambition. She had, at her own desire, received a regular boarding-
school education, superior to what any member of the family had
obtained before. She had taken the polish well, acquired
considerable elegance of manners, quite lost her provincial accent,
and could boast of more accomplishments than the vicar's daughters.
She was considered a beauty besides; but never for a moment could
she number me amongst her admirers. She was about six and twenty,
rather tall and very slender, her hair was neither chestnut nor
auburn, but a most decided bright, light red; her complexion was
remarkably fair and brilliant, her head small, neck long, chin well
turned, but very short, lips thin and red, eyes clear hazel, quick,
and penetrating, but entirely destitute of poetry or feeling. She
had, or might have had, many suitors in her own rank of life, but
scornfully repulsed or rejected them all; for none but a gentleman
could please her refined taste, and none but a rich one could
satisfy her soaring ambition. One gentleman there was, from whom
she had lately received some rather pointed attentions, and upon
whose heart, name, and fortune, it was whispered, she had serious
designs. This was Mr. Lawrence, the young squire, whose family had
formerly occupied Wildfell Hall, but had deserted it, some fifteen
years ago, for a more modern and commodious mansion in the
Now, Halford, I bid you adieu for the present. This is the first
instalment of my debt. If the coin suits you, tell me so, and I'll
send you the rest at my leisure: if you would rather remain my
creditor than stuff your purse with such ungainly, heavy pieces, -
tell me still, and I'll pardon your bad taste, and willingly keep
the treasure to myself.
I perceive, with joy, my most valued friend, that the cloud of your
displeasure has passed away; the light of your countenance blesses
me once more, and you desire the continuation of my story:
therefore, without more ado, you shall have it.
I think the day I last mentioned was a certain Sunday, the latest
in the October of 1827. On the following Tuesday I was out with my
dog and gun, in pursuit of such game as I could find within the
territory of Linden-Car; but finding none at all, I turned my arms
against the hawks and carrion crows, whose depredations, as I
suspected, had deprived me of better prey. To this end I left the
more frequented regions, the wooded valleys, the corn-fields, and
the meadow-lands, and proceeded to mount the steep acclivity of
Wildfell, the wildest and the loftiest eminence in our
neighbourhood, where, as you ascend, the hedges, as well as the
trees, become scanty and stunted, the former, at length, giving
place to rough stone fences, partly greened over with ivy and moss,
the latter to larches and Scotch fir-trees, or isolated
blackthorns. The fields, being rough and stony, and wholly unfit
for the plough, were mostly devoted to the posturing of sheep and
cattle; the soil was thin and poor: bits of grey rock here and
there peeped out from the grassy hillocks; bilberry-plants and
heather - relics of more savage wildness - grew under the walls;
and in many of the enclosures, ragweeds and rushes usurped
supremacy over the scanty herbage; but these were not my property.
Near the top of this hill, about two miles from Linden-Car, stood
Wildfell Hall, a superannuated mansion of the Elizabethan era,
built of dark grey stone, venerable and picturesque to look at, but
doubtless, cold and gloomy enough to inhabit, with its thick stone
mullions and little latticed panes, its time-eaten air-holes, and
its too lonely, too unsheltered situation, - only shielded from the
war of wind and weather by a group of Scotch firs, themselves half
blighted with storms, and looking as stern and gloomy as the Hall
itself. Behind it lay a few desolate fields, and then the brown
heath-clad summit of the hill; before it (enclosed by stone walls,
and entered by an iron gate, with large balls of grey granite -
similar to those which decorated the roof and gables - surmounting
the gate-posts) was a garden, - once stocked with such hard plants
and flowers as could best brook the soil and climate, and such
trees and shrubs as could best endure the gardener's torturing
shears, and most readily assume the shapes he chose to give them, -
now, having been left so many years untilled and untrimmed,
abandoned to the weeds and the grass, to the frost and the wind,
the rain and the drought, it presented a very singular appearance
indeed. The close green walls of privet, that had bordered the
principal walk, were two-thirds withered away, and the rest grown
beyond all reasonable bounds; the old boxwood swan, that sat beside
the scraper, had lost its neck and half its body: the castellated
towers of laurel in the middle of the garden, the gigantic warrior
that stood on one side of the gateway, and the lion that guarded
the other, were sprouted into such fantastic shapes as resembled
nothing either in heaven or earth, or in the waters under the
earth; but, to my young imagination, they presented all of them a
goblinish appearance, that harmonised well with the ghostly legions
and dark traditions our old nurse had told us respecting the
haunted hall and its departed occupants.
I had succeeded in killing a hawk and two crows when I came within
sight of the mansion; and then, relinquishing further depredations,
I sauntered on, to have a look at the old place, and see what
changes had been wrought in it by its new inhabitant. I did not
like to go quite to the front and stare in at the gate; but I
paused beside the garden wall, and looked, and saw no change -
except in one wing, where the broken windows and dilapidated roof
had evidently been repaired, and where a thin wreath of smoke was
curling up from the stack of chimneys.
While I thus stood, leaning on my gun, and looking up at the dark
gables, sunk in an idle reverie, weaving a tissue of wayward
fancies, in which old associations and the fair young hermit, now
within those walls, bore a nearly equal part, I heard a slight
rustling and scrambling just within the garden; and, glancing in
the direction whence the sound proceeded, I beheld a tiny hand
elevated above the wall: it clung to the topmost stone, and then
another little hand was raised to take a firmer hold, and then
appeared a small white forehead, surmounted with wreaths of light
brown hair, with a pair of deep blue eyes beneath, and the upper
portion of a diminutive ivory nose.
The eyes did not notice me, but sparkled with glee on beholding
Sancho, my beautiful black and white setter, that was coursing
about the field with its muzzle to the ground. The little creature
raised its face and called aloud to the dog. The good-natured
animal paused, looked up, and wagged his tail, but made no further
advances. The child (a little boy, apparently about five years
old) scrambled up to the top of the wall, and called again and
again; but finding this of no avail, apparently made up his mind,
like Mahomet, to go to the mountain, since the mountain would not
come to him, and attempted to get over; but a crabbed old cherry-
tree, that grew hard by, caught him by the frock in one of its
crooked scraggy arms that stretched over the wall. In attempting
to disengage himself his foot slipped, and down he tumbled - but
not to the earth; - the tree still kept him suspended. There was a
silent struggle, and then a piercing shriek; - but, in an instant,
I had dropped my gun on the grass, and caught the little fellow in
I wiped his eyes with his frock, told him he was all right and
called Sancho to pacify him. He was just putting little hand on
the dog's neck and beginning to smile through his tears, when I
heard behind me a click of the iron gate, and a rustle of female
garments, and lo! Mrs. Graham darted upon me - her neck uncovered,
her black locks streaming in the wind.
'Give me the child!' she said, in a voice scarce louder than a
whisper, but with a tone of startling vehemence, and, seizing the
boy, she snatched him from me, as if some dire contamination were
in my touch, and then stood with one hand firmly clasping his, the
other on his shoulder, fixing upon me her large, luminous dark eyes
- pale, breathless, quivering with agitation.
'I was not harming the child, madam,' said I, scarce knowing
whether to be most astonished or displeased; 'he was tumbling off
the wall there; and I was so fortunate as to catch him, while he
hung suspended headlong from that tree, and prevent I know not what
'I beg your pardon, sir,' stammered she; - suddenly calming down, -
the light of reason seeming to break upon her beclouded spirit, and
a faint blush mantling on her cheek - 'I did not know you; - and I
thought - '
She stooped to kiss the child, and fondly clasped her arm round his
'You thought I was going to kidnap your son, I suppose?'
She stroked his head with a half-embarrassed laugh, and replied, -
'I did not know he had attempted to climb the wall. - I have the
pleasure of addressing Mr. Markham, I believe?' she added, somewhat
I bowed, but ventured to ask how she knew me.
'Your sister called here, a few days ago, with Mrs. Markham.'
'Is the resemblance so strong then?' I asked, in some surprise, and
not so greatly flattered at the idea as I ought to have been.
'There is a likeness about the eyes and complexion I think,'
replied she, somewhat dubiously surveying my face; - 'and I think I
saw you at church on Sunday.'
I smiled. - There was something either in that smile or the
recollections it awakened that was particularly displeasing to her,
for she suddenly assumed again that proud, chilly look that had so
unspeakably roused my aversion at church - a look of repellent
scorn, so easily assumed, and so entirely without the least
distortion of a single feature, that, while there, it seemed like
the natural expression of the face, and was the more provoking to
me, because I could not think it affected.
'Good-morning, Mr. Markham,' said she; and without another word or
glance, she withdrew, with her child, into the garden; and I
returned home, angry and dissatisfied - I could scarcely tell you
why, and therefore will not attempt it.
I only stayed to put away my gun and powder-horn, and give some
requisite directions to one of the farming-men, and then repaired
to the vicarage, to solace my spirit and soothe my ruffled temper
with the company and conversation of Eliza Millward.
I found her, as usual, busy with some piece of soft embroidery (the
mania for Berlin wools had not yet commenced), while her sister was
seated at the chimney-corner, with the cat on her knee, mending a
heap of stockings.
'Mary - Mary! put them away!' Eliza was hastily saying, just as I
entered the room.
'Not I, indeed!' was the phlegmatic reply; and my appearance
prevented further discussion.
'You're so unfortunate, Mr. Markham!' observed the younger sister,
with one of her arch, sidelong glances. 'Papa's just gone out into
the parish, and not likely to be back for an hour!'
'Never mind; I can manage to spend a few minutes with his
daughters, if they'll allow me,' said I, bringing a chair to the
fire, and seating myself therein, without waiting to be asked.
'Well, if you'll be very good and amusing, we shall not object.'
'Let your permission be unconditional, pray; for I came not to give
pleasure, but to seek it,' I answered.
However, I thought it but reasonable to make some slight exertion
to render my company agreeable; and what little effort I made, was
apparently pretty successful, for Miss Eliza was never in a better
humour. We seemed, indeed, to be mutually pleased with each other,
and managed to maintain between us a cheerful and animated though
not very profound conversation. It was little better than a TETE-
E-TETE, for Miss Millward never opened her lips, except
occasionally to correct some random assertion or exaggerated
expression of her sister's, and once to ask her to pick up the ball
of cotton that had rolled under the table. I did this myself,
however, as in duty bound.
'Thank you, Mr. Markham,' said she, as I presented it to her. 'I
would have picked it up myself; only I did not want to disturb the
'Mary, dear, that won't excuse you in Mr. Markham's eyes,' said
Eliza; 'he hates cats, I daresay, as cordially as he does old maids
- like all other gentlemen. Don't you, Mr. Markham?'
'I believe it is natural for our unamiable sex to dislike the
creatures,' replied I; 'for you ladies lavish so many caresses upon
'Bless them - little darlings!' cried she, in a sudden burst of
enthusiasm, turning round and overwhelming her sister's pet with a
shower of kisses.
'Don't, Eliza!' said Miss Millward, somewhat gruffly, as she
impatiently pushed her away.
But it was time for me to be going: make what haste I would, I
should still be too late for tea; and my mother was the soul of
order and punctuality.
My fair friend was evidently unwilling to bid me adieu. I tenderly
squeezed her little hand at parting; and she repaid me with one of
her softest smiles and most bewitching glances. I went home very
happy, with a heart brimful of complacency for myself, and
overflowing with love for Eliza.
Two days after, Mrs. Graham called at Linden-Car, contrary to the
expectation of Rose, who entertained an idea that the mysterious
occupant of Wildfell Hall would wholly disregard the common
observances of civilized life, - in which opinion she was supported
by the Wilsons, who testified that neither their call nor the
Millwards' had been returned as yet. Now, however, the cause of
that omission was explained, though not entirely to the
satisfaction of Rose. Mrs. Graham had brought her child with her,
and on my mother's expressing surprise that he could walk so far,
she replied, - 'It is a long walk for him; but I must have either
taken him with me, or relinquished the visit altogether; for I
never leave him alone; and I think, Mrs. Markham, I must beg you to
make my excuses to the Millwards and Mrs. Wilson, when you see
them, as I fear I cannot do myself the pleasure of calling upon
them till my little Arthur is able to accompany me.'
'But you have a servant,' said Rose; 'could you not leave him with
'She has her own occupations to attend to; and besides, she is too
old to run after a child, and he is too mercurial to be tied to an
'But you left him to come to church.'
'Yes, once; but I would not have left him for any other purpose;
and I think, in future, I must contrive to bring him with me, or
stay at home.'
'Is he so mischievous?' asked my mother, considerably shocked.
'No,' replied the lady, sadly smiling, as she stroked the wavy
locks of her son, who was seated on a low stool at her feet; 'but
he is my only treasure, and I am his only friend: so we don't like
to be separated.'
'But, my dear, I call that doting,' said my plain-spoken parent.
'You should try to suppress such foolish fondness, as well to save
your son from ruin as yourself from ridicule.'
'Ruin! Mrs. Markham!'
'Yes; it is spoiling the child. Even at his age, he ought not to
be always tied to his mother's apron-string; he should learn to be
ashamed of it.'
'Mrs. Markham, I beg you will not say such things, in his presence,
at least. I trust my son will never be ashamed to love his
mother!' said Mrs. Graham, with a serious energy that startled the
My mother attempted to appease her by an explanation; but she
seemed to think enough had been said on the subject, and abruptly
turned the conversation.
'Just as I thought,' said I to myself: 'the lady's temper is none
of the mildest, notwithstanding her sweet, pale face and lofty
brow, where thought and suffering seem equally to have stamped
All this time I was seated at a table on the other side of the
room, apparently immersed in the perusal of a volume of the
FARMER'S MAGAZINE, which I happened to have been reading at the
moment of our visitor's arrival; and, not choosing to be over
civil, I had merely bowed as she entered, and continued my
occupation as before.
In a little while, however, I was sensible that some one was
approaching me, with a light, but slow and hesitating tread. It
was little Arthur, irresistibly attracted by my dog Sancho, that
was lying at my feet. On looking up I beheld him standing about
two yards off, with his clear blue eyes wistfully gazing on the
dog, transfixed to the spot, not by fear of the animal, but by a
timid disinclination to approach its master. A little
encouragement, however, induced him to come forward. The child,
though shy, was not sullen. In a minute he was kneeling on the
carpet, with his arms round Sancho's neck, and, in a minute or two
more, the little fellow was seated on my knee, surveying with eager
interest the various specimens of horses, cattle, pigs, and model
farms portrayed in the volume before me. I glanced at his mother
now and then to see how she relished the new-sprung intimacy; and I
saw, by the unquiet aspect of her eye, that for some reason or
other she was uneasy at the child's position.
'Arthur,' said she, at length, 'come here. You are troublesome to
Mr. Markham: he wishes to read.'
'By no means, Mrs. Graham; pray let him stay. I am as much amused
as he is,' pleaded I. But still, with hand and eye, she silently
called him to her side.
'No, mamma,' said the child; 'let me look at these pictures first;
and then I'll come, and tell you all about them.'
'We are going to have a small party on Monday, the fifth of
November,' said my mother; 'and I hope you will not refuse to make
one, Mrs. Graham. You can bring your little boy with you, you know
- I daresay we shall be able to amuse him; - and then you can make
your own apologies to the Millwards and Wilsons - they will all be
here, I expect.'
'Thank you, I never go to parties.'
'Oh! but this will be quite a family concern - early hours, and
nobody here but ourselves, and just the Millwards and Wilsons, most
of whom you already know, and Mr. Lawrence, your landlord, with
whom you ought to make acquaintance.'
'I do know something of him - but you must excuse me this time; for
the evenings, now, are dark and damp, and Arthur, I fear, is too
delicate to risk exposure to their influence with impunity. We
must defer the enjoyment of your hospitality till the return of
longer days and warmer nights.'
Rose, now, at a hint from my mother, produced a decanter of wine,
with accompaniments of glasses and cake, from the cupboard and the
oak sideboard, and the refreshment was duly presented to the
guests. They both partook of the cake, but obstinately refused the
wine, in spite of their hostess's hospitable attempts to force it
upon them. Arthur, especially shrank from the ruby nectar as if in
terror and disgust, and was ready to cry when urged to take it.
'Never mind, Arthur,' said his mamma; 'Mrs. Markham thinks it will
do you good, as you were tired with your walk; but she will not
oblige you to take it! - I daresay you will do very well without.
He detests the very sight of wine,' she added, 'and the smell of it
almost makes him sick. I have been accustomed to make him swallow
a little wine or weak spirits-and-water, by way of medicine, when
he was sick, and, in fact, I have done what I could to make him
Everybody laughed, except the young widow and her son.
'Well, Mrs. Graham,' said my mother, wiping the tears of merriment
from her bright blue eyes - 'well, you surprise me! I really gave
you credit for having more sense. - The poor child will be the
veriest milksop that ever was sopped! Only think what a man you
will make of him, if you persist in - '
'I think it a very excellent plan,' interrupted Mrs. Graham, with
imperturbable gravity. 'By that means I hope to save him from one
degrading vice at least. I wish I could render the incentives to
every other equally innoxious in his case.'
'But by such means,' said I, 'you will never render him virtuous. -
What is it that constitutes virtue, Mrs. Graham? Is it the
circumstance of being able and willing to resist temptation; or
that of having no temptations to resist? - Is he a strong man that
overcomes great obstacles and performs surprising achievements,
though by dint of great muscular exertion, and at the risk of some
subsequent fatigue, or he that sits in his chair all day, with
nothing to do more laborious than stirring the fire, and carrying
his food to his mouth? If you would have your son to walk
honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the
stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them - not
insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go
'I will lead him by the hand, Mr. Markham, till he has strength to
go alone; and I will clear as many stones from his path as I can,
and teach him to avoid the rest - or walk firmly over them, as you
say; - for when I have done my utmost, in the way of clearance,
there will still be plenty left to exercise all the agility,
steadiness, and circumspection he will ever have. - It is all very
well to talk about noble resistance, and trials of virtue; but for
fifty - or five hundred men that have yielded to temptation, show
me one that has had virtue to resist. And why should I take it for
granted that my son will be one in a thousand? - and not rather
prepare for the worst, and suppose he will be like his - like the
rest of mankind, unless I take care to prevent it?'
'You are very complimentary to us all,' I observed.
'I know nothing about you - I speak of those I do know - and when I
see the whole race of mankind (with a few rare exceptions)
stumbling and blundering along the path of life, sinking into every
pitfall, and breaking their shins over every impediment that lies
in their way, shall I not use all the means in my power to insure
for him a smoother and a safer passage?'
'Yes, but the surest means will be to endeavour to fortify him
against temptation, not to remove it out of his way.'
'I will do both, Mr. Markham. God knows he will have temptations
enough to assail him, both from within and without, when I have
done all I can to render vice as uninviting to him, as it is
abominable in its own nature - I myself have had, indeed, but few
incentives to what the world calls vice, but yet I have experienced
temptations and trials of another kind, that have required, on many
occasions, more watchfulness and firmness to resist than I have
hitherto been able to muster against them. And this, I believe, is
what most others would acknowledge who are accustomed to
reflection, and wishful to strive against their natural
'Yes,' said my mother, but half apprehending her drift; 'but you
would not judge of a boy by yourself - and, my dear Mrs. Graham,
let me warn you in good time against the error - the fatal error, I
may call it - of taking that boy's education upon yourself.
Because you are clever in some things and well informed, you may
fancy yourself equal to the task; but indeed you are not; and if
you persist in the attempt, believe me you will bitterly repent it
when the mischief is done.'
'I am to send him to school, I suppose, to learn to despise his
mother's authority and affection!' said the lady, with rather a
'Oh, no! - But if you would have a boy to despise his mother, let
her keep him at home, and spend her life in petting him up, and
slaving to indulge his follies and caprices.'
'I perfectly agree with you, Mrs. Markham; but nothing can be
further from my principles and practice than such criminal weakness
'Well, but you will treat him like a girl - you'll spoil his
spirit, and make a mere Miss Nancy of him - you will, indeed, Mrs.
Graham, whatever you may think. But I'll get Mr. Millward to talk
to you about it:- he'll tell you the consequences; - he'll set it
before you as plain as the day; - and tell you what you ought to
do, and all about it; - and, I don't doubt, he'll be able to
convince you in a minute.'
'No occasion to trouble the vicar,' said Mrs. Graham, glancing at
me - I suppose I was smiling at my mother's unbounded confidence in
that worthy gentleman - 'Mr. Markham here thinks his powers of
conviction at least equal to Mr. Millward's. If I hear not him,
neither should I be convinced though one rose from the dead, he
would tell you. Well, Mr. Markham, you that maintain that a boy
should not be shielded from evil, but sent out to battle against
it, alone and unassisted - not taught to avoid the snares of life,
but boldly to rush into them, or over them, as he may - to seek
danger, rather than shun it, and feed his virtue by temptation, -
would you -?'
'I beg your pardon, Mrs. Graham - but you get on too fast. I have
not yet said that a boy should be taught to rush into the snares of
life, - or even wilfully to seek temptation for the sake of
exercising his virtue by overcoming it; - I only say that it is
better to arm and strengthen your hero, than to disarm and enfeeble
the foe; - and if you were to rear an oak sapling in a hothouse,
tending it carefully night and day, and shielding it from every
breath of wind, you could not expect it to become a hardy tree,
like that which has grown up on the mountain-side, exposed to all
the action of the elements, and not even sheltered from the shock
of the tempest.'
'Granted; - but would you use the same argument with regard to a
'No; you would have her to be tenderly and delicately nurtured,
like a hot-house plant - taught to cling to others for direction
and support, and guarded, as much as possible, from the very
knowledge of evil. But will you be so good as to inform me why you
make this distinction? Is it that you think she has no virtue?'
'Well, but you affirm that virtue is only elicited by temptation; -
and you think that a woman cannot be too little exposed to
temptation, or too little acquainted with vice, or anything
connected therewith. It must be either that you think she is
essentially so vicious, or so feeble-minded, that she cannot
withstand temptation, - and though she may be pure and innocent as
long as she is kept in ignorance and restraint, yet, being
destitute of real virtue, to teach her how to sin is at once to
make her a sinner, and the greater her knowledge, the wider her
liberty, the deeper will be her depravity, - whereas, in the nobler
sex, there is a natural tendency to goodness, guarded by a superior
fortitude, which, the more it is exercised by trials and dangers,
is only the further developed - '
'Heaven forbid that I should think so!' I interrupted her at last.
'Well, then, it must be that you think they are both weak and prone
to err, and the slightest error, the merest shadow of pollution,
will ruin the one, while the character of the other will be
strengthened and embellished - his education properly finished by a
little practical acquaintance with forbidden things. Such
experience, to him (to use a trite simile), will be like the storm
to the oak, which, though it may scatter the leaves, and snap the
smaller branches, serves but to rivet the roots, and to harden and
condense the fibres of the tree. You would have us encourage our
sons to prove all things by their own experience, while our
daughters must not even profit by the experience of others. Now I
would have both so to benefit by the experience of others, and the
precepts of a higher authority, that they should know beforehand to
refuse the evil and choose the good, and require no experimental
proofs to teach them the evil of transgression. I would not send a
poor girl into the world, unarmed against her foes, and ignorant of
the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her,
till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the
power or the will to watch and guard herself; - and as for my son -
if I thought he would grow up to be what you call a man of the
world - one that has "seen life," and glories in his experience,
even though he should so far profit by it as to sober down, at
length, into a useful and respected member of society - I would
rather that he died to-morrow! - rather a thousand times!' she
earnestly repeated, pressing her darling to her side and kissing
his forehead with intense affection. He had already left his new
companion, and been standing for some time beside his mother's
knee, looking up into her face, and listening in silent wonder to
her incomprehensible discourse.
'Well! you ladies must always have the last word, I suppose,' said
I, observing her rise, and begin to take leave of my mother.
'You may have as many words as you please, - only I can't stay to
'No; that is the way: you hear just as much of an argument as you
please; and the rest may be spoken to the wind.'
'If you are anxious to say anything more on the subject,' replied
she, as she shook hands with Rose, 'you must bring your sister to
see me some fine day, and I'll listen, as patiently as you could
wish, to whatever you please to say. I would rather be lectured by
you than the vicar, because I should have less remorse in telling
you, at the end of the discourse, that I preserve my own opinion
precisely the same as at the beginning - as would be the case, I am
persuaded, with regard to either logician.'
'Yes, of course,' replied I, determined to be as provoking as
herself; 'for when a lady does consent to listen to an argument
against her own opinions, she is always predetermined to withstand
it - to listen only with her bodily ears, keeping the mental organs
resolutely closed against the strongest reasoning.'
'Good-morning, Mr. Markham,' said my fair antagonist, with a
pitying smile; and deigning no further rejoinder, she slightly
bowed, and was about to withdraw; but her son, with childish
impertinence, arrested her by exclaiming, - 'Mamma, you have not
shaken hands with Mr. Markham!'
She laughingly turned round and held out her hand. I gave it a
spiteful squeeze, for I was annoyed at the continual injustice she
had done me from the very dawn of our acquaintance. Without
knowing anything about my real disposition and principles, she was
evidently prejudiced against me, and seemed bent upon showing me
that her opinions respecting me, on every particular, fell far
below those I entertained of myself. I was naturally touchy, or it
would not have vexed me so much. Perhaps, too, I was a little bit
spoiled by my mother and sister, and some other ladies of my
acquaintance; - and yet I was by no means a fop - of that I am
fully convinced, whether you are or not.
Our party, on the 5th of November, passed off very well, in spite
of Mrs. Graham's refusal to grace it with her presence. Indeed, it
is probable that, had she been there, there would have been less
cordiality, freedom, and frolic amongst us than there was without
My mother, as usual, was cheerful and chatty, full of activity and
good-nature, and only faulty in being too anxious to make her
guests happy, thereby forcing several of them to do what their soul
abhorred in the way of eating or drinking, sitting opposite the
blazing fire, or talking when they would be silent. Nevertheless,
they bore it very well, being all in their holiday humours.
Mr. Millward was mighty in important dogmas and sententious jokes,
pompous anecdotes and oracular discourses, dealt out for the
edification of the whole assembly in general, and of the admiring
Mrs. Markham, the polite Mr. Lawrence, the sedate Mary Millward,
the quiet Richard Wilson, and the matter-of-fact Robert in
particular, - as being the most attentive listeners.
Mrs. Wilson was more brilliant than ever, with her budgets of fresh
news and old scandal, strung together with trivial questions and
remarks, and oft-repeated observations, uttered apparently for the
sole purpose of denying a moment's rest to her inexhaustible organs
of speech. She had brought her knitting with her, and it seemed as
if her tongue had laid a wager with her fingers, to outdo them in
swift and ceaseless motion.
Her daughter Jane was, of course, as graceful and elegant, as witty
and seductive, as she could possibly manage to be; for here were
all the ladies to outshine, and all the gentlemen to charm, - and
Mr. Lawrence, especially, to capture and subdue. Her little arts
to effect his subjugation were too subtle and impalpable to attract
my observation; but I thought there was a certain refined
affectation of superiority, and an ungenial self-consciousness
about her, that negatived all her advantages; and after she was
gone, Rose interpreted to me her various looks, words, and actions
with a mingled acuteness and asperity that made me wonder, equally,
at the lady's artifice and my sister's penetration, and ask myself
if she too had an eye to the squire - but never mind, Halford; she
Richard Wilson, Jane's younger brother, sat in a corner, apparently
good-tempered, but silent and shy, desirous to escape observation,
but willing enough to listen and observe: and, although somewhat
out of his element, he would have been happy enough in his own
quiet way, if my mother could only have let him alone; but in her
mistaken kindness, she would keep persecuting him with her
attentions - pressing upon him all manner of viands, under the
notion that he was too bashful to help himself, and obliging him to
shout across the room his monosyllabic replies to the numerous
questions and observations by which she vainly attempted to draw
him into conversation.
Rose informed me that he never would have favoured us with his
company but for the importunities of his sister Jane, who was most
anxious to show Mr. Lawrence that she had at least one brother more
gentlemanly and refined than Robert. That worthy individual she
had been equally solicitous to keep away; but he affirmed that he
saw no reason why he should not enjoy a crack with Markham and the
old lady (my mother was not old, really), and bonny Miss Rose and
the parson, as well as the best; - and he was in the right of it
too. So he talked common-place with my mother and Rose, and
discussed parish affairs with the vicar, farming matters with me,
and politics with us both.
Mary Millward was another mute, - not so much tormented with cruel
kindness as Dick Wilson, because she had a certain short, decided
way of answering and refusing, and was supposed to be rather sullen
than diffident. However that might be, she certainly did not give
much pleasure to the company; - nor did she appear to derive much
from it. Eliza told me she had only come because her father
insisted upon it, having taken it into his head that she devoted
herself too exclusively to her household duties, to the neglect of
such relaxations and innocent enjoyments as were proper to her age
and sex. She seemed to me to be good-humoured enough on the whole.
Once or twice she was provoked to laughter by the wit or the
merriment of some favoured individual amongst us; and then I
observed she sought the eye of Richard Wilson, who sat over against
her. As he studied with her father, she had some acquaintance with
him, in spite of the retiring habits of both, and I suppose there
was a kind of fellow-feeling established between them.
My Eliza was charming beyond description, coquettish without
affectation, and evidently more desirous to engage my attention
than that of all the room besides. Her delight in having me near
her, seated or standing by her side, whispering in her ear, or
pressing her hand in the dance, was plainly legible in her glowing
face and heaving bosom, however belied by saucy words and gestures.
But I had better hold my tongue: if I boast of these things now, I
shall have to blush hereafter.
To proceed, then, with the various individuals of our party; Rose
was simple and natural as usual, and full of mirth and vivacity.
Fergus was impertinent and absurd; but his impertinence and folly
served to make others laugh, if they did not raise himself in their
And finally (for I omit myself), Mr. Lawrence was gentlemanly and
inoffensive to all, and polite to the vicar and the ladies,
especially his hostess and her daughter, and Miss Wilson -
misguided man; he had not the taste to prefer Eliza Millward. Mr.
Lawrence and I were on tolerably intimate terms. Essentially of
reserved habits, and but seldom quitting the secluded place of his
birth, where he had lived in solitary state since the death of his
father, he had neither the opportunity nor the inclination for
forming many acquaintances; and, of all he had ever known, I
(judging by the results) was the companion most agreeable to his
taste. I liked the man well enough, but he was too cold, and shy,
and self-contained, to obtain my cordial sympathies. A spirit of
candour and frankness, when wholly unaccompanied with coarseness,
he admired in others, but he could not acquire it himself. His
excessive reserve upon all his own concerns was, indeed, provoking
and chilly enough; but I forgave it, from a conviction that it
originated less in pride and want of confidence in his friends,
than in a certain morbid feeling of delicacy, and a peculiar
diffidence, that he was sensible of, but wanted energy to overcome.
His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in
the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest
touch of the finger, or the lightest breath of wind. And, upon the
whole, our intimacy was rather a mutual predilection than a deep
and solid friendship, such as has since arisen between myself and
you, Halford, whom, in spite of your occasional crustiness, I can
liken to nothing so well as an old coat, unimpeachable in texture,
but easy and loose - that has conformed itself to the shape of the
wearer, and which he may use as he pleases, without being bothered
with the fear of spoiling it; - whereas Mr. Lawrence was like a new
garment, all very neat and trim to look at, but so tight in the
elbows, that you would fear to split the seams by the unrestricted
motion of your arms, and so smooth and fine in surface that you
scruple to expose it to a single drop of rain.
Soon after the arrival of the guests, my mother mentioned Mrs.
Graham, regretted she was not there to meet them, and explained to
the Millwards and Wilsons the reasons she had given for neglecting
to return their calls, hoping they would excuse her, as she was
sure she did not mean to be uncivil, and would be glad to see them
at any time. - 'But she is a very singular lady, Mr. Lawrence,'
added she; 'we don't know what to make of her - but I daresay you
can tell us something about her, for she is your tenant, you know,
- and she said she knew you a little.'
All eyes were turned to Mr. Lawrence. I thought he looked
unnecessarily confused at being so appealed to.
'I, Mrs. Markham!' said he; 'you are mistaken - I don't - that is -
I have seen her, certainly; but I am the last person you should
apply to for information respecting Mrs. Graham.'
He then immediately turned to Rose, and asked her to favour the
company with a song, or a tune on the piano.
'No,' said she, 'you must ask Miss Wilson: she outshines us all in
singing, and music too.'
Miss Wilson demurred.
'She'll sing readily enough,' said Fergus, 'if you'll undertake to
stand by her, Mr. Lawrence, and turn over the leaves for her.'
'I shall be most happy to do so, Miss Wilson; will you allow me?'
She bridled her long neck and smiled, and suffered him to lead her
to the instrument, where she played and sang, in her very best
style, one piece after another; while he stood patiently by,
leaning one hand on the back of her chair, and turning over the
leaves of her book with the other. Perhaps he was as much charmed
with her performance as she was. It was all very fine in its way;
but I cannot say that it moved me very deeply. There was plenty of
skill and execution, but precious little feeling.
But we had not done with Mrs. Graham yet.
'I don't take wine, Mrs. Markham,' said Mr. Millward, upon the
introduction of that beverage; 'I'll take a little of your home-
brewed ale. I always prefer your home-brewed to anything else.'
Flattered at this compliment, my mother rang the bell, and a china
jug of our best ale was presently brought and set before the worthy
gentleman who so well knew how to appreciate its excellences.
'Now THIS is the thing!' cried he, pouring out a glass of the same
in a long stream, skilfully directed from the jug to the tumbler,
so as to produce much foam without spilling a drop; and, having
surveyed it for a moment opposite the candle, he took a deep
draught, and then smacked his lips, drew a long breath, and
refilled his glass, my mother looking on with the greatest
'There's nothing like this, Mrs. Markham!' said he. 'I always
maintain that there's nothing to compare with your home-brewed
'I'm sure I'm glad you like it, sir. I always look after the
brewing myself, as well as the cheese and the butter - I like to
have things well done, while we're about it.'
'Quite right, Mrs. Markham!'
'But then, Mr. Millward, you don't think it wrong to take a little
wine now and then - or a little spirits either!' said my mother, as
she handed a smoking tumbler of gin-and-water to Mrs. Wilson, who
affirmed that wine sat heavy on her stomach, and whose son Robert
was at that moment helping himself to a pretty stiff glass of the
'By no means!' replied the oracle, with a Jove-like nod; 'these
things are all blessings and mercies, if we only knew how to make
use of them.'
'But Mrs. Graham doesn't think so. You shall just hear now what
she told us the other day - I told her I'd tell you.'
And my mother favoured the company with a particular account of
that lady's mistaken ideas and conduct regarding the matter in
hand, concluding with, 'Now, don't you think it is wrong?'
'Wrong!' repeated the vicar, with more than common solemnity -
'criminal, I should say - criminal! Not only is it making a fool
of the boy, but it is despising the gifts of Providence, and
teaching him to trample them under his feet.'
He then entered more fully into the question, and explained at
large the folly and impiety of such a proceeding. My mother heard
him with profoundest reverence; and even Mrs. Wilson vouchsafed to
rest her tongue for a moment, and listen in silence, while she
complacently sipped her gin-and-water. Mr. Lawrence sat with his
elbow on the table, carelessly playing with his half-empty wine-
glass, and covertly smiling to himself.
'But don't you think, Mr. Millward,' suggested he, when at length
that gentleman paused in his discourse, 'that when a child may be
naturally prone to intemperance - by the fault of its parents or
ancestors, for instance - some precautions are advisable?' (Now it
was generally believed that Mr. Lawrence's father had shortened his
days by intemperance.)
'Some precautions, it may be; but temperance, sir, is one thing,
and abstinence another.'
'But I have heard that, with some persons, temperance - that is,
moderation - is almost impossible; and if abstinence be an evil
(which some have doubted), no one will deny that excess is a
greater. Some parents have entirely prohibited their children from
tasting intoxicating liquors; but a parent's authority cannot last
for ever; children are naturally prone to hanker after forbidden
things; and a child, in such a case, would be likely to have a
strong curiosity to taste, and try the effect of what has been so
lauded and enjoyed by others, so strictly forbidden to himself -
which curiosity would generally be gratified on the first
convenient opportunity; and the restraint once broken, serious
consequences might ensue. I don't pretend to be a judge of such
matters, but it seems to me, that this plan of Mrs. Graham's, as
you describe it, Mrs. Markham, extraordinary as it may be, is not
without its advantages; for here you see the child is delivered at
once from temptation; he has no secret curiosity, no hankering
desire; he is as well acquainted with the tempting liquors as he
ever wishes to be; and is thoroughly disgusted with them, without
having suffered from their effects.'
'And is that right, sir? Have I not proven to you how wrong it is
- how contrary to Scripture and to reason, to teach a child to look
with contempt and disgust upon the blessings of Providence, instead
of to use them aright?'
'You may consider laudanum a blessing of Providence, sir,' replied
Mr. Lawrence, smiling; 'and yet, you will allow that most of us had
better abstain from it, even in moderation; but,' added he, 'I
would not desire you to follow out my simile too closely - in
witness whereof I finish my glass.'
'And take another, I hope, Mr. Lawrence,' said my mother, pushing
the bottle towards him.
He politely declined, and pushing his chair a little away from the
table, leant back towards me - I was seated a trifle behind, on the
sofa beside Eliza Millward - and carelessly asked me if I knew Mrs.
'I have met her once or twice,' I replied.
'What do you think of her?'
'I cannot say that I like her much. She is handsome - or rather I
should say distinguished and interesting - in her appearance, but
by no means amiable - a woman liable to take strong prejudices, I
should fancy, and stick to them through thick and thin, twisting
everything into conformity with her own preconceived opinions - too
hard, too sharp, too bitter for my taste.'
He made no reply, but looked down and bit his lip, and shortly
after rose and sauntered up to Miss Wilson, as much repelled by me,
I fancy, as attracted by her. I scarcely noticed it at the time,
but afterwards I was led to recall this and other trifling facts,
of a similar nature, to my remembrance, when - but I must not
We wound up the evening with dancing - our worthy pastor thinking
it no scandal to be present on the occasion, though one of the
village musicians was engaged to direct our evolutions with his
violin. But Mary Millward obstinately refused to join us; and so
did Richard Wilson, though my mother earnestly entreated him to do
so, and even offered to be his partner.
We managed very well without them, however. With a single set of
quadrilles, and several country dances, we carried it on to a
pretty late hour; and at length, having called upon our musician to
strike up a waltz, I was just about to whirl Eliza round in that
delightful dance, accompanied by Lawrence and Jane Wilson, and
Fergus and Rose, when Mr. Millward interposed with:- 'No, no; I
don't allow that! Come, it's time to be going now.'
'Oh, no, papa!' pleaded Eliza.
'High time, my girl - high time! Moderation in all things,
remember! That's the plan - "Let your moderation be known unto all
But in revenge I followed Eliza into the dimly-lighted passage,
where, under pretence of helping her on with her shawl, I fear I
must plead guilty to snatching a kiss behind her father's back,
while he was enveloping his throat and chin in the folds of a
mighty comforter. But alas! in turning round, there was my mother
close beside me. The consequence was, that no sooner were the
guests departed, than I was doomed to a very serious remonstrance,
which unpleasantly checked the galloping course of my spirits, and
made a disagreeable close to the evening.
'My dear Gilbert,' said she, 'I wish you wouldn't do so! You know
how deeply I have your advantage at heart, how I love you and prize
you above everything else in the world, and how much I long to see
you well settled in life - and how bitterly it would grieve me to
see you married to that girl - or any other in the neighbourhood.
What you see in her I don't know. It isn't only the want of money
that I think about - nothing of the kind - but there's neither
beauty, nor cleverness, nor goodness, nor anything else that's
desirable. If you knew your own value, as I do, you wouldn't dream
of it. Do wait awhile and see! If you bind yourself to her,
you'll repent it all your lifetime when you look round and see how
many better there are. Take my word for it, you will.'
'Well, mother, do be quiet! - I hate to be lectured! - I'm not
going to marry yet, I tell you; but - dear me! mayn't I enjoy
myself at all?'
'Yes, my dear boy, but not in that way. Indeed, you shouldn't do
such things. You would be wronging the girl, if she were what she
ought to be; but I assure you she is as artful a little hussy as
anybody need wish to see; and you'll got entangled in her snares
before you know where you are. And if you marry her, Gilbert,
you'll break my heart - so there's an end of it.'
'Well, don't cry about it, mother,' said I, for the tears were
gushing from her eyes; 'there, let that kiss efface the one I gave
Eliza; don't abuse her any more, and set your mind at rest; for
I'll promise never - that is, I'll promise to think twice before I
take any important step you seriously disapprove of.'
So saying, I lighted my candle, and went to bed, considerably
quenched in spirit.
It was about the close of the month, that, yielding at length to
the urgent importunities of Rose, I accompanied her in a visit to
Wildfell Hall. To our surprise, we were ushered into a room where
the first object that met the eye was a painter's easel, with a
table beside it covered with rolls of canvas, bottles of oil and
varnish, palette, brushes, paints, &c. Leaning against the wall
were several sketches in various stages of progression, and a few
finished paintings - mostly of landscapes and figures.
'I must make you welcome to my studio,' said Mrs. Graham; 'there is
no fire in the sitting-room to-day, and it is rather too cold to
show you into a place with an empty grate.'
And disengaging a couple of chairs from the artistical lumber that
usurped them, she bid us be seated, and resumed her place beside
the easel - not facing it exactly, but now and then glancing at the
picture upon it while she conversed, and giving it an occasional
touch with her brush, as if she found it impossible to wean her
attention entirely from her occupation to fix it upon her guests.
It was a view of Wildfell Hall, as seen at early morning from the
field below, rising in dark relief against a sky of clear silvery
blue, with a few red streaks on the horizon, faithfully drawn and
coloured, and very elegantly and artistically handled.
'I see your heart is in your work, Mrs. Graham,' observed I: 'I
must beg you to go on with it; for if you suffer our presence to
interrupt you, we shall be constrained to regard ourselves as
'Oh, no!' replied she, throwing her brush on to the table, as if
startled into politeness. 'I am not so beset with visitors but
that I can readily spare a few minutes to the few that do favour me
with their company.'
'You have almost completed your painting,' said I, approaching to
observe it more closely, and surveying it with a greater degree of
admiration and delight than I cared to express. 'A few more
touches in the foreground will finish it, I should think. But why
have you called it Fernley Manor, Cumberland, instead of Wildfell
Hall, -shire?' I asked, alluding to the name she had traced in
small characters at the bottom of the canvas.
But immediately I was sensible of having committed an act of
impertinence in so doing; for she coloured and hesitated; but after
a moment's pause, with a kind of desperate frankness, she replied:-
'Because I have friends - acquaintances at least - in the world,
from whom I desire my present abode to be concealed; and as they
might see the picture, and might possibly recognise the style in
spite of the false initials I have put in the corner, I take the
precaution to give a false name to the place also, in order to put
them on a wrong scent, if they should attempt to trace me out by
'Then you don't intend to keep the picture?' said I, anxious to say
anything to change the subject.
'No; I cannot afford to paint for my own amusement.'
'Mamma sends all her pictures to London,' said Arthur; 'and
somebody sells them for her there, and sends us the money.'
In looking round upon the other pieces, I remarked a pretty sketch
of Linden-hope from the top of the hill; another view of the old
hall basking in the sunny haze of a quiet summer afternoon; and a
simple but striking little picture of a child brooding, with looks
of silent but deep and sorrowful regret, over a handful of withered
flowers, with glimpses of dark low hills and autumnal fields behind
it, and a dull beclouded sky above.
'You see there is a sad dearth of subjects,' observed the fair
artist. 'I took the old hall once on a moonlight night, and I
suppose I must take it again on a snowy winter's day, and then
again on a dark cloudy evening; for I really have nothing else to
paint. I have been told that you have a fine view of the sea
somewhere in the neighbourhood. Is it true? - and is it within
'Yes, if you don't object to walking four miles - or nearly so -
little short of eight miles, there and back - and over a somewhat
rough, fatiguing road.'
'In what direction does it lie?'
I described the situation as well as I could, and was entering upon
an explanation of the various roads, lanes, and fields to be
traversed in order to reach it, the goings straight on, and
turnings to the right and the left, when she checked me with, -
'Oh, stop! don't tell me now: I shall forget every word of your
directions before I require them. I shall not think about going
till next spring; and then, perhaps, I may trouble you. At present
we have the winter before us, and - '
She suddenly paused, with a suppressed exclamation, started up from
her seat, and saying, 'Excuse me one moment,' hurried from the
room, and shut the door behind her.
Curious to see what had startled her so, I looked towards the
window - for her eyes had been carelessly fixed upon it the moment
before - and just beheld the skirts of a man's coat vanishing
behind a large holly-bush that stood between the window and the
'It's mamma's friend,' said Arthur.
Rose and I looked at each other.
'I don't know what to make of her at all,' whispered Rose.
The child looked at her in grave surprise. She straightway began
to talk to him on indifferent matters, while I amused myself with
looking at the pictures. There was one in an obscure corner that I
had not before observed. It was a little child, seated on the
grass with its lap full of flowers. The tiny features and large
blue eyes, smiling through a shock of light brown curls, shaken
over the forehead as it bent above its treasure, bore sufficient
resemblance to those of the young gentleman before me to proclaim
it a portrait of Arthur Graham in his early infancy.
In taking this up to bring it to the light, I discovered another
behind it, with its face to the wall. I ventured to take that up
too. It was the portrait of a gentleman in the full prime of
youthful manhood - handsome enough, and not badly executed; but if
done by the same hand as the others, it was evidently some years
before; for there was far more careful minuteness of detail, and
less of that freshness of colouring and freedom of handling that
delighted and surprised me in them. Nevertheless, I surveyed it
with considerable interest. There was a certain individuality in
the features and expression that stamped it, at once, a successful
likeness. The bright blue eyes regarded the spectator with a kind
of lurking drollery - you almost expected to see them wink; the
lips - a little too voluptuously full - seemed ready to break into
a smile; the warmly-tinted cheeks were embellished with a luxuriant
growth of reddish whiskers; while the bright chestnut hair,
clustering in abundant, wavy curls, trespassed too much upon the
forehead, and seemed to intimate that the owner thereof was prouder
of his beauty than his intellect - as, perhaps, he had reason to
be; and yet he looked no fool.
I had not had the portrait in my hands two minutes before the fair
'Only some one come about the pictures,' said she, in apology for
her abrupt departure: 'I told him to wait.'
'I fear it will be considered an act of impertinence,' said 'to
presume to look at a picture that the artist has turned to the
wall; but may I ask -'
'It is an act of very great impertinence, sir; and therefore I beg
you will ask nothing about it, for your curiosity will not be
gratified,' replied she, attempting to cover the tartness of her
rebuke with a smile; but I could see, by her flushed cheek and
kindling eye, that she was seriously annoyed.
'I was only going to ask if you had painted it yourself,' said I,
sulkily resigning the picture into her hands; for without a grain
of ceremony she took it from me; and quickly restoring it to the
dark corner, with its face to the wall, placed the other against it
as before, and then turned to me and laughed.
But I was in no humour for jesting. I carelessly turned to the
window, and stood looking out upon the desolate garden, leaving her
to talk to Rose for a minute or two; and then, telling my sister it
was time to go, shook hands with the little gentleman, coolly bowed
to the lady, and moved towards the door. But, having bid adieu to
Rose, Mrs. Graham presented her hand to me, saying, with a soft
voice, and by no means a disagreeable smile, - 'Let not the sun go
down upon your wrath, Mr. Markham. I'm sorry I offended you by my
When a lady condescends to apologise, there is no keeping one's
anger, of course; so we parted good friends for once; and this time
I squeezed her hand with a cordial, not a spiteful pressure.
During the next four months I did not enter Mrs. Graham's house,
nor she mine; but still the ladies continued to talk about her, and
still our acquaintance continued, though slowly, to advance. As
for their talk, I paid but little attention to that (when it
related to the fair hermit, I mean), and the only information I
derived from it was, that one fine frosty day she had ventured to
take her little boy as far as the vicarage, and that,
unfortunately, nobody was at home but Miss Millward; nevertheless,
she had sat a long time, and, by all accounts, they had found a
good deal to say to each other, and parted with a mutual desire to
meet again. But Mary liked children, and fond mammas like those
who can duly appreciate their treasures.
But sometimes I saw her myself, not only when she came to church,
but when she was out on the hills with her son, whether taking a
long, purpose-like walk, or - on special fine days - leisurely
rambling over the moor or the bleak pasture-lands, surrounding the
old hall, herself with a book in her hand, her son gambolling about
her; and, on any of these occasions, when I caught sight of her in
my solitary walks or rides, or while following my agricultural
pursuits, I generally contrived to meet or overtake her, for I
rather liked to see Mrs. Graham, and to talk to her, and I
decidedly liked to talk to her little companion, whom, when once
the ice of his shyness was fairly broken, I found to be a very
amiable, intelligent, and entertaining little fellow; and we soon
became excellent friends - how much to the gratification of his
mamma I cannot undertake to say. I suspected at first that she was
desirous of throwing cold water on this growing intimacy - to
quench, as it were, the kindling flame of our friendship - but
discovering, at length, in spite of her prejudice against me, that
I was perfectly harmless, and even well-intentioned, and that,
between myself and my dog, her son derived a great deal of pleasure
from the acquaintance that he would not otherwise have known, she
ceased to object, and even welcomed my coming with a smile.
As for Arthur, he would shout his welcome from afar, and run to
meet me fifty yards from his mother's side. If I happened to be on
horseback he was sure to get a canter or a gallop; or, if there was
one of the draught horses within an available distance, he was
treated to a steady ride upon that, which served his turn almost as
well; but his mother would always follow and trudge beside him -
not so much, I believe, to ensure his safe conduct, as to see that
I instilled no objectionable notions into his infant mind, for she
was ever on the watch, and never would allow him to be taken out of
her sight. What pleased her best of all was to see him romping and
racing with Sancho, while I walked by her side - not, I fear, for
love of my company (though I sometimes deluded myself with that
idea), so much as for the delight she took in seeing her son thus
happily engaged in the enjoyment of those active sports so
invigorating to his tender frame, yet so seldom exercised for want
of playmates suited to his years: and, perhaps, her pleasure was
sweetened not a little by the fact of my being with her instead of
with him, and therefore incapable of doing him any injury directly
or indirectly, designedly or otherwise, small thanks to her for
But sometimes, I believe, she really had some little gratification
in conversing with me; and one bright February morning, during
twenty minutes' stroll along the moor, she laid aside her usual
asperity and reserve, and fairly entered into conversation with me,
discoursing with so much eloquence and depth of thought and feeling
on a subject happily coinciding with my own ideas, and looking so
beautiful withal, that I went home enchanted; and on the way
(morally) started to find myself thinking that, after all, it
would, perhaps, be better to spend one's days with such a woman
than with Eliza Millward; and then I (figuratively) blushed for my
On entering the parlour I found Eliza there with Rose, and no one
else. The surprise was not altogether so agreeable as it ought to
have been. We chatted together a long time, but I found her rather
frivolous, and even a little insipid, compared with the more mature
and earnest Mrs. Graham. Alas, for human constancy!
'However,' thought I, 'I ought not to marry Eliza, since my mother
so strongly objects to it, and I ought not to delude the girl with
the idea that I intended to do so. Now, if this mood continue, I
shall have less difficulty in emancipating my affections from her
soft yet unrelenting sway; and, though Mrs. Graham might be equally
objectionable, I may be permitted, like the doctors, to cure a
greater evil by a less, for I shall not fall seriously in love with
the young widow, I think, nor she with me - that's certain - but if
I find a little pleasure in her society I may surely be allowed to
seek it; and if the star of her divinity be bright enough to dim
the lustre of Eliza's, so much the better, but I scarcely can think
And thereafter I seldom suffered a fine day to pass without paying
a visit to Wildfell about the time my new acquaintance usually left
her hermitage; but so frequently was I baulked in my expectations
of another interview, so changeable was she in her times of coming
forth and in her places of resort, so transient were the occasional
glimpses I was able to obtain, that I felt half inclined to think
she took as much pains to avoid my company as I to seek hers; but
this was too disagreeable a supposition to be entertained a moment
after it could conveniently be dismissed.
One calm, clear afternoon, however, in March, as I was
superintending the rolling of the meadow-land, and the repairing of
a hedge in the valley, I saw Mrs. Graham down by the brook, with a
sketch-book in her hand, absorbed in the exercise of her favourite
art, while Arthur was putting on the time with constructing dams
and breakwaters in the shallow, stony stream. I was rather in want
of amusement, and so rare an opportunity was not to be neglected;
so, leaving both meadow and hedge, I quickly repaired to the spot,
but not before Sancho, who, immediately upon perceiving his young
friend, scoured at full gallop the intervening space, and pounced
upon him with an impetuous mirth that precipitated the child almost
into the middle of the beck; but, happily, the stones preserved him
from any serious wetting, while their smoothness prevented his
being too much hurt to laugh at the untoward event.
Mrs. Graham was studying the distinctive characters of the
different varieties of trees in their winter nakedness, and
copying, with a spirited, though delicate touch, their various
ramifications. She did not talk much, but I stood and watched the
progress of her pencil: it was a pleasure to behold it so
dexterously guided by those fair and graceful fingers. But ere
long their dexterity became impaired, they began to hesitate, to
tremble slightly, and make false strokes, and then suddenly came to
a pause, while their owner laughingly raised her face to mine, and
told me that her sketch did not profit by my superintendence.
'Then,' said I, 'I'll talk to Arthur till you've done.'
'I should like to have a ride, Mr. Markham, if mamma will let me,'
said the child.
'What on, my boy?'
'I think there's a horse in that field,' replied he, pointing to
where the strong black mare was pulling the roller.
'No, no, Arthur; it's too far,' objected his mother.
But I promised to bring him safe back after a turn or two up and
down the meadow; and when she looked at his eager face she smiled
and let him go. It was the first time she had even allowed me to
take him so much as half a field's length from her side.
Enthroned upon his monstrous steed, and solemnly proceeding up and
down the wide, steep field, he looked the very incarnation of
quiet, gleeful satisfaction and delight. The rolling, however, was
soon completed; but when I dismounted the gallant horseman, and
restored him to his mother, she seemed rather displeased at my
keeping him so long. She had shut up her sketch-book, and been,
probably, for some minutes impatiently waiting his return.
It was now high time to go home, she said, and would have bid me
good-evening, but I was not going to leave her yet: I accompanied
her half-way up the hill. She became more sociable, and I was
beginning to be very happy; but, on coming within sight of the grim
old hall, she stood still, and turned towards me while she spoke,
as if expecting I should go no further, that the conversation would
end here, and I should now take leave and depart - as, indeed, it
was time to do, for 'the clear, cold eve' was fast 'declining,' the
sun had set, and the gibbous moon was visibly brightening in the
pale grey sky; but a feeling almost of compassion riveted me to the
spot. It seemed hard to leave her to such a lonely, comfortless
home. I looked up at it. Silent and grim it frowned; before us.
A faint, red light was gleaming from the lower windows of one wing,
but all the other windows were in darkness, and many exhibited
their black, cavernous gulfs, entirely destitute of glazing or
'Do you not find it a desolate place to live in?' said I, after a
moment of silent contemplation.
'I do, sometimes,' replied she. 'On winter evenings, when Arthur
is in bed, and I am sitting there alone, hearing the bleak wind
moaning round me and howling through the ruinous old chambers, no
books or occupations can represss the dismal thoughts and
apprehensions that come crowding in - but it is folly to give way
to such weakness, I know. If Rachel is satisfied with such a life,
why should not I? - Indeed, I cannot be too thankful for such an
asylum, while it is left me.'
The closing sentence was uttered in an under-tone, as if spoken
rather to herself than to me. She then bid me good-evening and
I had not proceeded many steps on my way homewards when I perceived
Mr. Lawrence, on his pretty grey pony, coming up the rugged lane
that crossed over the hill-top. I went a little out of my way to
speak to him; for we had not met for some time.
'Was that Mrs. Graham you were speaking to just now?' said he,
after the first few words of greeting had passed between us.
'Humph! I thought so.' He looked contemplatively at his horse's
mane, as if he had some serious cause of dissatisfaction with it,
or something else.
'Well! what then?'
'Oh, nothing!' replied he. 'Only I thought you disliked her,' he
quietly added, curling his classic lip with a slightly sarcastic
'Suppose I did; mayn't a man change his mind on further
'Yes, of course,' returned he, nicely reducing an entanglement in
the pony's redundant hoary mane. Then suddenly turning to me, and
fixing his shy, hazel eyes upon me with a steady penetrating gaze,
he added, 'Then you have changed your mind?'
'I can't say that I have exactly. No; I think I hold the same
opinion respecting her as before - but slightly ameliorated.'
'Oh!' He looked round for something else to talk about; and
glancing up at the moon, made some remark upon the beauty of the
evening, which I did not answer, as being irrelevant to the
'Lawrence,' said I, calmly looking him in the face, 'are you in
love with Mrs. Graham?'
Instead of his being deeply offended at this, as I more than half
expected he would, the first start of surprise, at the audacious
question, was followed by a tittering laugh, as if he was highly
amused at the idea.
'I in love with her!' repeated he. 'What makes you dream of such a
'From the interest you take in the progress of my acquaintance with
the lady, and the changes of my opinion concerning her, I thought
you might be jealous.'
He laughed again. 'Jealous! no. But I thought you were going to
marry Eliza Millward.'
'You thought wrong, then; I am not going to marry either one or the
other - that I know of - '
'Then I think you'd better let them alone.'
'Are you going to marry Jane Wilson?'
He coloured, and played with the mane again, but answered - 'No, I
'Then you had better let her alone.'
'She won't let me alone,' he might have said; but he only looked
silly and said nothing for the space of half a minute, and then
made another attempt to turn the conversation; and this time I let
it pass; for he had borne enough: another word on the subject
would have been like the last atom that breaks the camel's. back.
I was too late for tea; but my mother had kindly kept the teapot
and muffin warm upon the hobs, and, though she scolded me a little,
readily admitted my excuses; and when I complained of the flavour
of the overdrawn tea, she poured the remainder into the slop-basin,
and bade Rose put some fresh into the pot, and reboil the kettle,
which offices were performed with great commotion, and certain
'Well! - if it had been me now, I should have had no tea at all -
if it had been Fergus, even, he would have to put up with such as
there was, and been told to be thankful, for it was far too good
for him; but you - we can't do too much for you. It's always so -
if there's anything particularly nice at table, mamma winks and
nods at me to abstain from it, and if I don't attend to that, she
whispers, "Don't eat so much of that, Rose; Gilbert will like it
for his supper." - I'm nothing at all. In the parlour, it's "Come,
Rose, put away your things, and let's have the room nice and tidy
against they come in; and keep up a good fire; Gilbert likes a
cheerful fire." In the kitchen - "Make that pie a large one, Rose;
I daresay the boys'll be hungry; and don't put so much pepper in,
they'll not like it, I'm sure" - or, "Rose, don't put so many
spices in the pudding, Gilbert likes it plain," - or, "Mind you put
plenty of currants in the cake, Fergus liked plenty." If I say,
"Well, mamma, I don't," I'm told I ought not to think of myself.
"You know, Rose, in all household matters, we have only two things
to consider, first, what's proper to be done; and, secondly, what's
most agreeable to the gentlemen of the house - anything will do for
'And very good doctrine too,' said my mother. 'Gilbert thinks so,
'Very convenient doctrine, for us, at all events,' said I; 'but if
you would really study my pleasure, mother, you must consider your
own comfort and convenience a little more than you do - as for
Rose, I have no doubt she'll take care of herself; and whenever she
does make a sacrifice or perform a remarkable act of devotedness,
she'll take good care to let me know the extent of it. But for you
I might sink into the grossest condition of self-indulgence and
carelessness about the wants of others, from the mere habit of
being constantly cared for myself, and having all my wants
anticipated or immediately supplied, while left in total ignorance
of what is done for me, - if Rose did not enlighten me now and
then; and I should receive all your kindness as a matter of course,
and never know how much I owe you.'
'Ah! and you never will know, Gilbert, till you're married. Then,
when you've got some trifling, self-conceited girl like Eliza
Millward, careless of everything but her own immediate pleasure and
advantage, or some misguided, obstinate woman, like Mrs. Graham,
ignorant of her principal duties, and clever only in what concerns
her least to know - then you'll find the difference.'