Part 2 out of 10
'It will do me good, mother; I was not sent into the world merely
to exercise the good capacities and good feelings of others - was
I? - but to exert my own towards them; and when I marry, I shall
expect to find more pleasure in making my wife happy and
comfortable, than in being made so by her: I would rather give
'Oh! that's all nonsense, my dear. It's mere boy's talk that!
You'll soon tire of petting and humouring your wife, be she ever so
charming, and then comes the trial.'
'Well, then, we must bear one another's burdens.'
'Then you must fall each into your proper place. You'll do your
business, and she, if she's worthy of you, will do hers; but it's
your business to please yourself, and hers to please you. I'm sure
your poor, dear father was as good a husband as ever lived, and
after the first six months or so were over, I should as soon have
expected him to fly, as to put himself out of his way to pleasure
me. He always said I was a good wife, and did my duty; and he
always did his - bless him! - he was steady and punctual, seldom
found fault without a reason, always did justice to my good
dinners, and hardly ever spoiled my cookery by delay - and that's
as much as any woman can expect of any man.'
Is it so, Halford? Is that the extent of your domestic virtues;
and does your happy wife exact no more?
Not many days after this, on a mild sunny morning - rather soft
under foot; for the last fall of snow was only just wasted away,
leaving yet a thin ridge, here and there, lingering on the fresh
green grass beneath the hedges; but beside them already, the young
primroses were peeping from among their moist, dark foliage, and
the lark above was singing of summer, and hope, and love, and every
heavenly thing - I was out on the hill-side, enjoying these
delights, and looking after the well-being of my young lambs and
their mothers, when, on glancing round me, I beheld three persons
ascending from the vale below. They were Eliza Millward, Fergus,
and Rose; so I crossed the field to meet them; and, being told they
were going to Wildfell Hall, I declared myself willing to go with
them, and offering my arm to Eliza, who readily accepted it in lieu
of my brother's, told the latter he might go back, for I would
accompany the ladies.
'I beg your pardon!' exclaimed he. 'It's the ladies that are
accompanying me, not I them. You had all had a peep at this
wonderful stranger but me, and I could endure my wretched ignorance
no longer - come what would, I must be satisfied; so I begged Rose
to go with me to the Hall, and introduce me to her at once. She
swore she would not, unless Miss Eliza would go too; so I ran to
the vicarage and fetched her; and we've come hooked all the way, as
fond as a pair of lovers - and now you've taken her from me; and
you want to deprive me of my walk and my visit besides. Go back to
your fields and your cattle, you lubberly fellow; you're not fit to
associate with ladies and gentlemen like us, that have nothing to
do but to run snooking about to our neighbours' houses, peeping
into their private corners, and scenting out their secrets, and
picking holes in their coats, when we don't find them ready made to
our hands - you don't understand such refined sources of
'Can't you both go?' suggested Eliza, disregarding the latter half
of the speech.
'Yes, both, to be sure!' cried Rose; 'the more the merrier - and
I'm sure we shall want all the cheerfulness we can carry with us to
that great, dark, gloomy room, with its narrow latticed windows,
and its dismal old furniture - unless she shows us into her studio
So we went all in a body; and the meagre old maid-servant, that
opened the door, ushered us into an apartment such as Rose had
described to me as the scene of her first introduction to Mrs.
Graham, a tolerably spacious and lofty room, but obscurely lighted
by the old-fashioned windows, the ceiling, panels, and chimney-
piece of grim black oak - the latter elaborately but not very
tastefully carved, - with tables and chairs to match, an old
bookcase on one side of the fire-place, stocked with a motley
assemblage of books, and an elderly cabinet piano on the other.
The lady was seated in a stiff, high-backed arm-chair, with a small
round table, containing a desk and a work-basket on one side of
her, and her little boy on the other, who stood leaning his elbow
on her knee, and reading to her, with wonderful fluency, from a
small volume that lay in her lap; while she rested her hand on his
shoulder, and abstractedly played with the long, wavy curls that
fell on his ivory neck. They struck me as forming a pleasing
contrast to all the surrounding objects; but of course their
position was immediately changed on our entrance. I could only
observe the picture during the few brief seconds that Rachel held
the door for our admittance.
I do not think Mrs. Graham was particularly delighted to see us:
there was something indescribably chilly in her quiet, calm
civility; but I did not talk much to her. Seating myself near the
window, a little back from the circle, I called Arthur to me, and
he and I and Sancho amused ourselves very pleasantly together,
while the two young ladies baited his mother with small talk, and
Fergus sat opposite with his legs crossed and his hands in his
breeches-pockets, leaning back in his chair, and staring now up at
the ceiling, now straight forward at his hostess (in a manner that
made me strongly inclined to kick him out of the room), now
whistling sotto voce to himself a snatch of a favourite air, now
interrupting the conversation, or filling up a pause (as the case
might be) with some most impertinent question or remark. At one
time it was, - 'It, amazes me, Mrs. Graham, how you could choose
such a dilapidated, rickety old place as this to live in. If you
couldn't afford to occupy the whole house, and have it mended up,
why couldn't you take a neat little cottage?'
'Perhaps I was too proud, Mr. Fergus,' replied she, smiling;
'perhaps I took a particular fancy for this romantic, old-fashioned
place - but, indeed, it has many advantages over a cottage - in the
first place, you see, the rooms are larger and more airy; in the
second place, the unoccupied apartments, which I don't pay for, may
serve as lumber-rooms, if I have anything to put in them; and they
are very useful for my little boy to run about in on rainy days
when he can't go out; and then there is the garden for him to play
in, and for me to work in. You see I have effected some little
improvement already,' continued she, turning to the window. 'There
is a bed of young vegetables in that corner, and here are some
snowdrops and primroses already in bloom - and there, too, is a
yellow crocus just opening in the sunshine.'
'But then how can you bear such a situation - your nearest
neighbours two miles distant, and nobody looking in or passing by?
Rose would go stark mad in such a place. She can't put on life
unless she sees half a dozen fresh gowns and bonnets a day - not to
speak of the faces within; but you might sit watching at these
windows all day long, and never see so much as an old woman
carrying her eggs to market.'
'I am not sure the loneliness of the place was not one of its chief
recommendations. I take no pleasure in watching people pass the
windows; and I like to be quiet.'
'Oh! as good as to say you wish we would all of us mind our own
business, and let you alone.'
'No, I dislike an extensive acquaintance; but if I have a few
friends, of course I am glad to see them occasionally. No one can
be happy in eternal solitude. Therefore, Mr. Fergus, if you choose
to enter my house as a friend, I will make you welcome; if not, I
must confess, I would rather you kept away.' She then turned and
addressed some observation to Rose or Eliza.
'And, Mrs. Graham,' said he again, five minutes after, 'we were
disputing, as we came along, a question that you can readily decide
for us, as it mainly regarded yourself - and, indeed, we often hold
discussions about you; for some of us have nothing better to do
than to talk about our neighbours' concerns, and we, the indigenous
plants of the soil, have known each other so long, and talked each
other over so often, that we are quite sick of that game; so that a
stranger coming amongst us makes an invaluable addition to our
exhausted sources of amusement. Well, the question, or questions,
you are requested to solve - '
'Hold your tongue, Fergus!' cried Rose, in a fever of apprehension
'I won't, I tell you. The questions you are requested to solve are
these:- First, concerning your birth, extraction, and previous
residence. Some will have it that you are a foreigner, and some an
Englishwoman; some a native of the north country, and some of the
south; some say - '
'Well, Mr. Fergus, I'll tell you. I'm an Englishwoman - and I
don't see why any one should doubt it - and I was born in the
country, neither in the extreme north nor south of our happy isle;
and in the country I have chiefly passed my life, and now I hope
you are satisfied; for I am not disposed to answer any more
questions at present.'
'Except this - '
'No, not one more!' laughed she, and, instantly quitting her seat,
she sought refuge at the window by which I was seated, and, in very
desperation, to escape my brother's persecutions, endeavoured to
draw me into conversation.
'Mr. Markham,' said she, her rapid utterance and heightened colour
too plainly evincing her disquietude, 'have you forgotten the fine
sea-view we were speaking of some time ago? I think I must trouble
you, now, to tell me the nearest way to it; for if this beautiful
weather continue, I shall, perhaps, be able to walk there, and take
my sketch; I have exhausted every other subject for painting; and I
long to see it.'
I was about to comply with her request, but Rose would not suffer
me to proceed.
'Oh, don't tell her, Gilbert!' cried she; 'she shall go with us.
It's - Bay you are thinking about, I suppose, Mrs. Graham? It is a
very long walk, too far for you, and out of the question for
Arthur. But we were thinking about making a picnic to see it some
fine day; and, if you will wait till the settled fine weather
comes, I'm sure we shall all be delighted to have you amongst us.'
Poor Mrs. Graham looked dismayed, and attempted to make excuses,
but Rose, either compassionating her lonely life, or anxious to
cultivate her acquaintance, was determined to have her; and every
objection was overruled. She was told it would only be a small
party, and all friends, and that the best view of all was from -
Cliffs, full five miles distant.
'Just a nice walk for the gentlemen,' continued Rose; 'but the
ladies will drive and walk by turns; for we shall have our pony-
carriage, which will be plenty large enough to contain little
Arthur and three ladies, together with your sketching apparatus,
and our provisions.'
So the proposal was finally acceded to; and, after some further
discussion respecting the time and manner of the projected
excursion, we rose, and took our leave.
But this was only March: a cold, wet April, and two weeks of May
passed over before we could venture forth on our expedition with
the reasonable hope of obtaining that pleasure we sought in
pleasant prospects, cheerful society, fresh air, good cheer and
exercise, without the alloy of bad roads, cold winds, or
threatening clouds. Then, on a glorious morning, we gathered our
forces and set forth. The company consisted of Mrs. and Master
Graham, Mary and Eliza Millward, Jane and Richard Wilson, and Rose,
Fergus, and Gilbert Markham.
Mr. Lawrence had been invited to join us, but, for some reason best
known to himself, had refused to give us his company. I had
solicited the favour myself. When I did so, he hesitated, and
asked who were going. Upon my naming Miss Wilson among the rest,
he seemed half inclined to go, but when I mentioned Mrs. Graham,
thinking it might be a further inducement, it appeared to have a
contrary effect, and he declined it altogether, and, to confess the
truth, the decision was not displeasing to me, though I could
scarcely tell you why.
It was about midday when we reached the place of our destination.
Mrs. Graham walked all the way to the cliffs; and little Arthur
walked the greater part of it too; for he was now much more hardy
and active than when he first entered the neighbourhood, and he did
not like being in the carriage with strangers, while all his four
friends, mamma, and Sancho, and Mr. Markham, and Miss Millward,
were on foot, journeying far behind, or passing through distant
fields and lanes.
I have a very pleasant recollection of that walk, along the hard,
white, sunny road, shaded here and there with bright green trees,
and adorned with flowery banks and blossoming hedges of delicious
fragrance; or through pleasant fields and lanes, all glorious in
the sweet flowers and brilliant verdure of delightful May. It was
true, Eliza was not beside me; but she was with her friends in the
pony-carriage, as happy, I trusted, as I was; and even when we
pedestrians, having forsaken the highway for a short cut across the
fields, beheld the little carriage far away, disappearing amid the
green, embowering trees, I did not hate those trees for snatching
the dear little bonnet and shawl from my sight, nor did I feel that
all those intervening objects lay between my happiness and me; for,
to confess the truth, I was too happy in the company of Mrs. Graham
to regret the absence of Eliza, Millward.
The former, it is true, was most provokingly unsociable at first -
seemingly bent upon talking to no one but Mary Millward and Arthur.
She and Mary journeyed along together, generally with the child
between them; - but where the road permitted, I always walked on
the other side of her, Richard Wilson taking the other side of Miss
Millward, and Fergus roving here and there according to his fancy;
and, after a while, she became more friendly, and at length I
succeeded in securing her attention almost entirely to myself - and
then I was happy indeed; for whenever she did condescend to
converse, I liked to listen. Where her opinions and sentiments
tallied with mine, it was her extreme good sense, her exquisite
taste and feeling, that delighted me; where they differed, it was
still her uncompromising boldness in the avowal or defence of that
difference, her earnestness and keenness, that piqued my fancy:
and even when she angered me by her unkind words or looks, and her
uncharitable conclusions respecting me, it only made me the more
dissatisfied with myself for having so unfavourably impressed her,
and the more desirous to vindicate my character and disposition in
her eyes, and, if possible, to win her esteem.
At length our walk was ended. The increasing height and boldness
of the hills had for some time intercepted the prospect; but, on
gaining the summit of a steep acclivity, and looking downward, an
opening lay before us - and the blue sea burst upon our sight! -
deep violet blue - not deadly calm, but covered with glinting
breakers - diminutive white specks twinkling on its bosom, and
scarcely to be distinguished, by the keenest vision, from the
little seamews that sported above, their white wings glittering in
the sunshine: only one or two vessels were visible, and those were
I looked at my companion to see what she thought of this glorious
scene. She said nothing: but she stood still, and fixed her eyes
upon it with a gaze that assured me she was not disappointed. She
had very fine eyes, by-the-by - I don't know whether I have told
you before, but they were full of soul, large, clear, and nearly
black - not brown, but very dark grey. A cool, reviving breeze
blew from the sea - soft, pure, salubrious: it waved her drooping
ringlets, and imparted a livelier colour to her usually too pallid
lip and cheek. She felt its exhilarating influence, and so did I -
I felt it tingling through my frame, but dared not give way to it
while she remained so quiet. There was an aspect of subdued
exhilaration in her face, that kindled into almost a smile of
exalted, glad intelligence as her eye met mine. Never had she
looked so lovely: never had my heart so warmly cleaved to her as
now. Had we been left two minutes longer standing there alone, I
cannot answer for the consequences. Happily for my discretion,
perhaps for my enjoyment during the remainder of the day, we were
speedily summoned to the repast - a very respectable collation,
which Rose, assisted by Miss Wilson and Eliza, who, having shared
her seat in the carriage, had arrived with her a little before the
rest, had set out upon an elevated platform overlooking the sea,
and sheltered from the hot sun by a shelving rock and overhanging
Mrs. Graham seated herself at a distance from me. Eliza was my
nearest neighbour. She exerted herself to be agreeable, in her
gentle, unobtrusive way, and was, no doubt, as fascinating and
charming as ever, if I could only have felt it. But soon my heart
began to warm towards her once again; and we were all very merry
and happy together - as far as I could see - throughout the
protracted social meal.
When that was over, Rose summoned Fergus to help her to gather up
the fragments, and the knives, dishes, &c., and restore them to the
baskets; and Mrs. Graham took her camp-stool and drawing materials;
and having begged Miss Millward to take charge of her precious son,
and strictly enjoined him not to wander from his new guardian's
side, she left us and proceeded along the steep, stony hill, to a
loftier, more precipitous eminence at some distance, whence a still
finer prospect was to be had, where she preferred taking her
sketch, though some of the ladies told her it was a frightful
place, and advised her not to attempt it.
When she was gone, I felt as if there was to be no more fun -
though it is difficult to say what she had contributed to the
hilarity of the party. No jests, and little laughter, had escaped
her lips; but her smile had animated my mirth; a keen observation
or a cheerful word from her had insensibly sharpened my wits, and
thrown an interest over all that was done and said by the rest.
Even my conversation with Eliza had been enlivened by her presence,
though I knew it not; and now that she was gone, Eliza's playful
nonsense ceased to amuse me - nay, grew wearisome to my soul, and I
grew weary of amusing her: I felt myself drawn by an irresistible
attraction to that distant point where the fair artist sat and
plied her solitary task - and not long did I attempt to resist it:
while my little neighbour was exchanging a few words with Miss
Wilson, I rose and cannily slipped away. A few rapid strides, and
a little active clambering, soon brought me to the place where she
was seated - a narrow ledge of rock at the very verge of the cliff,
which descended with a steep, precipitous slant, quite down to the
She did not hear me coming: the falling of my shadow across her
paper gave her an electric start; and she looked hastily round -
any other lady of my acquaintance would have screamed under such a
'Oh! I didn't know it was you. - Why did you startle me so?' said
she, somewhat testily. 'I hate anybody to come upon me so
'Why, what did you take me for?' said I: 'if I had known you were
so nervous, I would have been more cautious; but - '
'Well, never mind. What did you come for? are they all coming?'
'No; this little ledge could scarcely contain them all.'
'I'm glad, for I'm tired of talking.'
'Well, then, I won't talk. I'll only sit and watch your drawing.'
'Oh, but you know I don't like that.'
'Then I'll content myself with admiring this magnificent prospect.'
She made no objection to this; and, for some time, sketched away in
silence. But I could not help stealing a glance, now and then,
from the splendid view at our feet to the elegant white hand that
held the pencil, and the graceful neck and glossy raven curls that
drooped over the paper.
'Now,' thought I, 'if I had but a pencil and a morsel of paper, I
could make a lovelier sketch than hers, admitting I had the power
to delineate faithfully what is before me.'
But, though this satisfaction was denied me, I was very well
content to sit beside her there, and say nothing.
'Are you there still, Mr. Markham?' said she at length, looking
round upon me - for I was seated a little behind on a mossy
projection of the cliff. - 'Why don't you go and amuse yourself
with your friends?'
'Because I am tired of them, like you; and I shall have enough of
them to-morrow - or at any time hence; but you I may not have the
pleasure of seeing again for I know not how long.'
'What was Arthur doing when you came away?'
'He was with Miss Millward, where you left him - all right, but
hoping mamma would not be long away. You didn't intrust him to me,
by-the-by,' I grumbled, 'though I had the honour of a much longer
acquaintance; but Miss Millward has the art of conciliating and
amusing children,' I carelessly added, 'if she is good for nothing
'Miss Millward has many estimable qualities, which such as you
cannot be expected to perceive or appreciate. Will you tell Arthur
that I shall come in a few minutes?'
'If that be the case, I will wait, with your permission, till those
few minutes are past; and then I can assist you to descend this
'Thank you - I always manage best, on such occasions, without
'But, at least, I can carry your stool and sketch-book.'
She did not deny me this favour; but I was rather offended at her
evident desire to be rid of me, and was beginning to repent of my
pertinacity, when she somewhat appeased me by consulting my taste
and judgment about some doubtful matter in her drawing. My
opinion, happily, met her approbation, and the improvement I
suggested was adopted without hesitation.
'I have often wished in vain,' said she, 'for another's judgment to
appeal to when I could scarcely trust the direction of my own eye
and head, they having been so long occupied with the contemplation
of a single object as to become almost incapable of forming a
proper idea respecting it.'
'That,' replied I, 'is only one of many evils to which a solitary
life exposes us.'
'True,' said she; and again we relapsed into silence.
About two minutes after, however, she declared her sketch
completed, and closed the book.
On returning to the scene of our repast we found all the company
had deserted it, with the exception of three - Mary Millward,
Richard Wilson, and Arthur Graham. The younger gentleman lay fast
asleep with his head pillowed on the lady's lap; the other was
seated beside her with a pocket edition of some classic author in
his hand. He never went anywhere without such a companion
wherewith to improve his leisure moments: all time seemed lost
that was not devoted to study, or exacted, by his physical nature,
for the bare support of life. Even now he could not abandon
himself to the enjoyment of that pure air and balmy sunshine - that
splendid prospect, and those soothing sounds, the music of the
waves and of the soft wind in the sheltering trees above him - not
even with a lady by his side (though not a very charming one, I
will allow) - he must pull out his book, and make the most of his
time while digesting his temperate meal, and reposing his weary
limbs, unused to so much exercise.
Perhaps, however, he spared a moment to exchange a word or a glance
with his companion now and then - at any rate, she did not appear
at all resentful of his conduct; for her homely features wore an
expression of unusual cheerfulness and serenity, and she was
studying his pale, thoughtful face with great complacency when we
The journey homeward was by no means so agreeable to me as the
former part of the day: for now Mrs. Graham was in the carriage,
and Eliza Millward was the companion of my walk. She had observed
my preference for the young widow, and evidently felt herself
neglected. She did not manifest her chagrin by keen reproaches,
bitter sarcasms, or pouting sullen silence - any or all of these I
could easily have endured, or lightly laughed away; but she showed
it by a kind of gentle melancholy, a mild, reproachful sadness that
cut me to the heart. I tried to cheer her up, and apparently
succeeded in some degree, before the walk was over; but in the very
act my conscience reproved me, knowing, as I did, that, sooner or
later, the tie must be broken, and this was only nourishing false
hopes and putting off the evil day.
When the pony-carriage had approached as near Wildfell Hall as the
road would permit - unless, indeed, it proceeded up the long rough
lane, which Mrs. Graham would not allow - the young widow and her
son alighted, relinquishing the driver's seat to Rose; and I
persuaded Eliza to take the latter's place. Having put her
comfortably in, bid her take care of the evening air, and wished
her a kind good-night, I felt considerably relieved, and hastened
to offer my services to Mrs. Graham to carry her apparatus up the
fields, but she had already hung her camp-stool on her arm and
taken her sketch-book in her hand, and insisted upon bidding me
adieu then and there, with the rest of the company. But this time
she declined my proffered aid in so kind and friendly a manner that
I almost forgave her.
Six weeks had passed away. It was a splendid morning about the
close of June. Most of the hay was cut, but the last week had been
very unfavourable; and now that fine weather was come at last,
being determined to make the most of it, I had gathered all hands
together into the hay-field, and was working away myself, in the
midst of them, in my shirt-sleeves, with a light, shady straw hat
on my head, catching up armfuls of moist, reeking grass, and
shaking it out to the four winds of heaven, at the head of a goodly
file of servants and hirelings - intending so to labour, from
morning till night, with as much zeal and assiduity as I could look
for from any of them, as well to prosper the work by my own
exertion as to animate the workers by my example - when lo! my
resolutions were overthrown in a moment, by the simple fact of my
brother's running up to me and putting into my hand a small parcel,
just arrived from London, which I had been for some time expecting.
I tore off the cover, and disclosed an elegant and portable edition
'I guess I know who that's for,' said Fergus, who stood looking on
while I complacently examined the volume. 'That's for Miss Eliza,
He pronounced this with a tone and look so prodigiously knowing,
that I was glad to contradict him.
'You're wrong, my lad,' said I; and, taking up my coat, I deposited
the book in one of its pockets, and then put it on (i.e. the coat).
'Now come here, you idle dog, and make yourself useful for once,' I
continued. 'Pull off your coat, and take my place in the field
till I come back.'
'Till you come back? - and where are you going, pray?
'No matter where - the when is all that concerns you; - and I shall
be back by dinner, at least.'
'Oh - oh! and I'm to labour away till then, am I? - and to keep all
these fellows hard at it besides? Well, well! I'll submit - for
once in a way. - Come, my lads, you must look sharp: I'm come to
help you now:- and woe be to that man, or woman either, that pauses
for a moment amongst you - whether to stare about him, to scratch
his head, or blow his nose - no pretext will serve - nothing but
work, work, work in the sweat of your face,' &c., &c.
Leaving him thus haranguing the people, more to their amusement
than edification, I returned to the house, and, having made some
alteration in my toilet, hastened away to Wildfell Hall, with the
book in my pocket; for it was destined for the shelves of Mrs.
'What! then had she and you got on so well together as to come to
the giving and receiving of presents?' - Not precisely, old buck;
this was my first experiment in that line; and I was very anxious
to see the result of it.
We had met several times since the - Bay excursion, and I had found
she was not averse to my company, provided I confined my
conversation to the discussion of abstract matters, or topics of
common interest; - the moment I touched upon the sentimental or the
complimentary, or made the slightest approach to tenderness in word
or look, I was not only punished by an immediate change in her
manner at the time, but doomed to find her more cold and distant,
if not entirely inaccessible, when next I sought her company. This
circumstance did not greatly disconcert me, however, because I
attributed it, not so much to any dislike of my person, as to some
absolute resolution against a second marriage formed prior to the
time of our acquaintance, whether from excess of affection for her
late husband, or because she had had enough of him and the
matrimonial state together. At first, indeed, she had seemed to
take a pleasure in mortifying my vanity and crushing my presumption
- relentlessly nipping off bud by bud as they ventured to appear;
and then, I confess, I was deeply wounded, though, at the same
time, stimulated to seek revenge; - but latterly finding, beyond a
doubt, that I was not that empty-headed coxcomb she had first
supposed me, she had repulsed my modest advances in quite a
different spirit. It was a kind of serious, almost sorrowful
displeasure, which I soon learnt carefully to avoid awakening.
'Let me first establish my position as a friend,' thought I - 'the
patron and playfellow of her son, the sober, solid, plain-dealing
friend of herself, and then, when I have made myself fairly
necessary to her comfort and enjoyment in life (as I believe I
can), we'll see what next may be effected.'
So we talked about painting, poetry, and music, theology, geology,
and philosophy: once or twice I lent her a book, and once she lent
me one in return: I met her in her walks as often as I could; I
came to her house as often as I dared. My first pretext for
invading the sanctum was to bring Arthur a little waddling puppy of
which Sancho was the father, and which delighted the child beyond
expression, and, consequently, could not fail to please his mamma.
My second was to bring him a book, which, knowing his mother's
particularity, I had carefully selected, and which I submitted for
her approbation before presenting it to him. Then, I brought her
some plants for her garden, in my sister's name - having previously
persuaded Rose to send them. Each of these times I inquired after
the picture she was painting from the sketch taken on the cliff,
and was admitted into the studio, and asked my opinion or advice
respecting its progress.
My last visit had been to return the book she had lent me; and then
it was that, in casually discussing the poetry of Sir Walter Scott,
she had expressed a wish to see 'Marmion,' and I had conceived the
presumptuous idea of making her a present of it, and, on my return
home, instantly sent for the smart little volume I had this morning
received. But an apology for invading the hermitage was still
necessary; so I had furnished myself with a blue morocco collar for
Arthur's little dog; and that being given and received, with much
more joy and gratitude, on the part of the receiver, than the worth
of the gift or the selfish motive of the giver deserved, I ventured
to ask Mrs. Graham for one more look at the picture, if it was
'Oh, yes! come in,' said she (for I had met them in the garden).
'It is finished and framed, all ready for sending away; but give me
your last opinion, and if you can suggest any further improvement,
it shall be - duly considered, at least.'
The picture was strikingly beautiful; it was the very scene itself,
transferred as if by magic to the canvas; but I expressed my
approbation in guarded terms, and few words, for fear of
displeasing her. She, however, attentively watched my looks, and
her artist's pride was gratified, no doubt, to read my heartfelt
admiration in my eyes. But, while I gazed, I thought upon the
book, and wondered how it was to be presented. My heart failed me;
but I determined not to be such a fool as to come away without
having made the attempt. It was useless waiting for an
opportunity, and useless trying to concoct a speech for the
occasion. The more plainly and naturally the thing was done, the
better, I thought; so I just looked out of the window to screw up
my courage, and then pulled out the book, turned round, and put it
into her hand, with this short explanation:
'You were wishing to see 'Marmion,' Mrs. Graham; and here it is, if
you will be so kind as to take it.'
A momentary blush suffused her face - perhaps, a blush of
sympathetic shame for such an awkward style of presentation: she
gravely examined the volume on both sides; then silently turned
over the leaves, knitting her brows the while, in serious
cogitation; then closed the book, and turning from it to me,
quietly asked the price of it - I felt the hot blood rush to my
'I'm sorry to offend you, Mr. Markham,' said she, 'but unless I pay
for the book, I cannot take it.' And she laid it on the table.
'Why cannot you?'
'Because,' - she paused, and looked at the carpet.
'Why cannot you?' I repeated, with a degree of irascibility that
roused her to lift her eyes and look me steadily in the face.
'Because I don't like to put myself under obligations that I can
never repay - I am obliged to you already for your kindness to my
son; but his grateful affection and your own good feelings must
reward you for that.'
'Nonsense!' ejaculated I.
She turned her eyes on me again, with a look of quiet, grave
surprise, that had the effect of a rebuke, whether intended for
such or not.
'Then you won't take the book?' I asked, more mildly than I had yet
'I will gladly take it, if you will let me pay for it.' I told her
the exact price, and the cost of the carriage besides, in as calm a
tone as I could command - for, in fact, I was ready to weep with
disappointment and vexation.
She produced her purse, and coolly counted out the money, but
hesitated to put it into my hand. Attentively regarding me, in a
tone of soothing softness, she observed, - 'You think yourself
insulted, Mr Markham - I wish I could make you understand that -
that I - '
'I do understand you, perfectly,' I said. 'You think that if you
were to accept that trifle from me now, I should presume upon it
hereafter; but you are mistaken:- if you will only oblige me by
taking it, believe me, I shall build no hopes upon it, and consider
this no precedent for future favours:- and it is nonsense to talk
about putting yourself under obligations to me when you must know
that in such a case the obligation is entirely on my side, - the
favour on yours.'
'Well, then, I'll take you at your word,' she answered, with a most
angelic smile, returning the odious money to her purse - 'but
'I will remember - what I have said; - but do not you punish my
presumption by withdrawing your friendship entirely from me, - or
expect me to atone for it by being more distant than before,' said
I, extending my hand to take leave, for I was too much excited to
'Well, then! let us be as we were,' replied she, frankly placing
her hand in mine; and while I held it there, I had much difficulty
to refrain from pressing it to my lips; - but that would be
suicidal madness: I had been bold enough already, and this
premature offering had well-nigh given the death-blow to my hopes.
It was with an agitated, burning heart and brain that I hurried
homewards, regardless of that scorching noonday sun - forgetful of
everything but her I had just left - regretting nothing but her
impenetrability, and my own precipitancy and want of tact - fearing
nothing but her hateful resolution, and my inability to overcome it
- hoping nothing - but halt, - I will not bore you with my
conflicting hopes and fears - my serious cogitations and resolves.
Though my affections might now be said to be fairly weaned from
Eliza Millward, I did not yet entirely relinquish my visits to the
vicarage, because I wanted, as it were, to let her down easy;
without raising much sorrow, or incurring much resentment, - or
making myself the talk of the parish; and besides, if I had wholly
kept away, the vicar, who looked upon my visits as paid chiefly, if
not entirely, to himself, would have felt himself decidedly
affronted by the neglect. But when I called there the day after my
interview with Mrs. Graham, he happened to be from home - a
circumstance by no means so agreeable to me now as it had been on
former occasions. Miss Millward was there, it is true, but she, of
course, would be little better than a nonentity. However, I
resolved to make my visit a short one, and to talk to Eliza in a
brotherly, friendly sort of way, such as our long acquaintance
might warrant me in assuming, and which, I thought, could neither
give offence nor serve to encourage false hopes.
It was never my custom to talk about Mrs. Graham either to her or
any one else; but I had not been seated three minutes before she
brought that lady on to the carpet herself in a rather remarkable
'Oh, Mr. Markham!' said she, with a shocked expression and voice
subdued almost to a whisper, 'what do you think of these shocking
reports about Mrs. Graham? - can you encourage us to disbelieve
'Ah, now! you know!' she slily smiled and shook her head.
'I know nothing about them. What in the world do you mean, Eliza?'
'Oh, don't ask me! I can't explain it.' She took up the cambric
handkerchief which she had been beautifying with a deep lace
border, and began to be very busy.
'What is it, Miss Millward? what does she mean?' said I, appealing
to her sister, who seemed to be absorbed in the hemming of a large,
'I don't know,' replied she. 'Some idle slander somebody has been
inventing, I suppose. I never heard it till Eliza told me the
other day, - but if all the parish dinned it in my ears, I
shouldn't believe a word of it - I know Mrs. Graham too well!'
'Quite right, Miss Millward! - and so do I - whatever it may be.'
'Well,' observed Eliza, with a gentle sigh, 'it's well to have such
a comfortable assurance regarding the worth of those we love. I
only wish you may not find your confidence misplaced.'
And she raised her face, and gave me such a look of sorrowful
tenderness as might have melted my heart, but within those eyes
there lurked a something that I did not like; and I wondered how I
ever could have admired them - her sister's honest face and small
grey optics appeared far more agreeable. But I was out of temper
with Eliza at that moment for her insinuations against Mrs. Graham,
which were false, I was certain, whether she knew it or not.
I said nothing more on the subject, however, at the time, and but
little on any other; for, finding I could not well recover my
equanimity, I presently rose and took leave, excusing myself under
the plea of business at the farm; and to the farm I went, not
troubling my mind one whit about the possible truth of these
mysterious reports, but only wondering what they were, by whom
originated, and on what foundations raised, and how they could the
most effectually be silenced or disproved.
A few days after this we had another of our quiet little parties,
to which the usual company of friends and neighbours had been
invited, and Mrs. Graham among the number. She could not now
absent herself under the plea of dark evenings or inclement
weather, and, greatly to my relief, she came. Without her I should
have found the whole affair an intolerable bore; but the moment of
her arrival brought new life to the house, and though I might not
neglect the other guests for her, or expect to engross much of her
attention and conversation to myself alone, I anticipated an
evening of no common enjoyment.
Mr. Lawrence came too. He did not arrive till some time after the
rest were assembled. I was curious to see how he would comport
himself to Mrs. Graham. A slight bow was all that passed between
them on his entrance; and having politely greeted the other members
of the company, he seated himself quite aloof from the young widow,
between my mother and Rose.
'Did you ever see such art?' whispered Eliza, who was my nearest
neighbour. 'Would you not say they were perfect strangers?'
'Almost; but what then?'
'What then; why, you can't pretend to be ignorant?'
'Ignorant of what?' demanded I, so sharply that she started and
'Oh, hush! don't speak so loud.'
'Well, tell me then,' I answered in a lower tone, 'what is it you
mean? I hate enigmas.'
'Well, you know, I don't vouch for the truth of it - indeed, far
from it - but haven't you heard -?'
'I've heard nothing, except from you.'
'You must be wilfully deaf then, for anyone will tell you that; but
I shall only anger you by repeating it, I see, so I had better hold
She closed her lips and folded her hands before her, with an air of
'If you had wished not to anger me, you should have held your
tongue from the beginning, or else spoken out plainly and honestly
all you had to say.'
She turned aside her face, pulled out her handkerchief, rose, and
went to the window, where she stood for some time, evidently
dissolved in tears. I was astounded, provoked, ashamed - not so
much of my harshness as for her childish weakness. However, no one
seemed to notice her, and shortly after we were summoned to the
tea-table: in those parts it was customary to sit to the table at
tea-time on all occasions, and make a meal of it, for we dined
early. On taking my seat, I had Rose on one side of me and an
empty chair on the other.
'May I sit by you?' said a soft voice at my elbow.
'If you like,' was the reply; and Eliza slipped into the vacant
chair; then, looking up in my face with a half-sad, half-playful
smile, she whispered, - 'You're so stern, Gilbert.'
I handed down her tea with a slightly contemptuous smile, and said
nothing, for I had nothing to say.
'What have I done to offend you?' said she, more plaintively. 'I
wish I knew.'
'Come, take your tea, Eliza, and don't be foolish,' responded I,
handing her the sugar and cream.
Just then there arose a slight commotion on the other side of me,
occasioned by Miss Wilson's coming to negotiate an exchange of
seats with Rose.
'Will you be so good as to exchange places with me, Miss Markham?'
said she; 'for I don't like to sit by Mrs. Graham. If your mamma
thinks proper to invite such persons to her house, she cannot
object to her daughter's keeping company with them.'
This latter clause was added in a sort of soliloquy when Rose was
gone; but I was not polite enough to let it pass.
'Will you be so good as to tell me what you mean, Miss Wilson?'
The question startled her a little, but not much.
'Why, Mr. Markham,' replied she, coolly, having quickly recovered
her self-possession, 'it surprises me rather that Mrs. Markham
should invite such a person as Mrs. Graham to her house; but,
perhaps, she is not aware that the lady's character is considered
'She is not, nor am I; and therefore you would oblige me by
explaining your meaning a little further.'
'This is scarcely the time or the place for such explanations; but
I think you can hardly be so ignorant as you pretend - you must
know her as well as I do.'
'I think I do, perhaps a little better; and therefore, if you will
inform me what you have heard or imagined against her, I shall,
perhaps, be able to set you right.'
'Can you tell me, then, who was her husband, or if she ever had
Indignation kept me silent. At such a time and place I could not
trust myself to answer.
'Have you never observed,' said Eliza, 'what a striking likeness
there is between that child of hers and - '
'And whom?' demanded Miss Wilson, with an air of cold, but keen
Eliza was startled; the timidly spoken suggestion had been intended
for my ear alone.
'Oh, I beg your pardon!' pleaded she; 'I may be mistaken - perhaps
I was mistaken.' But she accompanied the words with a sly glance
of derision directed to me from the corner of her disingenuous eye.
'There's no need to ask my pardon,' replied her friend, 'but I see
no one here that at all resembles that child, except his mother,
and when you hear ill-natured reports, Miss Eliza, I will thank
you, that is, I think you will do well, to refrain from repeating
them. I presume the person you allude to is Mr. Lawrence; but I
think I can assure you that your suspicions, in that respect, are
utterly misplaced; and if he has any particular connection with the
lady at all (which no one has a right to assert), at least he has
(what cannot be said of some others) sufficient sense of propriety
to withhold him from acknowledging anything more than a bowing
acquaintance in the presence of respectable persons; he was
evidently both surprised and annoyed to find her here.'
'Go it!' cried Fergus, who sat on the other side of Eliza, and was
the only individual who shared that side of the table with us. 'Go
it like bricks! mind you don't leave her one stone upon another.'
Miss Wilson drew herself up with a look of freezing scorn, but said
nothing. Eliza would have replied, but I interrupted her by saying
as calmly as I could, though in a tone which betrayed, no doubt,
some little of what I felt within, - 'We have had enough of this
subject; if we can only speak to slander our betters, let us hold
'I think you'd better,' observed Fergus, 'and so does our good
parson; he has been addressing the company in his richest vein all
the while, and eyeing you, from time to time, with looks of stern
distaste, while you sat there, irreverently whispering and
muttering together; and once he paused in the middle of a story or
a sermon, I don't know which, and fixed his eyes upon you, Gilbert,
as much as to say, "When Mr. Markham has done flirting with those
two ladies I will proceed."'
What more was said at the tea-table I cannot tell, nor how I found
patience to sit till the meal was over. I remember, however, that
I swallowed with difficulty the remainder of the tea that was in my
cup, and ate nothing; and that the first thing I did was to stare
at Arthur Graham, who sat beside his mother on the opposite side of
the table, and the second to stare at Mr. Lawrence, who sat below;
and, first, it struck me that there was a likeness; but, on further
contemplation, I concluded it was only in imagination.
Both, it is true, had more delicate features and smaller bones than
commonly fall to the lot of individuals of the rougher sex, and
Lawrence's complexion was pale and clear, and Arthur's delicately
fair; but Arthur's tiny, somewhat snubby nose could never become so
long and straight as Mr. Lawrence's; and the outline of his face,
though not full enough to be round, and too finely converging to
the small, dimpled chin to be square, could never be drawn out to
the long oval of the other's, while the child's hair was evidently
of a lighter, warmer tint than the elder gentleman's had ever been,
and his large, clear blue eyes, though prematurely serious at
times, were utterly dissimilar to the shy hazel eyes of Mr.
Lawrence, whence the sensitive soul looked so distrustfully forth,
as ever ready to retire within, from the offences of a too rude,
too uncongenial world. Wretch that I was to harbour that
detestable idea for a moment! Did I not know Mrs. Graham? Had I
not seen her, conversed with her time after time? Was I not
certain that she, in intellect, in purity and elevation of soul,
was immeasurably superior to any of her detractors; that she was,
in fact, the noblest, the most adorable, of her sex I had ever
beheld, or even imagined to exist? Yes, and I would say with Mary
Millward (sensible girl as she was), that if all the parish, ay, or
all the world, should din these horrible lies in my ears, I would
not believe them, for I knew her better than they.
Meantime, my brain was on fire with indignation, and my heart
seemed ready to burst from its prison with conflicting passions. I
regarded my two fair neighbours with a feeling of abhorrence and
loathing I scarcely endeavoured to conceal. I was rallied from
several quarters for my abstraction and ungallant neglect of the
ladies; but I cared little for that: all I cared about, besides
that one grand subject of my thoughts, was to see the cups travel
up to the tea-tray, and not come down again. I thought Mr.
Millward never would cease telling us that he was no tea-drinker,
and that it was highly injurious to keep loading the stomach with
slops to the exclusion of more wholesome sustenance, and so give
himself time to finish his fourth cup.
At length it was over; and I rose and left the table and the guests
without a word of apology - I could endure their company no longer.
I rushed out to cool my brain in the balmy evening air, and to
compose my mind or indulge my passionate thoughts in the solitude
of the garden.
To avoid being seen from the windows I went down a quiet little
avenue that skirted one side of the inclosure, at the bottom of
which was a seat embowered in roses and honeysuckles. Here I sat
down to think over the virtues and wrongs of the lady of Wildfell
Hall; but I had not been so occupied two minutes, before voices and
laughter, and glimpses of moving objects through the trees,
informed me that the whole company had turned out to take an airing
in the garden too. However, I nestled up in a corner of the bower,
and hoped to retain possession of it, secure alike from observation
and intrusion. But no - confound it - there was some one coming
down the avenue! Why couldn't they enjoy the flowers and sunshine
of the open garden, and leave that sunless nook to me, and the
gnats and midges?
But, peeping through my fragrant screen of the interwoven branches
to discover who the intruders were (for a murmur of voices told me
it was more than one), my vexation instantly subsided, and far
other feelings agitated my still unquiet soul; for there was Mrs.
Graham, slowly moving down the walk with Arthur by her side, and no
one else. Why were they alone? Had the poison of detracting
tongues already spread through all; and had they all turned their
backs upon her? I now recollected having seen Mrs. Wilson, in the
early part of the evening, edging her chair close up to my mother,
and bending forward, evidently in the delivery of some important
confidential intelligence; and from the incessant wagging of her
head, the frequent distortions of her wrinkled physiognomy, and the
winking and malicious twinkle of her little ugly eyes, I judged it
was some spicy piece of scandal that engaged her powers; and from
the cautious privacy of the communication I supposed some person
then present was the luckless object of her calumnies: and from
all these tokens, together with my mother's looks and gestures of
mingled horror and incredulity, I now concluded that object to have
been Mrs. Graham. I did not emerge from my place of concealment
till she had nearly reached the bottom of the walk, lest my
appearance should drive her away; and when I did step forward she
stood still and seemed inclined to turn back as it was.
'Oh, don't let us disturb you, Mr. Markham!' said she. 'We came
here to seek retirement ourselves, not to intrude on your
'I am no hermit, Mrs. Graham - though I own it looks rather like it
to absent myself in this uncourteous fashion from my guests.'
'I feared you were unwell,' said she, with a look of real concern.
'I was rather, but it's over now. Do sit here a little and rest,
and tell me how you like this arbour,' said I, and, lifting Arthur
by the shoulders, I planted him in the middle of the seat by way of
securing his mamma, who, acknowledging it to be a tempting place of
refuge, threw herself back in one corner, while I took possession
of the other.
But that word refuge disturbed me. Had their unkindness then
really driven her to seek for peace in solitude?
'Why have they left you alone?' I asked.
'It is I who have left them,' was the smiling rejoinder. 'I was
wearied to death with small talk - nothing wears me out like that.
I cannot imagine how they can go on as they do.'
I could not help smiling at the serious depth of her wonderment.
'Is it that they think it a duty to be continually talking,'
pursued she: 'and so never pause to think, but fill up with
aimless trifles and vain repetitions when subjects of real interest
fail to present themselves, or do they really take a pleasure in
'Very likely they do,' said I; 'their shallow minds can hold no
great ideas, and their light heads are carried away by trivialities
that would not move a better-furnished skull; and their only
alternative to such discourse is to plunge over head and ears into
the slough of scandal - which is their chief delight.'
'Not all of them, surely?' cried the lady, astonished at the
bitterness of my remark.
'No, certainly; I exonerate my sister from such degraded tastes,
and my mother too, if you included her in your animadversions.'
'I meant no animadversions against any one, and certainly intended
no disrespectful allusions to your mother. I have known some
sensible persons great adepts in that style of conversation when
circumstances impelled them to it; but it is a gift I cannot boast
the possession of. I kept up my attention on this occasion as long
as I could, but when my powers were exhausted I stole away to seek
a few minutes' repose in this quiet walk. I hate talking where
there is no exchange of ideas or sentiments, and no good given or
'Well,' said I, 'if ever I trouble you with my loquacity, tell me
so at once, and I promise not to be offended; for I possess the
faculty of enjoying the company of those I - of my friends as well
in silence as in conversation.'
'I don't quite believe you; but if it were so you would exactly
suit me for a companion.'
'I am all you wish, then, in other respects?'
'No, I don't mean that. How beautiful those little clusters of
foliage look, where the sun comes through behind them!' said she,
on purpose to change the subject.
And they did look beautiful, where at intervals the level rays of
the sun penetrating the thickness of trees and shrubs on the
opposite side of the path before us, relieved their dusky verdure
by displaying patches of semi-transparent leaves of resplendent
'I almost wish I were not a painter,' observed my companion.
'Why so? one would think at such a time you would most exult in
your privilege of being able to imitate the various brilliant and
delightful touches of nature.'
'No; for instead of delivering myself up to the full enjoyment of
them as others do, I am always troubling my head about how I could
produce the same effect upon canvas; and as that can never be done,
it is more vanity and vexation of spirit.'
'Perhaps you cannot do it to satisfy yourself, but you may and do
succeed in delighting others with the result of your endeavours.'
'Well, after all, I should not complain: perhaps few people gain
their livelihood with so much pleasure in their toil as I do. Here
is some one coming.'
She seemed vexed at the interruption.
'It is only Mr. Lawrence and Miss Wilson,' said I, 'coming to enjoy
a quiet stroll. They will not disturb us.'
I could not quite decipher the expression of her face; but I was
satisfied there was no jealousy therein. What business had I to
look for it?
'What sort of a person is Miss Wilson?' she asked.
'She is elegant and accomplished above the generality of her birth
and station; and some say she is ladylike and agreeable.'
'I thought her somewhat frigid and rather supercilious in her
'Very likely she might be so to you. She has possibly taken a
prejudice against you, for I think she regards you in the light of
'Me! Impossible, Mr. Markham!' said she, evidently astonished and
'Well, I know nothing about it,' returned I, rather doggedly; for I
thought her annoyance was chiefly against myself.
The pair had now approached within a few paces of us. Our arbour
was set snugly back in a corner, before which the avenue at its
termination turned off into the more airy walk along the bottom of
the garden. As they approached this, I saw, by the aspect of Jane
Wilson, that she was directing her companion's attention to us;
and, as well by her cold, sarcastic smile as by the few isolated
words of her discourse that reached me, I knew full well that she
was impressing him with the idea, that we were strongly attached to
each other. I noticed that he coloured up to the temples, gave us
one furtive glance in passing, and walked on, looking grave, but
seemingly offering no reply to her remarks.
It was true, then, that he had some designs upon Mrs. Graham; and,
were they honourable, he would not be so anxious to conceal them.
She was blameless, of course, but he was detestable beyond all
While these thoughts flashed through my mind, my companion abruptly
rose, and calling her son, said they would now go in quest of the
company, and departed up the avenue. Doubtless she had heard or
guessed something of Miss Wilson's remarks, and therefore it was
natural enough she should choose to continue the TETE-E-TETE no
longer, especially as at that moment my cheeks were burning with
indignation against my former friend, the token of which she might
mistake for a blush of stupid embarrassment. For this I owed Miss
Wilson yet another grudge; and still the more I thought upon her
conduct the more I hated her.
It was late in the evening before I joined the company. I found
Mrs. Graham already equipped for departure, and taking leave of the
rest, who were now returned to the house. I offered, nay, begged
to accompany her home. Mr. Lawrence was standing by at the time
conversing with some one else. He did not look at us, but, on
hearing my earnest request, he paused in the middle of a sentence
to listen for her reply, and went on, with a look of quiet
satisfaction, the moment he found it was to be a denial.
A denial it was, decided, though not unkind. She could not be
persuaded to think there was danger for herself or her child in
traversing those lonely lanes and fields without attendance. It
was daylight still, and she should meet no one; or if she did, the
people were quiet and harmless she was well assured. In fact, she
would not hear of any one's putting himself out of the way to
accompany her, though Fergus vouchsafed to offer his services in
case they should be more acceptable than mine, and my mother begged
she might send one of the farming-men to escort her.
When she was gone the rest was all a blank or worse. Lawrence
attempted to draw me into conversation, but I snubbed him and went
to another part of the room. Shortly after the party broke up and
he himself took leave. When he came to me I was blind to his
extended hand, and deaf to his good-night till he repeated it a
second time; and then, to get rid of him, I muttered an
inarticulate reply, accompanied by a sulky nod.
'What is the matter, Markham?' whispered he.
I replied by a wrathful and contemptuous stare.
'Are you angry because Mrs. Graham would not let you go home with
her?' he asked, with a faint smile that nearly exasperated me
But, swallowing down all fiercer answers, I merely demanded, -
'What business is it of yours?'
'Why, none,' replied he with provoking quietness; 'only,' - and he
raised his eyes to my face, and spoke with unusual solemnity, -
'only let me tell you, Markham, that if you have any designs in
that quarter, they will certainly fail; and it grieves me to see
you cherishing false hopes, and wasting your strength in useless
efforts, for - '
'Hypocrite!' I exclaimed; and he held his breath, and looked very
blank, turned white about the gills, and went away without another
I had wounded him to the quick; and I was glad of it.
When all were gone, I learnt that the vile slander had indeed been
circulated throughout the company, in the very presence of the
victim. Rose, however, vowed she did not and would not believe it,
and my mother made the same declaration, though not, I fear, with
the same amount of real, unwavering incredulity. It seemed to
dwell continually on her mind, and she kept irritating me from time
to time by such expressions as - 'Dear, dear, who would have
thought it! - Well! I always thought there was something odd about
her. - You see what it is for women to affect to be different to
other people.' And once it was, - 'I misdoubted that appearance of
mystery from the very first - I thought there would no good come of
it; but this is a sad, sad business, to be sure!'
'Why, mother, you said you didn't believe these tales,' said
'No more I do, my dear; but then, you know, there must be some
'The foundation is in the wickedness and falsehood of the world,'
said I, 'and in the fact that Mr. Lawrence has been seen to go that
way once or twice of an evening - and the village gossips say he
goes to pay his addresses to the strange lady, and the scandal-
mongers have greedily seized the rumour, to make it the basis of
their own infernal structure.'
'Well, but, Gilbert, there must be something in her manner to
countenance such reports.'
'Did you see anything in her manner?'
'No, certainly; but then, you know, I always said there was
something strange about her.'
I believe it was on that very evening that I ventured on another
invasion of Wildfell Hall. From the time of our party, which was
upwards of a week ago, I had been making daily efforts to meet its
mistress in her walks; and always disappointed (she must have
managed it so on purpose), had nightly kept revolving in my mind
some pretext for another call. At length I concluded that the
separation could be endured no longer (by this time, you will see,
I was pretty far gone); and, taking from the book-case an old
volume that I thought she might be interested in, though, from its
unsightly and somewhat dilapidated condition, I had not yet
ventured to offer it for perusal, I hastened away, - but not
without sundry misgivings as to how she would receive me, or how I
could summon courage to present myself with so slight an excuse.
But, perhaps, I might see her in the field or the garden, and then
there would be no great difficulty: it was the formal knocking at
the door, with the prospect of being gravely ushered in by Rachel,
to the presence of a surprised, uncordial mistress, that so greatly
My wish, however, was not gratified. Mrs. Graham herself was not
to be seen; but there was Arthur playing with his frolicsome little
dog in the garden. I looked over the gate and called him to me.
He wanted me to come in; but I told him I could not without his
'I'll go and ask her,' said the child.
'No, no, Arthur, you mustn't do that; but if she's not engaged,
just ask her to come here a minute. Tell her I want to speak to
He ran to perform my bidding, and quickly returned with his mother.
How lovely she looked with her dark ringlets streaming in the light
summer breeze, her fair cheek slightly flushed, and her countenance
radiant with smiles. Dear Arthur! what did I not owe to you for
this and every other happy meeting? Through him I was at once
delivered from all formality, and terror, and constraint. In love
affairs, there is no mediator like a merry, simple-hearted child -
ever ready to cement divided hearts, to span the unfriendly gulf of
custom, to melt the ice of cold reserve, and overthrow the
separating walls of dread formality and pride.
'Well, Mr. Markham, what is it?' said the young mother, accosting
me with a pleasant smile.
'I want you to look at this book, and, if you please, to take it,
and peruse it at your leisure. I make no apology for calling you
out on such a lovely evening, though it be for a matter of no
'Tell him to come in, mamma,' said Arthur.
'Would you like to come in?' asked the lady.
'Yes; I should like to see your improvements in the garden.'
'And how your sister's roots have prospered in my charge,' added
she, as she opened the gate.
And we sauntered through the garden, and talked of the flowers, the
trees, and the book, and then of other things. The evening was
kind and genial, and so was my companion. By degrees I waxed more
warm and tender than, perhaps, I had ever been before; but still I
said nothing tangible, and she attempted no repulse, until, in
passing a moss rose-tree that I had brought her some weeks since,
in my sister's name, she plucked a beautiful half-open bud and bade
me give it to Rose.
'May I not keep it myself?' I asked.
'No; but here is another for you.'
Instead of taking it quietly, I likewise took the hand that offered
it, and looked into her face. She let me hold it for a moment, and
I saw a flash of ecstatic brilliance in her eye, a glow of glad
excitement on her face - I thought my hour of victory was come -
but instantly a painful recollection seemed to flash upon her; a
cloud of anguish darkened her brow, a marble paleness blanched her
cheek and lip; there seemed a moment of inward conflict, and, with
a sudden effort, she withdrew her hand, and retreated a step or two
'Now, Mr. Markham,' said she, with a kind of desperate calmness, 'I
must tell you plainly that I cannot do with this. I like your
company, because I am alone here, and your conversation pleases me
more than that of any other person; but if you cannot be content to
regard me as a friend - a plain, cold, motherly, or sisterly friend
- I must beg you to leave me now, and let me alone hereafter: in
fact, we must be strangers for the future.'
'I will, then - be your friend, or brother, or anything you wish,
if you will only let me continue to see you; but tell me why I
cannot be anything more?'
There was a perplexed and thoughtful pause.
'Is it in consequence of some rash vow?'
'It is something of the kind,' she answered. 'Some day I may tell
you, but at present you had better leave me; and never, Gilbert,
put me to the painful necessity of repeating what I have just now
said to you,' she earnestly added, giving me her hand in serious
kindness. How sweet, how musical my own name sounded in her mouth!
'I will not,' I replied. 'But you pardon this offence?'
'On condition that you never repeat it.'
'And may I come to see you now and then?'
'Perhaps - occasionally; provided you never abuse the privilege.'
'I make no empty promises, but you shall see.'
'The moment you do our intimacy is at an end, that's all.'
'And will you always call me Gilbert? It sounds more sisterly, and
it will serve to remind me of our contract.'
She smiled, and once more bid me go; and at length I judged it
prudent to obey, and she re-entered the house and I went down the
hill. But as I went the tramp of horses' hoofs fell on my ear, and
broke the stillness of the dewy evening; and, looking towards the
lane, I saw a solitary equestrian coming up. Inclining to dusk as
it was, I knew him at a glance: it was Mr. Lawrence on his grey
pony. I flew across the field, leaped the stone fence, and then
walked down the lane to meet him. On seeing me, he suddenly drew
in his little steed, and seemed inclined to turn back, but on
second thought apparently judged it better to continue his course
as before. He accosted me with a slight bow, and, edging close to
the wall, endeavoured to pass on; but I was not so minded. Seizing
his horse by the bridle, I exclaimed, - 'Now, Lawrence, I will have
this mystery explained! Tell me where you are going, and what you
mean to do - at once, and distinctly!'
'Will you take your hand off the bridle?' said he, quietly -
'you're hurting my pony's mouth.'
'You and your pony be - '
'What makes you so coarse and brutal, Markham? I'm quite ashamed
'You answer my questions - before you leave this spot I will know
what you mean by this perfidious duplicity!'
'I shall answer no questions till you let go the bridle, - if you
stand till morning.'
'Now then,' said I, unclosing my hand, but still standing before
'Ask me some other time, when you can speak like a gentleman,'
returned he, and he made an effort to pass me again; but I quickly
re-captured the pony, scarce less astonished than its master at
such uncivil usage.
'Really, Mr. Markham, this is too much!' said the latter. 'Can I
not go to see my tenant on matters of business, without being
assaulted in this manner by -?'
'This is no time for business, sir! - I'll tell you, now, what I
think of your conduct.'
'You'd better defer your opinion to a more convenient season,'
interrupted he in a low tone - 'here's the vicar.' And, in truth,
the vicar was just behind me, plodding homeward from some remote
corner of his parish. I immediately released the squire; and he
went on his way, saluting Mr. Millward as he passed.
'What! quarrelling, Markham?' cried the latter, addressing himself
to me, - 'and about that young widow, I doubt?' he added,
reproachfully shaking his head. 'But let me tell you, young man'
(here he put his face into mine with an important, confidential
air), 'she's not worth it!' and he confirmed the assertion by a
'MR. MILLWARD,' I exclaimed, in a tone of wrathful menace that made
the reverend gentleman look round - aghast - astounded at such
unwonted insolence, and stare me in the face, with a look that
plainly said, 'What, this to me!' But I was too indignant to
apologise, or to speak another word to him: I turned away, and
hastened homewards, descending with rapid strides the steep, rough
lane, and leaving him to follow as he pleased.
You must suppose about three weeks passed over. Mrs. Graham and I
were now established friends - or brother and sister, as we rather
chose to consider ourselves. She called me Gilbert, by my express
desire, and I called her Helen, for I had seen that name written in
her books. I seldom attempted to see her above twice a week; and
still I made our meetings appear the result of accident as often as
I could - for I found it necessary to be extremely careful - and,
altogether, I behaved with such exceeding propriety that she never
had occasion to reprove me once. Yet I could not but perceive that
she was at times unhappy and dissatisfied with herself or her
position, and truly I myself was not quite contented with the
latter: this assumption of brotherly nonchalance was very hard to
sustain, and I often felt myself a most confounded hypocrite with
it all; I saw too, or rather I felt, that, in spite of herself, 'I
was not indifferent to her,' as the novel heroes modestly express
it, and while I thankfully enjoyed my present good fortune, I could
not fail to wish and hope for something better in future; but, of
course, I kept such dreams entirely to myself.
'Where are you going, Gilbert?' said Rose, one evening, shortly
after tea, when I had been busy with the farm all day.
'To take a walk,' was the reply.
'Do you always brush your hat so carefully, and do your hair so
nicely, and put on such smart new gloves when you take a walk?'
'You're going to Wildfell Hall, aren't you?'
'What makes you think so?'
'Because you look as if you were - but I wish you wouldn't go so
'Nonsense, child! I don't go once in six weeks - what do you
'Well, but if I were you, I wouldn't have so much to do with Mrs.
'Why, Rose, are you, too, giving in to the prevailing opinion?'
'No,' returned she, hesitatingly - 'but I've heard so much about
her lately, both at the Wilsons' and the vicarage; - and besides,
mamma says, if she were a proper person she would not be living
there by herself - and don't you remember last winter, Gilbert, all
that about the false name to the picture; and how she explained it
- saying she had friends or acquaintances from whom she wished her
present residence to be concealed, and that she was afraid of their
tracing her out; - and then, how suddenly she started up and left
the room when that person came - whom she took good care not to let
us catch a glimpse of, and who Arthur, with such an air of mystery,
told us was his mamma's friend?'
'Yes, Rose, I remember it all; and I can forgive your uncharitable
conclusions; for, perhaps, if I did not know her myself, I should
put all these things together, and believe the same as you do; but
thank God, I do know her; and I should be unworthy the name of a
man, if I could believe anything that was said against her, unless
I heard it from her own lips. - I should as soon believe such
things of you, Rose.'
'Well, do you think I could believe anything of the kind, -
whatever the Wilsons and Millwards dared to whisper?'
'I should hope not indeed!'
'And why not? - Because I know you - Well, and I know her just as
'Oh, no! you know nothing of her former life; and last year, at
this time, you did not know that such a person existed.'
'No matter. There is such a thing as looking through a person's
eyes into the heart, and learning more of the height, and breadth,
and depth of another's soul in one hour than it might take you a
lifetime to discover, if he or she were not disposed to reveal it,
or if you had not the sense to understand it.'
'Then you are going to see her this evening?'
'To be sure I am!'
'But what would mamma say, Gilbert!'
'Mamma needn't know.'
'But she must know some time, if you go on.'
'Go on! - there's no going on in the matter. Mrs. Graham and I are
two friends - and will be; and no man breathing shall hinder it, -
or has a right to interfere between us.'
'But if you knew how they talk you would be more careful, for her
sake as well as for your own. Jane Wilson thinks your visits to
the old hall but another proof of her depravity - '
'Confound Jane Wilson!'
'And Eliza Millward is quite grieved about you.'
'I hope she is.'
'But I wouldn't, if I were you.'
'Wouldn't what? - How do they know that I go there?'
'There's nothing hid from them: they spy out everything.'
'Oh, I never thought of this! - And so they dare to turn my
friendship into food for further scandal against her! - That proves
the falsehood of their other lies, at all events, if any proof were
wanting. - Mind you contradict them, Rose, whenever you can.'
'But they don't speak openly to me about such things: it is only
by hints and innuendoes, and by what I hear others say, that I knew
what they think.'
'Well, then, I won't go to-day, as it's getting latish. But oh,
deuce take their cursed, envenomed tongues!' I muttered, in the
bitterness of my soul.
And just at that moment the vicar entered the room: we had been
too much absorbed in our conversation to observe his knock. After
his customary cheerful and fatherly greeting of Rose, who was
rather a favourite with the old gentleman, he turned somewhat
sternly to me:-
'Well, sir!' said he, 'you're quite a stranger. It is - let - me -
see,' he continued, slowly, as he deposited his ponderous bulk in
the arm-chair that Rose officiously brought towards him; 'it is
just - six-weeks - by my reckoning, since you darkened - my -
door!' He spoke it with emphasis, and struck his stick on the
'Is it, sir?' said I.
'Ay! It is so!' He added an affirmatory nod, and continued to
gaze upon me with a kind of irate solemnity, holding his
substantial stick between his knees, with his hands clasped upon
'I have been busy,' I said, for an apology was evidently demanded.
'Busy!' repeated he, derisively.
'Yes, you know I've been getting in my hay; and now the harvest is
Just then my mother came in, and created a diversion in my favour
by her loquacious and animated welcome of the reverend guest. She
regretted deeply that he had not come a little earlier, in time for
tea, but offered to have some immediately prepared, if he would do
her the favour to partake of it.
'Not any for me, I thank you,' replied he; 'I shall be at home in a
'Oh, but do stay and take a little! it will be ready in five
But he rejected the offer with a majestic wave of the hand.
'I'll tell you what I'll take, Mrs. Markham,' said he: 'I'll take
a glass of your excellent ale.'
'With pleasure!' cried my mother, proceeding with alacrity to pull
the bell and order the favoured beverage.
'I thought,' continued he, 'I'd just look in upon you as I passed,
and taste your home-brewed ale. I've been to call on Mrs. Graham.'
'Have you, indeed?'
He nodded gravely, and added with awful emphasis - 'I thought it
incumbent upon me to do so.'
'Really!' ejaculated my mother.
'Why so, Mr. Millward?' asked I.
He looked at me with some severity, and turning again to my mother,
repeated, - 'I thought it incumbent upon me!' and struck his stick
on the floor again. My mother sat opposite, an awe-struck but
'"Mrs. Graham," said I,' he continued, shaking his head as he
spoke, '"these are terrible reports!" "What, sir?" says she,
affecting to be ignorant of my meaning. "It is my - duty - as -
your pastor," said I, "to tell you both everything that I myself
see reprehensible in your conduct, and all I have reason to
suspect, and what others tell me concerning you." - So I told her!'
'You did, sir?' cried I, starting from my seat and striking my fist
on the table. He merely glanced towards me, and continued -
addressing his hostess:-
'It was a painful duty, Mrs. Markham - but I told her!'
'And how did she take it?' asked my mother.
'Hardened, I fear - hardened!' he replied, with a despondent shake
of the head; 'and, at the same time, there was a strong display of
unchastened, misdirected passions. She turned white in the face,
and drew her breath through her teeth in a savage sort of way; -
but she offered no extenuation or defence; and with a kind of
shameless calmness - shocking indeed to witness in one so young -
as good as told me that my remonstrance was unavailing, and my
pastoral advice quite thrown away upon her - nay, that my very
presence was displeasing while I spoke such things. And I withdrew
at length, too plainly seeing that nothing could be done - and
sadly grieved to find her case so hopeless. But I am fully
determined, Mrs. Markham, that my daughters - shall - not - consort
with her. Do you adopt the same resolution with regard to yours! -
As for your sons - as for you, young man,' he continued, sternly
turning to me -
'As for ME, sir,' I began, but checked by some impediment in my
utterance, and finding that my whole frame trembled with fury, I
said no more, but took the wiser part of snatching up my hat and
bolting from the room, slamming the door behind me, with a bang
that shook the house to its foundations, and made my mother scream,
and gave a momentary relief to my excited feelings.
The next minute saw me hurrying with rapid strides in the direction
of Wildfell Hall - to what intent or purpose I could scarcely tell,
but I must be moving somewhere, and no other goal would do - I must
see her too, and speak to her - that was certain; but what to say,
or how to act, I had no definite idea. Such stormy thoughts - so
many different resolutions crowded in upon me, that my mind was
little better than a chaos of conflicting passions.
In little more than twenty minutes the journey was accomplished. I
paused at the gate to wipe my streaming forehead, and recover my
breath and some degree of composure. Already the rapid walking had
somewhat mitigated my excitement; and with a firm and steady tread
I paced the garden-walk. In passing the inhabited wing of the
building, I caught a sight of Mrs. Graham, through the open window,
slowly pacing up and down her lonely room.
She seemed agitated and even dismayed at my arrival, as if she
thought I too was coming to accuse her. I had entered her presence
intending to condole with her upon the wickedness of the world, and
help her to abuse the vicar and his vile informants, but now I felt
positively ashamed to mention the subject, and determined not to
refer to it, unless she led the way.
'I am come at an unseasonable hour,' said I, assuming a
cheerfulness I did not feel, in order to reassure her; 'but I won't
stay many minutes.'
She smiled upon me, faintly it is true, but most kindly - I had
almost said thankfully, as her apprehensions were removed.
'How dismal you are, Helen! Why have you no fire?' I said, looking
round on the gloomy apartment.
'It is summer yet,' she replied.
'But we always have a fire in the evenings, if we can bear it; and
you especially require one in this cold house and dreary room.'
'You should have come a little sooner, and I would have had one
lighted for you: but it is not worth while now - you won't stay
many minutes, you say, and Arthur is gone to bed.'
'But I have a fancy for a fire, nevertheless. Will you order one,
if I ring?'
'Why, Gilbert, you don't look cold!' said she, smilingly regarding
my face, which no doubt seemed warm enough.
'No,' replied I, 'but I want to see you comfortable before I go.'
'Me comfortable!' repeated she, with a bitter laugh, as if there
were something amusingly absurd in the idea. 'It suits me better
as it is,' she added, in a tone of mournful resignation.
But determined to have my own way, I pulled the bell.
'There now, Helen!' I said, as the approaching steps of Rachel were
heard in answer to the summons. There was nothing for it but to
turn round and desire the maid to light the fire.
I owe Rachel a grudge to this day for the look she cast upon me ere
she departed on her mission, the sour, suspicious, inquisitorial
look that plainly demanded, 'What are you here for, I wonder?' Her
mistress did not fail to notice it, and a shade of uneasiness
darkened her brow.
'You must not stay long, Gilbert,' said she, when the door was
closed upon us.
'I'm not going to,' said I, somewhat testily, though without a
grain of anger in my heart against any one but the meddling old
woman. 'But, Helen, I've something to say to you before I go.'
'What is it?'
'No, not now - I don't know yet precisely what it is, or how to say
it,' replied I, with more truth than wisdom; and then, fearing lest
she should turn me out of the house, I began talking about
indifferent matters in order to gain time. Meanwhile Rachel came
in to kindle the fire, which was soon effected by thrusting a red-
hot poker between the bars of the grate, where the fuel was already
disposed for ignition. She honoured me with another of her hard,
inhospitable looks in departing, but, little moved thereby, I went
on talking; and setting a chair for Mrs. Graham on one side of the
hearth, and one for myself on the other, I ventured to sit down,
though half suspecting she would rather see me go.
In a little while we both relapsed into silence, and continued for
several minutes gazing abstractedly into the fire - she intent upon
her own sad thoughts, and I reflecting how delightful it would be
to be seated thus beside her with no other presence to restrain our
intercourse - not even that of Arthur, our mutual friend, without
whom we had never met before - if only I could venture to speak my
mind, and disburden my full heart of the feelings that had so long
oppressed it, and which it now struggled to retain, with an effort
that it seemed impossible to continue much longer, - and revolving
the pros and cons for opening my heart to her there and then, and
imploring a return of affection, the permission to regard her
thenceforth as my own, and the right and the power to defend her
from the calumnies of malicious tongues. On the one hand, I felt a
new-born confidence in my powers of persuasion - a strong
conviction that my own fervour of spirit would grant me eloquence -
that my very determination - the absolute necessity for succeeding,
that I felt must win me what I sought; while, on the other, I
feared to lose the ground I had already gained with so much toil
and skill, and destroy all future hope by one rash effort, when
time and patience might have won success. It was like setting my
life upon the cast of a die; and yet I was ready to resolve upon
the attempt. At any rate, I would entreat the explanation she had
half promised to give me before; I would demand the reason of this
hateful barrier, this mysterious impediment to my happiness, and,
as I trusted, to her own.
But while I considered in what manner I could best frame my
request, my companion, wakened from her reverie with a scarcely
audible sigh, and looking towards the window, where the blood-red
harvest moon, just rising over one of the grim, fantastic
evergreens, was shining in upon us, said, - 'Gilbert, it is getting
'I see,' said I. 'You want me to go, I suppose?'
'I think you ought. If my kind neighbours get to know of this
visit - as no doubt they will - they will not turn it much to my
It was with what the vicar would doubtless have called a savage
sort of smile that she said this.
'Let them turn it as they will,' said I. 'What are their thoughts
to you or me, so long as we are satisfied with ourselves - and each
other. Let them go to the deuce with their vile constructions and
their lying inventions!'
This outburst brought a flush of colour to her face.
'You have heard, then, what they say of me?'
'I heard some detestable falsehoods; but none but fools would
credit them for a moment, Helen, so don't let them trouble you.'
'I did not think Mr. Millward a fool, and he believes it all; but
however little you may value the opinions of those about you -
however little you may esteem them as individuals, it is not
pleasant to be looked upon as a liar and a hypocrite, to be thought
to practise what you abhor, and to encourage the vices you would
discountenance, to find your good intentions frustrated, and your
hands crippled by your supposed unworthiness, and to bring disgrace
on the principles you profess.'
'True; and if I, by my thoughtlessness and selfish disregard to
appearances, have at all assisted to expose you to these evils, let
me entreat you not only to pardon me, but to enable me to make
reparation; authorise me to clear your name from every imputation:
give me the right to identify your honour with my own, and to
defend your reputation as more precious than my life!'
'Are you hero enough to unite yourself to one whom you know to be
suspected and despised by all around you, and identify your
interests and your honour with hers? Think! it is a serious
'I should be proud to do it, Helen! - most happy - delighted beyond
expression! - and if that be all the obstacle to our union, it is
demolished, and you must - you shall be mine!'
And starting from my seat in a frenzy of ardour, I seized her hand
and would have pressed it to my lips, but she as suddenly caught it
away, exclaiming in the bitterness of intense affliction, - 'No,
no, it is not all!'
'What is it, then? You promised I should know some time, and - '
'You shall know some time - but not now - my head aches terribly,'
she said, pressing her hand to her forehead, 'and I must have some
repose - and surely I have had misery enough to-day!' she added,
'But it could not harm you to tell it,' I persisted: 'it would
ease your mind; and I should then know how to comfort you.'
She shook her head despondingly. 'If you knew all, you, too, would
blame me - perhaps even more than I deserve - though I have cruelly
wronged you,' she added in a low murmur, as if she mused aloud.
'You, Helen? Impossible?'
'Yes, not willingly; for I did not know the strength and depth of
your attachment. I thought - at least I endeavoured to think your
regard for me was as cold and fraternal as you professed it to be.'
'Or as yours?'
'Or as mine - ought to have been - of such a light and selfish,
superficial nature, that - '
'There, indeed, you wronged me.'
I know I did; and, sometimes, I suspected it then; but I thought,
upon the whole, there could be no great harm in leaving your
fancies and your hopes to dream themselves to nothing - or flutter
away to some more fitting object, while your friendly sympathies
remained with me; but if I had known the depth of your regard, the
generous, disinterested affection you seem to feel - '
'That you do feel, then, I would have acted differently.'
'How? You could not have given me less encouragement, or treated
me with greater severity than you did! And if you think you have
wronged me by giving me your friendship, and occasionally admitting
me to the enjoyment of your company and conversation, when all
hopes of closer intimacy were vain - as indeed you always gave me
to understand - if you think you have wronged me by this, you are
mistaken; for such favours, in themselves alone, are not only
delightful to my heart, but purifying, exalting, ennobling to my
soul; and I would rather have your friendship than the love of any
other woman in the world!'
Little comforted by this, she clasped her hands upon her knee, and
glancing upward, seemed, in silent anguish, to implore divine
assistance; then, turning to me, she calmly said, - 'To-morrow, if
you meet me on the moor about mid-day, I will tell you all you seek
to know; and perhaps you will then see the necessity of
discontinuing our intimacy - if, indeed, you do not willingly
resign me as one no longer worthy of regard.'
'I can safely answer no to that: you cannot have such grave
confessions to make - you must be trying my faith, Helen.'
'No, no, no,' she earnestly repeated - 'I wish it were so! Thank
heaven!' she added, 'I have no great crime to confess; but I have
more than you will like to hear, or, perhaps, can readily excuse, -
and more than I can tell you now; so let me entreat you to leave
'I will; but answer me this one question first; - do you love me?'
'I will not answer it!'
'Then I will conclude you do; and so good-night.'
She turned from me to hide the emotion she could not quite control;
but I took her hand and fervently kissed it.
'Gilbert, do leave me!' she cried, in a tone of such thrilling
anguish that I felt it would be cruel to disobey.
But I gave one look back before I closed the door, and saw her
leaning forward on the table, with her hands pressed against her
eyes, sobbing convulsively; yet I withdrew in silence. I felt that
to obtrude my consolations on her then would only serve to
aggravate her sufferings.
To tell you all the questionings and conjectures - the fears, and
hopes, and wild emotions that jostled and chased each other through
my mind as I descended the hill, would almost fill a volume in
itself. But before I was half-way down, a sentiment of strong
sympathy for her I had left behind me had displaced all other
feelings, and seemed imperatively to draw me back: I began to
think, 'Why am I hurrying so fast in this direction? Can I find
comfort or consolation - peace, certainty, contentment, all - or
anything that I want at home? and can I leave all perturbation,
sorrow, and anxiety behind me there?'
And I turned round to look at the old Hall. There was little
besides the chimneys visible above my contracted horizon. I walked
back to get a better view of it. When it rose in sight, I stood
still a moment to look, and then continued moving towards the
gloomy object of attraction. Something called me nearer - nearer
still - and why not, pray? Might I not find more benefit in the
contemplation of that venerable pile with the full moon in the
cloudless heaven shining so calmly above it - with that warm yellow
lustre peculiar to an August night - and the mistress of my soul
within, than in returning to my home, where all comparatively was
light, and life, and cheerfulness, and therefore inimical to me in
my present frame of mind, - and the more so that its inmates all
were more or less imbued with that detestable belief, the very
thought of which made my blood boil in my veins - and how could I
endure to hear it openly declared, or cautiously insinuated - which
was worse? - I had had trouble enough already, with some babbling
fiend that would keep whispering in my ear, 'It may be true,' till
I had shouted aloud, 'It is false! I defy you to make me suppose
I could see the red firelight dimly gleaming from her parlour
window. I went up to the garden wall, and stood leaning over it,
with my eyes fixed upon the lattice, wondering what she was doing,
thinking, or suffering now, and wishing I could speak to her but
one word, or even catch one glimpse of her, before I went.