Part 8 out of 10
extinguished, he rang for another.
'Benson, your mistress has broken the candle; bring another.'
'You expose yourself finely,' observed I, as the man departed.
'I didn't say I'd broken it, did I?' returned he. He then threw my
keys into my lap, saying, - 'There! you'll find nothing gone but
your money, and the jewels, and a few little trifles I thought it
advisable to take into my own possession, lest your mercantile
spirit should be tempted to turn them into gold. I've left you a
few sovereigns in your purse, which I expect to last you through
the month; at all events, when you want more you will be so good as
to give me an account of how that's spent. I shall put you upon a
small monthly allowance, in future, for your own private expenses;
and you needn't trouble yourself any more about my concerns; I
shall look out for a steward, my dear - I won't expose you to the
temptation. And as for the household matters, Mrs. Greaves must be
very particular in keeping her accounts; we must go upon an
entirely new plan - '
'What great discovery have you made now, Mr. Huntingdon? Have I
attempted to defraud you?'
'Not in money matters, exactly, it seems; but it's best to keep out
of the way of temptation.'
Here Benson entered with the candles, and there followed a brief
interval of silence; I sitting still in my chair, and he standing
with his back to the fire, silently triumphing in my despair.
'And so,' said he at length, 'you thought to disgrace me, did you,
by running away and turning artist, and supporting yourself by the
labour of your hands, forsooth? And you thought to rob me of my
son, too, and bring him up to be a dirty Yankee tradesman, or a
low, beggarly painter?'
'Yes, to obviate his becoming such a gentleman as his father.'
'It's well you couldn't keep your own secret - ha, ha! It's well
these women must be blabbing. If they haven't a friend to talk to,
they must whisper their secrets to the fishes, or write them on the
sand, or something; and it's well, too, I wasn't over full to-
night, now I think of it, or I might have snoozed away and never
dreamt of looking what my sweet lady was about; or I might have
lacked the sense or the power to carry my point like a man, as I
Leaving him to his self-congratulations, I rose to secure my
manuscript, for I now remembered it had been left upon the drawing-
room table, and I determined, if possible, to save myself the
humiliation of seeing it in his hands again. I could not bear the
idea of his amusing himself over my secret thoughts and
recollections; though, to be sure, he would find little good of
himself therein indited, except in the former part; and oh, I would
sooner burn it all than he should read what I had written when I
was such a fool as to love him!
'And by-the-by,' cried he, as I was leaving the room, 'you'd better
tell that d-d old sneak of a nurse to keep out of my way for a day
or two; I'd pay her her wages and send her packing to-morrow, but I
know she'd do more mischief out of the house than in it.'
And as I departed, he went on cursing and abusing my faithful
friend and servant with epithets I will not defile this paper with
repeating. I went to her as soon as I had put away my book, and
told her how our project was defeated. She was as much distressed
and horrified as I was - and more so than I was that night, for I
was partly stunned by the blow, and partly excited and supported
against it by the bitterness of my wrath. But in the morning, when
I woke without that cheering hope that had been my secret comfort
and support so long, and all this day, when I have wandered about
restless and objectless, shunning my husband, shrinking even from
my child, knowing that I am unfit to be his teacher or companion,
hoping nothing for his future life, and fervently wishing he had
never been born, - I felt the full extent of my calamity, and I
feel it now. I know that day after day such feelings will return
upon me. I am a slave - a prisoner - but that is nothing; if it
were myself alone I would not complain, but I am forbidden to
rescue my son from ruin, and what was once my only consolation is
become the crowning source of my despair.
Have I no faith in God? I try to look to Him and raise my heart to
heaven, but it will cleave to the dust. I can only say, 'He hath
hedged me about, that I cannot get out: He hath made my chain
heavy. He hath filled me with bitterness - He hath made me drunken
with wormwood.' I forget to add, 'But though He cause grief, yet
will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.
For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.'
I ought to think of this; and if there be nothing but sorrow for me
in this world, what is the longest life of misery to a whole
eternity of peace? And for my little Arthur - has he no friend but
me? Who was it said, 'It is not the will of your Father which is
in heaven that one of these little ones should perish?'
March 20th. - Having now got rid of Mr. Huntingdon for a season, my
spirits begin to revive. He left me early in February; and the
moment he was gone, I breathed again, and felt my vital energy
return; not with the hope of escape - he has taken care to leave me
no visible chance of that - but with a determination to make the
best of existing circumstances. Here was Arthur left to me at
last; and rousing from my despondent apathy, I exerted all my
powers to eradicate the weeds that had been fostered in his infant
mind, and sow again the good seed they had rendered unproductive.
Thank heaven, it is not a barren or a stony soil; if weeds spring
fast there, so do better plants. His apprehensions are more quick,
his heart more overflowing with affection than ever his father's
could have been, and it is no hopeless task to bend him to
obedience and win him to love and know his own true friend, as long
as there is no one to counteract my efforts.
I had much trouble at first in breaking him of those evil habits
his father had taught him to acquire, but already that difficulty
is nearly vanquished now: bad language seldom defiles his mouth,
and I have succeeded in giving him an absolute disgust for all
intoxicating liquors, which I hope not even his father or his
father's friends will be able to overcome. He was inordinately
fond of them for so young a creature, and, remembering my
unfortunate father as well as his, I dreaded the consequences of
such a taste. But if I had stinted him, in his usual quantity of
wine, or forbidden him to taste it altogether, that would only have
increased his partiality for it, and made him regard it as a
greater treat than ever. I therefore gave him quite as much as his
father was accustomed to allow him; as much, indeed, as he desired
to have - but into every glass I surreptitiously introduced a small
quantity of tartar-emetic, just enough to produce inevitable nausea
and depression without positive sickness. Finding such
disagreeable consequences invariably to result from this
indulgence, he soon grew weary of it, but the more he shrank from
the daily treat the more I pressed it upon him, till his reluctance
was strengthened to perfect abhorrence. When he was thoroughly
disgusted with every kind of wine, I allowed him, at his own
request, to try brandy-and-water, and then gin-and-water, for the
little toper was familiar with them all, and I was determined that
all should be equally hateful to him. This I have now effected;
and since he declares that the taste, the smell, the sight of any
one of them is sufficient to make him sick, I have given up teasing
him about them, except now and then as objects of terror in cases
of misbehaviour. 'Arthur, if you're not a good boy I shall give
you a glass of wine,' or 'Now, Arthur, if you say that again you
shall have some brandy-and-water,' is as good as any other threat;
and once or twice, when he was sick, I have obliged the poor child
to swallow a little wine-and-water without the tartar-emetic, by
way of medicine; and this practice I intend to continue for some
time to come; not that I think it of any real service in a physical
sense, but because I am determined to enlist all the powers of
association in my service; I wish this aversion to be so deeply
grounded in his nature that nothing in after-life may be able to
Thus, I flatter myself, I shall secure him from this one vice; and
for the rest, if on his father's return I find reason to apprehend
that my good lessons will be all destroyed - if Mr. Huntingdon
commence again the game of teaching the child to hate and despise
his mother, and emulate his father's wickedness - I will yet
deliver my son from his hands. I have devised another scheme that
might be resorted to in such a case; and if I could but obtain my
brother's consent and assistance, I should not doubt of its
success. The old hall where he and I were born, and where our
mother died, is not now inhabited, nor yet quite sunk into decay,
as I believe. Now, if I could persuade him to have one or two
rooms made habitable, and to let them to me as a stranger, I might
live there, with my child, under an assumed name, and still support
myself by my favourite art. He should lend me the money to begin
with, and I would pay him back, and live in lowly independence and
strict seclusion, for the house stands in a lonely place, and the
neighbourhood is thinly inhabited, and he himself should negotiate
the sale of my pictures for me. I have arranged the whole plan in
my head: and all I want is to persuade Frederick to be of the same
mind as myself. He is coming to see me soon, and then I will make
the proposal to him, having first enlightened him upon my
circumstances sufficiently to excuse the project.
Already, I believe, he knows much more of my situation than I have
told him. I can tell this by the air of tender sadness pervading
his letters; and by the fact of his so seldom mentioning my
husband, and generally evincing a kind of covert bitterness when he
does refer to him; as well as by the circumstance of his never
coming to see me when Mr. Huntingdon is at home. But he has never
openly expressed any disapprobation of him or sympathy for me; he
has never asked any questions, or said anything to invite my
confidence. Had he done so, I should probably have had but few
concealments from him. Perhaps he feels hurt at my reserve. He is
a strange being; I wish we knew each other better. He used to
spend a month at Staningley every year, before I was married; but,
since our father's death, I have only seen him once, when he came
for a few days while Mr. Huntingdon was away. He shall stay many
days this time, and there shall be more candour and cordiality
between us than ever there was before, since our early childhood.
My heart clings to him more than ever; and my soul is sick of
April 16th. - He is come and gone. He would not stay above a
fortnight. The time passed quickly, but very, very happily, and it
has done me good. I must have a bad disposition, for my
misfortunes have soured and embittered me exceedingly: I was
beginning insensibly to cherish very unamiable feelings against my
fellow-mortals, the male part of them especially; but it is a
comfort to see there is at least one among them worthy to be
trusted and esteemed; and doubtless there are more, though I have
never known them, unless I except poor Lord Lowborough, and he was
bad enough in his day. But what would Frederick have been, if he
had lived in the world, and mingled from his childhood with such
men as these of my acquaintance? and what will Arthur be, with all
his natural sweetness of disposition, if I do not save him from
that world and those companions? I mentioned my fears to
Frederick, and introduced the subject of my plan of rescue on the
evening after his arrival, when I presented my little son to his
'He is like you, Frederick,' said I, 'in some of his moods: I
sometimes think he resembles you more than his father; and I am
glad of it.'
'You flatter me, Helen,' replied he, stroking the child's soft,
'No, you will think it no compliment when I tell you I would rather
have him to resemble Benson than his father.'
He slightly elevated his eyebrows, but said nothing.
'Do you know what sort of man Mr. Huntingdon is?' said I.
'I think I have an idea.'
'Have you so clear an idea that you can hear, without surprise or
disapproval, that I meditate escaping with that child to some
secret asylum, where we can live in peace, and never see him
'Is it really so?'
'If you have not,' continued I, 'I'll tell you something more about
him'; and I gave a sketch of his general conduct, and a more
particular account of his behaviour with regard to his child, and
explained my apprehensions on the latter's account, and my
determination to deliver him from his father's influence.
Frederick was exceedingly indignant against Mr. Huntingdon, and
very much grieved for me; but still he looked upon my project as
wild and impracticable. He deemed my fears for Arthur
disproportioned to the circumstances, and opposed so many
objections to my plan, and devised so many milder methods for
ameliorating my condition, that I was obliged to enter into further
details to convince him that my husband was utterly incorrigible,
and that nothing could persuade him to give up his son, whatever
became of me, he being as fully determined the child should not
leave him, as I was not to leave the child; and that, in fact,
nothing would answer but this, unless I fled the country, as I had
intended before. To obviate that, he at length consented to have
one wing of the old hall put into a habitable condition, as a place
of refuge against a time of need; but hoped I would not take
advantage of it unless circumstances should render it really
necessary, which I was ready enough to promise: for though, for my
own sake, such a hermitage appears like paradise itself, compared
with my present situation, yet for my friends' sakes, for Milicent
and Esther, my sisters in heart and affection, for the poor tenants
of Grassdale, and, above all, for my aunt, I will stay if I
July 29th. - Mrs. Hargrave and her daughter are come back from
London. Esther is full of her first season in town; but she is
still heart-whole and unengaged. Her mother sought out an
excellent match for her, and even brought the gentleman to lay his
heart and fortune at her feet; but Esther had the audacity to
refuse the noble gifts. He was a man of good family and large
possessions, but the naughty girl maintained he was old as Adam,
ugly as sin, and hateful as - one who shall be nameless.
'But, indeed, I had a hard time of it,' said she: 'mamma was very
greatly disappointed at the failure of her darling project, and
very, very angry at my obstinate resistance to her will, and is so
still; but I can't help it. And Walter, too, is so seriously
displeased at my perversity and absurd caprice, as he calls it,
that I fear he will never forgive me - I did not think he could be
so unkind as he has lately shown himself. But Milicent begged me
not to yield, and I'm sure, Mrs. Huntingdon, if you had seen the
man they wanted to palm upon me, you would have advised me not to
take him too.'
'I should have done so whether I had seen him or not,' said I; 'it
is enough that you dislike him.'
'I knew you would say so; though mamma affirmed you would be quite
shocked at my undutiful conduct. You can't imagine how she
lectures me: I am disobedient and ungrateful; I am thwarting her
wishes, wronging my brother, and making myself a burden on her
hands. I sometimes fear she'll overcome me after all. I have a
strong will, but so has she, and when she says such bitter things,
it provokes me to such a pass that I feel inclined to do as she
bids me, and then break my heart and say, "There, mamma, it's all
'Pray don't!' said I. 'Obedience from such a motive would be
positive wickedness, and certain to bring the punishment it
deserves. Stand firm, and your mamma will soon relinquish her
persecution; and the gentleman himself will cease to pester you
with his addresses if he finds them steadily rejected.'
'Oh, no! mamma will weary all about her before she tires herself
with her exertions; and as for Mr. Oldfield, she has given him to
understand that I have refused his offer, not from any dislike of
his person, but merely because I am giddy and young, and cannot at
present reconcile myself to the thoughts of marriage under any
circumstances: but by next season, she has no doubt, I shall have
more sense, and hopes my girlish fancies will be worn away. So she
has brought me home, to school me into a proper sense of my duty,
against the time comes round again. Indeed, I believe she will not
put herself to the expense of taking me up to London again, unless
I surrender: she cannot afford to take me to town for pleasure and
nonsense, she says, and it is not every rich gentleman that will
consent to take me without a fortune, whatever exalted ideas I may
have of my own attractions.'
'Well, Esther, I pity you; but still, I repeat, stand firm. You
might as well sell yourself to slavery at once, as marry a man you
dislike. If your mother and brother are unkind to you, you may
leave them, but remember you are bound to your husband for life.'
'But I cannot leave them unless I get married, and I cannot get
married if nobody sees me. I saw one or two gentlemen in London
that I might have liked, but they were younger sons, and mamma
would not let me get to know them - one especially, who I believe
rather liked me - but she threw every possible obstacle in the way
of our better acquaintance. Wasn't it provoking?'
'I have no doubt you would feel it so, but it is possible that if
you married him, you might have more reason to regret it hereafter
than if you married Mr. Oldfield. When I tell you not to marry
without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone: there
are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and
hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with
them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort
your mind with this reflection, that though in single life your
joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more
than you can bear. Marriage may change your circumstances for the
better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to
produce a contrary result.'
'So thinks Milicent; but allow me to say I think otherwise. If I
thought myself doomed to old-maidenhood, I should cease to value my
life. The thoughts of living on, year after year, at the Grove - a
hanger-on upon mamma and Walter, a mere cumberer of the ground (now
that I know in what light they would regard it), is perfectly
intolerable; I would rather run away with the butler.'
'Your circumstances are peculiar, I allow; but have patience, love;
do nothing rashly. Remember you are not yet nineteen, and many
years are yet to pass before any one can set you down as an old
maid: you cannot tell what Providence may have in store for you.
And meantime, remember you have a right to the protection and
support of your mother and brother, however they may seem to grudge
'You are so grave, Mrs. Huntingdon,' said Esther, after a pause.
'When Milicent uttered the same discouraging sentiments concerning
marriage, I asked if she was happy: she said she was; but I only
half believed her; and now I must put the same question to you.'
'It is a very impertinent question,' laughed I, 'from a young girl
to a married woman so many years her senior, and I shall not answer
'Pardon me, dear madam,' said she, laughingly throwing herself into
my arms, and kissing me with playful affection; but I felt a tear
on my neck, as she dropped her head on my bosom and continued, with
an odd mixture of sadness and levity, timidity and audacity, - 'I
know you are not so happy as I mean to be, for you spend half your
life alone at Grassdale, while Mr. Huntingdon goes about enjoying
himself where and how he pleases. I shall expect my husband to
have no pleasures but what he shares with me; and if his greatest
pleasure of all is not the enjoyment of my company, why, it will be
the worse for him, that's all.'
'If such are your expectations of matrimony, Esther, you must,
indeed, be careful whom you marry - or rather, you must avoid it
September 1st. - No Mr. Huntingdon yet. Perhaps he will stay among
his friends till Christmas; and then, next spring, he will be off
again. If he continue this plan, I shall be able to stay at
Grassdale well enough - that is, I shall be able to stay, and that
is enough; even an occasional bevy of friends at the shooting
season may be borne, if Arthur get so firmly attached to me, so
well established in good sense and principles before they come that
I shall be able, by reason and affection, to keep him pure from
their contaminations. Vain hope, I fear! but still, till such a
time of trial comes I will forbear to think of my quiet asylum in
the beloved old hall.
Mr. and Mrs. Hattersley have been staying at the Grove a fortnight:
and as Mr. Hargrave is still absent, and the weather was remarkably
fine, I never passed a day without seeing my two friends, Milicent
and Esther, either there or here. On one occasion, when Mr.
Hattersley had driven them over to Grassdale in the phaeton, with
little Helen and Ralph, and we were all enjoying ourselves in the
garden - I had a few minutes' conversation with that gentleman,
while the ladies were amusing themselves with the children.
'Do you want to hear anything of your husband, Mrs. Huntingdon?'
'No, unless you can tell me when to expect him home.'
'I can't. - You don't want him, do you?' said he, with a broad
'Well, I think you're better without him, sure enough - for my
part, I'm downright weary of him. I told him I'd leave him if he
didn't mend his manners, and he wouldn't; so I left him. You see,
I'm a better man than you think me; and, what's more, I have
serious thoughts of washing my hands of him entirely, and the whole
set of 'em, and comporting myself from this day forward with all
decency and sobriety, as a Christian and the father of a family
should do. What do you think of that?'
'It is a resolution you ought to have formed long ago.'
'Well, I'm not thirty yet; it isn't too late, is it?'
'No; it is never too late to reform, as long as you have the sense
to desire it, and the strength to execute your purpose.'
'Well, to tell you the truth, I've thought of it often and often
before; but he's such devilish good company, is Huntingdon, after
all. You can't imagine what a jovial good fellow he is when he's
not fairly drunk, only just primed or half-seas-over. We all have
a bit of a liking for him at the bottom of our hearts, though we
can't respect him.'
'But should you wish yourself to be like him?'
'No, I'd rather be like myself, bad as I am.'
'You can't continue as bad as you are without getting worse and
more brutalised every day, and therefore more like him.'
I could not help smiling at the comical, half-angry, half-
confounded look he put on at this rather unusual mode of address.
'Never mind my plain speaking,' said I; 'it is from the best of
motives. But tell me, should you wish your sons to be like Mr.
Huntingdon - or even like yourself?'
'Hang it! no.'
'Should you wish your daughter to despise you - or, at least, to
feel no vestige of respect for you, and no affection but what is
mingled with the bitterest regret?'
'Oh, no! I couldn't stand that.'
'And, finally, should you wish your wife to be ready to sink into
the earth when she hears you mentioned; and to loathe the very
sound of your voice, and shudder at your approach?'
'She never will; she likes me all the same, whatever I do.'
'Impossible, Mr. Hattersley! you mistake her quiet submission for
'Fire and fury - '
'Now don't burst into a tempest at that. I don't mean to say she
does not love you - she does, I know, a great deal better than you
deserve; but I am quite sure, that if you behave better, she will
love you more, and if you behave worse, she will love you less and
less, till all is lost in fear, aversion, and bitterness of soul,
if not in secret hatred and contempt. But, dropping the subject of
affection, should you wish to be the tyrant of her life - to take
away all the sunshine from her existence, and make her thoroughly
'Of course not; and I don't, and I'm not going to.'
'You have done more towards it than you suppose.'
'Pooh, pooh! she's not the susceptible, anxious, worriting creature
you imagine: she's a little meek, peaceable, affectionate body;
apt to be rather sulky at times, but quiet and cool in the main,
and ready to take things as they come.'
'Think of what she was five years ago, when you married her, and
what she is now.'
'I know she was a little plump lassie then, with a pretty pink and
white face: now she's a poor little bit of a creature, fading and
melting away like a snow-wreath. But hang it! - that's not my
'What is the cause of it then? Not years, for she's only five-and-
'It's her own delicate health, and confound it, madam! what would
you make of me? - and the children, to be sure, that worry her to
death between them.'
'No, Mr. Hattersley, the children give her more pleasure than pain:
they are fine, well-dispositioned children - '
'I know they are - bless them!'
'Then why lay the blame on them? - I'll tell you what it is: it's
silent fretting and constant anxiety on your account, mingled, I
suspect, with something of bodily fear on her own. When you behave
well, she can only rejoice with trembling; she has no security, no
confidence in your judgment or principles; but is continually
dreading the close of such short-lived felicity; when you behave
ill, her causes of terror and misery are more than any one can tell
but herself. In patient endurance of evil, she forgets it is our
duty to admonish our neighbours of their transgressions. Since you
will mistake her silence for indifference, come with me, and I'll
show you one or two of her letters - no breach of confidence, I
hope, since you are her other half.'
He followed me into the library. I sought out and put into his
hands two of Milicent's letters: one dated from London, and
written during one of his wildest seasons of reckless dissipation;
the other in the country, during a lucid interval. The former was
full of trouble and anguish; not accusing him, but deeply
regretting his connection with his profligate companions, abusing
Mr. Grimsby and others, insinuating bitter things against Mr.
Huntingdon, and most ingeniously throwing the blame of her
husband's misconduct on to other men's shoulders. The latter was
full of hope and joy, yet with a trembling consciousness that this
happiness would not last; praising his goodness to the skies, but
with an evident, though but half-expressed wish, that it were based
on a surer foundation than the natural impulses of the heart, and a
half-prophetic dread of the fall of that house so founded on the
sand, - which fall had shortly after taken place, as Hattersley
must have been conscious while he read.
Almost at the commencement of the first letter I had the unexpected
pleasure of seeing him blush; but he immediately turned his back to
me, and finished the perusal at the window. At the second, I saw
him, once or twice, raise his hand, and hurriedly pass it across
his face. Could it be to dash away a tear? When he had done,
there was an interval spent in clearing his throat and staring out
of the window, and then, after whistling a few bars of a favourite
air, he turned round, gave me back the letters, and silently shook
me by the hand.
'I've been a cursed rascal, God knows,' said he, as he gave it a
hearty squeeze, 'but you see if I don't make amends for it - d-n me
if I don't!'
'Don't curse yourself, Mr. Hattersley; if God had heard half your
invocations of that kind, you would have been in hell long before
now - and you cannot make amends for the past by doing your duty
for the future, inasmuch as your duty is only what you owe to your
Maker, and you cannot do more than fulfil it: another must make
amends for your past delinquencies. If you intend to reform,
invoke God's blessing, His mercy, and His aid; not His curse.'
'God help me, then - for I'm sure I need it. Where's Milicent?'
'She's there, just coming in with her sister.'
He stepped out at the glass door, and went to meet them. I
followed at a little distance. Somewhat to his wife's
astonishment, he lifted her off from the ground, and saluted her
with a hearty kiss and a strong embrace; then placing his two hands
on her shoulders, he gave her, I suppose, a sketch of the great
things he meant to do, for she suddenly threw her arms round him,
and burst into tears, exclaiming, - 'Do, do, Ralph - we shall be so
happy! How very, very good you are!'
'Nay, not I,' said he, turning her round, and pushing her towards
me. 'Thank her; it's her doing.'
Milicent flew to thank me, overflowing with gratitude. I
disclaimed all title to it, telling her her husband was predisposed
to amendment before I added my mite of exhortation and
encouragement, and that I had only done what she might, and ought
to have done herself.
'Oh, no!' cried she; 'I couldn't have influenced him, I'm sure, by
anything that I could have said. I should only have bothered him
by my clumsy efforts at persuasion, if I had made the attempt.'
'You never tried me, Milly,' said he.
Shortly after they took their leave. They are now gone on a visit
to Hattersley's father. After that they will repair to their
country home. I hope his good resolutions will not fall through,
and poor Milicent will not be again disappointed. Her last letter
was full of present bliss, and pleasing anticipations for the
future; but no particular temptation has yet occurred to put his
virtue to the test. Henceforth, however, she will doubtless be
somewhat less timid and reserved, and he more kind and thoughtful.
- Surely, then, her hopes are not unfounded; and I have one bright
spot, at least, whereon to rest my thoughts.
October 10th. - Mr. Huntingdon returned about three weeks ago. His
appearance, his demeanour and conversation, and my feelings with
regard to him, I shall not trouble myself to describe. The day
after his arrival, however, he surprised me by the announcement of
an intention to procure a governess for little Arthur: I told him
it was quite unnecessary, not to say ridiculous, at the present
season: I thought I was fully competent to the task of teaching
him myself - for some years to come, at least: the child's
education was the only pleasure and business of my life; and since
he had deprived me of every other occupation, he might surely leave
He said I was not fit to teach children, or to be with them: I had
already reduced the boy to little better than an automaton; I had
broken his fine spirit with my rigid severity; and I should freeze
all the sunshine out of his heart, and make him as gloomy an
ascetic as myself, if I had the handling of him much longer. And
poor Rachel, too, came in for her share of abuse, as usual; he
cannot endure Rachel, because he knows she has a proper
appreciation of him.
I calmly defended our several qualifications as nurse and
governess, and still resisted the proposed addition to our family;
but he cut me short by saying it was no use bothering about the
matter, for he had engaged a governess already, and she was coming
next week; so that all I had to do was to get things ready for her
reception. This was a rather startling piece of intelligence. I
ventured to inquire her name and address, by whom she had been
recommended, or how he had been led to make choice of her.
'She is a very estimable, pious young person,' said he; 'you
needn't be afraid. Her name is Myers, I believe; and she was
recommended to me by a respectable old dowager: a lady of high
repute in the religious world. I have not seen her myself, and
therefore cannot give you a particular account of her person and
conversation, and so forth; but, if the old lady's eulogies are
correct, you will find her to possess all desirable qualifications
for her position: an inordinate love of children among the rest.'
All this was gravely and quietly spoken, but there was a laughing
demon in his half-averted eye that boded no good, I imagined.
However, I thought of my asylum in -shire, and made no further
When Miss Myers arrived, I was not prepared to give her a very
cordial reception. Her appearance was not particularly calculated
to produce a favourable impression at first sight, nor did her
manners and subsequent conduct, in any degree, remove the prejudice
I had already conceived against her. Her attainments were limited,
her intellect noways above mediocrity. She had a fine voice, and
could sing like a nightingale, and accompany herself sufficiently
well on the piano; but these were her only accomplishments. There
was a look of guile and subtlety in her face, a sound of it in her
voice. She seemed afraid of me, and would start if I suddenly
approached her. In her behaviour she was respectful and
complaisant, even to servility: she attempted to flatter and fawn
upon me at first, but I soon checked that. Her fondness for her
little pupil was overstrained, and I was obliged to remonstrate
with her on the subject of over-indulgence and injudicious praise;
but she could not gain his heart. Her piety consisted in an
occasional heaving of sighs, and uplifting of eyes to the ceiling,
and the utterance of a few cant phrases. She told me she was a
clergyman's daughter, and had been left an orphan from her
childhood, but had had the good fortune to obtain a situation in a
very pious family; and then she spoke so gratefully of the kindness
she had experienced from its different members, that I reproached
myself for my uncharitable thoughts and unfriendly conduct, and
relented for a time, but not for long: my causes of dislike were
too rational, my suspicions too well founded for that; and I knew
it was my duty to watch and scrutinize till those suspicions were
either satisfactorily removed or confirmed.
I asked the name and residence of the kind and pious family. She
mentioned a common name, and an unknown and distant place of abode,
but told me they were now on the Continent, and their present
address was unknown to her. I never saw her speak much to Mr.
Huntingdon; but he would frequently look into the school-room to
see how little Arthur got on with his new companion, when I was not
there. In the evening, she sat with us in the drawing-room, and
would sing and play to amuse him or us, as she pretended, and was
very attentive to his wants, and watchful to anticipate them,
though she only talked to me; indeed, he was seldom in a condition
to be talked to. Had she been other than she was, I should have
felt her presence a great relief to come between us thus, except,
indeed, that I should have been thoroughly ashamed for any decent
person to see him as he often was.
I did not mention my suspicions to Rachel; but she, having
sojourned for half a century in this land of sin and sorrow, has
learned to be suspicious herself. She told me from the first she
was 'down of that new governess,' and I soon found she watched her
quite as narrowly as I did; and I was glad of it, for I longed to
know the truth: the atmosphere of Grassdale seemed to stifle me,
and I could only live by thinking of Wildfell Hall.
At last, one morning, she entered my chamber with such intelligence
that my resolution was taken before she had ceased to speak. While
she dressed me I explained to her my intentions and what assistance
I should require from her, and told her which of my things she was
to pack up, and what she was to leave behind for herself, as I had
no other means of recompensing her for this sudden dismissal after
her long and faithful service: a circumstance I most deeply
regretted, but could not avoid.
'And what will you do, Rachel?' said I; 'will you go home, or seek
'I have no home, ma'am, but with you,' she replied; 'and if I leave
you I'll never go into place again as long as I live.'
'But I can't afford to live like a lady now,' returned I: 'I must
be my own maid and my child's nurse.'
'What signifies!' replied she, in some excitement. 'You'll want
somebody to clean and wash, and cook, won't you? I can do all
that; and never mind the wages: I've my bits o' savings yet, and
if you wouldn't take me I should have to find my own board and
lodging out of 'em somewhere, or else work among strangers: and
it's what I'm not used to: so you can please yourself, ma'am.'
Her voice quavered as she spoke, and the tears stood in her eyes.
'I should like it above all things, Rachel, and I'd give you such
wages as I could afford: such as I should give to any servant-of-
all-work I might employ: but don't you see I should be dragging
you down with me when you have done nothing to deserve it?'
'Oh, fiddle!' ejaculated she.
'And, besides, my future way of living will be so widely different
to the past: so different to all you have been accustomed to - '
'Do you think, ma'am, I can't bear what my missis can? surely I'm
not so proud and so dainty as that comes to; and my little master,
too, God bless him!'
'But I'm young, Rachel; I sha'n't mind it; and Arthur is young too:
it will be nothing to him.'
'Nor me either: I'm not so old but what I can stand hard fare and
hard work, if it's only to help and comfort them as I've loved like
my own bairns: for all I'm too old to bide the thoughts o' leaving
'em in trouble and danger, and going amongst strangers myself.'
'Then you sha'n't, Rachel!' cried I, embracing my faithful friend.
'We'll all go together, and you shall see how the new life suits
'Bless you, honey!' cried she, affectionately returning my embrace.
'Only let us get shut of this wicked house, and we'll do right
enough, you'll see.'
'So think I,' was my answer; and so that point was settled.
By that morning's post I despatched a few hasty lines to Frederick,
beseeching him to prepare my asylum for my immediate reception:
for I should probably come to claim it within a day after the
receipt of that note: and telling him, in few words, the cause of
my sudden resolution. I then wrote three letters of adieu: the
first to Esther Hargrave, in which I told her that I found it
impossible to stay any longer at Grassdale, or to leave my son
under his father's protection; and, as it was of the last
importance that our future abode should be unknown to him and his
acquaintance, I should disclose it to no one but my brother,
through the medium of whom I hoped still to correspond with my
friends. I then gave her his address, exhorted her to write
frequently, reiterated some of my former admonitions regarding her
own concerns, and bade her a fond farewell.
The second was to Milicent; much to the same effect, but a little
more confidential, as befitted our longer intimacy, and her greater
experience and better acquaintance with my circumstances.
The third was to my aunt: a much more difficult and painful
undertaking, and therefore I had left it to the last; but I must
give her some explanation of that extraordinary step I had taken:
and that quickly, for she and my uncle would no doubt hear of it
within a day or two after my disappearance, as it was probable that
Mr. Huntingdon would speedily apply to them to know what was become
of me. At last, however, I told her I was sensible of my error: I
did not complain of its punishment, and I was sorry to trouble my
friends with its consequences; but in duty to my son I must submit
no longer; it was absolutely necessary that he should be delivered
from his father's corrupting influence. I should not disclose my
place of refuge even to her, in order that she and my uncle might
be able, with truth, to deny all knowledge concerning it; but any
communications addressed to me under cover to my brother would be
certain to reach me. I hoped she and my uncle would pardon the
step I had taken, for if they knew all, I was sure they would not
blame me; and I trusted they would not afflict themselves on my
account, for if I could only reach my retreat in safety and keep it
unmolested, I should be very happy, but for the thoughts of them;
and should be quite contented to spend my life in obscurity,
devoting myself to the training up of my child, and teaching him to
avoid the errors of both his parents.
These things were done yesterday: I have given two whole days to
the preparation for our departure, that Frederick may have more
time to prepare the rooms, and Rachel to pack up the things: for
the latter task must be done with the utmost caution and secrecy,
and there is no one but me to assist her. I can help to get the
articles together, but I do not understand the art of stowing them
into the boxes, so as to take up the smallest possible space; and
there are her own things to do, as well as mine and Arthur's. I
can ill afford to leave anything behind, since I have no money,
except a few guineas in my purse; and besides, as Rachel observed,
whatever I left would most likely become the property of Miss
Myers, and I should not relish that.
But what trouble I have had throughout these two days, struggling
to appear calm and collected, to meet him and her as usual, when I
was obliged to meet them, and forcing myself to leave my little
Arthur in her hands for hours together! But I trust these trials
are over now: I have laid him in my bed for better security, and
never more, I trust, shall his innocent lips be defiled by their
contaminating kisses, or his young ears polluted by their words.
But shall we escape in safety? Oh, that the morning were come, and
we were on our way at least! This evening, when I had given Rachel
all the assistance I could, and had nothing left me but to wait,
and wish and tremble, I became so greatly agitated that I knew not
what to do. I went down to dinner, but I could not force myself to
eat. Mr. Huntingdon remarked the circumstance.
'What's to do with you now?' said he, when the removal of the
second course gave him time to look about him.
'I am not well,' I replied: 'I think I must lie down a little; you
won't miss me much?'
'Not the least: if you leave your chair, it'll do just as well -
better, a trifle,' he muttered, as I left the room, 'for I can
fancy somebody else fills it.'
'Somebody else may fill it to-morrow,' I thought, but did not say.
'There! I've seen the last of you, I hope,' I muttered, as I
closed the door upon him.
Rachel urged me to seek repose at once, to recruit my strength for
to-morrow's journey, as we must be gone before the dawn; but in my
present state of nervous excitement that was entirely out of the
question. It was equally out of the question to sit, or wander
about my room, counting the hours and the minutes between me and
the appointed time of action, straining my ears and trembling at
every sound, lest someone should discover and betray us after all.
I took up a book and tried to read: my eyes wandered over the
pages, but it was impossible to bind my thoughts to their contents.
Why not have recourse to the old expedient, and add this last event
to my chronicle? I opened its pages once more, and wrote the above
account - with difficulty, at first, but gradually my mind became
more calm and steady. Thus several hours have passed away: the
time is drawing near; and now my eyes feel heavy and my frame
exhausted. I will commend my cause to God, and then lie down and
gain an hour or two of sleep; and then! -
Little Arthur sleeps soundly. All the house is still: there can
be no one watching. The boxes were all corded by Benson, and
quietly conveyed down the back stairs after dusk, and sent away in
a cart to the M- coach-office. The name upon the cards was Mrs.
Graham, which appellation I mean henceforth to adopt. My mother's
maiden name was Graham, and therefore I fancy I have some claim to
it, and prefer it to any other, except my own, which I dare not
October 24th. - Thank heaven, I am free and safe at last. Early we
rose, swiftly and quietly dressed, slowly and stealthily descended
to the hall, where Benson stood ready with a light, to open the
door and fasten it after us. We were obliged to let one man into
our secret on account of the boxes, &c. All the servants were but
too well acquainted with their master's conduct, and either Benson
or John would have been willing to serve me; but as the former was
more staid and elderly, and a crony of Rachel's besides, I of
course directed her to make choice of him as her assistant and
confidant on the occasion, as far as necessity demanded, I only
hope he may not be brought into trouble thereby, and only wish I
could reward him for the perilous service he was so ready to
undertake. I slipped two guineas into his hand, by way of
remembrance, as he stood in the doorway, holding the candle to
light our departure, with a tear in his honest grey eye, and a host
of good wishes depicted on his solemn countenance. Alas! I could
offer no more: I had barely sufficient remaining for the probable
expenses of the journey.
What trembling joy it was when the little wicket closed behind us,
as we issued from the park! Then, for one moment, I paused, to
inhale one draught of that cool, bracing air, and venture one look
back upon the house. All was dark and still: no light glimmered
in the windows, no wreath of smoke obscured the stars that sparkled
above it in the frosty sky. As I bade farewell for ever to that
place, the scene of so much guilt and misery, I felt glad that I
had not left it before, for now there was no doubt about the
propriety of such a step - no shadow of remorse for him I left
behind. There was nothing to disturb my joy but the fear of
detection; and every step removed us further from the chance of
We had left Grassdale many miles behind us before the round red sun
arose to welcome our deliverance; and if any inhabitant of its
vicinity had chanced to see us then, as we bowled along on the top
of the coach, I scarcely think they would have suspected our
identity. As I intend to be taken for a widow, I thought it
advisable to enter my new abode in mourning: I was, therefore,
attired in a plain black silk dress and mantle, a black veil (which
I kept carefully over my face for the first twenty or thirty miles
of the journey), and a black silk bonnet, which I had been
constrained to borrow of Rachel, for want of such an article
myself. It was not in the newest fashion, of course; but none the
worse for that, under present circumstances. Arthur was clad in
his plainest clothes, and wrapped in a coarse woollen shawl; and
Rachel was muffled in a grey cloak and hood that had seen better
days, and gave her more the appearance of an ordinary though decent
old woman, than of a lady's-maid.
Oh, what delight it was to be thus seated aloft, rumbling along the
broad, sunshiny road, with the fresh morning breeze in my face,
surrounded by an unknown country, all smiling - cheerfully,
gloriously smiling in the yellow lustre of those early beams; with
my darling child in my arms, almost as happy as myself, and my
faithful friend beside me: a prison and despair behind me,
receding further, further back at every clatter of the horses'
feet; and liberty and hope before! I could hardly refrain from
praising God aloud for my deliverance, or astonishing my fellow-
passengers by some surprising outburst of hilarity.
But the journey was a very long one, and we were all weary enough
before the close of it. It was far into the night when we reached
the town of L-, and still we were seven miles from our journey's
end; and there was no more coaching, nor any conveyance to be had,
except a common cart, and that with the greatest difficulty, for
half the town was in bed. And a dreary ride we had of it, that
last stage of the journey, cold and weary as we were; sitting on
our boxes, with nothing to cling to, nothing to lean against,
slowly dragged and cruelly shaken over the rough, hilly roads. But
Arthur was asleep in Rachel's lap, and between us we managed pretty
well to shield him from the cold night air.
At last we began to ascend a terribly steep and stony lane, which,
in spite of the darkness, Rachel said she remembered well: she had
often walked there with me in her arms, and little thought to come
again so many years after, under such circumstances as the present.
Arthur being now awakened by the jolting and the stoppages, we all
got out and walked. We had not far to go; but what if Frederick
should not have received my letter? or if he should not have had
time to prepare the rooms for our reception, and we should find
them all dark, damp, and comfortless, destitute of food, fire, and
furniture, after all our toil?
At length the grim, dark pile appeared before us. The lane
conducted us round by the back way. We entered the desolate court,
and in breathless anxiety surveyed the ruinous mass. Was it all
blackness and desolation? No; one faint red glimmer cheered us
from a window where the lattice was in good repair. The door was
fastened, but after due knocking and waiting, and some parleying
with a voice from an upper window, we were admitted by an old woman
who had been commissioned to air and keep the house till our
arrival, into a tolerably snug little apartment, formerly the
scullery of the mansion, which Frederick had now fitted up as a
kitchen. Here she procured us a light, roused the fire to a
cheerful blaze, and soon prepared a simple repast for our
refreshment; while we disencumbered ourselves of our travelling-
gear, and took a hasty survey of our new abode. Besides the
kitchen, there were two bedrooms, a good-sized parlour, and another
smaller one, which I destined for my studio, all well aired and
seemingly in good repair, but only partly furnished with a few old
articles, chiefly of ponderous black oak, the veritable ones that
had been there before, and which had been kept as antiquarian
relics in my brother's present residence, and now, in all haste,
transported back again.
The old woman brought my supper and Arthur's into the parlour, and
told me, with all due formality, that 'the master desired his
compliments to Mrs. Graham, and he had prepared the rooms as well
as he could upon so short a notice; but he would do himself the
pleasure of calling upon her to-morrow, to receive her further
I was glad to ascend the stern-looking stone staircase, and lie
down in the gloomy, old-fashioned bed, beside my little Arthur. He
was asleep in a minute; but, weary as I was, my excited feelings
and restless cogitations kept me awake till dawn began to struggle
with the darkness; but sleep was sweet and refreshing when it came,
and the waking was delightful beyond expression. It was little
Arthur that roused me, with his gentle kisses. He was here, then,
safely clasped in my arms, and many leagues away from his unworthy
father! Broad daylight illumined the apartment, for the sun was
high in heaven, though obscured by rolling masses of autumnal
The scene, indeed, was not remarkably cheerful in itself, either
within or without. The large bare room, with its grim old
furniture, the narrow, latticed windows, revealing the dull, grey
sky above and the desolate wilderness below, where the dark stone
walls and iron gate, the rank growth of grass and weeds, and the
hardy evergreens of preternatural forms, alone remained to tell
that there had been once a garden, - and the bleak and barren
fields beyond might have struck me as gloomy enough at another
time; but now, each separate object seemed to echo back my own
exhilarating sense of hope and freedom: indefinite dreams of the
far past and bright anticipations of the future seemed to greet me
at every turn. I should rejoice with more security, to be sure,
had the broad sea rolled between my present and my former homes;
but surely in this lonely spot I might remain unknown; and then I
had my brother here to cheer my solitude with his occasional
He came that morning; and I have had several interviews with him
since; but he is obliged to be very cautious when and how he comes;
not even his servants or his best friends must know of his visits
to Wildfell - except on such occasions as a landlord might be
expected to call upon a stranger tenant - lest suspicion should be
excited against me, whether of the truth or of some slanderous
I have now been here nearly a fortnight, and, but for one
disturbing care, the haunting dread of discovery, I am comfortably
settled in my new home: Frederick has supplied me with all
requisite furniture and painting materials: Rachel has sold most
of my clothes for me, in a distant town, and procured me a wardrobe
more suitable to my present position: I have a second-hand piano,
and a tolerably well-stocked bookcase in my parlour; and my other
room has assumed quite a professional, business-like appearance
already. I am working hard to repay my brother for all his
expenses on my account; not that there is the slightest necessity
for anything of the kind, but it pleases me to do so: I shall have
so much more pleasure in my labour, my earnings, my frugal fare,
and household economy, when I know that I am paying my way
honestly, and that what little I possess is legitimately all my
own; and that no one suffers for my folly - in a pecuniary way at
least. I shall make him take the last penny I owe him, if I can
possibly effect it without offending him too deeply. I have a few
pictures already done, for I told Rachel to pack up all I had; and
she executed her commission but too well - for among the rest, she
put up a portrait of Mr. Huntingdon that I had painted in the first
year of my marriage. It struck me with dismay, at the moment, when
I took it from the box and beheld those eyes fixed upon me in their
mocking mirth, as if exulting still in his power to control my
fate, and deriding my efforts to escape.
How widely different had been my feelings in painting that portrait
to what they now were in looking upon it! How I had studied and
toiled to produce something, as I thought, worthy of the original!
what mingled pleasure and dissatisfaction I had had in the result
of my labours! - pleasure for the likeness I had caught;
dissatisfaction, because I had not made it handsome enough. Now, I
see no beauty in it - nothing pleasing in any part of its
expression; and yet it is far handsomer and far more agreeable -
far less repulsive I should rather say - than he is now: for these
six years have wrought almost as great a change upon himself as on
my feelings regarding him. The frame, however, is handsome enough;
it will serve for another painting. The picture itself I have not
destroyed, as I had first intended; I have put it aside; not, I
think, from any lurking tenderness for the memory of past
affection, nor yet to remind me of my former folly, but chiefly
that I may compare my son's features and countenance with this, as
he grows up, and thus be enabled to judge how much or how little he
resembles his father - if I may be allowed to keep him with me
still, and never to behold that father's face again - a blessing I
hardly dare reckon upon.
It seems Mr. Huntingdon is making every exertion to discover the
place of my retreat. He has been in person to Staningley, seeking
redress for his grievances - expecting to hear of his victims, if
not to find them there - and has told so many lies, and with such
unblushing coolness, that my uncle more than half believes him, and
strongly advocates my going back to him and being friends again.
But my aunt knows better: she is too cool and cautious, and too
well acquainted with both my husband's character and my own to be
imposed upon by any specious falsehoods the former could invent.
But he does not want me back; he wants my child; and gives my
friends to understand that if I prefer living apart from him, he
will indulge the whim and let me do so unmolested, and even settle
a reasonable allowance on me, provided I will immediately deliver
up his son. But heaven help me! I am not going to sell my child
for gold, though it were to save both him and me from starving: it
would be better that he should die with me than that he should live
with his father.
Frederick showed me a letter he had received from that gentleman,
full of cool impudence such as would astonish any one who did not
know him, but such as, I am convinced, none would know better how
to answer than my brother. He gave me no account of his reply,
except to tell me that he had not acknowledged his acquaintance
with my place of refuge, but rather left it to be inferred that it
was quite unknown to him, by saying it was useless to apply to him,
or any other of my relations, for information on the subject, as it
appeared I had been driven to such extremity that I had concealed
my retreat even from my best friends; but that if he had known it,
or should at any time be made aware of it, most certainly Mr.
Huntingdon would be the last person to whom he should communicate
the intelligence; and that he need not trouble himself to bargain
for the child, for he (Frederick) fancied he knew enough of his
sister to enable him to declare, that wherever she might be, or
however situated, no consideration would induce her to deliver him
30th. - Alas! my kind neighbours will not let me alone. By some
means they have ferreted me out, and I have had to sustain visits
from three different families, all more or less bent upon
discovering who and what I am, whence I came, and why I have chosen
such a home as this. Their society is unnecessary to me, to say
the least, and their curiosity annoys and alarms me: if I gratify
it, it may lead to the ruin of my son, and if I am too mysterious
it will only excite their suspicions, invite conjecture, and rouse
them to greater exertions - and perhaps be the means of spreading
my fame from parish to parish, till it reach the ears of some one
who will carry it to the Lord of Grassdale Manor.
I shall be expected to return their calls, but if, upon inquiry, I
find that any of them live too far away for Arthur to accompany me,
they must expect in vain for a while, for I cannot bear to leave
him, unless it be to go to church, and I have not attempted that
yet: for - it may be foolish weakness, but I am under such
constant dread of his being snatched away, that I am never easy
when he is not by my side; and I fear these nervous terrors would
so entirely disturb my devotions, that I should obtain no benefit
from the attendance. I mean, however, to make the experiment next
Sunday, and oblige myself to leave him in charge of Rachel for a
few hours. It will be a hard task, but surely no imprudence; and
the vicar has been to scold me for my neglect of the ordinances of
religion. I had no sufficient excuse to offer, and I promised, if
all were well, he should see me in my pew next Sunday; for I do not
wish to be set down as an infidel; and, besides, I know I should
derive great comfort and benefit from an occasional attendance at
public worship, if I could only have faith and fortitude to compose
my thoughts in conformity with the solemn occasion, and forbid them
to be for ever dwelling on my absent child, and on the dreadful
possibility of finding him gone when I return; and surely God in
His mercy will preserve me from so severe a trial: for my child's
own sake, if not for mine, He will not suffer him to be torn away.
November 3rd. - I have made some further acquaintance with my
neighbours. The fine gentleman and beau of the parish and its
vicinity (in his own estimation, at least) is a young . . . .
* * * * *
Here it ended. The rest was torn away. How cruel, just when she
was going to mention me! for I could not doubt it was your humble
servant she was about to mention, though not very favourably, of
course. I could tell that, as well by those few words as by the
recollection of her whole aspect and demeanour towards me in the
commencement of our acquaintance. Well! I could readily forgive
her prejudice against me, and her hard thoughts of our sex in
general, when I saw to what brilliant specimens her experience had
Respecting me, however, she had long since seen her error, and
perhaps fallen into another in the opposite extreme: for if, at
first, her opinion of me had been lower than I deserved, I was
convinced that now my deserts were lower than her opinion; and if
the former part of this continuation had been torn away to avoid
wounding my feelings, perhaps the latter portion had been removed
for fear of ministering too much to my self-conceit. At any rate,
I would have given much to have seen it all - to have witnessed the
gradual change, and watched the progress of her esteem and
friendship for me, and whatever warmer feeling she might have; to
have seen how much of love there was in her regard, and how it had
grown upon her in spite of her virtuous resolutions and strenuous
exertions to - but no, I had no right to see it: all this was too
sacred for any eyes but her own, and she had done well to keep it
Well, Halford, what do you think of all this? and while you read
it, did you ever picture to yourself what my feelings would
probably be during its perusal? Most likely not; but I am not
going to descant upon them now: I will only make this
acknowledgment, little honourable as it may be to human nature, and
especially to myself, - that the former half of the narrative was,
to me, more painful than the latter, not that I was at all
insensible to Mrs. Huntingdon's wrongs or unmoved by her
sufferings, but, I must confess, I felt a kind of selfish
gratification in watching her husband's gradual decline in her good
graces, and seeing how completely he extinguished all her affection
at last. The effect of the whole, however, in spite of all my
sympathy for her, and my fury against him, was to relieve my mind
of an intolerable burden, and fill my heart with joy, as if some
friend had roused me from a dreadful nightmare.
It was now near eight o'clock in the morning, for my candle had
expired in the midst of my perusal, leaving me no alternative but
to get another, at the expense of alarming the house, or to go to
bed, and wait the return of daylight. On my mother's account, I
chose the latter; but how willingly I sought my pillow, and how
much sleep it brought me, I leave you to imagine.
At the first appearance of dawn, I rose, and brought the manuscript
to the window, but it was impossible to read it yet. I devoted
half an hour to dressing, and then returned to it again. Now, with
a little difficulty, I could manage; and with intense and eager
interest, I devoured the remainder of its contents. When it was
ended, and my transient regret at its abrupt conclusion was over, I
opened the window and put out my head to catch the cooling breeze,
and imbibe deep draughts of the pure morning air. A splendid
morning it was; the half-frozen dew lay thick on the grass, the
swallows were twittering round me, the rooks cawing, and cows
lowing in the distance; and early frost and summer sunshine mingled
their sweetness in the air. But I did not think of that: a
confusion of countless thoughts and varied emotions crowded upon me
while I gazed abstractedly on the lovely face of nature. Soon,
however, this chaos of thoughts and passions cleared away, giving
place to two distinct emotions: joy unspeakable that my adored
Helen was all I wished to think her - that through the noisome
vapours of the world's aspersions and my own fancied convictions,
her character shone bright, and clear, and stainless as that sun I
could not bear to look on; and shame and deep remorse for my own
Immediately after breakfast I hurried over to Wildfell Hall.
Rachel had risen many degrees in my estimation since yesterday. I
was ready to greet her quite as an old friend; but every kindly
impulse was checked by the look of cold distrust she cast upon me
on opening the door. The old virgin had constituted herself the
guardian of her lady's honour, I suppose, and doubtless she saw in
me another Mr. Hargrave, only the more dangerous in being more
esteemed and trusted by her mistress.
'Missis can't see any one to-day, sir - she's poorly,' said she, in
answer to my inquiry for Mrs. Graham.
'But I must see her, Rachel,' said I, placing my hand on the door
to prevent its being shut against me.
'Indeed, sir, you can't,' replied she, settling her countenance in
still more iron frigidity than before.
'Be so good as to announce me.'
'It's no manner of use, Mr. Markham; she's poorly, I tell you.'
Just in time to prevent me from committing the impropriety of
taking the citadel by storm, and pushing forward unannounced, an
inner door opened, and little Arthur appeared with his frolicsome
playfellow, the dog. He seized my hand between both his, and
smilingly drew me forward.
'Mamma says you're to come in, Mr. Markham,' said he, 'and I am to
go out and play with Rover.'
Rachel retired with a sigh, and I stepped into the parlour and shut
the door. There, before the fire-place, stood the tall, graceful
figure, wasted with many sorrows. I cast the manuscript on the
table, and looked in her face. Anxious and pale, it was turned
towards me; her clear, dark eyes were fixed on mine with a gaze so
intensely earnest that they bound me like a spell.
'Have you looked it over?' she murmured. The spell was broken.
'I've read it through,' said I, advancing into the room, - 'and I
want to know if you'll forgive me - if you can forgive me?'
She did not answer, but her eyes glistened, and a faint red mantled
on her lip and cheek. As I approached, she abruptly turned away,
and went to the window. It was not in anger, I was well assured,
but only to conceal or control her emotion. I therefore ventured
to follow and stand beside her there, - but not to speak. She gave
me her hand, without turning her head, and murmured in a voice she
strove in vain to steady, - 'Can you forgive me?'
It might be deemed a breach of trust, I thought, to convey that
lily hand to my lips, so I only gently pressed it between my own,
and smilingly replied, - 'I hardly can. You should have told me
this before. It shows a want of confidence - '
'Oh, no,' cried she, eagerly interrupting me; 'it was not that. It
was no want of confidence in you; but if I had told you anything of
my history, I must have told you all, in order to excuse my
conduct; and I might well shrink from such a disclosure, till
necessity obliged me to make it. But you forgive me? - I have done
very, very wrong, I know; but, as usual, I have reaped the bitter
fruits of my own error, - and must reap them to the end.'
Bitter, indeed, was the tone of anguish, repressed by resolute
firmness, in which this was spoken. Now, I raised her hand to my
lips, and fervently kissed it again and again; for tears prevented
any other reply. She suffered these wild caresses without
resistance or resentment; then, suddenly turning from me, she paced
twice or thrice through the room. I knew by the contraction of her
brow, the tight compression of her lips, and wringing of her hands,
that meantime a violent conflict between reason and passion was
silently passing within. At length she paused before the empty
fire-place, and turning to me, said calmly - if that might be
called calmness which was so evidently the result of a violent
effort, - 'Now, Gilbert, you must leave me - not this moment, but
soon - and you must never come again.'
'Never again, Helen? just when I love you more than ever.'
'For that very reason, if it be so, we should not meet again. I
thought this interview was necessary - at least, I persuaded myself
it was so - that we might severally ask and receive each other's
pardon for the past; but there can be no excuse for another. I
shall leave this place, as soon as I have means to seek another
asylum; but our intercourse must end here.'
'End here!' echoed I; and approaching the high, carved chimney-
piece, I leant my hand against its heavy mouldings, and dropped my
forehead upon it in silent, sullen despondency.
'You must not come again,' continued she. There was a slight
tremor in her voice, but I thought her whole manner was provokingly
composed, considering the dreadful sentence she pronounced. 'You
must know why I tell you so,' she resumed; 'and you must see that
it is better to part at once: - if it be hard to say adieu for
ever, you ought to help me.' She paused. I did not answer. 'Will
you promise not to come? - if you won't, and if you do come here
again, you will drive me away before I know where to find another
place of refuge - or how to seek it.'
'Helen,' said I, turning impatiently towards her, 'I cannot discuss
the matter of eternal separation calmly and dispassionately as you
can do. It is no question of mere expedience with me; it is a
question of life and death!'
She was silent. Her pale lips quivered, and her fingers trembled
with agitation, as she nervously entwined them in the hair-chain to
which was appended her small gold watch - the only thing of value
she had permitted herself to keep. I had said an unjust and cruel
thing; but I must needs follow it up with something worse.
'But, Helen!' I began in a soft, low tone, not daring to raise my
eyes to her face, 'that man is not your husband: in the sight of
heaven he has forfeited all claim to - ' She seized my arm with a
grasp of startling energy.
'Gilbert, don't!' she cried, in a tone that would have pierced a
heart of adamant. 'For God's sake, don't you attempt these
arguments! No fiend could torture me like this!'
'I won't, I won't!' said I, gently laying my hand on hers; almost
as much alarmed at her vehemence as ashamed of my own misconduct.
'Instead of acting like a true friend,' continued she, breaking
from me, and throwing herself into the old arm-chair, 'and helping
me with all your might - or rather taking your own part in the
struggle of right against passion - you leave all the burden to me;
- and not satisfied with that, you do your utmost to fight against
me - when you know that! - ' she paused, and hid her face in her
'Forgive me, Helen!' pleaded I. 'I will never utter another word
on the subject. But may we not still meet as friends?'
'It will not do,' she replied, mournfully shaking her head; and
then she raised her eyes to mine, with a mildly reproachful look
that seemed to say, 'You must know that as well as I.'
'Then what must we do?' cried I, passionately. But immediately I
added in a quieter tone - 'I'll do whatever you desire; only don't
say that this meeting is to be our last.'
'And why not? Don't you know that every time we meet the thoughts
of the final parting will become more painful? Don't you feel that
every interview makes us dearer to each other than the last?'
The utterance of this last question was hurried and low, and the
downcast eyes and burning blush too plainly showed that she, at
least, had felt it. It was scarcely prudent to make such an
admission, or to add - as she presently did - 'I have power to bid
you go, now: another time it might be different,' - but I was not
base enough to attempt to take advantage of her candour.
'But we may write,' I timidly suggested. 'You will not deny me
'We can hear of each other through my brother.'
'Your brother!' A pang of remorse and shame shot through me. She
had not heard of the injury he had sustained at my hands; and I had
not the courage to tell her. 'Your brother will not help us,' I
said: 'he would have all communion between us to be entirely at an
'And he would be right, I suppose. As a friend of both, he would
wish us both well; and every friend would tell us it was our
interest, as well as our duty, to forget each other, though we
might not see it ourselves. But don't be afraid, Gilbert,' she
added, smiling sadly at my manifest discomposure; 'there is little
chance of my forgetting you. But I did not mean that Frederick
should be the means of transmitting messages between us - only that
each might know, through him, of the other's welfare; - and more
than this ought not to be: for you are young, Gilbert, and you
ought to marry - and will some time, though you may think it
impossible now: and though I hardly can say I wish you to forget
me, I know it is right that you should, both for your own
happiness, and that of your future wife; - and therefore I must and
will wish it,' she added resolutely.
'And you are young too, Helen,' I boldly replied; 'and when that
profligate scoundrel has run through his career, you will give your
hand to me - I'll wait till then.'
But she would not leave me this support. Independently of the
moral evil of basing our hopes upon the death of another, who, if
unfit for this world, was at least no less so for the next, and
whose amelioration would thus become our bane and his greatest
transgression our greatest benefit, - she maintained it to be
madness: many men of Mr. Huntingdon's habits had lived to a ripe
though miserable old age. 'And if I,' said she, 'am young in
years, I am old in sorrow; but even if trouble should fail to kill
me before vice destroys him, think, if he reached but fifty years
or so, would you wait twenty or fifteen - in vague uncertainty and
suspense - through all the prime of youth and manhood - and marry
at last a woman faded and worn as I shall be - without ever having
seen me from this day to that? - You would not,' she continued,
interrupting my earnest protestations of unfailing constancy, - 'or
if you would, you should not. Trust me, Gilbert; in this matter I
know better than you. You think me cold and stony-hearted, and you
may, but - '
'I don't, Helen.'
'Well, never mind: you might if you would: but I have not spent
my solitude in utter idleness, and I am not speaking now from the
impulse of the moment, as you do. I have thought of all these
matters again and again; I have argued these questions with myself,
and pondered well our past, and present, and future career; and,
believe me, I have come to the right conclusion at last. Trust my
words rather than your own feelings now, and in a few years you
will see that I was right - though at present I hardly can see it
myself,' she murmured with a sigh as she rested her head on her
hand. 'And don't argue against me any more: all you can say has
been already said by my own heart and refuted by my reason. It was
hard enough to combat those suggestions as they were whispered
within me; in your mouth they are ten times worse, and if you knew
how much they pain me you would cease at once, I know. If you knew
my present feelings, you would even try to relieve them at the
expense of your own.'
'I will go - in a minute, if that can relieve you - and NEVER
return!' said I, with bitter emphasis. 'But, if we may never meet,
and never hope to meet again, is it a crime to exchange our
thoughts by letter? May not kindred spirits meet, and mingle in
communion, whatever be the fate and circumstances of their earthly
'They may, they may!' cried she, with a momentary burst of glad
enthusiasm. 'I thought of that too, Gilbert, but I feared to
mention it, because I feared you would not understand my views upon
the subject. I fear it even now - I fear any kind friend would
tell us we are both deluding ourselves with the idea of keeping up
a spiritual intercourse without hope or prospect of anything
further - without fostering vain regrets and hurtful aspirations,
and feeding thoughts that should be sternly and pitilessly left to
perish of inanition.'
'Never mind our kind friends: if they can part our bodies, it is
enough; in God's name, let them not sunder our souls!' cried I, in
terror lest she should deem it her duty to deny us this last
'But no letters can pass between us here,' said she, 'without
giving fresh food for scandal; and when I departed, I had intended
that my new abode should be unknown to you as to the rest of the
world; not that I should doubt your word if you promised not to
visit me, but I thought you would be more tranquil in your own mind
if you knew you could not do it, and likely to find less difficulty
in abstracting yourself from me if you could not picture my
situation to your mind. But listen,' said she, smilingly putting
up her finger to check my impatient reply: 'in six months you
shall hear from Frederick precisely where I am; and if you still
retain your wish to write to me, and think you can maintain a
correspondence all thought, all spirit - such as disembodied souls
or unimpassioned friends, at least, might hold, - write, and I will
'Yes, to give your present ardour time to cool, and try the truth
and constancy of your soul's love for mine. And now, enough has
been said between us. Why can't we part at once?' exclaimed she,
almost wildly, after a moment's pause, as she suddenly rose from
her chair, with her hands resolutely clasped together. I thought
it was my duty to go without delay; and I approached and half
extended my hand as if to take leave - she grasped it in silence.
But this thought of final separation was too intolerable: it
seemed to squeeze the blood out of my heart; and my feet were glued
to the floor.
'And must we never meet again?' I murmured, in the anguish of my
'We shall meet in heaven. Let us think of that,' said she in a
tone of desperate calmness; but her eyes glittered wildly, and her
face was deadly pale.
'But not as we are now,' I could not help replying. 'It gives me
little consolation to think I shall next behold you as a
disembodied spirit, or an altered being, with a frame perfect and
glorious, but not like this! - and a heart, perhaps, entirely
estranged from me.'
'No, Gilbert, there is perfect love in heaven!'
'So perfect, I suppose, that it soars above distinctions, and you
will have no closer sympathy with me than with any one of the ten
thousand thousand angels and the innumerable multitude of happy
spirits round us.'
'Whatever I am, you will be the same, and, therefore, cannot
possibly regret it; and whatever that change may be we know it must
be for the better.'
'But if I am to be so changed that I shall cease to adore you with
my whole heart and soul, and love you beyond every other creature,
I shall not be myself; and though, if ever I win heaven at all, I
must, I know, be infinitely better and happier than I am now, my
earthly nature cannot rejoice in the anticipation of such
beatitude, from which itself and its chief joy must be excluded.'
'Is your love all earthly, then?'
'No, but I am supposing we shall have no more intimate communion
with each other than with the rest.'
'If so, it will be because we love them more, and not each other
less. Increase of love brings increase of happiness, when it is
mutual, and pure as that will be.'
'But can you, Helen, contemplate with delight this prospect of
losing me in a sea of glory?'
'I own I cannot; but we know not that it will be so; - and I do
know that to regret the exchange of earthly pleasures for the joys
of heaven, is as if the grovelling caterpillar should lament that
it must one day quit the nibbled leaf to soar aloft and flutter
through the air, roving at will from flower to flower, sipping
sweet honey from their cups, or basking in their sunny petals. If
these little creatures knew how great a change awaited them, no
doubt they would regret it; but would not all such sorrow be
misplaced? And if that illustration will not move you, here is
another:- We are children now; we feel as children, and we
understand as children; and when we are told that men and women do
not play with toys, and that our companions will one day weary of
the trivial sports and occupations that interest them and us so
deeply now, we cannot help being saddened at the thoughts of such
an alteration, because we cannot conceive that as we grow up our
own minds will become so enlarged and elevated that we ourselves
shall then regard as trifling those objects and pursuits we now so
fondly cherish, and that, though our companions will no longer join
us in those childish pastimes, they will drink with us at other
fountains of delight, and mingle their souls with ours in higher
aims and nobler occupations beyond our present comprehension, but
not less deeply relished or less truly good for that, while yet
both we and they remain essentially the same individuals as before.
But, Gilbert, can you really derive no consolation from the thought
that we may meet together where there is no more pain and sorrow,
no more striving against sin, and struggling of the spirit against
the flesh; where both will behold the same glorious truths, and
drink exalted and supreme felicity from the same fountain of light
and goodness - that Being whom both will worship with the same
intensity of holy ardour - and where pure and happy creatures both
will love with the same divine affection? If you cannot, never
write to me!'
'Helen, I can! if faith would never fail.'
'Now, then,' exclaimed she, 'while this hope is strong within us -
'We will part,' I cried. 'You shall not have the pain of another
effort to dismiss me. I will go at once; but - '
I did not put my request in words: she understood it
instinctively, and this time she yielded too - or rather, there was
nothing so deliberate as requesting or yielding in the matter:
there was a sudden impulse that neither could resist. One moment I
stood and looked into her face, the next I held her to my heart,
and we seemed to grow together in a close embrace from which no
physical or mental force could rend us. A whispered 'God bless
you!' and 'Go - go!' was all she said; but while she spoke she held
me so fast that, without violence, I could not have obeyed her. At
length, however, by some heroic effort, we tore ourselves apart,
and I rushed from the house.
I have a confused remembrance of seeing little Arthur running up
the garden-walk to meet me, and of bolting over the wall to avoid
him - and subsequently running down the steep fields, clearing the
stone fences and hedges as they came in my way, till I got
completely out of sight of the old hall and down to the bottom of
the hill; and then of long hours spent in bitter tears and
lamentations, and melancholy musings in the lonely valley, with the
eternal music in my ears, of the west wind rushing through the
overshadowing trees, and the brook babbling and gurgling along its
stony bed; my eyes, for the most part, vacantly fixed on the deep,
chequered shades restlessly playing over the bright sunny grass at
my feet, where now and then a withered leaf or two would come
dancing to share the revelry; but my heart was away up the hill in
that dark room where she was weeping desolate and alone - she whom
I was not to comfort, not to see again, till years or suffering had
overcome us both, and torn our spirits from their perishing abodes
There was little business done that day, you may be sure. The farm
was abandoned to the labourers, and the labourers were left to
their own devices. But one duty must be attended to; I had not
forgotten my assault upon Frederick Lawrence; and I must see him to
apologise for the unhappy deed. I would fain have put it off till
the morrow; but what if he should denounce me to his sister in the
meantime? No, no! I must ask his pardon to-day, and entreat him
to be lenient in his accusation, if the revelation must be made. I
deferred it, however, till the evening, when my spirits were more
composed, and when - oh, wonderful perversity of human nature! -
some faint germs of indefinite hopes were beginning to rise in my
mind; not that I intended to cherish them, after all that had been
said on the subject, but there they must lie for a while, uncrushed
though not encouraged, till I had learnt to live without them.
Arrived at Woodford, the young squire's abode, I found no little
difficulty in obtaining admission to his presence. The servant
that opened the door told me his master was very ill, and seemed to
think it doubtful whether he would be able to see me. I was not
going to be baulked, however. I waited calmly in the hall to be
announced, but inwardly determined to take no denial. The message
was such as I expected - a polite intimation that Mr. Lawrence
could see no one; he was feverish, and must not be disturbed.
'I shall not disturb him long,' said I; 'but I must see him for a
moment: it is on business of importance that I wish to speak to
'I'll tell him, sir,' said the man. And I advanced further into
the hall and followed him nearly to the door of the apartment where
his master was - for it seemed he was not in bed. The answer
returned was that Mr. Lawrence hoped I would be so good as to leave
a message or a note with the servant, as he could attend to no
business at present.
'He may as well see me as you,' said I; and, stepping past the
astonished footman, I boldly rapped at the door, entered, and
closed it behind me. The room was spacious and handsomely
furnished - very comfortably, too, for a bachelor. A clear, red
fire was burning in the polished grate: a superannuated greyhound,
given up to idleness and good living, lay basking before it on the
thick, soft rug, on one corner of which, beside the sofa, sat a
smart young springer, looking wistfully up in its master's face -
perhaps asking permission to share his couch, or, it might be, only
soliciting a caress from his hand or a kind word from his lips.
The invalid himself looked very interesting as he lay reclining
there, in his elegant dressing-gown, with a silk handkerchief bound
across his temples. His usually pale face was flushed and
feverish; his eyes were half closed, until he became sensible of my
presence - and then he opened them wide enough: one hand was
thrown listlessly over the back of the sofa, and held a small
volume, with which, apparently, he had been vainly attempting to
beguile the weary hours. He dropped it, however, in his start of
indignant surprise as I advanced into the room and stood before him
on the rug. He raised himself on his pillows, and gazed upon me
with equal degrees of nervous horror, anger, and amazement depicted
on his countenance.
'Mr. Markham, I scarcely expected this!' he said; and the blood
left his cheek as he spoke.
'I know you didn't,' answered I; 'but be quiet a minute, and I'll
tell you what I came for.' Unthinkingly, I advanced a step or two
nearer. He winced at my approach, with an expression of aversion
and instinctive physical fear anything but conciliatory to my
feelings. I stepped back, however.
'Make your story a short one,' said he, putting his hand on the
small silver bell that stood on the table beside him, 'or I shall
be obliged to call for assistance. I am in no state to bear your
brutalities now, or your presence either.' And in truth the
moisture started from his pores and stood on his pale forehead like
Such a reception was hardly calculated to diminish the difficulties
of my unenviable task. It must be performed however, in some
fashion; and so I plunged into it at once, and floundered through
it as I could.
'The truth is, Lawrence,' said I, 'I have not acted quite correctly
towards you of late - especially on this last occasion; and I'm
come to - in short, to express my regret for what has been done,
and to beg your pardon. If you don't choose to grant it,' I added
hastily, not liking the aspect of his face, 'it's no matter; only
I've done my duty - that's all.'
'It's easily done,' replied he, with a faint smile bordering on a
sneer: 'to abuse your friend and knock him on the head without any
assignable cause, and then tell him the deed was not quite correct,
but it's no matter whether he pardons it or not.'
'I forgot to tell you that it was in consequence of a mistake,' -
muttered I. 'I should have made a very handsome apology, but you
provoked me so confoundedly with your -. Well, I suppose it's my
fault. The fact is, I didn't know that you were Mrs. Graham's
brother, and I saw and heard some things respecting your conduct
towards her which were calculated to awaken unpleasant suspicions,
that, allow me to say, a little candour and confidence on your part
might have removed; and, at last, I chanced to overhear a part of a
conversation between you and her that made me think I had a right
to hate you.'
'And how came you to know that I was her brother?' asked he, in
'She told me herself. She told me all. She knew I might be
trusted. But you needn't disturb yourself about that, Mr.
Lawrence, for I've seen the last of her!'
'The last! Is she gone, then?'
'No; but she has bid adieu to me, and I have promised never to go
near that house again while she inhabits it.' I could have groaned
aloud at the bitter thoughts awakened by this turn in the
discourse. But I only clenched my hands and stamped my foot upon
the rug. My companion, however, was evidently relieved.
'You have done right,' he said, in a tone of unqualified
approbation, while his face brightened into almost a sunny
expression. 'And as for the mistake, I am sorry for both our sakes
that it should have occurred. Perhaps you can forgive my want of
candour, and remember, as some partial mitigation of the offence,
how little encouragement to friendly confidence you have given me
'Yes, yes - I remember it all: nobody can blame me more than I
blame myself in my own heart; at any rate, nobody can regret more
sincerely than I do the result of my brutality, as you rightly term
'Never mind that,' said he, faintly smiling; 'let us forget all
unpleasant words on both sides, as well as deeds, and consign to
oblivion everything that we have cause to regret. Have you any
objection to take my hand, or you'd rather not?' It trembled
through weakness as he held it out, and dropped before I had time
to catch it and give it a hearty squeeze, which he had not the
strength to return.
'How dry and burning your hand is, Lawrence,' said I. 'You are
really ill, and I have made you worse by all this talk.'
'Oh, it is nothing; only a cold got by the rain.'
'My doing, too.'
'Never mind that. But tell me, did you mention this affair to my
'To confess the truth, I had not the courage to do so; but when you
tell her, will you just say that I deeply regret it, and - ?'
'Oh, never fear! I shall say nothing against you, as long as you
keep your good resolution of remaining aloof from her. She has not
heard of my illness, then, that you are aware of?'
'I think not.'
'I'm glad of that, for I have been all this time tormenting myself
with the fear that somebody would tell her I was dying, or
desperately ill, and she would be either distressing herself on
account of her inability to hear from me or do me any good, or
perhaps committing the madness of coming to see me. I must
contrive to let her know something about it, if I can,' continued
he, reflectively, 'or she will be hearing some such story. Many
would be glad to tell her such news, just to see how she would take
it; and then she might expose herself to fresh scandal.'
'I wish I had told her,' said I. 'If it were not for my promise, I
would tell her now.'
'By no means! I am not dreaming of that; - but if I were to write
a short note, now, not mentioning you, Markham, but just giving a
slight account of my illness, by way of excuse for my not coming to
see her, and to put her on her guard against any exaggerated
reports she may hear, - and address it in a disguised hand - would
you do me the favour to slip it into the post-office as you pass?
for I dare not trust any of the servants in such a case.'
Most willingly I consented, and immediately brought him his desk.
There was little need to disguise his hand, for the poor fellow
seemed to have considerable difficulty in writing at all, so as to
be legible. When the note was done, I thought it time to retire,
and took leave, after asking if there was anything in the world I
could do for him, little or great, in the way of alleviating his
sufferings, and repairing the injury I had done.
'No,' said he; 'you have already done much towards it; you have
done more for me than the most skilful physician could do: for you
have relieved my mind of two great burdens - anxiety on my sister's
account, and deep regret upon your own: for I do believe these two
sources of torment have had more effect in working me up into a
fever than anything else; and I am persuaded I shall soon recover
now. There is one more thing you can do for me, and that is, come
and see me now and then - for you see I am very lonely here, and I
promise your entrance shall not be disputed again.'
I engaged to do so, and departed with a cordial pressure of the
hand. I posted the letter on my way home, most manfully resisting
the temptation of dropping in a word from myself at the same time.
I felt strongly tempted, at times, to enlighten my mother and
sister on the real character and circumstances of the persecuted
tenant of Wildfell Hall, and at first I greatly regretted having
omitted to ask that lady's permission to do so; but, on due
reflection, I considered that if it were known to them, it could
not long remain a secret to the Millwards and Wilsons, and such was
my present appreciation of Eliza Millward's disposition, that, if
once she got a clue to the story, I should fear she would soon find
means to enlighten Mr. Huntingdon upon the place of his wife's
retreat. I would therefore wait patiently till these weary six
months were over, and then, when the fugitive had found another
home, and I was permitted to write to her, I would beg to be
allowed to clear her name from these vile calumnies: at present I
must content myself with simply asserting that I knew them to be
false, and would prove it some day, to the shame of those who
slandered her. I don't think anybody believed me, but everybody
soon learned to avoid insinuating a word against her, or even
mentioning her name in my presence. They thought I was so madly
infatuated by the seductions of that unhappy lady that I was
determined to support her in the very face of reason; and meantime
I grow insupportably morose and misanthropical from the idea that
every one I met was harbouring unworthy thoughts of the supposed
Mrs. Graham, and would express them if he dared. My poor mother
was quite distressed about me; but I couldn't help it - at least I
thought I could not, though sometimes I felt a pang of remorse for
my undutiful conduct to her, and made an effort to amend, attended
with some partial success; and indeed I was generally more
humanised in my demeanour to her than to any one else, Mr. Lawrence
excepted. Rose and Fergus usually shunned my presence; and it was
well they did, for I was not fit company for them, nor they for me,
under the present circumstances.
Mrs. Huntingdon did not leave Wildfell Hall till above two months
after our farewell interview. During that time she never appeared
at church, and I never went near the house: I only knew she was
still there by her brother's brief answers to my many and varied
inquiries respecting her. I was a very constant and attentive
visitor to him throughout the whole period of his illness and
convalescence; not only from the interest I took in his recovery,
and my desire to cheer him up and make the utmost possible amends
for my former 'brutality,' but from my growing attachment to
himself, and the increasing pleasure I found in his society -
partly from his increased cordiality to me, but chiefly on account
of his close connection, both in blood and in affection, with my
adored Helen. I loved him for it better than I liked to express:
and I took a secret delight in pressing those slender white
fingers, so marvellously like her own, considering he was not a
woman, and in watching the passing changes in his fair, pale
features, and observing the intonations of his voice, detecting
resemblances which I wondered had never struck me before. He
provoked me at times, indeed, by his evident reluctance to talk to
me about his sister, though I did not question the friendliness of
his motives in wishing to discourage my remembrance of her.
His recovery was not quite so rapid as he had expected it to be; he
was not able to mount his pony till a fortnight after the date of
our reconciliation; and the first use he made of his returning
strength was to ride over by night to Wildfell Hall, to see his
sister. It was a hazardous enterprise both for him and for her,
but he thought it necessary to consult with her on the subject of
her projected departure, if not to calm her apprehensions
respecting his health, and the worst result was a slight relapse of
his illness, for no one knew of the visit but the inmates of the
old Hall, except myself; and I believe it had not been his
intention to mention it to me, for when I came to see him the next
day, and observed he was not so well as he ought to have been, he
merely said he had caught cold by being out too late in the
'You'll never be able to see your sister, if you don't take care of
yourself,' said I, a little provoked at the circumstance on her
account, instead of commiserating him.
'I've seen her already,' said he, quietly.
'You've seen her!' cried I, in astonishment.
'Yes.' And then he told me what considerations had impelled him to
make the venture, and with what precautions he had made it.
'And how was she?' I eagerly asked.
'As usual,' was the brief though sad reply.
'As usual - that is, far from happy and far from strong.'
'She is not positively ill,' returned he; 'and she will recover her
spirits in a while, I have no doubt - but so many trials have been
almost too much for her. How threatening those clouds look,'
continued he, turning towards the window. 'We shall have thunder-
showers before night, I imagine, and they are just in the midst of
stacking my corn. Have you got yours all in yet?'
'No. And, Lawrence, did she - did your sister mention me?'
'She asked if I had seen you lately.'
'And what else did she say?'
'I cannot tell you all she said,' replied he, with a slight smile;
'for we talked a good deal, though my stay was but short; but our
conversation was chiefly on the subject of her intended departure,
which I begged her to delay till I was better able to assist her in
her search after another home.'
'But did she say no more about me?'
'She did not say much about you, Markham. I should not have
encouraged her to do so, had she been inclined; but happily she was
not: she only asked a few questions concerning you, and seemed
satisfied with my brief answers, wherein she showed herself wiser
than her friend; and I may tell you, too, that she seemed to be far
more anxious lest you should think too much of her, than lest you
should forget her.'
'She was right.'
'But I fear your anxiety is quite the other way respecting her.'
'No, it is not: I wish her to be happy; but I don't wish her to
forget me altogether. She knows it is impossible that I should
forget her; and she is right to wish me not to remember her too
well. I should not desire her to regret me too deeply; but I can
scarcely imagine she will make herself very unhappy about me,
because I know I am not worthy of it, except in my appreciation of
'You are neither of you worthy of a broken heart, - nor of all the
sighs, and tears, and sorrowful thoughts that have been, and I fear
will be, wasted upon you both; but, at present, each has a more
exalted opinion of the other than, I fear, he or she deserves; and
my sister's feelings are naturally full as keen as yours, and I
believe more constant; but she has the good sense and fortitude to
strive against them in this particular; and I trust she will not
rest till she has entirely weaned her thoughts - ' he hesitated.
'From me,' said I.
'And I wish you would make the like exertions,' continued he.
'Did she tell you that that was her intention?'
'No; the question was not broached between us: there was no
necessity for it, for I had no doubt that such was her
'To forget me?'
'Yes, Markham! Why not?'
'Oh, well!' was my only audible reply; but I internally answered, -
'No, Lawrence, you're wrong there: she is not determined to forget
me. It would be wrong to forget one so deeply and fondly devoted
to her, who can so thoroughly appreciate her excellencies, and
sympathise with all her thoughts, as I can do, and it would be
wrong in me to forget so excellent and divine a piece of God's
creation as she, when I have once so truly loved and known her.'
But I said no more to him on that subject. I instantly started a
new topic of conversation, and soon took leave of my companion,
with a feeling of less cordiality towards him than usual. Perhaps
I had no right to be annoyed at him, but I was so nevertheless.
In little more than a week after this I met him returning from a
visit to the Wilsons'; and I now resolved to do him a good turn,
though at the expense of his feelings, and perhaps at the risk of
incurring that displeasure which is so commonly the reward of those
who give disagreeable information, or tender their advice unasked.
In this, believe me, I was actuated by no motives of revenge for
the occasional annoyances I had lately sustained from him, - nor
yet by any feeling of malevolent enmity towards Miss Wilson, but
purely by the fact that I could not endure that such a woman should
be Mrs. Huntingdon's sister, and that, as well for his own sake as
for hers, I could not bear to think of his being deceived into a
union with one so unworthy of him, and so utterly unfitted to be
the partner of his quiet home, and the companion of his life. He
had had uncomfortable suspicions on that head himself, I imagined;
but such was his inexperience, and such were the lady's powers of
attraction, and her skill in bringing them to bear upon his young