`Good morning, Mr Markham,' said she; and without another word or glance, she withdrew with her child into the garden; and I returned home, angry and dissatisfied--I could scarcely tell you why--and therefore will not attempt it.
I only stayed to put away my gun and powder-horn, and give some requisite directions to one of the farming-men, and then repaired to the vicarage, to solace my spirit and soothe my ruffled temper with the company and conversation of Eliza Millward.
I found her, as usual, busy with some piece of soft embroidery (the mania for Berlin wools had not yet commenced), while her sister was seated at the chimney-corner, with the cat on her knee, mending a heap of stockings.
`Mary--Mary! put them away!' Eliza was hastily saying, just as I entered the room.
`Not I, indeed!' was the phlegmatic reply; and my appearance prevented further discussion.
`You're so unfortunate, Mr Markham!' observed the younger sister, with one of her arch, sidelong glances. `Papa's just gone out into the parish, and not likely to be back for an hour!'
`Never mind; I can manage to spend a few minutes with his daughters, if they'll allow me,' said I, bringing a chair to the fire, and seating myself therein, without waiting to be asked.
`Well, if you'll be very good and amusing, we shan't object.'
`Let your permission be unconditional, pray; for I came not to give pleasure, but to seek it,' I answered.
However, I thought it but reasonable to make some slight exertion to render my company agreeable; and what little effort I made was apparently pretty successful, for Miss Eliza was never in a better humour. We seemed, indeed, to be mutually pleased with each other, and managed to maintain between us a cheerful and animated, though not very profound conversation. It was little better than a tête-à-tête, for Miss Millward never opened her lips, except occasionally to correct some random assertion or exaggerated expression of her sister's, and once to ask her to pick up the ball of cotton, that had rolled under the table. I did this myself, however, as in duty bound.
`Thank you, Mr Markham,' said she, as I presented it to her. `I would have picked it up myself; only I did not want to disturb the cat.'
`Mary, dear, that won't excuse you in Mr Markham's eyes,' said Eliza; `he hates cats, I dare say, as cordially as he does old maids--like all other gentlemen--Don't you, Mr Markham?'
`I believe it is natural for our unamiable sex to dislike the creatures,' replied I; `for you ladies lavish so many caresses upon them'
`Bless them--little darlings!' cried she, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, turning round and overwhelming her sister's pet with a shower of kisses.
`Don't, Eliza!' said Miss Millward, somewhat gruffly as she impatiently pushed her away.
But it was time for me to be going: make what haste I would, I should still be too late for tea; and my mother was the soul of order and punctuality.
My fair friend was evidently unwilling to bid me adieu. I tenderly squeezed her little hand at parting; and she repaid me with one of her softest smiles and most bewitching glances. I went home very happy, with a heart brimful of complacency for myself, and overflowing with love for Eliza.
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