A ControversyTwo days after, Mrs Graham called at Linden-Car, contrary to the expectation of Rose, who entertained an idea that the mysterious occupant of Wildfell Hall would wholly disregard the common observances of civilized life,--in which opinion she was supported by the Wilsons, who testified that neither their call nor the Millwards' had been returned as yet. Now, however, the cause of that omission was explained, though not entirely to the satisfaction of Rose. Mrs Graham had brought her child with her, and on my mother's expressing surprise that he could walk so far, she replied,--
`It is a long walk for him; but I must have either taken him with me, or relinquished the visit altogether: for I never leave him alone; and I think, Mrs Markham, I must beg you to make my excuses to the Millwards and Mrs Wilson, when you see them, as I fear I cannot do myself the pleasure of calling upon them till my little Arthur is able to accompany me.'
`But you have a servant,' said Rose; `could you not leave him with her?'
`She has her own occupations to attend to; and besides, she is too old to run after a child, and he is too mercurial to be tied to an elderly woman.
`But you left him to come to church.'
`Yes, once; but I would not have left him for any other purpose; and I think, in future, I must contrive to bring him with me, or stay at home.'
`Is he so mischievous?' asked my mother, considerably shocked.
`No,' replied the lady, sadly smiling, as she stroked the wavy locks of her son, who was seated on a low stool at her feet, `but he is my only treasure; and I am his only friend, so we don't like to be separated.'
`But my dear, I call that doting,' said my plain-spoken parent.
`You should try to suppress such foolish fondness, as well to save your son from ruin as yourself from ridicule.'
`Ruin, Mrs Markham?'
`Yes; it is spoiling the child. Even at his age, he ought not to be always tied to his mother's apron string; he should learn to be ashamed of it.'
`Mrs Markham, I beg you will not say such things in his presence, at least. I trust my son will never be ashamed to love his mother!' said Mrs Graham, with a serious energy that startled the company.
My mother attempted to appease her by an explanation; but she seemed to think enough had been said on the subject, and abruptly turned the conversation.
`Just as I thought,' said I to myself: `the lady's temper is none of the mildest, notwithstanding her sweet, pale face and lofty brow, where thought and suffering seem equally to have stamped their impress.'
All this time, I was seated at a table on the other side of the room, apparently immersed in the perusal of a volume of the `Farmer's Magazine', which I happened to have been reading at the moment of our visitor's arrival; and, not choosing to be over civil, I had merely bowed as she entered, and continued my occupation as before.
In a little while, however, I was sensible that someone was approaching me, with a light, but slow and hesitating tread. It was little Arthur, irresistibly attracted by my dog Sancho, that was lying at my feet. On looking up, I beheld him standing about two yards off, with his clear blue eyes wistfully gazing on the dog, transfixed to the spot, not by fear of the animal, but by a timid disinclination to approach its master. A little encouragement, however, induced him to come forward. The child, though shy, was not sullen.
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