`Will you be so good as to exchange places with me, Miss Markham?' said she, `for I don't like to sit by Mrs Graham. If your mamma thinks proper to invite such persons to her house, she cannot object to her daughter's keeping company with them.'
This latter clause was added in a sort of soliloquy when Rose was gone; but I was not polite enough to let it pass:
`Will you be so good as to tell me what you mean, Miss Wilson?' said I.
The question startled her a little, but not much.
`Why Mr Markham,' replied she, coolly, having quickly recovered her self-possession, `it surprises me rather that Mrs Markham should invite such a person as Mrs Graham to her house; but perhaps she is not aware that the lady's character is considered scarcely respectable.'
`She is not, nor am I; and therefore, you would oblige me by explaining your meaning a little further.'
`This is scarcely the time or the place for such explanations; but I think you can hardly be so ignorant as you pretend: you must know her as well as I do.'
`I think I do, perhaps a little better; and therefore, if you will inform me what you have heard, or imagined against her, I shall, perhaps, be able to set you right.'
`Can you tell me, then, who was her husband; or if she ever had any?'
Indignation kept me silent. At such a time and place I could not trust myself to answer.
`Have you never observed,' said Eliza, `what a striking likeness there is between that child of hers and--`
`And whom?' demanded Miss Wilson, with an air of cold, but keen severity.
Eliza was startled: the timidly spoken suggestion had been intended for my ear alone.
`Oh, I beg your pardon!' pleaded she, `I may be mistaken--perhaps I was mistaken.' But she accompanied the words with a sly glance of derision directed to me from the corner of her disingenuous eye.
`There's no need to ask my pardon,' replied her friend; `but I see no one here that at all resembles that child, except his mother; and when you hear ill-natured reports, Miss Eliza, I will thank you--that is, I think you will do well to refrain from repeating them. I presume the person you allude to is Mr Lawrence; but I think I can assure you that your suspicions, in that respect, are utterly misplaced; and if he has any particular connection with the lady at all (which no one has a right to assert), at least he has (what cannot be said of some others) sufficient sense of propriety to withhold him from acknowledging anything more than a bowing acquaintance in the presence of respectable persons--he was evidently both surprised and annoyed to find her here.'
`Go it!' cried Fergus, who sat on the other side of Eliza, and was the only individual who shared that side of the table with us; `go it like bricks! mind you don't leave her one stone upon another.'
Miss Wilson drew herself up with a look of freezing scorn, but said nothing. Eliza would have replied, but I interrupted her by saying, as calmly as I could, though in a tone which betrayed, no doubt, some little of what I felt within,--
`We have had enough of this subject: if we can only speak to slander our betters, let us hold our tongues.'
`I think you'd better,' observed Fergus; `and so does our good parson: he has been addressing the company in his richest vein all the while, and eyeing you, from time to time, with looks of stern distaste, while you
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