A Contract and a Quarrel

WHEN all were gone, I learned that the vile slander had indeed been circulated throughout the company, In the very presence of the victim. Rose, however, vowed she did not and would not believe it, and my mother made the same declaration, though not, I fear, with the same amount of real, unwavering incredulity. It seemed to dwell continually on her mind, and she kept irritating me from time to time by such expressions as--`Dear, dear, who would have thought it!--Well! I always thought there was something odd about her.-- You see what it is for women to affect to be different to other people.' And once it was,--

`I misdoubted that appearance of mystery from the very first--I thought there would no good come of it; but this is a sad, sad, business to be sure!'

`Why mother, you said you didn't believe these tales,' said Fergus.

`No more I do, my dear; but then, you know, there must be some foundation.'

`The foundation is in the wickedness and falsehood of the world,' said I, `and in the fact that Mr Lawrence has been seen to go that way once or twice of an evening--and the village gossips say he goes to pay his addresses to the strange lady, and the scandalmongers have greedily seized the rumour, to make it the basis of their own infernal structure.'

`Well, but Gilbert, there must be something in her manner to countenance such reports.'

`Did you see anything in her manner?'

`No, certainly; but then, you know, I always said there was something strange about her.'

I believe it was on that very evening that I ventured on another invasion of Wildfell Hall. From the time of our party, which was upwards of a week ago, I had been making daily efforts to meet its mistress in her walks; and, always disappointed (she must have managed it so on purpose), had nightly kept revolving in my mind some pretext for another At length, I concluded that the separation could be endured no longer (by this time, you will see I was pretty far gone); and, taking from the bookcase an old volume that I thought she might be interested in, though, from its unsightly and somewhat dilapidated condition, I had not yet ventured to offer it for her perusal, I hastened away,--but not without sundry misgivings as to how she would receive me, or how I could summon courage to present myself with so slight an excuse. But perhaps I might see her in the field or the garden, and then there would be no great difficulty: it was the formal knocking at the door, with the prospect of being gravely ushered in, by Rachel, to the presence of a surprised, uncordial mistress, that so greatly disturbed me.

My wish, however, was not gratified. Mrs Graham herself was not to be seen; but there was Arthur playing with his frolicsome little dog in the garden I looked over the gate and called him to me. He wanted me to come in; but I told him I could not without his mother's leave.

`I'll go and ask her,' said the child.

`No, no, Arthur, you mustn't do that,--but if she's not engaged, just ask her to come here a minute: tell her I want to speak to her.'

He ran to perform my bidding, and quickly returned with his mother. How lovely she looked with her dark ringlets streaming in the light summer breeze, her fair cheek slightly flushed, and her countenance radiant with smiles!--Arthur! what did I not owe to you for this and every other happy meeting?--Through him, I was at once delivered from all formality, and terror, and constraint. In love affairs, there is no mediator like a merry, simple hearted child--ever ready to cement divided hearts, to span the unfriendly gulf of custom, to melt the ice of cold reserve, and overthrow the separating walls of dread formality and pride.

`Well, Mr Markham, what is it?' said the young mother, accosting me with a pleasant smile.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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