Startling IntelligenceOne morning, about the beginning of November, while I was inditing some business letters, shortly after breakfast, Eliza Millward came to call upon my sister. Rose had neither the discrimination nor the virulence to regard the little demon as I did, and they still preserved their former intimacy. At the moment of her arrival, however, there was no one in the room but Fergus and myself, my mother and sister being both of them absent, `on household cares intent;" but I was not going to lay myself out for her amusement, whoever else might so incline: I merely honoured her with a careless salutation and a few words of course,' and then went on with my writing, leaving my brother to be more polite if he chose. But she wanted to teaze me.
`What a pleasure it is to find you at home, Mr. Markham!' said she, with a disingenuously malicious smile. `I so seldom see you now, for you never come to the vicarage. Papa is quite offended I can tell you,' she added playfully, looking into my face with an impertinent laugh, as she seated herself, half beside and half before my desk, off the corner of the table.
`I have had a good deal to do of late,' said I, without looking up from my letter.
`Have you indeed! Somebody said you had been strangely neglecting your business these last few months.'
`Somebody said wrong, for, these last two months especially, I have been particularly plodding and diligent.'
`Ah! Well, there's nothing like active employment, I suppose, to console the afflicted;--and, excuse me, Mr. Markham, but you look so very far from well, and have been, by all accounts, so moody and thoughtful of late,--I could almost think you have some secret care preying on your spirits. Formerly,' said she timidly, `I could have ventured to ask you what it was, and what I could do to comfort you: I dare not do it now.'
`You're very kind, Miss Eliza. When I think you can do anything to comfort me, I'll make bold to tell you.'
`Pray do--I suppose I mayn't guess what it is that troubles you?'
`There's no necessity, for I'll tell you plainly. The thing that troubles me the most at present, is a young lady sitting at my elbow, and preventing me from finishing my letter, and thereafter, repairing to my daily business.'
Before she could reply to this ungallant speech, Rose entered the room; and Miss Eliza rising to greet her, they both seated themselves near the fire, where that idle lad, Fergus, was standing, leaning his shoulder against the corner of the chimneypiece with his legs crossed and his hands in his breeches pockets.
`Now, Rose, I'll tell you a piece of news--I hope you've not heard it before, for good, bad or indifferent, one always likes to be the first to tell.--It's about that sad Mrs. Graham
`Hush--sh--sh!' whispered Fergus, in a tone of solemn import. `"We never mention her; her name is never heard."' And glancing up, I caught him with his eye askance on me, and his finger pointed to his forehead; then, winking at the young lady with a doleful shake of the head, he whispered--a monomania--But don't mention it--all right but that.'
`I should be sorry to injure any one's feelings,' returned she, speaking below her breath, `another time, perhaps.'
`Speak out, Miss Eliza!' said I, not deigning to notice the other's buffooneries, `you needn't fear to say anything in my presence--that is true.'
`Well,' answered she, `perhaps you know already that Mrs. Graham's husband is not really dead, and that she had run away from him?' I started, and felt my face glow; but I bent it over my letter, and went on
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