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Chapter 2

An Interview

I perceive, with joy, my most valued friend, that the cloud of your displeasure has
passed away; the light of your countenance blesses me once more,
and you desire the continuation of my story: therefore, without
more ado, you shall have it.

I think the day I last mentioned was a certain Sunday, the latest in the October of 1827.
On the following Tuesday I was out with my dog and gun, in pursuit
of such game as I could find within the territory of Linden-Car;
but finding none at all, I turned my arms against the hawks and
carrion crows, whose depredations, as I suspected, had deprived me
of better prey. To this end I left the more frequented regions, the
wooded valleys, the corn-fields, and the meadow-lands, and
proceeded to mount the steep acclivity of Wildfell, the wildest and
the loftiest eminence in our neighbourhood, where, as you ascend,
the hedges, as well as the trees, become scanty and stunted, the
former, at length, giving place to rough stone fences, partly
greened over with ivy and moss, the latter to larches and Scotch
fir-trees, or isolated blackthorns. The fields, being rough and
stony, and wholly unfit for the plough, were mostly devoted to the
posturing of sheep and cattle; the soil was thin and poor: bits of
grey rock here and there peeped out from the grassy hillocks;
bilberry-plants and heather - relics of more savage wildness - grew
under the walls; and in many of the enclosures, ragweeds and rushes
usurped supremacy over the scanty herbage; but these were not my
property.

Near the top of this hill, about two miles from Linden-Car, stood Wildfell Hall, a
superannuated mansion of the Elizabethan era, built of dark grey
stone, venerable and picturesque to look at, but doubtless, cold
and gloomy enough to inhabit, with its thick stone mullions and
little latticed panes, its time-eaten air-holes, and its too
lonely, too unsheltered situation, - only shielded from the war of
wind and weather by a group of Scotch firs, themselves half
blighted with storms, and looking as stern and gloomy as the Hall
itself. Behind it lay a few desolate fields, and then the brown
heath-clad summit of the hill; before it (enclosed by stone walls,
and entered by an iron gate, with large balls of grey granite -
similar to those which decorated the roof and gables - surmounting
the gate-posts) was a garden, - once stocked with such hard plants
and flowers as could best brook the soil and climate, and such
trees and shrubs as could best endure the gardener's torturing
shears, and most readily assume the shapes he chose to give them, -
now, having been left so many years untilled and untrimmed,
abandoned to the weeds and the grass, to the frost and the wind,
the rain and the drought, it presented a very singular appearance
indeed. The close green walls of privet, that had bordered the
principal walk, were two-thirds withered away, and the rest grown
beyond all reasonable bounds; the old boxwood swan, that sat beside
the scraper, had lost its neck and half its body: the castellated
towers of laurel in the middle of the garden, the gigantic warrior
that stood on one side of the gateway, and the lion that guarded
the other, were sprouted into such fantastic shapes as resembled
nothing either in heaven or earth, or in the waters under the
earth; but, to my young imagination, they presented all of them a
goblinish appearance, that harmonised well with the ghostly legions
and dark traditions our old nurse had told us respecting the
haunted hall and its departed occupants.


I had succeeded in killing a hawk and two crows when I came within sight of the
mansion; and then, relinquishing further depredations, I sauntered
on, to have a look at the old place, and see what changes had been
wrought in it by its new inhabitant. I did not like to go quite to
the front and stare in at the gate; but I paused beside the garden
wall, and looked, and saw no change - except in one wing, where the
broken windows and dilapidated roof had evidently been repaired,
and where a thin wreath of smoke was curling up from the stack of
chimneys.

While I thus stood, leaning on my gun, and looking up at the dark gables, sunk in an
idle reverie, weaving a tissue of wayward fancies, in which old
associations and the fair young hermit, now within those walls,
bore a nearly equal part, I heard a slight rustling and scrambling
just within the garden; and, glancing in the direction whence the
sound proceeded, I beheld a tiny hand elevated above the wall: it
clung to the topmost stone, and then another little hand was raised
to take a firmer hold, and then appeared a small white forehead,
surmounted with wreaths of light brown hair, with a pair of deep
blue eyes beneath, and the upper portion of a diminutive ivory
nose.


The eyes did not notice me, but sparkled with glee on beholding Sancho, my beautiful black
and white setter, that was coursing about the field with its muzzle
to the ground. The little creature raised its face and called aloud
to the dog. The good-natured animal paused, looked up, and wagged
his tail, but made no further advances. The child (a little boy,
apparently about five years old) scrambled up to the top of the
wall, and called again and again; but finding this of no avail,
apparently made up his mind, like Mahomet, to go to the mountain,
since the mountain would not come to him, and attempted to get
over; but a crabbed old cherry- tree, that grew hard by, caught him
by the frock in one of its crooked scraggy arms that stretched over
the wall. In attempting to disengage himself his foot slipped, and
down he tumbled - but not to the earth; - the tree still kept him
suspended. There was a silent struggle, and then a piercing shriek;
- but, in an instant, I had dropped my gun on the grass, and caught
the little fellow in my arms.

I wiped his eyes with his frock, told him he was all right and called Sancho to pacify
him. He was just putting his little hand on the dog's neck and
beginning to smile through his tears, when I heard behind me a
click of the iron gate, and a rustle of female garments, and lo!
Mrs. Graham darted upon me - her neck uncovered, her black locks
streaming in the wind.

'Give me the child!'

She said in a voice scarce louder than a whisper, but with a tone of startling
vehemence, and, seizing the boy, she snatched him from me, as if
some dire contamination were in my touch, and then stood with one
hand firmly clasping his, the other on his shoulder, fixing upon me
her large, luminous dark eyes - pale, breathless, quivering with
agitation.

'I was not harming the child, madam,' said I, scarce knowing whether to be most astonished
or displeased; 'he was tumbling off the wall there; and I was so
fortunate as to catch him, while he hung suspended headlong from
that tree, and prevent I know not what catastrophe.'

'I beg your pardon, sir,' stammered she; - suddenly calming down, - the light of reason
seeming to break upon her beclouded spirit, and a faint blush
mantling on her cheek - 'I did not know you; - and I thought -

She stooped to kiss the child, and fondly clasped her arm round his neck.

'You thought I was going to kidnap your son, I suppose?'

She stroked his head with a half-embarrassed laugh, and replied, - 'I did not know he
had attempted to climb the wall. - I have the pleasure of
addressing Mr. Markham, I believe?' she added, somewhat
abruptly.

I bowed, but ventured to ask how she knew me.

'Your sister called here, a few days ago, with Mrs. Markham.'

'Is the resemblance so strong then?' I asked, in some surprise, and not so greatly
flattered at the idea as I ought to have been.

'There is a likeness about the eyes and complexion I think,' replied she, somewhat
dubiously surveying my face; - 'and I think I saw you at church on
Sunday.'

I smiled. - There was something either in that smile or the recollections it awakened
that was particularly displeasing to her, for she suddenly assumed
again that proud, chilly look that had so unspeakably roused my
aversion at church - a look of repellent scorn, so easily assumed,
and so entirely without the least distortion of a single feature,
that, while there, it seemed like the natural expression of the
face, and was the more provoking to me, because I could not think
it affected.

'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 shall not 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 daresay, 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.


Anne Bronte