It was about the close of the month, that, yielding at length
to the urgent
importunities of Rose, I accompanied her in a visit to Wildfell Hall. To our surprise
, we were ushered into a room where the first object
that met the eye was a painter's easel
, with a table
beside it covered with rolls of canvas
, bottles of oil and varnish
, brushes, paints, &c. Leaning against the wall were several
sketches in various
stages of progression
, and a few finished paintings-mostly of landscapes and figures.
'I must make you welcome to my studio,' said Mrs. Graham; 'there is no fire in the sitting-room to-day, and it is rather too cold to show you into a place with an empty grate
And disengaging a couple
of chairs from the artistical lumber
that usurped them, she bid
us be seated, and resumed her place beside the easel
-not facing it exactly, but now and then glancing at the picture upon it while she conversed, and giving it an occasional
touch with her brush
, as if she found it impossible
entirely from her occupation
to fix it upon her guests. It was a view of Wildfell Hall, as seen at early morning from the field below, rising in dark relief
against a sky of clear silvery blue, with a few red streaks on the horizon
, faithfully drawn and coloured, and very elegantly and artistically handled.
'I see your heart
is in your work, Mrs. Graham,' observed I: 'I must beg you to go on with it; for if you suffer
you, we shall be constrained
to regard ourselves as unwelcome intruders.'
'Oh, no!' replied she, throwing her brush
on to the table
, as if startled into politeness. 'I am not so beset
with visitors but that I can readily spare
a few minutes to the few that do favour me with their company.'
'You have almost completed your painting,' said I, approaching to observe
it more closely, and surveying it with a greater degree
than I cared to express
. 'A few more touches in the foreground
it, I should think. But why have you called it Fernley Manor, Cumberland, instead of Wildfell Hall, -shire?' I asked, alluding to the name she had traced in small characters at the bottom of the canvas
'Then you don't intend
to keep the picture?' said I, anxious
to say anything to change the subject
'No; I cannot afford
to paint for my own amusement
'Mamma sends all her pictures to London,' said Arthur; 'and somebody sells them for her there, and sends us the money.'
In looking round upon the other pieces, I remarked a pretty sketch
of Linden-hope from the top of the hill; another view of the old hall basking in the sunny haze
of a quiet summer afternoon; and a simple
little picture of a child brooding
, with looks of silent but deep and sorrowful regret
, over a handful of withered
flowers, with glimpses of dark low hills and autumnal
fields behind it, and a dull
beclouded sky above.
'You see there is a sad dearth
of subjects,' observed the fair
artist. 'I took the old hall once on a moonlight night, and I suppose
I must take it again on a snowy winter's day, and then again on a dark cloudy evening; for I really have nothing else to paint. I have been told that you have a fine view of the sea somewhere in the neighbourhood. Is it true?-and is it within walking distance
'Yes, if you don't object
to walking four miles-or nearly so-little short of eight miles, there and back-and over a somewhat rough, fatiguing road.'
'In what direction
does it lie?'
I described the situation
as well as I could, and was entering upon an explanation
of the various
roads, lanes, and fields to be traversed in order to reach it, the goings straight
on, and turnings to the right
and the left, when she checked me with,-
'Oh, stop! don't tell me now: I shall forget
every word of your directions before I require
them. I shall not think about going till
next spring; and then, perhaps, I may trouble you. At present we have the winter before us, and-'
paused, with a suppressed exclamation
, started up from her seat, and saying, 'Excuse me one moment
,' hurried from the room, and shut the door behind her.
Curious to see what had startled her so, I looked towards the window-for her eyes had been carelessly fixed upon it the moment
before-and just beheld the skirts of a man's coat vanishing behind a large holly-bush that stood between the window and the porch.
'It's mamma's friend,' said Arthur.
Rose and I looked at each other.
'I don't know what to make of her at all,' whispered Rose.
In taking this up to bring it to the light, I discovered another behind it, with its face to the wall. I ventured to take that up too. It was the portrait
of a gentleman in the full prime
of youthful manhood-handsome enough, and not badly executed; but if done by the same hand as the others, it was evidently some years before; for there was far more careful
minuteness of detail, and less of that freshness of colouring and freedom
of handling that delighted
and surprised me in them. Nevertheless, I surveyed it with considerable interest
. There was a certain individuality
in the features and expression
that stamped it, at once, a successful likeness
. The bright blue eyes regarded the spectator
with a kind of lurking drollery-you almost expected
to see them wink; the lips-a little too voluptuously full-seemed ready to break into a smile; the warmly-tinted cheeks were embellished with a luxuriant
growth of reddish whiskers; while the bright chestnut hair, clustering in abundant
, wavy curls, trespassed too much upon the forehead, and seemed to intimate
that the owner thereof was prouder of his beauty than his intellect-as, perhaps, he had reason
to be; and yet he looked no fool.
I had not had the portrait
in my hands two minutes before the fair
'Only some one come about the pictures,' said she, in apology
for her abrupt departure
: 'I told him to wait.'
'I fear it will be considered
an act of impertinence
,' I said 'to presume
to look at a picture that the artist has turned to the wall; but may I ask-'
'It is an act of very great impertinence
, sir; and therefore I beg you will ask nothing about it, for your curiosity
will not be gratified,' replied she, attempting to cover the tartness of her rebuke
with a smile; but I could see, by her flushed cheek and kindling
eye, that she was seriously annoyed
'I was only going to ask if you had painted it yourself,' said I, sulkily resigning the picture into her hands; for without a grain
she took it from me; and quickly restoring it to the dark corner
, with its face to the wall, placed the other against it as before, and then turned to me and laughed.
But I was in no humour for jesting. I carelessly turned to the window, and stood looking out upon the desolate
garden, leaving her to talk to Rose for a minute
or two; and then, telling my sister it was time to go, shook hands with the little gentleman, coolly bowed to the lady, and moved towards the door. But, having bid adieu
to Rose, Mrs. Graham presented her hand to me, saying, with a soft voice, and by no means a disagreeable
smile,-'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath
, Mr. Markham. I'm sorry I offended you by my abruptness
When a lady condescends to apologise, there is no keeping one's anger, of course; so we parted good friends for once; and this time I squeezed her hand with a cordial
, not a spiteful pressure