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9. CHAPTER IX
Though my affections might now be said to be fairly weaned from Eliza Millward, I did not yet entirely relinquish my visits to the vicarage, because I wanted, as it were, to let her down easy; without raising much sorrow, or incurring much resentment, - or making myself the talk of the parish; and besides, if I had wholly kept away, the vicar, who looked upon my visits as paid chiefly, if not entirely, to himself, would have felt himself decidedly affronted by the neglect. But when I called there the day after my interview with Mrs. Graham, he happened to be from home - a circumstance by no means so agreeable to me now as it had been on former occasions. Miss Millward was there, it is true, but she, of course, would be little better than a nonentity. However, I resolved to make my visit a short one, and to talk to Eliza in a brotherly, friendly sort of way, such as our long acquaintance might warrant me in assuming, and which, I thought, could neither give offence nor serve to encourage false hopes.
It was never my custom to talk about Mrs. Graham either to her or any one else; but I had not been seated three minutes before she brought that lady on to the carpet herself in a rather remarkable manner.
'Oh, Mr. Markham!' said she, with a shocked expression and voice subdued almost to a whisper, 'what do you think of these shocking reports about Mrs. Graham? - can you encourage us to disbelieve them?'
'Ah, now! you know!' she slily smiled and shook her head.
'I know nothing about them. What in the world do you mean, Eliza?'
'Oh, don't ask me! I can't explain it.' She took up the cambric handkerchief which she had been beautifying with a deep lace border, and began to be very busy.
'What is it, Miss Millward? what does she mean?' said I, appealing to her sister, who seemed to be absorbed in the hemming of a large, coarse sheet.
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