Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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hurry and anxiety of this day of misery succeeding to misery, she almost
forgot to wonder whether Ralph were still at the Parsonage - still in
Hamley; it was not till the evening visit of the physician that she
learnt that he had been seen by Dr. Moore as he was taking his place in
the morning mail to London. Dr. Moore alluded to his name as to a
thought that would cheer and comfort the fragile girl during her night-
watch by her father's bedside. But Miss Monro stole out after the doctor
to warn him off the subject for the future, crying bitterly over the
forlorn position of her darling as she spoke - crying as Ellinor had never
yet been able to cry: though all the time, in the pride of her sex, she
was as endeavouring to persuade the doctor it was entirely Ellinor's
doing, and the wisest and best thing she could have done, as he was not
good enough for her, only a poor barrister struggling for a livelihood.
Like many other kind-hearted people, she fell into the blunder of
lowering the moral character of those whom it is their greatest wish to
exalt. But Dr. Moore knew Ellinor too well to believe the whole of what
Miss Monro said; she would never act from interested motives, and was all
the more likely to cling to a man because he was down and unsuccessful.
No! there had been a lovers' quarrel; and it could not have happened at a
sadder time.

Before the June roses were in full bloom, Mr. Wilkins was dead. He had
left his daughter to the guardianship of Mr. Ness by some will made years
ago; but Mr. Ness had caught a rheumatic fever with his Easter fishings,
and been unable to be moved home from the little Welsh inn where he had
been staying when he was taken ill. Since his last attack, Mr. Wilkins's
mind had been much affected; he often talked strangely and wildly; but he
had rare intervals of quietness and full possession of his senses. At
one of these times he must have written a half-finished pencil note,
which his nurse found under his pillow after his death, and brought to
Ellinor. Through her tear-blinded eyes she read the weak, faltering

"I am very ill. I sometimes think I shall never get better, so I wish
to ask your pardon for what I said the night before I was taken ill. I
am afraid my anger made mischief between you and Ellinor, but I think
you will forgive a dying man. If you will come back and let all be as
it used to be, I will make any apology you may require. If I go, she
will be so very friendless; and I have looked to you to care for her
ever since you first - " Then came some illegible and incoherent
writing, ending with, "From my deathbed I adjure you to stand her
friend; I will beg pardon on my knees for anything - "

And there strength had failed; the paper and pencil had been laid aside
to be resumed at some time when the brain was clearer, the hand stronger.
Ellinor kissed the letter, reverently folded it up, and laid it among her
sacred treasures, by her mother's half-finished sewing, and a little curl
of her baby sister's golden hair.

Mr. Johnson, who had been one of the trustees for Mrs. Wilkins's marriage
settlement, a respectable solicitor in the county town, and Mr. Ness, had
been appointed executors of his will, and guardians to Ellinor. The will
itself had been made several years before, when he imagined himself the
possessor of a handsome fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to his
only child. By her mother's marriage-settlement, Ford Bank was held in
trust for the children of the marriage; the trustees being Sir Frank
Holster and Mr. Johnson. There were legacies to his executors; a small
annuity to Miss Monro, with the expression of a hope that it might be
arranged for her to continue living with Ellinor as long as the latter
remained unmarried; all his servants were remembered, Dixon especially,
and most liberally.

What remained of the handsome fortune once possessed by the testator? The
executors asked in vain; there was nothing. They could hardly make out
what had become of it, in such utter confusion were all the accounts,
both personal and official. Mr. Johnson was hardly restrained by his
compassion for the orphan from throwing up the executorship in disgust.
Mr. Ness roused himself from his scholarlike abstraction to labour at the
examination of books, parchments, and papers, for Ellinor's sake. Sir
Frank Holster professed himself only a trustee for Ford Bank.

Meanwhile she went on living at Ford Bank, quite unconscious of the state
of her father's affairs, but sunk into a deep, plaintive melancholy,
which affected her looks and the tones of her voice in such a manner as
to distress Miss Monro exceedingly. It was not that the good lady did
not quite acknowledge the great cause her pupil had for grieving - deserted
by her lover, her father dead - but that she could not bear the outward
signs of how much these sorrows had told on Ellinor. Her love for the
poor girl was infinitely distressed by seeing the daily wasting away, the
constant heavy depression of spirits, and she grew impatient of the
continual pain of sympathy. If Miss Monro could have done something to
relieve Ellinor of her woe, she would have been less inclined to scold
her for giving way to it.

The time came when Miss Monro could act; and after that, there was no
more irritation on her part. When all hope of Ellinor's having anything
beyond the house and grounds of Ford Bank was gone; when it was proved
that all the legacies bequeathed by Mr. Wilkins not one farthing could
ever be paid; when it came to be a question how far the beautiful
pictures and other objects of art in the house were not legally the
property of unsatisfied creditors, the state of her father's affairs was
communicated to Ellinor as delicately as Mr. Ness knew how.

She was drooping over her work - she always drooped now - and she left off
sewing to listen to him, leaning her head on the arm which rested on the
table. She did not speak when he had ended his statement. She was
silent for whole minutes afterwards; he went on speaking out of very
agitation and awkwardness.

"It was all the rascal Dunster's doing, I've no doubt," said he, trying
to account for the entire loss of Mr. Wilkins's fortune.

To his surprise she lifted up her white stony face, and said slowly and
faintly, but with almost solemn calmness:

"Mr. Ness, you must never allow Mr. Dunster to be blamed for this!"

"My dear Ellinor, there can be no doubt about it. Your father himself
always referred to the losses he had sustained by Dunster's

Ellinor covered her face with her hands. "God forgive us all," she said,
and relapsed into the old unbearable silence. Mr. Ness had undertaken to
discuss her future plans with her, and he was obliged to go on.

"Now, my dear child - I have known you since you were quite a little girl,
you know - we must try not to give way to feeling" - he himself was
choking; she was quite quiet - "but think what is to be done. You will
have the rent of this house, and we have a very good offer for it - a
tenant on lease of seven years at a hundred and twenty pounds a year - "

"I will never let this house," said she, standing up suddenly, and as if
defying him.

"Not let Ford Bank! Why? I don't understand it - I can't have been
clear - Ellinor, the rent of this house is all you will have to live on!"

"I can't help it, I can't leave this house. Oh, Mr. Ness, I can't leave
this house."

"My dear child, you shall not be hurried - I know how hardly all these
things are coming upon you (and I wish I had never seen Corbet, with all
my heart I do!)" - this was almost to himself, but she must have heard it,
for she quivered all over - "but leave this house you must. You must eat,
and the rent of this house must pay for your food; you must dress, and
there is nothing but the rent to clothe you. I will gladly have you to
stay at the Parsonage as long as ever you like; but, in fact, the
negotiations with Mr. Osbaldistone, the gentleman who offers to take the
house, are nearly completed - "

"It is my house!" said Ellinor, fiercely. "I know it is settled on me."

"No, my dear. It is held in trust for you by Sir Frank Holster and Mr.
Johnson; you to receive all moneys and benefits accruing from it" - he
spoke gently, for he almost thought her head was turned - "but you
remember you are not of age, and Mr. Johnson and I have full power."

Ellinor sat down, helpless.

"Leave me," she said, at length. "You are very kind, but you don't know
all. I cannot stand any more talking now," she added, faintly.

Mr. Ness bent over her and kissed her forehead, and withdrew without
another word. He went to Miss Monro.

"Well! and how did you find her?" was her first inquiry, after the usual
greetings had passed between them. "It is really quite sad to see how
she gives way; I speak to her, and speak to her, and tell her how she is
neglecting all her duties, and it does no good."

"She has had to bear a still further sorrow to-day," said Mr. Ness. "On
the part of Mr. Johnson and myself I have a very painful duty to perform
to you as well as to her. Mr. Wilkins has died insolvent. I grieve to
say there is no hope of your ever receiving any of your annuity!"

Miss Monro looked very blank. Many happy little visions faded away in
those few moments; then she roused up and said, "I am but forty; I have a
good fifteen years of work in me left yet, thank God. Insolvent! Do you
mean he has left no money?"

"Not a farthing. The creditors may be thankful if they are fully paid."

"And Ellinor?"

"Ellinor will have the rent of this house, which is hers by right of her
mother's settlement, to live on."

"How much will that be?"

"One hundred and twenty pounds."

Miss Monro's lips went into a form prepared for whistling. Mr. Ness

"She is at present unwilling enough to leave this house, poor girl. It
is but natural; but she has no power in the matter, even were there any
other course open to her. I can only say how glad, how honoured, I shall
feel by as long a visit as you and she can be prevailed upon to pay me at
the Parsonage."

"Where is Mr. Corbet?" said Miss Monro.

"I do not know. After breaking off his engagement he wrote me a long
letter, explanatory, as he called it; exculpatory, as I termed it. I
wrote back, curtly enough, saying that I regretted the breaking-off of an
intercourse which had always been very pleasant to me, but that he must
be aware that, with my intimacy with the family at Ford Bank, it would be
both awkward and unpleasant to all parties if he and I remained on our
previous footing. Who is that going past the window? Ellinor riding?"

Miss Monro went to the window. "Yes! I am thankful to see her on
horseback again. It was only this morning I advised her to have a ride!"

"Poor Dixon! he will suffer too; his legacy can no more be paid than the
others; and it is not many young ladies who will be as content to have so
old-fashioned a groom riding after them as Ellinor seems to be."

As soon as Mr. Ness had left, Miss Monro went to her desk and wrote a
long letter to some friends she had at the cathedral town of East
Chester, where she had spent some happy years of her former life. Her
thoughts had gone back to this time even while Mr. Ness had been
speaking; for it was there her father had lived, and it was after his
death that her cares in search of a subsistence had begun. But the
recollections of the peaceful years spent there were stronger than the
remembrance of the weeks of sorrow and care; and, while Ellinor's
marriage had seemed a probable event, she had made many a little plan of
returning to her native place, and obtaining what daily teaching she
could there meet with, and the friends to whom she was now writing had
promised her their aid. She thought that as Ellinor had to leave Ford
Bank, a home at a distance might be more agreeable to her, and she went
on to plan that they should live together, if possible, on her earnings,
and the small income that would be Ellinor's. Miss Monro loved her pupil
so dearly, that, if her own pleasure only were to be consulted, this
projected life would be more agreeable to her than if Mr. Wilkins's
legacy had set her in independence, with Ellinor away from her, married,
and with interests in which her former governess had but little part.

As soon as Mr. Ness had left her, Ellinor rang the bell, and startled the
servant who answered it by her sudden sharp desire to have the horses at
the door as soon as possible, and to tell Dixon to be ready to go out
with her.

She felt that she must speak to him, and in her nervous state she wanted
to be out on the free broad common, where no one could notice or remark
their talk. It was long since she had ridden, and much wonder was
excited by the sudden movement in kitchen and stable-yard. But Dixon
went gravely about his work of preparation, saying nothing.

They rode pretty hard till they reached Monk's Heath, six or seven miles
away from Hamley. Ellinor had previously determined that here she would
talk over the plan Mr. Ness had proposed to her with Dixon, and he seemed
to understand her without any words passing between them. When she
reined in he rode up to her, and met the gaze of her sad eyes with
sympathetic, wistful silence.

"Dixon," said she, "they say I must leave Ford Bank."

"I was afeared on it, from all I've heerd say i' the town since the
master's death."

"Then you've heard - then you know - that papa has left hardly any money - my
poor dear Dixon, you won't have your legacy, and I never thought of that

"Never heed, never heed," said he, eagerly; "I couldn't have touched it
if it had been there, for the taking it would ha' seemed too like - "
Blood-money, he was going to say, but he stopped in time. She guessed
the meaning, though not the word he would have used.

"No, not that," said she; "his will was dated years before. But oh,
Dixon, what must I do? They will make me leave Ford Bank, I see. I
think the trustees have half let it already."

"But you'll have the rent on't, I reckon?" asked he, anxiously. "I've
many a time heerd 'em say as it was settled on the missus first, and then
on you."

"Oh, yes, it is not that; but you know, under the beech-tree - "

"Ay!" said he, heavily. "It's been oftentimes on my mind, waking, and I
think there's ne'er a night as I don't dream of it."

"But how can I leave it!" Ellinor cried. "They may do a hundred
things - may dig up the shrubbery. Oh! Dixon, I feel as if it was sure to
be found out! Oh! Dixon, I cannot bear any more blame on papa - it will
kill me - and such a dreadful thing, too!"

Dixon's face fell into the lines of habitual pain that it had always
assumed of late years whenever he was thinking or remembering anything.

"They must ne'er ha' reason to speak ill of the dead, that's for
certain," said he. "The Wilkinses have been respected in Hamley all my
lifetime, and all my father's before me, and - surely, missy, there's ways
and means of tying tenants up from alterations both in the house and out
of it, and I'd beg the trustees, or whatever they's called, to be very
particular, if I was you, and not have a thing touched either in the
house, or the gardens, or the meadows, or the stables. I think, wi' a
word from you, they'd maybe keep me on i' the stables, and I could look
after things a bit; and the Day o' Judgment will come at last, when all
our secrets will be made known wi'out our having the trouble and the
shame o' telling 'em. I'm getting rayther tired o' this world, Miss

"Don't talk so," said Ellinor, tenderly. "I know how sad it is, but, oh!
remember how I shall want a friend when you're gone, to advise me as you
have done to-day. You're not feeling ill, Dixon, are you?" she
continued, anxiously.

"No! I'm hearty enough, and likely for t' live. Father was eighty-one,
and mother above the seventies, when they died. It's only my heart as is
got to feel so heavy; and as for that matter, so is yours, I'll be bound.
And it's a comfort to us both if we can serve him as is dead by any care
of ours, for he were such a bright handsome lad, with such a cheery face,
as never should ha' known shame."

They rode on without much more speaking. Ellinor was silently planning
for Dixon, and he, not caring to look forward to the future, was bringing
up before his fancy the time, thirty years ago, when he had first entered
the elder Mr. Wilkins's service as stable-lad, and pretty Molly, the
scullery-maid, was his daily delight. Pretty Molly lay buried in Hamley
churchyard, and few living, except Dixon, could have gone straight to her


In a few days Miss Monro obtained a most satisfactory reply to her letter
of inquiries as to whether a daily governess could find employment in
East Chester. For once the application seemed to have come just at the
right time. The canons were most of them married men, with young
families; those at present in residence welcomed the idea of such
instruction as Miss Monro could offer for their children, and could
almost answer for their successors in office. This was a great step
gained. Miss Monro, the daughter of a precentor to this very cathedral,
had a secret unwillingness to being engaged as a teacher by any wealthy
tradesman there; but to be received into the canons' families, in almost
any capacity, was like going home. Moreover, besides the empty honour of
the thing, there were many small pieces of patronage in the gift of the
Chapter - such as a small house opening on to the Close, which had
formerly belonged to the verger, but which was now vacant, and was
offered to Miss Monro at a nominal rent.

Ellinor had once more sunk into her old depressed passive state; Mr. Ness
and Miss Monro, modest and undecided as they both were in general, had to
fix and arrange everything for her. Her great interest seemed to be in
the old servant Dixon, and her great pleasure to lie in seeing him, and
talking over old times; so her two friends talked about her, little
knowing what a bitter, stinging pain her "pleasure" was. In vain Ellinor
tried to plan how they could take Dixon with them to East Chester. If he
had been a woman it would have been a feasible step; but they were only
to keep one servant, and Dixon, capable and versatile as he was, would
not do for that servant. All this was what passed through Ellinor's
mind: it is still a question whether Dixon would have felt his love of
his native place, with all its associations and remembrances, or his love
for Ellinor, the stronger. But he was not put to the proof; he was only
told that he must leave, and seeing Ellinor's extreme grief at the idea
of their separation, he set himself to comfort her by every means in his
power, reminding her, with tender choice of words, how necessary it was
that he should remain on the spot, in Mr. Osbaldistone's service, in
order to frustrate, by any small influence he might have, every project
of alteration in the garden that contained the dreadful secret. He
persisted in this view, though Ellinor repeated, with pertinacious
anxiety, the care which Mr. Johnson had taken, in drawing up the lease,
to provide against any change or alteration being made in the present
disposition of the house or grounds.

People in general were rather astonished at the eagerness Miss Wilkins
showed to sell all the Ford Bank furniture. Even Miss Monro was a little
scandalized at this want of sentiment, although she said nothing about
it; indeed justified the step, by telling every one how wisely Ellinor
was acting, as the large, handsome, tables and chairs would be very much
out of place and keeping with the small, oddly-shaped rooms of their
future home in East Chester Close. None knew how strong was the instinct
of self-preservation, it may almost be called, which impelled Ellinor to
shake off, at any cost of present pain, the incubus of a terrible
remembrance. She wanted to go into an unhaunted dwelling in a free,
unknown country - she felt as if it was her only chance of sanity.
Sometimes she thought her senses would not hold together till the time
when all these arrangements were ended. But she did not speak to any one
about her feelings, poor child; to whom could she speak on the subject
but to Dixon? Nor did she define them to herself. All she knew was,
that she was as nearly going mad as possible; and if she did, she feared
that she might betray her father's guilt. All this time she never cried,
or varied from her dull, passive demeanour. And they were blessed tears
of relief that she shed when Miss Monro, herself weeping bitterly, told
her to put her head out of the post-chaise window, for at the next
turning of the road they would catch the last glimpse of Hamley church

Late one October evening, Ellinor had her first sight of East Chester
Close, where she was to pass the remainder of her life. Miss Monro had
been backwards and forwards between Hamley and East Chester more than
once, while Ellinor remained at the parsonage; so she had not only the
pride of proprietorship in the whole of the beautiful city, but something
of the desire of hospitably welcoming Ellinor to their joint future home.

"Look! the fly must take us a long round, because of our luggage; but
behind these high old walls are the canons' gardens. That high-pitched
roof, with the clumps of stonecrop on the walls near it, is Canon
Wilson's, whose four little girls I am to teach. Hark! the great
cathedral clock. How proud I used to be of its great boom when I was a
child! I thought all the other church clocks in the town sounded so
shrill and poor after that, which I considered mine especially. There
are rooks flying home to the elms in the Close. I wonder if they are the
same that used to be there when I was a girl. They say the rook is a
very long-lived bird, and I feel as if I could swear to the way they are
cawing. Ay, you may smile, Ellinor, but I understand now those lines of
Gray's you used to say so prettily -

"I feel the gales that from ye blow.
A momentary bliss bestow,
And breathe a second spring."

Now, dear, you must get out. This flagged walk leads to our front-door;
but our back rooms, which are the pleasantest, look on to the Close, and
the cathedral, and the lime-tree walk, and the deanery, and the rookery."

It was a mere slip of a house; the kitchen being wisely placed close to
the front-door, and so reserving the pretty view for the little dining-
room, out of which a glass-door opened into a small walled-in garden,
which had again an entrance into the Close. Upstairs was a bedroom to
the front, which Miss Monro had taken for herself, because as she said,
she had old associations with the back of every house in the High-street,
while Ellinor mounted to the pleasant chamber above the tiny drawing-room
both of which looked on to the vast and solemn cathedral, and the
peaceful dignified Close. East Chester Cathedral is Norman, with a low,
massive tower, a grand, majestic nave, and a choir full of stately
historic tombs. The whole city is so quiet and decorous a place, that
the perpetual daily chants and hymns of praise seemed to sound far and
wide over the roofs of the houses. Ellinor soon became a regular
attendant at all the morning and evening services. The sense of worship
calmed and soothed her aching weary heart, and to be punctual to the
cathedral hours she roused and exerted herself, when probably nothing
else would have been sufficient to this end.

By-and-by Miss Monro formed many acquaintances; she picked up, or was
picked up by, old friends, and the descendants of old friends. The grave
and kindly canons, whose children she taught, called upon her with their
wives, and talked over the former deans and chapters, of whom she had
both a personal and traditional knowledge, and as they walked away and
talked about her silent delicate-looking friend Miss Wilkins, and perhaps
planned some little present out of their fruitful garden or bounteous
stores, which should make Miss Monro's table a little more tempting to
one apparently so frail as Ellinor, for the household was always spoken
of as belonging to Miss Monro, the active and prominent person. By-and-
by, Ellinor herself won her way to their hearts, not by words or deeds,
but by her sweet looks and meek demeanour, as they marked her regular
attendance at cathedral service: and when they heard of her constant
visits to a certain parochial school, and of her being sometimes seen

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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellA Dark Night's Work → online text (page 10 of 16)