Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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carrying a little covered basin to the cottages of the poor, they began
to try and tempt her, with more urgent words, to accompany Miss Monro in
her frequent tea-drinkings at their houses. The old dean, that courteous
gentleman and good Christian, had early become great friends with
Ellinor. He would watch at the windows of his great vaulted library till
he saw her emerge from the garden into the Close, and then open the
deanery door, and join her, she softly adjusting the measure of her pace
to his. The time of his departure from East Chester became a great blank
in her life, although she would never accept, or allow Miss Monro to
accept, his repeated invitations to go and pay him a visit at his country-
place. Indeed, having once tasted comparative peace again in East
Chester Cathedral Close, it seemed as though she was afraid of ever
venturing out of those calm precincts. All Mr. Ness's invitations to
visit him at his parsonage at Hamley were declined, although he was
welcomed at Miss Monro's, on the occasion of his annual visit, by every
means in their power. He slept at one of the canon's vacant houses, and
lived with his two friends, who made a yearly festivity, to the best of
their means, in his honour, inviting such of the cathedral clergy as were
in residence: or, if they failed, condescending to the town clergy. Their
friends knew well that no presents were so acceptable as those sent while
Mr. Ness was with them; and from the dean, who would send them a hamper
of choice fruit and flowers from Oxton Park, down to the curate, who
worked in the same schools as Ellinor, and who was a great fisher, and
caught splendid trout - all did their best to help them to give a welcome
to the only visitor they ever had. The only visitor they ever had, as
far as the stately gentry knew. There was one, however, who came as
often as his master could give him a holiday long enough to undertake a
journey to so distant a place; but few knew of his being a guest at Miss
Monro's, though his welcome there was not less hearty than Mr.
Ness's - this was Dixon. Ellinor had convinced him that he could give her
no greater pleasure at any time than by allowing her to frank him to and
from East Chester. Whenever he came they were together the greater part
of the day; she taking him hither and thither to see all the sights that
she thought would interest or please him; but they spoke very little to
each other during all this companionship. Miss Monro had much more to
say to him. She questioned him right and left whenever Ellinor was out
of the room. She learnt that the house at Ford Bank was splendidly
furnished, and no money spared on the garden; that the eldest Miss
Hanbury was very well married; that Brown had succeeded to Jones in the
haberdasher's shop. Then she hesitated a little before making her next

"I suppose Mr. Corbet never comes to the Parsonage now?"

"No, not he. I don't think as how Mr. Ness would have him; but they
write letters to each other by times. Old Job - you'll recollect old Job,
ma'am, he that gardened for Mr Ness, and waited in the parlour when there
was company - did say as one day he heerd them speaking about Mr. Corbet;
and he's a grand counsellor now - one of them as goes about at
assize-time, and speaks in a wig."

"A barrister, you mean," said Miss Monro.

"Ay; and he's something more than that, though I can't rightly remember

Ellinor could have told them both. They had _The Times_ lent to them on
the second day after publication by one of their friends in the Close,
and Ellinor, watching till Miss Monro's eyes were otherwise engaged,
always turned with trembling hands and a beating heart to the reports of
the various courts of law. In them she found - at first rarely - the name
she sought for, the name she dwelt upon, as if every letter were a study.
Mr. Losh and Mr. Duncombe appeared for the plaintiff, Mr. Smythe and Mr.
Corbet for the defendant. In a year or two that name appeared more
frequently, and generally took the precedence of the other, whatever it
might be; then on special occasions his speeches were reported at full
length, as if his words were accounted weighty; and by-and-by she saw
that he had been appointed a Queen's counsel. And this was all she ever
heard or saw about him; his once familiar name never passed her lips
except in hurried whispers to Dixon, when he came to stay with them.
Ellinor had had no idea when she parted from Mr. Corbet how total the
separation between them was henceforward to be, so much seemed left
unfinished, unexplained. It was so difficult, at first, to break herself
of the habit of constant mental reference to him; and for many a long
year she kept thinking that surely some kind fortune would bring them
together again, and all this heart-sickness and melancholy estrangement
from each other would then seem to both only as an ugly dream that had
passed away in the morning light.

The dean was an old man, but there was a canon who was older still, and
whose death had been expected by many, and speculated upon by some, any
time for ten years at least. Canon Holdsworth was too old to show active
kindness to any one; the good dean's life was full of thoughtful and
benevolent deeds. But he was taken, and the other left. Ellinor looked
out at the vacant deanery with tearful eyes, the last thing at night, the
first in the morning. But it is pretty nearly the same with church
dignitaries as with kings; the dean is dead, long live the dean! A
clergyman from a distant county was appointed, and all the Close was
astir to learn and hear every particular connected with him. Luckily he
came in at the tag-end of one of the noble families in the peerage; so,
at any rate, all his future associates could learn with tolerable
certainty that he was forty-two years of age, married, and with eight
daughters and one son. The deanery, formerly so quiet and sedate a
dwelling of the one old man, was now to be filled with noise and
merriment. Iron railings were being placed before three windows,
evidently to be the nursery. In the summer publicity of open windows and
doors, the sound of the busy carpenters was perpetually heard all over
the Close: and by-and-by waggon-loads of furniture and carriage-loads of
people began to arrive. Neither Miss Monro nor Ellinor felt themselves
of sufficient importance or station to call on the new comers, but they
were as well acquainted with the proceedings of the family as if they had
been in daily intercourse; they knew that the eldest Miss Beauchamp was
seventeen, and very pretty, only one shoulder was higher than the other;
that she was dotingly fond of dancing, and talked a great deal in a _tete-
a-tete_, but not much if her mamma was by, and never opened her lips at
all if the dean was in the room; that the next sister was wonderfully
clever, and was supposed to know all the governess could teach her, and
to have private lessons in Greek and mathematics from her father; and so
on down to the little boy at the preparatory school and the baby-girl in
arms. Moreover, Miss Monro, at any rate, could have stood an examination
as to the number of servants at the deanery, their division of work, and
the hours of their meals. Presently, a very beautiful, haughty-looking
young lady made her appearance in the Close, and in the dean's pew. She
was said to be his niece, the orphan daughter of his brother, General
Beauchamp, come to East Chester to reside for the necessary time before
her marriage, which was to be performed in the cathedral by her uncle,
the new dignitary. But as callers at the deanery did not see this
beautiful bride elect, and as the Beauchamps had not as yet fallen into
habits of intimacy with any of their new acquaintances, very little was
known of the circumstances of this approaching wedding beyond the
particulars given above.

Ellinor and Miss Monro sat at their drawing-room window, a little shaded
by the muslin curtains, watching the busy preparations for the marriage,
which was to take place the next day. All morning long, hampers of fruit
and flowers, boxes from the railway - for by this time East Chester had
got a railway - shop messengers, hired assistants, kept passing backwards
and forwards in the busy Close. Towards afternoon the bustle subsided,
the scaffolding was up, the materials for the next day's feast carried
out of sight. It was to be concluded that the bride elect was seeing to
the packing of her trousseau, helped by the merry multitude of cousins,
and that the servants were arranging the dinner for the day, or the
breakfast for the morrow. So Miss Monro had settled it, discussing every
detail and every probability as though she were a chief actor, instead of
only a distant, uncared-for spectator of the coming event. Ellinor was
tired, and now that there was nothing interesting going on, she had
fallen back to her sewing, when she was startled by Miss Memo's

"Look, look! here are two gentlemen coming along the lime-tree walk! it
must be the bridegroom and his friend." Out of much sympathy, and some
curiosity, Ellinor bent forward, and saw, just emerging from the shadow
of the trees on to the full afternoon sunlit pavement, Mr. Corbet and
another gentleman; the former changed, worn, aged, though with still the
same fine intellectual face, leaning on the arm of the younger taller
man, and talking eagerly. The other gentleman was doubtless the
bridegroom, Ellinor said to herself; and yet her prophetic heart did not
believe her words. Even before the bright beauty at the deanery looked
out of the great oriel window of the drawing-room, and blushed, and
smiled, and kissed her hand - a gesture replied to by Mr. Corbet with much
_empressement_, while the other man only took off his hat, almost as if
he saw her there for the first time - Ellinor's greedy eyes watched him
till he was hidden from sight in the deanery, unheeding Miss Monro's
eager incoherent sentences, in turn entreating, apologising, comforting,
and upbraiding. Then she slowly turned her painful eyes upon Miss
Monro's face, and moved her lips without a sound being heard, and fainted
dead away. In all her life she had never done so before, and when she
came round she was not like herself; in all probability the persistence
and wilfulness she, who was usually so meek and docile, showed during the
next twenty-four hours, was the consequence of fever. She resolved to be
present at the wedding; numbers were going; she would be unseen,
unnoticed in the crowd; but whatever befell, go she would, and neither
the tears nor the prayers of Miss Monro could keep her back. She gave no
reason for this determination; indeed, in all probability she had none to
give; so there was no arguing the point. She was inflexible to entreaty,
and no one had any authority over her, except, perhaps, distant Mr. Ness.
Miss Monro had all sorts of forebodings as to the possible scenes that
might come to pass. But all went on as quietly as though the fullest
sympathy pervaded every individual of the great numbers assembled. No
one guessed that the muffled, veiled figure, sitting in the shadow behind
one of the great pillars, was that of one who had once hoped to stand at
the altar with the same bridegroom, who now cast tender looks at the
beautiful bride; her veil white and fairy-like, Ellinor's black and
shrouding as that of any nun.

Already Mr. Corbet's name was known through the country as that of a
great lawyer; people discussed his speeches and character far and wide;
and the well-informed in legal gossip spoke of him as sure to be offered
a judgeship at the next vacancy. So he, though grave, and middle-aged,
and somewhat grey, divided attention and remark with his lovely bride,
and her pretty train of cousin bridesmaids. Miss Monro need not have
feared for Ellinor: she saw and heard all things as in a mist - a dream;
as something she had to go through, before she could waken up to a
reality of brightness in which her youth, and the hopes of her youth,
should be restored, and all these weary years of dreaminess and woe
should be revealed as nothing but the nightmare of a night. She sat
motionless enough, still enough, Miss Monro by her, watching her as
intently as a keeper watches a madman, and with the same purpose - to
prevent any outburst even by bodily strength, if such restraint be
needed. When all was over; when the principal personages of the ceremony
had filed into the vestry to sign their names; when the swarm of
townspeople were going out as swiftly as their individual notions of the
restraints of the sacred edifice permitted; when the great chords of the
"Wedding March" clanged out from the organ, and the loud bells pealed
overhead - Ellinor laid her hand in Miss Monro's. "Take me home," she
said softly. And Miss Monro led her home as one leads the blind.


There are some people who imperceptibly float away from their youth into
middle age, and thence pass into declining life with the soft and gentle
motion of happy years. There are others who are whirled, in spite of
themselves, down dizzy rapids of agony away from their youth at one great
bound, into old age with another sudden shock; and thence into the vast
calm ocean where there are no shore-marks to tell of time.

This last, it seemed, was to be Ellinor's lot. Her youth had gone in a
single night, fifteen years ago, and now she appeared to have become an
elderly woman; very still and hopeless in look and movement, but as sweet
and gentle in speech and smile as ever she had been in her happiest days.
All young people, when they came to know her, loved her dearly, though at
first they might call her dull, and heavy to get on with; and as for
children and old people, her ready watchful sympathy in their joys as
well as their sorrows was an unfailing passage to their hearts. After
the first great shock of Mr. Corbet's marriage was over, she seemed to
pass into a greater peace than she had known for years; the last faint
hope of happiness was gone; it would, perhaps, be more accurate to say,
of the bright happiness she had planned for herself in her early youth.
Unconsciously, she was being weaned from self-seeking in any shape, and
her daily life became, if possible, more innocent and pure and holy. One
of the canons used to laugh at her for her constant attendance at all the
services, and for her devotion to good works, and call her always the
reverend sister. Miss Monro was a little annoyed at this faint clerical
joke; Ellinor smiled quietly. Miss Monro disapproved of Ellinor's grave
ways and sober severe style of dress.

"You may be as good as you like, my dear, and yet go dressed in some
pretty colour, instead of those perpetual blacks and greys, and then
there would be no need for me to be perpetually telling people you are
only four-and-thirty (and they don't believe me, though I tell them so
till I am black in the face). Or, if you would but wear a decent-shaped
bonnet, instead of always wearing those of the poky shape in fashion when
you were seventeen."

The old canon died, and some one was to be appointed in his stead. These
clerical preferments and appointments were the all-important interests to
the inhabitants of the Close, and the discussion of probabilities came up
invariably if any two met together, in street or house, or even in the
very cathedral itself. At length it was settled, and announced by the
higher powers. An energetic, hard-working clergyman from a distant part
of the diocese, Livingstone by name, was to have the vacant canonry.

Miss Monro said that the name was somehow familiar to her, and by degrees
she recollected the young curate who had come to inquire after Ellinor in
that dreadful illness she had had at Hamley in the year 1829. Ellinor
knew nothing of that visit; no more than Miss Monro did of what had
passed between the two before that anxious night. Ellinor just thought
it possible it might be the same Mr. Livingstone, and would rather it
were not, because she did not feel as if she could bear the frequent
though not intimate intercourse she must needs have, if such were the
case, with one so closely associated with that great time of terror which
she was striving to bury out of sight by every effort in her power. Miss
Monro, on the contrary, was busy weaving a romance for her pupil; she
thought of the passionate interest displayed by the fair young clergyman
fifteen years ago, and believed that occasionally men could be constant,
and hoped that if Mr. Livingstone were the new canon, he might prove the
_rara avis_ which exists but once in a century. He came, and it was the
same. He looked a little stouter, a little older, but had still the gait
and aspect of a young man. His smooth fair face was scarcely lined at
all with any marks of care; the blue eyes looked so kindly and peaceful,
that Miss Monro could scarcely fancy they were the same which she had
seen fast filling with tears; the bland calm look of the whole man needed
the ennoblement of his evident devoutness to be raised into the type of
holy innocence which some of the Romanists call the "sacerdotal face."
His entire soul was in his work, and he looked as little likely to step
forth in the character of either a hero of romance or a faithful lover as
could be imagined. Still Miss Monro was not discouraged; she remembered
the warm, passionate feeling she had once seen break through the calm
exterior, and she believed that what had happened once might occur again.

Of course, while all eyes were directed on the new canon, he had to learn
who the possessors of those eyes were one by one; and it was probably
some time before the idea came into his mind that Miss Wilkins, the lady
in black, with the sad pale face, so constant an attendant at service, so
regular a visitor at the school, was the same Miss Wilkins as the bright
vision of his youth. It was her sweet smile at a painstaking child that
betrayed her - if, indeed, betrayal it might be called where there was no
wish or effort to conceal anything. Canon Livingstone left the
schoolroom almost directly, and, after being for an hour or so in his
house, went out to call on Mrs. Randall, the person who knew more of her
neighbours' affairs than any one in East Chester.

The next day he called on Miss Wilkins herself. She would have been very
glad if he had kept on in his ignorance; it was so keenly painful to be
in the company of one the sight of whom, even at a distance, had brought
her such a keen remembrance of past misery; and when told of his call, as
she was sitting at her sewing in the dining-room, she had to nerve
herself for the interview before going upstairs into the drawing-room,
where he was being entertained by Miss Monro with warm demonstrations of
welcome. A little contraction of the brow, a little compression of the
lips, an increased pallor on Ellinor's part, was all that Miss Monro
could see in her, though she had put on her glasses with foresight and
intention to observe. She turned to the canon; his colour had certainly
deepened as he went forwards with out-stretched hand to meet Ellinor.
That was all that was to be seen; but on the slight foundation of that
blush, Miss Monro built many castles; and when they faded away, one after
one, she recognised that they were only baseless visions. She used to
put the disappointment of her hopes down to Ellinor's unvaried calmness
of demeanour, which might be taken for coldness of disposition; and to
her steady refusal to allow Miss Monro to invite Canon Livingstone to the
small teas they were in the habit of occasionally giving. Yet he
persevered in his calls; about once every fortnight he came, and would
sit an hour or more, looking covertly at his watch, as if as Miss Monro
shrewdly observed to herself, he did not go away at last because he
wished to do so, but because he ought. Sometimes Ellinor was present,
sometimes she was away; in this latter case Miss Monro thought she could
detect a certain wistful watching of the door every time a noise was
heard outside the room. He always avoided any reference to former days
at Hamley, and that, Miss Monro feared, was a bad sign.

After this long uniformity of years without any event closely touching on
Ellinor's own individual life, with the one great exception of Mr.
Corbet's marriage, something happened which much affected her. Mr. Ness
died suddenly at his parsonage, and Ellinor learnt it first from Mr.
Brown, a clergyman, whose living was near Hamley, and who had been sent
for by the Parsonage servants as soon as they discovered that it was not
sleep, but death, that made their master so late in rising.

Mr. Brown had been appointed executer by his late friend, and wrote to
tell Ellinor that after a few legacies were paid, she was to have a life-
interest in the remainder of the small property which Mr. Ness had left,
and that it would be necessary for her, as the residuary legatee, to come
to Hamley Parsonage as soon as convenient, to decide upon certain courses
of action with regard to furniture, books, &c.

Ellinor shrank from this journey, which her love and duty towards her
dead friend rendered necessary. She had scarcely left East Chester since
she first arrived there, sixteen or seventeen years ago, and she was
timorous about the very mode of travelling; and then to go back to
Hamley, which she thought never to have seen again! She never spoke much
about any feelings of her own, but Miss Monro could always read her
silence, and interpreted it into pretty just and forcible words that
afternoon when Canon Livingstone called. She liked to talk about Ellinor
to him, and suspected that he liked to hear. She was almost annoyed this
time by the comfort he would keep giving her; there was no greater danger
in travelling by railroad than by coach, a little care about certain
things was required, that was all, and the average number of deaths by
accidents on railroads was not greater than the average number when
people travelled by coach, if you took into consideration the far greater
number of travellers. Yes! returning to the deserted scenes of one's
youth was very painful . . . Had Miss Wilkins made any provision for
another lady to take her place as visitor at the school? He believed it
was her week. Miss Monro was out of all patience at his entire calmness
and reasonableness. Later in the day she became more at peace with him,
when she received a kind little note from Mrs. Forbes, a great friend of
hers, and the mother of the family she was now teaching, saying that
Canon Livingstone had called and told her that Ellinor had to go on a
very painful journey, and that Mrs. Forbes was quite sure Miss Monro's
companionship upon it would be a great comfort to both, and that she
could perfectly be set at liberty for a fortnight or so, for it would
fall in admirably with the fact that "Jeanie was growing tall, and the
doctor had advised sea air this spring; so a month's holiday would suit
them now even better than later on." Was this going straight to Mrs.
Forbes, to whom she should herself scarcely have liked to name it, the
act of a good, thoughtful man, or of a lover? questioned Miss Monro; but
she could not answer her own inquiry, and had to be very grateful for the
deed, without accounting for the motives.

A coach met the train at a station about ten miles from Hamley, and Dixon
was at the inn where the coach stopped, ready to receive them.

The old man was almost in tears at the sight of them again in a familiar
place. He had put on his Sunday clothes to do them honour; and to
conceal his agitation he kept up a pretended bustle about their luggage.
To the indignation of the inn-porters, who were of a later generation, he
would wheel it himself to the Parsonage, though he broke down from
fatigue once or twice on the way, and had to stand and rest, his ladies
waiting by his side, and making remarks on the alterations of houses and
the places of trees, in order to give him ample time to recruit himself,
for there was no one to wait for them and give them a welcome to the
Parsonage, which was to be their temporary home. The respectful
servants, in deep mourning, had all prepared, and gave Ellinor a note
from Mr. Brown, saying that he purposely refrained from disturbing them
that day after their long journey, but would call on the morrow, and tell
them of the arrangements he had thought of making, always subject to Miss
Wilkins's approval.

These were simple enough; certain legal forms to be gone through, any

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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellA Dark Night's Work → online text (page 11 of 16)