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Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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selection from books or furniture to be made, and the rest to be sold by
auction as speedily as convenient, as the successor to the living might
wish to have repairs and alterations effected in the old parsonage. For
some days Ellinor employed herself in business in the house, never going
out except to church. Miss Monro, on the contrary, strolled about
everywhere, noticing all the alterations in place and people, which were
never improvements in her opinion. Ellinor had plenty of callers (her
tenants, Mr. and Mrs. Osbaldistone among others), but, excepting in rare
cases - most of them belonged to humble life - she declined to see every
one, as she had business enough on her hands: sixteen years makes a great
difference in any set of people. The old acquaintances of her father in
his better days were almost all dead or removed; there were one or two
remaining, and these Ellinor received; one or two more, old and infirm,
confined to their houses, she planned to call upon before leaving Hamley.
Every evening, when Dixon had done his work at Mr. Osbaldistone's, he
came up to the Parsonage, ostensibly to help her in moving or packing
books, but really because these two clung to each other - were bound to
each other by a bond never to be spoken about. It was understood between
them that once before Ellinor left she should go and see the old place,
Ford Bank. Not to go into the house, though Mr. and Mrs. Osbaldistone
had begged her to name her own time for revisiting it when they and their
family would be absent, but to see all the gardens and grounds once more;
a solemn, miserable visit, which, because of the very misery it involved,
appeared to Ellinor to be an imperative duty.

Dixon and she talked together as she sat making a catalogue one evening
in the old low-browed library; the casement windows were open into the
garden, and the May showers had brought out the scents of the new-leaved
sweetbriar bush just below. Beyond the garden hedge the grassy meadows
sloped away down to the liver; the Parsonage was so much raised that,
sitting in the house, you could see over the boundary hedge. Men with
instruments were busy in the meadow. Ellinor, pausing in her work, asked
Dixon what they were doing.

"Them's the people for the new railway," said he. "Nought would satisfy
the Hamley folk but to have a railway all to themselves - coaches isn't
good enough now-a-days."

He spoke with a tone of personal offence natural to a man who had passed
all his life among horses, and considered railway-engines as their
despicable rivals, conquering only by stratagem.

By-and-by Ellinor passed on to a subject the consideration of which she
had repeatedly urged upon Dixon, and entreated him to come and form one
of their household at East Chester. He was growing old, she thought
older even in looks and feelings than in years, and she would make him
happy and comfortable in his declining years if he would but come and
pass them under her care. The addition which Mr. Ness's bequest made to
her income would enable her to do not only this, but to relieve Miss
Monro of her occupation of teaching; which, at the years she had arrived
at, was becoming burdensome. When she proposed the removal to Dixon he
shook his head.

"It's not that I don't thank you, and kindly, too; but I'm too old to go
chopping and changing."

"But it would be no change to come back to me, Dixon," said Ellinor.

"Yes, it would. I were born i' Hamley, and it's i' Hamley I reckon to
die."

On her urging him a little more, it came out that he had a strong feeling
that if he did not watch the spot where the dead man lay buried, the
whole would be discovered; and that this dread of his had often poisoned
the pleasure of his visit to East Chester.

"I don't rightly know how it is, for I sometimes think if it wasn't for
you, missy, I should be glad to have made it all clear before I go; and
yet at times I dream, or it comes into my head as I lie awake with the
rheumatics, that some one is there, digging; or that I hear 'em cutting
down the tree; and then I get up and look out of the loft window - you'll
mind the window over the stables, as looks into the garden, all covered
over wi' the leaves of the jargonelle pear-tree? That were my room when
first I come as stable-boy, and tho' Mr. Osbaldistone would fain give me
a warmer one, I allays tell him I like th' old place best. And by times
I've getten up five or six times a-night to make sure as there was no one
at work under the tree."

Ellinor shivered a little. He saw it, and restrained himself in the
relief he was receiving from imparting his superstitious fancies.

"You see, missy, I could never rest a-nights if I didn't feel as if I
kept the secret in my hand, and held it tight day and night, so as I
could open my hand at any minute and see as it was there. No! my own
little missy will let me come and see her now and again, and I know as I
can allays ask her for what I want: and if it please God to lay me by, I
shall tell her so, and she'll see as I want for nothing. But somehow I
could ne'er bear leaving Hamley. You shall come and follow me to my
grave when my time comes."

"Don't talk so, please, Dixon," said she.

"Nay, it'll be a mercy when I can lay me down and sleep in peace: though
I sometimes fear as peace will not come to me even there." He was going
out of the room, and was now more talking to himself than to her. "They
say blood will out, and if it weren't for her part in it, I could wish
for a clear breast before I die."

She did not hear the latter part of this mumbled sentence. She was
looking at a letter just brought in and requiring an immediate answer. It
was from Mr. Brown. Notes from him were of daily occurrence, but this
contained an open letter the writing of which was strangely familiar to
her - it did not need the signature "Ralph Corbet," to tell her whom the
letter came from. For some moments she could not read the words. They
expressed a simple enough request, and were addressed to the auctioneer
who was to dispose of the rather valuable library of the late Mr. Ness,
and whose name had been advertised in connection with the sale, in the
_Athenaeum_, and other similar papers. To him Mr. Corbet wrote, saying
that he should be unable to be present when the books were sold, but that
he wished to be allowed to buy in, at any price decided upon, a certain
rare folio edition of _Virgil_, bound in parchment, and with notes in
Italian. The book was fully described. Though no Latin scholar, Ellinor
knew the book well - remembered its look from old times, and could
instantly have laid her hand upon it. The auctioneer had sent the
request onto his employer, Mr. Brown. That gentleman applied to Ellinor
for her consent. She saw that the fact of the intended sale must be all
that Mr. Corbet was aware of, and that he could not know to whom the
books belonged. She chose out the book, and wrapped and tied it up with
trembling hands. _He_ might be the person to untie the knot. It was
strangely familiar to her love, after so many years, to be brought into
thus much contact with him. She wrote a short note to Mr. Brown, in
which she requested him to say, as though from himself; and without any
mention of her name, that he, as executor, requested Mr. Corbet's
acceptance of the _Virgil_, as a remembrance of his former friend and
tutor. Then she rang the bell, and gave the letter and parcel to the
servant.

Again alone, and Mr. Corbet's open letter on the table. She took it up
and looked at it till the letters dazzled crimson on the white paper. Her
life rolled backwards, and she was a girl again. At last she roused
herself; but instead of destroying the note - it was long years since all
her love-letters from him had been returned to the writer - she unlocked
her little writing-case again, and placed this letter carefully down at
the bottom, among the dead rose-leaves which embalmed the note from her
father, found after his death under his pillow, the little golden curl of
her sister's, the half-finished sewing of her mother.

The shabby writing-case itself was given her by her father long ago, and
had since been taken with her everywhere. To be sure, her changes of
place had been but few; but if she had gone to Nova Zembla, the sight of
that little leather box on awaking from her first sleep, would have given
her a sense of home. She locked the case up again, and felt all the
richer for that morning.

A day or two afterwards she left Hamley. Before she went she compelled
herself to go round the gardens and grounds of Ford Bank. She had made
Mrs. Osbaldistone understand that it would be painful for her to re-enter
the house; but Mr. Osbaldistone accompanied her in her walk.

"You see how literally we have obeyed the clause in the lease which ties
us out from any alterations," said he, smiling. "We are living in a
tangled thicket of wood. I must confess that I should have liked to cut
down a good deal; but we do not do even the requisite thinnings without
making the proper application for leave to Mr. Johnson. In fact, your
old friend Dixon is jealous of every pea-stick the gardener cuts. I
never met with so faithful a fellow. A good enough servant, too, in his
way; but somewhat too old-fashioned for my wife and daughters, who
complain of his being surly now and then."

"You are not thinking of parting with him?" said Ellinor, jealous for
Dixon.

"Oh, no; he and I are capital friends. And I believe Mrs. Osbaldistone
herself would never consent to his leaving us. But some ladies, you
know, like a little more subserviency in manner than our friend Dixon can
boast."

Ellinor made no reply. They were entering the painted flower garden,
hiding the ghastly memory. She could not speak. She felt as if, with
all her striving, she could not move - just as one does in a nightmare - but
she was past the place even as this terror came to its acme; and when she
came to herself, Mr. Osbaldistone was still blandly talking, and saying -

"It is now a reward for our obedience to your wishes, Miss Wilkins, for
if the projected railway passes through the ash-field yonder we should
have been perpetually troubled with the sight of the trains; indeed, the
sound would have been much more distinct than it will be now coming
through the interlacing branches. Then you will not go in, Miss
Wilkins?" Mrs. Osbaldistone desired me to say how happy - "Ah! I can
understand such feelings - Certainly, certainly; it is so much the
shortest way to the town, that we elder ones always go through the stable-
yard; for young people, it is perhaps not quite so desirable. Ha!
Dixon," he continued, "on the watch for the Miss Ellinor we so often hear
of! This old man," he continued to Ellinor, "is never satisfied with the
seat of our young ladies, always comparing their way of riding with that
of a certain missy - "

"I cannot help it, sir; they've quite a different style of hand, and sit
all lumpish-like. Now, Miss Ellinor, there - "

"Hush, Dixon," she said, suddenly aware of why the old servant was not
popular with his mistress. "I suppose I may be allowed to ask for
Dixon's company for an hour or so; we have something to do together
before we leave."

The consent given, the two walked away, as by previous appointment, to
Hamley churchyard, where he was to point out to her the exact spot where
he wished to be buried. Trampling over the long, rank grass, but
avoiding passing directly over any of the thickly-strewn graves, he made
straight for one spot - a little space of unoccupied ground close by,
where Molly, the pretty scullery-maid, lay:

Sacred to the Memory of
MARY GREAVES.
Born 1797. Died 1818.
"We part to meet again."

"I put this stone up over her with my first savings," said he, looking at
it; and then, pulling out his knife, he began to clean out the letters.
"I said then as I would lie by her. And it'll be a comfort to think
you'll see me laid here. I trust no one'll be so crabbed as to take a
fancy to this 'ere spot of ground."

Ellinor grasped eagerly at the only pleasure which her money enabled her
to give to the old man: and promised him that she would take care and buy
the right to that particular piece of ground. This was evidently a
gratification Dixon had frequently yearned after; he kept saying, "I'm
greatly obleeged to ye, Miss Ellinor. I may say I'm truly obleeged." And
when he saw them off by the coach the next day, his last words were, "I
cannot justly say how greatly I'm obleeged to you for that matter of the
churchyard." It was a much more easy affair to give Miss Monro some
additional comforts; she was as cheerful as ever; still working away at
her languages in any spare time, but confessing that she was tired of the
perpetual teaching in which her life had been spent during the last
thirty years. Ellinor was now enabled to set her at liberty from this,
and she accepted the kindness from her former pupil with as much simple
gratitude as that with which a mother receives a favour from a child. "If
Ellinor were but married to Canon Livingstone, I should be happier than I
have ever been since my father died," she used to say to herself in the
solitude of her bed-chamber, for talking aloud had become her wont in the
early years of her isolated life as a governess. "And yet," she went on,
"I don't know what I should do without her; it is lucky for me that
things are not in my hands, for a pretty mess I should make of them, one
way or another. Dear! how old Mrs. Cadogan used to hate that word
'mess,' and correct her granddaughters for using it right before my face,
when I knew I had said it myself only the moment before! Well! those
days are all over now. God be thanked!"

In spite of being glad that "things were not in her hands" Miss Monro
tried to take affairs into her charge by doing all she could to persuade
Ellinor to allow her to invite the canon to their "little sociable teas."
The most provoking part was, that she was sure he would have come if he
had been asked; but she could never get leave to do so. "Of course no
man could go on for ever and ever without encouragement," as she confided
to herself in a plaintive tone of voice; and by-and-by many people were
led to suppose that the bachelor canon was paying attention to Miss
Forbes, the eldest daughter of the family to which the delicate Jeanie
belonged. It was, perhaps, with the Forbeses that both Miss Monro and
Ellinor were the most intimate of all the families in East Chester. Mrs.
Forbes was a widow lady of good means, with a large family of pretty,
delicate daughters. She herself belonged to one of the great houses in
- -shire, but had married into Scotland; so, after her husband's death,
it was the most natural thing in the world that she should settle in East
Chester; and one after another of her daughters had become first Miss
Monro's pupil and afterwards her friend. Mrs. Forbes herself had always
been strongly attracted by Ellinor, but it was long before she could
conquer the timid reserve by which Miss Wilkins was hedged round. It was
Miss Monro, who was herself incapable of jealousy, who persevered in
praising them to one another, and in bringing them together; and now
Ellinor was as intimate and familiar in Mrs. Forbes's household as she
ever could be with any family not her own.

Mrs. Forbes was considered to be a little fanciful as to illness; but it
was no wonder, remembering how many sisters she had lost by consumption.
Miss Monro had often grumbled at the way in which her pupils were made
irregular for very trifling causes. But no one so alarmed as she, when,
in the autumn succeeding Mr. Ness's death, Mrs. Forbes remarked to her on
Ellinor's increased delicacy of appearance, and shortness of breathing.
From that time forwards she worried Ellinor (if any one so sweet and
patient could ever have been worried) with respirators and precautions.
Ellinor submitted to all her friend's wishes and cares, sooner than make
her anxious, and remained a prisoner in the house through the whole of
November. Then Miss Monro's anxiety took another turn. Ellinor's
appetite and spirits failed her - not at all an unnatural consequence of
so many weeks' confinement to the house. A plan was started, quite
suddenly, one morning in December, that met with approval from everyone
but Ellinor, who was, however, by this time too languid to make much
resistance.

Mrs. Forbes and her daughters were going to Rome for three or four
months, so as to avoid the trying east winds of spring; why should not
Miss Wilkins go with them? They urged it, and Miss Monro urged it,
though with a little private sinking of the heart at the idea of the long
separation from one who was almost like a child to her. Ellinor was, as
it were, lifted off her feet and borne away by the unanimous opinion of
others - the doctor included - who decided that such a step was highly
desirable; if not absolutely necessary. She knew that she had only a
life interest both in her father's property and in that bequeathed to her
by Mr. Ness. Hitherto she had not felt much troubled by this, as she had
supposed that in the natural course of events she should survive Miss
Monro and Dixon, both of whom she looked upon as dependent upon her. All
she had to bequeath to the two was the small savings, which would not
nearly suffice for both purposes, especially considering that Miss Monro
had given up her teaching, and that both she and Dixon were passing into
years.

Before Ellinor left England she had made every arrangement for the
contingency of her death abroad that Mr. Johnson could suggest. She had
written and sent a long letter to Dixon; and a shorter one was left in
charge of Canon Livingstone (she dared not hint at the possibility of her
dying to Miss Monro) to be sent to the old man.

As they drove out of the King's Cross station, they passed a gentleman's
carriage entering. Ellinor saw a bright, handsome lady, a nurse, and
baby inside, and a gentleman sitting by them whose face she could never
forget. It was Mr. Corbet taking his wife and child to the railway. They
were going on a Christmas visit to East Chester deanery. He had been
leaning back, not noticing the passers-by, not attending to the other
inmates of the carriage, probably absorbed in the consideration of some
law case. Such were the casual glimpses Ellinor had of one with whose
life she had once thought herself bound up.

Who so proud as Miss Monro when a foreign letter came? Her correspondent
was not particularly graphic in her descriptions, nor were there any
adventures to be described, nor was the habit of mind of Ellinor such as
to make her clear and definite in her own impressions of what she saw,
and her natural reserve kept her from being fluent in communicating them
even to Miss Monro. But that lady would have been pleased to read aloud
these letters to the assembled dean and canons, and would not have been
surprised if they had invited her to the chapter-house for that purpose.
To her circle of untravelled ladies, ignorant of Murray, but laudably
desirous of information, all Ellinor's historical reminiscences and
rather formal details were really interesting. There was no railroad in
those days between Lyons and Marseilles, so their progress was slow, and
the passage of letters to and fro, when they had arrived in Rome, long
and uncertain. But all seemed going on well. Ellinor spoke of herself
as in better health; and Canon Livingstone (between whom and Miss Monro
great intimacy had sprung up since Ellinor had gone away, and Miss Monro
could ask him to tea) confirmed this report of Miss Wilkins's health from
a letter which he had received from Mrs. Forbes. Curiosity about that
letter was Miss Monro's torment. What could they have had to write to
each other about? It was a very odd proceeding; although the
Livingstones and Forbeses were distantly related, after the manner of
Scotland. Could it have been that he had offered to Euphemia, after all,
and that her mother had answered; or, possibly, there was a letter from
Effie herself, enclosed. It was a pity for Miss Monro's peace of mind
that she did not ask him straight away. She would then have learnt what
Canon Livingstone had no thought of concealing, that Mrs. Forbes had
written solely to give him some fuller directions about certain charities
than she had had time to think about in the hurry of starting. As it
was, and when, a little later on, she heard him speak of the possibility
of his going himself to Rome, as soon as his term of residence was over,
in time for the Carnival, she gave up her fond project in despair, and
felt very much like a child whose house of bricks had been knocked down
by the unlucky waft of some passing petticoat.

Meanwhile, the entire change of scene brought on the exquisite
refreshment of entire change of thought. Ellinor had not been able so
completely to forget her past life for many years; it was like a renewing
of her youth; cut so suddenly short by the shears of Fate. Ever since
that night, she had had to rouse herself on awakening in the morning into
a full comprehension of the great cause she had for much fear and heavy
grief. Now, when she wakened in her little room, fourth piano, No. 36,
Babuino, she saw the strange, pretty things around her, and her mind went
off into pleasant wonder and conjecture, happy recollections of the day
before, and pleasant anticipations of the day to come. Latent in Ellinor
was her father's artistic temperament; everything new and strange was a
picture and a delight; the merest group in the street, a Roman facchino,
with his cloak draped over his shoulder, a girl going to market or
carrying her pitcher back from the fountain, everything and every person
that presented it or himself to her senses, gave them a delicious shock,
as if it were something strangely familiar from Pinelli, but unseen by
her mortal eyes before. She forgot her despondency, her ill-health
disappeared as if by magic; the Misses Forbes, who had taken the pensive,
drooping invalid as a companion out of kindness of heart, found
themselves amply rewarded by the sight of her amended health, and her
keen enjoyment of everything, and the half-quaint, half naive expressions
of her pleasure.

So March came round; Lent was late that year. The great nosegays of
violets and camellias were for sale at the corner of the Condotti, and
the revellers had no difficulty in procuring much rarer flowers for the
belles of the Corso. The embassies had their balconies; the attaches of
the Russian Embassy threw their light and lovely presents at every pretty
girl, or suspicion of a pretty girl, who passed slowly in her carriage,
covered over with her white domino, and holding her wire mask as a
protection to her face from the showers of lime confetti, which otherwise
would have been enough to blind her; Mrs. Forbes had her own hired
balcony, as became a wealthy and respectable Englishwoman. The girls had
a great basket full of bouquets with which to pelt their friends in the
crowd below; a store of moccoletti lay piled on the table behind, for it
was the last day of Carnival, and as soon as dusk came on the tapers were
to be lighted, to be as quickly extinguished by every means in everyone's
power. The crowd below was at its wildest pitch; the rows of stately
contadini alone sitting immovable as their possible ancestors, the
senators who received Brennus and his Gauls. Masks and white dominoes,
foreign gentlemen, and the riffraff of the city, slow-driving carriages,
showers of flowers, most of them faded by this time, everyone shouting
and struggling at that wild pitch of excitement which may so soon turn
into fury. The Forbes girls had given place at the window to their
mother and Ellinor, who were gazing half amused, half terrified, at the
mad parti-coloured movement below; when a familiar face looked up,
smiling a recognition; and "How shall I get to you?" was asked in
English, by the well-known voice of Canon Livingstone. They saw him
disappear under the balcony on which they were standing, but it was some
time before he made his appearance in their room. And when he did, he
was almost overpowered with greetings; so glad were they to see an East
Chester face.

"When did you come? Where are you? What a pity you did not come sooner!
It is so long since we have heard anything; do tell us everything! It is
three weeks since we have had any letters; those tiresome boats have been
so irregular because of the weather." "How was everybody - Miss Monro in


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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellA Dark Night's Work → online text (page 12 of 16)