Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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particular?" Ellinor asks.

He, quietly smiling, replied to their questions by slow degrees. He had
only arrived the night before, and had been hunting for them all day; but
no one could give him any distinct intelligence as to their whereabouts
in all the noise and confusion of the place, especially as they had their
only English servant with them, and the canon was not strong in his
Italian. He was not sorry he had missed all but this last day of
carnival, for he was half blinded and wholly deafened, as it was. He was
at the "Angleterre;" he had left East Chester about a week ago; he had
letters for all of them, but had not dared to bring them through the
crowd for fear of having his pocket picked. Miss Monro was very well,
but very uneasy at not having heard from Ellinor for so long; the
irregularity of the boats must be telling both ways, for their English
friends were full of wonder at not hearing from Rome. And then followed
some well-deserved abuse of the Roman post, and some suspicion of the
carelessness with which Italian servants posted English letters. All
these answers were satisfactory enough, yet Mrs. Forbes thought she saw a
latent uneasiness in Canon Livingstone's manner, and fancied once or
twice that he hesitated in replying to Ellinor's questions. But there
was no being quite sure in the increasing darkness, which prevented
countenances from being seen; nor in the constant interruptions and
screams which were going on in the small crowded room, as wafting
handkerchiefs, puffs of wind, or veritable extinguishers, fastened to
long sticks, and coming from nobody knew where, put out taper after taper
as fast as they were lighted.

"You will come home with us," said Mrs. Forbes. "I can only offer you
cold meat with tea; our cook is gone out, this being a universal festa;
but we cannot part with an old friend for any scruples as to the

"Thank you. I should have invited myself if you had not been good enough
to ask me."

When they had all arrived at their apartment in the Babuino (Canon
Livingstone had gone round to fetch the letters with which he was
entrusted), Mrs. Forbes was confirmed in her supposition that he had
something particular and not very pleasant to say to Ellinor, by the
rather grave and absent manner in which he awaited her return from taking
off her out-of-door things. He broke off, indeed, in his conversation
with Mrs. Forbes to go and meet Ellinor, and to lead her into the most
distant window before he delivered her letters.

"From what you said in the balcony yonder, I fear you have not received
your home letters regularly?"

"No!" replied she, startled and trembling, she hardly knew why.

"No more has Miss Monro heard from you; nor, I believe, has some one else
who expected to hear. Your man of business - I forget his name."

"My man of business! Something has gone wrong, Mr. Livingstone. Tell
me - I want to know. I have been expecting it - only tell me." She sat
down suddenly, as white as ashes.

"Dear Miss Wilkins, I'm afraid it is painful enough, but you are fancying
it worse than it is. All your friends are quite well; but an old
servant - "

"Well!" she said, seeing his hesitation, and leaning forwards and griping
at his arm.

"Is taken up on a charge of manslaughter or murder. Oh! Mrs. Forbes,
come here!"

For Ellinor had fainted, falling forwards on the arm she had held. When
she came round she was lying half undressed on her bed; they were giving
her tea in spoonfuls.

"I must get up," she moaned. "I must go home."

"You must lie still," said Mrs. Forbes, firmly.

"You don't know. I must go home," she repeated; and she tried to sit up,
but fell back helpless. Then she did not speak, but lay and thought.
"Will you bring me some meat?" she whispered. "And some wine?" They
brought her meat and wine; she ate, though she was choking. "Now,
please, bring me my letters, and leave me alone; and after that I should
like to speak to Canon Livingstone. Don't let him go, please. I won't
be long - half an hour, I think. Only let me be alone."

There was a hurried feverish sharpness in her tone that made Mrs. Forbes
very anxious, but she judged it best to comply with her requests.

The letters were brought, the lights were arranged so that she could read
them lying on her bed; and they left her. Then she got up and stood on
her feet, dizzy enough, her arms clasped at the top of her head, her eyes
dilated and staring as if looking at some great horror. But after a few
minutes she sat down suddenly, and began to read. Letters were evidently
missing. Some had been sent by an opportunity that had been delayed on
the journey, and had not yet arrived in Rome. Others had been despatched
by the post, but the severe weather, the unusual snow, had, in those
days, before the railway was made between Lyons and Marseilles, put a
stop to many a traveller's plans, and had rendered the transmission of
the mail extremely uncertain; so, much of that intelligence which Miss
Monro had evidently considered as certain to be known to Ellinor was
entirely matter of conjecture, and could only be guessed at from what was
told in these letters. One was from Mr. Johnson, one from Mr. Brown, one
from Miss Monro; of course the last mentioned was the first read. She
spoke of the shock of the discovery of Mr. Dunster's body, found in the
cutting of the new line of railroad from Hamley to the nearest railway
station; the body so hastily buried long ago, in its clothes, by which it
was now recognised - a recognition confirmed by one or two more personal
and indestructible things, such as his watch and seal with his initials;
of the shock to everyone, the Osbaldistones in particular, on the further
discovery of a fleam or horse-lancet, having the name of Abraham Dixon
engraved on the handle; how Dixon had gone on Mr. Osbaldistone's business
to a horse-fair in Ireland some weeks before this, and had had his leg
broken by a kick from an unruly mare, so that he was barely able to move
about when the officers of justice went to apprehend him in Tralee.

At this point Ellinor cried out loud and shrill.

"Oh, Dixon! Dixon! and I was away enjoying myself."

They heard her cry, and came to the door, but it was bolted inside.

"Please, go away," she said; "please, go. I will be very quiet; only,
please, go."

She could not bear just then to read any more of Miss Monro's letter; she
tore open Mr. Johnson's - the date was a fortnight earlier than Miss
Monro's; he also expressed his wonder at not hearing from her, in reply
to his letter of January 9; but he added, that he thought that her
trustees had judged rightly; the handsome sum the railway company had
offered for the land when their surveyor decided on the alteration of the
line, Mr. Osbaldistone, &c. &c. She could not read anymore; it was Fate
pursuing her. Then she took the letter up again and tried to read; but
all that reached her understanding was the fact that Mr. Johnson had sent
his present letter to Miss Monro, thinking that she might know of some
private opportunity safer than the post. Mr. Brown's was just such a
letter as he occasionally sent her from time to time; a correspondence
that arose out of their mutual regard for their dead friend Mr. Ness. It,
too, had been sent to Miss Monro to direct. Ellinor was on the point of
putting it aside entirely, when the name of Corbet caught her eye: "You
will be interested to hear that the old pupil of our departed friend, who
was so anxious to obtain the folio _Virgil_ with the Italian notes, is
appointed the new judge in room of Mr. Justice Jenkin. At least I
conclude that Mr. Ralph Corbet, Q.C., is the same as the _Virgil_

"Yes," said Ellinor, bitterly; "he judged well; it would never have
done." They were the first words of anything like reproach which she
ever formed in her own mind during all these years. She thought for a
few moments of the old times; it seemed to steady her brain to think of
them. Then she took up and finished Miss Monro's letter. That excellent
friend had done all which she thought Ellinor would have wished without
delay. She had written to Mr. Johnson, and charged him to do everything
he could to defend Dixon and to spare no expense. She was thinking of
going to the prison in the county town, to see the old man herself, but
Ellinor could perceive that all these endeavours and purposes of Miss
Monro's were based on love for her own pupil, and a desire to set her
mind at ease as far as she could, rather than from any idea that Dixon
himself could be innocent. Ellinor put down the letters, and went to the
door, then turned back, and locked them up in her writing-case with
trembling hands; and after that she entered the drawing-room, looking
liker to a ghost than to a living woman.

"Can I speak to you for a minute alone?" Her still, tuneless voice made
the words into a command. Canon Livingstone arose and followed her into
the little dining-room. "Will you tell me all you know - all you have
heard about my - you know what?"

"Miss Monro was my informant - at least at first - it was in the _Times_
the day before I left. Miss Monro says it could only have been done in a
moment of anger if the old servant is really guilty; that he was as
steady and good a man as she ever knew, and she seems to have a strong
feeling against Mr. Dunster, as always giving your father much
unnecessary trouble; in fact, she hints that his disappearance at the
time was supposed to be the cause of a considerable loss of property to
Mr. Wilkins."

"No!" said Ellinor, eagerly, feeling that some justice ought to be done
to the dead man; and then she stopped short, fearful of saying anything
that should betray her full knowledge. "I mean this," she went on; "Mr.
Dunster was a very disagreeable man personally - and papa - we none of us
liked him; but he was quite honest - please remember that."

The canon bowed, and said a few acquiescing words. He waited for her to
speak again.

"Miss Monro says she is going to see Dixon in - "

"Oh, Mr. Livingstone, I can't bear it!"

He let her alone, looking at her pitifully, as she twisted and wrung her
hands together in her endeavour to regain the quiet manner she had
striven to maintain through the interview. She looked up at him with a
poor attempt at an apologetic smile:

"It is so terrible to think of that good old man in prison!"

"You do not believe him guilty!" said Canon Livingstone, in some
surprise. "I am afraid, from all I heard and read, there is but little
doubt that he did kill the man; I trust in some moment of irritation,
with no premeditated malice."

Ellinor shook her head.

"How soon can I get to England?" asked she. "I must start at once."

"Mrs. Forbes sent out while you were lying down. I am afraid there is no
boat to Marseilles till Thursday, the day after to-morrow."

"But I must go sooner!" said Ellinor, starting up. "I must go; please
help me. He may be tried before I can get there!"

"Alas! I fear that will be the case, whatever haste you make. The trial
was to come on at the Hellingford Assizes, and that town stands first on
the Midland Circuit list. To-day is the 27th of February; the assizes
begin on the 7th of March."

"I will start to-morrow morning early for Civita; there may be a boat
there they do not know of here. At any rate, I shall be on my way. If
he dies, I must die too. Oh! I don't know what I am saying, I am so
utterly crushed down! It would be such a kindness if you would go away,
and let no one come to me. I know Mrs. Forbes is so good, she will
forgive me. I will say good-by to you all before I go to-morrow morning;
but I must think now."

For one moment he stood looking at her as if he longed to comfort her by
more words. He thought better of it, however, and silently left the

For a long time Ellinor sat still; now and then taking up Miss Monro's
letter, and re-reading the few terrible details. Then she bethought her
that possibly the canon might have brought a copy of the _Times_,
containing the examination of Dixon before the magistrates, and she
opened the door and called to a passing servant to make the inquiry. She
was quite right in her conjecture; Dr. Livingstone had had the paper in
his pocket during his interview with her; but he thought the evidence so
conclusive, that the perusal of it would only be adding to her extreme
distress by accelerating the conviction of Dixon's guilt, which he
believed she must arrive at sooner or later.

He had been reading the report over with Mrs. Forbes and her daughters,
after his return from Ellinor's room, and they were all participating in
his opinion upon it, when her request for the _Times_ was brought. They
had reluctantly agreed, saying there did not appear to be a shadow of
doubt on the fact of Dixon's having killed Mr. Dunster, only hoping there
might prove to be some extenuating circumstances, which Ellinor had
probably recollected, and which she was desirous of producing on the
approaching trial.


Ellinor, having read the report of Dixon's examination in the newspaper,
bathed her eyes and forehead in cold water, and tried to still her poor
heart's beating, that she might be clear and collected enough to weigh
the evidence.

Every line of it was condemnatory. One or two witnesses spoke of Dixon's
unconcealed dislike of Dunster, a dislike which Ellinor knew had been
entertained by the old servant out of a species of loyalty to his master,
as well as from personal distaste. The fleam was proved beyond all doubt
to be Dixon's; and a man, who had been stable-boy in Mr. Wilkins's
service, swore that on the day when Mr. Dunster was missed, and when the
whole town was wondering what had become of him, a certain colt of Mr.
Wilkins's had needed bleeding, and that he had been sent by Dixon to the
farrier's for a horse-lancet, an errand which he had remarked upon at the
time, as he knew that Dixon had a fleam of his own.

Mr. Osbaldistone was examined. He kept interrupting himself perpetually
to express his surprise at the fact of so steady and well-conducted a man
as Dixon being guilty of so heinous a crime, and was willing enough to
testify to the excellent character which he had borne during all the many
years he had been in his (Mr. Osbaldistone's) service; but he appeared to
be quite convinced by the evidence previously given of the prisoner's
guilt in the matter, and strengthened the case against him materially by
stating the circumstance of the old man's dogged unwillingness to have
the slightest interference by cultivation with that particular piece of

Here Ellinor shuddered. Before her, in that Roman bed-chamber, rose the
fatal oblong she knew by heart - a little green moss or lichen, and thinly-
growing blades of grass scarcely covering the caked and undisturbed soil
under the old tree. Oh, that she had been in England when the surveyors
of the railway between Ashcombe and Hamley had altered their line; she
would have entreated, implored, compelled her trustees not to have sold
that piece of ground for any sum of money whatever. She would have
bribed the surveyors, done she knew not what - but now it was too late;
she would not let her mind wander off to what might have been; she would
force herself again to attend to the newspaper columns. There was little
more: the prisoner had been asked if he could say anything to clear
himself, and properly cautioned not to say anything to incriminate
himself. The poor old man's person was described, and his evident
emotion. "The prisoner was observed to clutch at the rail before him to
steady himself, and his colour changed so much at this part of the
evidence that one of the turnkeys offered him a glass of water, which he
declined. He is a man of a strongly-built frame, and with rather a
morose and sullen cast of countenance."

"My poor, poor Dixon!" said Ellinor, laying down the paper for an
instant, and she was near crying, only she had resolved to shed no tears
till she had finished all, and could judge of the chances. There were
but a few lines more: "At one time the prisoner seemed to be desirous of
alleging something in his defence, but he changed his mind, if such had
been the case, and in reply to Mr. Gordon (the magistrate) he only said,
'You've made a pretty strong case out again me, gentlemen, and it seems
for to satisfy you; so I think I'll not disturb your minds by saying
anything more.' Accordingly, Dixon now stands committed for trial for
murder at the next Hellingford Assizes, which commence on March the
seventh, before Baron Rushton and Mr. Justice Corbet."

"Mr. Justice Corbet!" The words ran through Ellinor as though she had
been stabbed with a knife, and by an irrepressible movement she stood up
rigid. The young man, her lover in her youth, the old servant who in
those days was perpetually about her - the two who had so often met in
familiar if not friendly relations, now to face each other as judge and
accused! She could not tell how much Mr. Corbet had conjectured from the
partial revelation she had made to him of the impending shame that hung
over her and hers. A day or two ago she could have remembered the exact
words she had used in that memorable interview; but now, strive as she
would, she could only recall facts, not words. After all, the Mr.
Justice Corbet might not be Ralph. There was one chance in a hundred
against the identity of the two.

While she was weighing probabilities in her sick dizzy mind, she heard
soft steps outside her bolted door, and low voices whispering. It was
the bedtime of happy people with hearts at ease. Some of the footsteps
passed lightly on; but there was a gentle rap at Ellinor's door. She
pressed her two hot hands hard against her temples for an instant before
she went to open the door. There stood Mrs. Forbes in her handsome
evening dress, holding a lighted lamp in her hand.

"May I come in, my dear?" she asked. Ellinor's stiff dry lips refused to
utter the words of assent which indeed did not come readily from her

"I am so grieved at this sad news which the canon brings. I can well
understand what a shock it must be to you; we have just been saying it
must be as bad for you as it would be to us if our old Donald should turn
out to have been a hidden murderer all these years that he has lived with
us; I really could have as soon suspected Donald as that white-haired
respectable old man who used to come and see you at East Chester."

Ellinor felt that she must say something. "It is a terrible shock - poor
old man! and no friend near him, even Mr. Osbaldistone giving evidence
again him. Oh, dear, dear! why did I ever come to Rome?"

"Now, my dear, you must not let yourself take an exaggerated view of the
case. Sad and shocking as it is to have been so deceived, it is what
happens to many of us, though not to so terrible a degree; and as to your
coming to Rome having anything to do with it - "

(Mrs. Forbes almost smiled at the idea, so anxious was she to banish the
idea of self-reproach from Ellinor's sensitive mind, but Ellinor
interrupted her abruptly:)

"Mrs. Forbes! did he - did Canon Livingstone tell you that I must leave to-
morrow? I must go to England as fast as possible to do what I can for

"Yes, he told us you were thinking of it, and it was partly that made me
force myself in upon you to-night. I think, my love, you are mistaken in
feeling as if you were called upon to do more than what the canon tells
me Miss Monro has already done in your name - engaged the best legal
advice, and spared no expense to give the suspected man every chance.
What could you do more even if you were on the spot? And it is very
possible that the trial may have come on before you get home. Then what
could you do? He would either have been acquitted or condemned; if the
former, he would find public sympathy all in his favour; it always is for
the unjustly accused. And if he turns out to be guilty, my dear Ellinor,
it will be far better for you to have all the softening which distance
can give to such a dreadful termination to the life of a poor man whom
you have respected so long."

But Ellinor spoke again with a kind of irritated determination, very
foreign to her usual soft docility:

"Please just let me judge for myself this once. I am not ungrateful. God
knows I don't want to vex one who has been so kind to me as you have
been, dear Mrs. Forbes; but I must go - and every word you say to dissuade
me only makes me more convinced. I am going to Civita to-morrow. I
shall be that much on the way. I cannot rest here."

Mrs. Forbes looked at her in grave silence. Ellinor could not bear the
consciousness of that fixed gaze. Yet its fixity only arose from Mrs.
Forbes' perplexity as to how best to assist Ellinor, whether to restrain
her by further advice - of which the first dose had proved so useless - or
to speed her departure. Ellinor broke on her meditations:

"You have always been so kind and good to me, - go on being so - please,
do! Leave me alone now, dear Mrs. Forbes, for I cannot bear talking
about it, and help me to go to-morrow, and you do not know how I will
pray to God to bless you!"

Such an appeal was irresistible. Mrs. Forbes kissed her very tenderly,
and went to rejoin her daughters, who were clustered together in their
mother's bedroom awaiting her coming.

"Well, mamma, how is she? What does she say?"

"She is in a very excited state, poor thing! and has got so strong an
impression that it is her duty to go back to England and do all she can
for this wretched old man, that I am afraid we must not oppose her. I am
afraid that she really must go on Thursday."

Although Mrs. Forbes secured the services of a travelling-maid, Dr.
Livingstone insisted on accompanying Ellinor to England, and it would
have required more energy than she possessed at this time to combat a
resolution which both words and manner expressed as determined. She
would much rather have travelled alone with her maid; she did not feel
the need of the services he offered; but she was utterly listless and
broken down; all her interest was centred in the thought of Dixon and his
approaching trial, and perplexity as to the mode in which she must do her

They embarked late that evening in the tardy _Santa Lucia_, and Ellinor
immediately went to her berth. She was not sea-sick; that might possibly
have lessened her mental sufferings, which all night long tormented her.
High-perched in an upper berth, she did not like disturbing the other
occupants of the cabin till daylight appeared. Then she descended and
dressed, and went on deck; the vessel was just passing the rocky coast of
Elba, and the sky was flushed with rosy light, that made the shadows on
the island of the most exquisite purple. The sea still heaved with
yesterday's storm, but the motion only added to the beauty of the
sparkles and white foam that dimpled and curled on the blue waters. The
air was delicious, after the closeness of the cabin, and Ellinor only
wondered that more people were not on deck to enjoy it. One or two
stragglers came up, time after time, and began pacing the deck. Dr.
Livingstone came up before very long; but he seemed to have made a rule
of not obtruding himself on Ellinor, excepting when he could be of some
use. After a few words of common-place morning greeting, he, too, began
to walk backwards and forwards, while Ellinor sat quietly watching the
lovely island receding fast from her view - a beautiful vision never to be
seen again by her mortal eyes.

Suddenly there was a shock and stound all over the vessel, her progress
was stopped, and a rocking vibration was felt everywhere. The quarter-
deck was filled with blasts of steam, which obscured everything. Sick
people came rushing up out of their berths in strange undress; the
steerage passengers - a motley and picturesque set of people, in many
varieties of gay costume - took refuge on the quarter-deck, speaking
loudly in all varieties of French and Italian _patois_. Ellinor stood up
in silent, wondering dismay. Was the _Santa Lucia_ going down on the
great deep, and Dixon unaided in his peril? Dr. Livingstone was by her
side in a moment. She could scarcely see him for the vapour, nor hear
him for the roar of the escaping steam.

"Do not be unnecessarily frightened," he repeated, a little louder. "Some
accident has occurred to the engines. I will go and make instant
inquiry, and come back to you as soon as I can. Trust to me."

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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellA Dark Night's Work → online text (page 13 of 16)