Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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known him. I gave him a look, as much as to say, 'I could tell tales o'
you, my lord judge, if I chose.' I don't know if he heeded me, though. I
suppose it were for a sign of old acquaintance that he said he'd
recommend me to mercy. But I'd sooner have death nor mercy, by long
odds. Yon man out there says mercy means Botany Bay. It 'ud be like
killing me by inches, that would. It would. I'd liefer go straight to
Heaven, than live on among the black folk."

He began to shake again: this idea of transportation, from its very
mysteriousness, was more terrifying to him than death. He kept on saying
plaintively, "Missy, you'll never let 'em send me to Botany Bay; I
couldn't stand that."

"No, no!" said she. "You shall come out of this prison, and go home with
me to East Chester; I promise you you shall. I promise you. I don't yet
quite know how, but trust in my promise. Don't fret about Botany Bay. If
you go there, I go too. I am so sure you will not go. And you know if
you have done anything against the law in concealing that fatal night's
work, I did too, and if you are to be punished, I will be punished too.
But I feel sure it will be right; I mean, as right as anything can be,
with the recollection of that time present to us, as it must always be."
She almost spoke these last words to herself. They sat on, hand in hand
for a few minutes more in silence.

"I thought you'd come to me. I knowed you were far away in foreign
parts. But I used to pray to God. 'Dear Lord God!' I used to say, 'let
me see her again.' I told the chaplain as I'd begin to pray for
repentance, at after I'd done praying that I might see you once again:
for it just seemed to take all my strength to say those words as I've
named. And I thought as how God knew what was in my heart better than I
could tell Him: how I was main and sorry for all as I'd ever done wrong;
I allays were, at after it was done; but I thought as no one could know
how bitter-keen I wanted to see you."

Again they sank into silence. Ellinor felt as if she would fain be away
and active in procuring his release; but she also perceived how precious
her presence was to him; and she did not like to leave him a moment
before the time allowed her. His voice had changed to a weak, piping old
man's quaver, and between the times of his talking he seemed to relapse
into a dreamy state; but through it all he held her hand tight, as though
afraid that she would leave him.

So the hour elapsed, with no more spoken words than those above. From
time to time Ellinor's tears dropped down upon her lap; she could not
restrain them, though she scarce knew why she cried just then.

At length the turnkey said that the time allowed for the interview was
ended. Ellinor spoke no word; but rose, and bent down and kissed the old
man's forehead, saying -

"I shall come back to-morrow. God keep and comfort you!"

So almost without an articulate word from him in reply (he rose up, and
stood on his shaking legs, as she bade him farewell, putting his hand to
his head with the old habitual mark of respect), she went her way,
swiftly out of the prison, swiftly back with Mr. Johnson to his house,
scarcely patient or strong enough in her hurry to explain to him fully
all that she meant to do. She only asked him a few absolutely requisite
questions; and informed him of her intention to go straight to London to
see Judge Corbet.

Just before the railway carriage in which she was seated started on the
journey, she bent forward, and put out her hand once more to Mr. Johnson.
"To-morrow I will thank you for all," she said. "I cannot now."

It was about the same time that she had reached Hellingford on the
previous night, that she arrived at the Great Western station on this
evening - past eight o'clock. On the way she had remembered and arranged
many things: one important question she had omitted to ask Mr. Johnson;
but that was easily remedied. She had not enquired where she could find
Judge Corbet; if she had, Mr. Johnson could probably have given her his
professional address. As it was, she asked for a Post-Office Directory
at the hotel, and looked out for his private dwelling - 128 Hyde Park

She rang for a waiter.

"Can I send a messenger to Hyde Park Gardens?" she said, hurrying on to
her business, tired and worn out as she was. "It is only to ask if Judge
Corbet is at home this evening. If he is, I must go and see him."

The waiter was a little surprised, and would gladly have had her name to
authorise the enquiry but she could not bear to send it: it would be bad
enough that first meeting, without the feeling that he, too, had had time
to recall all the past days. Better to go in upon him unprepared, and
plunge into the subject.

The waiter returned with the answer while she yet was pacing up and down
the room restlessly, nerving herself for the interview.

"The messenger has been to Hyde Park Gardens, ma'am. The Judge and Lady
Corbet are gone out to dinner."

Lady Corbet! Of course Ellinor knew that he was married. Had she not
been present at the wedding in East Chester Cathedral? But, somehow,
these recent events had so carried her back to old times, that the
intimate association of the names, "the Judge and Lady Corbet," seemed to
awaken her out of some dream.

"Oh, very well," she said, just as if these thoughts were not passing
rapidly through her mind. "Let me be called at seven to-morrow morning,
and let me have a cab at the door to Hyde Park Gardens at eight."

And so she went to bed; but scarcely to sleep. All night long she had
the scenes of those old times, the happy, happy days of her youth, the
one terrible night that cut all happiness short, present before her. She
could almost have fancied that she heard the long-silent sounds of her
father's step, her father's way of breathing, the rustle of his newspaper
as he hastily turned it over, coming through the lapse of years; the
silence of the night. She knew that she had the little writing-case of
her girlhood with her, in her box. The treasures of the dead that it
contained, the morsel of dainty sewing, the little sister's golden curl,
the half-finished letter to Mr. Corbet, were all there. She took them
out, and looked at each separately; looked at them long - long and
wistfully. "Will it be of any use to me?" she questioned of herself, as
she was about to put her father's letter back into its receptacle. She
read the last words over again, once more:

"From my death-bed I adjure you to stand her friend; I will beg pardon on
my knees for anything."

"I will take it," thought she. "I need not bring it out; most likely
there will be no need for it, after what I shall have to say. All is so
altered, so changed between us, as utterly as if it never had been, that
I think I shall have no shame in showing it him, for my own part of it.
While, if he sees poor papa's, dear, dear papa's suffering humility, it
may make him think more gently of one who loved him once though they
parted in wrath with each other, I'm afraid."

So she took the letter with her when she drove to Hyde Park Gardens.

Every nerve in her body was in such a high state of tension that she
could have screamed out at the cabman's boisterous knock at the door. She
got out hastily, before any one was ready or willing to answer such an
untimely summons; paid the man double what he ought to have had; and
stood there, sick, trembling, and humble.


"Is Judge Corbet at home? Can I see him?" she asked of the footman, who
at length answered the door.

He looked at her curiously, and a little familiarly, before he replied,

"Why, yes! He's pretty sure to be at home at this time of day; but
whether he'll see you is quite another thing."

"Would you be so good as to ask him? It is on very particular business."

"Can you give me a card? your name, perhaps, will do, if you have not a
card. I say, Simmons" (to a lady's-maid crossing the hall), "is the
judge up yet?"

"Oh, yes! he's in his dressing-room this half-hour. My lady is coming
down directly. It is just breakfast-time."

"Can't you put it off and come again, a little later?" said he, turning
once more to Ellinor - white Ellinor! trembling Ellinor!

"No! please let me come in. I will wait. I am sure Judge Corbet will
see me, if you will tell him I am here. Miss Wilkins. He will know the

"Well, then; will you wait here till I have got breakfast in?" said the
man, letting her into the hall, and pointing to the bench there, he took
her, from her dress, to be a lady's-maid or governess, or at most a
tradesman's daughter; and, besides, he was behindhand with all his
preparations. She came in and sat down.

"You will tell him I am here," she said faintly.

"Oh, yes, never fear: I'll send up word, though I don't believe he'll
come to you before breakfast."

He told a page, who ran upstairs, and, knocking at the judge's door, said
that a Miss Jenkins wanted to speak to him.

"Who?" asked the judge from the inside.

"Miss Jenkins. She said you would know the name, sir."

"Not I. Tell her to wait."

So Ellinor waited. Presently down the stairs, with slow deliberate
dignity, came the handsome Lady Corbet, in her rustling silks and ample
petticoats, carrying her fine boy, and followed by her majestic nurse.
She was ill-pleased that any one should come and take up her husband's
time when he was at home, and supposed to be enjoying domestic leisure;
and her imperious, inconsiderate nature did not prompt her to any
civility towards the gentle creature sitting down, weary and heart-sick,
in her house. On the contrary, she looked her over as she slowly
descended, till Ellinor shrank abashed from the steady gaze of the large
black eyes. Then she, her baby and nurse, disappeared into the large
dining-room, into which all the preparations for breakfast had been

The next person to come down would be the judge. Ellinor instinctively
put down her veil. She heard his quick decided step; she had known it
well of old.

He gave one of his sharp, shrewd glances at the person sitting in the
hall and waiting to speak to him, and his practised eye recognised the
lady at once, in spite of her travel-worn dress.

"Will you just come into this room?" said he, opening the door of his
study, to the front of the house: the dining-room was to the back; they
communicated by folding-doors.

The astute lawyer placed himself with his back to the window; it was the
natural position of the master of the apartment; but it also gave him the
advantage of seeing his companion's face in full light. Ellinor lifted
her veil; it had only been a dislike to a recognition in the hall which
had made her put it down.

Judge Corbet's countenance changed more than hers; she had been prepared
for the interview; he was not. But he usually had the full command of
the expression on his face.

"Ellinor! Miss Wilkins! is it you?" And he went forwards, holding out
his hand with cordial greeting, under which the embarrassment, if he felt
any, was carefully concealed. She could not speak all at once in the way
she wished.

"That stupid Henry told me 'Jenkins!' I beg your pardon. How could they
put you down to sit in the hall? You must come in and have some
breakfast with us; Lady Corbet will be delighted, I'm sure." His sense
of the awkwardness of the meeting with the woman who was once to have
been his wife, and of the probable introduction which was to follow to
the woman who was his actual wife grew upon him, and made him speak a
little hurriedly. Ellinor's next words were a wonderful relief; and her
soft gentle way of speaking was like the touch of a cooling balsam.

"Thank you, you must excuse me. I am come strictly on business,
otherwise I should never have thought of calling on you at such an hour.
It is about poor Dixon."

"Ah! I thought as much!" said the judge, handing her a chair, and
sitting down himself. He tried to compose his mind to business, but in
spite of his strength of character, and his present efforts, the
remembrance of old times would come back at the sound of her voice. He
wondered if he was as much changed in appearance as she struck him as
being in that first look of recognition; after that first glance he
rather avoided meeting her eyes.

"I knew how much you would feel it. Some one at Hellingford told me you
were abroad, in Rome, I think. But you must not distress yourself
unnecessarily; the sentence is sure to be commuted to transportation, or
something equivalent. I was talking to the Home Secretary about it only
last night. Lapse of time and subsequent good character quite preclude
any idea of capital punishment." All the time that he said this he had
other thoughts at the back of his mind - some curiosity, a little regret,
a touch of remorse, a wonder how the meeting (which, of course, would
have to be some time) between Lady Corbet and Ellinor would go off; but
he spoke clearly enough on the subject in hand, and no outward mark of
distraction from it appeared.

Ellinor answered:

"I came to tell you, what I suppose may be told to any judge, in
confidence and full reliance on his secrecy, that Abraham Dixon was not
the murderer." She stopped short, and choked a little.

The judge looked sharply at her.

"Then you know who was?" said he.

"Yes," she replied, with a low, steady voice, looking him full in the
face, with sad, solemn eyes.

The truth flashed into his mind. He shaded his face, and did not speak
for a minute or two. Then he said, not looking up, a little hoarsely,
"This, then, was the shame you told me of long ago?"

"Yes," said she.

Both sat quite still; quite silent for some time. Through the silence a
sharp, clear voice was heard speaking through the folding-doors.

"Take the kedgeree down, and tell the cook to keep it hot for the judge.
It is so tiresome people coming on business here, as if the judge had not
his proper hours for being at chambers."

He got up hastily, and went into the dining-room; but he had audibly some
difficulty in curbing his wife's irritation.

When he came back, Ellinor said:

"I am afraid I ought not to have come here now."

"Oh! it's all nonsense!" said he, in a tone of annoyance. "You've done
quite right." He seated himself where he had been before; and again half
covered his face with his hand.

"And Dixon knew of this. I believe I must put the fact plainly - to
you - your father was the guilty person? he murdered Dunster?"

"Yes. If you call it murder. It was done by a blow, in the heat of
passion. No one can ever tell how Dunster always irritated papa," said
Ellinor, in a stupid, heavy way; and then she sighed.

"How do you know this?" There was a kind of tender reluctance in the
judge's voice, as he put all these questions. Ellinor had made up her
mind beforehand that something like them must be asked, and must also be
answered; but she spoke like a sleep-walker.

"I came into papa's room just after he had struck Mr. Dunster the blow.
He was lying insensible, as we thought - dead, as he really was."

"What was Dixon's part in it? He must have known a good deal about it.
And the horse-lancet that was found with his name upon it?"

"Papa went to wake Dixon, and he brought his fleam - I suppose to try and
bleed him. I have said enough, have I not? I seem so confused. But I
will answer any question to make it appear that Dixon is innocent."

The judge had been noting all down. He sat still now without replying to
her. Then he wrote rapidly, referring to his previous paper, from time
to time. In five minutes or so he read the facts which Ellinor had
stated, as he now arranged them, in a legal and connected form. He just
asked her one or two trivial questions as he did so. Then he read it
over to her, and asked her to sign it. She took up the pen, and held it,

"This will never be made public?" said she.

"No; I shall take care that no one but the Home Secretary sees it."

"Thank you. I could not help it, now it has come to this."

"There are not many men like Dixon," said the judge, almost to himself,
as he sealed the paper in an envelope.

"No," said Ellinor; "I never knew any one so faithful."

And just at the same moment the reflection on a less faithful person that
these words might seem to imply struck both of them, and each
instinctively glanced at the other.

"Ellinor!" said the judge, after a moment's pause, "we are friends, I

"Yes; friends," said she, quietly and sadly.

He felt a little chagrined at her answer. Why, he could hardly tell. To
cover any sign of his feeling he went on talking.

"Where are you living now?"

"At East Chester."

"But you come sometimes to town, don't you? Let us know always - whenever
you come; and Lady Corbet shall call on you. Indeed, I wish you'd let me
bring her to see you to-day."

"Thank you. I am going straight back to Hellingford; at least, as soon
as you can get me the pardon for Dixon."

He half smiled at her ignorance.

"The pardon must be sent to the sheriff, who holds the warrant for his
execution. But, of course, you may have every assurance that it shall be
sent as soon as possible. It is just the same as if he had it now."

"Thank you very much," said Ellinor rising.

"Pray don't go without breakfast. If you would rather not see Lady
Corbet just now, it shall be sent in to you in this room, unless you have
already breakfasted."

"No, thank you; I would rather not. You are very kind, and I am very
glad to have seen you once again. There is just one thing more," said
she, colouring a little and hesitating. "This note to you was found
under papa's pillow after his death; some of it refers to past things;
but I should be glad if you could think as kindly as you can of poor
papa - and so - if you will read it - "

He took it and read it, not without emotion. Then he laid it down on his
table, and said -

"Poor man! he must have suffered a great deal for that night's work. And
you, Ellinor, you have suffered, too."

Yes, she had suffered; and he who spoke had been one of the instruments
of her suffering, although he seemed forgetful of it. She shook her head
a little for reply. Then she looked up at him - they were both standing
at the time - and said:

"I think I shall be happier now. I always knew it must be found out.
Once more, good-by, and thank you. I may take this letter, I suppose?"
said she, casting envious loving eyes at her father's note, lying
unregarded on the table.

"Oh! certainly, certainly," said he; and then he took her hand; he held
it, while he looked into her face. He had thought it changed when he had
first seen her, but it was now almost the same to him as of yore. The
sweet shy eyes, the indicated dimple in the cheek, and something of fever
had brought a faint pink flush into her usually colourless cheeks.
Married judge though he was, he was not sure if she had not more charms
for him still in her sorrow and her shabbiness than the handsome stately
wife in the next room, whose looks had not been of the pleasantest when
he left her a few minutes before. He sighed a little regretfully as
Ellinor went away. He had obtained the position he had struggled for,
and sacrificed for; but now he could not help wishing that the
slaughtered creature laid on the shrine of his ambition were alive again.

The kedgeree was brought up again, smoking hot, but it remained untasted
by him; and though he appeared to be reading the _Times_, he did not see
a word of the distinct type. His wife, meanwhile, continued her
complaints of the untimely visitor, whose name he did not give to her in
its corrected form, as he was not anxious that she should have it in her
power to identify the call of this morning with a possible future

When Ellinor reached Mr. Johnson's house in Hellingford that afternoon,
she found Miss Monro was there, and that she had been with much
difficulty restrained by Mr. Johnson from following her to London.

Miss Monro fondled and purred inarticulately through her tears over her
recovered darling, before she could speak intelligibly enough to tell her
that Canon Livingstone had come straight to see her immediately on his
return to East Chester, and had suggested her journey to Hellingford, in
order that she might be of all the comfort she could to Ellinor. She did
not at first let out that he had accompanied her to Hellingford; she was
a little afraid of Ellinor's displeasure at his being there; Ellinor had
always objected so much to any advance towards intimacy with him that
Miss Monro had wished to make. But Ellinor was different now.

"How white you are, Nelly!" said Miss Monro. "You have been travelling
too much and too fast, my child."

"My head aches!" said Ellinor, wearily. "But I must go to the castle,
and tell my poor Dixon that he is reprieved - I am so tired! Will you ask
Mr. Johnson to get me leave to see him? He will know all about it."

She threw herself down on the bed in the spare room; the bed with the
heavy blue curtains. After an unheeded remonstrance, Miss Monro went to
do her bidding. But it was now late afternoon, and Mr. Johnson said that
it would be impossible for him to get permission from the sheriff that

"Besides," said he, courteously, "one scarcely knows whether Miss Wilkins
may not give the old man false hopes - whether she has not been excited to
have false hopes herself; it might be a cruel kindness to let her see
him, without more legal certainty as to what his sentence, or reprieve,
is to be. By to-morrow morning, if I have properly understood her story,
which was a little confused - "

"She is so dreadfully tired, poor creature," put in Miss Monro, who never
could bear the shadow of a suspicion that Ellinor was not wisest, best,
in all relations and situations of life.

Mr. Johnson went on, with a deprecatory bow: "Well, then - it really is
the only course open to her besides - persuade her to rest for this
evening. By to-morrow morning I will have obtained the sheriff's leave,
and he will most likely have heard from London."

"Thank you! I believe that will be best."

"It is the only course," said he.

When Miss Monro returned to the bedroom, Ellinor was in a heavy feverish
slumber; so feverish and so uneasy did she appear, that, after the
hesitation of a moment or two, Miss Monro had no scruple in wakening her.

But she did not appear to understand the answer to her request; she did
not seem even to remember that she had made any request.

The journey to England, the misery, the surprises, had been too much for
her. The morrow morning came, bringing the formal free pardon for
Abraham Dixon. The sheriff's order for her admission to see the old man
lay awaiting her wish to use it; but she knew nothing of all this.

For days, nay weeks, she hovered between life and death, tended, as of
old, by Miss Monro, while good Mrs. Johnson was ever willing to assist.

One summer evening in early June she wakened into memory, Miss Monro
heard the faint piping voice, as she kept her watch by the bedside.

"Where is Dixon?" asked she.

"At the canon's house at Bromham." This was the name of Dr.
Livingstone's county parish.


"We thought it better to get him into country air and fresh scenes at

"How is he?"

"Much better. Get strong, and he shall come to see you."

"You are sure all is right?" said Ellinor.

"Sure, my dear. All is quite right."

Then Ellinor went to sleep again out of very weakness and weariness.

From that time she recovered pretty steadily. Her great desire was to
return to East Chester as soon as possible. The associations of grief,
anxiety, and coming illness, connected with Hellingford, made her wish to
be once again in the solemn, quiet, sunny close of East Chester.

Canon Livingstone came over to assist Miss Monro in managing the journey
with her invalid. But he did not intrude himself upon Ellinor, any more
than he had done in coming from home.

The morning after her return, Miss Monro said:

"Do you feel strong enough to see Dixon?"

"Is he here?"

"He is at the canon's house. He sent for him from Bromham, in order that
he might be ready for you to see him when you wished."

"Please let him come directly," said Ellinor, flushing and trembling.

She went to the door to meet the tottering old man; she led him to the
easy-chair that had been placed and arranged for herself; she knelt down

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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellA Dark Night's Work → online text (page 15 of 16)