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A Dark Night's Work by Elizabeth Gaskell

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A DARK NIGHT'S WORK

CHAPTER I.

In the county town of a certain shire there lived (about forty years
ago) one Mr. Wilkins, a conveyancing attorney of considerable
standing.

The certain shire was but a small county, and the principal town in
it contained only about four thousand inhabitants; so in saying that
Mr. Wilkins was the principal lawyer in Hamley, I say very little,
unless I add that he transacted all the legal business of the gentry
for twenty miles round. His grandfather had established the
connection; his father had consolidated and strengthened it, and,
indeed, by his wise and upright conduct, as well as by his
professional skill, had obtained for himself the position of
confidential friend to many of the surrounding families of
distinction. He visited among them in a way which no mere lawyer had
ever done before; dined at their tables--he alone, not accompanied by
his wife, be it observed; rode to the meet occasionally as if by
accident, although he was as well mounted as any squire among them,
and was often persuaded (after a little coquetting about
"professional engagements," and "being wanted at the office") to have
a run with his clients; nay, once or twice he forgot his usual
caution, was first in at the death, and rode home with the brush.
But in general he knew his place; as his place was held to be in that
aristocratic county, and in those days. Nor let be supposed that he
was in any way a toadeater. He respected himself too much for that.
He would give the most unpalatable advice, if need were; would
counsel an unsparing reduction of expenditure to an extravagant man;
would recommend such an abatement of family pride as paved the way
for one or two happy marriages in some instances; nay, what was the
most likely piece of conduct of all to give offence forty years ago,
he would speak up for an unjustly-used tenant; and that with so much
temperate and well-timed wisdom and good feeling, that he more than
once gained his point. He had one son, Edward. This boy was the
secret joy and pride of his father's heart. For himself he was not
in the least ambitious, but it did cost him a hard struggle to
acknowledge that his own business was too lucrative, and brought in
too large an income, to pass away into the hands of a stranger, as it
would do if he indulged his ambition for his son by giving him a
college education and making him into a barrister. This
determination on the more prudent side of the argument took place
while Edward was at Eton. The lad had, perhaps, the largest
allowance of pocket-money of any boy at school; and he had always
looked forward to going to Christ Church along with his fellows, the
sons of the squires, his father's employers. It was a severe
mortification to him to find that his destiny was changed, and that
he had to return to Hamley to be articled to his father, and to
assume the hereditary subservient position to lads whom he had licked
in the play-ground, and beaten at learning.

His father tried to compensate him for the disappointment by every
indulgence which money could purchase. Edward's horses were even
finer than those of his father; his literary tastes were kept up and
fostered, by his father's permission to form an extensive library,
for which purpose a noble room was added to Mr. Wilkins's already
extensive house in the suburbs of Hamley. And after his year of
legal study in London his father sent him to make the grand tour,
with something very like carte blanche as to expenditure, to judge
from the packages which were sent home from various parts of the
Continent.

At last he came home--came back to settle as his father's partner at
Hamley. He was a son to be proud of, and right down proud was old
Mr. Wilkins of his handsome, accomplished, gentlemanly lad. For
Edward was not one to be spoilt by the course of indulgence he had
passed through; at least, if it had done him an injury, the effects
were at present hidden from view. He had no vulgar vices; he was,
indeed, rather too refined for the society he was likely to be thrown
into, even supposing that society to consist of the highest of his
father's employers. He was well read, and an artist of no mean
pretensions. Above all, "his heart was in the right place," as his
father used to observe. Nothing could exceed the deference he always
showed to him. His mother had long been dead.

I do not know whether it was Edward's own ambition or his proud
father's wishes that had led him to attend the Hamley assemblies. I
should conjecture the latter, for Edward had of himself too much good
taste to wish to intrude into any society. In the opinion of all the
shire, no society had more reason to consider itself select than that
which met at every full moon in the Hamley assembly-room, an
excrescence built on to the principal inn in the town by the joint
subscription of all the county families. Into those choice and
mysterious precincts no towns person was ever allowed to enter; no
professional man might set his foot therein; no infantry officer saw
the interior of that ball, or that card-room. The old original
subscribers would fain have had a man prove his sixteen quarterings
before he might make his bow to the queen of the night; but the old
original founders of the Hamley assemblies were dropping off; minuets
had vanished with them, country dances had died away; quadrilles were
in high vogue--nay, one or two of the high magnates of --shire were
trying to introduce waltzing, as they had seen it in London, where it
had come in with the visit of the allied sovereigns, when Edward
Wilkins made his debut on these boards. He had been at many splendid
assemblies abroad, but still the little old ballroom attached to the
George Inn in his native town was to him a place grander and more
awful than the most magnificent saloons he had seen in Paris or Rome.
He laughed at himself for this unreasonable feeling of awe; but there
it was notwithstanding. He had been dining at the house of one of
the lesser gentry, who was under considerable obligations to his
father, and who was the parent of eight "muckle-mou'ed" daughters, so
hardly likely to oppose much aristocratic resistance to the elder Mr.
Wilkins's clearly implied wish that Edward should be presented at the
Hamley assembly-rooms. But many a squire glowered and looked black
at the introduction of Wilkins the attorney's son into the sacred
precincts; and perhaps there would have been much more mortification
than pleasure in this assembly to the young man, had it not been for
an incident that occurred pretty late in the evening. The lord-
lieutenant of the county usually came with a large party to the
Hamley assemblies once in a season; and this night he was expected,
and with him a fashionable duchess and her daughters. But time wore
on, and they did not make their appearance. At last there was a
rustling and a bustling, and in sailed the superb party. For a few
minutes dancing was stopped; the earl led the duchess to a sofa; some
of their acquaintances came up to speak to them; and then the
quadrilles were finished in rather a flat manner. A country dance
followed, in which none of the lord-lieutenant's party joined; then
there was a consultation, a request, an inspection of the dancers, a
message to the orchestra, and the band struck up a waltz; the
duchess's daughters flew off to the music, and some more young ladies
seemed ready to follow, but, alas! there was a lack of gentlemen
acquainted with the new-fashioned dance. One of the stewards
bethought him of young Wilkins, only just returned from the
Continent. Edward was a beautiful dancer, and waltzed to admiration.
For his next partner he had one of the Lady --s; for the duchess, to
whom the--shire squires and their little county politics and
contempts were alike unknown, saw no reason why her lovely Lady Sophy
should not have a good partner, whatever his pedigree might be, and
begged the stewards to introduce Mr. Wilkins to her. After this
night his fortune was made with the young ladies of the Hamley
assemblies. He was not unpopular with the mammas; but the heavy
squires still looked at him askance, and the heirs (whom he had
licked at Eton) called him an upstart behind his back.

CHAPTER II.

It was not a satisfactory situation. Mr. Wilkins had given his son
an education and tastes beyond his position. He could not associate
with either profit or pleasure with the doctor or the brewer of
Hamley; the vicar was old and deaf, the curate a raw young man, half
frightened at the sound of his own voice. Then, as to matrimony--for
the idea of his marriage was hardly more present in Edward's mind
than in that of his father--he could scarcely fancy bringing home any
one of the young ladies of Hamley to the elegant mansion, so full of
suggestion and association to an educated person, so inappropriate a
dwelling for an ignorant, uncouth, ill-brought-up girl. Yet Edward
was fully aware, if his fond father was not, that of all the young
ladies who were glad enough of him as a partner at the Hamley
assemblies, there was not of them but would have considered herself
affronted by an offer of marriage from an attorney, the son and
grandson of attorneys. The young man had perhaps received many a
slight and mortification pretty quietly during these years, which yet
told upon his character in after life. Even at this very time they
were having their effect. He was of too sweet a disposition to show
resentment, as many men would have done. But nevertheless he took a
secret pleasure in the power which his father's money gave him. He
would buy an expensive horse after five minutes' conversation as to
the price, about which a needy heir of one of the proud county
families had been haggling for three weeks. His dogs were from the
best kennels in England, no matter at what cost; his guns were the
newest and most improved make; and all these were expenses on objects
which were among those of daily envy to the squires and squires' sons
around. They did not much care for the treasures of art, which
report said were being accumulated in Mr. Wilkins's house. But they
did covet the horses and hounds he possessed, and the young man knew
that they coveted, and rejoiced in it.

By-and-by he formed a marriage, which went as near as marriages ever
do towards pleasing everybody. He was desperately in love with Miss
Lamotte, so he was delighted when she consented to be his wife. His
father was delighted in his delight, and, besides, was charmed to
remember that Miss Lamotte's mother had been Sir Frank Holster's
younger sister, and that, although her marriage had been disowned by
her family, as beneath her in rank, yet no one could efface her name
out of the Baronetage, where Lettice, youngest daughter of Sir Mark
Holster, born 1772, married H. Lamotte, 1799, died 1810, was duly
chronicled. She had left two children, a boy and a girl, of whom
their uncle, Sir Frank, took charge, as their father was worse than
dead--an outlaw whose name was never mentioned. Mark Lamotte was in
the army; Lettice had a dependent position in her uncle's family; not
intentionally made more dependent than was rendered necessary by
circumstances, but still dependent enough to grate on the feelings of
a sensitive girl, whose natural susceptibilty to slights was
redoubled by the constant recollection of her father's disgrace. As
Mr. Wilkins well knew, Sir Frank was considerably involved; but it
was with very mixed feelings that he listened to the suit which would
provide his penniless niece with a comfortable, not to say luxurious,
home, and with a handsome, accomplished young man of unblemished
character for a husband. He said one or two bitter and insolent
things to Mr. Wilkins, even while he was giving his consent to the
match; that was his temper, his proud, evil temper; but he really and
permanently was satisfied with the connection, though he would
occasionally turn round on his nephew-in-law, and sting him with a
covert insult, as to his want of birth, and the inferior position
which he held, forgetting, apparently, that his own brother-in-law
and Lettice's father might be at any moment brought to the bar of
justice if he attempted to re-enter his native country.

Edward was annoyed at all this; Lettice resented it. She loved her
husband dearly, and was proud of him, for she had discernment enough
to see how superior he was in every way to her cousins, the young
Holsters, who borrowed his horses, drank his wines, and yet had
caught their father's habit of sneering at his profession. Lettice
wished that Edward would content himself with a purely domestic life,
would let himself drop out of the company of the --shire squirearchy,
and find his relaxation with her, in their luxurious library, or
lovely drawing-room, so full of white gleaming statues, and gems of
pictures. But, perhaps, this was too much to expect of any man,
especially of one who felt himself fitted in many ways to shine in
society, and who was social by nature. Sociality in that county at
that time meant conviviality. Edward did not care for wine, and yet
he was obliged to drink--and by-and-by he grew to pique himself on
his character as a judge of wine. His father by this time was dead;
dead, happy old man, with a contented heart--his affairs flourishing,
his poorer neighbours loving him, his richer respecting him, his son
and daughter-in-law, the most affectionate and devoted that ever man
had, and his healthy conscience at peace with his God.

Lettice could have lived to herself and her husband and children.
Edward daily required more and more the stimulus of society. His
wife wondered how he could care to accept dinner invitations from
people who treated him as "Wilkins the attorney, a very good sort of
fellow," as they introduced him to strangers who might be staying in
the country, but who had no power to appreciate the taste, the
talents, the impulsive artistic nature which she held so dear. She
forgot that by accepting such invitations Edward was occasionally
brought into contact with people not merely of high conventional, but
of high intellectual rank; that when a certain amount of wine had
dissipated his sense of inferiority of rank and position, he was a
brilliant talker, a man to be listened to and admired even by
wandering London statesmen, professional diners-out, or any great
authors who might find themselves visitors in a --shire country-
house. What she would have had him share from the pride of her
heart, she should have warned him to avoid from the temptations to
sinful extravagance which it led him into. He had begun to spend
more than he ought, not in intellectual--though that would have been
wrong--but in purely sensual things. His wines, his table, should be
such as no squire's purse or palate could command. His dinner-
parties--small in number, the viands rare and delicate in quality,
and sent up to table by an Italian cook--should be such as even the
London stars should notice with admiration. He would have Lettice
dressed in the richest materials, the most delicate lace; jewellery,
he said, was beyond their means; glancing with proud humility at the
diamonds of the elder ladies, and the alloyed gold of the younger.
But he managed to spend as much on his wife's lace as would have
bought many a set of inferior jewellery. Lettice well became it all.
If as people said, her father had been nothing but a French
adventurer, she bore traces of her nature in her grace, her delicacy,
her fascinating and elegant ways of doing all things. She was made
for society; and yet she hated it. And one day she went out of it
altogether and for evermore. She had been well in the morning when
Edward went down to his office in Hamley. At noon he was sent for by
hurried trembling messengers. When he got home breathless and
uncomprehending, she was past speech. One glance from her lovely
loving black eyes showed that she recognised him with the passionate
yearning that had been one of the characteristics of her love through
life. There was no word passed between them. He could not speak,
any more than could she. He knelt down by her. She was dying; she
was dead; and he knelt on immovable. They brought him his eldest
child, Ellinor, in utter despair what to do in order to rouse him.
They had no thought as to the effect on her, hitherto shut up in the
nursery during this busy day of confusion and alarm. The child had
no idea of death, and her father, kneeling and tearless, was far less
an object of surprise or interest to her than her mother, lying still
and white, and not turning her head to smile at her darling.

"Mamma! mamma!" cried the child, in shapeless terror. But the mother
never stirred; and the father hid his face yet deeper in the
bedclothes, to stifle a cry as if a sharp knife had pierced his
heart. The child forced her impetuous way from her attendants, and
rushed to the bed. Undeterred by deadly cold or stony immobility,
she kissed the lips and stroked the glossy raven hair, murmuring
sweet words of wild love, such as had passed between the mother and
child often and often when no witnesses were by; and altogether
seemed so nearly beside herself in an agony of love and terror, that
Edward arose, and softly taking her in his arms, bore her away, lying
back like one dead (so exhausted was she by the terrible emotion they
had forced on her childish heart), into his study, a little room
opening out of the grand library, where on happy evenings, never to
come again, he and his wife were wont to retire to have coffee
together, and then perhaps stroll out of the glass-door into the open
air, the shrubbery, the fields--never more to be trodden by those
dear feet. What passed between father and child in this seclusion
none could tell. Late in the evening Ellinor's supper was sent for,
and the servant who brought it in saw the child lying as one dead in
her father's arms, and before he left the room watched his master
feeding her, the girl of six years of age, with as tender care as if
she had been a baby of six months.

CHAPTER III.

From that time the tie between father and daughter grew very strong
and tender indeed. Ellinor, it is true, divided her affection
between her baby sister and her papa; but he, caring little for
babies, had only a theoretic regard for his younger child, while the
elder absorbed all his love. Every day that he dined at home Ellinor
was placed opposite to him while he ate his late dinner; she sat
where her mother had done during the meal, although she had dined and
even supped some time before on the more primitive nursery fare. It
was half pitiful, half amusing, to see the little girl's grave,
thoughtful ways and modes of speech, as if trying to act up to the
dignity of her place as her father's companion, till sometimes the
little head nodded off to slumber in the middle of lisping some wise
little speech. "Old-fashioned," the nurses called her, and
prophesied that she would not live long in consequence of her old-
fashionedness. But instead of the fulfilment of this prophecy, the
fat bright baby was seized with fits, and was well, ill, and dead in
a day! Ellinor's grief was something alarming, from its quietness
and concealment. She waited till she was left--as she thought--alone
at nights, and then sobbed and cried her passionate cry for "Baby,
baby, come back to me--come back;" till every one feared for the
health of the frail little girl whose childish affections had had to
stand two such shocks. Her father put aside all business, all
pleasure of every kind, to win his darling from her grief. No mother
could have done more, no tenderest nurse done half so much as Mr.
Wilkins then did for Ellinor.

If it had not been for him she would have just died of her grief. As
it was, she overcame it--but slowly, wearily--hardly letting herself
love anyone for some time, as if she instinctively feared lest all
her strong attachments should find a sudden end in death. Her love--
thus dammed up into a small space--at last burst its banks, and
overflowed on her father. It was a rich reward to him for all his
care of her, and he took delight--perhaps a selfish delight--in all
the many pretty ways she perpetually found of convincing him, if he
had needed conviction, that he was ever the first object with her.
The nurse told him that half an hour or so before the earliest time
at which he could be expected home in the evenings, Miss Ellinor
began to fold up her doll's things and lull the inanimate treasure to
sleep. Then she would sit and listen with an intensity of attention
for his footstep. Once the nurse had expressed some wonder at the
distance at which Ellinor could hear her father's approach, saying
that she had listened and could not hear a sound, to which Ellinor
had replied:

"Of course you cannot; he is not your papa!"

Then, when he went away in the morning, after he had kissed her,
Ellinor would run to a certain window from which she could watch him
up the lane, now hidden behind a hedge, now reappearing through an
open space, again out of sight, till he reached a great old beech-
tree, where for an instant more she saw him. And then she would turn
away with a sigh, sometimes reassuring her unspoken fears by saying
softly to herself,

"He will come again to-night."

Mr. Wilkins liked to feel his child dependent on him for all her
pleasures. He was even a little jealous of anyone who devised a
treat or conferred a present, the first news of which did not come
from or through him.

At last it was necessary that Ellinor should have some more
instruction than her good old nurse could give. Her father did not
care to take upon himself the office of teacher, which he thought he
foresaw would necessitate occasional blame, an occasional exercise of
authority, which might possibly render him less idolized by his
little girl; so he commissioned Lady Holster to choose out one among
her many protegees for a governess to his daughter. Now, Lady
Holster, who kept a sort of amateur county register-office, was only
too glad to be made of use in this way; but when she inquired a
little further as to the sort of person required, all she could
extract from Mr. Wilkins was:

"You know the kind of education a lady should have, and will, I am
sure, choose a governess for Ellinor better than I could direct you.
Only, please, choose some one who will not marry me, and who will let
Ellinor go on making my tea, and doing pretty much what she likes,
for she is so good they need not try to make her better, only to
teach her what a lady should know."

Miss Monro was selected--a plain, intelligent, quiet woman of forty--
and it was difficult to decide whether she or Mr. Wilkins took the
most pains to avoid each other, acting with regard to Ellinor, pretty
much like the famous Adam and Eve in the weather-glass: when the one
came out the other went in. Miss Monro had been tossed about and
overworked quite enough in her life not to value the privilege and
indulgence of her evenings to herself, her comfortable schoolroom,
her quiet cozy teas, her book, or her letter-writing afterwards. By
mutual agreement she did not interfere with Ellinor and her ways and
occupations on the evenings when the girl had not her father for
companion; and these occasions became more and more frequent as years
passed on, and the deep shadow was lightened which the sudden death
that had visited his household had cast over him. As I have said
before, he was always a popular man at dinner-parties. His amount of
intelligence and accomplishment was rare in --shire, and if it
required more wine than formerly to bring his conversation up to the
desired point of range and brilliancy, wine was not an article spared
or grudged at the county dinner-tables. Occasionally his business
took him up to London. Hurried as these journeys might be, he never
returned without a new game, a new toy of some kind, to "make home
pleasant to his little maid," as he expressed himself.

He liked, too, to see what was doing in art, or in literature; and as
he gave pretty extensive orders for anything he admired, he was
almost sure to be followed down to Hamley by one or two packages or
parcels, the arrival and opening of which began soon to form the
pleasant epochs in Ellinor's grave though happy life.

The only person of his own standing with whom Mr. Wilkins kept up any
intercourse in Hamley was the new clergyman, a bachelor, about his
own age, a learned man, a fellow of his college, whose first claim on
Mr. Wilkins's attention was the fact that he had been travelling-
bachelor for his university, and had consequently been on the
Continent about the very same two years that Mr. Wilkins had been
there; and although they had never met, yet they had many common
acquaintances and common recollections to talk over of this period,
which, after all, had been about the most bright and hopeful of Mr.
Wilkins's life.

Mr. Ness had an occasional pupil; that is to say, he never put
himself out of the way to obtain pupils, but did not refuse the
entreaties sometimes made to him that he would prepare a young man
for college, by allowing the said young man to reside and read with
him. "Ness's men" took rather high honours, for the tutor, too
indolent to find out work for himself, had a certain pride in doing
well the work that was found for him.

When Ellinor was somewhere about fourteen, a young Mr. Corbet came to
be pupil to Mr. Ness. Her father always called on the young men
reading with the clergyman, and asked them to his house. His
hospitality had in course of time lost its recherche and elegant
character, but was always generous, and often profuse. Besides, it
was in his character to like the joyous, thoughtless company of the
young better than that of the old--given the same amount of
refinement and education in both.

Mr. Corbet was a young man of very good family, from a distant
county. If his character had not been so grave and deliberate, his
years would only have entitled him to be called a boy, for he was but
eighteen at the time when he came to read with Mr. Ness. But many
men of five-and-twenty have not reflected so deeply as this young Mr.
Corbet already had. He had considered and almost matured his plan
for life; had ascertained what objects he desired most to accomplish
in the dim future, which is to many at his age only a shapeless mist;
and had resolved on certain steady courses of action by which such
objects were most likely to be secured. A younger son, his family
connections and family interest pre-arranged a legal career for him;
and it was in accordance with his own tastes and talents. All,
however, which his father hoped for him was, that he might be able to
make an income sufficient for a gentleman to live on. Old Mr. Corbet
was hardly to be called ambitious, or, if he were, his ambition was
limited to views for the eldest son. But Ralph intended to be a
distinguished lawyer, not so much for the vision of the woolsack,
which I suppose dances before the imagination of every young lawyer,
as for the grand intellectual exercise, and consequent power over
mankind, that distinguished lawyers may always possess if they
choose. A seat in Parliament, statesmanship, and all the great scope
for a powerful and active mind that lay on each side of such a
career--these were the objects which Ralph Corbet set before himself.
To take high honours at college was the first step to be
accomplished; and in order to achieve this Ralph had, not persuaded--
persuasion was a weak instrument which he despised--but gravely
reasoned his father into consenting to pay the large sum which Mr.
Ness expected with a pupil. The good-natured old squire was rather
pressed for ready money, but sooner than listen to an argument
instead of taking his nap after dinner he would have yielded
anything. But this did not satisfy Ralph; his father's reason must
be convinced of the desirability of the step, as well as his weak
will give way. The squire listened, looked wise, sighed; spoke of
Edward's extravagance and the girls' expenses, grew sleepy, and said,
"Very true," "That is but reasonable, certainly," glanced at the
door, and wondered when his son would have ended his talking and go
into the drawing-room; and at length found himself writing the
desired letter to Mr. Ness, consenting to everything, terms and all.
Mr. Ness never had a more satisfactory pupil; one whom he could treat
more as an intellectual equal.

Mr. Corbet, as Ralph was always called in Hamley, was resolute in his
cultivation of himself, even exceeding what his tutor demanded of
him. He was greedy of information in the hours not devoted to
absolute study. Mr. Ness enjoyed giving information, but most of all
he liked the hard tough arguments on all metaphysical and ethical
questions in which Mr. Corbet delighted to engage him. They lived
together on terms of happy equality, having thus much in common.
They were essentially different, however, although there were so many
points of resemblance. Mr. Ness was unworldly as far as the idea of
real unworldliness is compatible with a turn for self-indulgence and
indolence; while Mr. Corbet was deeply, radically worldly, yet for
the accomplishment of his object could deny himself all the careless
pleasures natural to his age. The tutor and pupil allowed themselves
one frequent relaxation, that of Mr. Wilkins's company. Mr. Ness
would stroll to the office after the six hours' hard reading were
over--leaving Mr. Corbet still bent over the table, book bestrewn--
and see what Mr. Wilkins's engagements were. If he had nothing
better to do that evening, he was either asked to dine at the
parsonage, or he, in his careless hospitable way, invited the other
two to dine with him, Ellinor forming the fourth at table, as far as
seats went, although her dinner had been eaten early with Miss Monro.
She was little and slight of her age, and her father never seemed to
understand how she was passing out of childhood. Yet while in
stature she was like a child; in intellect, in force of character, in
strength of clinging affection, she was a woman. There might be much
of the simplicity of a child about her, there was little of the
undeveloped girl, varying from day to day like an April sky, careless
as to which way her own character is tending. So the two young
people sat with their elders, and both relished the company they were
thus prematurely thrown into. Mr. Corbet talked as much as either of
the other two gentlemen; opposing and disputing on any side, as if to
find out how much he could urge against received opinions. Ellinor
sat silent; her dark eyes flashing from time to time in vehement
interest--sometimes in vehement indignation if Mr. Corbet, riding a-
tilt at everyone, ventured to attack her father. He saw how this
course excited her, and rather liked pursuing it in consequence; he
thought it only amused him.

Another way in which Ellinor and Mr. Corbet were thrown together
occasionally was this: Mr. Ness and Mr. Wilkins shared the same
Times between them; and it was Ellinor's duty to see that the paper
was regularly taken from her father's house to the parsonage. Her
father liked to dawdle over it. Until Mr. Corbet had come to live
with him, Mr. Ness had not much cared at what time it was passed on
to him; but the young man took a strong interest in all public
events, and especially in all that was said about them. He grew
impatient if the paper was not forthcoming, and would set off himself
to go for it, sometimes meeting the penitent breathless Ellinor in
the long lane which led from Hamley to Mr. Wilkins's house. At first
he used to receive her eager "Oh! I am so sorry, Mr. Corbet, but papa
has only just done with it," rather gruffly. After a time he had the
grace to tell her it did not signify; and by-and-by he would turn
back with her to give her some advice about her garden, or her
plants--for his mother and sisters were first-rate practical
gardeners, and he himself was, as he expressed it, "a capital
consulting physician for a sickly plant."

All this time his voice, his step, never raised the child's colour
one shade the higher, never made her heart beat the least quicker, as
the slightest sign of her father's approach was wont to do. She
learnt to rely on Mr. Corbet for advice, for a little occasional
sympathy, and for much condescending attention. He also gave her
more fault-finding than all the rest of the world put together; and,
curiously enough, she was grateful to him for it, for she really was
humble and wished to improve. He liked the attitude of superiority
which this implied and exercised right gave him. They were very good
friends at present. Nothing more.

All this time I have spoken only of Mr. Wilkins's life as he stood in
relation to his daughter. But there is far more to be said about it.
After his wife's death, he withdrew himself from society for a year
or two in a more positive and decided manner than is common with
widowers. It was during this retirement of his that he riveted his
little daughter's heart in such a way as to influence all her future
life.

When he began to go out again, it might have been perceived--had any
one cared to notice--how much the different characters of his father
and wife had influenced him and kept him steady. Not that he broke
out into any immoral conduct, but he gave up time to pleasure, which
both old Mr. Wilkins and Lettice would have quietly induced him to
spend in the office, superintending his business. His indulgence in
hunting, and all field sports, had hitherto been only occasional;
they now became habitual, as far as the seasons permitted. He shared
a moor in Scotland with one of the Holsters one year, persuading
himself that the bracing air was good for Ellinor's health. But the
year afterwards he took another, this time joining with a comparative
stranger; and on this moor there was no house to which it was fit to
bring a child and her attendants. He persuaded himself that by
frequent journeys he could make up for his absences from Hamley. But
journeys cost money; and he was often away from his office when
important business required attending to. There was some talk of a
new attorney setting up in Hamley, to be supported by one or two of
the more influential county families, who had found Wilkins not so
attentive as his father. Sir Frank Holster sent for his relation,
and told him of this project, speaking to him, at the same time, in
pretty round terms on the folly of the life he was leading. Foolish
it certainly was, and as such Mr. Wilkins was secretly acknowledging
it; but when Sir Frank, lashing himself, began to talk of his
hearer's presumption in joining the hunt, in aping the mode of life
and amusements of the landed gentry, Edward fired up. He knew how
much Sir Frank was dipped, and comparing it with the round sum his
own father had left him, he said some plain truths to Sir Frank which
the latter never forgave, and henceforth there was no intercourse
between Holster Court and Ford Bank, as Mr. Edward Wilkins had
christened his father's house on his first return from the Continent.

The conversation had two consequences besides the immediate one of
the quarrel. Mr. Wilkins advertised for a responsible and
confidential clerk to conduct the business under his own
superintendence; and he also wrote to the Heralds' College to ask if
he did not belong to the family bearing the same name in South Wales-
-those who have since reassumed their ancient name of De Winton.

Both applications were favorably answered. A skilful, experienced,
middle-aged clerk was recommended to him by one of the principal
legal firms in London, and immediately engaged to come to Hamley at
his own terms; which were pretty high. But, as Mr. Wilkins said it
was worth any money to pay for the relief from constant
responsibility which such a business as his involved, some people
remarked that he had never appeared to feel the responsibility very
much hitherto, as witness his absences in Scotland, and his various
social engagements when at home; it had been very different (they
said) in his father's day. The Heralds' College held out hopes of
affiliating him to the South Wales family, but it would require time
and money to make the requisite inquiries and substantiate the claim.
Now, in many a place there would be none to contest the right a man
might have to assert that he belonged to such and such a family, or
even to assume their arms. But it was otherwise in --shire.
Everyone was up in genealogy and heraldry, and considered filching a
name and a pedigree a far worse sin than any of those mentioned on
the Commandments. There were those among them who would doubt and
dispute even the decision of the Heralds' College; but with it, if in
his favour, Mr. Wilkins intended to be satisfied, and accordingly he
wrote in reply to their letter to say, that of course he was aware
such inquiries would take a considerable sum of money, but still he
wished them to be made, and that speedily.

Before the end of the year he went up to London to order a brougham
to be built (for Ellinor to drive out in wet weather, he said; but as
going in a closed carriage always made her ill, he used it
principally himself in driving to dinner-parties), with the De Winton
Wilkinses' arms neatly emblazoned on panel and harness. Hitherto he
had always gone about in a dog-cart--the immediate descendant of his
father's old-fashioned gig.

For all this, the squires, his employers, only laughed at him and did
not treat him with one whit more respect.

Mr. Dunster, the new clerk, was a quiet, respectable-looking man; you
could not call him a gentleman in manner, and yet no one could say he
was vulgar. He had not much varying expression on his face, but a
permanent one of thoughtful consideration of the subject in hand,
whatever it might be, that would have fitted as well with the
profession of medicine as with that of law, and was quite the right
look for either. Occasionally a bright flash of sudden intelligence
lightened up his deep-sunk eyes, but even this was quickly
extinguished as by some inward repression, and the habitually
reflective, subdued expression returned to the face. As soon as he
came into his situation, he first began quietly to arrange the
papers, and next the business of which they were the outer sign, into
more methodical order than they had been in since old Mr. Wilkins's
death. Punctual to a moment himself, he looked his displeased
surprise when the inferior clerks came tumbling in half an hour after
the time in the morning; and his look was more effective than many
men's words; henceforward the subordinates were within five minutes
of the appointed hour for opening the office; but still he was always
there before them. Mr. Wilkins himself winced under his new clerk's
order and punctuality; Mr. Dunster's raised eyebrow and contraction
of the lips at some woeful confusion in the business of the office,
chafed Mr. Wilkins more, far more than any open expression of opinion
would have done; for that he could have met, and explained away as he
fancied. A secret respectful dislike grew up in his bosom against
Mr. Dunster. He esteemed him, he valued him, and he could not bear
him. Year after year Mr. Wilkins had become more under the influence
of his feelings, and less under the command of his reason. He rather
cherished than repressed his nervous repugnance to the harsh measured
tones of Mr. Dunster's voice; the latter spoke with a provincial
twang which grated on his employer's sensitive ear. He was annoyed
at a certain green coat which his new clerk brought with him, and he
watched its increasing shabbiness with a sort of childish pleasure.
But by-and-by Mr. Wilkins found out that, from some perversity of
taste, Mr. Dunster always had his coats, Sunday and working-day, made
of this obnoxious colour; and this knowledge did not diminish his
secret irritation. The worst of all, perhaps, was, that Mr. Dunster
was really invaluable in many ways; "a perfect treasure," as Mr.
Wilkins used to term him in speaking of him after dinner; but, for
all that, he came to hate his "perfect treasure," as he gradually
felt that Dunster had become so indispensable to the business that
his chief could not do without him.

The clients re-echoed Mr. Wilkins's words, and spoke of Mr. Dunster
as invaluable to his master; a thorough treasure, the very saving of
the business. They had not been better attended to, not even in old
Mr. Wilkins's days; such a clear head, such a knowledge of law, such
a steady, upright fellow, always at his post. The grating voice, the
drawling accent, the bottle-green coat, were nothing to them; far
less noticed, in fact, than Wilkins's expensive habits, the money he
paid for his wine and horses, and the nonsense of claiming kin with
the Welsh Wilkinses, and setting up his brougham to drive about --
shire lanes, and be knocked to pieces over the rough round paving-
stones thereof.

All these remarks did not come near Ellinor to trouble her life. To
her, her dear father was the first of human beings; so sweet, so
good, so kind, so charming in conversation, so full of accomplishment
and information! To her healthy, happy mind every one turned their
bright side. She loved Miss Monro--all the servants--especially
Dixon, the coachman. He had been her father's playfellow as a boy,
and, with all his respect and admiration for his master, the freedom
of intercourse that had been established between them then had never
been quite lost. Dixon was a fine, stalwart old fellow, and was as
harmonious in his ways with his master as Mr. Dunster was discordant;
accordingly he was a great favourite, and could say many a thing
which might have been taken as impertinent from another servant.

He was Ellinor's great confidant about many of her little plans and
projects; things that she dared not speak of to Mr. Corbet, who,
after her father and Dixon, was her next best friend. This intimacy
with Dixon displeased Mr. Corbet. He once or twice insinuated that
he did not think it was well to talk so familiarly as Ellinor did
with a servant--one out of a completely different class--such as
Dixon. Ellinor did not easily take hints; every one had spoken plain
out to her hitherto; so Mr. Corbet had to say his meaning plain out
at last. Then, for the first time, he saw her angry; but she was too
young, too childish, to have words at will to express her feelings;
she only could say broken beginnings of sentences, such as "What a
shame! Good, dear Dixon, who is as loyal and true and kind as any
nobleman. I like him far better than you, Mr. Corbet, and I shall
talk to him." And then she burst into tears and ran away, and would
not come to wish Mr. Corbet good-bye, though she knew she should not
see him again for a long time, as he was returning the next day to
his father's house, from whence he would go to Cambridge.

He was annoyed at this result of the good advice he had thought
himself bound to give to a motherless girl, who had no one to
instruct her in the proprieties in which his own sisters were brought
up; he left Hamley both sorry and displeased. As for Ellinor, when
she found out the next day that he really was gone--gone without even
coming to Ford Bank again to see if she were not penitent for her
angry words--gone without saying or hearing a word of good-bye--she
shut herself up in her room, and cried more bitterly than ever,
because anger against herself was mixed with her regret for his loss.
Luckily, her father was dining out, or he would have inquired what
was the matter with his darling; and she would have had to try to
explain what could not be explained. As it was, she sat with her
back to the light during the schoolroom tea, and afterwards, when
Miss Monro had settled down to her study of the Spanish language,
Ellinor stole out into the garden, meaning to have a fresh cry over
her own naughtiness and Mr. Corbet's departure; but the August
evening was still and calm, and put her passionate grief to shame,
hushing her up, as it were, with the other young creatures, who were
being soothed to rest by the serene time of day, and the subdued
light of the twilight sky.

There was a piece of ground surrounding the flower-garden, which was
not shrubbery, nor wood, nor kitchen garden--only a grassy bit, out
of which a group of old forest trees sprang. Their roots were heaved
above ground; their leaves fell in autumn so profusely that the turf
was ragged and bare in spring; but, to make up for this, there never
was such a place for snowdrops.

The roots of these old trees were Ellinor's favourite play-place;
this space between these two was her doll's kitchen, that its
drawing-room, and so on. Mr. Corbet rather despised her contrivances
for doll's furniture, so she had not often brought him here; but
Dixon delighted in them, and contrived and planned with the eagerness
of six years old rather than forty. To-night Ellinor went to this
place, and there were all a new collection of ornaments for Miss
Dolly's sitting-room made out of fir-bobs, in the prettiest and most
ingenious way. She knew it was Dixon's doing and rushed off in
search of him to thank him.

"What's the matter with my pretty?" asked Dixon, as soon as the
pleasant excitement of thanking and being thanked was over, and he
had leisure to look at her tear-stained face.

"Oh, I don't know! Never mind," said she, reddening.

Dixon was silent for a minute or two, while she tried to turn off his
attention by her hurried prattle.

"There's no trouble afoot that I can mend?" asked he, in a minute or
two.

"Oh, no! It's really nothing--nothing at all," said she. "It's only
that Mr. Corbet went away without saying good-bye to me, that's all."
And she looked as if she should have liked to cry again.

"That was not manners," said Dixon, decisively.

"But it was my fault," replied Ellinor, pleading against the
condemnation.

Dixon looked at her pretty sharply from under his ragged bushy
eyebrows.

"He had been giving me a lecture, and saying I didn't do what his
sisters did--just as if I were to be always trying to be like
somebody else--and I was cross and ran away."

"Then it was Missy who wouldn't say good-bye. That was not manners
in Missy."

"But, Dixon, I don't like being lectured!"

"I reckon you don't get much of it. But, indeed, my pretty, I
daresay Mr. Corbet was in the right; for, you see, master is busy,
and Miss Monro is so dreadful learned, and your poor mother is dead
and gone, and you have no one to teach you how young ladies go on;
and by all accounts Mr. Corbet comes of a good family. I've heard
say his father had the best stud-farm in all Shropshire, and spared
no money upon it; and the young ladies his sisters will have been
taught the best of manners; it might be well for my pretty to hear
how they go on."

"You dear old Dixon, you don't know anything about my lecture, and
I'm not going to tell you. Only I daresay Mr. Corbet might be a
little bit right, though I'm sure he was a great deal wrong."

"But you'll not go on a-fretting--you won't now, there's a good young
lady--for master won't like it, and it'll make him uneasy, and he's
enough of trouble without your red eyes, bless them."

"Trouble--papa, trouble! Oh, Dixon! what do you mean?" exclaimed
Ellinor, her face taking all a woman's intensity of expression in a
minute.

"Nay, I know nought," said Dixon, evasively. "Only that Dunster
fellow is not to my mind, and I think he potters the master sadly
with his fid-fad ways."

"I hate Mr. Dunster!" said Ellinor, vehemently. "I won't speak a
word to him the next time he comes to dine with papa."

"Missy will do what papa likes best," said Dixon, admonishingly; and
with this the pair of "friends" parted,

CHAPTER IV.

The summer afterwards Mr. Corbet came again to read with Mr. Ness.
He did not perceive any alteration in himself, and indeed his early-
matured character had hardly made progress during the last twelve
months whatever intellectual acquirements he might have made.
Therefore it was astonishing to him to see the alteration in Ellinor
Wilkins. She had shot up from a rather puny girl to a tall, slight
young lady, with promise of great beauty in the face, which a year
ago had only been remarkable for the fineness of the eyes. Her
complexion was clear now, although colourless--twelve months ago he
would have called it sallow--her delicate cheek was smooth as marble,
her teeth were even and white, and her rare smiles called out a
lovely dimple.

She met her former friend and lecturer with a grave shyness, for she
remembered well how they had parted, and thought he could hardly have
forgiven, much less forgotten, her passionate flinging away from him.
But the truth was, after the first few hours of offended displeasure,
he had ceased to think of it at all. She, poor child, by way of
proving her repentance, had tried hard to reform her boisterous tom-
boy manners, in order to show him that, although she would not give
up her dear old friend Dixon, at his or anyone's bidding, she would
strive to profit by his lectures in all things reasonable. The
consequence was, that she suddenly appeared to him as an elegant
dignified young lady, instead of the rough little girl he remembered.
Still below her somewhat formal manners there lurked the old wild
spirit, as he could plainly see after a little more watching; and he
began to wish to call this out, and to strive, by reminding her of
old days, and all her childish frolics, to flavour her subdued
manners and speech with a little of the former originality.

In this he succeeded. No one, neither Mr. Wilkins, nor Miss Monro,
nor Mr. Ness, saw what this young couple were about--they did not
know it themselves; but before the summer was over they were
desperately in love with each other, or perhaps I should rather say,
Ellinor was desperately in love with him--he, as passionately as he
could be with anyone; but in him the intellect was superior in
strength to either affections or passions.

The causes of the blindness of those around them were these: Mr.
Wilkins still considered Ellinor as a little girl, as his own pet,
his darling, but nothing more. Miss Monro was anxious about her own
improvement. Mr. Ness was deep in a new edition of "Horace," which
he was going to bring out with notes. I believe Dixon would have
been keener sighted, but Ellinor kept Mr. Corbet and Dixon apart for
obvious reasons--they were each her dear friends, but she knew that
Mr. Corbet did not like Dixon, and suspected that the feeling was
mutual.

The only change of circumstances between this year and the previous
one consisted in this development of attachment between the young
people. Otherwise, everything went on apparently as usual. With
Ellinor the course of the day was something like this: up early and
into the garden until breakfast time, when she made tea for her
father and Miss Monro in the dining-room, always taking care to lay a
little nosegay of freshly-gathered flowers by her father's plate.
After breakfast, when the conversation had been on general and
indifferent subjects, Mr. Wilkins withdrew into the little study so
often mentioned. It opened out of a passage that ran between the
dining-room and the kitchen, on the left hand of the hall.
Corresponding to the dining-room on the other side of the hall was
the drawing-room, with its side-window serving as a door into a
conservatory, and this again opened into the library. Old Mr.
Wilkins had added a semicircular projection to the library, which was
lighted by a dome above, and showed off his son's Italian purchases
of sculpture. The library was by far the most striking and agreeable
room in the house; and the consequence was that the drawing-room was
seldom used, and had the aspect of cold discomfort common to
apartments rarely occupied. Mr. Wilkins's study, on the other side
of the house, was also an afterthought, built only a few years ago,
and projecting from the regularity of the outside wall; a little
stone passage led to it from the hall, small, narrow, and dark, and
out of which no other door opened.

The study itself was a hexagon, one side window, one fireplace, and
the remaining four sides occupied with doors, two of which have been
already mentioned, another at the foot of the narrow winding stairs
which led straight into Mr. Wilkins's bedroom over the dining-room,
and the fourth opening into a path through the shrubbery to the right
of the flower-garden as you looked from the house. This path led
through the stable-yard, and then by a short cut right into Hamley,
and brought you out close to Mr. Wilkins's office; it was by this way
he always went and returned to his business. He used the study for a
smoking and lounging room principally, although he always spoke of it
as a convenient place for holding confidential communications with
such of his clients as did not like discussing their business within
the possible hearing of all the clerks in his office. By the outer
door he could also pass to the stables, and see that proper care was
taken at all times of his favourite and valuable horses. Into this
study Ellinor would follow him of a morning, helping him on with his
great-coat, mending his gloves, talking an infinite deal of merry
fond nothing; and then, clinging to his arm, she would accompany him
in his visits to the stables, going up to the shyest horses, and
petting them, and patting them, and feeding them with bread all the
time that her father held converse with Dixon. When he was finally
gone--and sometimes it was a long time first--she returned to the
schoolroom to Miss Monro, and tried to set herself hard at work on
her lessons. But she had not much time for steady application; if
her father had cared for her progress in anything, she would and
could have worked hard at that study or accomplishment; but Mr.
Wilkins, the ease and pleasure loving man, did not wish to make
himself into the pedagogue, as he would have considered it, if he had
ever questioned Ellinor with a real steady purpose of ascertaining
her intellectual progress. It was quite enough for him that her
general intelligence and variety of desultory and miscellaneous
reading made her a pleasant and agreeable companion for his hours of
relaxation.

At twelve o'clock, Ellinor put away her books with joyful eagerness,
kissed Miss Monro, asked her if they should go a regular walk, and
was always rather thankful when it was decided that it would be
better to stroll in the garden--a decision very often come to, for
Miss Monro hated fatigue, hated dirt, hated scrambling, and dreaded
rain; all of which are evils, the chances of which are never far
distant from country walks. So Ellinor danced out into the garden,
worked away among her flowers, played at the old games among the
roots of the trees, and, when she could, seduced Dixon into the
flower-garden to have a little consultation as to the horses and
dogs. For it was one of her father's few strict rules that Ellinor
was never to go into the stable-yard unless he were with her; so
these tete-a-tetes with Dixon were always held in the flower-garden,
or bit of forest ground surrounding it. Miss Monro sat and basked in
the sun, close to the dial, which made the centre of the gay flower-
beds, upon which the dining-room and study windows looked.

At one o'clock, Ellinor and Miss Monro dined. An hour was allowed
for Miss Monro's digestion, which Ellinor again spent out of doors,
and at three, lessons began again and lasted till five. At that time
they went to dress preparatory for the schoolroom tea at half-past
five. After tea Ellinor tried to prepare her lessons for the next
day; but all the time she was listening for her father's footstep--
the moment she heard that, she dashed down her book, and flew out of
the room to welcome and kiss him. Seven was his dinner-hour; he
hardly ever dined alone; indeed, he often dined from home four days
out of seven, and when he had no engagement to take him out he liked
to have some one to keep him company: Mr. Ness very often, Mr.
Corbet along with him if he was in Hamley, a stranger friend, or one
of his clients. Sometimes, reluctantly, and when he fancied he could
not avoid the attention without giving offence, Mr. Wilkins would ask
Mr. Dunster, and then the two would always follow Ellinor into the
library at a very early hour, as if their subjects for tete-a-tete
conversation were quite exhausted. With all his other visitors, Mr.
Wilkins sat long--yes, and yearly longer; with Mr. Ness, because they
became interested in each other's conversation; with some of the
others, because the wine was good, and the host hated to spare it.

Mr. Corbet used to leave his tutor and Mr. Wilkins and saunter into
the library. There sat Ellinor and Miss Monro, each busy with their
embroidery. He would bring a stool to Ellinor's side, question and
tease her, interest her, and they would become entirely absorbed in
each other, Miss Monro's sense of propriety being entirely set at
rest by the consideration that Mr. Wilkins must know what he was
about in allowing a young man to become thus intimate with his
daughter, who, after all, was but a child.

Mr. Corbet had lately fallen into the habit of walking up to Ford
Bank for The Times every day, near twelve o'clock, and lounging about
in the garden until one; not exactly with either Ellinor or Miss
Monro, but certainly far more at the beck and call of the one than of
the other.

Miss Monro used to think he would have been glad to stay and lunch at
their early dinner, but she never gave the invitation, and he could
not well stay without her expressed sanction. He told Ellinor all
about his mother and sisters, and their ways of going on, and spoke
of them and of his father as of people she was one day certain to
know, and to know intimately; and she did not question or doubt this
view of things; she simply acquiesced.

He had some discussion with himself as to whether he should speak to
her, and so secure her promise to be his before returning to
Cambridge or not. He did not like the formality of an application to
Mr. Wilkins, which would, after all, have been the proper and
straightforward course to pursue with a girl of her age--she was
barely sixteen. Not that he anticipated any difficulty on Mr.
Wilkins's part; his approval of the intimacy which at their
respective ages was pretty sure to lead to an attachment, was made as
evident as could be by actions without words. But there would have
to be reference to his own father, who had no notion of the whole
affair, and would be sure to treat it as a boyish fancy; as if at
twenty-one Ralph was not a man, as clear and deliberative in knowing
his own mind, as resolute as he ever would be in deciding upon the
course of exertion that should lead him to independence and fame, if
such were to be attained by clear intellect and a strong will.

No; to Mr. Wilkins he would not speak for another year or two.

But should he tell Ellinor in direct terms of his love--his intention
to marry her?

Again he inclined to the more prudent course of silence. He was not
afraid of any change in his own inclinations: of them he was sure.
But he looked upon it in this way: If he made a regular declaration
to her she would be bound to tell it to her father. He should not
respect her or like her so much if she did not. And yet this course
would lead to all the conversations, and discussions, and references
to his own father, which made his own direct appeal to Mr. Wilkins
appear a premature step to him.

Whereas he was as sure of Ellinor's love for him as if she had
uttered all the vows that women ever spoke; he knew even better than
she did how fully and entirely that innocent girlish heart was his
own. He was too proud to dread her inconstancy for an instant;
"besides," as he went on to himself, as if to make assurance doubly
sure, "whom does she see? Those stupid Holsters, who ought to be
only too proud of having such a girl for their cousin, ignore her
existence, and spoke slightingly of her father only the very last
time I dined there. The country people in this precisely Boeotian --
shire clutch at me because my father goes up to the Plantagenets for
his pedigree--not one whit for myself--and neglect Ellinor; and only
condescend to her father because old Wilkins was nobody-knows-who's
son. So much the worse for them, but so much the better for me in
this case. I'm above their silly antiquated prejudices, and shall be
only too glad when the fitting time comes to make Ellinor my wife.
After all, a prosperous attorney's daughter may not be considered an
unsuitable match for me--younger son as I am. Ellinor will make a
glorious woman three or four years hence; just the style my father
admires--such a figure, such limbs. I'll be patient, and bide my
time, and watch my opportunities, and all will come right."

So he bade Ellinor farewell in a most reluctant and affectionate
manner, although his words might have been spoken out in Hamley
market-place, and were little different from what he said to Miss
Monro. Mr. Wilkins half expected a disclosure to himself of the love
which he suspected in the young man; and when that did not come, he
prepared himself for a confidence from Ellinor. But she had nothing
to tell him, as he very well perceived from the child's open
unembarrassed manner when they were left alone together after dinner.
He had refused an invitation, and shaken off Mr. Ness, in order to
have this confidential tete-a-tete with his motherless girl; and
there was nothing to make confidence of. He was half inclined to be
angry; but then he saw that, although sad, she was so much at peace
with herself and with the world, that he, always an optimist, began
to think the young man had done wisely in not tearing open the
rosebud of her feelings too prematurely.

The next two years passed over in much the same way--or a careless
spectator might have thought so. I have heard people say, that if
you look at a regiment advancing with steady step over a plain on a
review-day, you can hardly tell that they are not merely marking time
on one spot of ground, unless you compare their position with some
other object by which to mark their progress, so even is the
repetition of the movement. And thus the sad events of the future
life of this father and daughter were hardly perceived in their
steady advance, and yet over the monotony and flat uniformity of
their days sorrow came marching down upon them like an armed man.
Long before Mr. Wilkins had recognised its shape, it was approaching
him in the distance--as, in fact, it is approaching all of us at this
very time; you, reader, I, writer, have each our great sorrow bearing
down upon us. It may be yet beyond the dimmest point of our horizon,
but in the stillness of the night our hearts shrink at the sound of
its coming footstep. Well is it for those who fall into the hands of
the Lord rather than into the hands of men; but worst of all is it
for him who has hereafter to mingle the gall of remorse with the cup
held out to him by his doom.

Mr. Wilkins took his ease and his pleasure yet more and more every
year of his life; nor did the quality of his ease and his pleasure
improve; it seldom does with self-indulgent people. He cared less
for any books that strained his faculties a little--less for
engravings and sculptures--perhaps more for pictures. He spent
extravagantly on his horses; "thought of eating and drinking." There
was no open vice in all this, so that any awful temptation to crime
should come down upon him, and startle him out of his mode of
thinking and living; half the people about him did much the same, as
far as their lives were patent to his unreflecting observation. But
most of his associates had their duties to do, and did them with a
heart and a will, in the hours when he was not in their company.
Yes! I call them duties, though some of them might be self-imposed
and purely social; they were engagements they had entered into,
either tacitly or with words, and that they fulfilled. From Mr.
Hetherington, the Master of the Hounds, who was up at--no one knows
what hour, to go down to the kennel and see that the men did their
work well and thoroughly, to stern old Sir Lionel Playfair, the
upright magistrate, the thoughtful, conscientious landlord--they did
their work according to their lights; there were few laggards among
those with whom Mr. Wilkins associated in the field or at the dinner-
table. Mr. Ness--though as a clergyman he was not so active as he
might have been--yet even Mr. Ness fagged away with his pupils and
his new edition of one of the classics. Only Mr. Wilkins,
dissatisfied with his position, neglected to fulfil the duties
thereof. He imitated the pleasures, and longed for the fancied
leisure of those about him; leisure that he imagined would be so much
more valuable in the hands of a man like himself, full of
intellectual tastes and accomplishments, than frittered away by dull
boors of untravelled, uncultivated squires--whose company, however,
be it said by the way, he never refused.

And yet daily Mr. Wilkins was sinking from the intellectually to the
sensually self-indulgent man. He lay late in bed, and hated Mr.
Dunster for his significant glance at the office-clock when he
announced to his master that such and such a client had been waiting
more than an hour to keep an appointment. "Why didn't you see him
yourself, Dunster? I'm sure you would have done quite as well as
me," Mr. Wilkins sometimes replied, partly with a view of saying
something pleasant to the man whom he disliked and feared. Mr.
Dunster always replied, in a meek matter-of-fact tone, "Oh, sir, they
wouldn't like to talk over their affairs with a subordinate."

And every time he said this, or some speech of the same kind, the
idea came more and more clearly into Mr. Wilkins's head, of how
pleasant it would be to himself to take Dunster into partnership, and
thus throw all the responsibility of the real work and drudgery upon
his clerk's shoulders. Importunate clients, who would make
appointments at unseasonable hours and would keep to them, might
confide in the partner, though they would not in the clerk. The
great objections to this course were, first and foremost, Mr.
Wilkins's strong dislike to Mr. Dunster--his repugnance to his
company, his dress, his voice, his ways--all of which irritated his
employer, till his state of feeling towards Dunster might be called
antipathy; next, Mr. Wilkins was fully aware of the fact that all Mr.
Dunster's actions and words were carefully and thoughtfully pre-
arranged to further the great unspoken desire of his life--that of
being made a partner where he now was only a servant. Mr. Wilkins
took a malicious pleasure in tantalizing Mr. Dunster by such speeches
as the one I have just mentioned, which always seemed like an opening
to the desired end, but still for a long time never led any further.
Yet all the while that end was becoming more and more certain, and at
last it was reached.

Mr. Dunster always suspected that the final push was given by some
circumstance from without; some reprimand for neglect--some threat of
withdrawal of business which his employer had received; but of this
he could not be certain; all he knew was, that Mr. Wilkins proposed
the partnership to him in about as ungracious a way as such an offer
could be made; an ungraciousness which, after all, had so little
effect on the real matter in hand, that Mr. Dunster could pass over
it with a private sneer, while taking all possible advantage of the
tangible benefit it was now in his power to accept.

Mr. Corbet's attachment to Ellinor had been formally disclosed to her
just before this time. He had left college, entered at the Middle
Temple, and was fagging away at law, and feeling success in his own
power; Ellinor was to "come out" at the next Hamley assemblies; and
her lover began to be jealous of the possible admirers her striking
appearance and piquant conversation might attract, and thought it a
good time to make the success of his suit certain by spoken words and
promises.

He needed not have alarmed himself even enough to make him take this
step, if he had been capable of understanding Ellinor's heart as
fully as he did her appearance and conversation. She never missed
the absence of formal words and promises. She considered herself as
fully engaged to him, as much pledged to marry him and no one else,
before he had asked the final question, as afterwards. She was
rather surprised at the necessity for those decisive words,

"Ellinor, dearest, will you--can you marry me?" and her reply was--
given with a deep blush I must record, and in a soft murmuring tone -

"Yes--oh, yes--I never thought of anything else."

"Then I may speak to your father, may not I, darling?"

"He knows; I am sure he knows; and he likes you so much. Oh, how
happy I am!"

"But still I must speak to him before I go. When can I see him, my
Ellinor? I must go back to town at four o'clock."

"I heard his voice in the stable-yard only just before you came. Let
me go and find out if he is gone to the office yet."

No! to be sure he was not gone. He was quietly smoking a cigar in
his study, sitting in an easy-chair near the open window, and
leisurely glancing at all the advertisements in The Times. He hated
going to the office more and more since Dunster had become a partner;
that fellow gave himself such airs of investigation and reprehension.

He got up, took the cigar out of his mouth, and placed a chair for
Mr. Corbet, knowing well why he had thus formally prefaced his
entrance into the room with a -

"Can I have a few minutes' conversation with you, Mr. Wilkins?"

"Certainly, my dear fellow. Sit down. Will you have a cigar?"

"No! I never smoke." Mr. Corbet despised all these kinds of
indulgences, and put a little severity into his refusal, but quite
unintentionally; for though he was thankful he was not as other men,
he was not at all the person to trouble himself unnecessarily with
their reformation.

"I want to speak to you about Ellinor. She says she thinks you must
be aware of our mutual attachment."

"Well," said Mr. Wilkins--he had resumed his cigar, partly to conceal
his agitation at what he knew was coming--"I believe I have had my
suspicions. It is not very long since I was young myself." And he
sighed over the recollection of Lettice, and his fresh, hopeful
youth.

"And I hope, sir, as you have been aware of it, and have never
manifested any disapprobation of it, that you will not refuse your
consent--a consent I now ask you for--to our marriage."

Mr. Wilkins did not speak for a little while--a touch, a thought, a
word more would have brought him to tears; for at the last he found
it hard to give the consent which would part him from his only child.
Suddenly he got up, and putting his hand into that of the anxious
lover (for his silence had rendered Mr. Corbet anxious up to a
certain point of perplexity--he could not understand the implied he
would and he would not), Mr. Wilkins said,

"Yes! God bless you both! I will give her to you, some day--only it
must be a long time first. And now go away--go back to her--for I
can't stand this much longer."

Mr. Corbet returned to Ellinor. Mr. Wilkins sat down and buried his
head in his hands, then went to his stable, and had Wildfire saddled
for a good gallop over the country. Mr. Dunster waited for him in
vain at the office, where an obstinate old country gentleman from a
distant part of the shire would ignore Dunster's existence as a
partner, and pertinaciously demanded to see Mr. Wilkins on important
business.

CHAPTER V.

A few days afterwards, Ellinor's father bethought himself that same
further communication ought to take place between him and his
daughter's lover regarding the approval of the family of the latter
to the young man's engagement, and he accordingly wrote a very
gentlemanly letter, saying that of course he trusted that Ralph had
informed his father of his engagement; that Mr. Corbet was well known
to Mr. Wilkins by reputation, holding the position which he did in
Shropshire, but that as Mr. Wilkins did not pretend to be in the same
station of life, Mr. Corbet might possibly never even have heard of
his name, although in his own county it was well known as having been
for generations that of the principal conveyancer and land-agent of -
-shire; that his wife had been a member of the old knightly family of
Holsters, and that he himself was descended from a younger branch of
the South Wales De Wintons, or Wilkins; that Ellinor, as his only
child, would naturally inherit all his property, but that in the
meantime, of course, some settlement upon her would he made, the
nature of which might be decided nearer the time of the marriage.

It was a very good straightforward letter and well fitted for the
purpose to which Mr. Wilkins knew it would be applied--of being
forwarded to the young man's father. One would have thought that it
was not an engagement so disproportionate in point of station as to
cause any great opposition on that score; but, unluckily, Captain
Corbet, the heir and eldest son, had just formed a similar engagement
with Lady Maria Brabant, the daughter of one of the proudest earls in
--shire, who had always resented Mr. Wilkins's appearance on the
field as an insult to the county, and ignored his presence at every
dinner-table where they met. Lady Maria was visiting the Corbets at
the very time when Ralph's letter, enclosing Mr. Wilkins's, reached
the paternal halls, and she merely repeated her father's opinions
when Mrs. Corbet and her daughters naturally questioned her as to who
these Wilkinses were; they remembered the name in Ralph's letters
formerly; the father was some friend of Mr. Ness's, the clergyman
with whom Ralph had read; they believed Ralph used to dine with these
Wilkinses sometimes, along with Mr. Ness.

Lady Maria was a goodnatured girl, and meant no harm in repeating her
father's words; touched up, it is true, by some of the dislike she
herself felt to the intimate alliance proposed, which would make her
sister-in-law to the daughter of an "upstart attorney," "not received
in the county," "always trying to push his way into the set above
him," "claiming connection with the De Wintons of -- Castle, who, as
she well knew, only laughed when he was spoken of, and said they were
more rich in relations than they were aware of"--"not people papa
would ever like her to know, whatever might be the family
connection."

These little speeches told in a way which the girl who uttered them
did not intend they should. Mrs. Corbet and her daughters set
themselves violently against this foolish entanglement of Ralph's;
they would not call it an engagement. They argued, and they urged,
and they pleaded, till the squire, anxious for peace at any price,
and always more under the sway of the people who were with him,
however unreasonable they might be, than of the absent, even though
these had the wisdom of Solomon or the prudence and sagacity of his
son Ralph, wrote an angry letter, saying that, as Ralph was of age,
of course he had a right to please himself, therefore all his father
could say was, that the engagement was not at all what either he or
Ralph's mother had expected or hoped; that it was a degradation to
the family just going to ally themselves with a peer of James the
First's creation; that of course Ralph must do what he liked, but
that if he married this girl he must never expect to have her
received by the Corbets of Corbet Hall as a daughter. The squire was
rather satisfied with his production, and took it to show it to his
wife; but she did not think it was strong enough, and added a little
postscript

"DEAR RALPH,

"Though, as second son, you are entitled to Bromley at my death, yet
I can do much to make the estate worthless. Hitherto, regard for you
has prevented my taking steps as to sale of timber, &c., which would
materially increase your sisters' portions; this just measure I shall
infallibly take if I find you persevere in keeping to this silly
engagement. Your father's disapproval is always a sufficient reason
to allege."

Ralph was annoyed at the receipt of these letters, though he only
smiled as he locked them up in his desk.

"Dear old father! how he blusters! As to my mother, she is
reasonable when I talk to her. Once give her a definite idea of what
Ellinor's fortune will be, and let her, if she chooses, cut down her
timber--a threat she has held over me ever since I knew what a
rocking-horse was, and which I have known to be illegal these ten
years past--and she'll come round. I know better than they do how
Reginald has run up post-obits, and as for that vulgar high-born Lady
Maria they are all so full of, why, she is a Flanders mare to my
Ellinor, and has not a silver penny to cross herself with, besides!
I bide my time, you dear good people!"

He did not think it necessary to reply to these letters immediately,
nor did he even allude to their contents in his to Ellinor. Mr.
Wilkins, who had been very well satisfied with his own letter to the
young man, and had thought that it must be equally agreeable to every
one, was not at all suspicious of any disapproval, because the fact
of a distinct sanction on the part of Mr. Ralph Corbet's friends to
his engagement was not communicated to him.

As for Ellinor, she trembled all over with happiness. Such a summer
for the blossoming of flowers and ripening of fruit had not been
known for years; it seemed to her as if bountiful loving Nature
wanted to fill the cup of Ellinor's joy to overflowing, and as if
everything, animate and inanimate, sympathised with her happiness.
Her father was well, and apparently content. Miss Monro was very
kind. Dixon's lameness was quite gone off. Only Mr. Dunster came
creeping about the house, on pretence of business, seeking out her
father, and disturbing all his leisure with his dust-coloured
parchment-skinned careworn face, and seeming to disturb the smooth
current of her daily life whenever she saw him.

Ellinor made her appearance at the Hamley assemblies, but with less
eclat than either her father or her lover expected. Her beauty and
natural grace were admired by those who could discriminate; but to
the greater number there was (what they called) "a want of style"--
want of elegance there certainly was not, for her figure was perfect,
and though she moved shyly, she moved well. Perhaps it was not a
good place for a correct appreciation of Miss Wilkins; some of the
old dowagers thought it a piece of presumption in her to be there at
all--but the Lady Holster of the day (who remembered her husband's
quarrel with Mr. Wilkins, and looked away whenever Ellinor came near)
resented this opinion. "Miss Wilkins is descended from Sir Frank's
family, one of the oldest in the county; the objection might have
been made years ago to the father, but as he had been received, she
did not know why Miss Wilkins was to be alluded to as out of her
place." Ellinor's greatest enjoyment in the evening was to hear her
father say, after all was over, and they were driving home -

"Well, I thought my Nelly the prettiest girl there, and I think I
know some other people who would have said the same if they could
have spoken out."

"Thank you, papa," said Ellinor, squeezing his hand, which she held.
She thought he alluded to the absent Ralph as the person who would
have agreed with him, had he had the opportunity of seeing her; but
no, he seldom thought much of the absent; but had been rather
flattered by seeing Lord Hildebrand take up his glass for the
apparent purpose of watching Ellinor.

"Your pearls, too, were as handsome as any in the room, child--but we
must have them re-set; the sprays are old-fashioned now. Let me have
them to-morrow to send up to Hancock."

"Papa, please, I had rather keep them as they are--as mamma wore
them."

He was touched in a minute.

"Very well, darling. God bless you for thinking of it!"

But he ordered her a set of sapphires instead, for the next assembly.

These balls were not such as to intoxicate Ellinor with success, and
make her in love with gaiety. Large parties came from the different
country-houses in the neighbourhood, and danced with each other.
When they had exhausted the resources they brought with them, they
had generally a few dances to spare for friends of the same standing
with whom they were most intimate. Ellinor came with her father, and
joined an old card-playing dowager, by way of a chaperone--the said
dowager being under old business obligations to the firm of Wilkins
and Son, and apologizing to all her acquaintances for her own weak
condescension to Mr. Wilkins's foible in wishing to introduce his
daughter into society above her natural sphere. It was upon this
lady, after she had uttered some such speech as the one I have just
mentioned, that Lady Holster had come down with the pedigree of
Ellinor's mother. But though the old dowager had drawn back a little
discomfited at my lady's reply, she was not more attentive to Ellinor
in consequence. She allowed Mr. Wilkins to bring in his daughter and
place her on the crimson sofa beside her; spoke to her occasionally
in the interval that elapsed before the rubbers could be properly
arranged in the card-room; invited the girl to accompany her to that
sober amusement, and on Ellinor's declining, and preferring to remain
with her father, the dowager left her with a sweet smile on her plump
countenance, and an approving conscience somewhere within her portly
frame, assuring her that she had done all that could possibly have
been expected from her towards "that good Wilkins's daughter."
Ellinor stood by her father watching the dances, and thankful for the
occasional chance of a dance. While she had been sitting by her
chaperone, Mr. Wilkins had made the tour of the room, dropping out
the little fact of his daughter's being present wherever he thought
the seed likely to bring forth the fruit of partners. And some came
because they liked Mr. Wilkins, and some asked Ellinor because they
had done their duty dances to their own party, and might please
themselves. So that she usually had an average of one invitation to
every three dances; and this principally towards the end of the
evening.

But considering her real beauty, and the care which her father always
took about her appearance, she met with far less than her due of
admiration. Admiration she did not care for; partners she did; and
sometimes felt mortified when she had to sit or stand quiet during
all the first part of the evening. If it had not been for her
father's wishes she would much rather have stayed at home; but,
nevertheless, she talked even to the irresponsive old dowager, and
fairly chatted to her father when she got beside him, because she did
not like him to fancy that she was not enjoying herself.

And, indeed, she had so much happiness in the daily course of this
part of her life, that, on looking back upon it afterwards, she could
not imagine anything brighter than it had been. The delight of
receiving her lover's letters--the anxious happiness of replying to
them (always a little bit fearful lest she should not express herself
and her love in the precisely happy medium becoming a maiden)--the
father's love and satisfaction in her--the calm prosperity of the
whole household--was delightful at the time, and, looking back upon
it, it was dreamlike.

Occasionally Mr. Corbet came down to see her. He always slept on
these occasions at Mr. Ness's; but he was at Ford Bank the greater
part of the one day between two nights that he allowed himself for
the length of his visits. And even these short peeps were not
frequently taken. He was working hard at law: fagging at it tooth
and nail; arranging his whole life so as best to promote the ends of
his ambition; feeling a delight in surpassing and mastering his
fellows--those who started in the race at the same time. He read
Ellinor's letters over and over again; nothing else beside law-books.
He perceived the repressed love hidden away in subdued expressions in
her communications, with an amused pleasure at the attempt at
concealment. He was glad that her gaieties were not more gay; he was
glad that she was not too much admired, although a little indignant
at the want of taste on the part of the --shire gentlemen. But if
other admirers had come prominently forward, he would have had to
take some more decided steps to assert his rights than he had
hitherto done; for he had caused Ellinor to express a wish to her
father that her engagement should not be too much talked about until
nearer the time when it would be prudent for him to marry her. He
thought that the knowledge of this, the only imprudently hasty step
he ever meant to take in his life, might go against his character for
wisdom, if the fact became known while he was as yet only a student.
Mr. Wilkins wondered a little; but acceded, as he always did, to any
of Ellinor's requests. Mr. Ness was a confidant, of course, and some
of Lady Maria's connections heard of it, and forgot it again very
soon; and, as it happened, no one else was sufficiently interested in
Ellinor to care to ascertain the fact.

All this time, Mr. Ralph Corbet maintained a very quietly decided
attitude towards his own family. He was engaged to Miss Wilkins; and
all he could say was, he felt sorry that they disapproved of it. He
was not able to marry just at present, and before the time for his
marriage arrived, he trusted that his family would take a more
reasonable view of things, and be willing to receive her as his wife
with all becoming respect or affection. This was the substance of
what he repeated in different forms in reply to his father's angry
letters. At length, his invariable determination made way with his
father; the paternal thunderings were subdued to a distant rumbling
in the sky; and presently the inquiry was broached as to how much
fortune Miss Wilkins would have; how much down on her marriage; what
were the eventual probabilities. Now this was a point which Mr.
Ralph Corbet himself wished to be informed upon. He had not thought
much about it in making the engagement; he had been too young, or too
much in love. But an only child of a wealthy attorney ought to have
something considerable; and an allowance so as to enable the young
couple to start housekeeping in a moderately good part of town, would
be an advantage to him in his profession. So he replied to his
father, adroitly suggesting that a letter containing certain
modifications of the inquiry which had been rather roughly put in Mr.
Corbet's last, should be sent to him, in order that he might himself
ascertain from Mr. Wilkins what were Ellinor's prospects as regarded
fortune.

The desired letter came; but not in such a form that he could pass it
on to Mr. Wilkins; he preferred to make quotations, and even these
quotations were a little altered and dressed before he sent them on.
The gist of his letter to Mr. Wilkins was this. He stated that he
hoped soon to be in a position to offer Ellinor a home; that he
anticipated a steady progress in his profession, and consequently in
his income; but that contingencies might arise, as his father
suggested, which would deprive him of the power of earning a
livelihood, perhaps when it might be more required than it would be
at first; that it was true that, after his mother's death a small
estate in Shropshire would come to him as second son, and of course
Ellinor would receive the benefit of this property, secured to her
legally as Mr. Wilkins thought best--that being a matter for after
discussion--but that at present his father was anxious, as might be
seen from the extract to ascertain whether Mr. Wilkins could secure
him from the contingency of having his son's widow and possible
children thrown upon his hands, by giving Ellinor a dowry; and if so,
it was gently insinuated, what would be the amount of the same.

When Mr. Wilkins received this letter it startled him out of a happy
day-dream. He liked Ralph Corbet and the whole connection quite well
enough to give his consent to an engagement; and sometimes even he
was glad to think that Ellinor's future was assured, and that she
would have a protector and friends after he was dead and gone. But
he did not want them to assume their responsibilities so soon. He
had not distinctly contemplated her marriage as an event likely to
happen before his death. He could not understand how his own life
would go on without her: or indeed why she and Ralph Corbet could
not continue just as they were at present. He came down to breakfast
with the letter in his hand. By Ellinor's blushes, as she glanced at
the handwriting, he knew that she had heard from her lover by the
same post; by her tender caresses--caresses given as if to make up
for the pain which the prospect of her leaving him was sure to cause
him--he was certain that she was aware of the contents of the letter.
Yet he put it in his pocket, and tried to forget it.

He did this not merely from his reluctance to complete any
arrangements which might facilitate Ellinor's marriage. There was a
further annoyance connected with the affair. His money matters had
been for some time in an involved state; he had been living beyond
his income, even reckoning that, as he always did, at the highest
point which it ever touched. He kept no regular accounts, reasoning
with himself--or, perhaps, I should rather say persuading himself--
that there was no great occasion for regular accounts, when he had a
steady income arising from his profession, as well as the interest of
a good sum of money left him by his father; and when, living in his
own house near a country town where provisions were cheap, his
expenditure for his small family--only one child--could never amount
to anything like his incomings from the above-mentioned sources. But
servants and horses, and choice wines and rare fruit-trees, and a
habit of purchasing any book or engraving that may take the fancy,
irrespective of the price, run away with money, even though there be
but one child. A year or two ago, Mr. Wilkins had been startled into
a system of exaggerated retrenchment--retrenchment which only lasted
about six weeks--by the sudden bursting of a bubble speculation in
which he had invested a part of his father's savings. But as soon as
the change in his habits, necessitated by his new economies, became
irksome, he had comforted himself for his relapse into his former
easy extravagance of living by remembering the fact that Ellinor was
engaged to the son of a man of large property: and that though Ralph
was only the second son, yet his mother's estate must come to him, as
Mr. Ness had already mentioned, on first hearing of her engagement.

Mr. Wilkins did not doubt that he could easily make Ellinor a fitting
allowance, or even pay down a requisite dowry; but the doing so would
involve an examination into the real state of his affairs, and this
involved distasteful trouble. He had no idea how much more than mere
temporary annoyance would arise out of the investigation. Until it
was made, he decided in his own mind that he would not speak to
Ellinor on the subject of her lover's letter. So for the next few
days she was kept in suspense, seeing little of her father; and
during the short times she was with him she was made aware that he
was nervously anxious to keep the conversation engaged on general
topics rather than on the one which she had at heart. As I have
already said, Mr. Corbet had written to her by the same post as that
on which he sent the letter to her father, telling her of its
contents, and begging her (in all those sweet words which lovers know
how to use) to urge her father to compliance for his sake--his, her
lover's--who was pining and lonely in all the crowds of London, since
her loved presence was not there. He did not care for money, save as
a means of hastening their marriage; indeed, if there were only some
income fixed, however small--some time for their marriage fixed,
however distant--he could be patient. He did not want superfluity of
wealth; his habits were simple, as she well knew; and money enough
would be theirs in time, both from her share of contingencies, and
the certainty of his finally possessing Bromley.

Ellinor delayed replying to this letter until her father should have
spoken to her on the subject. But as she perceived that he avoided
all such conversation, the young girl's heart failed her. She began
to blame herself for wishing to leave him, to reproach herself for
being accessory to any step which made him shun being alone with her,
and look distressed and full of care as he did now. It was the usual
struggle between father and lover for the possession of love, instead
of the natural and graceful resignation of the parent to the
prescribed course of things; and, as usual, it was the poor girl who
bore the suffering for no fault of her own: although she blamed
herself for being the cause of the disturbance in the previous order
of affairs. Ellinor had no one to speak to confidentially but her
father and her lover, and when they were at issue she could talk
openly to neither, so she brooded over Mr. Corbet's unanswered
letter, and her father's silence, and became pale and dispirited.
Once or twice she looked up suddenly, and caught her father's eye
gazing upon her with a certain wistful anxiety; but the instant she
saw this he pulled himself up, as it were, and would begin talking
gaily about the small topics of the day.

At length Mr. Corbet grew impatient at not hearing either from Mr.
Wilkins or Ellinor, and wrote urgently to the former, making known to
him a new proposal suggested to him by his father, which was, that a
certain sum should be paid down by Mr. Wilkins to be applied, under
the management of trustees, to the improvement of the Bromley estate,
out of the profits of which, or other sources in the elder Mr.
Corbet's hands, a heavy rate of interest should be paid on this
advance, which would secure an income to the young couple
immediately, and considerably increase the value of the estate upon
which Ellinor's settlement was to be made. The terms offered for
this laying down of ready money were so advantageous, that Mr.
Wilkins was strongly tempted to accede to them at once; as Ellinor's
pale cheek and want of appetite had only that very morning smote upon
his conscience, and this immediate transfer of ready money was as a
sacrifice, a soothing balm to his self-reproach, and laziness and
dislike to immediate unpleasantness of action had its
counterbalancing weakness in imprudence. Mr. Wilkins made some rough
calculations on a piece of paper--deeds, and all such tests of
accuracy, being down at the office; discovered that he could pay down
the sum required; wrote a letter agreeing to the proposal, and before
he sealed it called Ellinor into his study, and bade her read what he
had been writing and tell him what she thought of it. He watched the
colour come rushing into her white face, her lips quiver and tremble,
and even before the letter was ended she was in his arms kissing him,
and thanking him with blushing caresses rather than words.

"There, there!" said he, smiling and sighing; "that will do. Why, I
do believe you took me for a hard-hearted father, just like a
heroine's father in a book. You've looked as woe-begone this week
past as Ophelia. One can't make up one's mind in a day about such
sums of money as this, little woman; and you should have let your old
father have time to consider."

"Oh, papa; I was only afraid you were angry."

"Well, if I was a bit perplexed, seeing you look so ill and pining
was not the way to bring me round. Old Corbet, I must say, is trying
to make a good bargain for his son. It is well for me that I have
never been an extravagant man."

"But, papa, we don't want all this much."

"Yes, yes! it is all right. You shall go into their family as a
well-portioned girl, if you can't go as a Lady Maria. Come, don't
trouble your little head any more about it. Give me one more kiss,
and then we'll go and order the horses, and have a ride together, by
way of keeping holiday. I deserve a holiday, don't I, Nelly?"

Some country people at work at the roadside, as the father and
daughter passed along, stopped to admire their bright happy looks,
and one spoke of the hereditary handsomeness of the Wilkins family
(for the old man, the present Mr. Wilkins's father, had been fine-
looking in his drab breeches and gaiters, and usual assumption of a
yeoman's dress). Another said it was easy for the rich to be
handsome; they had always plenty to eat, and could ride when they
were tired of walking, and had no care for the morrow to keep them
from sleeping at nights. And, in sad acquiescence with their
contrasted lot, the men went on with their hedging and ditching in
silence.

And yet, if they had known--if the poor did know--the troubles and
temptations of the rich; if those men had foreseen the lot darkening
over the father, and including the daughter in its cloud; if Mr.
Wilkins himself had even imagined such a future possible . . . Well,
there was truth in the old heathen saying, "Let no man be envied till
his death."

Ellinor had no more rides with her father; no, not ever again; though
they had stopped that afternoon at the summit of a breezy common, and
looked at a ruined hall, not so very far off; and discussed whether
they could reach it that day, and decided that it was too far away
for anything but a hurried inspection, and that some day soon they
would make the old place into the principal object of an excursion.
But a rainy time came on, when no rides were possible; and whether it
was the influence of the weather, or some other care or trouble that
oppressed him, Mr. Wilkins seemed to lose all wish for much active
exercise, and rather sought a stimulus to his spirits and circulation
in wine. But of this Ellinor was innocently unaware. He seemed dull
and weary, and sat long, drowsing and drinking after dinner. If the
servants had not been so fond of him for much previous generosity and
kindness, they would have complained now, and with reason, of his
irritability, for all sorts of things seemed to annoy him.

"You should get the master to take a ride with you, miss," said
Dixon, one day as he was putting Ellinor on her horse. "He's not
looking well, he's studying too much at the office."

But when Ellinor named it to her father, he rather hastily replied
that it was all very well for women to ride out whenever they liked--
men had something else to do; and then, as he saw her look grave and
puzzled, he softened down his abrupt saying by adding that Dunster
had been making a fuss about his partner's non-attendance, and
altogether taking a good deal upon himself in a very offensive way,
so that he thought it better to go pretty regularly to the office, in
order to show him who was master--senior partner, and head of the
business, at any rate.

Ellinor sighed a little over her disappointment at her father's
preoccupation, and then forgot her own little regret in anger at Mr.
Dunster, who had seemed all along to be a thorn in her father's side,
and had latterly gained some power and authority over him, the
exercise of which, Ellinor could not help thinking, was a very
impertinent line of conduct from a junior partner, so lately only a
paid clerk, to his superior. There was a sense of something wrong in
the Ford Bank household for many weeks about this time. Mr. Wilkins
was not like himself, and his cheerful ways and careless genial
speeches were missed, even on the days when he was not irritable, and
evidently uneasy with himself and all about him. The spring was late
in coming, and cold rain and sleet made any kind of out-door exercise
a trouble and discomfort rather than a bright natural event in the
course of the day. All sound of winter gaieties, of assemblies and
meets, and jovial dinners, had died away, and the summer pleasures
were as yet unthought of. Still Ellinor had a secret perennial
source of sunshine in her heart; whenever she thought of Ralph she
could not feel much oppression from the present unspoken and
indistinct gloom. He loved her; and oh, how she loved him! and
perhaps this very next autumn--but that depended on his own success
in his profession. After all, if it was not this autumn it would be
the next; and with the letters that she received weekly, and the
occasional visits that her lover ran down to Hamley to pay Mr. Ness,
Ellinor felt as if she would almost prefer the delay of the time when
she must leave her father's for a husband's roof.

CHAPTER VI.

At Easter--just when the heavens and earth were looking their
dreariest, for Easter fell very early this year--Mr. Corbet came
down. Mr. Wilkins was too busy to see much of him; they were
together even less than usual, although not less friendly when they
did meet. But to Ellinor the visit was one of unmixed happiness.
Hitherto she had always had a little fear mingled up with her love of
Mr. Corbet; but his manners were softened, his opinions less decided
and abrupt, and his whole treatment of her showed such tenderness,
that the young girl basked and revelled in it. One or two of their
conversations had reference to their future married life in London;
and she then perceived, although it did not jar against her, that her
lover had not forgotten his ambition in his love. He tried to
inoculate her with something of his own craving for success in life;
but it was all in vain: she nestled to him, and told him she did not
care to be the Lord Chancellor's wife--wigs and wool-sacks were not
in her line; only if he wished it, she would wish it.

The last two days of his stay the weather changed. Sudden heat burst
forth, as it does occasionally for a few hours even in our chilly
English spring. The grey-brown bushes and trees started almost with
visible progress into the tender green shade which is the forerunner
of the bursting leaves. The sky was of full cloudless blue. Mr.
Wilkins was to come home pretty early from the office to ride out
with his daughter and her lover; but, after waiting some time for
him, it grew too late, and they were obliged to give up the project.
Nothing would serve Ellinor, then, but that she must carry out a
table and have tea in the garden, on the sunny side of the tree,
among the roots of which she used to play when a child. Miss Monro
objected a little to this caprice of Ellinor's, saying that it was
too early for out-of-door meals; but Mr. Corbet overruled all
objections, and helped her in her gay preparations. She always kept
to the early hours of her childhood, although she, as then, regularly
sat with her father at his late dinner; and this meal al fresco was
to be a reality to her and Miss Monro. There was a place arranged
for her father, and she seized upon him as he was coming from the
stable-yard, by the shrubbery path, to his study, and with merry
playfulness made him a prisoner, accusing him of disappointing them
of their ride, and drawing him more than half unwilling, to his chair
by the table. But he was silent, and almost sad: his presence
damped them all; they could hardly tell why, for he did not object to
anything, though he seemed to enjoy nothing, and only to force a
smile at Ellinor's occasional sallies. These became more and more
rare as she perceived her father's depression. She watched him
anxiously. He perceived it, and said--shivering in that strange
unaccountable manner which is popularly explained by the expression
that some one is passing over the earth that will one day form your
grave--"Ellinor! this is not a day for out-of-door tea. I never felt
so chilly a spot in my life. I cannot keep from shaking where I sit.
I must leave this place, my dear, in spite of all your good tea."

"Oh, papa! I am so sorry. But look how full that hot sun's rays
come on this turf. I thought I had chosen such a capital spot!"

But he got up and persisted in leaving the table, although he was
evidently sorry to spoil the little party. He walked up and down the
gravel walk, close by them, talking to them as he kept passing by and
trying to cheer them up.

"Are you warmer now, papa?" asked Ellinor.

"Oh, yes! All right. It's only that place that seems so chilly and
damp. I'm as warm as a toast now."

The next morning Mr. Corbet left them. The unseasonably fine weather
passed away too, and all things went back to their rather grey and
dreary aspect; but Ellinor was too happy to feel this much, knowing
what absent love existed for her alone, and from this knowledge
unconsciously trusting in the sun behind the clouds.

I have said that few or none in the immediate neighbourhood of
Hamley, beside their own household and Mr. Ness, knew of Ellinor's
engagement. At one of the rare dinner-parties to which she
accompanied her father--it was at the old lady's house who chaperoned
her to the assemblies--she was taken in to dinner by a young
clergyman staying in the neighbourhood. He had just had a small
living given to him in his own county, and he felt as if this was a
great step in his life. He was good, innocent, and rather boyish in
appearance. Ellinor was happy and at her ease, and chatted away to
this Mr. Livingstone on many little points of interest which they
found they had in common: church music, and the difficulty they had
in getting people to sing in parts; Salisbury Cathedral, which they
had both seen; styles of church architecture, Ruskin's works, and
parish schools, in which Mr. Livingstone was somewhat shocked to find
that Ellinor took no great interest. When the gentleman came in from
the dining-room, it struck Ellinor, for the first time in her life,
that her father had taken more wine than was good for him. Indeed,
this had rather become a habit with him of late; but as he always
tried to go quietly off to his own room when such had been the case,
his daughter had never been aware of it before, and the perception of
it now made her cheeks hot with shame. She thought that everyone
must be as conscious of his altered manner and way of speaking as she
was, and after a pause of sick silence, during which she could not
say a word, she set to and talked to Mr. Livingstone about parish
schools, anything, with redoubled vigour and apparent interest, in
order to keep one or two of the company, at least, from noticing what
was to her so painfully obvious.

The effect of her behaviour was far more than she had intended. She
kept Mr. Livingstone, it is true, from observing her father, but she
also riveted his attention on herself. He had thought her very
pretty and agreeable during dinner: but after dinner he considered
her bewitching, irresistible. He dreamed of her all night, and
wakened up the next morning to a calculation of how far his income
would allow him to furnish his pretty new parsonage with that
crowning blessing, a wife. For a day or two he did up little sums,
and sighed, and thought of Ellinor, her face listening with admiring
interest to his sermons, her arm passed into his as they went
together round the parish; her sweet voice instructing classes in his
schools--turn where he would, in his imagination Ellinor's presence
rose up before him.

The consequence was that he wrote an offer, which he found a far more
perplexing piece of composition than a sermon; a real hearty
expression of love, going on, over all obstacles, to a
straightforward explanation of his present prospects and future
hopes, and winding up with the information that on the succeeding
morning he would call to know whether he might speak to Mr. Wilkins
on the subject of this letter. It was given to Ellinor in the
evening, as she was sitting with Miss Monro in the library. Mr.
Wilkins was dining out, she hardly knew where, as it was a sudden
engagement, of which he had sent word from the office--a gentleman's
dinner-party, she supposed, as he had dressed in Hamley without
coming home. Ellinor turned over the letter when it was brought to
her, as some people do when they cannot recognise the handwriting, as
if to discover from paper or seal what two moments would assure them
of, if they opened the letter and looked at the signature. Ellinor
could not guess who had written it by any outward sign; but the
moment she saw the name "Herbert Livingstone," the meaning of the
letter flashed upon her and she coloured all over. She put the
letter away, unread, for a few minutes, and then made some excuse for
leaving the room and going upstairs. When safe in her bed-chamber,
she read the young man's eager words with a sense of self-reproach.
How must she, engaged to one man, have been behaving to another, if
this was the result of a single evening's interview? The self-
reproach was unjustly bestowed; but with that we have nothing to do.
She made herself very miserable; and at last went down with a heavy
heart to go on with Dante, and rummage up words in the dictionary.
All the time she seemed to Miss Monro to be plodding on with her
Italian more diligently and sedately than usual, she was planning in
her own mind to speak to her father as soon as he returned (and he
had said that he should not be late), and beg him to undo the
mischief she had done by seeing Mr. Livingstone the next morning, and
frankly explaining the real state of affairs to him. But she wanted
to read her letter again, and think it all over in peace; and so, at
an early hour, she wished Miss Monro good-night, and went up into her
own room above the drawing-room, and overlooking the flower-garden
and shrubbery-path to the stable-yard, by which her father was sure
to return. She went upstairs and studied her letter well, and tried
to recall all her speeches and conduct on that miserable evening--as
she thought it then--not knowing what true misery was. Her head
ached, and she put out the candle, and went and sat on the window-
seat, looking out into the moonlit garden, watching for her father.
She opened the window; partly to cool her forehead, partly to enable
her to call down softly when she should see him coming along. By-
and-by the door from the stable-yard into the shrubbery clicked and
opened, and in a moment she saw Mr. Wilkins moving through the
bushes; but not alone, Mr. Dunster was with him, and the two were
talking together in rather excited tones, immediately lost to
hearing, however, as they entered Mr. Wilkins's study by the outer
door.

"They have been dining together somewhere. Probably at Mr.
Hanbury's" (the Hamley brewer), thought Ellinor. "But how provoking
that he should have come home with papa this night of all nights!"

Two or three times before Mr. Dunster had called on Mr. Wilkins in
the evening, as Ellinor knew; but she was not quite aware of the
reason for such late visits, and had never put together the two
facts--(as cause and consequence)--that on such occasions her father
had been absent from the office all day, and that there might be
necessary business for him to transact, the urgency of which was the
motive for Mr. Dunster's visits. Mr. Wilkins always seemed to be
annoyed by his coming at so late an hour, and spoke of it, resenting
the intrusion upon his leisure; and Ellinor, without consideration,
adopted her father's mode of speaking and thinking on the subject,
and was rather more angry than he was whenever the obnoxious partner
came on business in the evening. This night was, of all nights, the
most ill-purposed time (so Ellinor thought) for a tete-a-tete with
her father! However, there was no doubt in her mind as to what she
had to do. So late as it was, the unwelcome visitor could not stop
long; and then she would go down and have her little confidence with
her father, and beg him to see Mr. Livingstone when he came next
morning, and dismiss him as gently as might be.

She sat on in the window-seat; dreaming waking dreams of future
happiness. She kept losing herself in such thoughts, and became
almost afraid of forgetting why she sat there. Presently she felt
cold, and got up to fetch a shawl, in which she muffled herself and
resumed her place. It seemed to her growing very late; the moonlight
was coming fuller and fuller into the garden and the blackness of the
shadow was more concentrated and stronger. Surely Mr. Dunster could
not have gone away along the dark shrubbery-path so noiselessly but
what she must have heard him? No! there was the swell of voices
coming up through the window from her father's study: angry voices
they were; and her anger rose sympathetically, as she knew that her
father was being irritated. There was a sudden movement, as of
chairs pushed hastily aside, and then a mysterious unaccountable
noise--heavy, sudden; and then a slight movement as of chairs again;
and then a profound stillness. Ellinor leaned her head against the
side of the window to listen more intently, for some mysterious
instinct made her sick and faint. No sound--no noise. Only by-and-
by she heard, what we have all heard at such times of intent
listening, the beating of the pulses of her heart, and then the
whirling rush of blood through her head. How long did this last?
She never knew. By-and-by she heard her father's hurried footstep in
his bedroom, next to hers; but when she ran thither to speak to him,
and ask him what was amiss--if anything had been--if she might come
to him now about Mr. Livingstone's letter, she found that he had gone
down again to his study, and almost at the same moment she heard the
little private outer door of that room open; some one went out, and
then there were hurried footsteps along the shrubbery-path. She
thought, of course, that it was Mr. Dunster leaving the house; and
went back for Mr. Livingstone's letter. Having found it, she passed
through her father's room to the private staircase, thinking that if
she went by the more regular way, she would have run the risk of
disturbing Miss Monro, and perhaps of being questioned in the
morning. Even in passing down this remote staircase, she trod softly
for fear of being overheard. When she entered the room, the full
light of the candles dazzled her for an instant, coming out of the
darkness. They were flaring wildly in the draught that came in
through the open door, by which the outer air was admitted; for a
moment there seemed no one in the room, and then she saw, with
strange sick horror, the legs of some one lying on the carpet behind
the table. As if compelled, even while she shrank from doing it, she
went round to see who it was that lay there, so still and motionless
as never to stir at her sudden coming. It was Mr. Dunster; his head
propped on chair-cushions, his eyes open, staring, distended. There
was a strong smell of brandy and hartshorn in the room; a smell so
powerful as not to be neutralized by the free current of night air
that blew through the two open doors. Ellinor could not have told
whether it was reason or instinct that made her act as she did during
this awful night. In thinking of it afterwards, with shuddering
avoidance of the haunting memory that would come and overshadow her
during many, many years of her life, she grew to believe that the
powerful smell of the spilt brandy absolutely intoxicated her--an
unconscious Rechabite in practice. But something gave her a presence
of mind and a courage not her own. And though she learnt to think
afterwards that she had acted unwisely, if not wrongly and wickedly,
yet she marvelled, in recalling that time, how she could have then
behaved as she did. First of all she lifted herself up from her
fascinated gaze at the dead man, and went to the staircase door, by
which she had entered the study, and shut it softly. Then she went
back--looked again; took the brandy-bottle, and knelt down, and tried
to pour some into the mouth; but this she found she could not do.
Then she wetted her handkerchief with the spirit, and moistened the
lips; all to no purpose; for, as I have said before, the man was
dead--killed by rupture of a vessel of the brain; how occasioned I
must tell by-and-by. Of course, all Ellinor's little cares and
efforts produced no effect; her father had tried them before--vain
endeavours all, to bring back the precious breath of life! The poor

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