Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Dark Night's Work by Elizabeth Gaskell

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

you could think of for dinner, and you've only to ask and have. And
then you must go to bed, my dear--Mr. Johnson says you must; and
there's a well-aired room, for Mr. Horner only left us this morning."

"I must see Mr. Johnson again, please."

"But indeed you must not. You must not worry your poor head with
business now; and Johnson would only talk to you on business. No; go
to bed, and sleep soundly, and then you'll get up quite bright and
strong, and fit to talk about business."

"I cannot sleep--I cannot rest till I have asked Mr. Johnson one or
two more questions; indeed I cannot," pleaded Ellinor.

Mrs. Johnson knew that her husband's orders on such occasions were
peremptory, and that she should come in for a good conjugal scolding
if, after what he had said, she ventured to send for him again. Yet
Ellinor looked so entreating and wistful that she could hardly find
in her heart to refuse her. A bright thought struck her.

"Here is pen and paper, my dear. Could you not write the questions
you wanted to ask? and he'll just jot down the answers upon the same
piece of paper. I'll send it in by Jerry. He has got friends to
dinner with him, you see."

Ellinor yielded. She sat, resting her weary head on her hand, and
wondering what were the questions which would have come so readily to
her tongue could she have been face to face with him. As it was, she
only wrote this:

"How early can I see you to-morrow morning? Will you take all the
necessary steps for my going to Dixon as soon as possible? Could I
be admitted to him to-night?"

The pencilled answers were:

"Eight o'clock. Yes. No."

"I suppose he knows best," said Ellinor, sighing, as she read the
last word. "But it seems wicked in me to be going to bed--and he so
near, in prison."

When she rose up and stood, she felt the former dizziness return, and
that reconciled her to seeking rest before she entered upon the
duties which were becoming clearer before her, now that she knew all
and was on the scene of action. Mrs. Johnson brought her white-wine
whey instead of the tea she had asked for; and perhaps it was owing
to this that she slept so soundly.

CHAPTER XV.

When Ellinor awoke the clear light of dawn was fully in the room.
She could not remember where she was; for so many mornings she had
wakened up in strange places that it took her several minutes before
she could make out the geographical whereabouts of the heavy blue
moreen curtains, the print of the lord-lieutenant of the county on
the wall, and all the handsome ponderous mahogany furniture that
stuffed up the room. As soon as full memory came into her mind, she
started up; nor did she go to bed again, although she saw by her
watch on the dressing-table that it was not yet six o'clock. She
dressed herself with the dainty completeness so habitual to her that
it had become an unconscious habit, and then--the instinct was
irrepressible--she put on her bonnet and shawl, and went down, past
the servant on her knees cleaning the doorstep, out into the fresh
open air; and so she found her way down the High Street to
Hellingford Castle, the building in which the courts of assize were
held--the prison in which Dixon lay condemned to die. She almost
knew she could not see him; yet it seemed like some amends to her
conscience for having slept through so many hours of the night if she
made the attempt. She went up to the porter's lodge, and asked the
little girl sweeping out the place if she might see Abraham Dixon.
The child stared at her, and ran into the house, bringing out her
father, a great burly man, who had not yet donned either coat or
waistcoat, and who, consequently, felt the morning air as rather
nipping. To him Ellinor repeated her question.

"Him as is to be hung come Saturday se'nnight? Why, ma'am, I've
nought to do with it. You may go to the governor's house and try;
but, if you'll excuse me, you'll have your walk for your pains. Them
in the condemned cells is never seen by nobody without the sheriff's
order. You may go up to the governor's house and welcome; but
they'll only tell you the same. Yon's the governor's house."

Ellinor fully believed the man, and yet she went on to the house
indicated, as if she still hoped that in her case there might be some
exception to the rule, which she now remembered to have heard of
before, in days when such a possible desire as to see a condemned
prisoner was treated by her as a wish that some people might have,
did have--people as far removed from her circle of circumstances as
the inhabitants of the moon. Of course she met with the same reply,
a little more abruptly given, as if every man was from his birth
bound to know such an obvious regulation.

She went out past the porter, now fully clothed. He was sorry for
her disappointment, but could not help saying, with a slight tone of
exultation: "Well, you see I was right, ma'am!"

She walked as nearly round the castle as ever she could, looking up
at the few high-barred windows she could see, and wondering in what
part of the building Dixon was confined. Then she went into the
adjoining churchyard, and sitting down upon a tombstone, she gazed
idly at the view spread below her--a view which was considered as the
lion of the place, to be shown to all strangers by the inhabitants of
Hellingford. Ellinor did not see it, however; she only saw the
blackness of that fatal night, the hurried work--the lanterns
glancing to and fro. She only heard the hard breathing of those who
are engaged upon unwonted labour; the few hoarse muttered words; the
swaying of the branches to and fro. All at once the church clock
above her struck eight, and then pealed out for distant labourers to
cease their work for a time. Such was the old custom of the place.
Ellinor rose up, and made her way back to Mr. Johnson's house in High
Street. The room felt close and confined in which she awaited her
interview with Mr. Johnson, who had sent down an apology for having
overslept himself, and at last made his appearance in a hurried half-
awakened state, in consequence of his late hospitality of the night
before.

"I am so sorry I gave you all so much trouble last night," said
Ellinor, apologetically. "I was overtired, and much shocked by the
news I heard."

"No trouble, no trouble, I am sure. Neither Mrs. Johnson nor I felt
it in the least a trouble. Many ladies I know feel such things very
trying, though there are others that can stand a judge's putting on
the black cap better than most men. I'm sure I saw some as composed
as could be under Judge Corbet's speech."

"But about Dixon? He must not die, Mr. Johnson."

"Well, I don't know that he will," said Mr. Johnson, in something of
the tone of voice he would have used in soothing a child. "Judge
Corbet said something about the possibility of a pardon. The jury
did not recommend him to mercy: you see, his looks went so much
against him, and all the evidence was so strong, and no defence, so
to speak, for he would not furnish any information on which we could
base defence. But the judge did give some hope, to my mind, though
there are others that think differently."

"I tell you, Mr. Johnson, he must not die, and he shall not. To whom
must I go?"

"Whew! Have you got additional evidence?" with a sudden sharp glance
of professional inquiry.

"Never mind," Ellinor answered. "I beg your pardon . . . only tell
me into whose hands the power of life and death has passed."

"Into the Home Secretary's--Sir Phillip Homes; but you cannot get
access to him on such an errand. It is the judge who tried the case
that must urge a reprieve--Judge Corbet."

"Judge Corbet?"

"Yes; and he was rather inclined to take a merciful view of the whole
case. I saw it in his charge. He'll be the person for you to see.
I suppose you don't like to give me your confidence, or else I could
arrange and draw up what will have to be said?"

"No. What I have to say must be spoken to the arbiter--to no one
else. I am afraid I answered you impatiently just now. You must
forgive me; if you knew all, I am sure you would."

"Say no more, my dear lady. We will suppose you have some evidence
not adduced at the trial. Well; you must go up and see the judge,
since you don't choose to impart it to any one, and lay it before
him. He will doubtless compare it with his notes of the trial, and
see how far it agrees with them. Of course you must be prepared with
some kind of proof; for Judge Corbet will have to test your
evidence."

"It seems strange to think of him as the judge," said Ellinor, almost
to herself.

"Why, yes. He's but a young judge. You knew him at Hamley, I
suppose? I remember his reading there with Mr. Ness."

"Yes, but do not let us talk more about that time. Tell me when can
I see Dixon? I have been to the castle already, but they said I must
have a sheriff's order."

"To be sure. I desired Mrs. Johnson to tell you so last night. Old
Ormerod was dining here; he is clerk to the magistrates, and I told
him of your wish. He said he would see Sir Henry Croper, and have
the order here before ten. But all this time Mrs. Johnson is waiting
breakfast for us. Let me take you into the dining-room."

It was very hard work for Ellinor to do her duty as a guest, and to
allow herself to be interested and talked to on local affairs by her
host and hostess. But she felt as if she had spoken shortly and
abruptly to Mr. Johnson in their previous conversation, and that she
must try and make amends for it; so she attended to all the details
about the restoration of the church, and the difficulty of getting a
good music-master for the three little Miss Johnsons, with all her
usual gentle good breeding and patience, though no one can tell how
her heart and imagination were full of the coming interview with poor
old Dixon.

By-and-by Mr. Johnson was called out of the room to see Mr. Ormerod,
and receive the order of admission from him. Ellinor clasped her
hands tight together as she listened with apparent composure to Mrs
Johnson's never-ending praise of the Hullah system. But when Mr.
Johnson returned, she could not help interrupting her eulogy, and
saying -

"Then I may go now?"

Yes, the order was there--she might go, and Mr. Johnson would
accompany her, to see that she met with no difficulty or obstacle.

As they walked thither, he told her that some one--a turnkey, or some
one--would have to be present at the interview; that such was always
the rule in the case of condemned prisoners; but that if this third
person was "obliging," he would keep out of earshot. Mr. Johnson
quietly took care to see that the turnkey who accompanied Ellinor was
"obliging."

The man took her across high-walled courts, along stone corridors,
and through many locked doors, before they came to the condemned
cells.

"I've had three at a time in here," said he, unlocking the final
door, "after Judge Morton had been here. We always called him the
'Hanging Judge.' But its five years since he died, and now there's
never more than one in at a time; though once it was a woman for
poisoning her husband. Mary Jones was her name."

The stone passage out of which the cells opened was light, and bare,
and scrupulously clean. Over each door was a small barred window,
and an outer window of the same description was placed high up in the
cell, which the turnkey now opened.

Old Abraham Dixon was sitting on the side of his bed, doing nothing.
His head was bent, his frame sunk, and he did not seem to care to
turn round and see who it was that entered.

Ellinor tried to keep down her sobs while the man went up to him, and
laying his hand on his shoulder, and lightly shaking him, he said:

"Here's a friend come to see you, Dixon." Then, turning to Ellinor,
he added, "There's some as takes it in this kind o' stunned way,
while others are as restless as a wild beast in a cage, after they're
sentenced." And then he withdrew into the passage, leaving the door
open, so that he could see all that passed if he chose to look, but
ostentatiously keeping his eyes averted, and whistling to himself, so
that he could not hear what they said to each other.

Dixon looked up at Ellinor, but then let his eyes fall on the ground
again; the increasing trembling of his shrunken frame was the only
sign he gave that he had recognised her.

She sat down by him, and took his large horny hand in hers. She
wanted to overcome her inclination to sob hysterically before she
spoke. She stroked the bony shrivelled fingers, on which her hot
scalding tears kept dropping.

"Dunnot do that," said he, at length, in a hollow voice. "Dunnot
take on about it; it's best as it is, missy."

"No, Dixon, it's not best. It shall not be. You know it shall not--
cannot be."

"I'm rather tired of living. It's been a great strain and labour for
me. I think I'd as lief be with God as with men. And you see, I
were fond on him ever sin' he were a little lad, and told me what
hard times he had at school, he did, just as if I were his brother!
I loved him next to Molly Greaves. Dear! and I shall see her again,
I reckon, come next Saturday week! They'll think well on me, up
there, I'll be bound; though I cannot say as I've done all as I
should do here below."

"But, Dixon," said Ellinor, "you know who did this--this--"

"Guilty o' murder," said he. "That's what they called it. Murder!
And that it never were, choose who did it."

"My poor, poor father did it. I am going up to London this
afternoon; I am going to see the judge, and tell him all."

"Don't you demean yourself to that fellow, missy. It's him as left
you in the lurch as soon as sorrow and shame came nigh you."

He looked up at her now, for the first time; but she went on as if
she had not noticed those wistful, weary eyes.

"Yes! I shall go to him. I know who it is; and I am resolved.
After all, he may be better than a stranger, for real help; and I
shall never remember any--anything else, when I think of you, good
faithful friend."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She rang for a waiter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XVI AND LAST.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who?" asked the judge from the inside.

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

"Not I. Tell her to wait."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elmer answered:

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

The judge looked sharply at her.

"Then you know who was?" said he.

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

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

"Yes," said she.

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

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

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

When he came back, Ellinor said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where are you living now?"

"At East Chester."

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

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

He half smiled at her ignorance.

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

"Thank you very much," said Ellinor rising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is the only course," said he.

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

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

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

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

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

"Where is Dixon?" asked she.

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

"Why?"

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

"How is he?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morning after her return, Miss Monro said:

"Do you feel strong enough to see Dixon?"

"Is he here?"

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

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

She went to the door to meet the tottering old man; she led him to
the easy-chair that had been placed and arranged for herself; she
knelt down before him, and put his hands on her head, he trembling
and shaking all the while.

"Forgive me all the shame and misery, Dixon. Say you forgive me; and
give me your blessing. And then let never a word of the terrible
past be spoken between us."

"It's not for me to forgive you, as never did harm to no one--"

"But say you do--it will ease my heart."

"I forgive thee!" said he. And then he raised himself to his feet
with effort, and, standing up above her, he blessed her solemnly.

After that he sat down, she by him, gazing at him.

"Yon's a good man, missy," he said, at length, lifting his slow eyes
and looking at her. "Better nor t'other ever was."

"He is a good man," said Ellinor.

But no more was spoken on the subject. The next day, Canon
Livingstone made his formal call. Ellinor would fain have kept Miss
Monro in the room, but that worthy lady knew better than to stop.

They went on, forcing talk on indifferent subjects. At last he could
speak no longer on everything but that which he had most at heart.
"Miss Wilkins!" (he had got up, and was standing by the mantelpiece,
apparently examining the ornaments upon it)--"Miss Wilkins! is there
any chance of your giving me a favourable answer now--you know what I
mean--what we spoke about at the Great Western Hotel, that day?"

Ellinor hung her head.

"You know that I was once engaged before?"

"Yes! I know; to Mr. Corbet--he that is now the judge; you cannot
suppose that would make any difference, if that is all. I have loved
you, and you only, ever since we met, eighteen years ago. Miss
Wilkins--Ellinor--put me out of suspense."

"I will!" said she, putting out her thin white hand for him to take
and kiss, almost with tears of gratitude, but she seemed frightened
at his impetuosity, and tried to check him. "Wait--you have not
heard all--my poor, poor father, in a fit of anger, irritated beyond
his bearing, struck the blow that killed Mr. Dunster--Dixon and I
knew of it, just after the blow was struck--we helped to hide it--we
kept the secret--my poor father died of sorrow and remorse--you now
know all--can you still love me? It seems to me as if I had been an
accomplice in such a terrible thing!"

"Poor, poor Ellinor!" said he, now taking her in his arms as a
shelter. "How I wish I had known of all this years and years ago: I
could have stood between you and so much!"

Those who pass through the village of Bromham, and pause to look over
the laurel-hedge that separates the rectory garden from the road, may
often see, on summer days, an old, old man, sitting in a wicker-
chair, out upon the lawn. He leans upon his stick, and seldom raises
his bent head; but for all that his eyes are on a level with the two
little fairy children who come to him in all their small joys and
sorrows, and who learnt to lisp his name almost as soon as they did
that of their father and mother.

Nor is Miss Monro often absent; and although she prefers to retain
the old house in the Close for winter quarters, she generally makes
her way across to Canon Livingstone's residence every evening.

SO ENDS "A DARK NIGHT'S WORK."

Book of the day: