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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VIII

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Hamley Church had, in former days, been collegiate, and was, in consequence, much larger and grander than the majority of country-town churches. The Ford Bank pew was a square one, downstairs; the Ford Bank servants sat in a front pew in the gallery, right before their master. Ellinor was "hardening her heart" not to listen, not to hearken to what might disturb the wound which was just being skinned over, when she caught Dixon's face up above. He looked worn, sad, soured, and anxious to a miserable degree; but he was straining eyes and ears, heart and soul, to hear the solemn words read from the pulpit, as if in them alone he could find help in his strait. Ellinor felt rebuked and humbled.

She was in a tumultuous state of mind when they left church; she wished to do her duty, yet could not ascertain what it was. Who was to help her with wisdom and advice? Assuredly he to whom her future life was to be trusted. But the case must be stated in an impersonal form. No one, not even her husband, must ever know anything against her father from her. Ellinor was so artless herself, that she had little idea how quickly and easily some people can penetrate motives, and combine disjointed sentences. She began to speak to Ralph on their slow, sauntering walk homewards through the quiet meadows:

"Suppose, Ralph, that a girl was engaged to be married--"

"I can very easily suppose that, with you by me," said he, filling up her pause.

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"Oh! but I don't mean myself at all," replied she, reddening. "I am only thinking of what might happen; and suppose that this girl knew of some one belonging to her--we will call it a brother--who had done something wrong, that would bring disgrace upon the whole family if it was known--though, indeed, it might not have been so very wrong as it seemed, and as it would look to the world--ought she to break off her engagement for fear of involving her lover in the disgrace?"

"Certainly not, without telling him her reason for doing so."

"Ah! but suppose she could not. She might not be at liberty to do so."

"I can't answer supposititious cases. I must have the facts--if facts there are--more plainly before me before I can give an opinion. Who are you thinking of, Ellinor?" asked he, rather abruptly.

"Oh, of no one," she answered in affright. "Why should I be thinking of any one? I often try to plan out what I should do, or what I ought to do, if such and such a thing happened, just as you recollect I used to wonder if I should have presence of mind in case of fire."

"Then, after all, you yourself are the girl who is engaged, and who has the imaginary brother who gets into disgrace?"

"Yes, I suppose so," said she, a little annoyed at having betrayed any personal interest in the affair.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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