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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VIII

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He was silent, meditating.

"There is nothing wrong in it," said she, timidly, "is there?"

"I think you had better tell me fully out what is in your mind," he replied, kindly. "Something has happened which has suggested these questions. Are you putting yourself in the place of any one about whom you have been hearing lately? I know you used to do so formerly, when you were a little girl."

"No; it was a very foolish question of mine, and I ought not to have said anything about it. See! here is Mr. Ness overtaking us."

The clergyman joined them on the broad walk that ran by the riverside, and the talk became general. It was a relief to Ellinor, who had not attained her end, but who had gone far towards betraying something of her own individual interest in the question she had asked. Ralph had been more struck even by her manner than her words. He was sure that something lurked behind, and had an idea of his own that it was connected with Dunster's disappearance. But he was glad that Mr. Ness's joining them gave him leisure to consider a little.

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The end of his reflections was, that the next day, Monday, he went into the town, and artfully learnt all he could hear about Mr Dunster's character and mode of going on; and with still more skill he extracted the popular opinion as to the embarrassed nature of Mr. Wilkins's affairs--embarrassment which was generally attributed to Dunster's disappearance with a good large sum belonging to the firm in his possession. But Mr. Corbet thought otherwise; he had accustomed himself to seek out the baser motives for men's conduct, and to call the result of these researches wisdom. He imagined that Dunster had been well paid by Mr. Wilkins for his disappearance, which was an easy way of accounting for the derangement of accounts and loss of money that arose, in fact, from Mr. Wilkins's extravagance of habits and growing intemperance.

On the Monday afternoon he said to Ellinor, "Mr. Ness interrupted us yesterday in a very interesting conversation. Do you remember, love?"

Ellinor reddened and kept her head still more intently bent over a sketch she was making.

"Yes; I recollect."

"I have been thinking about it. I still think she ought to tell her lover that such disgrace hung over him--I mean, over the family with whom he was going to connect himself. Of course, the only effect would be to make him stand by her still more for her frankness."

"Oh! but, Ralph, it might perhaps be something she ought not to tell, whatever came of her silence."

"Of course there might be all sorts of cases. Unless I knew more I could not pretend to judge."

This was said rather more coolly. It had the desired effect. Ellinor laid down her brush, and covered her face with her hand. After a pause, she turned towards him and said:

"I will tell you this; and more you must not ask me. I know you are as safe as can be. I am the girl, you are the lover, and possible shame hangs over my father, if something--oh, so dreadful" (here she blanched), "but not so very much his fault, is ever found out."

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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