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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VII

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She never thought of her own appearance--she had dressed without looking in the glass. Her only object was to dismiss her would-be suitor as speedily as possible. All feelings of shyness, awkwardness, or maiden modesty, were quenched and overcome. In she went.

He was standing by the mantelpiece as she entered. He made a step or two forward to meet her; and then stopped, petrified, as it were, at the sight of her hard white face.

"Miss Wilkins, I am afraid you are ill! I have come too early. But I have to leave Hamley in half an hour, and I thought--Oh, Miss Wilkins! what have I done?"

For she sank into the chair nearest to her, as if overcome by his words; but, indeed, it was by the oppression of her own thoughts: she was hardly conscious of his presence.

He came a step or two nearer, as if he longed to take her in his arms and comfort and shelter her; but she stiffened herself and arose, and by an effort walked towards the fireplace, and there stood, as if awaiting what he would say next. But he was overwhelmed by her aspect of illness. He almost forgot his own wishes, his own suit, in his desire to relieve her from the pain, physical as he believed it, under which she was suffering. It was she who had to begin the subject.

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"I received your letter yesterday, Mr. Livingstone. I was anxious to see you to-day, in order that I might prevent you from speaking to my father. I do not say anything of the kind of affection you can feel for me--me, whom you have only seen once. All I shall say is, that the sooner we both forget what I must call folly, the better."

She took the airs of a woman considerably older and more experienced than himself. He thought her haughty; she was only miserable.

"You are mistaken," said he, more quietly and with more dignity than was likely from his previous conduct. "I will not allow you to characterise as folly what might be presumptuous on my part--I had no business to express myself so soon--but which in its foundation was true and sincere. That I can answer for most solemnly. It is possible, though it may not be a usual thing, for a man to feel so strongly attracted by the charms and qualities of a woman, even at first sight, as to feel sure that she, and she alone, can make his happiness. My folly consisted--there you are right--in even dreaming that you could return my feelings in the slightest degree, when you had only seen me once: and I am most truly ashamed of myself. I cannot tell you how sorry I am, when I see how you have compelled yourself to come and speak to me when you are so ill."

She staggered into a chair, for with all her wish for his speedy dismissal, she was obliged to be seated. His hand was upon the bell.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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