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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VII

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She awakened late in the afternoon with a start. Her father was standing over her, listening to Miss Monro's account of her indisposition. She only caught one glimpse of his strangely altered countenance, and hid her head in the cushions--hid it from memory, not from him. For in an instant she must have conjectured the interpretation he was likely to put upon her shrinking action, and she had turned towards him, and had thrown her arms round his neck, and was kissing his cold, passive face. Then she fell back. But all this time their sad eyes never met--they dreaded the look of recollection that must be in each other's gaze.

"There, my dear!" said Miss Monro. "Now you must lie still till I fetch you a little broth. You are better now, are not you?"

"You need not go for the broth, Miss Monro," said Mr. Wilkins, ringing the bell. "Fletcher can surely bring it." He dreaded the being left alone with his daughter--nor did she fear it less. She heard the strange alteration in her father's voice, hard and hoarse, as if it was an effort to speak. The physical signs of his suffering cut her to the heart; and yet she wondered how it was that they could both be alive, or, if alive, they were not rending their garments and crying aloud. Mr. Wilkins seemed to have lost the power of careless action and speech, it is true. He wished to leave the room now his anxiety about his daughter was relieved, but hardly knew how to set about it. He was obliged to think about the veriest trifle, in order that by an effort of reason he might understand how he should have spoken or acted if he had been free from blood-guiltiness. Ellinor understood all by intuition. But henceforward the unspoken comprehension of each other's hidden motions made their mutual presence a burdensome anxiety to each. Miss Monro was a relief; they were glad of her as a third person, unconscious of the secret which constrained them. This afternoon her unconsciousness gave present pain, although on after reflection each found in her speeches a cause of rejoicing.

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"And Mr. Dunster, Mr. Wilkins, has he come home yet?"

A moment's pause, in which Mr. Wilkins pumped the words out of his husky throat:

"I have not heard. I have been riding. I went on business to Mr. Estcourt's. Perhaps you will be so kind as to send and inquire at Mrs. Jackson's."

Ellinor sickened at the words. She had been all her life a truthful plain-spoken girl. She held herself high above deceit. Yet, here came the necessity for deceit--a snare spread around her. She had not revolted so much from the deed which brought unpremeditated death, as she did from these words of her father's. The night before, in her mad fever of affright, she had fancied that to conceal the body was all that would be required; she had not looked forward to the long, weary course of small lies, to be done and said, involved in that one mistaken action. Yet, while her father's words made her soul revolt, his appearance melted her heart, as she caught it, half turned away from her, neither looking straight at Miss Monro, nor at anything materially visible. His hollow sunken eye seemed to Ellinor to have a vision of the dead man before it. His cheek was livid and worn, and its healthy colouring gained by years of hearty out-door exercise, was all gone into the wanness of age. His hair, even to Ellinor, seemed greyer for the past night of wretchedness. He stooped, and looked dreamily earthward, where formerly he had stood erect. It needed all the pity called forth by such observation to quench Ellinor's passionate contempt for the course on which she and her father were embarked, when she heard him repeat his words to the servant who came with her broth.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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