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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter V

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He did this not merely from his reluctance to complete any arrangements which might facilitate Ellinor's marriage. There was a further annoyance connected with the affair. His money matters had been for some time in an involved state; he had been living beyond his income, even reckoning that, as he always did, at the highest point which it ever touched. He kept no regular accounts, reasoning with himself--or, perhaps, I should rather say persuading himself-- that there was no great occasion for regular accounts, when he had a steady income arising from his profession, as well as the interest of a good sum of money left him by his father; and when, living in his own house near a country town where provisions were cheap, his expenditure for his small family--only one child--could never amount to anything like his incomings from the above-mentioned sources. But servants and horses, and choice wines and rare fruit-trees, and a habit of purchasing any book or engraving that may take the fancy, irrespective of the price, run away with money, even though there be but one child. A year or two ago, Mr. Wilkins had been startled into a system of exaggerated retrenchment--retrenchment which only lasted about six weeks--by the sudden bursting of a bubble speculation in which he had invested a part of his father's savings. But as soon as the change in his habits, necessitated by his new economies, became irksome, he had comforted himself for his relapse into his former easy extravagance of living by remembering the fact that Ellinor was engaged to the son of a man of large property: and that though Ralph was only the second son, yet his mother's estate must come to him, as Mr. Ness had already mentioned, on first hearing of her engagement.

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Mr. Wilkins did not doubt that he could easily make Ellinor a fitting allowance, or even pay down a requisite dowry; but the doing so would involve an examination into the real state of his affairs, and this involved distasteful trouble. He had no idea how much more than mere temporary annoyance would arise out of the investigation. Until it was made, he decided in his own mind that he would not speak to Ellinor on the subject of her lover's letter. So for the next few days she was kept in suspense, seeing little of her father; and during the short times she was with him she was made aware that he was nervously anxious to keep the conversation engaged on general topics rather than on the one which she had at heart. As I have already said, Mr. Corbet had written to her by the same post as that on which he sent the letter to her father, telling her of its contents, and begging her (in all those sweet words which lovers know how to use) to urge her father to compliance for his sake--his, her lover's--who was pining and lonely in all the crowds of London, since her loved presence was not there. He did not care for money, save as a means of hastening their marriage; indeed, if there were only some income fixed, however small--some time for their marriage fixed, however distant--he could be patient. He did not want superfluity of wealth; his habits were simple, as she well knew; and money enough would be theirs in time, both from her share of contingencies, and the certainty of his finally possessing Bromley.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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