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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XII

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Of course, while all eyes were directed on the new canon, he had to learn who the possessors of those eyes were one by one; and it was probably some time before the idea came into his mind that Miss Wilkins, the lady in black, with the sad pale face, so constant an attendant at service, so regular a visitor at the school, was the same Miss Wilkins as the bright vision of his youth. It was her sweet smile at a painstaking child that betrayed her--if, indeed, betrayal it might be called where there was no wish or effort to conceal anything. Canon Livingstone left the schoolroom almost directly, and, after being for an hour or so in his house, went out to call on Mrs. Randall, the person who knew more of her neighbours' affairs than any one in East Chester.

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The next day he called on Miss Wilkins herself. She would have been very glad if he had kept on in his ignorance; it was so keenly painful to be in the company of one the sight of whom, even at a distance, had brought her such a keen remembrance of past misery; and when told of his call, as she was sitting at her sewing in the dining-room, she had to nerve herself for the interview before going upstairs into the drawing-room, where he was being entertained by Miss Monro with warm demonstrations of welcome. A little contraction of the brow, a little compression of the lips, an increased pallor on Ellinor's part, was all that Miss Monro could see in her, though she had put on her glasses with foresight and intention to observe. She turned to the canon; his colour had certainly deepened as he went forwards with out-stretched hand to meet Ellinor. That was all that was to be seen; but on the slight foundation of that blush, Miss Monro built many castles; and when they faded away, one after one, she recognised that they were only baseless visions. She used to put the disappointment of her hopes down to Ellinor's unvaried calmness of demeanour, which might be taken for coldness of disposition; and to her steady refusal to allow Miss Monro to invite Canon Livingstone to the small teas they were in the habit of occasionally giving. Yet he persevered in his calls; about once every fortnight he came, and would sit an hour or more, looking covertly at his watch, as if as Miss Monro shrewdly observed to herself, he did not go away at last because he wished to do so, but because he ought. Sometimes Ellinor was present, sometimes she was away; in this latter case Miss Monro thought she could detect a certain wistful watching of the door every time a noise was heard outside the room. He always avoided any reference to former days at Hamley, and that, Miss Monro feared, was a bad sign.

After this long uniformity of years without any event closely touching on Ellinor's own individual life, with the one great exception of Mr. Corbet's marriage, something happened which much affected her. Mr. Ness died suddenly at his parsonage, and Ellinor learnt it first from Mr. Brown, a clergyman, whose living was near Hamley, and who had been sent for by the Parsonage servants as soon as they discovered that it was not sleep, but death, that made their master so late in rising.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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