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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XII

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In spite of being glad that "things were not in her hands" Miss Monro tried to take affairs into her charge by doing all she could to persuade Ellinor to allow her to invite the canon to their "little sociable teas." The most provoking part was, that she was sure he would have come if he had been asked; but she could never get leave to do so. "Of course no man could go on for ever and ever without encouragement," as she confided to herself in a plaintive tone of voice; and by-and-by many people were led to suppose that the bachelor canon was paying attention to Miss Forbes, the eldest daughter of the family to which the delicate Jeanie belonged. It was, perhaps, with the Forbeses that both Miss Monro and Ellinor were the most intimate of all the families in East Chester. Mrs. Forbes was a widow lady of good means, with a large family of pretty, delicate daughters. She herself belonged to one of the great houses in --shire, but had married into Scotland; so, after her husband's death, it was the most natural thing in the world that she should settle in East Chester; and one after another of her daughters had become first Miss Monro's pupil and afterwards her friend. Mrs. Forbes herself had always been strongly attracted by Ellinor, but it was long before she could conquer the timid reserve by which Miss Wilkins was hedged round. It was Miss Monro, who was herself incapable of jealousy, who persevered in praising them to one another, and in bringing them together; and now Ellinor was as intimate and familiar in Mrs. Forbes's household as she ever could be with any family not her own.

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Mrs. Forbes was considered to be a little fanciful as to illness; but it was no wonder, remembering how many sisters she had lost by consumption. Miss Monro had often grumbled at the way in which her pupils were made irregular for very trifling causes. But no one so alarmed as she, when, in the autumn succeeding Mr. Ness's death, Mrs. Forbes remarked to her on Ellinor's increased delicacy of appearance, and shortness of breathing. From that time forwards she worried Ellinor (if any one so sweet and patient could ever have been worried) with respirators and precautions. Ellinor submitted to all her friend's wishes and cares, sooner than make her anxious, and remained a prisoner in the house through the whole of November. Then Miss Monro's anxiety took another turn. Ellinor's appetite and spirits failed her--not at all an unnatural consequence of so many weeks' confinement to the house. A plan was started, quite suddenly, one morning in December, that met with approval from everyone but Ellinor, who was, however, by this time too languid to make much resistance.

Mrs. Forbes and her daughters were going to Rome for three or four months, so as to avoid the trying east winds of spring; why should not Miss Wilkins go with them? They urged it, and Miss Monro urged it, though with a little private sinking of the heart at the idea of the long separation from one who was almost like a child to her. Ellinor was, as it were, lifted off her feet and borne away by the unanimous opinion of others--the doctor included--who decided that such a step was highly desirable; if not absolutely necessary. She knew that she had only a life interest both in her father's property and in that bequeathed to her by Mr. Ness. Hitherto she had not felt much troubled by this, as she had supposed that in the natural course of events she should survive Miss Monro and Dixon, both of whom she looked upon as dependent upon her. All she had to bequeath to the two was the small savings, which would not nearly suffice for both purposes, especially considering that Miss Monro had given up her teaching, and that both she and Dixon were passing into years.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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