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0100_005E A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XIV

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"It is not peril--it is shame and obloquy--" she murmured.

"Well! shame and obloquy. Perhaps, if I knew all I could shield you from it."

"Don't, pray, speak any more about it now; if you do, I must say 'No.'"

She did not perceive the implied encouragement in these words; but he did, and they sufficed to make him patient.

The time was up, and he could only render her his last services as "courier," and none other but the necessary words at starting passed between them.

But he went away from the station with a cheerful heart; while she, sitting alone and quiet, and at last approaching near to the place where so much was to be decided, felt sadder and sadder, heavier and heavier.

All the intelligence she had gained since she had seen the Galignani in Paris, had been from the waiter at the Great Western Hotel, who, after returning from a vain search for an unoccupied Times, had volunteered the information that there was an unusual demand for the paper because of Hellingford Assizes, and the trial there for murder that was going on.

There was no electric telegraph in those days; at every station Ellinor put her head out, and enquired if the murder trial at Hellingford was ended. Some porters told her one thing, some another, in their hurry; she felt that she could not rely on them.

"Drive to Mr. Johnson's in the High street--quick, quick. I will give you half-a-crown if you will go quick."

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For, indeed, her endurance, her patience, was strained almost to snapping; yet at Hellingford station, where doubtless they could have told her the truth, she dared not ask the question. It was past eight o'clock at night. In many houses in the little country town there were unusual lights and sounds. The inhabitants were showing their hospitality to such of the strangers brought by the assizes, as were lingering there now that the business which had drawn them was over. The Judges had left the town that afternoon, to wind up the circuit by the short list of a neighbouring county town.

Mr. Johnson was entertaining a dinner-party of attorneys when he was summoned from dessert by the announcement of a "lady who wanted to speak to him immediate and particular."

He went into his study in not the best of tempers. There he found his client, Miss Wilkins, white and ghastly, standing by the fireplace, with her eyes fixed on the door.

"It is you, Miss Wilkins! I am very glad--"

"Dixon!" said she. It was all she could utter.

Mr. Johnson shook his head.

"Ah; that's a sad piece of business, and I'm afraid it has shortened your visit at Rome."

"Is he--?"

"Ay, I'm afraid there's no doubt of his guilt. At any rate, the jury found him guilty, and--"

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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