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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XV

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Old Abraham Dixon was sitting on the side of his bed, doing nothing. His head was bent, his frame sunk, and he did not seem to care to turn round and see who it was that entered.

Ellinor tried to keep down her sobs while the man went up to him, and laying his hand on his shoulder, and lightly shaking him, he said:

"Here's a friend come to see you, Dixon." Then, turning to Ellinor, he added, "There's some as takes it in this kind o' stunned way, while others are as restless as a wild beast in a cage, after they're sentenced." And then he withdrew into the passage, leaving the door open, so that he could see all that passed if he chose to look, but ostentatiously keeping his eyes averted, and whistling to himself, so that he could not hear what they said to each other.

Dixon looked up at Ellinor, but then let his eyes fall on the ground again; the increasing trembling of his shrunken frame was the only sign he gave that he had recognised her.

She sat down by him, and took his large horny hand in hers. She wanted to overcome her inclination to sob hysterically before she spoke. She stroked the bony shrivelled fingers, on which her hot scalding tears kept dropping.

"Dunnot do that," said he, at length, in a hollow voice. "Dunnot take on about it; it's best as it is, missy."

"No, Dixon, it's not best. It shall not be. You know it shall not-- cannot be."

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"I'm rather tired of living. It's been a great strain and labour for me. I think I'd as lief be with God as with men. And you see, I were fond on him ever sin' he were a little lad, and told me what hard times he had at school, he did, just as if I were his brother! I loved him next to Molly Greaves. Dear! and I shall see her again, I reckon, come next Saturday week! They'll think well on me, up there, I'll be bound; though I cannot say as I've done all as I should do here below."

"But, Dixon," said Ellinor, "you know who did this--this--"

"Guilty o' murder," said he. "That's what they called it. Murder! And that it never were, choose who did it."

"My poor, poor father did it. I am going up to London this afternoon; I am going to see the judge, and tell him all."

"Don't you demean yourself to that fellow, missy. It's him as left you in the lurch as soon as sorrow and shame came nigh you."

He looked up at her now, for the first time; but she went on as if she had not noticed those wistful, weary eyes.

"Yes! I shall go to him. I know who it is; and I am resolved. After all, he may be better than a stranger, for real help; and I shall never remember any--anything else, when I think of you, good faithful friend."

"He looks but a wizened old fellow in his grey wig. I should hardly ha' known him. I gave him a look, as much as to say, 'I could tell tales o' you, my lord judge, if I chose.' I don't know if he heeded me, though. I suppose it were for a sign of old acquaintance that he said he'd recommend me to mercy. But I'd sooner have death nor mercy, by long odds. Yon man out there says mercy means Botany Bay. It 'ud be like killing me by inches, that would. It would. I'd liefer go straight to Heaven, than live on among the black folk."

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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