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A Dark Night's Work Elizabeth Gaskell

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Before the June roses were in full bloom, Mr. Wilkins was dead. He had left his daughter to the guardianship of Mr. Ness by some will made years ago; but Mr. Ness had caught a rheumatic fever with his Easter fishings, and been unable to be moved home from the little Welsh inn where he had been staying when he was taken ill. Since his last attack, Mr. Wilkins's mind had been much affected; he often talked strangely and wildly; but he had rare intervals of quietness and full possession of his senses. At one of these times he must have written a half-finished pencil note, which his nurse found under his pillow after his death, and brought to Ellinor. Through her tear-blinded eyes she read the weak, faltering words:

"I am very ill. I sometimes think I shall never get better, so I wish to ask your pardon for what I said the night before I was taken ill. I am afraid my anger made mischief between you and Ellinor, but I think you will forgive a dying man. If you will come back and let all be as it used to be, I will make any apology you may require. If I go, she will be so very friendless; and I have looked to you to care for her ever since you first--" Then came some illegible and incoherent writing, ending with, "From my deathbed I adjure you to stand her friend; I will beg pardon on my knees for anything--"

And there strength had failed; the paper and pencil had been laid aside to be resumed at some time when the brain was clearer, the hand stronger. Ellinor kissed the letter, reverently folded it up, and laid it among her sacred treasures, by her mother's half-finished sewing, and a little curl of her baby sister's golden hair.

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Mr. Johnson, who had been one of the trustees for Mrs. Wilkins's marriage settlement, a respectable solicitor in the county town, and Mr. Ness, had been appointed executors of his will, and guardians to Ellinor. The will itself had been made several years before, when he imagined himself the possessor of a handsome fortune, the bulk of which he bequeathed to his only child. By her mother's marriage-settlement, Ford Bank was held in trust for the children of the marriage; the trustees being Sir Frank Holster and Mr. Johnson. There were legacies to his executors; a small annuity to Miss Monro, with the expression of a hope that it might be arranged for her to continue living with Ellinor as long as the latter remained unmarried; all his servants were remembered, Dixon especially, and most liberally.

What remained of the handsome fortune once possessed by the testator? The executors asked in vain; there was nothing. They could hardly make out what had become of it, in such utter confusion were all the accounts, both personal and official. Mr. Johnson was hardly restrained by his compassion for the orphan from throwing up the executorship in disgust. Mr. Ness roused himself from his scholarlike abstraction to labour at the examination of books, parchments, and papers, for Ellinor's sake. Sir Frank Holster professed himself only a trustee for Ford Bank.

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A Dark Night's Work
Elizabeth Gaskell

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