"I am late, my dear," said Miss Monro, on coming down, "but I have a bad headache, and I knew you had a pleasant companion." Then, looking round, she perceived Ralph's absence.
"Mr. Corbet not down yet!" she exclaimed. And then Ellinor had to tell her the outline of the facts so soon likely to be made public; that Mr. Corbet and she had determined to break off their engagement; and that Mr. Corbet had accordingly betaken himself to the Parsonage; and that she did not expect him to return to Ford Bank. Miss Monro's astonishment was unbounded. She kept going over and over all the little circumstances she had noticed during the last visit, only on yesterday, in fact, which she could not reconcile with the notion that the two, apparently so much attached to each other but a few hours before, were now to be for ever separated and estranged. Ellinor sickened under the torture; which yet seemed like torture in a dream, from which there must come an awakening and a relief. She felt as if she could not hear any more; yet there was more to hear. Her father, as it turned out, was very ill, and had been so all night long; he had evidently had some kind of attack on the brain, whether apoplectic or paralytic it was for the doctors to decide. In the hurry and anxiety of this day of misery succeeding to misery, she almost forgot to wonder whether Ralph were still at the Parsonage-- still in Hamley; it was not till the evening visit of the physician that she learnt that he had been seen by Dr. Moore as he was taking his place in the morning mail to London. Dr. Moore alluded to his name as to a thought that would cheer and comfort the fragile girl during her night-watch by her father's bedside. But Miss Monro stole out after the doctor to warn him off the subject for the future, crying bitterly over the forlorn position of her darling as she spoke--crying as Ellinor had never yet been able to cry: though all the time, in the pride of her sex, she was as endeavouring to persuade the doctor it was entirely Ellinor's doing, and the wisest and best thing she could have done, as he was not good enough for her, only a poor barrister struggling for a livelihood. Like many other kind-hearted people, she fell into the blunder of lowering the moral character of those whom it is their greatest wish to exalt. But Dr. Moore knew Ellinor too well to believe the whole of what Miss Monro said; she would never act from interested motives, and was all the more likely to cling to a man because he was down and unsuccessful. No! there had been a lovers' quarrel; and it could not have happened at a sadder time.
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.
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.
Meanwhile she went on living at Ford Bank, quite unconscious of the state of her father's affairs, but sunk into a deep, plaintive melancholy, which affected her looks and the tones of her voice in such a manner as to distress Miss Monro exceedingly. It was not that the good lady did not quite acknowledge the great cause her pupil had for grieving--deserted by her lover, her father dead--but that she could not bear the outward signs of how much these sorrows had told on Ellinor. Her love for the poor girl was infinitely distressed by seeing the daily wasting away, the constant heavy depression of spirits, and she grew impatient of the continual pain of sympathy. If Miss Monro could have done something to relieve Ellinor of her woe, she would have been less inclined to scold her for giving way to it.
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- 1possessed for him. So it came that his was a familiar figure
- 2 We kids climbed into Stanley's bed. To make it less
- 3It was cold in the house, and the air smelled of mold and
- 4its breath on the steep, twisting roads. It was November.
- 5mist seemed to float above the water. This mist had a familiar
- 6Rich, Beetle Bailey, Archie and Jughead梩hat Uncle Stanley
- 7shy of the New Mexico border. Dad stuck his head under
- 8of green beans stewing in fatback and poured in a big handful
- 9to tell him that she loved him. A dozen times she thought
- 10 * * *We followed Erma and Stanley and Grandpa inside.
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