He pressed her to him, but did not speak. Then he took the note up again, and read it with as much care and attention as he could collect in his agitated state of mind.
"Nelly," said he, at length, "he says true; he is not good enough for thee. He shrinks from the thought of the disgrace. Thou must stand alone, and bear the sins of thy father."
He shook so much as he said this, that Ellinor had to put any suffering of her own on one side, and try to confine her thoughts to the necessity of getting her father immediately up to bed. She sat by him till he went to sleep, and she could leave him, and go to her own room, to forgetfulness and rest, if she could find those priceless blessings.
Mr. Corbet was so well known at the Parsonage by the two old servants, that he had no difficulty, on reaching it, after his departure from Ford Bank, in having the spare bed-chamber made ready for him, late as it was, and in the absence of the master, who had taken a little holiday, now that Lent and Easter were over, for the purpose of fishing. While his room was getting ready, Ralph sent for his clothes, and by the same messenger he despatched the little note to Ellinor. But there was the letter he had promised her in it still to be written; and it was almost his night's employment to say enough, yet not too much; for, as he expressed it to himself, he was half way over the stream, and it would be folly to turn back, for he had given nearly as much pain both to himself and Ellinor by this time as he should do by making the separation final. Besides, after Mr. Wilkins's speeches that evening--but he was candid enough to acknowledge that, bad and offensive as they had been, if they had stood alone they might have been condoned.
"DEAREST ELLINOR, for dearest you are, and I think will ever be, my judgment has consented to a step which is giving me great pain, greater than you will readily believe. I am convinced that it is better that we should part; for circumstances have occurred since we formed our engagement which, although I am unaware of their exact nature, I can see weigh heavily upon you, and have materially affected your father's behaviour. Nay, I think, after to-night, I may almost say have entirely altered his feelings towards me. What these circumstances are I am ignorant, any further than that I know from your own admission, that they may lead to some future disgrace. Now, it may be my fault, it may be in my temperament, to be anxious, above all things earthly, to obtain and possess a high reputation. I can only say that it is so, and leave you to blame me for my weakness as much as you like. But anything that might come in between me and this object would, I own, be ill tolerated by me; the very dread of such an obstacle intervening would paralyse me. I should become irritable, and, deep as my affection is, and always must be, towards you, I could not promise you a happy, peaceful life. I should be perpetually haunted by the idea of what might happen in the way of discovery and shame. I am the more convinced of this from my observation of your father's altered character--an alteration which I trace back to the time when I conjecture that the secret affairs took place to which you have alluded. In short, it is for your sake, my dear Ellinor, even more than for my own, that I feel compelled to affix a final meaning to the words which your father addressed to me last night, when he desired me to leave his house for ever. God bless you, my Ellinor, for the last time my Ellinor. Try to forget as soon as you can the unfortunate tie which has bound you for a time to one so unsuitable--I believe I ought to say so unworthy of you-- as--RALPH CORBET."
Ellinor was making breakfast when this letter was given her. According to the wont of the servants of the respective households of the Parsonage and Ford Bank, the man asked if there was any answer. It was only custom; for he had not been desired to do so. Ellinor went to the window to read her letter; the man waiting all the time respectfully for her reply. She went to the writing-table, and wrote:
"It is all right--quite right. I ought to have thought of it all last August. I do not think you will forget me easily, but I entreat you never at any future time to blame yourself. I hope you will be happy and successful. I suppose I must never write to you again: but I shall always pray for you. Papa was very sorry last night for having spoken angrily to you. You must forgive him--there is great need for forgiveness in this world.--ELLINOR."
She kept putting down thought after thought, just to prolong the last pleasure of writing to him. She sealed the note, and gave it to the man. Then she sat down and waited for Miss Monro, who had gone to bed on the previous night without awaiting Ellinor's return from the dining-room.
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