"I don't rightly know how it is, for I sometimes think if it wasn't for you, missy, I should be glad to have made it all clear before I go; and yet at times I dream, or it comes into my head as I lie awake with the rheumatics, that some one is there, digging; or that I hear 'em cutting down the tree; and then I get up and look out of the loft window--you'll mind the window over the stables, as looks into the garden, all covered over wi' the leaves of the jargonelle pear-tree? That were my room when first I come as stable-boy, and tho' Mr. Osbaldistone would fain give me a warmer one, I allays tell him I like th' old place best. And by times I've getten up five or six times a-night to make sure as there was no one at work under the tree."
Ellinor shivered a little. He saw it, and restrained himself in the relief he was receiving from imparting his superstitious fancies.
"You see, missy, I could never rest a-nights if I didn't feel as if I kept the secret in my hand, and held it tight day and night, so as I could open my hand at any minute and see as it was there. No! my own little missy will let me come and see her now and again, and I know as I can allays ask her for what I want: and if it please God to lay me by, I shall tell her so, and she'll see as I want for nothing. But somehow I could ne'er bear leaving Hamley. You shall come and follow me to my grave when my time comes."
"Don't talk so, please, Dixon," said she.
"Nay, it'll be a mercy when I can lay me down and sleep in peace: though I sometimes fear as peace will not come to me even there." He was going out of the room, and was now more talking to himself than to her. "They say blood will out, and if it weren't for her part in it, I could wish for a clear breast before I die."
She did not hear the latter part of this mumbled sentence. She was looking at a letter just brought in and requiring an immediate answer. It was from Mr. Brown. Notes from him were of daily occurrence, but this contained an open letter the writing of which was strangely familiar to her--it did not need the signature "Ralph Corbet," to tell her whom the letter came from. For some moments she could not read the words. They expressed a simple enough request, and were addressed to the auctioneer who was to dispose of the rather valuable library of the late Mr. Ness, and whose name had been advertised in connection with the sale, in the Athenaeum, and other similar papers. To him Mr. Corbet wrote, saying that he should be unable to be present when the books were sold, but that he wished to be allowed to buy in, at any price decided upon, a certain rare folio edition of Virgil, bound in parchment, and with notes in Italian. The book was fully described. Though no Latin scholar, Ellinor knew the book well--remembered its look from old times, and could instantly have laid her hand upon it. The auctioneer had sent the request onto his employer, Mr. Brown. That gentleman applied to Ellinor for her consent. She saw that the fact of the intended sale must be all that Mr. Corbet was aware of, and that he could not know to whom the books belonged. She chose out the book, and wrapped and tied it up with trembling hands. HE might be the person to untie the knot. It was strangely familiar to her love, after so many years, to be brought into thus much contact with him. She wrote a short note to Mr. Brown, in which she requested him to say, as though from himself; and without any mention of her name, that he, as executor, requested Mr. Corbet's acceptance of the Virgil, as a remembrance of his former friend and tutor. Then she rang the bell, and gave the letter and parcel to the servant.
Again alone, and Mr. Corbet's open letter on the table. She took it up and looked at it till the letters dazzled crimson on the white paper. Her life rolled backwards, and she was a girl again. At last she roused herself; but instead of destroying the note--it was long years since all her love-letters from him had been returned to the writer--she unlocked her little writing-case again, and placed this letter carefully down at the bottom, among the dead rose-leaves which embalmed the note from her father, found after his death under his pillow, the little golden curl of her sister's, the half-finished sewing of her mother.
The shabby writing-case itself was given her by her father long ago, and had since been taken with her everywhere. To be sure, her changes of place had been but few; but if she had gone to Nova Zembla, the sight of that little leather box on awaking from her first sleep, would have given her a sense of home. She locked the case up again, and felt all the richer for that morning.
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