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She went to the door to meet the tottering old man; she led him to the easy-chair that had been placed and arranged for herself; she knelt down before him, and put his hands on her head, he trembling and shaking all the while.
"Forgive me all the shame and misery, Dixon. Say you forgive me; and give me your blessing. And then let never a word of the terrible past be spoken between us."
"It's not for me to forgive you, as never did harm to no one--"
"But say you do--it will ease my heart."
"I forgive thee!" said he. And then he raised himself to his feet with effort, and, standing up above her, he blessed her solemnly.
After that he sat down, she by him, gazing at him.
"Yon's a good man, missy," he said, at length, lifting his slow eyes and looking at her. "Better nor t'other ever was."
"He is a good man," said Ellinor.
But no more was spoken on the subject. The next day, Canon Livingstone made his formal call. Ellinor would fain have kept Miss Monro in the room, but that worthy lady knew better than to stop.
They went on, forcing talk on indifferent subjects. At last he could speak no longer on everything but that which he had most at heart. "Miss Wilkins!" (he had got up, and was standing by the mantelpiece, apparently examining the ornaments upon it)--"Miss Wilkins! is there any chance of your giving me a favourable answer now--you know what I mean--what we spoke about at the Great Western Hotel, that day?"
Ellinor hung her head.
"You know that I was once engaged before?"
"Yes! I know; to Mr. Corbet--he that is now the judge; you cannot suppose that would make any difference, if that is all. I have loved you, and you only, ever since we met, eighteen years ago. Miss Wilkins--Ellinor--put me out of suspense."
"I will!" said she, putting out her thin white hand for him to take and kiss, almost with tears of grat.i.tude, but she seemed frightened at his impetuosity, and tried to check him. "Wait--you have not heard all--my poor, poor father, in a fit of anger, irritated beyond his bearing, struck the blow that killed Mr. Dunster--Dixon and I knew of it, just after the blow was struck--we helped to hide it--we kept the secret--my poor father died of sorrow and remorse--you now know all--can you still love me? It seems to me as if I had been an accomplice in such a terrible thing!"
"Poor, poor Ellinor!" said he, now taking her in his arms as a shelter.
"How I wish I had known of all this years and years ago: I could have stood between you and so much!"
Those who pa.s.s through the village of Bromham, and pause to look over the laurel-hedge that separates the rectory garden from the road, may often see, on summer days, an old, old man, sitting in a wicker-chair, out upon the lawn. He leans upon his stick, and seldom raises his bent head; but for all that his eyes are on a level with the two little fairy children who come to him in all their small joys and sorrows, and who learnt to lisp his name almost as soon as they did that of their father and mother.
Nor is Miss Monro often absent; and although she prefers to retain the old house in the Close for winter quarters, she generally makes her way across to Canon Livingstone's residence every evening.
SO ENDS "A DARK NIGHT'S WORK."