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Maria, made him look forward to Easter at Ford
Bank with something of the old pleasure.

Ellinor, with the fine tact which love gives,
had discovered his annoyance at various little
incongruities in the household at the time of his
second visit in the previous autumn; and had
laboured to make all as perfect as she could before
his return. But she had much to struggle against.
For the first time in her life there was a great
want of ready money; she could scarcely obtain
the servants' wages; and the bill for the spring
seeds was a heavy weight on her conscience. For
Miss Monro's methodical habits had taught her
pupil great exactitude as to all money matters.

Then, her father's temper had become very
uncertain. He avoided being alone with her
whenever he possibly could; and the consciousness
of this, and of the terrible mutual secret
which was the cause of this estrangement, were
the reasons why Ellinor never recovered her
pretty youthful bloom after her illness. Of course
it was to it that the outside world attributed her
changed appearance. They would shake their
heads and say, "Ah, poor Miss Wilkins! What
a lovely creature she was before that fever!"

But youth is youth, and will assert itself in a
certain elasticity of body and spirits; and at
times Ellinor forgot that fearful night for
several hours together. Even when her father's
averted eye brought it all once more before her,
she had learnt to form excuses, and palliations,
and to regard Mr. Dunster's death as only the
consequence of an unfortunate accident. But
she tried to put the miserable remembrance
entirely out of her mind; to go on from day to day
thinking only of the day; and how to arrange it
so as to cause the least irritation to her father.
She would so gladly have spoken to him on the
one subject which overshadowed all their
intercourse; she fancied that by speaking she might
have been able to banish the phantom, or reduce
its terror to what she believed to be the due
proportion. But her father was evidently determined
to show that he was never more to be
spoken to on that subject; and all she could do
was to follow his lead on the rare occasions that
they fell into something like the old confidential
intercourse. As yet, to her, he had never given
way to anger; but before her he had often spoken
in a manner which both pained and terrified her.
Sometimes his eye in the midst of his passion
caught on her face of affright and dismay, and
then he would stop, and make such an effort to
control himself as sometimes ended in tears.
Ellinor did not understand both these phases
were owing to his increasing habit of drinking
more than was good for him. She set them down
as the direct effects of a sorely burdened
conscience; and strove more and more to plan for
his daily life at home, how it should go on with
oiled wheels, neither a jerk nor a jar. It was no
wonder she looked wistful, and careworn, and
old. Miss Monro was her great comfort; the
total unconsciousness on that lady's part of
anything below the surface; and yet her full and
delicate recognition of all the little daily cares
and trials, made her sympathy most valuable to
Ellinor, while there was no need to fear that it
would ever even give Miss Monro that power of
seeing into the heart of things which it
frequently confers upon imaginative people, who
are deeply attached to some one in sorrow.

There was a strong bond between Ellinor and
Dixon, although they scarcely ever exchanged
a word but on the most common-place subjects;
but their silence was based on different feelings
from that which separated Ellinor from her
father. Ellinor and Dixon could not speak freely,
because their hearts were full of pity for the
faulty man whom they both loved so well, and
tried so hard to respect.

This was the state of the household to which
Ralph Corbet came down at Easter. He might
have been known in London as a brilliant
diner-out by this time; but he could not afford to throw
his life away in fireworks; he calculated his
forces, and condensed their power as much as
might be, only visiting where he was likely to
meet men who could help him in his future
career. He had been invited to spend the
Easter vacation at a certain country-house, which
would be full of such human stepping-stones;
and he declined it to keep his word to Ellinor,
and go to Ford Bank. But he could not help looking
upon himself a little in the light of a martyr to
duty; and perhaps this view of his own merits made
him chafe under his future father-in-law's irritability
of manner, which now showed itself even to
him. He found himself distinctly regretting
that he had suffered himself to be engaged so
early in life; and having become conscious of
the temptation and not having repelled it at
once, of course it returned and returned, and
gradually obtained the mastery over him. What
was to be gained by keeping to his engagement
to Ellinor? He should have a delicate wife to look
after, and even more than the common additional
expenses of married life.  He should have a
father-in-law whose character at best had had
only a local and provincial respectability; which
it was now daily losing by habits which were
both sensual and vulgarising; a man, too, who
was strangely changing from joyous geniality into
moody surliness. Besides, he doubted if, in the
evident change in the prosperity of the family,
the fortune to be paid down on the occasion of
his marriage to Ellinor could be forthcoming.
And above all, and around all, there hovered the
shadow of some unrevealed disgrace, which
might come to light at any time, and involve
him in it. He thought he had pretty well
ascertained the nature of this possible shame, and had
little doubt but that it would turn out to be that
Dunster's disappearance to America, or
elsewhere, had been an arranged plan with Mr.
Wilkins. Although Mr. Ralph Corbet was
capable of suspecting this mean crime (so far
removed from the impulsive commission of the
past sin, which was dragging Mr. Wilkins
daily lower and lower down), it was of a kind