Here Ellinor shuddered. Before her, in that Roman bed-chamber, rose the fatal oblong she knew by heart—a little green moss or lichen, and thinly-growing blades of grass scarcely covering the caked and undisturbed soil under the old tree. Oh, that she had been in England when the surveyors of the railway between Ashcombe and Hamley had altered their line; she would have entreated, implored, compelled her trustees not to have sold that piece of ground for any sum of money whatever. She would have bribed the surveyors, done she knew not what—but now it was too late; she would not let her mind wander off to what might have been; she would force herself again to attend to the newspaper columns. There was little more: the prisoner had been asked if he could say anything to clear himself, and properly cautioned not to say anything to incriminate himself. The poor old man’s person was described, and his evident emotion. “The prisoner was observed to clutch at the rail before him to steady himself, and his colour changed so much at this part of the evidence that one of the turnkeys offered him a glass of water, which he declined. He is a man of a strongly-built frame, and with rather a morose and sullen cast of countenance.”
“My poor, poor Dixon!” said Ellinor, laying down the paper for an instant, and she was near crying, only she had resolved to shed no tears till she had finished all, and could judge of the chances. There were but a few lines more: “At one time the prisoner seemed to be desirous of alleging something in his defence, but he changed his mind, if such had been the case, and in reply to Mr. Gordon (the magistrate) he only said, ’You’ve made a pretty strong case out again me, gentlemen, and it seems for to satisfy you; so I think I’ll not disturb your minds by saying anything more.’ Accordingly, Dixon now stands committed for trial for murder at the next Hellingford Assizes, which commence on March the seventh, before Baron Rushton and Mr. Justice Corbet.”
“Mr. Justice Corbet!” The words ran through Ellinor as though she had been stabbed with a knife, and by an irrepressible movement she stood up rigid. The young man, her lover in her youth, the old servant who in those days was perpetually about her—the two who had so often met in familiar if not friendly relations, now to face each other as judge and accused! She could not tell how much Mr. Corbet had conjectured from the partial revelation she had made to him of the impending shame that hung over her and hers. A day or two ago she could have remembered the exact words she had used in that memorable interview; but now, strive as she would, she could only recall facts, not words. After all, the Mr. Justice Corbet might not be Ralph. There was one chance in a hundred against the identity of the two.
While she was weighing probabilities in her sick dizzy mind, she heard soft steps outside her bolted door, and low voices whispering. It was the bedtime of happy people with hearts at ease. Some of the footsteps passed lightly on; but there was a gentle rap at Ellinor’s door. She pressed her two hot hands hard against her temples for an instant before she went to open the door. There stood Mrs. Forbes in her handsome evening dress, holding a lighted lamp in her hand.