My Lady Ludlow
I am an old woman now, and things are very different to what they were in my youth. Then we, who travelled, travelled in coaches, carrying six inside, and making a two days' journey out of what people now go over in a couple of hours with a whizz and a flash, and a screaming whistle, enough to deafen one. Then letters came in but three times a week; indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month; but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short, jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken. Well, well! they may all be improvements - I dare say they are; but you will never meet with a Lady Ludlow in these days.
I will try and tell you about her. It is no story: it has, as I said, neither beginning, middle, nor end.
My father was a poor clergyman with a large family. My mother was always said to have good blood in her veins; and when she wanted to maintain her position with the people she was thrown among - principally rich democratic manufacturers, all for liberty and the French Revolution - she would put on a pair of ruffles, trimmed with real old English point, very much darned to be sure - but which could not be bought new for love or money, as the art of making it was lost years before. These ruffles showed, as she said, that her ancestors had been Somebodies, when the grandfathers of the rich folk, who now looked down upon her, had been Nobodies - if, indeed, they had any grandfathers at all. I don't know whether any one out of our own family ever noticed these ruffles - but we were all taught as children to feel rather proud when my mother put them on, and to hold up our heads as became the descendants of the lady who had first possessed the lace. Not but what my dear father often told us that pride was a great sin; we were never allowed to be proud of anything but my mother's ruffles; and she was so innocently happy when she put them on - often, poor dear creature, to a very worn and threadbare gown - that I still think, even after all my experience of life, they were a blessing to the family. You will think that I am wandering away from my Lady Ludlow. Not at all. The lady who had owned the lace, Ursula Hanbury, was a common ancestress of both my mother and my Lady Ludlow. And so it fell out, that when my poor father died, and my mother was sorely pressed to know what to do with her nine children, and looked far and wide for signs of willingness to help, Lady Ludlow sent her a letter, proffering aid and assistance. I see that letter now: a large sheet of thick yellow paper, with a straight broad margin left on the left-hand side of the delicate Italian writing - writing which contained far more in the same space of paper than all the sloping, or masculine handwritings of the present day. It was sealed with a coat of arms - a lozenge - for Lady Ludlow was a widow. My mother made us notice the motto, "Foy et Loy," and told us where to look for the quarterings of the Hanbury arms before she opened the letter. Indeed, I think she was rather afraid of what the contents might be; for, as I have said, in her anxious love for her fatherless children, she had written to many people upon whom, to tell truly, she had but little claim; and their cold hard answers had many a time made her cry, when she thought none of us were looking. I do not even know if she had ever seen Lady Ludlow: all I knew of her was that she was a very grand lady, whose grandmother had been half-sister to my mother's great-grandmother; but of her character and circumstances I heard nothing, and I doubt if my mother was acquainted with them.
I looked over my mother's shoulder to read the letter; it began, "Dear Cousin Margaret Dawson," and I think I felt hopeful from the moment I saw those words. She went on to say - stay, I think I can remember the very words -
"DEAR COUSIN MARGARET DAWSON, - I have been much grieved to hear of the loss you have sustained in the death of so good a husband, and so excellent a clergyman as I have always heard that my late cousin Richard was esteemed to be."
"There!" said my mother, laying her finger on the passage, "read that aloud to the little ones. Let them hear how their father's good report travelled far and wide, and how well he is spoken of by one whom he never saw. COUSIN Richard, how prettily her ladyship writes! Go on, Margaret!" She wiped her eyes as she spoke, and laid her fingers on her lips, to still my little sister, Cecily, who, not understanding anything about the important letter, was beginning to talk and make a noise.
"You say you are left with nine children. I too should have had nine, if mine had all lived. I have none left but Rudolph, the present Lord Ludlow. He is married, and lives, for the most part, in London. But I entertain six young gentlewomen at my house at Connington, who are to me as daughters - save that, perhaps, I restrict them in certain indulgences in dress and diet that might be befitting in young ladies of a higher rank, and of more probable wealth. These young persons - all of condition, though out of means - are my constant companions, and I strive to do my duty as a Christian lady towards them. One of these young gentlewomen died (at her own home, whither she had gone upon a visit) last May. Will you do me the favour to allow your eldest daughter to supply her place m my household? She is, as I make out, about sixteen years of age. She will find companions here who are but a little older than herself. I dress my young friends myself, and make each of them a small allowance for pocket-money. They have but few opportunities for matrimony, as Connington is far removed from any town. The clergyman is a deaf old widower; my agent is married; and as for the neighbouring farmers, they are, of course, below the notice of the young gentlewomen under my protection. Still, if any young woman wishes to marry, and has conducted herself to my satisfaction, I give her a wedding dinner, her clothes, and her house-linen. And such as remain with me to my death will find a small competency provided for them in my will. I reserve to myself the option of paying their travelling expenses - disliking gadding women, on the one hand; on the other, not wishing by too long absence from the family home to weaken natural ties.
"If my proposal pleases you and your daughter - or rather, if it pleases you, for I trust your daughter has been too well brought up to have a will in opposition to yours - let me know, dear cousin Margaret Dawson, and I will make arrangements for meeting the young gentlewoman at Cavistock, which is the nearest point to which the coach will bring her."
My mother dropped the letter and sat silent.
"I shall not know what to do without you, Margaret."
A moment before, like a young untried girl as I was, I had been pleased at the notion of seeing a new place, and leading a new life. But now - my mother's look of sorrow, and the children's cry of remonstrance: "Mother, I won't go," I said.
"Nay! but you had better," replied she, shaking her head. "Lady Ludlow has much power. She can help your brothers. It will not do to slight her offer."
So we accepted it, after much consultation. We were rewarded - or so we thought - for afterwards, when I came to know Lady Ludlow, I saw that she would have done her duty by us, as helpless relations, however we might have rejected her kindness - by a presentation to Christ's Hospital for one of my brothers.
And this was how I came to know my Lady Ludlow.
I remember well the afternoon of my arrival at Hanbury Court. Her ladyship had sent to meet me at the nearest post-town at which the mail-coach stopped. There was an old groom inquiring for me, the ostler said, if my name was Dawson - from Hanbury Court, he believed. I felt it rather formidable; and first began to understand what was meant by going among strangers, when I lost sight of the guard to whom my mother had entrusted me. I was perched up in a high gig with a hood to it, such as in those days was called a chair, and my companion was driving deliberately through the most pastoral country I had ever yet seen. By-and-by we ascended a long hill, and the man got out and walked at the horse's head. I should have liked to walk, too, very much indeed; but I did not know how far I might do it; and, in fact, I dared not speak to ask to be helped down the deep steps of the gig. We were at last at the top - on a long, breezy, sweeping, unenclosed piece of ground, called, as I afterwards learnt, a Chase. The groom stopped, breathed, patted his horse, and then mounted again to my side.
"Are we near Hanbury Court?" I asked.
"Near! Why, Miss! we've a matter of ten mile yet to go."
Once launched into conversation, we went on pretty glibly. I fancy he had been afraid of beginning to speak to me, just as I was to him; but he got over his shyness with me sooner than I did mine with him. I let him choose the subjects of conversation, although very often I could not understand the points of interest in them: for instance, he talked for more than a quarter of an hour of a famous race which a certain dog-fox had given him, above thirty years before; and spoke of all the covers and turns just as if I knew them as well as he did; and all the time I was wondering what kind of an animal a dog-fox might be.
After we left the Chase, the road grew worse. No one in these days, who has not seen the byroads of fifty years ago, can imagine what they were. We had to quarter, as Randal called it, nearly all the way along the deep-rutted, miry lanes; and the tremendous jolts I occasionally met with made my seat in the gig so unsteady that I could not look about me at all, I was so much occupied in holding on. The road was too muddy for me to walk without dirtying myself more than I liked to do, just before my first sight of my Lady Ludlow. But by-and-by, when we came to the fields in which the lane ended, I begged Randal to help me down, as I saw that I could pick my steps among the pasture grass without making myself unfit to be seen; and Randal, out of pity for his steaming horse, wearied with the hard struggle through the mud, thanked me kindly, and helped me down with a springing jump.
The pastures fell gradually down to the lower land, shut in on either side by rows of high elms, as if there had been a wide grand avenue here in former times. Down the grassy gorge we went, seeing the sunset sky at the end of the shadowed descent. Suddenly we came to a long flight of steps.
"If you'll run down there, Miss, I'll go round and meet you; and then you'd better mount again, for my lady will like to see you drive up to the house."
"Are we near the house?" said I, suddenly checked by the idea.
"Down there, Miss," replied he, pointing with his whip to certain stacks of twisted chimneys rising out of a group of trees, in deep shadow against the crimson light, and which lay just beyond a great square lawn at the base of the steep slope of a hundred yards, on the edge of which we stood.
I went down the steps quietly enough. I met Randal and the gig at the bottom; and, falling into a side road to the left, we drove sedately round, through the gateway, and into the great court in front of the house.
The road by which we had come lay right at the back.
Hanbury Court is a vast red-brick house - at least, it is cased in part with red bricks; and the gate-house and walls about the place are of brick - with stone facings at every corner, and door, and window, such as you see at Hampton Court. At the back are the gables, and arched doorways, and stone mullions, which show (so Lady Ludlow used to tell us) that it was once a priory. There was a prior's parlour, I know - only we called it Mrs. Medlicott's room; and there was a tithe-barn as big as a church, and rows of fish-ponds, all got ready for the monks' fasting-days in old time. But all this I did not see till afterwards. I hardly noticed, this first night, the great Virginian Creeper (said to have been the first planted in England by one of my lady's ancestors) that half covered the front of the house. As I had been unwilling to leave the guard of the coach, so did I now feel unwilling to leave Randal, a known friend of three hours. But there was no help for it; in I must go; past the grand-looking old gentleman holding the door open for me, on in to the great hall on the right hand, into which the sun's last rays were sending glorious red light - the gentleman was now walking before me - up a step on to the dais, as I afterwards learned that it was called - then again to the left, through a series of sitting-rooms, opening one out of another, and all of them looking into a stately garden, glowing, even in the twilight, with the bloom of flowers. We went up four steps out of the last of these rooms, and then my guide lifted up a heavy silk curtain, and I was in the presence of my Lady Ludlow.
She was very small of stature, and very upright. She wore a great lace cap, nearly half her own height, I should think, that went round her head (caps which tied under the chin, and which we called "mobs," came in later, and my lady held them in great contempt, saying people might as well come down in their nightcaps). In front of my lady's cap was a great bow of white satin ribbon; and a broad hand of the same ribbon was tied tight round her head, and served to keep the cap straight. She had a fine Indian muslin shawl folded over her shoulders and across her chest, and an apron of the same; a black silk mode gown, made with short sleeves and ruffles, and with the tail thereof pulled through the placket-hole, so as to shorten it to a useful length: beneath it she wore, as I could plainly see, a quilted lavender satin petticoat. Her hair was snowy white, but I hardly saw it, it was so covered with her cap: her skin, even at her age, was waxen in texture and tint; her eyes were large and dark blue, and must have been her great beauty when she was young, for there was nothing particular, as far as I can remember, either in mouth or nose. She had a great gold-headed stick by her chair; but I think it was more as a mark of state and dignity than for use; for she had as light and brisk a step when she chose as any girl of fifteen, and, in her private early walk of meditation in the mornings, would go as swiftly from garden alley to garden alley as any one of us.
She was standing up when I went in. I dropped my curtsey at the door, which my mother had always taught me as a part of good manners, and went up instinctively to my lady. She did not put out her hand, but raised herself a little on tiptoe, and kissed me on both cheeks.
"You are cold, my child. You shall have a dish of tea with me." She rang a little hand-bell on the table by her, and her waiting-maid came in from a small anteroom; and, as if all had been prepared, and was awaiting my arrival, brought with her a small china service with tea ready made, and a plate of delicately-cut bread and butter, every morsel of which I could have eaten, and been none the better for it, so hungry was I after my long ride. The waiting-maid took off my cloak, and I sat down, sorely alarmed at the silence, the hushed foot-falls of the subdued maiden over the thick carpet, and the soft voice and clear pronunciation of my Lady Ludlow. My teaspoon fell against my cup with a sharp noise, that seemed so out of place and season that I blushed deeply. My lady caught my eye with hers - both keen and sweet were those dark-blue eyes of her ladyship's -
"Your hands are very cold, my dear; take off those gloves" (I wore thick serviceable doeskin, and had been too shy to take them off unbidden), "and let me try and warm them - the evenings are very chilly." And she held my great red hands in hers - soft, warm, white, ring-laden. Looking at last a little wistfully into my face, she said - "Poor child! And you're the eldest of nine! I had a daughter who would have been just your age; but I cannot fancy her the eldest of nine." Then came a pause of silence; and then she rang her bell, and desired her waiting-maid, Adams, to show me to my room.
It was so small that I think it must have been a cell. The walls were whitewashed stone; the bed was of white dimity. There was a small piece of red stair-carpet on each side of the bed, and two chairs. In a closet adjoining were my washstand and toilet-table. There was a text of Scripture painted on the wall right opposite to my bed; and below hung a print, common enough in those days, of King George and Queen Charlotte, with all their numerous children, down to the little Princess Amelia in a go-cart. On each side hung a small portrait, also engraved: on the left, it was Louis the Sixteenth; on the other, Marie Antoinette. On the chimney-piece there was a tinder-box and a Prayer-book. I do not remember anything else in the room. Indeed, in those days people did not dream of writing-tables, and inkstands, and portfolios, and easy-chairs, and what not. We were taught to go into our bedrooms for the purposes of dressing, and sleeping, and praying.
Presently I was summoned to supper. I followed the young lady who had been sent to call me, down the wide shallow stairs, into the great hall, through which I had first passed on my way to my Lady Ludlow's room. There were four other young gentlewomen, all standing, and all silent, who curtsied to me when I first came in. They were dressed in a kind of uniform: muslin caps bound round their heads with blue ribbons, plain muslin handkerchiefs lawn aprons, and drab-coloured stuff gowns. They were all gathered together at a little distance from the table, on which were placed a couple of cold chickens, a salad, and a fruit tart. On the dais there was a smaller round table, on which stood a silver jug filled with milk, and a small roll. Near that was set a carved chair, with a countess's coronet surmounting the back of it. I thought that some one might have spoken to me; but they were shy, and I was shy; or else there was some other reason; but, indeed, almost the minute after I had come into the hall by the door at the lower hand, her ladyship entered by the door opening upon the dais; whereupon we all curtsied very low; I, because I saw the others do it. She stood and looked at us for a moment.
"Young gentlewomen, said she, "make Margaret Dawson welcome among you;" and they treated me with the kind politeness due to a stranger, but still without any talking beyond what was required for the purposes of the meal. After it was over, and grace was said by one of our party, my lady rang her hand-hell, and the servants came in and cleared away the supper things; then they brought in a portable reading-desk, which was placed on the dais, and, the whole household trooping in, my lady called to one of my companions to come up and read the Psalms and Lessons for the day. I remember thinking how afraid I should have been had I been in her place. There were no prayers. My lady thought it schismatic to have any prayers excepting those in the Prayer-book; and would as soon have preached a sermon herself in the parish church, as have allowed any one not a deacon at the least to read prayers in a private dwelling-house. I am not sure that even then she would have approved of his reading them in an unconsecrated place.
She had been maid of honour to Queen Charlotte; a Hanbury of that old stock that flourished in the days of the Plantagenets, and heiress of all the land that remained to the family, of the great estates which had once stretched into four separate counties. Hanbury Court was hers by right. She had married Lord Ludlow, and had lived for many years at his various seats, and away from her ancestral home. She had lost all her children but one, and most of them had died at these houses of Lord Ludlow's; and, I dare say, that gave my lady a distaste to the places, and a longing to come back to Hanbury Court, where she had been so happy as a girl. I imagine her girlhood had been the happiest time of her life; for, now I think of it, most of her opinions, when I knew her in later life, were singular enough then, but had been universally prevalent fifty years before. For instance, while I lived at Hanbury Court, the cry for education was beginning to come up: Mr. Raikes had set up his Sunday-schools; and some clergymen were all for teaching writing and arithmetic, as well as reading. My lady would have none of this; it was levelling and revolutionary, she said. When a young woman came to be hired, my lady would have her in, and see if she liked her looks and her dress, and question her about her family. Her ladyship laid great stress upon this latter point, saying that a girl who did not warm up when any interest or curiosity was expressed about her mother, or "the baby" (if there was one), was not likely to make a good servant. Then she would make her put out her feet, to see if they were well and neatly shod. Then she would bid her say the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. Then she inquired if she could write. If she could, and she had liked all that had gone before, her face sank - it was a great disappointment, for it was an all but inviolable rule with her never to engage a servant who could write. But I have known her ladyship break through it, although in both cases in which she did so she put the girl's principles to a further and unusual test in asking her to repeat the Ten Commandments. One pert young woman - and yet I was sorry for her too, only she afterwards married a rich draper in Shrewsbury - who had got through her trials pretty tolerably, considering she could write, spoilt all, by saying glibly, at the end of the last Commandment, "An't please your ladyship, I can cast accounts."
"Go away, wench," said my lady in a hurry, "you're only fit for trade; you will not suit me for a servant." The girl went away crestfallen; in a minute, however, my lady sent me after her to see that she had something to eat before leaving the house; and, indeed, she sent for her once again, but it was only to give her a Bible, and to bid her beware of French principles, which had led the French to cut off their king's and queen's heads.
The poor, blubbering girl said, "Indeed, my lady, I wouldn't hurt a fly, much less a king, and I cannot abide the French, nor frogs neither, for that matter."
But my lady was inexorable, and took a girl who could neither read nor write, to make up for her alarm about the progress of education towards addition and subtraction; and afterwards, when the clergyman who was at Hanbury parish when I came there, had died, and the bishop had appointed another, and a younger man, in his stead, this was one of the points on which he and my lady did not agree. While good old deaf Mr. Mountford lived, it was my lady's custom, when indisposed for a sermon, to stand up at the door of her large square pew - just opposite the reading-desk - and to say (at that part of the morning service where it is decreed that, in choirs and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem): "Mr. Mountford, I will not trouble you for a discourse this morning." And we all knelt down to the Litany with great satisfaction; for Mr. Mountford, though he could not hear, had always his eyes open, about this part of the service, for any of my lady's movements. But the new clergyman, Mr. Gray, was of a different stamp. He was very zealous in all his parish work; and my lady, who was just as good as she could be to the poor, was often crying him up as a godsend to the parish, and he never could send amiss to the Court when he wanted broth, or wine, or jelly, or sago for a sick person. But he needs must take up the new hobby of education; and I could see that this put my lady sadly about one Sunday, when she suspected, I know not how, that there was something to be said in his sermon about a Sunday-school which he was planning. She stood up, as she had not done since Mr. Mountford's death, two years and better before this time, and said -
"Mr. Gray, I will not trouble you for a discourse this morning."
But her voice was not well-assured and steady; and we knelt down with more of curiosity than satisfaction in our minds. Mr. Gray preached a very rousing sermon, on the necessity of establishing a Sabbath-school in the village. My lady shut her eyes, and seemed to go to sleep; but I don't believe she lost a word of it, though she said nothing about it that I heard until the next Saturday, when two of us, as was the custom, were riding out with her in her carriage, and we went to see a poor bedridden woman, who lived some miles away at the other end of the estate and of the parish; and as we came out of the cottage we met Mr. Gray walking up to it, in a great heat, and looking very tired. My lady beckoned him to her, and told him she would wait and take him home with her, adding that she wondered to see him there, so far from his home, for that it was beyond a Sabbath-day's journey, and, from what she had gathered from his sermon the last Sunday, he was all for Judaism against Christianity. He looked as if he did not understand what she meant; but the truth was that, besides the way in which he had spoken up for schools and schooling, he had kept calling Sunday the Sabbath; and, as her ladyship said, "The Sabbath is the Sabbath, and that's one thing - it is Saturday; and, if I keep it, I'm a Jew, which I'm not. And Sunday is Sunday; and that's another thing; and, if I keep it, I'm a Christian, which I humbly trust I am."
But, when Mr. Gray got an inkling of her meaning in talking about a Sabbath-day's journey, he only took notice of a part of it; he smiled and bowed, and said no one knew better than her ladyship what were the duties that abrogated all inferior laws regarding the Sabbath; and that he must go in and read to old Betty Brown, so that he would not detain her ladyship.
"But I shall wait for you, Mr. Gray," said she, "Or I will take a drive round by Oakfield, and be back in an hour's time." For, you see, she would not have him feel hurried or troubled with a thought that he was keeping her waiting, while he ought to be comforting and praying with old Betty.
"A very pretty young man, my dears," said she, as we drove away. "But I shall have my pew glazed all the same."
We did not know what she meant at the time; but the next Sunday but one we did. She had the curtains all round the grand old Hanbury family pew taken down, and, instead of them, there was glass up to the height of six or seven feet. We entered by a door, with a window in it that drew up or down just like what you see in carriages. This window was generally down, and then we could hear perfectly; but if Mr. Gray used the word "Sabbath," or spoke in favour of schooling or education, my lady stepped out of her corner, and drew up the window with a decided clang and clash.
I must tell you something more about Mr. Gray. The presentation to the living of Hanbury was vested in two trustees, of whom Lady Ludlow was one: Lord Ludlow had exercised this right in the appointment of Mr. Mountford, who had won his lordship's favour by his excellent horsemanship. Nor was Mr. Mountford a bad clergyman, as clergymen went in those days. He did not drink, though he liked good eating as much as any one. And if any poor person was ill, and he heard of it, he would send them plates from his own dinner of what he himself liked best; sometimes of dishes which were almost as bad as poison to sick people. He meant kindly to everybody except dissenters, whom Lady Ludlow and he united in trying to drive out of the parish; and among dissenters he particularly abhorred Methodists - some one said, because John Wesley had objected to his hunting. But that must have been long ago, for when I knew him he was far too stout and too heavy to hunt; besides, the bishop of the diocese disapproved of hunting, and had intimated his disapprobation to the clergy. For my own part, I think a good run would not have come amiss, even from a moral point of view, to Mr. Mountford. He ate so much, and took so little exercise, that we young women often heard of his being in terrible passions with his servants, and the sexton and clerk. But they none of them minded him much, for he soon came to himself, and was sure to make them some present or other - some said in proportion to his anger; so that the sexton, who was a bit of a wag (as all sextons are, I think), said that the vicar's saying, "The Devil take you," was worth a shilling any day, whereas "The Deuce" was a shabby sixpenny speech, only fit for a curate.
There was a great deal of good in Mr. Mountford, too. He could not bear to see pain, or sorrow, or misery of any kind; and, if it came under his notice, he was never easy till he had relieved it, for the time, at any rate. But he was afraid of being made uncomfortable; so, if he possibly could, he would avoid seeing any one who was ill or unhappy; and he did not thank any one for telling him about them.
"What would your ladyship have me to do?" he once said to my Lady Ludlow, when she wished him to go and see a poor man who had broken his leg. "I cannot piece the leg as the doctor can; I cannot nurse him as well as his wife does; I may talk to him, but he no more understands me than I do the language of the alchemists. My coming puts him out; he stiffens himself into an uncomfortable posture, out of respect to the cloth, and dare not take the comfort of kicking, and swearing, and scolding his wife, while I am there. I hear him, with my figurative ears, my lady, heave a sigh of relief when my back is turned, and the sermon that he thinks I ought to have kept for the pulpit, and have delivered to his neighbours (whose case, as he fancies, it would just have fitted, as it seemed to him to be addressed to the sinful) is all ended, and done, for the day. I judge others as myself; I do to them as I would be done to. That's Christianity, at any rate. I should hate - saving your ladyship's presence - to have my Lord Ludlow coming and seeing me, if I were ill. 'Twould be a great honour, no doubt; but I should have to put on a clean nightcap for the occasion, and sham patience, in order to be polite, and not weary his lordship with my complaints. I should be twice as thankful to him if he would send me game, or a good fat haunch, to bring me up to that pitch of health and strength one ought to be in, to appreciate the honour of a visit from a nobleman. So I shall send Jerry Butler a good dinner every day till he is strong again; and spare the poor old fellow my presence and advice."
My lady would be puzzled by this, and by many other of Mr. Mountford's speeches. But he had been appointed by my lord, and she could not question her dead husband's wisdom; and she knew that the dinners were always sent, and often a guinea or two to help to pay the doctor's bills; and Mr. Mountford was true blue, as we call it, to the backbone; hated the dissenters and the French; and could hardly drink a dish of tea without giving out the toast of "Church and King, and down with the Rump." Moreover, he had once had the honour of preaching before the King and Queen, and two of the Princesses, at Weymouth; and the King had applauded his sermon audibly with - "Very good; very good;" and that was a seal put upon his merit in my lady's eyes.
Besides, in the long winter Sunday evenings, he would come up to the Court, and read a sermon to us girls, and play a game of picquet with my lady afterwards; which served to shorten the tedium of the time. My lady would, on those occasions, invite him to sup with her on the dais; but, as her meal was invariably bread and milk only, Mr. Mountford preferred sitting down amongst us, and made a joke about its being wicked and heterodox to eat meagre on Sunday, a festival of the Church. We smiled at this joke just as much the twentieth time we heard it as we did at the first; for we knew it was coming, because he always coughed a little nervously before he made a joke, for fear my lady should not approve; and neither she nor he seemed to remember that he had ever hit upon the idea before.
Mr. Mountford died quite suddenly at last. We were all very sorry to lose him. He left some of his property (for he had a private estate) to the poor of the parish, to furnish them with an annual Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding, for which he wrote out a very good receipt in the codicil to his will.
Moreover, he desired his executors to see that the vault in which the vicars of Hanbury were interred was well aired, before his coffin was taken in; for, all his life long, he had had a dread of damp, and latterly he kept his rooms to such a pitch of warmth that some thought it hastened his end.
Then the other trustee, as I have said, presented the living to Mr. Gray, Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford. It was quite natural for us all, as belonging in some sort to the Hanbury family, to disapprove of the other trustee's choice. But when some ill-natured person circulated the report that Mr. Gray was a Moravian Methodist, I remember my lady said, "She could not believe anything so bad, without a great deal of evidence."
Before I tell you about Mr. Gray, I think I ought to make you understand something more of what we did all day long at Hanbury Court. There were five of us at the time of which I am speaking, all young women of good descent, and allied (however distantly) to people of rank. When we were not with my lady, Mrs. Medlicott looked after us: a gentle little woman, who had been companion to my lady for many years, and was indeed, I have been told, some kind of relation to her. Mrs. Medlicott's parents had lived in Germany, and the consequence was, she spoke English with a very foreign accent. Another consequence was, that she excelled in all manner of needlework, such as is not known even by name in these days. She could darn either lace, table-linen, India muslin, or stockings, so that no one could tell where the hole or rent had been. Though a good Protestant, and never missing Guy Faux day at church, she was as skilful at fine work as any nun in a Papist convent. She would take a piece of French cambric, and by drawing out some threads, and working in others, it became delicate lace in a very few hours. She did the same by Hollands cloth, and made coarse strong lace, with which all my lady's napkins and table-linen were trimmed. We worked under her during a great part of the day, either in the still-room, or at our sewing in a chamber that opened out of the great hall. My lady despised every kind of work that would now be called Fancy-work. She considered that the use of coloured threads or worsted was only fit to amuse children; but that grown women ought not to be taken with mere blues and reds, but to restrict their pleasure in sewing to making small and delicate stitches. She would speak of the old tapestry in the hall as the work of her ancestresses, who lived before the Reformation, and were consequently unacquainted with pure and simple tastes in work, as well as in religion. Nor would my lady sanction the fashion of the day, which, at the beginning of this century, made all the fine ladies take to making shoes. She said that such work was a consequence of the French Revolution, which had done much to annihilate all distinctions of rank and class, and hence it was that she saw young ladies of birth and breeding handling lasts, and awls, and dirty cobblers'-wax, like shoe-makers' daughters.
Very frequently one of us would be summoned to my lady to read aloud to her, as she sat in her small withdrawing-room, some improving book. It was generally Mr. Addison's "Spectator;" but one year, I remember, we had to read "Sturm's Reflections," translated from a German book Mrs. Medlicott recommended. Mr. Sturm told us what to think about for every day in the year; and very dull it was; but I believe Queen Charlotte had liked the book very much, and the thought of her royal approbation kept my lady awake during the reading. "Mrs. Chapone's Letters" and "Dr. Gregory's Advice to Young Ladies" composed the rest of our library for week-day reading. I, for one, was glad to leave my fine sewing, and even my reading aloud (though this last did keep me with my dear lady) to go to the still-room and potter about among the preserves and the medicated waters. There was no doctor for many miles round, and with Mrs. Medlicott to direct us, and Dr. Buchan to go by for recipes, we sent out many a bottle of physic, which, I dare say, was as good as what comes out of the druggist's shop. At any rate, I do not think we did much harm; for, if any of our physics tasted stronger than usual, Mrs. Medlicott would bid us let it down with cochineal and water, to make all safe as she said. So our bottles of medicine had very little real physic in them at last; but we were careful in putting labels on them, which looked very mysterious to those who could not read, and helped the medicine to do its work. I have sent off many a bottle of salt and water coloured red; and, whenever we had nothing else to do in the still-room, Mrs. Medlicott would set us to making bread-pills, by way of practice; and, as far as I can say, they were very efficacious, as before we gave out a box Mrs. Medlicott always told the patient what symptoms to expect; and I hardly ever inquired without hearing that they had produced their effect. There was one old man who took six pills a-night, of any kind we liked to give him, to make him sleep; and if, by any chance, his daughter had forgotten to let us know that he was out of his medicine, he was so restless and miserable that, as he said, he thought he was like to die. I think ours was what would be called homoeopathic practice now-a-days. Then we learnt to make all the cakes and dishes of the season in the still-room. We had plum-porridge and mince-pies at Christmas, fritters and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, furmenty on Mothering Sunday, violet-cakes in Passion Week, tansy-pudding on Easter Sunday, three-cornered cakes on Trinity Sunday, and so on through the year: all made from good old Church receipts, handed down from one of my lady's earliest Protestant ancestresses. Every one of us passed a portion of the day with Lady Ludlow; and now and then we rode out with her in her coach and four. She did net like to go out with a pair of horses, considering this rather beneath her rank; and, indeed, four horses were very often needed to pull her heavy coach through the stiff mud. But it was rather a cumbersome equipage through the narrow Warwickshire lanes; and I used often to think it was well that countesses were not plentiful, or else we might have met another lady of quality in another coach and four, where there would have been no possibility of turning, or passing each other, and very little chance of backing. Once, when the idea of this danger of meeting another countess in a narrow, deep-rutted lane was very prominent in my mind, I ventured to ask Mrs. Medlicott what would have to be done on such an occasion; and she told me that "de latest creation must back, for sure," which puzzled me a good deal at the time, although I understand it now. I began to find out the use of the "Peerage," a book which had seemed to me rather dull before; but, as I was always a coward in a coach, I made myself well acquainted with the dates of creation of our three Warwickshire earls, and was happy to find that Earl Ludlow ranked second, the oldest earl being a hunting widower, and not likely to drive out in a carriage.
All this time I have wandered from Mr. Gray. Of course, we first saw him in church when he read himself in. He was very red-faced, the kind of redness which goes with light hair and a blushing complexion; he looked slight and short, and his bright light frizzy hair had hardly a dash of powder in it. I remember my lady making this observation, and sighing over it; for, though since the famine in seventeen hundred and ninety-nine and eighteen hundred there had been a tax on hair-powder, yet it was reckoned very revolutionary and Jacobin not to wear a good deal of it. My lady hardly liked the opinions of any man who wore his own hair; but this she would say was rather a prejudice; only, in her youth none but the mob had gone wigless, and she could not get over the association of wigs with birth and breeding; a man's own hair with that class of people who had formed the rioters in seventeen hundred and eighty, when Lord George Gordon had been one of the bugbears of my lady's life. Her husband and his brothers, she told us, had been put into breeches, and had their heads shaved on their seventh birthday, each of them, a handsome little wig of the newest fashion forming the old Lady Ludlow's invariable birthday present to her sons as they each arrived at that age; and afterwards, to the day of their death, they never saw their own hair. To be without powder, as some underbred people were talking of being now, was in fact to insult the proprieties of life by being undressed. It was English sans-culottism. But Mr. Gray did wear a little powder - enough to save him in my lady's good opinion, but not enough to make her approve of him decidedly.
The next time I saw him was in the great hall. Mary Mason and I were going to drive out with my lady in her coach; and, when we went downstairs with our best hats and cloaks on, we found Mr. Gray awaiting my lady's coming. I believe he had paid his respects to her before, but we had never seen him; and he had declined her invitation to spend Sunday evening at the Court (as Mr. Mountford used to do pretty regularly - and play a game at picquet too), which, Mrs. Medlicott told us, had caused my lady to be not over well pleased with him.
He blushed redder than ever at the sight of us, as we entered the hall and dropped him our curtsies. He coughed two or three times, as if he would have liked to speak to us, if he could but have found something to say; and every time he coughed he became hotter-looking than ever. I am ashamed to say, we were nearly laughing at him; half because we, too, were so shy that we understood what his awkwardness meant.
My lady came in, with her quick active step - she always walked quickly when she did not bethink herself of her cane - as if she was sorry to have us kept waiting - and, as she entered, she gave us all round one of those graceful sweeping curtsies, of which I think the art must have died out with her, it implied so much courtesy; - this time it said, as well as words could do, "I am sorry to have kept you all waiting - forgive me."
She went up to the mantelpiece, near which Mr. Gray had been standing until her entrance, curtseying afresh to him, and pretty deeply this time, because of his cloth, and her being hostess, and he, a new guest. She asked him if he would not prefer speaking to her in her own private parlour, and looked as though she would have conducted him there. But he burst out with his errand, of which he was full even to choking, and which sent the glistening tears into his large blue eyes, which stood farther and farther out with his excitement.
"My lady, I want to speak to you, and to persuade you to exert your kind interest with Mr. Lathom - Justice Lathom, of Hathaway Manor" --
"Harry Lathom?" inquired my lady, - as Mr. Gray stopped to take the breath he had lost in his hurry - "I did not know he was in the commission."
"He is only just appointed; he took the oaths not a month ago - more's the pity!"
"I do not understand why you should regret it. The Lathoms have held Hathaway since Edward the First, and Mr. Lathom hears a good character, although his temper is hasty" --
"My lady! he has committed Job Gregson for stealing - a fault of which he is as innocent as I - and all the evidence goes to prove it, now that the case is brought before the Bench; only the Squires hang so together that they can't be brought to see justice, and are all for sending Job to gaol, out of compliment to Mr. Lathom, saying it is his first committal, and it won't be civil to tell him there is no evidence against his man. For God's sake, my lady, speak to the gentlemen; they will attend to you, while they only tell me to mind my own business."
Now my lady was always inclined to stand by her order, and the Lathoms of Hathaway Court were cousins to the Hanburys. Besides, it was rather a point of honour in those days to encourage a young magistrate, by passing a pretty sharp sentence on his first committals; and Job Gregson was the father of a girl who had been lately turned away from her place as scullery-maid for sauciness to Mrs. Adams, her ladyship's own maid; and Mr. Gray had not said a word of the reasons why he believed the man innocent - for he was in such a hurry, I believe he would have had my lady drive off to the Henley Court-house then and there; - so there seemed a good deal against the man, and nothing but Mr. Gray's bare word for him; and my lady drew herself a little up, and said -
"Mr. Gray! I do not see what reason either you or I have to interfere. Mr. Harry Lathom is a sensible kind of young man, well capable of ascertaining the truth without our help" --
"But more evidence has come out since," broke in Mr. Gray. My lady went a little stiffer, and spoke a little more coldly -
"I suppose this additional evidence is before the justices: men of good family, and of honour and credit, well known in the county. They naturally feel that the opinion of one of themselves must have more weight than the words of a man like Job Gregson, who bears a very indifferent character - has been strongly suspected of poaching coming from no one knows where, squatting on Hareman's Common - which, by the way, is extra-parochial, I believe; consequently you, as a clergyman, are not responsible for what goes on there; and, although impolitic, there might be some truth in what the magistrates said, in advising you to mind your own business," said her ladyship, smiling, "and they might be tempted to bid me mind mine, if I interfered, Mr. Gray: might they not?"
He looked extremely uncomfortable; half angry. Once or twice he began to speak, but checked himself, as if his words would not have been wise or prudent. At last he said -
"It may seem presumptuous in me - a stranger of only a few weeks' standing - to set up my judgment as to men's character against that of residents" - Lady Ludlow gave a little bow of acquiescence, which was, I think, involuntary on her part, and which I don't think he perceived - "but I am convinced that the man is innocent of this offence - and besides, the justices themselves allege this ridiculous custom of paying a compliment to a newly-appointed magistrate as their only reason."
That unlucky word "ridiculous!" It undid all the good his modest beginning had done him with my lady. I knew as well as words could have told me, that she was affronted at the expression being used by a man inferior in rank to those whose actions he applied it to - and, truly, it was a great want of tact, considering to whom be was speaking.
Lady Ludlow spoke very gently and slowly; she always did so when she was annoyed; it was a certain sign, the meaning of which we had all learnt.
"I think, Mr. Gray, we will drop the subject. It is one on which we are not likely to agree."
Mr. Gray's ruddy colour grew purple and then faded away, and his face became pale. I think both my lady and he had forgotten our presence; and we were beginning to feel too awkward to wish to remind them of it. And yet we could not help watching and listening with the greatest interest.
Mr. Gray drew himself up to his full height, with an unconscious feeling of dignity. Little as was his stature, and awkward and embarrassed as he had been only a few minutes before, I remember thinking he looked almost as grand as my lady when he spoke.
"Your ladyship must remember that it may be my duty to speak to my parishioners on many subjects on which they do not agree with me. I am not at liberty to be silent, because they differ in opinion from me."
Lady Ludlow's great blue eyes dilated with surprise, and - I do think - anger, at being thus spoken to. I am not sure whether it was very wise in Mr. Gray. He himself looked afraid of the consequences, but as if he was determined to bear them without flinching. For a minute there was silence. Then my lady replied -
"Mr. Gray, I respect your plain speaking, although I may wonder whether a young man of your age and position has any right to assume that he is a better judge than one with the experience which I have naturally gained at my time of life, and in the station I hold."
"If I, madam, as the clergyman of this parish, am not to shrink from telling what I believe to be the truth to the poor and lowly, no more am I to hold my peace in the presence of the rich and titled." Mr. Gray's face showed that he was in that state of excitement which in a child would have ended in a good fit of crying. He looked as if he had nerved himself up to doing and saying things, which he disliked above everything, and which nothing short of serious duty could have compelled him to do and say. And at such times every minute circumstance which could add to pain comes vividly before one. I saw that he became aware of our presence, and that it added to his discomfiture.
My lady flushed up. "Are you aware, sir," asked she, "that you have gone far astray from the original subject of conversation? But, as you talk of your parish, allow me to remind you that Hareman's Common is beyond the bounds, and that you are really not responsible for the characters and lives of the squatters on that unlucky piece of ground."
"Madam, I see I have only done harm in speaking to you about the affair at all. I beg your pardon and take my leave."
He bowed, and looked very sad. Lady Ludlow caught the expression of his face.
"Good morning!" she cried, in rather a louder and quicker way than that in which she had been speaking. "Remember, Job Gregson is a notorious poacher and evildoer, and you really are not responsible for what goes on at Hareman's Common."
He was near the hall-door, and said something - half to himself, which we heard (being nearer to him), but my lady did not; although she saw that he spoke. "What did he say?" she asked in a somewhat hurried manner, as soon as the door was closed - "I did not hear." We looked at each other, and then I spoke -
"He said, my lady, that 'God help him! he was responsible for all the evil he did not strive to overcome.'"
My lady turned sharp round away from us, and Mary Mason said afterwards she thought her ladyship was much vexed with both of us for having been present, and with me for having repeated what Mr. Gray had said. But it was not our fault that we were in the hall; and, when my lady asked what Mr. Gray had said, I thought it right to tell her.
In a few minutes she bade us accompany her in her ride in the coach.
Lady Ludlow always sat forwards by herself, and we girls backwards. Somehow this was a rule, which we never thought of questioning. It was true that riding backwards made some of us feel very uncomfortable and faint; and to remedy this my lady always drove with both windows open, which occasionally gave her the rheumatism; but we always went on in the old way. This day she did not pay any great attention to the road by which we were going, and Coachman took his own way. We were very silent, as my lady did not speak, and looked very serious. Or else, in general, she made these rides very pleasant (to those who were not qualmish with riding backwards), by talking to us in a very agreeable manner, and telling us of the different things which had happened to her at various places - at Paris and Versailles, where she had been in her youth - at Windsor and Kew and Weymouth, where she had been with the Queen, when maid-of-honour - and so on. But this day she did not talk at all. All at once she put her head out of the window.
"John Footman," said she, "where are we? Surely this is Hareman's Common."
"Yes, an't please my lady," said John Footman, and waited for further speech or orders. My lady thought a while, and then said she would have the steps put down and get out.
As soon as she was gone, we looked at each other, and then without a word began to gaze after her. We saw her pick her dainty way, in the little high-heeled shoes she always wore (because they had been in fashion in her youth), among the yellow pools of stagnant water that had gathered in the clayey soil. John Footman followed, stately, after; afraid too, for all his stateliness, of splashing his pure white stockings. Suddenly my lady turned round and said something to him, and he returned to the carriage with a half-pleased, half-puzzled air.
My lady went on to a cluster of rude mud houses at the higher end of the Common: cottages built, as they were occasionally at that day, of wattles and clay, and thatched with sods. As far as we could make out from dumb show, Lady Ludlow saw enough of the interiors of these places to make her hesitate before entering, or even speaking to any of the children who were playing about in the puddles. After a pause, she disappeared into one of the cottages. It seemed to us a long time before she came out; but I dare say it was not more than eight or ten minutes. She came back with her head hanging down, as if to choose her way - but we saw it was more in thought and bewilderment than for any such purpose.
She had not made up her mind where we should drive to when she got into the carriage again. John Footman stood, bare-headed, waiting for orders.
"To Hathaway. My dears, if you are tired, or if you have anything to do for Mrs. Medlicott, I can drop you at Barford Corner, and it is but a quarter of an hour's brisk walk home."
But luckily we could safely say that Mrs. Medlicott did not want us; and as we had whispered to each other, as we sat alone in the coach, that surely my lady must have gone to Job Gregson's, we were far too anxious to know the end of it all to say that we were tired. So we all set off to Hathaway. Mr. Harry Lathom was a bachelor squire, thirty or thirty-five years of age, more at home in the field than in the drawing-room, and with sporting men than with ladies.
My lady did not alight, of course; it was Mr. Lathom's place to wait upon her, and she bade the butler - who had a smack of the gamekeeper in him, very unlike our own powdered venerable fine gentleman at Hanbury - tell his master, with her compliments, that she wished to speak to him. You may think how pleased we were to find that we should hear all that was said; though, I think, afterwards we were half sorry when we saw how our presence confused the squire, who would have found it bad enough to answer my lady's questions, even without two eager girls for audience.
"Pray, Mr. Lathom," began my lady, something abruptly for her - but she was very full of her subject - "what is this I hear about Job Gregson?"
Mr. Lathom looked annoyed and vexed, but dared not show it in his words.
"I gave out a warrant against him, my lady, for theft - that is all. You are doubtless aware of his character: a man who sets nets and springes in long cover, and fishes wherever he takes a fancy. It is but a short step from poaching to thieving."
"That is quite true," replied Lady Ludlow (who had a horror of poaching for this very reason): "but I imagine you do not send a man to gaol on account of his bad character."
"Rogues and vagabonds," said Mr. Lathom. "A man may be sent to prison for being a vagabond; for no specific act, but for his general mode of life."
He had the better of her ladyship for one moment; but then she answered -
"But in this case, the charge on which you committed him is for theft; now his wife tells me he can prove he was some miles distant from Holmwood, where the robbery took place, all that afternoon; she says you had the evidence before you.
Mr. Lathom here interrupted my lady, by saying, in a somewhat sulky manner -
"No such evidence was brought before me when I gave the warrant. I am not answerable for the other magistrates' decision when they had more evidence before them. It was they who committed him to gaol. I am not responsible for that."
My lady did not often show signs of impatience; but we knew she was feeling irritated, by the little perpetual tapping of her high-heeled shoe against the bottom of the carriage. About the same time we, sitting backwards, caught a glimpse of Mr. Gray through the open door, standing in the shadow of the hall. Doubtless Lady Ludlow's arrival had interrupted a conversation between Mr. Lathom and Mr. Gray. The latter must have heard every word of what she was saying; but of this she was not aware, and caught at Mr. Lathom's disclaimer of responsibility with pretty much the same argument which she had heard (through our repetition) that Mr. Gray had used not two hours before.
"And do you mean to say, Mr. Lathom, that you don't consider yourself responsible for all injustice or wrong-doing that you might have prevented, and have not? Nay, in this case the first germ of injustice was your own mistake. I wish you had been with me a little while ago, and seen the misery in that poor fellow's cottage. She spoke lower, and Mr. Gray drew near, in a sort of involuntary manner, as if to hear all she was saying. We saw him, and doubtless Mr. Lathom heard his footstep, and knew who it was that was listening behind him, and approving of every word that was said. He grew yet more sullen in manner; but still my lady was my lady, and he dared not speak out before her, as he would have done to Mr. Gray. Lady Ludlow, however, caught the look of stubbornness in his face, and it roused her as I had never seen her roused.
"I am sure you will not refuse, sir, to accept my bail. I offer to bail the fellow out, and to be responsible for his appearance at the sessions. What say you to that, Mr. Lathom?"
"The offence of theft is not bailable, my lady."
"Not in ordinary cases, I dare say. But I imagine this is an extraordinary case. The man is sent to prison out of compliment to you, and against all evidence, as far as I can learn. He will have to rot in gaol for two months, and his wife and children to starve. I, Lady Ludlow, offer to bail him out, and pledge myself for his appearance at next quarter-sessions."
"It is against the law, my lady."
"Bah! Bah! Bah! Who makes laws? Such as I, in the House of Lords - such as you, in the House of Commons. We, who make the laws in St. Stephen's, may break the mere forms of them, when we have right on our sides, on our own land, and amongst our own people."
"The lord-lieutenant may take away my commission, if he heard of it."
"And a very good thing for the county, Harry Lathom, and for you too, if he did - if you don't go on more wisely than you have begun. A pretty set you and your brother magistrates are to administer justice through the land! I always said a good despotism was the best form of government; and I am twice as much in favour of it now I see what a quorum is! My dears!" suddenly turning round to us," if it would not tire you to walk home, I would beg Mr. Lathom to take a seat in my coach, and we would drive to Henley Gaol, and have the poor man out at once."
"A walk over the fields at this time of day is hardly fitting for young ladies to take alone," said Mr. Lathom, anxious no doubt to escape from his tête-à-tête drive with my lady, and possibly not quite prepared to go to the illegal length of prompt measures, which she had in contemplation.
But Mr. Gray now stepped forward, too anxious for the release of the prisoner to allow any obstacle to intervene which he could do away with. To see Lady Ludlow's face when she first perceived whom she had had for auditor and spectator of her interview with Mr. Lathom, was as good as a play. She had been doing and saying the very things she had been so much annoyed at Mr. Gray's saying and proposing only an hour or two ago. She had been setting down Mr. Lathom pretty smartly, in the presence of the very man to whom she had spoken of that gentleman as so sensible, and of such a standing in the county, that it was presumption to question his doings. But before Mr. Gray had finished his offer of escorting us back to Hanbury Court, my lady had recovered herself. There was neither surprise nor displeasure in her manner, as she answered -
"I thank you, Mr. Gray. I was not aware that you were here, but I think I can understand on what errand you came. And seeing you here recalls me to a duty I owe Mr. Lathom. Mr. Lathom, I have spoken to you pretty plainly - forgetting until I saw Mr. Gray, that only this very afternoon I differed from him on this very question; taking completely, at that time, the same view of the whole subject which you have done; thinking that the county would be well rid of such a man as Job Gregson, whether he had committed this theft or not. Mr. Gray and I did not part quite friends," she continued, bowing towards him; "but it so happened that I saw Job Gregson's wife and home - I felt that Mr. Gray had been right and I had been wrong; so, with the famous inconsistency of my sex, I came hither to scold you," smiling towards Mr. Lathom, who looked half-sulky yet, and did not relax a bit of his gravity at her smile, "for holding the same opinions that I had done an hour before. Mr. Gray," (again bowing towards him) "these young ladies will be very much obliged to you for your escort, and so shall I. Mr. Lathom, may I beg of you to accompany me to Henley?"
Mr. Gray bowed very low, and went very red; Mr. Lathom said something which we none of us heard, but which was, I think, some remonstrance against the course he was, as it were, compelled to take. Lady Ludlow, however, took no notice of his murmur, but sat in an attitude of polite expectancy; and, as we turned off on our walk, I saw Mr. Lathom getting into the coach with the air of a whipped hound. I must say, considering my lady's feeling, I did not envy him his ride - though, I believe, he was quite in the right as to the object of the ride being illegal.
Our walk home was very dull. We had no fears; and would far rather have been without the awkward, blushing young man, into which Mr. Gray had sunk. At every stile be hesitated - sometimes he half got over it, thinking that he could assist us better in that way; then he would turn back, unwilling to go before ladies. He had no ease of manner, as my lady once said of him, though on any occasion of duty, he had an immense deal of dignity.
As far as I can remember, it was very soon after this that I first began to have the pain in my hip which has ended in making me a cripple for life. I hardly recollect more than one walk after our return under Mr. Gray's escort from Mr. Lathom's. Indeed, at the time, I was not without suspicions (which I never named) that the beginning of all the mischief was a great jump I had taken from the top of one of the stiles on that very occasion.
Well, it is a long while ago, and God disposes of us all, and I am not going to tire you out with telling you how I thought and felt, and how, when I saw what my life was to be, I could hardly bring myself to be patient, but rather wished to die at once. You can every one of you think for yourselves what becoming all at once useless and unable to move, and by-and-by growing hopeless of cure, and feeling that one must be a burden to some one all one's life long, would be to an active, wilful, strong girl of seventeen, anxious to get on in the world, so as, if possible, to help her brothers and sisters. So I shall only say, that one among the blessings which arose out of what seemed at the time a great, black sorrow was, that Lady Ludlow for many years took me, as it were, into her own especial charge; and now, as I lie still and alone in my old age, it is such a pleasure to think of her!
Mrs. Medlicott was great as a nurse, and I am sure I can never be grateful enough to her memory for all her kindness. But she was puzzled to know how to manage me in other ways. I used to have long, hard fits of crying; thinking that I ought to go home - and yet what could they do with me there ? - and a hundred and fifty other anxious thoughts, some of which I could tell to Mrs. Medlicott, and others I could not. Her way of comforting me was hurrying off for some kind of tempting or strengthening food - a basin of melted calves'-foot jelly was, I am sure she thought, a cure for every woe.
"There! take it, dear, take it!" she would say; "and don't go on fretting for what can't be helped."
But, I think, she got puzzled at length at the non-efficacy of good things to eat; and one day, after I had limped down to see the doctor, in Mrs. Medlicott's sitting-room - a room lined with cupboards, containing preserves and dainties of all kinds, which she perpetually made, and never touched herself - when I was returning to my bedroom to cry away the afternoon, under pretence of arranging my clothes, John Footman brought me a message from my lady (with whom the doctor had been having a conversation), to bid me go to her in that private sitting-room at the end of the suite of apartments about which I spoke in describing the day of my first arrival at Hanbury. I had hardly been in it since; as, when we read to my lady, she generally sat in the small withdrawing-room out of which this private room of hers opened. I suppose great people do not require what we smaller people value so much - I mean privacy. I do not think that there was a room which my lady occupied that had not two doors, and some of them had three or four. Then my lady had always Adams waiting upon her in her bed-chamber; and it was Mrs. Medlicott's duty to sit within call, as it were, in a sort of ante-room that led out of my lady's own sitting-room, on the opposite side to the drawing-room door. To fancy the house, you must take a great square, and halve it by a line; at one end of this line was the hall-door, or public entrance; at the opposite the private entrance from a terrace, which was terminated at one end by a sort of postern door in an old grey stone wall, beyond which lay the farm buildings and offices; so that people could come in this way to my lady on business, while, if she were going into the garden from her own room, she had nothing to do but to pass through Mrs. Medlicott's apartment, out into the lesser hall; and then, turning to the right as she passed on to the terrace, she could go down the flight of broad, shallow steps at the corner of the house into the lovely garden, with stretching, sweeping lawns, and gay flower-beds, and beautiful, bossy laurels, and other blooming or massy shrubs, with full-grown beeches, or larches feathermg down to the ground a little farther off. The whole was set in a frame, as it were, by the more distant woodlands. The house had been modernised in the days of Queen Anne, I think; but the money had fallen short that was requisite to carry out all the improvements, so it was only the suite of withdrawing-rooms and the terrace-rooms, as far as the private entrance, that had the new, long, high windows put in; and these were old enough by this time to be draped with roses, and honeysuckles, and pyracanthus, winter and summer long.
Well, to go back to that day when I limped into my lady's sitting-room, trying hard to look as if I had not been crying, and not to walk as if I was in much pain. I do not know whether my lady saw how near the tears were to my eyes, but she told me she had sent for me, because she wanted some help in arranging the drawers of her bureau, and asked me - just as if it was a favour I was to do her - if I could sit down in the easy-chair near the window - (all quietly arranged before I came in, with a footstool, and a table quite near) - and assist her. You will wonder, perhaps, why I was not bidden to sit or lie on the sofa; but (although I found one there a morning or two afterwards, when I came down) the fact was, that there was none in the room at this time. I have even fancied that the easy-chair was brought in on purpose for me; for it was not the chair in which I remember my lady sitting the first time I saw her. That chair was very much carved and gilded, with a countess's coronet at the top. I tried it one day, some time afterwards, when my lady was out of the room, and I had a fancy for seeing how I could move about; and very uncomfortable it was. Now my chair (as I learnt to call it, and to think it) was soft and luxurious, and seemed somehow to give one's body rest just in that part where one most needed it.
I was not at my ease that first day, nor indeed for many days afterwards, notwithstanding my chair was so comfortable. Yet I forgot my sad pain in silently wondering over the meaning of many of the things we turned out of those curious old drawers. I was puzzled to know why some were kept at all: a scrap of writing may be, with only half-a-dozen commonplace words written on it, or a bit of broken riding-whip, and here and there a stone, of which I thought I could have picked up twenty just as good in the first walk I took. But it seems that was just my ignorance; for my lady told me they were pieces of valuable marble, used to make the floors of the great Roman emperors palaces long ago; and that when she had been a girl, and made the grand tour long ago, her cousin, Sir Horace Mann, the ambassador or envoy at Florence, had told her to be sure to go into the fields inside the walls of ancient Rome, when the farmers were preparing the ground for the onion-sowing, and had to make the soil fine, and pick up what bits of marble she could find. She had done so, and meant to have had them made into a table; but somehow that plan fell through, and there they were with all the dirt out of the onion-field upon them; but once when I thought of cleaning them with soap and water, at any rate, she bade me not to do so, for it was Roman dirt - earth, I think, she called it - but it was dirt all the same.
Then in this bureau, were many other things, the value of which I could understand - locks of hair carefully ticketed, which my lady looked at very sadly; and lockets and bracelets with miniatures in them, - very small pictures to what they make now-a-days, and called miniatures; some of them had even to be looked at through a microscope before you could see the individual expression of the faces, or how beautifully they were painted. I don't think that looking at these made my lady seem so melancholy, as the seeing and touching of the hair did. But, to be sure, the hair was, as it were, a part of some beloved body which she might never touch and caress again, but which lay beneath the turf, all faded and disfigured, except perhaps the very hair from which the lock she held had been dissevered; whereas the pictures were but pictures after all - likenesses, but not the very things themselves. This is only my own conjecture, mind. My lady rarely spoke out her feelings. For, to begin with, she was of rank: and I have heard her say that people of rank do not talk about their feelings except to their equals, and even to them they conceal them, except upon rare occasions. Secondly - and this is my own reflection - she was an only child and an heiress, and as such was more apt to think than to talk, as all well-brought-up heiresses must be, I think. Thirdly, she had long been a widow, without any companion of her own age with whom it would have been natural for her to refer to old associations, past pleasures, or mutual sorrows. Mrs. Medlicott came nearest to her as a companion of this sort; and her ladyship talked more to Mrs. Medlicott, in a kind of familiar way, than she did to all the rest of the household put together. But Mrs. Medlicott was silent by nature, and did not reply at any great length. Adams, indeed, was the only one who spoke much to Lady Ludlow.
After we had worked away about an hour at the bureau, her ladyship said we had done enough for one day; and, as the time was come for her afternoon ride, she left me, with a volume of engravings from Mr. Hogarth's pictures on one side of me (I don't like to write down the names of them. though my lady thought nothing of it, I am sure), and upon a stand her great Prayer-book open at the evening psalms for the day, on the other. But, as soon as she was gone, I troubled myself little with either, but amused myself with looking round the room at my leisure. The side on which the fireplace stood was all panelled - part of the old ornaments of the house, for there was an Indian paper with birds and beasts and insects on it, on all the other sides. There were coats of arms, of the various families with whom the Hanburys had intermarried, all over these panels, and up and down the ceiling as well. There was very little looking-glass in the room, though one of the great drawing-rooms was called the "Mirror Room," because it was lined with glass, which my lady's great-grandfather had brought from Venice when he was ambassador there. There were china jars of all shapes and sizes round and about the room, and some china monsters, or idols, of which I could never bear the sight, they were so ugly, though I think my lady valued them more than all. There was a thick carpet on the middle of the floor, which was made of small pieces of rare wool fitted into a pattern; the doors were opposite to each other, and were composed of two heavy tall wings, and opened in the middle, moving on brass grooves inserted into the floor - they would not have opened over a carpet. There were two windows reaching up nearly to the ceiling, but very narrow, and with deep window-seats in the thickness of the wall. The room was full of scent, partly from the flowers outside, and partly from the great jars of pot-pourri inside. The choice of odours was what my lady piqued herself upon, saying nothing showed birth like a keen susceptibility of smell. We never named musk in her presence, her antipathy to it was so well understood through the household: her opinion on the subject was believed to be, that no scent derived from an animal could ever he of a sufficiently pure nature to give pleasure to any person of good family, where, of course, the delicate perception of the senses had been cultivated for generations. She would instance the way in which sportsmen preserve the breed of dogs who have shown keen scent; and how such gifts descend for generations amongst animals, who cannot be supposed to have anything of ancestral pride, or hereditary fancies about them. Musk, then, was never mentioned at Hanbury Court. No more were bergamot or southernwood, although vegetable in their nature. She considered these two latter as betraying a vulgar taste in the person who chose to gather or wear them. She was sorry to notice sprigs of them in the button-hole of any young man in whom she took an interest, either because he was engaged to a servant of hers or otherwise, as he came out of church on a Sunday afternoon. She was afraid that he liked coarse pleasures; and I am not sure if she did not think that his preference for these coarse sweetnesses did not imply a probability that he would take to drinking. But she distinguished between vulgar and common. Violets, pinks, and sweetbriar were common enough; roses and mignonette, for those who had gardens, honeysuckle for those who walked along the bowery lanes; but wearing them betrayed no vulgarity of taste: the queen upon her throne might be glad to smell at a nosegay of the flowers. A beau-pot (as we called it) of pinks and roses freshly gathered was placed every morning that they were in bloom on my lady's own particular table. For lasting vegetable odours she preferred lavender and sweet-woodroof to any extract whatever. Lavender reminded her of old customs, she said, and of homely cottage-gardens, and many a cottager made his offering to her of a bundle of lavender. Sweet-woodroof, again, grew in wild, woodland places, where the soil was fine and the air delicate: the poor children used to go and gather it for her up in the woods on the higher lands; and for this service she always rewarded them with bright new pennies, of which my lord, her son, used to send her down a bagful fresh from the Mint in London every February.
Attar of roses, again, she disliked. She said it reminded her of the city and of merchants' wives, over-rich, over-heavy in its perfume. And lilies of the valley somehow fell under the same condemnation. They were most graceful and elegant to look at (my lady was quite candid about this), flower, leaf, colour - everything was refined about them but the smell. That was too strong. But the great hereditary faculty on which my lady piqued herself, and with reason, for I never met with any person who possessed it, was the power she had of perceiving the delicious odour arising from a bed of strawberries in the late autumn, when the leaves were all fading and dying. "Bacon's Essays" was one of the few books that lay about in my lady's room; and, if you took it up and opened it carelessly, it was sure to fall apart at his "Essay on Gardens." "Listen," her ladyship would say, "to what that great philosopher and statesman says. 'Next to that' - he is speaking of violets, my dear - 'is the musk-rose' - of which you remember the great bush, at the corner of the south wall just by the Blue Drawing-room windows; that is the old musk-rose, Shakespeare's musk-rose, which is dying out through the kingdom now. But to return to my Lord Bacon: 'Then the strawberry leaves, dying with a most excellent cordial smell.' Now the Hanburys can always smell this excellent cordial odour, and very delicious and refreshing it is. You see, in Lord Bacon's time, there had not been so many intermarriages between the court and the city as there have been since the needy days of his Majesty Charles the Second; and altogether, in the time of Queen Elizabeth, the great, old families of England were a distinct race, just as a cart-horse is one creature, and very useful in its place, and Childers or Eclipse is another creature, though both are of the same species. So the old families have gifts and powers of a different and higher class to what the other orders have. My dear, remember that you try if you can smell the scent of dying strawberry-leaves in this next autumn. You have some of Ursula Hanbury's blood in you, and that gives you a chance."
But when October came, I sniffed and sniffed, and all to no purpose; and my lady - who had watched the little experiment rather anxiously - had to give me up as a hybrid. I was mortified, I confess, and thought that it was in some ostentation of her own powers that she ordered the gardener to plant a border of strawberries on that side of the terrace that lay under her windows.
I have wandered away from time and place. I tell you all the remembrances I have of those years just as they come up, and I hope that, in my old age, I am not getting too like a certain Mrs. Nickleby, whose speeches were once read out aloud to me.
I came by degrees to be all day long in this room which I have been describing; sometimes sitting in the easy-chair, doing some little pieces of dainty work for my lady, or sometimes arranging flowers, or sorting letters according to their handwriting, so that she could arrange them afterwards, and destroy or keep, as she planned, looking ever onward to her death. Then, after the sofa was brought in, she would watch my face, and if she saw my colour change, she would bid me lie down and rest. And I used to try to walk upon the terrace every day for a short time; it hurt me very much, it is true, but the doctor had ordered it, and I knew her ladyship wished me to obey.
Before I had seen the background of a great lady's life, I had thought it all play and fine doings. But whatever other grand people are, my lady was never idle. For one thing, she had to superintend the agent for the large Hanbury estate. I believe it was mortgaged for a sum of money which had gone to improve the late lord's Scotch lands; but she was anxious to pay off this before her death, and so to leave her own inheritance free of incumbrance to her son, the present Earl; whom, I secretly think, she considered a greater person, as being the heir of the Hanburys (though through a female line), than as being my Lord Ludlow with half-a-dozen other minor titles.
With this wish of releasing her property from the mortgage, skilful care was much needed in the management of it; and as far as my lady could go, she took every pains. She had a great book, in which every page was ruled into three divisions; on the first column was written the date and the name of the tenant who addressed any letter on business to her; on the second was briefly stated the subject of the letter, which generally contained a request of some kind. This request would be surrounded and enveloped in so many words, and often inserted amidst so many odd reasons and excuses, that Mr. Horner (the steward) would sometimes say it was like hunting through a bushel of chaff to find a grain of wheat. Now, in the second column of this book, the grain of meaning was placed, clean and dry, before her ladyship every morning. She sometimes would ask to see the original letter; sometimes she simply answered the request by a "Yes," or a "No;" and often she would send for leases and papers, and examine them well, with Mr. Horner at her elbow, to see if such petitions, as to be allowed to plough up pasture fields, &c., were provided for in the terms of the original agreement. On every Thursday she made herself at liberty to see her tenants, from four to six in the afternoon. Mornings would have suited my lady better, as far as convenience went, and I believe the old custom had been to have these levées (as her ladyship used to call them) held before twelve. But, as she said to Mr. Horner, when he urged returning to the former hours, it spoilt a whole day for a farmer, if he had to dress himself in his best and leave his work in the forenoon (and my lady liked to see her tenants come in their Sunday clothes; she would not say a word, may be, but she would take her spectacles slowly out, and put them on with silent gravity, and look at a dirty or raggedly-dressed man so solemnly and earnestly, that his nerves must have been pretty strong if he did not wince, and resolve that, however poor he might be, soap and water, and needle and thread, should he used before be again appeared in her ladyship's ante-room). The outlying tenants had always a supper provided for them in the servants' hall on Thursdays, to which, indeed, all comers were welcome to sit down. For my lady said, though there were not many hours left of a working-man's day when their business with her was ended, yet that they needed food and rest, and that she should be ashamed if they sought either at the Fighting Lion (called at this day the Hanbury Arms). They had as much beer as they could drink while they were eating; and, when the food was cleared away, they had a cup apiece of good ale, in which the oldest tenant present, standing up, gave Madam's health; and after that was drunk, they were expected to set off homewards; at any rate, no more liquor was given them. The tenants one and all called her "Madam"; for they recognised in her the married heiress of the Hanburys, not the widow of a Lord Ludlow, of whom they and their forefathers knew nothing; and against whose memory, indeed, there rankled a dim unspoken grudge, the cause of which was accurately known to the very few who understood the nature of a mortgage, and were therefore aware that Madam's money had been taken to enrich my lord's poor land in Scotland. I am sure - for you can understand I was behind the scenes, as it were, and had many an opportunity of seeing and hearing, as I lay or sat motionless in my lady's room with the double doors open between it and the anteroom beyond, where Lady Ludlow saw her steward, and gave audience to her tenants - I am certain, I say, that Mr. Horner was silently as much annoyed at the money that was swallowed up by this mortgage as any one; and, some time or other, he had probably spoken his mind out to my lady; for there was a sort of offended reference on her part, and respectful submission to blame on his, while every now and then there was an implied protest - whenever the payments of the interest became due, or whenever my lady stinted herself of any personal expense, such as Mr. Horner thought was only decorous and becoming in the heiress of the Hanburys. Her carriages were old and cumbrous, wanting all the improvements which had been adopted by those of her rank throughout the county. Mr. Horner would fain have had the ordering of a new coach. The carriage-horses, too, were getting past their work; yet all the promising colts bred on the estate were sold for ready money; and so on. My lord, her son, was ambassador at some foreign place, and very proud we all were of his glory and dignity; but I fancy it cost money, and my lady would have lived on bread and water sooner than have called upon him to help her in paying off the mortgage, although he was the one who was to benefit by it in the end.
Mr. Horner was a very faithful steward, and very respectful to my lady; although sometimes, I thought, she was sharper to him than to any one else; perhaps because she knew that, although he never said anything, he disapproved of the Hanburys being made to pay for the Earl Ludlow's estates and state.
The late lord had been a sailor, and had been as extravagant in his habits as most sailors are, I am told - for I never was at sea; and yet he had a long sight to his own interests; but whatever he was, my lady loved him and his memory, with about as fond and proud a love as ever wife gave husband, I should think.
For a part of his life Mr. Horner, who was born on the Hanbury property, had been a clerk to an attorney in Birmingham; and these few years had given him a kind of worldly wisdom, which, though always exerted for her benefit, was antipathetic to her ladyship, who thought that some of her steward's maxims savoured of trade and commerce. I fancy that if it had been possible, she would have preferred a return to the primitive system, of living on the produce of the land, and exchanging the surplus for such articles as were needed, without the intervention of money.
But Mr. Horner was bitten with new-fangled notions, as she would say, though his new-fangled notions were what folk at the present day would think sadly behindhand; and some of Mr. Gray's ideas fell on Mr. Horner's mind like sparks on tow, though they started from two different points. Mr. Horner wanted to make every man useful and active in this world, and to direct as much activity and usefulness as possible to the improvement of the Hanbury estates, and the aggrandisement of the Hanbury family, and therefore he fell into the new cry for education.
Mr. Gray did not care much - Mr. Horner thought not enough - for this world, and where any man or family stood in their earthly position; but he would have every one prepared for the world to come, and capable of understanding and receiving certain doctrines, for which latter purpose, it stands to reason, he must have heard of these doctrines; and therefore Mr. Gray wanted education. The answer in the Catechism that Mr. Horner was most fond of calling upon a child to repeat, was that to, "What is thy duty towards thy neighbour?" The answer Mr. Gray liked best to hear repeated with unction was that to the question, "What is the inward and spiritual grace?" The reply to which Lady Ludlow bent her head the lowest, as we said our Catechism to her on Sundays, was to, "What is thy duty towards God?" But neither Mr. Horner nor Mr. Gray had heard many answers to the Catechism as yet.
Up to this time there was no Sunday-school in Hanbury. Mr. Gray's desires were bounded by that object. Mr. Horner looked farther on: he hoped for a day-school at some future time, to train up intelligent labourers for working on the estate. My lady would hear of neither the one nor the other; indeed, not the boldest man whom she ever saw would have dared to name the project of a day-school within her hearing:
So Mr. Horner contented himself with quietly teaching a sharp, clever lad to read and write, with a view to making use of him as a kind of foreman in process of time. He had his pick of the farm-lads for this purpose; and, as the brightest and sharpest, although by far the raggedest and dirtiest, singled out Job Gregson's son. But all this - as my lady never listened to gossip, or, indeed, was spoken to unless she spoke first - was quite unknown to her, until the unlucky incident took place which I am going to relate.
I think my lady was not aware of Mr. Horner's views on education (as making men into more useful members of society), or the practice to which he was putting his precepts in taking Harry Gregson as pupil and protégé - if, indeed, she were aware of Harry's distinct existence at all - until the following unfortunate occasion. The ante-room, which was a kind of business-place for my lady to receive her steward and tenants in, was surrounded by shelves. I cannot call them book-shelves, though there were many books on them; but the contents of the volumes were principally manuscript, and relating to details connected with the Hanbury property. There were also one or two dictionaries, gazetteers, works of reference on the management of property; all of a very old date (the dictionary was Bailey's, I remember; we hid a great Johnson in my lady's room, but, where lexicographers differed, she generally preferred Bailey).
In this antechamber a footman generally sat, awaiting orders from my lady; for she clung to the grand old customs, and despised any bells, except her own little hand-bell, as modern inventions; she would have her people always within summons of this silvery bell, or her scarce less silvery voice. This man had not the sinecure you might imagine. He had to reply to the private entrance: what we should call the back door in a smaller house. As none came to the front door but my lady, and those of the county whom she honoured by visiting, and her nearest acquaintance of this kind lived eight miles (of bad road) off, the majority of comers knocked at the nail-studded terrace door; not to have it opened (for open it stood, by my lady's orders, winter and summer, so that the snow often drifted into the back hall, and lay there in heaps when the weather was severe), but to summon some one to receive their message, or carry their request to be allowed to speak to my lady. I remember it was long before Mr. Gray could be made to understand that the great door was only open on state occasions, and even to the last he would as soon come in by that as the terrace entrance. I had been received there on my first setting foot over my lady's threshold; every stranger was led in by that way the first time they came; but after that (with the exceptions I have named) they went round by the terrace, as it were by instinct. It was an assistance to this instinct to be aware that, from time immemorial, the magnificent and fierce Hanbury wolf-hounds, which were extinct in every other part of the island, had been and still were kept chained in the front quadrangle, where they bayed through a great part of the day and night, and were always ready with their deep, savage growl at the sight of every person and thing, excepting the man who fed them, my lady's carriage and four, and my lady herself. It was pretty to see her small figure go up to the great, crouching brutes, thumping the flags with their heavy, wagging tails, and slobbering in an ecstasy of delight, at her light approach and soft caress. She had no fear of them; but she was a Hanbury born, and the tale went, that they and their kind knew all Hanburys instantly, and acknowledged their supremacy, ever since the ancestors of the breed had been brought from the East by the great Sir Urian Hanbury, who lay with his legs crossed on the altar tomb in the church. Moreover, it was reported that, not fifty years before, one of these dogs had eaten up a child, which had inadvertently strayed within reach of its chain. So you may imagine how most people preferred the terrace door. Mr. Gray did not seem to care for the dogs. It might be absence of mind, for I have heard of his starting away from their sudden spring when he had unwittingly walked within reach of their chains; but it could hardly have been absence of mind, when one day he went right up to one of them, and patted him in the most friendly manner, the dog meanwhile looking pleased, and affably wagging his tail, just as if Mr. Gray had been a Hanbury. We were all very much puzzled by this, and to this day I have not been able to account for it.
But now let us go back to the terrace door, and the footman sitting in the antechamber.
One morning we heard a parleying, which rose to such a vehemence, and lasted for so long, that my lady had to ring her hand-bell twice before the footman heard it.
"What is the matter, John?" asked she, when he entered.
"A little boy, my lady, who says he comes from Mr. Horner, and must see your ladyship. Impudent little lad!" (This last to himself.)
"What does he want?"
"That's just what I have asked him, my lady; but he won't tell me, please your ladyship."
"It is, probably, some message from Mr. Horner," said Lady Ludlow, with just a shade of annoyance in her manner; for it was against all etiquette to send a message to her, and by such a messenger too!
"No! please your ladyship, I asked him if he had any message, and be said no, he had none; but he must see your ladyship for all that."
"You had better show him in then, without more words," said her ladyship quietly, but still, as I have said, rather annoyed.
As if in mockery of the humble visitor, the footman threw open both battants of the door, and in the opening there stood a lithe, wiry lad, with a thick head of hair, standing out in every direction, as if stirred by some electrical current, a short, brown face, red now from affright and excitement, wide, resolute mouth, and bright, deep-set eyes, which glanced keenly and rapidly round the room, as if taking in everything (and all was new and strange), to be thought and puzzled over at some future time. He knew enough of manners not to speak first to one above him in rank, or else he was afraid.
"What do you want with me?" asked my lady, in so gentle a tone that it seemed to surprise and stun him.
"An't please your ladyship?" said he, as if he had been deaf.
"You come from Mr. Horner's: why do you want to see me?" again asked she, a little more loudly.
"An't please your ladyship, Mr. Horner was sent for all on a sudden to Warwick this morning."
His face began to work; but he felt it, and closed his lips into a resolute form.
"And he went off all on a sudden like."
"And he left a note for your ladyship with me, your ladyship."
"Is that all? You might have given it to the footman."
"Please your ladyship, I've clean gone and lost it."
He never took his eyes off her face. If he had not kept his look fixed, he would have burst out crying.
"That was very careless," said my lady gently. "But I am sure you are very sorry for it. You had better try and find it; it may have been of consequence."
"Please, mum - please your ladyship - I can say it off by heart."
"You! What do you mean?" I was really afraid now. My lady's blue eyes absolutely gave out light, she was so much displeased, and, moreover, perplexed. The more reason he had for affright, the more his courage rose. He must have seen - so sharp a lad must have perceived - her displeasure; but he went on quickly and steadily.
"Mr. Horner, my lady, has taught me to read, write, and cast accounts, my lady. And he was in a hurry, and he folded his paper up, but he did not seal it; and I read it, my lady; and now, my lady, it seems like as if I had got it off by heart;" and he went on with a high-pitched voice, saying out very loud what, I have no doubt, were the identical words of the letter, date, signature, and all: it was merely something about a deed, which required my lady's signature.
When he had done, he stood almost as if he expected commendation for his accurate memory.
My lady's eyes contracted till the pupils were as needlepoints; it was a way she had when much disturbed. She looked at me, and said -
"Margaret Dawson, what will this world come to?" And then she was silent.
The lad, beginning to perceive he had given deep offence, stood stock still - as if his brave will had brought him into this presence, and impelled him to confession, and the best amends he could make, but had now deserted him or was extinct, and left his body motionless, until some one else with word or deed made him quit the room. My lady looked again at him, and saw the frowning, dumb-foundering terror at his misdeed, and the manner in which his confession had been received.
"My poor lad!" said she, the angry look leaving her face, "into whose hands have you fallen?"
The boy's lips began to quiver.
"Don't you know what tree we read of in Genesis? - No! I hope you have not got to read so easily as that." A pause. "Who has taught you to read and write?"
"Please, my lady, I meant no harm, my lady." He was fairly blubbering, overcome by her evident feeling of dismay and regret, the soft repression of which was more frightening to him than any strong or violent words would have been.
"Who taught you, I ask?"
"It were Mr. Horner's clerk who learned me, my lady."
"And did Mr. Horner know of it?"
"Yes, my lady. And I am sure I thought for to please him."
"Well! perhaps you were not to blame for that. But I wonder at Mr. Horner. However, my boy, as you have got possession of edge-tools, you must have some rules how to use them. Did you never hear that you were not to open letters?"
"Please, my lady, it were open. Mr. Horner forgot to seal it, in his hurry to be off."
"But you must not read letters that are not intended for you. You must never try to read any letters that are not directed to you, even if they be open before you."
"Please, my lady, I thought it were good for practice, all as one as a book."
My lady looked bewildered as to what way she could farther explain to him the laws of honour as regarded letters.
"You would not listen, I am sure," said she, "to anything you were not intended to hear?"
He hesitated for a moment, partly because he did not fully comprehend the question. My lady repeated it. The light of intelligence came into his eager eyes, and I could see that he was not certain if he could tell the truth.
"Please, my lady, I always hearken when I hear folk talking secrets; but I mean no harm."
My poor lady sighed: she was not prepared to begin a long way off in morals. Honour was, to her, second nature, and she had never tried to find out on what principle its laws were based. So, telling the lad that she wished to see Mr. Horner when he returned from Warwick, she dismissed him with a despondent look; he, meanwhile, right glad to be out of the awful gentleness of her presence.
"What is to be done?" said she, half to herself and half to me. I could not answer, for I was puzzled myself.
"It was a right word," she continued, "that I used, when I called reading and writing 'edge-tools.' If our lower orders have these edge-tools given to them, we shall have the terrible scenes of the French Revolution acted over again in England. When I was a girl, one never heard of the rights of men, one only heard of the duties. Now, here was Mr. Gray, only last night, talking of the right every child had to instruction. I could hardly keep my patience with him, and at length we fairly came to words; and I told him I would have no such thing as a Sunday-school (or a Sabbath-school, as he calls it, just like a Jew) in my village."
"And what did he say, my lady?" I asked; for the struggle that seemed now to have come to a crisis had been going on for some time in a quiet way.
"Why, he gave way to temper, and said, he was bound to remember he was under the bishop's authority, not under mine; and implied that he should persevere in his designs, notwithstanding my expressed opinion."
"And your ladyship" -- I half inquired.
"I could only rise and curtsey, and civilly dismiss him. When two persons have arrived at a certain point of expression on a subject, about which they differ as materially as I do from Mr. Gray, the wisest course, if they wish to remain friends, is to drop the conversation entirely and suddenly. It is one of the few cases where abruptness is desirable."
I was sorry for Mr. Gray. He had been to see me several times, and had helped me to bear my illness in a better spirit than I should have done without his good advice and prayers. And I had gathered, from little things he said, how much his heart was set upon this new scheme. I liked him so much, and I loved and respected my lady so well, that I could not bear them to be on the cool terms to which they were constantly getting. Yet I could do nothing but keep silence.
I suppose my lady understood something of what was passing in my mind; for, after a minute or two, she went on: -
"If Mr. Gray knew all I know, - if he had my experience, he would not be so ready to speak of setting up his new plans in opposition to my judgment. Indeed," she continued, lashing herself up with her own recollections, "times are changed when the parson of a village comes to beard the liege lady in her own house. Why, in my grandfather's days, the parson was family chaplain too, and dined at the Hall every Sunday. He was helped last, and expected to have done first. I remember seeing him take up his plate and knife and fork, and say, with his mouth full all the time he was speaking: 'If you please Sir Urian, and my lady, I'll follow the beef into the housekeeper's room'; for, you see, unless he did so, he stood no chance of a second helping. A greedy man, that parson was, to be sure! I recollect his once eating up the whole of some little bird at dinner, and, by way of diverting attention from his greediness, he told how he had heard that a rook soaked in vinegar and then dressed in a particular way, could not be distinguished from the bird he was then eating. I saw by the grim look of my grandfather's face that the parson's doing and saying displeased him; and, child as I was, I had some notion of what was coming, when, as I was riding out on my little white pony by my grandfather's side the next Friday, he stopped one of the gamekeepers, and bade him shoot one of the oldest rooks he could find. I knew no more about it till Sunday, when a dish was set right before the parson, and Sir Urian said: 'Now Parson Hemming, I have had a rook shot, and soaked in vinegar, and dressed as you described last Sunday. Fall to, man, and eat it with as good an appetite as you had last Sunday. Pick the bones clean, or by --, no more Sunday dinners shall you eat at my table!' I gave one look at poor Mr. Hemming's face, as he tried to swallow the first morsel, and make believe as though he thought it very good; but I could not look again for shame, although my grandfather laughed, and kept asking us all round if we knew what could have become of the parson's appetite."
"And did he finish it?" I asked.
"Oh yes, my dear. What my grandfather said was to be done, was done always. He was a terrible man in his anger! But to think of the difference between Parson Hemming and Mr. Gray! or even of poor dear Mr. Mountford and Mr. Gray. Mr. Mountford would never have withstood me as Mr. Gray did!"
"And your ladyship really thinks that it would not be right to have a Sunday-school?" I asked, feeling very timid as I put the question.
"Certainly not. As I told Mr. Gray, I consider a knowledge of the Creed, and of the Lord's Prayer, as essential to salvation; and that any child may have, whose parents bring it regularly to church. Then there are the Ten Commandments, which teach simple duties in the plainest language. Of course, if a lad is taught to read and write (as that unfortunate boy has been who was here this morning) his duties become complicated, and his temptations much greater, while, at the same time, he has no hereditary principles and honourable training to serve as safeguards. I might take up my old simile of the race-horse and cart-horse. I am distressed," continued she, with a break in her ideas, "about that boy. The whole thing reminds me so much of a story of what happened to a friend of mine - Clément de Créquy. Did I ever tell you about him?"
"No, your ladyship," I replied.
"Poor Clément! More than twenty years ago, Lord Ludlow and I spent a winter in Paris. He had many friends there; perhaps not very good or very wise men, but he was so kind that he liked every one, and every one liked him. We had an apartment, as they call it there, in the Rue de Lille; we had the first-floor of a grand hôtel, with the basement for our servants. On the floor above us the owner of the house lived, a Marquise de Créquy, a widow. They tell me that the Gréquy coat-of-arms is still emblazoned, after all these terrible years, on a shield above the arched porte-cochère, just as it was then, though the family is quite extinct. Madam de Créquy had only one son, Clément, who was just the same age as my Urian - you may see his portrait in the great hall - Urian's, I mean." I knew that Master Urian had been drowned at sea; and often had I looked at the presentment of his bonny hopeful face, in his sailor's dress, with right hand outstretched to a ship on the sea in the distance, as if he had just said, "Look at her! all her sails are set, and I'm just off." Poor Master Urian! he went down in this very ship not a year after the picture was taken! But now I will go back to my lady's story. "I can see those two boys playing now," continued she softly, shutting her eyes, as if the better to call up the vision, "as they used to do five-and-twenty years ago in those old-fashioned French gardens behind our hôtel. Many a time have I watched them from my windows. It was, perhaps, a better play-place than an English garden would have been, for there were but few flower-beds, and no lawn at all to speak about; but instead, terraces and balustrades and vases and flights of stone steps more in the Italian style; and there were jets-d'eau, and little fountains that could be set playing by turning water-cocks that were hidden here and there. How Clément delighted in turning the water on to surprise Urian, and how gracefully he did the honours, as it were, to my dear, rough, sailor lad! Urian was as dark as a gipsy boy, and cared little for his appearance, and resisted all my efforts at setting off his black eyes and tangled curls; but Clément, without ever showing that he thought about himself and his dress, was always dainty and elegant, even though his clothes were sometimes but threadbare. He used to be dressed in a kind of hunter's green suit, open at the neck and half-way down the chest to beautiful old lace frills; his long golden curls fell behind just like a girl's, and his hair in front was cut over his straight dark eyebrows in a line almost as straight. Urian learnt more of a gentleman's carefulness and propriety of appearance from that lad in two months than he had done in years from all my lectures. I recollect one day, when the two boys were in full romp - and, my window being open, I could hear them perfectly - and Urian was daring Clément to some scrambling or climbing, which Clément refused to undertake, but in a hesitating way, as though he longed to do it if some reason had not stood in the way; and at times, Urian, who was hasty and thoughtless, poor fellow, told Clément that he was afraid. 'Fear!' said the French boy, drawing himself up; 'you do not know what you say. If you will be here at six to-morrow morning, when it is only just light, I will take that starling's nest on the top of yonder chimney.' 'But why not now, Clément ?' said Urian, putting his arm round Clément's neck. 'Why then, and not now, just when we are in the humour for it?' 'Because we De Créquys are poor, and my mother cannot afford me another suit of clothes this year, and yonder stone carving is all jagged, and would tear my coat and breeches. Now, to-morrow morning I could go up with nothing on but an old shirt.'
"'But you would tear your legs.'
"'My race do not care for pain,' said the boy, drawing himself from Urian's arm, and walking a few steps away, with a becoming pride and reserve; for he was hurt at being spoken to as if he were afraid, and annoyed at having to confess the true reason for declining the feat. But Urian was not to be thus baffled. He went up to Clément, and put his arm once more about his neck, and I could see the two lads as they walked down the terrace away from the hôtel windows: first Urian spoke eagerly, looking with imploring fondness into Clément's face, which sought the ground, till at last the French boy spoke, and by-and-by his arm was round Urian too, and they paced backwards and forwards in deep talk, but gravely, as became men, rather than boys.
"All at once, from the little chapel at the corner of the large garden belonging to the Missions Étrangères, I heard the tinkle of the little bell, announcing the elevation of the host. Down on his knees went Clément, hands crossed, eyes bent down: while Urian stood looking on in respectful thought.
"What a friendship that might have been! I never dream of Urian without seeing Clément too, - Urian speaks to me, or does something - but Clément only flits round Urian, and never seems to see any one else!
"But I must not forget to tell you, that the next morning, before he was out of his room, a footman of Madame de Créquy's brought Urian the starling's nest.
"Well! we came back to England, and the boys were to correspond; and Madame de Créquy and I exchanged civilities; and Urian went to sea.
"After that, all seemed to drop away. I cannot tell you all. However, to confine myself to the De Créquys. I had a letter from Clément; I knew he felt his friend's death deeply; but I should never have learnt it from the letter he sent. It was formal, and seemed like chaff to my hungering heart. Poor fellow! I dare say he had found it hard to write. What could he - or any one - say to a mother who has lost her child? The world does not think so, and, in general, one must conform to the customs of the world; but, judging from my own experience, I should say that reverent silence at such times is the tenderest balm. Madame de Créquy wrote too. But I knew she could not feel my loss so much as Clément, and therefore her letter was not such a disappointment. She and I went on being civil and polite in the way of commissions, and occasionally introducing friends to each other, for a year or two, and then we ceased to have any intercourse. Then the terrible Revolution came. No one who did not live at those times can imagine the daily expectation of news - the hourly terror of rumours affecting the fortunes and lives of those whom most of us had known as pleasant hosts, receiving us with peaceful welcome in their magnificent houses. Of course, there was sin enough and suffering enough behind the scenes; but we English visitors to Paris had seen little or nothing of that - and I had sometimes thought, indeed, how even Death seemed loth to choose his victims out of that brilliant throng whom I had known. Madame de Créquy's one boy lived; while three out of my six were gone since we had met! I do not think all lots are equal, even now that I know the end of her hopes; but I do say that whatever our individual lot is, it is our duty to accept it, without comparing it with that of others.
"The times were thick with gloom and terror. 'What next?' was the question we asked of every one who brought us news from Paris. Where were these demons hidden when, so few years ago, we danced and feasted, and enjoyed the brilliant salons and the charming friendships of Paris?
"One evening, I was sitting alone in Saint James's Square; my lord off at the club with Mr. Fox and others: he had left me, thinking that I should go to one of the many places to which I had been invited for that evening; but I had no heart to go anywhere, for it was poor Urian's birthday, and I had not even rung for lights, though the day was fast closing in, but was thinking over all his pretty ways, and on his warm affectionate nature, and how often I had been too hasty in speaking to him for all I loved him so dearly; and how I seemed to have neglected and dropped his dear friend Clément, who might even now be in need of help in that cruel, bloody Paris. I say I was thinking reproachfully of all this, and particularly of Clément de Créquy in connection with Urian, when Fenwick brought me a note, sealed with a coat of arms I knew well, though I could not remember at the moment where I had seen it. I puzzled over it as one does sometimes, for a minute or more, before I opened the letter. In a moment I saw it was from Clément de Créquy. 'My mother is here,' he said: 'she is very ill, and I am bewildered in this strange country. May I entreat you to receive me for a few minutes?' The bearer of the note was the woman of the house where they lodged. I had her brought up into the anteroom, and questioned her myself, while my carriage was being brought round. They had arrived in London a fortnight or so before; she had not known their quality, judging them (according to her kind) by their dress and their luggage: poor enough, no doubt. The lady had never left her bedroom since her arrival; the young man waited upon her, did everything for her, never left her, in fact; only she (the messenger) had promised to stay within call, as soon as she returned, while he went out somewhere. She could hardly understand him, he spoke English so badly. He had never spoken it, I dare say, since he had talked to my Urian.
"In the hurry of the moment I scarce knew what I did. I bade the housekeeper put up every delicacy she had, in order to tempt the invalid, whom yet I hoped to bring back with me to our house. When the carriage was ready I took the good woman with me to show us the exact way, which my coachman professed not to know; for, indeed, they were staying at but a poor kind of place at the back of Leicester Square, of which they had heard, as Clément told me afterwards, from one of the fishermen who had carried them across from the Dutch coast in their disguises as a Friesland peasant and his mother. They had some jewels of value concealed round their persons; but their ready money was all spent before I saw them; and Clément had been unwilling to leave his mother, even for the time necessary to ascertain the best mode of disposing of the diamonds. For, overcome with distress of mind and bodily fatigue, she had reached London only to take to her bed in a sort of low, nervous fever, in which her chief and only idea seemed to be that Clément was about to be taken from her to some prison or other; and if he were out of her sight, though but for a minute, she cried like a child, and could not be pacified or comforted. The landlady was a kind, good woman, and though she but half understood the case, she was truly sorry for them, as foreigners, and the mother sick in a strange land.
"I sent her forwards to request permission for my entrance. In a moment I saw Clément - a tall, elegant young man, in a curious dress of coarse cloth, standing at the open door of a room, and evidently - even before he accosted me - striving to soothe the terrors of his mother inside. I went towards him, and would have taken his hand, but he bent down and kissed mine.
"'May I come in, madame?' I asked, looking at the poor sick lady, lying in the dark, dingy bed, her bead propped up on coarse and dirty pillows, and gazing with affrighted eyes at all that was going on.
"'Clément! Clément! come to me!' she cried; and when he went to the bedside she turned on one side, and took his hand in both of hers, and began stroking it, and looking up in his face. I could scarce keep back my tears.
"He stood there quite still, except that from time to time he spoke to her in a low tone. At last I advanced into the room, so that I could talk to him, without renewing her alarm. I asked for the doctor's address; for I had heard that they had called in some one, at their landlady's recommendation; but I could hardly understand Clément's broken English, and mispronunciation of our proper names, and was obliged to apply to the woman herself. I could not say much to Clément, for his attention was perpetually needed by his mother, who never seemed to perceive that I was there. But I told him not to fear, however long I might be away, for that I would return before night; and, bidding the woman take charge of all the heterogeneous things the housekeeper had put up, and leaving one of my men in the house, who could understand a few words of French, with directions that he was to hold himself at Madame de Créquy's orders until I sent or gave him fresh commands, I drove off to the doctor's. What I wanted was his permission to remove Madame de Créquy to my own house, and to learn how it best could be done; for I saw that every movement in the room, every sound except Clément's voice, brought on a fresh access of trembling and nervous agitation.
"The doctor was, I should think, a clever man; but he had that kind of abrupt manner which people get who have much to do with the lower orders.
"I told him the story of his patient, the interest I had in her, and the wish I entertained of removing her to my own house.
"'It can't be done,' said he. 'Any change will kill her.'
"'But it must be done,' I replied. 'And it shall not kill her.'
"'Then I have nothing more to say,' said he, turning away from the carriage door, and making as though he would go back into the house.
"'Stop a moment. You must help me; and, if you do, you shall have reason to be glad, for I will give you fifty pounds down with pleasure. If you won't do it, another shall.'
"He looked at me, then (furtively) at the carriage, hesitated, and then said - 'You do not mind expense apparently. I suppose you are a rich lady of quality. Such folks will not stick at such trifles as the life or death of a sick woman to get their own way. I suppose I must e'en help you, for if I don't, another will.'
"I did not mind what he said, so that he would assist me. I was pretty sure that she was in a state to require opiates; and I had not forgotten Christopher Sly, you may be sure; so I told him what I had in my head. That in the dead of night - the quiet time in the streets - she should be carried in a hospital litter, softly and warmly covered over from the Leicester Square lodging-house to rooms that I would have in perfect readiness for her. As I planned, so it was done. I let Clément know, by a note, of my design. I had all prepared at home, and we walked about my house as though shod with velvet, while the porter watched at the open door. At last, through the darkness, I saw the lanterns carried by my men, who were leading the little procession. The litter looked like a hearse; on one side walked the doctor, on the other Clément; they came softly. and swiftly along. I could not try any farther experiment; we dared not change her clothes; she was laid in the bed in the landlady's coarse night-gear, and covered over warmly, and left in the shaded, scented room, with a nurse and the doctor watching by her, while I led Clément to the dressing-room adjoining, in which I had had a bed placed for him. Farther than that he would not go; and there I had refreshments brought. Meanwhile, he had shown his gratitude by every possible action (for we none of us dared to speak): he had kneeled at my feet, and kissed my hand, and left it wet with his tears. He had thrown up his arms to heaven, and prayed earnestly, as I could see by the movement of his lips. I allowed him to relieve himself by these dumb expressions, if I may so call them - and then I left him, and went to my own rooms to sit up for my lord, and tell him what I had done.
"Of course, it was all right; and neither my lord nor I could sleep for wondering how Madame de Créquy would bear her awakening. I had engaged the doctor, to whose face and voice she was accustomed, to remain with her all night; the nurse was experienced, and Clément was within call. But it was with the greatest relief that I heard from my own woman, when she brought me my chocolate, that Madame de Créquy (Monsieur had said) had awakened more tranquil than she had been for many days. To be sure, the whole aspect of the bed-chamber must have been more familiar to her than the miserable place where I had found her, and she must have intuitively felt herself among friends.
My lord was scandalised at Clément's dress, which, after the first moment of seeing him, I had forgotten, in thinking of other things, and for which I had not prepared Lord Ludlow. He sent for his own tailor, and bade him bring patterns of stuffs, and engage his men to work night and day till Clément could appear as became his rank. In short, in a few days so much of the traces of their flight were removed, that we had almost forgotten the terrible causes of it, and rather felt as if they had come on a visit to us than that they had been compelled to fly their country. Their diamonds, too, were sold well by my lord's agents, though the London shops were stocked with jewellery, and such portable values, some of rare and curious fashion, which were sold for half their real value by emigrants who could not afford to wait. Madame de Créquy was recovering her health, although her strength was sadly gone, and she would never be equal to such another flight as the perilous one which she had gone through, and to which she could not bear the slightest reference. For some time things continued in this state; - the De Créquys still our honoured visitors - many houses besides our own, even among our own friends, open to receive the poor flying nobility of France, driven from their country by the brutal republicans, and every freshly-arrived emigrant bringing new tales of horror, as if these revolutionists were drunk with blood, and mad to devise new atrocities. One day, Clément - I should tell you he had been presented to our good King George and the sweet Queen, and they had accosted him most graciously, and his beauty and elegance, and some of the circumstances attendant on his flight, made him be received in the world quite like a hero of romance; he might have been on intimate terms in many a distinguished house, had he cared to visit much; but he accompanied my lord and me with an air of indifference and languor, which I sometimes fancied made him all the more sought after; Monkshaven (that was the title my eldest son bore) tried in vain to interest him in all young men's sports. But no it was the same through all. His mother took far more interest in the on-dits of the London world, into which she was far too great an invalid to venture, than he did in the absolute events themselves, in which he might have been an actor. One day, as I saying, an old Frenchman of a humble class presented himself to our servants, several of whom understood French; and through Medlicott, I learnt that he was in some way connected with the De Créquys; not with their Paris life, but I fancy he had been intendant of their estates in the country - estates which were more useful as hunting-grounds than as adding to their income. However there was the old man; and with him, wrapped round his person, he had brought the long parchment rolls, and deeds relating to. their property. These he would deliver up to none but Monsieur de Créquy, the rightful owner; and Clément was out with Monkshaven, so the old man waited; and when Clément came in, I told him of the steward's arrival, and how he had been cared for by my people. Clément went directly to see him. He was a long time away, and I was waiting for him to drive out with me, for some purpose or other, I scarce know what, but I remember I was tired of waiting, and was just in the act of ringing the bell to desire that he might be reminded of his engagement with me, when he came in, his face as white as the powder in his hair, his beautiful eyes dilated with horror. I saw that he had heard something that touched him even more closely than the usual tales which every fresh emigrant brought.
"'What is it, Clément?' I asked.
"He clasped his hands, and looked as though he tried to speak, but could not bring out the words.
"'They have guillotined my uncle!' said he at last. Now, I knew that there was a Count de Créquy; but I had always understood that the elder branch held very little communication with him; in fact, that he was a vaurien of some kind, and rather a disgrace than otherwise to the family. So, perhaps, I was hard-hearted; but I was a little surprised at this excess of emotion, till I saw that peculiar look in his eyes that many people have when there is more terror m their hearts than they dare put into words. He wanted me to understand something without his saying it; but how could I? I had never heard of a Mademoiselle de Créquy.
"'Virginie!' at last he uttered. In an instant I understood it all, and remembered that, if Urian had lived, he too might have been in love.
"'Your uncle's daughter?' I inquired.
"'My cousin,' he replied
"I did not say, 'your betrothed,' but I had no doubt of it. I was mistaken, however.
"'Oh, madame!' he continued, 'her mother died long ago - her father now - and she is in daily fear - alone, deserted' --
"'Is she in the Abbaye?' asked I.
"'No! she is in hiding with the widow of her father's old concierge. Any day they may search the house for aristocrats. They are seeking them everywhere. Then, not her life alone, but that of the old woman, her hostess, is sacrificed. The old woman knows this, and trembles with fear. Even if she is brave enough to be faithful, her fears would betray her, should the house be searched. Yet, there is no one to help Virginie to escape. She is alone in Paris.'
"I saw what was in his mind. He was fretting and chafing to go to his cousin's assistance; but the thought of his mother restrained him. I would not have kept back Urian from such an errand at such a time. How should I restrain him? And yet, perhaps, I did wrong in not urging the chances of danger more. Still, if it was danger to him, was it not the same or even greater danger to her? - for the French spared neither age nor sex in those wicked days of terror. So I rather fell in with his wish, and encouraged him to think how best and most prudently it might be fulfilled; never doubting, as I have said, that he and his cousin were troth-plighted.
"But when I went to Madame de Créquy - after he had imparted his, or rather our plan to her - I found out my mistake. She, who was in general too feeble to walk across the room save slowly, and with a stick, was going from end to end with quick, tottering steps; and, if now and then she sank upon a chair, it seemed as if she could not rest, for she was up again ins moment, pacing along, wringing her hands, and speaking rapidly to herself. When she saw me, she stopped: 'Madame,' she said, 'you have lost your own boy. You might have left me mine.'
"I was so astonished I hardly knew what to say. I had spoken to Clément as if his mother's consent were secure (as I had felt my own would have been if Urian had been alive to ask it). Of course, both he and I knew that his mother's consent must be asked and obtained, before he could leave her to go on such an undertaking; but, somehow, my blood always rose at the sight or sound of danger; perhaps, because my life had been so peaceful. Poor Madame de Créquy I it was otherwise with her; she despaired while I hoped and Clément trusted.
"'Dear Madame de Créquy,' said I, 'he will return safely to us; every precaution shall be taken, that either he or you, or my lord, or Monkshaven can think of; but he cannot leave a girl - his nearest relation save you - his betrothed, is she not?'
"'His betrothed!' cried she, now at the utmost pitch of her excitement. 'Virginie betrothed to Clément? - no! thank Heaven, not so bad as that! Yet it might have been. But mademoiselle scorned my son! She would have nothing to do with him. Now is the time for him to have nothing to do with her!'
Clément had entered at the door behind his mother as she thus spoke. His face was set and pale, till it looked as grey and immovable as if it had been carved in stone. He came forward and stood before his mother. She stopped her walk, threw back her haughty head, and the two looked each other steadily in the face. After a minute or two in this attitude, her proud and resolute gaze never flinching or wavering, he went down upon one knee, and, taking her hand - her hard, stony hand, which never closed on his, but remained straight and stiff -
"'Mother,' he pleaded, 'withdraw your prohibition. Let me go!'
"'What were her words?' Madame de Créquy replied slowly, as if forcing her memory to the extreme of accuracy. '"My cousin," she said, "when I marry, I marry a man, not a petit-maître. I marry a man who, whatever his rank may be, will add dignity to the human race by his virtues, and not be content to live in an effeminate court on the traditions of past grandeur." She borrowed her words from the infamous Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the friend of her scarce less infamous father, - nay! I will say it - if not her words, she borrowed her principles. And my son to request her to marry him!'
"'It was my father's written wish,' said Clément.
"'But did you not love her? You plead your father's words - words written twelve years before - and as if that were your reason for being indifferent to my dislike to the alliance. But you requested her to marry you - and she refused you with insolent contempt; and now you are ready to leave me - leave me desolate in a foreign land' --
"'Desolate! my mother! and the Countess Ludlow stands there!'
"'Pardon, madame! But all the earth, though it were full of kind hearts, is but a desolation and a desert place to a mother when her only child is absent. And you, Clément, would leave me for this Virginie - this degenerate De Créquy, tainted with the atheism of the Encyclopédistes! She is only reaping some of the fruit of the harvest whereof her friends have sown the seed. Let her alone! Doubtless she has friends - it may be lovers - among these demons, who, under the cry of liberty, commit every license. Let her alone, Clément! She refused you with scorn: be too proud to notice her now.'
"'Mother, I cannot think of myself; only of her.'
"'Think of me, then! I, your mother, forbid you to go.'
"Clément bowed low, and went out of the room instantly, as one blinded. She saw his groping movement, and, for an instant, I think, her heart was touched. But she turned to me, and tried to exculpate her past violence by dilating upon her wrongs, and they certainly were many. The Count, her husband's younger brother, had invariably tried to make mischief between husband and wife. He had been the cleverer man of the two, and had possessed extraordinary influence over her husband. She suspected him of having instigated that clause in her husband's will, by which the Marquis expressed his wish for the marriage of the cousins. The Count had had some interest in the management of the De Créquy property during her son's minority. Indeed, I remembered then, that it was through Count de Créquy that Lord Ludlow had first heard of the apartment which we afterwards took in the Hôtel de Créquy; and then the recollection of a past feeling came distinctly out of the mist, as it were; and I called to mind how, when we first took up our abode in the Hôtel de Créquy, both Lord Ludlow and I imagined that the arrangement was displeasing to our hostess; and how it had taken us a considerable time before we had been able to establish relations of friendship with her. Years after our visit, she began to suspect that Clément (whom she could not forbid to visit at his uncle's house, considering the terms on which his father had been with his brother; though she herself never set foot over the Count de Créquy's threshold) was attaching himself to mademoiselle, his cousin; and she made cautious inquiries as to the appearance, character, and disposition of the young lady. Mademoiselle was not handsome, they said: but of a fine figure, and generally considered as having a very noble and attractive presence. In character she was daring and wilful (said one set); original and independent (said another). She was much indulged by her father, who had given her something of a man's education, and selected for her intimate friend a young lady below her in rank, one of the Bureaucratie, a Mademoiselle Necker, daughter of the Minister of Finance. Mademoiselle de Créquy was thus introduced into all the free-thinking salons of Paris; among people who were always full of plans for subverting society. 'And did Clément affect such people?' Madame do Créquy had asked with some anxiety. No! Monsieur do Créquy had neither eyes nor ears, nor thought, for anything but his cousin, while she was by. And she? She hardly took notice of his devotion, so evident to every one else. The proud creature! But perhaps that was her haughty way of concealing what she felt. And so Madame de Créquy listened, and questioned, and learnt nothing decided, until one day she surprised Clément with the note in his hand, of which she remembered the stinging words so well, in which Virginie had said, in reply to a proposal Clément had sent her through her father, that 'When she married, she married a man, not a petit-maître.'
"Clément was justly indignant at the insulting nature of the answer Virginie had sent to a proposal, respectful in its tone, and which was, after all, but the cool, hardened lava over a burning heart. He acquiesced in his mother's desire, that he should not again present himself in his uncle's salons; but he did not forget Virginie, though he never mentioned her name.
"Madame de Créquy and her son were among the earliest proscrits, as they were of the strongest possible royalists, and aristocrats, as it was the custom of the horrid Sansculottes to term those who adhered to the habits of expression and action in which it was their pride to have been educated. They had left Paris some weeks before they had arrived in England, and Clément's belief at the time of quitting the Hotel do Créquy had certainly been, that his uncle was not merely safe, but rather a popular man with the party in power. And, as all communication having relation to private individuals of a reliable kind was intercepted, Monsieur do Créquy had felt but little anxiety for his uncle and cousin, in comparison with what he did for many other friends of very different opinions in politics, until the day when he was stunned by the fatal information that even his progressive uncle was guillotined, and learnt that his cousin was imprisoned by the license of the mob, whose rights (as she called them) she was always advocating.
"When I had heard all this story, I confess I lost in sympathy for Clément what I gained for his mother. Virginie's life did not seem to me worth the risk that Clément's would run. But when I saw him - sad, depressed, nay, hopeless - going about like one oppressed by a heavy dream which he cannot shake off; caring neither to eat, drink, nor sleep, yet bearing all with silent dignity, and even trying to force a poor, faint smile when he caught my anxious eyes: I turned round again and wondered hew Madame de Créquy could resist this mute pleading of her son's altered appearance. As for my Lord Ludlow and Monkshaven, as soon as they understood the case, they were indignant that any mother should attempt to keep a son out of honourable danger; and it was honourable, and a clear duty (according to them), to try to save the life of a helpless orphan girl, his next-of-kin. None but a Frenchman, said my lord, would hold himself bound by an old woman's whimsies and fears, even though she were his mother. As it was, he was chafing himself to death under the restraint. If he went, to be sure, the -- wretches might make an end of him, as they had done of many a fine fellow; but my lord would take heavy odds, that, instead of being guillotined, he would save the girl, and bring her safe to England, just desperately in love with her preserver, and then we would have a jelly wedding down at Monkshaven. My lord repeated his opinion so often that it became a certain prophecy in his mind of what was to take place; and, one day, seeing Clément leek even paler and thinner than he had ever done before, he sent a message to Madame de Créquy, requesting permission to speak to her in private.
"'For, by George!' said he, 'she shall hear my opinion, and not let that lad of hers kill himself by fretting. He's too good for that. If he had been an English lad, he would have been off to his sweetheart long before this, without saying with your leave or by your leave; but, being a Frenchman, he is all for Æneas and filial piety - filial fiddlesticks!' (My lord had run away to sea, when a boy, against his father's consent, I am sorry to say; and, as all had ended well, and he had come back to find both his parents alive, I do not think he was ever as much aware of his fault as he might have been under other circumstances.) 'No, my lady,' he went on, 'don't come with me. A woman can manage a man best when he has a fit of obstinacy, and a man can persuade a woman out of her tantrums, when all her own sex, the whole army of them, would fail. Allow me to go alone to my tête-à-tête with madame.'
"What he said, what passed, he never could repeat; but he came back graver than he went. However, the point was gained; Madame do Créquy withdrew her prohibition, and had given him leave to tell Clément as much.
"'But she is an old Cassandra,' said he. 'Don't let the lad be much with her; her talk would destroy the courage of the bravest man; she is so given ever to superstition.' Something that she had said had touched a chord in my lord's nature which he inherited from his Scotch ancestors. Long afterwards, I heard what this was. Medlicott told me.
"However, my lord shook off all fancies that told against the fulfilment of Clément's wishes. All that afternoon we three sat together, planning; and Monkshaven passed in and out, executing our commissions, and preparing everything. Towards nightfall all was ready for Clément's start on his journey towards the coast.
"Madame had declined seeing any of us since my lord's stormy interview with her. She sent word that she was fatigued, and desired repose. But, of course, before Clément set off, he was bound to wish her farewell, and to ask for her blessing. In order to avoid an agitating conversation between mother and son, my lord and I resolved to be present at the interview. Clément was already in his travelling-dress, that of a Norman fisherman, which Monkshaven had, with infinite trouble, discovered in the possession of one of the emigrés who thronged London, and who had made his escape from the shores of France in this disguise. Clément's plan was to go down to the coast of Sussex, and get some of the fishing or smuggling boats to take him across to the French coast near Dieppe. There again he would have to change his dress. Oh, it was so well planned! His mother was startled by his disguise (of which we had not thought to forewarn her) as he entered her apartment. And either that, or the being suddenly roused from the heavy slumber into which she was apt to fall when she was left alone, gave her manner an air of wildness that was almost like insanity.
"'Go, go!' she said to him, almost pushing him away as he knelt to kiss her hand. 'Virginie is beckoning to you, but you don't see what kind of a bed it is' --
"'Clément, make haste!' said my lord, in a hurried manner, as if to interrupt madame. 'The time is later than I thought, and you must not miss the morning's tide. Bid your mother good-bye at once, and let us be off.' For my lord and Monkshaven were to ride with him to an inn near the shore, from whence he was to walk to his destination. My lord almost took him by the arm to pull him away; and they were gone, and I was left alone with Madame de Créquy. When she heard the horses' feet, she seemed to find out the truth, as if for the first time. She set her teeth together. 'He has left me for her!' she almost screamed. 'Left me for her!' she kept muttering; and then, as the wild look came back into her eyes, she said, almost with exultation, 'But I did not give him my blessing!'
"All night Madame de Créquy raved in delirium. If I could, I would have sent for Clément back again. I did send off one man, but I suppose my directions were confused, or they were wrong, for he came back after my lord's return, on the following afternoon. By this time Madame de Créquy was quieter; she was, indeed, asleep from exhaustion when Lord Ludlow and Monkshaven came in. 'They were in high spirits, and their hopefulness brought me round to a less dispirited state. All had gone well: they had accompanied Clément on foot along the shore, until they had met with a lugger, which my lord had hailed in good nautical language. The captain had responded to these freemason terms by sending a boat to pick up his passenger, and by an invitation to breakfast sent through a speaking-trumpet. Monkshaven did not approve of either the meal or the company, and had returned to the inn; but my lord had gone with Clément, and breakfasted on board, upon grog, biscuit, fresh-caught fish - 'the best breakfast he ever ate,' he said; but that was probably owing to the appetite his night's ride had given him. However, his good fellowship had evidently won the captain's heart, and Clément had set sail under the best auspices. It was agreed that I should tell all this to Madame de Créquy, if she inquired; otherwise, it would be wiser not to renew her agitation by alluding to her son's journey.
"I sat with her constantly for many days; but she never spoke of Clément. She forced herself to talk of the little occurrences of Parisian society in former days; she tried to be conversational and agreeable, and to betray no anxiety or even interest in the object of Clément's journey; and, as far as unremitting efforts could go, she succeeded. But the tones of her voice were sharp and yet piteous, as if she were in constant pain; and the glance of her eye hurried and fearful, as if she dared not let it rest on any object.
"In a week we heard of Clément's safe arrival on the French coast. He sent a letter to this effect by the captain of the smuggler, when the latter returned. We hoped to hear again; but week after week elapsed, and there was no news of Clément. I had told Lord Ludlow, in Madams de Créquy's presence, as he and I had arranged, of the note I had received from her son, informing us of his landing in France. She heard, but she took no notice, and evidently began to. wonder that we did not mention any further intelligence of him in the same manner before her; and daily I began to fear that her pride would give way, and that she would supplicate for news before I had any to give her.
"One morning, on my awakening, my maid told me that Madame de Créquy had passed a wretched night, and had hidden Medlicott (whom, as understanding French, and speaking it pretty well, though with that horrid German accent, I had put about her) request that I would go to madame's room as soon as I was dressed.
"I knew what was coming, and I trembled all the time they were doing my hair, and otherwise arranging me. I was not encouraged by my lord's speeches. He had heard the message, and kept declaring that he would rather be shot than have to tell her that there was no news of her son; and yet he said, every now and then, when I was at the lowest pitch of uneasiness, that he never expected to hear again: that some day soon we should see him walking in and introducing Mademoiselle de Créquy to us.
"However, at last I was ready, and go I must.
"Her eyes were fixed on the door by which I entered. I went up to the bedside. She was not rouged, - she had left it off now for several days, - she no longer attempted to keep up the vain show of not feeling, and loving, and fearing.
"For a moment or two she did not speak, and I was glad of the respite.
"'Clément?' she said at length, covering her mouth with a handkerchief the minute she had spoken, that I might not see it quiver.
"'There has been no news since the first letter, saying how well the voyage was performed, and how safely he had landed - near Dieppe, you know,' I replied as cheerfully as possible. 'My lord does not expect that we shall have another letter; he thinks that we shall see him soon.'
"'There was no answer. As I looked, uncertain whether to do or say more, she slowly turned herself in bed, and lay with her face to the wall; and, as if that did not shut out the light of day and the busy, happy world enough, she put out her trembling hands, and covered her face with her handkerchief. 'There was no violence: hardly any sound.
"I told her what my lord had said about Clément's coming in some day, and taking us all by surprise. I did not believe it myself, but it was just possible - and I had nothing else to say. Pity, to one who was striving so hard to conceal her feelings, would have been impertinent. She let me talk; but she did not reply. She knew that my words were vain and idle, and had no root in my belief, as well as I did myself.
"I was very thankful when Medlicott came in with madame's breakfast, and gave me an excuse for leaving.
"But I think that conversation made me feel more anxious and impatient than ever. I felt almost pledged to Madame de Créquy for the fulfilment of the vision I had held out. She had taken entirely to her bed by this time: not from illness, but because she had no hope within her to stir her up to the effort of dressing. In the same way she hardly cared for food. She had no appetite - why eat to prolong a life of despair? But she let Medlicott feed her, sooner than take the trouble of resisting.
"And so it went on - for weeks, months - I could hardly count the time, it seemed so long. Medlicott told me she noticed a preternatural sensitiveness of ear in Madame de Créquy, induced by the habit of listening silently for the slightest unusual sound in the house. Medlicott was always a minute watcher of any one whom she cared about; and, one day, she made me notice by a sign madame's acuteness of hearing, although the quick expectation was but evinced for a moment in the turn of the eye, the hushed breath - and then, when the unusual footstep turned into my lord's apartments, the soft quivering sigh and the closed eyelids.
"At length the intendant of the De Créquy estates - the old man, you will remember, whose information respecting Virginie de Créquy first gave Clément the desire to return to Paris - came to St. James's Square, and begged to speak to me. I made haste to go down to him in the housekeeper's room, sooner than that he should he ushered into mine, for fear of madame hearing any sound.
"'The old man stood - I see him now - with his hat held before him in both his hands; he slowly bowed till his face touched it when I came in. Such long excess of courtesy augured ill. He waited for me to speak.
"'Have you any intelligence?' I inquired. He had been often to the house before, to ask if we had received any news; and once or twice I had seen him, but this was the first time he had begged to see me.
"'Yes, madame,' he replied, still standing with his head bent down, like a child in disgrace.
"'And it is bad!' I exclaimed.
"'It is had.' For a moment I was angry at the cold tone in which my words were echoed; but directly afterwards I saw the large, slow, heavy tears of age falling down the old man's cheeks, and on to the sleeves of his poor, threadbare coat.
"I asked him how he had heard it: it seemed as though I could not all at once bear to hear what it was. He told me that the night before, in crossing Long Acre, he had stumbled upon an old acquaintance of his; one who, like himself, had been a dependent upon the De Créquy family, but had managed their Paris affairs, while Fléchier had taken charge of their estates in the country. Both were now emigrants, and living on the proceeds of such small available talents as they possessed. Fléchier, as I knew, earned a very fair livelihood by going about to dress salads for dinner parties. His compatriot, Le Fèbvre, had begun to give a few lessons as a dancing-master. One of them took the other home to his lodgings; and there, when their most immediate personal adventures had been hastily talked over, came the inquiry from Fléchier as to Monsier de Créquy.
"'Clément was dead - guillotined. Virginie was dead - guillotined.'
"When Pléchier had told me thus much, he could not speak for sobbing; and I, myself, could hardly tell how to restrain my tears sufficiently, until I could go to my own room, and be at liberty to give way. He asked my leave to bring in his friend Le Fèbvre, who was walking in the square, awaiting a possible summons to tell his story. I heard afterwards a good many details, which filled up the account, and made me feel - which brings me back to the point I started from - how unfit the lower orders are for being trusted indiscriminately with the dangerous powers of education. I have made a long preamble, but now I am coming to the moral of my story."
My lady was trying to shake off the emotion which she evidently felt in recurring to this sad history of Monsieur de Créquy's death. She came behind me and arranged my pillows, and then, seeing I had been crying - for, indeed, I was weak-spirited at the time, and a little served to unloose my tears - she stooped down, and kissed my forehead, and said "Poor child!" almost as if she thanked me for feeling that old grief of hers.
"Being once in France, it was no difficult thing for Clément to get into Paris. The difficulty in those days was to leave, not to enter. He came in dressed as a Norman peasant, in charge of a load of fruit and vegetables, with which one of the Seine barges was freighted. He worked hard with his companions in landing and arranging their produce on the quays; and then, when they dispersed to get their breakfasts at some of the estaminets near the old Marché aux Fleurs, he sauntered up a street which conducted him, by many an odd turn, through the Quartier Latin to a horrid back-alley, leading out of the Rue l'Ecole de Médecine: some atrocious place, as I have heard, not far from the shadow of that terrible Abbaye, where so many of the best blood of France awaited their deaths. But here some old man lived, on whose fidelity Clément thought that he might rely. I am not sure if he had not been gardener in those very gardens behind the Hôtel Créquy where Clément and Urian used to play together years before. But, whatever the old man's dwelling might be, Clément was only too glad to reach it, you may be sure. He had been kept in Normandy, in all sorts of disguises, for many days after landing in Dieppe, through the difficulty of entering Paris unsuspected by the many ruffians who were always on the look-out for aristocrats.
"The old gardener was, I believe, both faithful and tried, and sheltered Clément in his garret as well as might be. Before he could stir out, it was necessary to procure a fresh disguise, and one more in character with an inhabitant of Paris than that of a Norman carter was procured; and, after waiting indoors for one or two days, to see if any suspicion was excited, Clément set off to discover Virginie.
"He found her at the old concierge's dwelling. Madame Babette was the name of this woman, who must have been a less faithful - or rather, perhaps, I should say, a more interested - friend to her guest than the old gardener Jaques was to Clément.
"I have seen a miniature of Virginie, which a French lady of quality happened to have in her possession at the time of her flight from Paris, and which she brought with her to England unwittingly; for it belonged to the Count de Créquy, with whom she was slightly acquainted. I should fancy from it, that Virginie was taller and of a more powerful figure for a woman than her cousin Clément was for a man. Her dark-brown hair was arranged in short curls - the way of dressing the hair announced the politics of the individual in those days, just as patches did in my grandmother's time; and Virginie's hair was not to my taste, or according to my principles: it was too classical. Her large, black eyes looked out at you steadily. One cannot judge of the shape of a nose from a full-faced miniature, but the nostrils were clearly cut and largely opened. I do not fancy her nose could have been pretty; but her mouth had a character all its own, and which would, I think, have redeemed a plainer face. It was wide, and deep set into the cheeks at the corners; the upper lip was very much arched, and hardly closed over the teeth; so that the whole face looked (from the serious, intent look in the eyes, and the sweet intelligence of the mouth) as if she were listening eagerly to something to which her answer was quite ready, and would come out of those red, opening lips as soon as ever you had done speaking; and you longed to know what she would say.
"Well: this Virginie de Créquy was living with Madame Babette in the conciergerie of an old French inn, somewhere to the north of Paris, so, far enough from Clément's refuge. The inn had been frequented by farmers from Brittany and such kind of people, in the days when that sort of intercourse went on between Paris and the provinces, which had nearly stopped flow. Few Bretons came near it now, and the inn had fallen into the hands of Madame Babette's brother, as payment for a bad wine debt of the last proprietor. He put his sister and her child in, to keep it open, as it were, and sent all the people he could to occupy the half-furnished rooms of the house. They paid Babette for their lodging every morning as they went out to breakfast, and returned or not as they chose, at night. Every three days, the wine-merchant or his son came to Madame Babette, and she accounted to them for the money she had received. She and her child occupied the porter's office (in which the lad slept at nights) and a little miserable bedroom which opened out of it, and received all the light and air that was admitted through the door of communication, which was half glass. Madame Babette must have had a kind of attachment for the De Créquys - her De Créquys, you understand - Virginie's father, the Count; for, at some risk to herself, she had warned both him and his daughter of the danger impending over them. But he, infatuated, would not believe that his dear Human Race could ever do him harm; and, as long as he did not fear, Virginie was not afraid. It was by some ruse, the nature of which I never heard, that Madame Babette induced Virginie to come to her abode at the very hour in which the Count had been recognised in the streets, and hurried off to the Lanterne. It was after Babette had got her there, safe shut up in the little back den, that she told her what had befallen her father. From that day, Virginie had never stirred out of the gates, or crossed the threshold of the porter's lodge. I do not say that Madame Babette was tired of her continual presence, or regretted the impulse which made her rush to the De Créquy's well-known house - after being compelled to form one of the mad crowds that saw the Count de Créquy seized and hung - and hurry his daughter out, through alleys and backways, until at length she had the orphan safe in her own dark sleeping-room, and could tell her tale of horror: but Madame Babette was poorly paid for her porter's work by her avaricious brother; and it was hard enough to find food for herself and her growing boy; and, though the poor girl ate little enough, I dare say, yet there seemed no end to the burthen that Madame Babette had imposed upon herself; the De Créquys were plundered, ruined, had become an extinct race, all but a lonely friendless girl, in broken health and spirits; and, though she lent no positive encouragement to his suit, yet, at the time when Clément re-appeared in Paris, Madame Babette was beginning to think that Virginie might do worse than encourage the attentions of Monsieur Morin Fils, her nephew, and the wine-merchant's son. Of course, he and his father had the entree into the conciergerie of the hôtel that belonged to them, in right of being both proprietors and relations. The son, Morin, had seen Virginie in this manner. He was fully aware that she was far above him in rank, and guessed from her whole aspect that she had lost her natural protectors by the terrible guillotine; but he did not know her exact name or station, nor could he persuade his aunt to tell him. However, he fell head over ears m love with her, whether she were princess or peasant; and, though at first there was something about her which made his passionate love conceal itself with shy, awkward reserve, and then made it only appear in the guise of deep, respectful devotion; yet, by-and-by - by the same process of reasoning, I suppose, that his aunt had gone through even before him - Jean Morin began to let Hope oust Despair from his heart. Sometimes he thought - perhaps years hence, that solitary, friendless lady, pent up in squalor, might turn to him as to a friend and comforter - and then - and then --. Meanwhile Jean Morin was most attentive to his aunt, whom he had rather slighted before. He would linger over the accounts; would bring her little presents; and, above all, he made a pet and favourite of Pierre, the little cousin, who could tell him about all the ways of going on of Mam'selle Cannes, as Virginie was called. Pierre was thoroughly aware of the drift and cause of his cousin's inquiries; and was his ardent partisan, as I have heard, even before Jean Morin had exactly acknowledged his wishes to himself.
"It must have required some patience and diplomacy, before Clément de Créquy found out the exact place where his cousin was hidden. The old gardener took the cause very much to heart; as, judging from my recollections, I imagine he would have forwarded any fancy, however wild, of Monsieur Clément's. (I will tell you afterwards how I came to know all these particulars so well.)
"After Clément's return, on two succeeding days, from his dangerous search, without meeting with any good result, Jacques entreated Monsieur de Créquy to let him take it in hand. He represented that he, as gardener for the space of twenty years and more at the Hôtel de Créquy, had a right to be acquainted with all the successive concierges at the Count's house; that he should not go among them as a stranger, but as an old friend, anxious to renew pleasant intercourse; and that if the Intendant's story, which he had told Monsieur de Créquy in England, was true, that mademoiselle was in hiding at the house of a former concierge, why, something relating to her would surely drop out in the course of conversation. So he persuaded Clément to remain indoors, while he set off on his round, with no apparent object but to gossip.
"At night he came home, - having seen mademoiselle. He told Clément much of the story relating to Madame Babette that I have told to you. Of course, lie had heard nothing of the ambitious hopes of Morin Fils - hardly of his existence, I should think. Madame Babette. had received him kindly; although, for some time, she had kept him standing in the carriage gateway outside her door. But, on his complaining of the draught and his rheumatism, she had asked him in; first looking round with some anxiety, to see who was in the room behind her. No one was there when he entered and sat down. But, in a minute or two, a tall thin young lady, with great, sad eyes, and pale cheeks, came from the inner room, and, seeing him, retired. "It is Mademoiselle Cannes," said Madame Babette, rather unnecessarily; for, if he had not been on the watch for some sign of Mademoiselle de Créquy, he would hardly have noticed the entrance and withdrawal.
"Clément and the good old gardener were always rather perplexed by Madame Babette's evident avoidance of all mention of the De Créquy family. If she were so much interested in one member as to be willing to undergo the pains and penalties of a domiciliary visit, it was strange that she never inquired after the existence of her charge's friends and relations from one who might very probably have heard something of them. They settled that Madame Babette must believe that the Marquise and Clément were dead; and admired her for her reticence in never speaking of Virginie. The truth was, I suspect, that she was so desirous of her nephew's success by this time, that she did not like letting any one into the secret of Virginie's whereabouts who might interfere with their plan. However, it was arranged between Clément and his humble friend, that the former, dressed in the peasant's clothes in which he had entered Paris but smartened up in one or two particulars, as if, although a countryman, he had money to spare, should go and engage a sleeping-room in the old Breton Inn, where, as I told you, accommodation for the night was to be had. This was accordingly done, without exciting Madame Babette's suspicions, for she was unacquainted with the Normandy accent, and consequently did not perceive the exaggeration of it which Monsieur de Créquy adopted in order to disguise his pure Parisian. But after he had for two nights slept in a queer dark closet, at the end of one of the numerous short galleries in the Hôtel Duguesclin, and paid his money for such accommodation each morning at the little bureau under the window of the conciergerie, he found himself no nearer to his object. He stood outside in the gateway: Madame Babette opened a pane in her window, counted out the change, gave polite thanks, and shut to the pane with a clack, before he could ever find out what to say that might be the means of opening a conversation. Once m the streets, he was in danger from the bloodthirsty mob, who were ready in those days to hunt to death every one who looked like a gentleman, as an aristocrat: and Clément, depend upon it, looked a gentleman, whatever dress he wore. Yet it was unwise to traverse Paris to his old friend the gardener's grenier, so he had to loiter about, where I hardly know. Only he did leave the Hôtel Duguesclin, and he did not go to old Jacques, and there was not another house in Paris open to him. At the end of two days, he had made out Pierre's existence; and he began to try to make friends with the lad. Pierre was too sharp and shrewd not to suspect something from the confused attempts at friendliness. It was not for nothing that the Norman farmer lounged in the court and doorway, and brought home presents of galette. Pierre accepted the galette, reciprocated the civil speeches, but kept his eyes open. Once, returning home pretty late at night, he surprised the Norman studying the shadows on the blind, which was drawn down when Madame Babette's lamp was lighted. On going in, he found Mademoiselle Cannes with his mother, sitting by the table, and helping in the family mending.
"Pierre was afraid that the Norman had some view upon the money which his mother, as concierge, collected for her brother. But the money was all safe next evening, when his cousin, Monsieur Morin Pus, came to collect it. Madame Babette asked her nephew to sit down, and skilfully barred the passage to the inner door, so that Virginie, had she been ever so much disposed, could not have retreated. She sat silently sewing. All at once the little party were startled by a very sweet tenor voice, just close to the street window, singing one of the airs out of Beaumarchais' operas, which, a few years before, had been popular all over Paris. But after a few moments of silence, and one or two remarks, the talking went on again. Pierre, however, noticed an increased air of abstraction in Virginie, who, I suppose, was recurring to the last time that she had heard the song, and did not consider, as her cousin had hoped she would have done, what were the words set to the air, which he imagined she would remember, and which would have told her so much. For, only a few years before, Adam's opera of Richard le Roi had made the story of the minstrel Blondel and our English Coeur de Lion familiar to all the opera-going part of the Parisian public, and Clément had bethought him of establishing a communication with Virginie by some such means.
"'The next night, about the same hour, the same voice was singing outside the window again. Pierre, who had been irritated by the proceeding the evening before, as it had diverted Virginie's attention from his cousin, who had been doing his utmost to make himself agreeable, rushed out to the door, just as the Norman was ringing the bell to be admitted for the night. Pierre looked up and down the street; no one else was to be seen. The next day, the Norman mollified him somewhat by knocking at the door of the conciergerie, and begging Monsieur Pierre's acceptance of some knee-buckles, which had taken the country farmer's fancy the day before, as he had been gazing into the shops, but, which, being too small for his purpose, he took the liberty of offering to Monsieur Pierre. Pierre, a French boy, inclined to foppery, was charmed, ravished by the beauty of the present and with monsieur's goodness, and be began to adjust them to his breeches immediately, as well as he could, at least, in his mother's absence. The Norman, whom Pierre kept carefully on the outside of the threshold, stood by, as if amused at the boy's eagerness.
"'Take care,' said he, clearly and distinctly; 'take care, my little friend, lest you become a fop; and, in that case, some day, years hence, when your heart is devoted to some young lady, she may be inclined to say to you' - here he raised his voice - 'No, thank you; when I marry, I marry a man, not a petit-maître; I marry a man, who, whatever his position may be, will add dignity to the human race by his virtues.' Farther than that in his quotation Clément dared not go. His sentiments (so much above the apparent occasion) met with applause from Pierre, who liked to contemplate himself in the light of a lover, even though it should he a rejected one, and who hailed the mention of the words 'virtues' and 'dignity of the human race' as belonging to the cant of a good citizen.
"But Clément was more anxious to know how the invisible lady took his speech. There was no sign at the time. But when he returned at night, he heard a voice, low singing, behind Madame Babette, as she handed him his candle, the very air he had sung without effect for two nights past. As if he had caught it up from her murmuring voice, be sang it loudly and clearly as be crossed the court.
"'Here is our opera-singer!' exclaimed Madame Babette. 'Why, the Norman grazier sings like Boupré,' naming a favourite singer at the neighbouring theatre.
"Pierre was struck by the remark, and quietly resolved to look after the Norman; but again, I believe, it was more because of his mother's deposit of money than with any thought of Virginie.
"However, the next morning, to the wonder of both mother and son, Mademoiselle Cannes proposed, with much hesitation, to go out and make some little purchase for herself. A month or two ago, this was what Madame Babette had been never weary of urging. But now she was as much surprised as if she had expected Virginie to remain a prisoner in her rooms all the rest of her life. I suppose she had hoped that her first time of quitting it would he when she left it for Monsieur Morin's house as his wife.
"A quick look from Madame Babette towards Pierre was all that was needed to encourage the boy to follow her. He went out cautiously. She was at the end of the street. She looked up and down, as if waiting for some one. No one was there. Back she came, so swiftly that she nearly caught Pierre before he could retreat through the porte-cochère. There he looked out again. The neighbourhood was low and wild, and strange; and some one spoke to Virginie, - nay, laid his hand upon her arm - whose dress and aspect (he had emerged out of a side-street) Pierre did not know; but, after a start, and (Pierre could fancy) a little scream Virginie recognised the stranger, and the two turned up the side street whence the man had come. Pierre stole swiftly to the corner of this street; no one was there: they had disappeared up some of the alleys. Pierre returned home to excite his mother's infinite surprise. But they had hardly done talking when Virginie returned, with a colour and a radiance in her face, which they had never seen there since her father's death.
"I have told you that I heard much of this story from a friend of the Intendant of the De Créquys, whom he met with in London. Some years afterwards - the summer before my lord's death - I was travelling with him in Devonshire, and we went to see the French prisoners of war on Dartmoor. We fell into conversation with one of them, whom I found out to be the very Pierre of whom I had heard before, as having been involved in the fatal story of Clément and Virginie, and by him I was told much of their last days, and thus I learnt how to have some sympathy with all those who were concerned in those terrible events; yes, even with the younger Morin himself, on whose behalf Pierre spoke warmly, even after so long a time had elapsed.
"For, when the younger Morin called at the porter's lodge, on the evening of the day when Virginie had gone out for the first time after so many months' confinement to the conciergerie, he was struck with the improvement in her appearance. It seems to have hardly been that he thought her beauty greater; for, in addition to the fact that she was not beautiful, Morin had arrived at that point of being enamoured when it does not signify whether the beloved one is plain or handsome - she has enchanted one pair of eyes, which henceforward see her through their own medium. But Morin noticed the faint increase of colour and light in her countenance. It was as though she had broken through her thick cloud of hopeless sorrow, and was dawning forth into a happier life. And so, whereas during her grief he had revered and respected it even to a point of silent sympathy, now that she was gladdened his heart rose on the wings of strengthened hopes. Even in the dreary monotony of this existence in his Aunt Babette's conciergerie Time had not failed in his work, and now, perhaps, soon he might humbly strive to help 'Time. The very next day he returned - on some pretence of business - to the Hôtel Duguesclin, and made his aunt's room, rather than his aunt herself, a present of roses and geraniums tied up in a bouquet with a tricolour ribbon. Virginie was in the room sitting at the coarse sewing she liked to do for Madame Babette. He saw her eyes brighten at the sight of the flowers: she asked his aunt to let her arrange them; he saw her untie the ribbon, and with a gesture of dislike, throw it on the ground, and give it a kick with her little foot, and even in this girlish manner of insulting his dearest prejudices he found something to admire.
"As he was coming out Pierre stopped him. The lad had been trying to arrest his cousin's attention by futile grimaces and signs played off behind Virginie's back; but Monsieur Morin saw nothing but Mademoiselle Cannes. However, Pierre was not to be baffled, and Monsieur Morin found him in waiting just outside the threshold. With his finger on his lips, Pierre walked on tiptoe by his companion's side till they would have been long past sight or hearing of the conciergerie, even had the inhabitants devoted themselves to the purposes of spying or listening.
"'Chut!' said Pierre at last. 'She goes out walking.'
"'Well?' said Monsieur Morin, half curious, half annoyed at being disturbed in the delicious reverie of the future into which he longed to fall.
"'Well! It is not well. It is bad.'
"'Why? I do not ask who she is, but I have my ideas. She is an aristocrat. Do the people about here begin to suspect her?'
"'No, no!' said Pierre. 'But she goes out walking. She has gone these two mornings. I have watched her. She meets a man - she is friends with him, for she talks to him as eagerly as he does to her - mamma cannot tell who he is.'
"'Has my aunt seen him?'
"'No, not so much as a fly's wing of him. I myself have only seen his back. It strikes me like a familiar back, and yet I cannot think who it is. But they separate with sudden darts, like two birds who have been together to feed their young ones. One moment they are in close talk, their heads together chuchotting; the next he has turned up some by-street, and Mademoiselle Cannes is close upon me - has almost caught me.'
"'But she did not see you?' inquired Monsieur Morin, in so altered a voice that Pierre gave him one of his quick penetrating looks. He was struck by the way in which his cousin's features - always coarse and commonplace - had become contracted and pinched; struck, too,. by the livid look on his sallow complexion. But, as if Morin was conscious of the manner in which his face belied his feelings, he made an effort, and smiled, and patted Pierre's head, and thanked him for his intelligence, and gave him a five-franc piece, and bade him go on with his observations of Mademoiselle Cannes' movements and report all to him.
"Pierre returned home with a light heart, tossing up his five-franc piece as he ran. Just as he was at the conciergerie door, a great tall man bustled past him, and snatched his money away from him, looking back with a laugh, which added insult to injury. Pierre had no redress; no one had witnessed the impudent theft, and, if they had, no one to be seen in the street was strong enough to give him redress. Besides, Pierre had seen enough of the state of the streets of Paris at that time to know that friends, not enemies, were required, and the man had a bad air about him. But all these considerations did not keep Pierre from bursting out into a fit of crying when he was once more under his mother's roof; and Virginie, who was alone there (Madame Babette having gone out to make her daily purchases), might have imagined him pommelled to death by the loudness of his sobs.
"'What is the matter?' asked she. 'Speak, my child. What hast thou done?'
"'He has robbed me! he has robbed me!' was all Pierre could gulp out.
"'Robbed thee! and of what, my poor boy?' said Virginie, stroking his hair gently.
"'Of my five-franc piece - of a five-franc piece,' said Pierre, correcting himself, and leaving out the word my, half fearful lest Virginie should inquire how he became possessed of such a sum, and for what services it had been given him. But, of course, no such idea came into her head, for it would have been impertinent, and she was gentle-born.
"'Wait a moment, my lad,' and going to the one small drawer in the inner apartment, which held all her few possessions, she brought back a little ring - a ring just with one ruby in it - which she had worn in the days when she cared to wear jewels. 'Take this,' said she, 'and run with it to a jeweller's. It is but a poor, valueless thing, but it will bring you in your five francs, at any rate. Go! I desire you.'
"'But I cannot,' said the boy, hesitating; some dim sense of honour flitting through his misty morals.
"'Yes, you must ' she continued, urging him with her hand to the door. 'Run! if it brings in more than five franks, you shall return the surplus to me.'
"Thus tempted by her urgency, and, I suppose, reasoning with himself to the effect that be might as well have the money, and then see whether he thought it right to act as a spy upon her or not - the one action did not pledge him to the other, nor yet did she make any conditions with her gift - Pierre went off with her ring; and, after repaying himself his five francs, he was enabled to bring Virginie back two more so well had he managed his affairs. But, although the whole transaction did not leave him bound, in any way, to discover or forward Virginie's wishes, it did leave him pledged, according to his code, to act according to her advantage, and he considered himself the judge of the best course to be pursued to this end. And, moreover, this little kindness attached him to her personally. He began to think bow pleasant it would be to have so kind and generous a person for a relation; how easily his troubles might be borne if he had always such a ready helper at hand; how much he should like to make her like him, and come to him for the protection of his masculine power I First of all his duties, as her self-appointed squire, came the necessity of finding out who her strange new acquaintance was. Thus, you see, he arrived at the same end, via supposed duty, that he was previously pledged to via interest. I fancy a good number of us, when any line of action will promote our own interest, can make ourselves believe that reasons exist which compel us to it as a duty.
"In the course of a very few days, Pierre had so circumvented Virginie as to have discovered that her new friend was no other than the Norman farmer in a different dress. This was a great piece of knowledge to impart to Morin. But Pierre was not prepared for the immediate physical effect it had on his cousin. Morin sat suddenly down on one of the seats in the Boulevards - it was there Pierre had met with him accidentally - when he heard who it was that Virginie met. I do not suppose the man had the faintest idea of any relationship or even previous acquaintanceship between Clément and Virginie. If he thought of anything beyond the mere fact presented to him, that his idol was in communication with another, younger, handsomer man than himself, it must have been that the Norman farmer had seen her at the conciergerie, and had been attracted by her, and, as was but natural, had tried to make her acquaintance, and had succeeded. But, from what Pierre told me, I should not think that even this much thought passed through Morin's mind. He seems to have been a man of rare and concentrated attachments; violent, though restrained and undemonstrative passions; and, above all, a capability of jealousy, of which his dark oriental complexion must have been a type. I could fancy that, if he had married Virginie, he would have coined his life-blood for luxuries to make her happy; would have watched over and petted her, at every sacrifice to himself, as long as she would have been content to live with him alone. But, as Pierre expressed it to me: 'When I saw what my cousin was, when I learned his nature too late, I perceived that he would have strangled a bird if she whom he loved was attracted by it from him.'
"When Pierre had told Morin of his discovery, Morin sat down, as I said, quite suddenly, as if he had been shot. He found out that the first meeting between the Norman and Virginie was no accidental, isolated circumstance. Pierre was torturing him with his accounts of daily rendezvous if but for a moment, they were seeing each other every day, sometimes twice a day. And Virginie could speak to this man, though to himself she was so coy and reserved as hardly to utter a sentence. Pierre caught these broken words while his cousin's complexion grew more and more livid, and then purple, as if some great effect were produced on his circulation by the news he had just heard. Pierre was so startled by his cousin's wandering, senseless eyes, and otherwise disordered looks, that he rushed into a neighbouring cabaret for a glass of absinthe, which he paid for, as he recollected afterwards, with a portion of Virginie's five francs. By-and-by Morin recovered his natural appearance; but he was gloomy and silent; and all that Pierre could get out of him was, that the Norman farmer should not sleep another night at the Hôtel Duguesclin, giving him such opportunities of passing and repassing by the conciergerie door. He was too much absorbed in his own thoughts to repay Pierre the half-franc he had spent on the absinthe, which Pierre perceived, and seems to have noted down in the ledger of his mind as on Virginie's balance of favour.
"Altogether, he was much disappointed at his cousin's mode of receiving intelligence, which the lad thought worth another five-franc piece at least; or, if not paid for in money, to be paid for in open-mouthed confidence and expression of feeling; and thus he was, for a time, so far a partisan of Virginie's - unconscious Virginie's - against his cousin, as to feel regret when the Norman returned no more to his night's lodging, and when Virginie's eager watch at the crevice of the close-drawn blind ended only with a sigh of disappointment. If it had not been for his mother's presence at the time, Pierre thought he should have told her all. But bow far was his mother in his cousin's confidence as regarded the dismissal of the Norman?
"In a few days, however, Pierre felt almost sure that they had established some new means of communication. Virginie went out for a short time every day; but, though Pierre followed her as closely as he could without exciting her observation, he was unable to discover what kind of intercourse she held with the Norman. She went in general, the same short round among the little shops in the neighbourhood; not entering any, but stopping at two or three. Pierre afterwards remembered that she had invariably paused at the nosegays displayed in a certain window, and studied them long; but, then, she stopped and looked at caps, hats, fashions, confectionery (all of the humble kind common in that quarter), so how should he have known that any particular attraction existed among the flowers? Morin came more regularly than ever to his aunt's; but Virginie was apparently unconscious that she was the attraction. She looked healthier and more hopeful than she had done for months, and her manners to all were gentler and not so reserved. Almost as if she wished to manifest her gratitude to Madame Babette for her long continuance of kindness, the necessity for which was nearly ended, Virginie showed an unusual alacrity in rendering the old woman any little service in her power, and evidently tried to respond to Monsieur Morin's civilities, he being Madame Babette's nephew, with a soft graciousness which must have made one of her principal charms; for all who knew her speak of the fascination of her manners, so winning and attentive to others, while yet her opinions, and often her actions, were of so decided a character. For, as I have said, her beauty was by no means great; yet every man who came near her seems to have fallen into the sphere of her influence. Monsieur Morin was deeper than ever in love with her during these last few days he was worked up into a state capable of any sacrifice, either of himself or others, so that he might obtain her at last. He sat 'devouring her with his eyes' (to use Pierre's expression) whenever she could not see him; but, if she looked towards him, he looked to the ground - anywhere - away from her, and almost stammered in his replies if she addressed any question to him.
"He had been, I should think, ashamed of his extreme agitation on the Boulevards, for Pierre thought that he absolutely shunned him for these few succeeding days. He must have believed that he had driven the Norman (my poor Clément!) off the field, by banishing him from his inn; and have thought that the intercourse between him and Virginie, which he had thus interrupted, was of so slight and transient a character as to be quenched by a little difficulty.
"But he appears to have felt that he had made but little way, and he awkwardly turned to Pierre for help - not yet confessing his love, though; he only tried to make friends again with the lad after their silent estrangement. And Pierre for some time did not choose to perceive his cousin's advances. He would reply to all the roundabout questions Morin put to him respecting household conversations when he was not present, or household occupations and tone of thought, without mentioning Virginie's name any more than his questioner did. The lad would seem to suppose that his cousin's strong interest in their domestic ways of going on was all on account of Madame Babette. At last he worked his cousin up to the point of making him a confidant; and then the boy was half frightened at the torrent of vehement words he had unloosed. The lava came down with a greater rush for having been pent up so long. Morin cried out his words in a hoarse, passionate voice, clenched his teeth, his fingers, and seemed almost convulsed, as he spoke out his terrible love for Virginie, which would lead him to kill her sooner than see her another's; and if another stepped in between him and her! - and then he smiled a fierce, triumphant smile, but did not say any more. v "Pierre was, as I said, half frightened; but also half admiring. This was really love - a 'grande passion' - a really fine dramatic thing - like the plays they acted at the little theatre yonder. He had a dozen times the sympathy with his cousin now that he had had before, and readily swore by the infernal gods - for they were far too enlightened to believe in one God, or Christianity, or anything of the kind - that he would devote himself, body and soul, to forwarding his cousin's views. Then his cousin took him to a shop, and bought him a smart second-hand watch, on which they scratched the word Fidélité and thus was the compact sealed. Pierre settled in his own mind that, if he were a woman, he should like to be beloved as Virginie was by his cousin, and that it would be an extremely good thing for her to be the wife of so rich a citizen as Morin Fils - and for Pierre himself, too, for doubtless their gratitude would lead them to give him rings and watches ad infinitum.
"A day or two afterwards, Virginie was taken ill. Madame Babette said it was because she had persevered in going out in all weathers, after confining herself to two warm rooms for so long; and very probably this was really the cause, for, from Pierre's account, she must have been suffering from a feverish cold, aggravated, no doubt, by her impatience at Madame Babette's familiar prohibitions of any more walks until she was better. Every day, in spite of her trembling, aching limbs, she would fain have arranged her dress for her walk at the usual time; but Madame Babette was fully prepared to put physical obstacles in her way, if she was not obedient in remaining tranquil on the little sofa by the side of the fire. The third day, she called Pierre to her, when his mother was not attending (having, in fact, locked up Mademoiselle Cannes' out-of-door things).
"'See, my child,' said Virginie. 'Thou must do me a great favour. Go to the gardener's shop in the Rue des Bons-Enfans, and look at the nosegays in the window. I long for pinks; they are my favourite flower. Here are two francs. If thou seest a nosegay of pinks displayed in the window, if it be ever so faded, - nay, if thou seest two or three nosegays of pinks, remember, buy them all, and bring them to me, I have so great a desire for the smell.' She fell back weak and exhausted. Pierre hurried out. Now was the time; here was the clue to the long inspection of the nosegay in this very shop.
"Sure enough, there was a drooping nosegay of pinks in the window. Pierre went in, and, with all his impatience, he made as good a bargain as he could, urging that the flowers were faded, and good for nothing. At last he purchased them at a very moderate price. And now you will learn the bad consequences of teaching the lower orders anything beyond what is immediately necessary to enable them to earn their daily bread! The silly Count de Créquy, - he who had been sent to his bloody rest by the very canaille of whom he thought so much - he who had made Virginie (indirectly, it is true) reject such a man as her cousin Clément, by inflating her mind with his bubbles of theories - this Count de Créquy had long ago taken a fancy to Pierre, as he saw the bright sharp child playing about his courtyard. Monsieur de Créquy had even begun to educate the boy himself, to try to work out certain opinions of his into practice - but the drudgery of the affair wearied him, and, besides, Babette had left his employment. Still the Count took a kind of interest in his former pupil; and made some sort of arrangement by which Pierre was to be taught reading and writing, and accounts, and Heaven knows what besides - Latin, I dare say. So Pierre, instead of being an innocent messenger, as he ought to have been - (as Mr. Horner's little lad Gregson ought to have been this morning) - could read writing as well as either you or I. So what does he do, on obtaining the nosegay, but examine it well. The stalks of the flowers were tied up with slips of matting in wet moss. Pierre undid the strings, unwrapped the moss, and out fell a piece of wet paper, with the writing all blurred with moisture. It was but a torn piece of writing-paper, apparently, but Pierre's wicked mischievous eyes read what was written on it - written so as to look like a fragment - 'Ready, every and any night at nine. All is prepared. Have no fright. Trust one who, whatever hopes he might once have had, is content now to serve you as a faithful cousin;' and a place was named, which I forget, but which Pierre did not, as it was evidently the rendezvous. After the lad had studied every word, till he could say it off by heart, he placed the paper where he had found it, enveloped it in moss, and tied the whole up again carefully. Virginie's face coloured scarlet as she received it. She kept smelling at it, and trembling: but she did not untie it, although Pierre suggested how much fresher it would be if the stalks were immediately put into water. But once, after his back had been turned for a minute, he saw it untied when he looked round again, and Virginie was blushing, and hiding something in her bosom.
"Pierre was now all impatience to set off and find his cousin. But his mother seemed to want him for small domestic purposes even more than usual; and he had chafed over a multitude of errands connected with the Hôtel before he could set off and search for his cousin at his usual haunts. At last the two met; and Pierre related all the events of the morning to Morin. He said the note off word by word. (That lad this morning had something of the magpie look of Pierre - it made me shudder to see him, and hear him repeat the note by heart.) Then Morin asked him to tell him all over again. Pierre was struck by Morin's heavy sighs as he repeated the story. When he came the second time to the note, Morin tried to write the words down; but either he was not a good, ready scholar, or his fingers trembled too much. Pierre hardly remembered, but, at any rate, the lad had to do it, with his wicked reading and writing. When this was done, Morin sat heavily silent. Pierre would have preferred the expected outburst, for this impenetrable gloom perplexed and baffled him. He had even to speak to his cousin to rouse him; and when he replied, what he said had so little apparent connection with the subject which Pierre had expected to find uppermost in his mind, that he was half afraid that his cousin had lost his wits.
"'My Aunt Babette is out of coffee.'
"'I am sure I do not know,' said Pierre.
"'Yes, she is. I heard her say so. Tell her that a friend of mine has just opened a shop in the Rue Saint Antoine, and that, if she will join me there in an hour, I will supply her with a good stock of coffee, just to give my friend encouragement. His name is Antoine Meyer, Number One hundred and Fifty, at the sign of the Cap of Liberty.'
"'I could go with you now. I can carry a few pounds of coffee better than my mother,' said Pierre, all in good faith. He told me he should never forget the look on his cousin's face, as he turned round, and bade him begone, and give his mother the message without another word. It had evidently sent him home promptly to obey his cousin's command. Morin's message perplexed Madame Babette.
"'How could he know I was out of coffee?' said she. 'I am; but I only used the last up this morning. How could Victor know about it?'
"'I am sure I can't tell,' said Pierre, who by this time had recovered his usual self-possession. 'All I know is, that monsieur is in a pretty temper, and that if you are not sharp to your time at this Antoine Meyer's you are likely to come in for some of his black looks.'
"'Well, it is very kind of him to offer to give me some coffee, to be sure! But how could he know I was out?'
"Pierre hurried his mother off impatiently, for he was certain that the offer of the coffee was only a blind to some hidden purpose on his cousin's part; and he made no doubt that, when his mother had been informed of what his cousin's real intention was, he, Pierre, could extract it from her by coaxing or bullying. But he was mistaken. Madame Babette returned home, grave, depressed, silent, and loaded with the best coffee. Some time afterwards he learnt why his cousin had sought for this interview. It was to extract from her, by promises and threats, the real name of Mam'selle Cannes, which would give him a clue to the true appellation of the 'faithful cousin.' He concealed this second purpose from his aunt, who had been quite unaware of his jealousy of the Norman farmer, or of his identification of him with any relation of Virginie's. But Madame Babette instinctively shrank from giving him any information: she must have felt that, in the lowering mood in which she found him, his desire for greater knowledge of Virginie's antecedents boded her no good. And yet he made his aunt his confidante - told her what she had only suspected before - that he was deeply enamoured of Mam'selle Cannes, and would gladly marry her. He spoke to Madame Babette of his father's hoarded riches; and of the share which he, as partner, had in them at the present time; and of the prospect of the succession to the whole, which he had, as only child. He told his aunt of the provision for her (Madame Babette's) life, which he would make on the day when he married Mam'selle Cannes. And yet - and yet - Babette saw that in his eye and look which made her more and more reluctant to confide in him. By-and-by he tried threats. She should leave the conciergerie, and find employment where she liked. Still silence. Then he grew angry, and swore that he would inform against her at the bureau of the Directory, for harbouring an aristocrat; an aristocrat he knew Mademoiselle was, whatever her real name might he. His aunt should have a domiciliary visit, and see how she liked that. The officers of the Government were the people for finding out secrets. In vain she reminded him that, by so doing, he would expose to imminent danger the lady whom he had professed to love. He told her, with a sudden relapse into silence after his vehement outpouring of passion, never to trouble herself about that. At last he wearied out the old woman, and, frightened alike of herself, and of him, she told him all - that Mam'selle Cannes was Mademoiselle Virginie de Créquy, daughter of the Count of that name. Who was the Count? Younger brother of the Marquis. Where was the Marquis? Dead long ago, leaving a widow and child. A son? (eagerly). Yes, a son. Where was he? Parbleu! how should she know? - for her courage returned a little as the talk went away from the only person of the De Créquy family that she cared about. But, by dint of some small glasses out of a bottle of Antoine Meyer's, she told him more about the De Créquys than she liked afterwards to remember. For the exhilaration of the brandy lasted but a very short time, and she came home, as I have said, depressed, with a presentiment of coming evil. She would not answer Pierre, but cuffed him about in a manner to which the spoilt boy was quite unaccustomed. His cousin's short, angry words, and sudden withdrawal of confidence - his mother's unwonted crossness and fault-finding: all made Virginie's kind, gentle treatment more than ever charming to the lad. He half resolved to tell her bow he desire be had done it. But he was afraid of Morin, and of had been acting as a spy upon her actions, and at whose the vengeance which he was sure would fall upon him for any breach of confidence. Towards half-past eight that evening, Pierre, watching, saw Virginie arrange several little things - she was in the inner room, but he sat where he could see her through the glazed partition. His mother sat - apparently sleeping - in the great easy-chair; Virginie moved about softly, for fear of disturbing her. She made up one or two little parcels of the few things she could call her own; one packet she concealed about herself - the others she directed, and left on the shelf. 'She is going,' thought Pierre, and (as he said in giving me the account) his heart gave a spring, to think that he should never see her again. If either his mother or his cousin had been more kind to him, he might have endeavoured to intercept her; but as it was, he held his breath, and when she came out he pre tended to read, scarcely knowing whether he wished her to succeed in the purpose which he was almost sure she enter tamed, or not. She stopped by him, and passed her hand over his hair. He told me that his eyes filled with tears at this caress. Then she stood for a moment, looking at the sleeping Madame Babette, and stooped down and softly kissed her on the forehead. Pierre dreaded lest his mother should awake (for by this time the wayward, vacillating boy must have been quite on Virginie's side), but the brandy she had drunk made her slumber heavily. Virginie went. Pierre's heart beat fast. He was sure his cousin would try to intercept her; but how, he could not imagine. He longed to run out and see the catastrophe - but he had let the moment slip; he was also afraid of re-awakening his mother to her unusual state of anger and violence.