My Lady Ludlow, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter X.

The next morning, Miss Galindo made her appearance, and, by some mistake, unusual to my lady’s well-trained servants, was shown into the room where I was trying to walk; for a certain amount of exercise was prescribed for me, painful although the exertion had become.

She brought a little basket along with her and while the footman was gone to inquire my lady’s wishes (for I don’t think that Lady Ludlow expected Miss Galindo so soon to assume her clerkship; nor, indeed, had Mr. Horner any work of any kind ready for his new assistant to do), she launched out into conversation with me.

“It was a sudden summons, my dear! However, as I have often said to myself, ever since an occasion long ago, if Lady Ludlow ever honours me by asking for my right hand, I’ll cut it off, and wrap the stump up so tidily she shall never find out it bleeds. But, if I had had a little more time, I could have mended my pens better. You see, I have had to sit up pretty late to get these sleeves made”— and she took out of her basket a pail of brown-holland over-sleeves, very much such as a grocer’s apprentice wears —“and I had only time to make seven or eight pens, out of some quills Farmer Thomson gave me last autumn. As for ink, I’m thankful to say, that’s always ready; an ounce of steel filings, an ounce of nut-gall, and a pint of water (tea, if you’re extravagant, which, thank Heaven! I’m not), put all in a bottle, and hang it up behind the house door, so that the whole gets a good shaking every time you slam it to — and even if you are in a passion and bang it, as Sally and I often do, it is all the better for it — and there’s my ink ready for use; ready to write my lady’s will with, if need be.”

“O, Miss Galindo!” said I, “don’t talk so my lady’s will! and she not dead yet.”

“And if she were, what would be the use of talking of making her will? Now, if you were Sally, I should say, ‘Answer me that, you goose!’ But, as you’re a relation of my lady’s, I must be civil, and only say, ‘I can’t think how you can talk so like a fool!’ To be sure, poor thing, you’re lame!”

I do not know how long she would have gone on; but my lady came in, and I, released from my duty of entertaining Miss Galindo, made my limping way into the next room. To tell the truth, I was rather afraid of Miss Galindo’s tongue, for I never knew what she would say next.

After a while my lady came, and began to look in the bureau for something: and as she looked she said —“I think Mr. Horner must have made some mistake, when he said he had so much work that he almost required a clerk, for this morning he cannot find anything for Miss Galindo to do; and there she is, sitting with her pen behind her ear, waiting for something to write. I am come to find her my mother’s letters, for I should like to have a fair copy made of them. O, here they are: don’t trouble yourself, my dear child.”

When my lady returned again, she sat down and began to talk of Mr. Gray.

“Miss Galindo says she saw him going to hold a prayer-meeting in a cottage. Now that really makes me unhappy, it is so like what Mr. Wesley used to do in my younger days; and since then we have had rebellion in the American colonies and the French Revolution. You may depend upon it, my dear, making religion and education common — vulgarising them, as it were — is a bad thing for a nation. A man who hears prayers read in the cottage where he has just supped on bread and bacon, forgets the respect due to a church: he begins to think that one place is as good as another, and, by-and-by, that one person is as good as another; and after that, I always find that people begin to talk of their rights, instead of thinking of their duties. I wish Mr. Gray had been more tractable, and had left well alone. What do you think I heard this morning? Why that the Home Hill estate, which niches into the Hanbury property, was bought by a Baptist baker from Birmingham!”

“A Baptist baker!” I exclaimed. I had never seen a Dissenter, to my knowledge; but, having always heard them spoken of with horror, I looked upon them almost as if they were rhinoceroses. I wanted to see a live Dissenter, I believe, and yet I wished it were over. I was almost surprised when I heard that any of them were engaged in such peaceful occupations as baking.

“Yes! so Mr. Horner tells me. A Mr. Lambe, I believe. But, at any rate, he is a Baptist, and has been in trade. What with his schismatism and Mr. Gray’s methodism, I am afraid all the primitive character of this place will vanish.”

From what I could hear, Mr. Gray seemed to be taking his own way; at any rate, more than he had done when he first came to the village, when his natural timidity had made him defer to my lady, and seek her consent and sanction before embarking in any new plan. But newness was a quality Lady Ludlow especially disliked. Even in the fashions of dress and furniture, she clung to the old, to the modes which had prevailed when she was young; and though she had a deep personal regard for Queen Charlotte (to whom, as I have already said, she had been maid-of-honour), yet there was a tinge of Jacobitism about her, such as made her extremely dislike to hear Prince Charles Edward called the young Pretender, as many loyal people did in those days, and made her fond of telling of the thorn-tree in my lord’s park in Scotland, which had been planted by bonny Queen Mary herself, and before which every guest in the Castle of Monkshaven was expected to stand bare-headed, out of respect to the memory and misfortunes of the royal planter.

We might play at cards, if we so chose, on a Sunday; at least, I suppose we might, for my lady and Mr. Mountford used to do so often when I first went. But we must neither play cards, nor read, nor sew on the fifth of November and on the thirtieth of January, but must go to church, and meditate all the rest of the day — and very hard work meditating was. I would far rather have scoured a room. That was the reason, I suppose, why a passive life was seen to be better discipline for me than an active one.

But I am wandering away from my lady, and her dislike to all innovation. Now, it seemed to me, as far as I heard, that Mr. Gray was full of nothing but new things, and that what he first did was to attack all our established institutions, both in the village and the parish, and also in the nation. To be sure, I heard of his ways of going on principally from Miss Galindo, who was apt to speak more strongly than accurately.

“There he goes,” she said, “clucking up the children just like an old hen, and trying to teach them about their salvation and their souls, and I don’t know what — things that it is just blasphemy to speak about out of church. And he potters old people about reading their Bibles. I am sure I don’t want to speak disrespectfully about the Holy Scriptures, but I found old Job Horton busy reading his Bible yesterday. Says I, ‘What are you reading, and where did you get it, and who gave it you?’ So he made answer, ‘That he was reading Susannah and the Elders, for that he had read Bel and the Dragon till he could pretty near say it off by heart, and they were two as pretty stories as ever he had read, and that it was a caution to him what bad old chaps there were in the world.’ Now, as Job is bed-ridden, I don’t think he is likely to meet with the Elders, and I say that I think repeating his Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, and, maybe, throwing in a verse of the Psalms, if he wanted a bit of a change, would have done him far more good than his pretty stories, as he called them. And what’s the next thing our young parson does? Why he tries to make us all feel pitiful for the black slaves, and leaves little pictures of negroes about, with the question printed below, ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ just as if I was to be hail-fellow-well-met with every negro footman. They do say he takes no sugar in his tea, because he thinks he sees spots of blood in it. Now I call that superstition.”

The next day it was a still worse story.

“Well, my dear! and how are you? My lady sent me in to sit a bit with you, while Mr. Horner looks out some papers for me to copy. Between ourselves, Mr. Steward Horner does not like having me for a clerk. It is all very well he does not; for, if he were decently civil to me, I might want a chaperone, you know, now poor Mrs. Horner is dead.” This was one of Miss Galindo’s grim jokes. “As it is, I try to make him forget I’m a woman, I do everything as ship-shape as a masculine man-clerk. I see he can’t find a fault — writing good, spelling correct, sums all right. And then he squints up at me with the tail of his eye, and looks glummer than ever, just because I’m a woman — as if I could help that. I have gone good lengths to set his mind at ease. I have stuck my pen behind my ear, I have made him a bow instead of a curtsey, I have whistled — not a tune I can’t pipe up that — nay, if you won’t tell my lady, I don’t mind telling you that I have said ‘Confound it!’ and ‘Zounds!’ I can’t get any farther. For all that, Mr. Horner won’t forget I am a lady, and so I am not half the use I might be, and if it were not to please my Lady Ludlow, Mr. Horner and his books might go hang (see how natural that came out!). And there is an order for a dozen nightcaps for a bride, and I am so afraid I shan’t have time to do them. Worst of all, there’s Mr. Gray taking advantage of my absence to seduce Sally!”

“To seduce Sally! Mr. Gray!”

“Pooh, pooh, child! There’s many a kind of seduction. Mr. Gray is seducing Sally to want to go to church. There has he been twice at my house, while I have been away in the mornings, talking to Sally about the state of her soul and that sort of thing. But when I found the meat all roasted to a cinder, I said, ‘Come, Sally, let’s have no more praying when beef is down at the fire. Pray at six o’clock in the morning and nine at night, and I won’t hinder you.’ So she sauced me, and said something about Martha and Mary, implying that, because she had let the beef get so overdone that I declare I could hardly find a bit for Nancy Pole’s sick grandchild, she had chosen the better part. I was very much put about, I own, and perhaps you’ll be shocked at what I said — indeed, I don’t know if it was right myself — but I told her I had a soul as well as she, and if it was to be saved by my sitting still and thinking about salvation and never doing my duty, I thought I had as good a right as she had to be Mary, and save my soul. So, that afternoon I sat quite still, and it was really a comfort, for I am often too busy, I know, to pray as I ought. There is first one person wanting me, and then another, and the house and the food and the neighbours to see after. So, when tea-time comes, there enters my maid with her hump on her back, and her soul to be saved. ‘Please, ma’am, did you order the pound of butter?’—‘No, Sally,’ I said, shaking my head, ‘this morning I did not go round by Hale’s farm, and this afternoon I have been employed in spiritual things.’

“Now, our Sally likes tea and bread-and-butter above everything, and dry bread was not to her taste.

“‘I’m thankful,’ said the impudent hussy, ‘that you have taken a turn towards godliness. It will be my prayers, I trust, that’s given it you.’

“I was determined not to give her an opening towards the carnal subject of butter, so she lingered still, longing to ask leave to run for it. But I gave her none, and munched my dry bread myself, thinking what a famous cake I could make for little Ben Pole with the bit of butter we were saving; and when Sally had had her butterless tea, and was in none of the best of tempers because Martha had not bethought herself of the butter, I just quietly said —

“‘Now, Sally, tomorrow we’ll try to hash that beef well, and to remember the butter, and to work out our salvation all at the same time, for I don’t see why it can’t all be done, as God has set us to do it all.’ But I heard her at it again about Mary and Martha, and I have no doubt that Mr. Gray will teach her to consider me a lost sheep.”

I had heard so many little speeches about Mr. Gray from one person or another, all speaking against him, as a mischief-maker, a setter-up of new doctrines, and of a fanciful standard of life (and you may be sure that, where Lady Ludlow led, Mrs. Medlicott and Adams were certain to follow, each in their different ways showing the influence my lady had over them), that I believe I had grown to consider him as a very instrument of evil, and to expect to perceive in his face marks of his presumption, and arrogance, and impertinent interference. It was now many weeks since I had seen him, and when he was one morning shown into the blue drawing-room (into which I had been removed for a change), I was quite surprised to see how innocent and awkward a young man he appeared, confused even more than I was at our unexpected tete-a-tete. He looked thinner, his eyes more eager, his expression more anxious, and his colour came and went more than it had done when I had seen him last. I tried to make a little conversation, as I was, to my own surprise, more at my ease than he was; but his thoughts were evidently too much preoccupied for him to do more than answer me with monosyllables.

Presently my lady came in. Mr. Gray twitched and coloured more than ever; but plunged into the middle of his subject at once.

“My lady, I cannot answer it to my conscience, if I allow the children of this village to go on any longer the little heathens that they are. I must do something to alter their condition. I am quite aware that your ladyship disapproves of many of the plans which have suggested themselves to me; but nevertheless I must do something, and I am come now to your ladyship to ask respectfully, but firmly, what you would advise me to do.”

His eyes were dilated, and I could almost have said they were full of tears with his eagerness. But I am sure it is a bad plan to remind people of decided opinions which they have once expressed, if you wish them to modify those opinions. Now, Mr. Gray had done this with my lady; and though I do not mean to say she was obstinate, yet she was not one to retract.

She was silent for a moment or two before she replied.

“You ask me to suggest a remedy for an evil of the existence of which I am not conscious,” was her answer — very coldly, very gently given. “In Mr. Mountford’s time I heard no such complaints: whenever I see the village children (and they are not unfrequent visitors at this house, on one pretext or another), they are well and decently behaved.”

“Oh, madam, you cannot judge,” he broke in. “They are trained to respect you in word and deed; you are the highest they ever look up to; they have no notion of a higher.”

“Nay, Mr. Gray,” said my lady, smiling, “they are as loyally disposed as any children can be. They come up here every fourth of June, and drink his Majesty’s health, and have buns, and (as Margaret Dawson can testify) they take a great and respectful interest in all the pictures I can show them of the royal family.”

“But, madam, I think of something higher than any earthly dignities.”

My lady coloured at the mistake she had made; for she herself was truly pious. Yet when she resumed the subject, it seemed to me as if her tone was a little sharper than before.

“Such want of reverence is, I should say, the clergyman’s fault. You must excuse me, Mr. Gray, if I speak plainly.”

“My Lady, I want plain-speaking. I myself am not accustomed to those ceremonies and forms which are, I suppose, the etiquette in your ladyship’s rank of life, and which seem to hedge you in from any power of mine to touch you. Among those with whom I have passed my life hitherto, it has been the custom to speak plainly out what we have felt earnestly. So, instead of needing any apology from your ladyship for straightforward speaking, I will meet what you say at once, and admit that it is the clergyman’s fault, in a great measure, when the children of his parish swear, and curse, and are brutal, and ignorant of all saving grace; nay, some of them of the very name of God. And because this guilt of mine, as the clergyman of this parish, lies heavy on my soul, and every day leads but from bad to worse, till I am utterly bewildered how to do good to children who escape from me as it I were a monster, and who are growing up to be men fit for and capable of any crime, but those requiring wit or sense, I come to you, who seem to me all-powerful, as far as material power goes — for your ladyship only knows the surface of things, and barely that, that pass in your village — to help me with advice, and such outward help as you can give.”

Mr. Gray had stood up and sat down once or twice while he had been speaking, in an agitated, nervous kind of way, and now he was interrupted by a violent fit of coughing, after which he trembled all over.

My lady rang for a glass of water, and looked much distressed.

“Mr. Gray,” said she, “I am sure you are not well; and that makes you exaggerate childish faults into positive evils. It is always the case with us when we are not strong in health. I hear of your exerting yourself in every direction: you overwork yourself, and the consequence is, that you imagine us all worse people than we are.”

And my lady smiled very kindly and pleasantly at him, as he sat, a little panting, a little flushed, trying to recover his breath. I am sure that now they were brought face to face, she had quite forgotten all the offence she had taken at his doings when she heard of them from others; and, indeed, it was enough to soften any one’s heart to see that young, almost boyish face, looking in such anxiety and distress.

“Oh, my lady, what shall I do?” he asked, as soon as he could recover breath, and with such an air of humility, that I am sure no one who had seen it could have ever thought him conceited again. “The evil of this world is too strong for me. I can do so little. It is all in vain. It was only today —” and again the cough and agitation returned.

“My dear Mr. Gray,” said my lady (the day before I could never have believed she could have called him My dear), “you must take the advice of an old woman about yourself. You are not fit to do anything just now but attend to your own health: rest, and see a doctor (but, indeed, I will take care of that), and when you are pretty strong again, you will find that you have been magnifying evils to yourself.”

“But, my lady, I cannot rest. The evils do exist, and the burden of their continuance lies on my shoulders. I have no place to gather the children together in, that I may teach them the things necessary to salvation. The rooms in my own house are too small; but I have tried them. I have money of my own; and, as your ladyship knows, I tried to get a piece of leasehold property, on which to build a school-house at my own expense. Your ladyship’s lawyer comes forward, at your instructions, to enforce some old feudal right, by which no building is allowed on leasehold property without the sanction of the lady of the manor. It may be all very true; but it was a cruel thing to do — that is, if your ladyship had known (which I am sure you do not) the real moral and spiritual state of my poor parishioners. And now I come to you to know what I am to do. Rest! I cannot rest, while children whom I could possibly save are being left in their ignorance, their blasphemy, their uncleanness, their cruelty. It is known through the village that your ladyship disapproves of my efforts, and opposes all my plans. If you think them wrong, foolish, ill-digested (I have been a student, living in a college, and eschewing all society but that of pious men, until now: I may not judge for the best, in my ignorance of this sinful human nature), tell me of better plans and wiser projects for accomplishing my end; but do not bid me rest, with Satan compassing me round, and stealing souls away.”

“Mr. Gray,” said my lady, “there may be some truth in what you have said. I do not deny it, though I think, in your present state of indisposition and excitement, you exaggerate it much. I believe — nay, the experience of a pretty long life has convinced me — that education is a bad thing, if given indiscriminately. It unfits the lower orders for their duties, the duties to which they are called by God; of submission to those placed in authority over them; of contentment with that state of life to which it has pleased God to call them, and of ordering themselves lowly and reverently to all their betters. I have made this conviction of mine tolerably evident to you; and I have expressed distinctly my disapprobation of some of your ideas. You may imagine, then, that I was not well pleased when I found that you had taken a rood or more of Farmer Hale’s land, and were laying the foundations of a school-house. You had done this without asking for my permission, which, as Farmer Hale’s liege lady, ought to have been obtained legally, as well as asked for out of courtesy. I put a stop to what I believed to be calculated to do harm to a village, to a population in which, to say the least of it, I may be disposed to take as much interest as you can do. How can reading, and writing, and the multiplication-table (if you choose to go so far) prevent blasphemy, and uncleanness, and cruelty? Really, Mr. Gray, I hardly like to express myself so strongly on the subject in your present state of health, as I should do at any other time. It seems to me that books do little; character much; and character is not formed from books.”

“I do not think of character: I think of souls. I must get some hold upon these children, or what will become of them in the next world? I must be found to have some power beyond what they have, and which they are rendered capable of appreciating, before they will listen to me. At present physical force is all they look up to; and I have none.”

“Nay, Mr. Gray, by your own admission, they look up to me.”

“They would not do anything your ladyship disliked if it was likely to come to your knowledge; but if they could conceal it from you, the knowledge of your dislike to a particular line of conduct would never make them cease from pursuing it.”

“Mr. Gray”— surprise in her air, and some little indignation —“they and their fathers have lived on the Hanbury lands for generations!”

“I cannot help it, madam. I am telling you the truth, whether you believe me or not.” There was a pause; my lady looked perplexed, and somewhat ruffled; Mr. Gray as though hopeless and wearied out. “Then, my lady,” said he, at last, rising as he spoke, “you can suggest nothing to ameliorate the state of things which, I do assure you, does exist on your lands, and among your tenants. Surely, you will not object to my using Farmer Hale’s great barn every Sabbath? He will allow me the use of it, if your ladyship will grant your permission.”

“You are not fit for any extra work at present,” (and indeed he had been coughing very much all through the conversation). “Give me time to consider of it. Tell me what you wish to teach. You will be able to take care of your health, and grow stronger while I consider. It shall not be the worse for you, if you leave it in my hands for a time.”

My lady spoke very kindly; but he was in too excited a state to recognize the kindness, while the idea of delay was evidently a sore irritation. I heard him say: “And I have so little time in which to do my work. Lord! lay not this sin to my charge.”

But my lady was speaking to the old butler, for whom, at her sign, I had rung the bell some little time before. Now she turned round.

“Mr. Gray, I find I have some bottles of Malmsey, of the vintage of seventeen hundred and seventy-eight, yet left. Malmsey, as perhaps you know, used to be considered a specific for coughs arising from weakness. You must permit me to send you half-a-dozen bottles, and, depend upon it, you will take a more cheerful view of life and its duties before you have finished them, especially if you will be so kind as to see Dr. Trevor, who is coming to see me in the course of the week. By the time you are strong enough to work, I will try and find some means of preventing the children from using such bad language, and otherwise annoying you.”

“My lady, it is the sin, and not the annoyance. I wish I could make you understand.” He spoke with some impatience; Poor fellow! he was too weak, exhausted, and nervous. “I am perfectly well; I can set to work tomorrow; I will do anything not to be oppressed with the thought of how little I am doing. I do not want your wine. Liberty to act in the manner I think right, will do me far more good. But it is of no use. It is preordained that I am to be nothing but a cumberer of the ground. I beg your ladyship’s pardon for this call.”

He stood up, and then turned dizzy. My lady looked on, deeply hurt, and not a little offended, he held out his hand to her, and I could see that she had a little hesitation before she took it. He then saw me, I almost think, for the first time; and put out his hand once more, drew it back, as if undecided, put it out again, and finally took hold of mine for an instant in his damp, listless hand, and was gone.

Lady Ludlow was dissatisfied with both him and herself, I was sure. Indeed, I was dissatisfied with the result of the interview myself. But my lady was not one to speak out her feelings on the subject; nor was I one to forget myself, and begin on a topic which she did not begin. She came to me, and was very tender with me; so tender, that that, and the thoughts of Mr. Gray’s sick, hopeless, disappointed look, nearly made me cry.

“You are tired, little one,” said my lady. “Go and lie down in my room, and hear what Medlicott and I can decide upon in the way of strengthening dainties for that poor young man, who is killing himself with his over-sensitive conscientiousness.”

“Oh, my lady!” said I, and then I stopped.

“Well. What?” asked she.

“If you would but let him have Farmer Hale’s barn at once, it would do him more good than all.”

“Pooh, pooh, child!” though I don’t think she was displeased, “he is not fit for more work just now. I shall go and write for Dr. Trevor.”

And for the next half-hour, we did nothing but arrange physical comforts and cures for poor Mr. Gray. At the end of the time, Mrs. Medlicott said —

“Has your ladyship heard that Harry Gregson has fallen from a tree, and broken his thigh-bone, and is like to be a cripple for life?”

“Harry Gregson! That black-eyed lad who read my letter? It all comes from over-education!”

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17