My Lady Ludlow, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XI.

But I don’t see how my lady could think it was over-education that made Harry Gregson break his thigh, for the manner in which he met with the accident was this:—

Mr. Horner, who had fallen sadly out of health since his wife’s death, had attached himself greatly to Harry Gregson. Now, Mr. Horner had a cold manner to every one, and never spoke more than was necessary, at the best of times. And, latterly, it had not been the best of times with him. I dare say, he had had some causes for anxiety (of which I knew nothing) about my lady’s affairs; and he was evidently annoyed by my lady’s whim (as he once inadvertently called it) of placing Miss Galindo under him in the position of a clerk. Yet he had always been friends, in his quiet way, with Miss Galindo, and she devoted herself to her new occupation with diligence and punctuality, although more than once she had moaned to me over the orders for needlework which had been sent to her, and which, owing to her occupation in the service of Lady Ludlow, she had been unable to fulfil.

The only living creature to whom the staid Mr. Horner could be said to be attached, was Harry Gregson. To my lady he was a faithful and devoted servant, looking keenly after her interests, and anxious to forward them at any cost of trouble to himself. But the more shrewd Mr. Horner was, the more probability was there of his being annoyed at certain peculiarities of opinion which my lady held with a quiet, gentle pertinacity; against which no arguments, based on mere worldly and business calculations, made any way. This frequent opposition to views which Mr. Horner entertained, although it did not interfere with the sincere respect which the lady and the steward felt for each other, yet prevented any warmer feeling of affection from coming in. It seems strange to say it, but I must repeat it — the only person for whom, since his wife’s death, Mr. Horner seemed to feel any love, was the little imp Harry Gregson, with his bright, watchful eyes, his tangled hair hanging right down to his eyebrows, for all the world like a Skye terrier. This lad, half gipsy and whole poacher, as many people esteemed him, hung about the silent, respectable, staid Mr. Horner, and followed his steps with something of the affectionate fidelity of the dog which he resembled. I suspect, this demonstration of attachment to his person on Harry Gregson’s part was what won Mr. Horner’s regard. In the first instance, the steward had only chosen the lad out as the cleverest instrument he could find for his purpose; and I don’t mean to say that, if Harry had not been almost as shrewd as Mr. Horner himself was, both by original disposition and subsequent experience, the steward would have taken to him as he did, let the lad have shown ever so much affection for him.

But even to Harry Mr. Horner was silent. Still, it was pleasant to find himself in many ways so readily understood; to perceive that the crumbs of knowledge he let fall were picked up by his little follower, and hoarded like gold that here was one to hate the persons and things whom Mr. Horner coldly disliked, and to reverence and admire all those for whom he had any regard. Mr. Horner had never had a child, and unconsciously, I suppose, something of the paternal feeling had begun to develop itself in him towards Harry Gregson. I heard one or two things from different people, which have always made me fancy that Mr. Horner secretly and almost unconsciously hoped that Harry Gregson might be trained so as to be first his clerk, and next his assistant, and finally his successor in his stewardship to the Hanbury estates.

Harry’s disgrace with my lady, in consequence of his reading the letter, was a deeper blow to Mr. Horner than his quiet manner would ever have led any one to suppose, or than Lady Ludlow ever dreamed of inflicting, I am sure.

Probably Harry had a short, stern rebuke from Mr. Horner at the time, for his manner was always hard even to those he cared for the most. But Harry’s love was not to be daunted or quelled by a few sharp words. I dare say, from what I heard of them afterwards, that Harry accompanied Mr. Horner in his walk over the farm the very day of the rebuke; his presence apparently unnoticed by the agent, by whom his absence would have been painfully felt nevertheless. That was the way of it, as I have been told. Mr. Horner never bade Harry go with him; never thanked him for going, or being at his heels ready to run on any errands, straight as the crow flies to his point, and back to heel in as short a time as possible. Yet, if Harry were away, Mr. Horner never inquired the reason from any of the men who might be supposed to know whether he was detained by his father, or otherwise engaged; he never asked Harry himself where he had been. But Miss Galindo said that those labourers who knew Mr. Horner well, told her that he was always more quick-eyed to shortcomings, more savage-like in fault-finding, on those days when the lad was absent.

Miss Galindo, indeed, was my great authority for most of the village news which I heard. She it was who gave me the particulars of poor Harry’s accident.

“You see, my dear,” she said, “the little poacher has taken some unaccountable fancy to my master.” (This was the name by which Miss Galindo always spoke of Mr. Horner to me, ever since she had been, as she called it, appointed his clerk.)

“Now if I had twenty hearts to lose, I never could spare a bit of one of them for that good, gray, square, severe man. But different people have different tastes, and here is that little imp of a gipsy-tinker ready to turn slave for my master; and, odd enough, my master — who, I should have said beforehand, would have made short work of imp, and imp’s family, and have sent Hall, the Bang-beggar, after them in no time — my master, as they tell me, is in his way quite fond of the lad, and if he could, without vexing my lady too much, he would have made him what the folks here call a Latiner. However, last night, it seems that there was a letter of some importance forgotten (I can’t tell you what it was about, my dear, though I know perfectly well, but ‘service oblige,’ as well as ‘noblesse,’ and you must take my word for it that it was important, and one that I am surprised my master could forget), till too late for the post. (The poor, good, orderly man is not what he was before his wife’s death.) Well, it seems that he was sore annoyed by his forgetfulness, and well he might be. And it was all the more vexatious, as he had no one to blame but himself. As for that matter, I always scold somebody else when I’m in fault; but I suppose my master would never think of doing that, else it’s a mighty relief. However, he could eat no tea, and was altogether put out and gloomy. And the little faithful imp-lad, perceiving all this, I suppose, got up like a page in an old ballad, and said he would run for his life across country to Comberford, and see if he could not get there before the bags were made up. So my master gave him the letter, and nothing more was heard of the poor fellow till this morning, for the father thought his son was sleeping in Mr. Horner’s barn, as he does occasionally, it seems, and my master, as was very natural, that he had gone to his father’s.”

“And he had fallen down the old stone quarry, had he not?”

“Yes, sure enough. Mr. Gray had been up here fretting my lady with some of his new-fangled schemes, and because the young man could not have it all his own way, from what I understand, he was put out, and thought he would go home by the back lane, instead of through the village, where the folks would notice if the parson looked glum. But, however, it was a mercy, and I don’t mind saying so, ay, and meaning it too, though it may be like methodism; for, as Mr. Gray walked by the quarry, he heard a groan, and at first he thought it was a lamb fallen down; and he stood still, and then he heard it again; and then I suppose, he looked down and saw Harry. So he let himself down by the boughs of the trees to the ledge where Harry lay half-dead, and with his poor thigh broken. There he had lain ever since the night before: he had been returning to tell the master that he had safely posted the letter, and the first words he said, when they recovered him from the exhausted state he was in, were” (Miss Galindo tried hard not to whimper, as she said it), “‘It was in time, sir. I see’d it put in the bag with my own eyes.’”

“But where is he?” asked I. “How did Mr. Gray get him out?”

“Ay! there it is, you see. Why the old gentleman (I daren’t say Devil in Lady Ludlow’s house) is not so black as he is painted; and Mr. Gray must have a deal of good in him, as I say at times; and then at others, when he has gone against me, I can’t bear him, and think hanging too good for him. But he lifted the poor lad, as if he had been a baby, I suppose, and carried him up the great ledges that were formerly used for steps; and laid him soft and easy on the wayside grass, and ran home and got help and a door, and had him carried to his house, and laid on his bed; and then somehow, for the first time either he or any one else perceived it, he himself was all over blood — his own blood — he had broken a blood-vessel; and there he lies in the little dressing-room, as white and as still as if he were dead; and the little imp in Mr. Gray’s own bed, sound asleep, now his leg is set, just as if linen sheets and a feather bed were his native element, as one may say. Really, now he is doing so well, I’ve no patience with him, lying there where Mr. Gray ought to be. It is just what my lady always prophesied would come to pass, if there was any confusion of ranks.”

“Poor Mr. Gray!” said I, thinking of his flushed face, and his feverish, restless ways, when he had been calling on my lady not an hour before his exertions on Harry’s behalf. And I told Miss Galindo how ill I had thought him.

“Yes,” said she. “And that was the reason my lady had sent for Doctor Trevor. Well, it has fallen out admirably, for he looked well after that old donkey of a Prince, and saw that he made no blunders.”

Now “that old donkey of a Prince” meant the village surgeon, Mr. Prince, between whom and Miss Galindo there was war to the knife, as they often met in the cottages, when there was illness, and she had her queer, odd recipes, which he, with his grand pharmacopoeia, held in infinite contempt, and the consequence of their squabbling had been, not long before this very time, that he had established a kind of rule, that into whatever sick-room Miss Galindo was admitted, there he refused to visit. But Miss Galindo’s prescriptions and visits cost nothing and were often backed by kitchen-physic; so, though it was true that she never came but she scolded about something or other, she was generally preferred as medical attendant to Mr. Prince.

“Yes, the old donkey is obliged to tolerate me, and be civil to me; for, you see, I got there first, and had possession, as it were, and yet my lord the donkey likes the credit of attending the parson, and being in consultation with so grand a county-town doctor as Doctor Trevor. And Doctor Trevor is an old friend of mine” (she sighed a little, some time I may tell you why), “and treats me with infinite bowing and respect; so the donkey, not to be out of medical fashion, bows too, though it is sadly against the grain; and he pulled a face as if he had heard a slate-pencil gritting against a slate, when I told Doctor Trevor I meant to sit up with the two lads, for I call Mr. Gray little more than a lad, and a pretty conceited one, too, at times.”

“But why should you sit up, Miss Galindo? It will tire you sadly.”

“Not it. You see, there is Gregson’s mother to keep quiet for she sits by her lad, fretting and sobbing, so that I’m afraid of her disturbing Mr. Gray; and there’s Mr. Gray to keep quiet, for Doctor Trevor says his life depends on it; and there is medicine to be given to the one, and bandages to be attended to for the other; and the wild horde of gipsy brothers and sisters to be turned out, and the father to be held in from showing too much gratitude to Mr. Gray, who can’t hear it — and who is to do it all but me? The only servant is old lame Betty, who once lived with me, and would leave me because she said I was always bothering —(there was a good deal of truth in what she said, I grant, but she need not have said it; a good deal of truth is best let alone at the bottom of the well), and what can she do — deaf as ever she can be, too?”

So Miss Galindo went her ways; but not the less was she at her post in the morning; a little crosser and more silent than usual; but the first was not to be wondered at, and the last was rather a blessing.

Lady Ludlow had been extremely anxious both about Mr. Gray and Harry Gregson. Kind and thoughtful in any case of illness and accident, she always was; but somehow, in this, the feeling that she was not quite — what shall I call it? —“friends” seems hardly the right word to use, as to the possible feeling between the Countess Ludlow and the little vagabond messenger, who had only once been in her presence — that she had hardly parted from either as she could have wished to do, had death been near, made her more than usually anxious. Doctor Trevor was not to spare obtaining the best medical advice the county could afford: whatever he ordered in the way of diet, was to be prepared under Mrs. Medlicott’s own eye, and sent down from the Hall to the Parsonage. As Mr. Horner had given somewhat similar directions, in the case of Harry Gregson at least, there was rather a multiplicity of counsellors and dainties, than any lack of them. And, the second night, Mr. Horner insisted on taking the superintendence of the nursing himself, and sat and snored by Harry’s bedside, while the poor, exhausted mother lay by her child — thinking that she watched him, but in reality fast asleep, as Miss Galindo told us; for, distrusting any one’s powers of watching and nursing but her own, she had stolen across the quiet village street in cloak and dressing-gown, and found Mr. Gray in vain trying to reach the cup of barley-water which Mr. Horner had placed just beyond his reach.

In consequence of Mr. Gray’s illness, we had to have a strange curate to do duty; a man who dropped his h’s, and hurried through the service, and yet had time enough to stand in my Lady’s way, bowing to her as she came out of church, and so subservient in manner, that I believe that sooner than remain unnoticed by a countess, he would have preferred being scolded, or even cuffed. Now I found out, that great as was my lady’s liking and approval of respect, nay, even reverence, being paid to her as a person of quality — a sort of tribute to her Order, which she had no individual right to remit, or, indeed, not to exact — yet she, being personally simple, sincere, and holding herself in low esteem, could not endure anything like the servility of Mr. Crosse, the temporary curate. She grew absolutely to loathe his perpetual smiling and bowing; his instant agreement with the slightest opinion she uttered; his veering round as she blew the wind. I have often said that my lady did not talk much, as she might have done had she lived among her equals. But we all loved her so much, that we had learnt to interpret all her little ways pretty truly; and I knew what particular turns of her head, and contractions of her delicate fingers meant, as well as if she had expressed herself in words. I began to suspect that my lady would be very thankful to have Mr. Gray about again, and doing his duty even with a conscientiousness that might amount to worrying himself, and fidgeting others; and although Mr. Gray might hold her opinions in as little esteem as those of any simple gentlewoman, she was too sensible not to feel how much flavour there was in his conversation, compared to that of Mr. Crosse, who was only her tasteless echo.

As for Miss Galindo, she was utterly and entirely a partisan of Mr. Gray’s, almost ever since she had begun to nurse him during his illness.

“You know, I never set up for reasonableness, my lady. So I don’t pretend to say, as I might do if I were a sensible woman and all that — that I am convinced by Mr. Gray’s arguments of this thing or t’other. For one thing, you see, poor fellow! he has never been able to argue, or hardly indeed to speak, for Doctor Trevor has been very peremptory. So there’s been no scope for arguing! But what I mean is this:— When I see a sick man thinking always of others, and never of himself; patient, humble — a trifle too much at times, for I’ve caught him praying to be forgiven for having neglected his work as a parish priest,” (Miss Galindo was making horrible faces, to keep back tears, squeezing up her eyes in a way which would have amused me at any other time, but when she was speaking of Mr. Gray); “when I see a downright good, religious man, I’m apt to think he’s got hold of the right clue, and that I can do no better than hold on by the tails of his coat and shut my eyes, if we’ve got to go over doubtful places on our road to Heaven. So, my lady, you must excuse me if, when he gets about again, he is all agog about a Sunday-school, for if he is, I shall be agog too, and perhaps twice as bad as him, for, you see, I’ve a strong constitution compared to his, and strong ways of speaking and acting. And I tell your ladyship this now, because I think from your rank — and still more, if I may say so, for all your kindness to me long ago, down to this very day — you’ve a right to be first told of anything about me. Change of opinion I can’t exactly call it, for I don’t see the good of schools and teaching A B C, any more than I did before, only Mr. Gray does, so I’m to shut my eyes, and leap over the ditch to the side of education. I’ve told Sally already, that if she does not mind her work, but stands gossiping with Nelly Mather, I’ll teach her her lessons; and I’ve never caught her with old Nelly since.”

I think Miss Galindo’s desertion to Mr. Gray’s opinions in this matter hurt my lady just a little bit; but she only said —

“Of course, if the parishoners wish for it, Mr. Gray must have his Sunday-school. I shall, in that case, withdraw my opposition. I am sorry I cannot alter my opinions as easily as you.”

My lady made herself smile as she said this. Miss Galindo saw it was an effort to do so. She thought a minute before she spoke again.

“Your ladyship has not seen Mr. Gray as intimately as I have done. That’s one thing. But, as for the parishioners, they will follow your ladyship’s lead in everything; so there is no chance of their wishing for a Sunday-school.”

“I have never done anything to make them follow my lead, as you call it, Miss Galindo,” said my lady, gravely.

“Yes, you have,” replied Miss Galindo, bluntly. And then, correcting herself, she said, “Begging your ladyship’s pardon, you have. Your ancestors have lived here time out of mind, and have owned the land on which their forefathers have lived ever since there were forefathers. You yourself were born amongst them, and have been like a little queen to them ever since, I might say, and they’ve never known your ladyship do anything but what was kind and gentle; but I’ll leave fine speeches about your ladyship to Mr. Crosse. Only you, my lady, lead the thoughts of the parish; and save some of them a world of trouble, for they could never tell what was right if they had to think for themselves. It’s all quite right that they should be guided by you, my lady — if only you would agree with Mr. Gray.”

“Well,” said my lady, “I told him only the last day that he was here, that I would think about it. I do believe I could make up my mind on certain subjects better if I were left alone, than while being constantly talked to about them.”

My lady said this in her usual soft tones; but the words had a tinge of impatience about them; indeed, she was more ruffled than I had often seen her; but, checking herself in an instant she said —

“You don’t know how Mr. Horner drags in this subject of education apropos of everything. Not that he says much about it at any time: it is not his way. But he cannot let the thing alone.”

“I know why, my lady,” said Miss Galindo. “That poor lad, Harry Gregson, will never be able to earn his livelihood in any active way, but will be lame for life. Now, Mr. Horner thinks more of Harry than of any one else in the world — except, perhaps, your ladyship.” Was it not a pretty companionship for my lady? “And he has schemes of his own for teaching Harry; and if Mr. Gray could but have his school, Mr. Horner and he think Harry might be schoolmaster, as your ladyship would not like to have him coming to you as steward’s clerk. I wish your ladyship would fall into this plan; Mr. Gray has it so at heart.”

Miss Galindo looked wistfully at my lady, as she said this. But my lady only said, drily, and rising at the same time, as if to end the conversation —

“So Mr. Horner and Mr. Gray seem to have gone a long way in advance of my consent to their plans.”

“There!” exclaimed Miss Galindo, as my lady left the room, with an apology for going away; “I have gone and done mischief with my long, stupid tongue. To be sure, people plan a long way ahead of today; more especially when one is a sick man, lying all through the weary day on a sofa.”

“My lady will soon get over her annoyance,” said I, as it were apologetically. I only stopped Miss Galindo’s self-reproaches to draw down her wrath upon myself.

“And has not she a right to be annoyed with me, if she likes, and to keep annoyed as long as she likes? Am I complaining of her, that you need tell me that? Let me tell you, I have known my lady these thirty years; and if she were to take me by the shoulders, and turn me out of the house, I should only love her the more. So don’t you think to come between us with any little mincing, peace-making speeches. I have been a mischief-making parrot, and I like her the better for being vexed with me. So good-bye to you, Miss; and wait till you know Lady Ludlow as well as I do, before you next think of telling me she will soon get over her annoyance!” And off Miss Galindo went.

I could not exactly tell what I had done wrong; but I took care never again to come in between my lady and her by any remark about the one to the other; for I saw that some most powerful bond of grateful affection made Miss Galindo almost worship my lady.

Meanwhile, Harry Gregson was limping a little about in the village, still finding his home in Mr. Gray’s house; for there he could most conveniently be kept under the doctor’s eye, and receive the requisite care, and enjoy the requisite nourishment. As soon as he was a little better, he was to go to Mr. Horner’s house; but, as the steward lived some distance out of the way, and was much from home, he had agreed to leave Harry at the house; to which he had first been taken, until he was quite strong again; and the more willingly, I suspect, from what I heard afterwards, because Mr. Gray gave up all the little strength of speaking which he had, to teaching Harry in the very manner which Mr. Horner most desired.

As for Gregson the father — he — wild man of the woods, poacher, tinker, jack-of-all trades — was getting tamed by this kindness to his child. Hitherto his hand had been against every man, as every man’s had been against him. That affair before the justice, which I told you about, when Mr. Gray and even my lady had interested themselves to get him released from unjust imprisonment, was the first bit of justice he had ever met with; it attracted him to the people, and attached him to the spot on which he had but squatted for a time. I am not sure if any of the villagers were grateful to him for remaining in their neighbourhood, instead of decamping as he had often done before, for good reasons, doubtless, of personal safety. Harry was only one out of a brood of ten or twelve children, some of whom had earned for themselves no good character in service: one, indeed, had been actually transported, for a robbery committed in a distant part of the county; and the tale was yet told in the village of how Gregson the father came back from the trial in a state of wild rage, striding through the place, and uttering oaths of vengeance to himself, his great black eyes gleaming out of his matted hair, and his arms working by his side, and now and then tossed up in his impotent despair. As I heard the account, his wife followed him, child-laden and weeping. After this, they had vanished from the country for a time, leaving their mud hovel locked up, and the door-key, as the neighbours said, buried in a hedge bank. The Gregsons had reappeared much about the same time that Mr. Gray came to Hanbury. He had either never heard of their evil character, or considered that it gave them all the more claims upon his Christian care; and the end of it was, that this rough, untamed, strong giant of a heathen was loyal slave to the weak, hectic, nervous, self-distrustful parson. Gregson had also a kind of grumbling respect for Mr. Horner: he did not quite like the steward’s monopoly of his Harry: the mother submitted to that with a better grace, swallowing down her maternal jealousy in the prospect of her child’s advancement to a better and more respectable position than that in which his parents had struggled through life. But Mr. Horner, the steward, and Gregson, the poacher and squatter, had come into disagreeable contact too often in former days for them to be perfectly cordial at any future time. Even now, when there was no immediate cause for anything but gratitude for his child’s sake on Gregson’s part, he would skulk out of Mr. Horner’s way, if he saw him coming; and it took all Mr. Horner’s natural reserve and acquired self-restraint to keep him from occasionally holding up his father’s life as a warning to Harry. Now Gregson had nothing of this desire for avoidance with regard to Mr. Gray. The poacher had a feeling of physical protection towards the parson; while the latter had shown the moral courage, without which Gregson would never have respected him, in coming right down upon him more than once in the exercise of unlawful pursuits, and simply and boldly telling him he was doing wrong, with such a quiet reliance upon Gregson’s better feeling, at the same time, that the strong poacher could not have lifted a finger against Mr. Gray, though it had been to save himself from being apprehended and taken to the lock-ups the very next hour. He had rather listened to the parson’s bold words with an approving smile, much as Mr. Gulliver might have hearkened to a lecture from a Lilliputian. But when brave words passed into kind deeds, Gregson’s heart mutely acknowledged its master and keeper. And the beauty of it all was, that Mr. Gray knew nothing of the good work he had done, or recognized himself as the instrument which God had employed. He thanked God, it is true, fervently and often, that the work was done; and loved the wild man for his rough gratitude; but it never occurred to the poor young clergyman, lying on his sick-bed, and praying, as Miss Galindo had told us he did, to be forgiven for his unprofitable life, to think of Gregson’s reclaimed soul as anything with which he had had to do. It was now more than three months since Mr. Gray had been at Hanbury Court. During all that time he had been confined to his house, if not to his sick-bed, and he and my lady had never met since their last discussion and difference about Farmer Hale’s barn.

This was not my dear lady’s fault; no one could have been more attentive in every way to the slightest possible want of either of the invalids, especially of Mr. Gray. And she would have gone to see him at his own house, as she sent him word, but that her foot had slipped upon the polished oak staircase, and her ancle had been sprained.

So we had never seen Mr. Gray since his illness, when one November day he was announced as wishing to speak to my lady. She was sitting in her room — the room in which I lay now pretty constantly — and I remember she looked startled, when word was brought to her of Mr. Gray’s being at the Hall.

She could not go to him, she was too lame for that, so she bade him be shown into where she sat.

“Such a day for him to go out!” she exclaimed, looking at the fog which had crept up to the windows, and was sapping the little remaining life in the brilliant Virginian creeper leaves that draperied the house on the terrace side.

He came in white, trembling, his large eyes wild and dilated. He hastened up to Lady Ludlow’s chair, and, to my surprise, took one of her hands and kissed it, without speaking, yet shaking all over.

“Mr. Gray!” said she, quickly, with sharp, tremulous apprehension of some unknown evil. “What is it? There is something unusual about you.”

“Something unusual has occurred,” replied he, forcing his words to be calm, as with a great effort. “A gentleman came to my house, not half an hour ago — a Mr. Howard. He came straight from Vienna.”

“My son!” said my dear lady, stretching out her arms in dumb questioning attitude.

“The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But my poor lady could not echo the words. He was the last remaining child. And once she had been the joyful mother of nine.

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