My Lady Ludlow, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter IX.

After a pause, I ventured to ask what became of Madame de Crequy, Clement’s mother.

“She never made any inquiry about him,” said my lady. “She must have known that he was dead; though how, we never could tell. Medlicott remembered afterwards that it was about, if not on — Medlicott to this day declares that it was on the very Monday, June the nineteenth, when her son was executed, that Madame de Crequy left off her rouge and took to her bed, as one bereaved and hopeless. It certainly was about that time; and Medlicott — who was deeply impressed by that dream of Madame de Crequy’s (the relation of which I told you had had such an effect on my lord), in which she had seen the figure of Virginie — as the only light object amid much surrounding darkness as of night, smiling and beckoning Clement on — on — till at length the bright phantom stopped, motionless, and Madame de Crequy’s eyes began to penetrate the murky darkness, and to see closing around her the gloomy dripping walls which she had once seen and never forgotten — the walls of the vault of the chapel of the De Crequys in Saint Germain l’Auxerrois; and there the two last of the Crequys laid them down among their forefathers, and Madame de Crequy had wakened to the sound of the great door, which led to the open air, being locked upon her — I say Medlicott, who was predisposed by this dream to look out for the supernatural, always declared that Madame de Crequy was made conscious in some mysterious way, of her son’s death, on the very day and hour when it occurred, and that after that she had no more anxiety, but was only conscious of a kind of stupefying despair.”

“And what became of her, my lady?” I again asked.

“What could become of her?” replied Lady Ludlow. “She never could be induced to rise again, though she lived more than a year after her son’s departure. She kept her bed; her room darkened, her face turned towards the wall, whenever any one besides Medlicott was in the room. She hardly ever spoke, and would have died of starvation but for Medlicott’s tender care, in putting a morsel to her lips every now and then, feeding her, in fact, just as an old bird feeds her young ones. In the height of summer my lord and I left London. We would fain have taken her with us into Scotland, but the doctor (we had the old doctor from Leicester Square) forbade her removal; and this time he gave such good reasons against it that I acquiesced. Medlicott and a maid were left with her. Every care was taken of her. She survived till our return. Indeed, I thought she was in much the same state as I had left her in, when I came back to London. But Medlicott spoke of her as much weaker; and one morning on awakening, they told me she was dead. I sent for Medlicott, who was in sad distress, she had become so fond of her charge. She said that, about two o’clock, she had been awakened by unusual restlessness on Madame de Crequy’s part; that she had gone to her bedside, and found the poor lady feebly but perpetually moving her wasted arm up and down — and saying to herself in a wailing voice: ‘I did not bless him when he left me — I did not bless him when he left me!’ Medlicott gave her a spoonful or two of jelly, and sat by her, stroking her hand, and soothing her till she seemed to fall asleep. But in the morning she was dead.”

“It is a sad story, your ladyship,” said I, after a while.

“Yes it is. People seldom arrive at my age without having watched the beginning, middle, and end of many lives and many fortunes. We do not talk about them, perhaps; for they are often so sacred to us, from having touched into the very quick of our own hearts, as it were, or into those of others who are dead and gone, and veiled over from human sight, that we cannot tell the tale as if it was a mere story. But young people should remember that we have had this solemn experience of life, on which to base our opinions and form our judgments, so that they are not mere untried theories. I am not alluding to Mr. Horner just now, for he is nearly as old as I am — within ten years, I dare say — but I am thinking of Mr. Gray, with his endless plans for some new thing — schools, education, Sabbaths, and what not. Now he has not seen what all this leads to.”

“It is a pity he has not heard your ladyship tell the story of poor Monsieur de Crequy.”

“Not at all a pity, my dear. A young man like him, who, both by position and age, must have had his experience confined to a very narrow circle, ought not to set up his opinion against mine; he ought not to require reasons from me, nor to need such explanation of my arguments (if I condescend to argue), as going into relation of the circumstances on which my arguments are based in my own mind, would be.”

“But, my lady, it might convince him,” I said, with perhaps injudicious perseverance.

“And why should he be convinced?” she asked, with gentle inquiry in her tone. “He has only to acquiesce. Though he is appointed by Mr. Croxton, I am the lady of the manor, as he must know. But it is with Mr. Horner that I must have to do about this unfortunate lad Gregson. I am afraid there will be no method of making him forget his unlucky knowledge. His poor brains will be intoxicated with the sense of his powers, without any counterbalancing principles to guide him. Poor fellow! I am quite afraid it will end in his being hanged!”

The next day Mr. Horner came to apologize and explain. He was evidently — as I could tell from his voice, as he spoke to my lady in the next room — extremely annoyed at her ladyship’s discovery of the education he had been giving to this boy. My lady spoke with great authority, and with reasonable grounds of complaint. Mr. Horner was well acquainted with her thoughts on the subject, and had acted in defiance of her wishes. He acknowledged as much, and should on no account have done it, in any other instance, without her leave.

“Which I could never have granted you,” said my lady.

But this boy had extraordinary capabilities; would, in fact, have taught himself much that was bad, if he had not been rescued, and another direction given to his powers. And in all Mr. Horner had done, he had had her ladyship’s service in view. The business was getting almost beyond his power, so many letters and so much account-keeping was required by the complicated state in which things were.

Lady Ludlow felt what was coming — a reference to the mortgage for the benefit of my lord’s Scottish estates, which, she was perfectly aware, Mr. Horner considered as having been a most unwise proceeding — and she hastened to observe —“All this may be very true, Mr. Horner, and I am sure I should be the last person to wish you to overwork or distress yourself; but of that we will talk another time. What I am now anxious to remedy is, if possible, the state of this poor little Gregson’s mind. Would not hard work in the fields be a wholesome and excellent way of enabling him to forget?”

“I was in hopes, my lady, that you would have permitted me to bring him up to act as a kind of clerk,” said Mr. Horner, jerking out his project abruptly.

“A what?” asked my lady, in infinite surprise.

“A kind of — of assistant, in the way of copying letters and doing up accounts. He is already an excellent penman and very quick at figures.”

“Mr. Horner,” said my lady, with dignity, “the son of a poacher and vagabond ought never to have been able to copy letters relating to the Hanbury estates; and, at any rate, he shall not. I wonder how it is that, knowing the use he has made of his power of reading a letter, you should venture to propose such an employment for him as would require his being in your confidence, and you the trusted agent of this family. Why, every secret (and every ancient and honourable family has its secrets, as you know, Mr. Horner) would be learnt off by heart, and repeated to the first comer!”

“I should have hoped to have trained him, my lady, to understand the rules of discretion.”

“Trained! Train a barn-door fowl to be a pheasant, Mr. Horner! That would be the easier task. But you did right to speak of discretion rather than honour. Discretion looks to the consequences of actions — honour looks to the action itself, and is an instinct rather than a virtue. After all, it is possible you might have trained him to be discreet.”

Mr. Horner was silent. My lady was softened by his not replying, and began as she always did in such cases, to fear lest she had been too harsh. I could tell that by her voice and by her next speech, as well as if I had seen her face.

“But I am sorry you are feeling the pressure of the affairs: I am quite aware that I have entailed much additional trouble upon you by some of my measures: I must try and provide you with some suitable assistance. Copying letters and doing up accounts, I think you said?”

Mr. Horner had certainly had a distant idea of turning the little boy, in process of time, into a clerk; but he had rather urged this possibility of future usefulness beyond what he had at first intended, in speaking of it to my lady as a palliation of his offence, and he certainly was very much inclined to retract his statement that the letter-writing, or any other business, had increased, or that he was in the slightest want of help of any kind, when my lady after a pause of consideration, suddenly said —

“I have it. Miss Galindo will, I am sure, be glad to assist you. I will speak to her myself. The payment we should make to a clerk would be of real service to her!”

I could hardly help echoing Mr. Horner’s tone of surprise as he said —

“Miss Galindo!”

For, you must be told who Miss Galindo was; at least, told as much as I know. Miss Galindo had lived in the village for many years, keeping house on the smallest possible means, yet always managing to maintain a servant. And this servant was invariably chosen because she had some infirmity that made her undesirable to every one else. I believe Miss Galindo had had lame and blind and hump-backed maids. She had even at one time taken in a girl hopelessly gone in consumption, because if not she would have had to go to the workhouse, and not have had enough to eat. Of course the poor creature could not perform a single duty usually required of a servant, and Miss Galindo herself was both servant and nurse.

Her present maid was scarcely four feet high, and bore a terrible character for ill-temper. Nobody but Miss Galindo would have kept her; but, as it was, mistress and servant squabbled perpetually, and were, at heart, the best of friends. For it was one of Miss Galindo’s peculiarities to do all manner of kind and self-denying actions, and to say all manner of provoking things. Lame, blind, deformed, and dwarf, all came in for scoldings without number: it was only the consumptive girl that never had heard a sharp word. I don’t think any of her servants liked her the worse for her peppery temper, and passionate odd ways, for they knew her real and beautiful kindness of heart: and, besides, she had so great a turn for humour that very often her speeches amused as much or more than they irritated; and on the other side, a piece of witty impudence from her servant would occasionally tickle her so much and so suddenly, that she would burst out laughing in the middle of her passion.

But the talk about Miss Galindo’s choice and management of her servants was confined to village gossip, and had never reached my Lady Ludlow’s ears, though doubtless Mr. Horner was well acquainted with it. What my lady knew of her amounted to this. It was the custom in those days for the wealthy ladies of the county to set on foot a repository, as it was called, in the assize-town. The ostensible manager of this repository was generally a decayed gentlewoman, a clergyman’s widow, or so forth. She was, however, controlled by a committee of ladies; and paid by them in proportion to the amount of goods she sold; and these goods were the small manufactures of ladies of little or no fortune, whose names, if they chose it, were only signified by initials.

Poor water-colour drawings, indigo and Indian ink; screens, ornamented with moss and dried leaves; paintings on velvet, and such faintly ornamental works were displayed on one side of the shop. It was always reckoned a mark of characteristic gentility in the repository, to have only common heavy-framed sash-windows, which admitted very little light, so I never was quite certain of the merit of these Works of Art as they were entitled. But, on the other side, where the Useful Work placard was put up, there was a great variety of articles, of whose unusual excellence every one might judge. Such fine sewing, and stitching, and button-holing! Such bundles of soft delicate knitted stockings and socks; and, above all, in Lady Ludlow’s eyes, such hanks of the finest spun flaxen thread!

And the most delicate dainty work of all was done by Miss Galindo, as Lady Ludlow very well knew. Yet, for all their fine sewing, it sometimes happened that Miss Galindo’s patterns were of an old-fashioned kind; and the dozen nightcaps, maybe, on the materials for which she had expended bona-fide money, and on the making-up, no little time and eye-sight, would lie for months in a yellow neglected heap; and at such times, it was said, Miss Galindo was more amusing than usual, more full of dry drollery and humour; just as at the times when an order came in to X. (the initial she had chosen) for a stock of well-paying things, she sat and stormed at her servant as she stitched away. She herself explained her practice in this way:—

“When everything goes wrong, one would give up breathing if one could not lighten ones heart by a joke. But when I’ve to sit still from morning till night, I must have something to stir my blood, or I should go off into an apoplexy; so I set to, and quarrel with Sally.”

Such were Miss Galindo’s means and manner of living in her own house. Out of doors, and in the village, she was not popular, although she would have been sorely missed had she left the place. But she asked too many home questions (not to say impertinent) respecting the domestic economies (for even the very poor liked to spend their bit of money their own way), and would open cupboards to find out hidden extravagances, and question closely respecting the weekly amount of butter, till one day she met with what would have been a rebuff to any other person, but which she rather enjoyed than otherwise.

She was going into a cottage, and in the doorway met the good woman chasing out a duck, and apparently unconscious of her visitor.

“Get out, Miss Galindo!” she cried, addressing the duck. “Get out! O, I ask your pardon,” she continued, as if seeing the lady for the first time. “It’s only that weary duck will come in. Get out Miss Gal ——” (to the duck).

“And so you call it after, me, do you?” inquired her visitor.

“O, yes, ma’am; my master would have it so, for he said, sure enough the unlucky bird was always poking herself where she was not wanted.”

“Ha, ha! very good! And so your master is a wit, is he? Well! tell him to come up and speak to me to-night about my parlour chimney, for there is no one like him for chimney doctoring.”

And the master went up, and was so won over by Miss Galindo’s merry ways, and sharp insight into the mysteries of his various kinds of business (he was a mason, chimney-sweeper, and ratcatcher), that he came home and abused his wife the next time she called the duck the name by which he himself had christened her.

But odd as Miss Galindo was in general, she could be as well-bred a lady as any one when she chose. And choose she always did when my Lady Ludlow was by. Indeed, I don’t know the man, woman, or child, that did not instinctively turn out its best side to her ladyship. So she had no notion of the qualities which, I am sure, made Mr. Horner think that Miss Galindo would be most unmanageable as a clerk, and heartily wish that the idea had never come into my lady’s head. But there it was; and he had annoyed her ladyship already more than he liked today, so he could not directly contradict her, but only urge difficulties which he hoped might prove insuperable. But every one of them Lady Ludlow knocked down. Letters to copy? Doubtless. Miss Galindo could come up to the Hall; she should have a room to herself; she wrote a beautiful hand; and writing would save her eyesight. “Capability with regard to accounts?” My lady would answer for that too; and for more than Mr. Horner seemed to think it necessary to inquire about. Miss Galindo was by birth and breeding a lady of the strictest honour, and would, if possible, forget the substance of any letters that passed through her hands; at any rate, no one would ever hear of them again from her. “Remuneration?” Oh! as for that, Lady Ludlow would herself take care that it was managed in the most delicate manner possible. She would send to invite Miss Galindo to tea at the Hall that very afternoon, if Mr. Horner would only give her ladyship the slightest idea of the average length of time that my lady was to request Miss Galindo to sacrifice to her daily. “Three hours! Very well.” Mr. Horner looked very grave as he passed the windows of the room where I lay. I don’t think he liked the idea of Miss Galindo as a clerk.

Lady Ludlow’s invitations were like royal commands. Indeed, the village was too quiet to allow the inhabitants to have many evening engagements of any kind. Now and then, Mr. and Mrs. Horner gave a tea and supper to the principal tenants and their wives, to which the clergyman was invited, and Miss Galindo, Mrs. Medlicott, and one or two other spinsters and widows. The glory of the supper-table on these occasions was invariably furnished by her ladyship: it was a cold roasted peacock, with his tail stuck out as if in life. Mrs. Medlicott would take up the whole morning arranging the feathers in the proper semicircle, and was always pleased with the wonder and admiration it excited. It was considered a due reward and fitting compliment to her exertions that Mr. Horner always took her in to supper, and placed her opposite to the magnificent dish, at which she sweetly smiled all the time they were at table. But since Mrs. Horner had had the paralytic stroke these parties had been given up; and Miss Galindo wrote a note to Lady Ludlow in reply to her invitation, saying that she was entirely disengaged, and would have great pleasure in doing herself the honour of waiting upon her ladyship.

Whoever visited my lady took their meals with her, sitting on the dais, in the presence of all my former companions. So I did not see Miss Galindo until some time after tea; as the young gentlewomen had had to bring her their sewing and spinning, to hear the remarks of so competent a judge. At length her ladyship brought her visitor into the room where I lay — it was one of my bad days, I remember — in order to have her little bit of private conversation. Miss Galindo was dressed in her best gown, I am sure, but I had never seen anything like it except in a picture, it was so old-fashioned. She wore a white muslin apron, delicately embroidered, and put on a little crookedly, in order, as she told us, even Lady Ludlow, before the evening was over, to conceal a spot whence the colour had been discharged by a lemon-stain. This crookedness had an odd effect, especially when I saw that it was intentional; indeed, she was so anxious about her apron’s right adjustment in the wrong place, that she told us straight out why she wore it so, and asked her ladyship if the spot was properly hidden, at the same time lifting up her apron and showing her how large it was.

“When my father was alive, I always took his right arm, so, and used to remove any spotted or discoloured breadths to the left side, if it was a walking-dress. That’s the convenience of a gentleman. But widows and spinsters must do what they can. Ah, my dear (to me)! when you are reckoning up the blessings in your lot — though you may think it a hard one in some respects — don’t forget how little your stockings want darning, as you are obliged to lie down so much! I would rather knit two pairs of stockings than darn one, any day.”

“Have you been doing any of your beautiful knitting lately?” asked my lady, who had now arranged Miss Galindo in the pleasantest chair, and taken her own little wicker-work one, and, having her work in her hands, was ready to try and open the subject.

“No, and alas! your ladyship. It is partly the hot weather’s fault, for people seem to forget that winter must come; and partly, I suppose, that every one is stocked who has the money to pay four-and-sixpence a pair for stockings.”

“Then may I ask if you have any time in your active days at liberty?” said my lady, drawing a little nearer to her proposal, which I fancy she found it a little awkward to make.

“Why, the village keeps me busy, your ladyship, when I have neither knitting or sewing to do. You know I took X. for my letter at the repository, because it stands for Xantippe, who was a great scold in old times, as I have learnt. But I’m sure I don’t know how the world would get on without scolding, your ladyship. It would go to sleep, and the sun would stand still.”

“I don’t think I could bear to scold, Miss Galindo,” said her ladyship, smiling.

“No! because your ladyship has people to do it for you. Begging your pardon, my lady, it seems to me the generality of people may be divided into saints, scolds, and sinners. Now, your ladyship is a saint, because you have a sweet and holy nature, in the first place; and have people to do your anger and vexation for you, in the second place. And Jonathan Walker is a sinner, because he is sent to prison. But here am I, half way, having but a poor kind of disposition at best, and yet hating sin, and all that leads to it, such as wasting, and extravagance, and gossiping — and yet all this lies right under my nose in the village, and I am not saint enough to be vexed at it; and so I scold. And though I had rather be a saint, yet I think I do good in my way.”

“No doubt you do, dear Miss Galindo,” said Lady Ludlow. “But I am sorry to hear that there is so much that is bad going on in the village — very sorry.”

“O, your ladyship! then I am sorry I brought it out. It was only by way of saying, that when I have no particular work to do at home, I take a turn abroad, and set my neighbours to rights, just by way of steering clear of Satan.

For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do,

you know, my lady.”

There was no leading into the subject by delicate degrees, for Miss Galindo was evidently so fond of talking, that, if asked a question, she made her answer so long, that before she came to an end of it, she had wandered far away from the original starting point. So Lady Ludlow plunged at once into what she had to say.

“Miss Galindo, I have a great favour to ask of you.”

“My lady, I wish I could tell you what a pleasure it is to hear you say so,” replied Miss Galindo, almost with tears in her eyes; so glad were we all to do anything for her ladyship, which could be called a free service and not merely a duty.

“It is this. Mr. Horner tells me that the business-letters, relating to the estate, are multiplying so much that he finds it impossible to copy them all himself, and I therefore require the services of some confidential and discreet person to copy these letters, and occasionally to go through certain accounts. Now, there is a very pleasant little sitting-room very near to Mr. Horner’s office (you know Mr. Horner’s office — on the other side of the stone hall?), and if I could prevail upon you to come here to breakfast and afterwards sit there for three hours every morning, Mr. Horner should bring or send you the papers —”

Lady Ludlow stopped. Miss Galindo’s countenance had fallen. There was some great obstacle in her mind to her wish for obliging Lady Ludlow.

“What would Sally do?” she asked at length. Lady Ludlow had not a notion who Sally was. Nor if she had had a notion, would she have had a conception of the perplexities that poured into Miss Galindo’s mind, at the idea of leaving her rough forgetful dwarf without the perpetual monitorship of her mistress. Lady Ludlow, accustomed to a household where everything went on noiselessly, perfectly, and by clock-work, conducted by a number of highly-paid, well-chosen, and accomplished servants, had not a conception of the nature of the rough material from which her servants came. Besides, in her establishment, so that the result was good, no one inquired if the small economies had been observed in the production. Whereas every penny — every halfpenny, was of consequence to Miss Galindo; and visions of squandered drops of milk and wasted crusts of bread filled her mind with dismay. But she swallowed all her apprehensions down, out of her regard for Lady Ludlow, and desire to be of service to her. No one knows how great a trial it was to her when she thought of Sally, unchecked and unscolded for three hours every morning. But all she said was —

“‘Sally, go to the Deuce.’ I beg your pardon, my lady, if I was talking to myself; it’s a habit I have got into of keeping my tongue in practice, and I am not quite aware when I do it. Three hours every morning! I shall be only too proud to do what I can for your ladyship; and I hope Mr. Horner will not be too impatient with me at first. You know, perhaps, that I was nearly being an authoress once, and that seems as if I was destined to ‘employ my time in writing.’”

“No, indeed; we must return to the subject of the clerkship afterwards, if you please. An authoress, Miss Galindo! You surprise me!”

“But, indeed, I was. All was quite ready. Doctor Burney used to teach me music: not that I ever could learn, but it was a fancy of my poor father’s. And his daughter wrote a book, and they said she was but a very young lady, and nothing but a music-master’s daughter; so why should not I try?”

“Well?”

“Well! I got paper and half-a-hundred good pens, a bottle of ink, all ready —”

“And then —”

“O, it ended in my having nothing to say, when I sat down to write. But sometimes, when I get hold of a book, I wonder why I let such a poor reason stop me. It does not others.”

“But I think it was very well it did, Miss Galindo,” said her ladyship. “I am extremely against women usurping men’s employments, as they are very apt to do. But perhaps, after all, the notion of writing a book improved your hand. It is one of the most legible I ever saw.”

“I despise z’s without tails,” said Miss Galindo, with a good deal of gratified pride at my lady’s praise. Presently, my lady took her to look at a curious old cabinet, which Lord Ludlow had picked up at the Hague; and while they were out of the room on this errand, I suppose the question of remuneration was settled, for I heard no more of it.

When they came back, they were talking of Mr. Gray. Miss Galindo was unsparing in her expressions of opinion about him: going much farther than my lady — in her language, at least.

“A little blushing man like him, who can’t say bo to a goose without hesitating and colouring, to come to this village — which is as good a village as ever lived — and cry us down for a set of sinners, as if we had all committed murder and that other thing! — I have no patience with him, my lady. And then, how is he to help us to heaven, by teaching us our, a b, ab — b a, ba? And yet, by all accounts, that’s to save poor children’s souls. O, I knew your ladyship would agree with me. I am sure my mother was as good a creature as ever breathed the blessed air; and if she’s not gone to heaven I don’t want to go there; and she could not spell a letter decently. And does Mr. Gray think God took note of that?”

“I was sure you would agree with me, Miss Galindo,” said my lady. “You and I can remember how this talk about education — Rousseau, and his writings — stirred up the French people to their Reign of Terror, and all those bloody scenes.”

“I’m afraid that Rousseau and Mr. Gray are birds of a feather,” replied Miss Galindo, shaking her head. “And yet there is some good in the young man too. He sat up all night with Billy Davis, when his wife was fairly worn out with nursing him.”

“Did he, indeed!” said my lady, her face lighting up, as it always did when she heard of any kind or generous action, no matter who performed it. “What a pity he is bitten with these new revolutionary ideas, and is so much for disturbing the established order of society!”

When Miss Galindo went, she left so favourable an impression of her visit on my lady, that she said to me with a pleased smile —

“I think I have provided Mr. Horner with a far better clerk than he would have made of that lad Gregson in twenty years. And I will send the lad to my lord’s grieve, in Scotland, that he may be kept out of harm’s way.”

But something happened to the lad before this purpose could be accomplished.

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