My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell


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Page 1

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 in 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 intrusted
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 pot 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.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:38