My Lady Ludlow by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell


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Page 2

"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 loft 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

"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

The road by which we had come lay right at the back.

Hanbury Court is a vast red-trick 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 into the
great hall on the right hand, into which the sun's last rays were sending
in 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 band 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 pocket-
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.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 28th Feb 2020, 13:36