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|My Lady Ludlow||Elizabeth Gaskell|
|Page 3 of 8||
"Please, mum--please your ladyship--I can say it off by heart."
"You! What do you mean?" I was really afraid now. My lady's blue eyes absolutely gave out light, she was so much displeased, and, moreover, perplexed. The more reason he had for affright, the more his courage rose. He must have seen,--so sharp a lad must have perceived her displeasure; but he went on quickly and steadily.
"Mr. Horner, my lady, has taught me to read, write, and cast accounts, my lady. And he was in a hurry, and he folded his paper up, but he did not seal it; and I read it, my lady; and now, my lady, it seems like as if I had got it off by heart;" and he went on with a high pitched voice, saying out very loud what, I have no doubt, were the identical words of the letter, date, signature and all: it was merely something about a deed, which required my lady's signature.
When he had done, he stood almost as if he expected commendation for his accurate memory.
My lady's eyes contracted till the pupils were as needle-points; it was a way she had when much disturbed. She looked at me and said -
"Margaret Dawson, what will this world come to?" And then she was silent.
The lad, beginning to perceive he had given deep offence, stood stock still--as if his brave will had brought him into this presence, and impelled him to confession, and the best amends he could make, but had now deserted him, or was extinct, and left his body motionless, until some one else with word or deed made him quit the room. My lady looked again at him, and saw the frowning, dumb-foundering terror at his misdeed, and the manner in which his confession had been received.
"My poor lad!" said she, the angry look leaving her face, "into whose hands have you fallen?"
The boy's lips began to quiver.
"Don't you know what tree we read of in Genesis?--No! I hope you have not got to read so easily as that." A pause. "Who has taught you to read and write?"
"Please, my lady, I meant no harm, my lady." He was fairly blubbering, overcome by her evident feeling of dismay and regret, the soft repression of which was more frightening to him than any strong or violent words would have been.
"Who taught you, I ask?"
"It were Mr. Horner's clerk who learned me, my lady."
"And did Mr. Horner know of it?"
"Yes, my lady. And I am sure I thought for to please him."
"Well! perhaps you were not to blame for that. But I wonder at Mr. Horner. However, my boy, as you have got possession of edge-tools, you must have some rules how to use them. Did you never hear that you were not to open letters?"
"Please, my lady, it were open. Mr. Horner forgot for to seal it, in his hurry to be off."
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|My Lady Ludlow
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