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My Lady Ludlow Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter IV.

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"But you must not read letters that are not intended for you. You must never try to read any letters that are not directed to you, even if they be open before you."

"Please, may lady, I thought it were good for practice, all as one as a book."

My lady looked bewildered as to what way she could farther explain to him the laws of honour as regarded letters.

"You would not listen, I am sure," said she, "to anything you were not intended to hear?"

He hesitated for a moment, partly because he did not fully comprehend the question. My lady repeated it. The light of intelligence came into his eager eyes, and I could see that he was not certain if he could tell the truth.

"Please, my lady, I always hearken when I hear folk talking secrets; but I mean no harm."

My poor lady sighed: she was not prepared to begin a long way off in morals. Honour was, to her, second nature, and she had never tried to find out on what principle its laws were based. So, telling the lad that she wished to see Mr. Horner when he returned from Warwick, she dismissed him with a despondent look; he, meanwhile, right glad to be out of the awful gentleness of her presence.

"What is to be done?" said she, half to herself and half to me. I could not answer, for I was puzzled myself.

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"It was a right word," she continued, "that I used, when I called reading and writing 'edge-tools.' If our lower orders have these edge-tools given to them, we shall have the terrible scenes of the French Revolution acted over again in England. When I was a girl, one never heard of the rights of men, one only heard of the duties. Now, here was Mr. Gray, only last night, talking of the right every child had to instruction. I could hardly keep my patience with him, and at length we fairly came to words; and I told him I would have no such thing as a Sunday-school (or a Sabbath-school, as he calls it, just like a Jew) in my village."

"And what did he say, my lady?" I asked; for the struggle that seemed now to have come to a crisis, had been going on for some time in a quiet way.

"Why, he gave way to temper, and said he was bound to remember, he was under the bishop's authority, not under mine; and implied that he should persevere in his designs, notwithstanding my expressed opinion."

"And your ladyship--" I half inquired.

"I could only rise and curtsey, and civilly dismiss him. When two persons have arrived at a certain point of expression on a subject, about which they differ as materially as I do from Mr. Gray, the wisest course, if they wish to remain friends, is to drop the conversation entirely and suddenly. It is one of the few cases where abruptness is desirable."

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My Lady Ludlow
Elizabeth Gaskell

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