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My Lady Ludlow Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter IX.

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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."

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"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 -

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My Lady Ludlow
Elizabeth Gaskell

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