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My Lady Ludlow Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VIII.

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"The summer morning came slowly on in that dark prison, and when Jacques could look round--his master was now sleeping on his shoulder, still the uneasy, starting sleep of fever--he saw that there were many women among the prisoners. (I have heard some of those who have escaped from the prisons say, that the look of despair and agony that came into the faces of the prisoners on first wakening, as the sense of their situation grew upon them, was what lasted the longest in the memory of the survivors. This look, they said, passed away from the women's faces sooner than it did from those of the men.)

"Poor old Jacques kept falling asleep, and plucking himself up again for fear lest, if he did not attend to his master, some harm might come to the swollen, helpless arm. Yet his weariness grew upon him in spite of all his efforts, and at last he felt as if he must give way to the irresistible desire, if only for five minutes. But just then there was a bustle at the door. Jacques opened his eyes wide to look.

"'The gaoler is early with breakfast,' said some one, lazily.

"'It is the darkness of this accursed place that makes us think it early,' said another.

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"All this time a parley was going on at the door. Some one came in; not the gaoler--a woman. The door was shut to and locked behind her. She only advanced a step or two, for it was too sudden a change, out of the light into that dark shadow, for any one to see clearly for the first few minutes. Jacques had his eyes fairly open now, and was wide awake. It was Mademoiselle de Crequy, looking bright, clear, and resolute. The faithful heart of the old man read that look like an open page. Her cousin should not die there on her behalf, without at least the comfort of her sweet presence.

"'Here he is,' he whispered as her gown would have touched him in passing, without her perceiving him, in the heavy obscurity of the place.

"'The good God bless you, my friend!' she murmured, as she saw the attitude of the old man, propped against a pillar, and holding Clement in his arms, as if the young man had been a helpless baby, while one of the poor gardener's hands supported the broken limb in the easiest position. Virginie sat down by the old man, and held out her arms. Softly she moved Clement's head to her own shoulder; softly she transferred the task of holding the arm to herself. Clement lay on the floor, but she supported him, and Jacques was at liberty to arise and stretch and shake his stiff, weary old body. He then sat down at a little distance, and watched the pair until he fell asleep. Clement had muttered 'Virginie,' as they half-roused him by their movements out of his stupor; but Jacques thought he was only dreaming; nor did he seem fully awake when once his eyes opened, and he looked full at Virginie's face bending over him, and growing crimson under his gaze, though she never stirred, for fear of hurting him if she moved. Clement looked in silence, until his heavy eyelids came slowly down, and he fell into his oppressive slumber again. Either he did not recognize her, or she came in too completely as a part of his sleeping visions for him to be disturbed by her appearance there.

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My Lady Ludlow
Elizabeth Gaskell

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