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My Lady Ludlow Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VIII.

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"When Jacques awoke it was full daylight--at least as full as it would ever be in that place. His breakfast--the gaol-allowance of bread and vin ordinaire--was by his side. He must have slept soundly. He looked for his master. He and Virginie had recognized each other now,--hearts, as well as appearance. They were smiling into each other's faces, as if that dull, vaulted room in the grim Abbaye were the sunny gardens of Versailles, with music and festivity all abroad. Apparently they had much to say to each other; for whispered questions and answers never ceased.

"Virginie had made a sling for the poor broken arm; nay, she had obtained two splinters of wood in some way, and one of their fellow-prisoners--having, it appeared, some knowledge of surgery--had set it. Jacques felt more desponding by far than they did, for he was suffering from the night he had passed, which told upon his aged frame; while they must have heard some good news, as it seemed to him, so bright and happy did they look. Yet Clement was still in bodily pain and suffering, and Virginie, by her own act and deed, was a prisoner in that dreadful Abbaye, whence the only issue was the guillotine. But they were together: they loved: they understood each other at length.

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"When Virginie saw that Jacques was awake, and languidly munching his breakfast, she rose from the wooden stool on which she was sitting, and went to him, holding out both hands, and refusing to allow him to rise, while she thanked him with pretty eagerness for all his kindness to Monsieur. Monsieur himself came towards him, following Virginie, but with tottering steps, as if his head was weak and dizzy, to thank the poor old man, who now on his feet, stood between them, ready to cry while they gave him credit for faithful actions which he felt to have been almost involuntary on his part,--for loyalty was like an instinct in the good old days, before your educational cant had come up. And so two days went on. The only event was the morning call for the victims, a certain number of whom were summoned to trial every day. And to be tried was to be condemned. Every one of the prisoners became grave, as the hour for their summons approached. Most of the victims went to their doom with uncomplaining resignation, and for a while after their departure there was comparative silence in the prison. But, by-and-by--so said Jacques--the conversation or amusements began again. Human nature cannot stand the perpetual pressure of such keen anxiety, without an effort to relieve itself by thinking of something else. Jacques said that Monsieur and Mademoiselle were for ever talking together of the past days,--it was 'Do you remember this?' or, 'Do you remember that?' perpetually. He sometimes thought they forgot where they were, and what was before them. But Jacques did not, and every day he trembled more and more as the list was called over.

"The third morning of their incarceration, the gaoler brought in a man whom Jacques did not recognize, and therefore did not at once observe; for he was waiting, as in duty bound, upon his master and his sweet young lady (as he always called her in repeating the story). He thought that the new introduction was some friend of the gaoler, as the two seemed well acquainted, and the latter stayed a few minutes talking with his visitor before leaving him in prison. So Jacques was surprised when, after a short time had elapsed, he looked round, and saw the fierce stare with which the stranger was regarding Monsieur and Mademoiselle de Crequy, as the pair sat at breakfast,--the said breakfast being laid as well as Jacques knew how, on a bench fastened into the prison wall,--Virginie sitting on her low stool, and Clement half lying on the ground by her side, and submitting gladly to be fed by her pretty white fingers; for it was one of her fancies, Jacques said, to do all she could for him, in consideration of his broken arm. And, indeed, Clement was wasting away daily; for he had received other injuries, internal and more serious than that to his arm, during the melee which had ended in his capture. The stranger made Jacques conscious of his presence by a sigh, which was almost a groan. All three prisoners looked round at the sound. Clement's face expressed little but scornful indifference; but Virginie's face froze into stony hate. Jacques said he never saw such a look, and hoped that he never should again. Yet after that first revelation of feeling, her look was steady and fixed in another direction to that in which the stranger stood,-- still motionless--still watching. He came a step nearer at last.

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My Lady Ludlow
Elizabeth Gaskell

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