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My Lady Ludlow Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter V.

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"'Pardon, madame! But all the earth, though it were full of kind hearts, is but a desolation and a desert place to a mother when her only child is absent. And you, Clement, would leave me for this Virginie,--this degenerate De Crequy, tainted with the atheism of the Encyclopedistes! She is only reaping some of the fruit of the harvest whereof her friends have sown the seed. Let her alone! Doubtless she has friends--it may be lovers--among these demons, who, under the cry of liberty, commit every licence. Let her alone, Clement! She refused you with scorn: be too proud to notice her new.'

"'Mother, I cannot think of myself; only of her.'

"'Think of me, then! I, your mother, forbid you to go.'

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"Clement bowed low, and went out of the room instantly, as one blinded. She saw his groping movement, and, for an instant, I think her heart was touched. But she turned to me, and tried to exculpate her past violence by dilating upon her wrongs, and they certainly were many. The Count, her husband's younger brother, had invariably tried to make mischief between husband and wife. He had been the cleverer man of the two, and had possessed extraordinary influence over her husband. She suspected him of having instigated that clause in her husband's will, by which the Marquis expressed his wish for the marriage of the cousins. The Count had had some interest in the management of the De Crequy property during her son's minority. Indeed, I remembered then, that it was through Count de Crequy that Lord Ludlow had first heard of the apartment which we afterwards took in the Hotel de Crequy; and then the recollection of a past feeling came distinctly out of the mist, as it were; and I called to mind how, when we first took up our abode in the Hotel de Crequy, both Lord Ludlow and I imagined that the arrangement was displeasing to our hostess; and how it had taken us a considerable time before we had been able to establish relations of friendship with her. Years after our visit, she began to suspect that Clement (whom she could not forbid to visit at his uncle's house, considering the terms on which his father had been with his brother; though she herself never set foot over the Count de Crequy's threshold) was attaching himself to mademoiselle, his cousin; and she made cautious inquiries as to the appearance, character, and disposition of the young lady. Mademoiselle was not handsome, they said; but of a fine figure, and generally considered as having a very noble and attractive presence. In character she was daring and wilful (said one set); original and independent (said another). She was much indulged by her father, who had given her something of a man's education, and selected for her intimate friend a young lady below her in rank, one of the Bureaucracie, a Mademoiselle Necker, daughter of the Minister of Finance. Mademoiselle de Crequy was thus introduced into all the free-thinking salons of Paris; among people who were always full of plans for subverting society. 'And did Clement affect such people?' Madame de Crequy had asked with some anxiety. No! Monsieur de Crequy had neither eyes nor ears, nor thought for anything but his cousin, while she was by. And she? She hardly took notice of his devotion, so evident to every one else. The proud creature! But perhaps that was her haughty way of concealing what she felt. And so Madame de Crequy listened, and questioned, and learnt nothing decided, until one day she surprised Clement with the note in his hand, of which she remembered the stinging words so well, in which Virginie had said, in reply to a proposal Clement had sent her through her father, that 'When she married she married a man, not a petit-maitre.'

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My Lady Ludlow
Elizabeth Gaskell

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