'You say you are left with nine children. I too should have had nine, if mine had all lived. I have none left but Rudolph, the present Lord Ludlow. He is married, and lives, for the most part, in London. But I entertain six young gentlewomen at my house at Connington, who are to me as daughters--save that, perhaps, I restrict them in certain indulgences in dress and diet that might be befitting in young ladies of a higher rank, and of more probable wealth. These young persons--all of condition, though out of means-- are my constant companions, and I strive to do my duty as a Christian lady towards them. One of these young gentlewomen died (at her own home, whither she had gone upon a visit) last May. Will you do me the favour to allow your eldest daughter to supply her place in my household? She is, as I make out, about sixteen years of age. She will find companions here who are but a little older than herself. I dress my young friends myself, and make each of them a small allowance for pocket-money. They have but few opportunities for matrimony, as Connington is far removed from any town. The clergyman is a deaf old widower; my agent is married; and as for the neighbouring farmers, they are, of course, below the notice of the young gentlewomen under my protection. Still, if any young woman wishes to marry, and has conducted herself to my satisfaction, I give her a wedding dinner, her clothes, and her house-linen. And such as remain with me to my death, will find a small competency provided for them in my will. I reserve to myself the option of paying their travelling expenses,--disliking gadding women, on the one hand; on the other, not wishing by too long absence from the family home to weaken natural ties.
'If my proposal pleases you and your daughter--or rather, if it pleases you, for I trust your daughter has been too well brought up to have a will in opposition to yours--let me know, dear cousin Margaret Dawson, and I will make arrangements for meeting the young gentlewoman at Cavistock, which is the nearest point to which the coach will bring her.'
My mother dropped the letter, and sat silent.
"I shall not know what to do without you, Margaret."
A moment before, like a young untried girl as I was, I had been pleased at the notion of seeing a new place, and leading a new life. But now,--my mother's look of sorrow, and the children's cry of remonstrance: "Mother; I won't go," I said.
"Nay! but you had better," replied she, shaking her head. "Lady Ludlow has much power. She can help your brothers. It will not do to slight her offer."
So we accepted it, after much consultation. We were rewarded,--or so we thought,--for, afterwards, when I came to know Lady Ludlow, I saw that she would have done her duty by us, as helpless relations, however we might have rejected her kindness,--by a presentation to Christ's Hospital for one of my brothers.
And this was how I came to know my Lady Ludlow.