Very frequently one of us would be summoned to my lady to read aloud to her, as she sat in her small withdrawing-room, some improving book. It was generally Mr. Addison's "Spectator;" but one year, I remember, we had to read "Sturm's Reflections" translated from a German book Mrs. Medlicott recommended. Mr. Sturm told us what to think about for every day in the year; and very dull it was; but I believe Queen Charlotte had liked the book very much, and the thought of her royal approbation kept my lady awake during the reading. "Mrs. Chapone's Letters" and "Dr. Gregory's Advice to Young Ladies" composed the rest of our library for week-day reading. I, for one, was glad to leave my fine sewing, and even my reading aloud (though this last did keep me with my dear lady) to go to the still-room and potter about among the preserves and the medicated waters. There was no doctor for many miles round, and with Mrs. Medlicott to direct us, and Dr. Buchan to go by for recipes, we sent out many a bottle of physic, which, I dare say, was as good as what comes out of the druggist's shop. At any rate, I do not think we did much harm; for if any of our physics tasted stronger than usual, Mrs. Medlicott would bid us let it down with cochineal and water, to make all safe, as she said. So our bottles of medicine had very little real physic in them at last; but we were careful in putting labels on them, which looked very mysterious to those who could not read, and helped the medicine to do its work. I have sent off many a bottle of salt and water coloured red; and whenever we had nothing else to do in the still-room, Mrs. Medlicott would set us to making bread-pills, by way of practice; and, as far as I can say, they were very efficacious, as before we gave out a box Mrs. Medlicott always told the patient what symptoms to expect; and I hardly ever inquired without hearing that they had produced their effect. There was one old man, who took six pills a-night, of any kind we liked to give him, to make him sleep; and if, by any chance, his daughter had forgotten to let us know that he was out of his medicine, he was so restless and miserable that, as he said, he thought he was like to die. I think ours was what would be called homoeopathic practice now-a-days. Then we learnt to make all the cakes and dishes of the season in the still-room. We had plum-porridge and mince-pies at Christmas, fritters and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, furmenty on Mothering Sunday, violet-cakes in Passion Week, tansy-pudding on Easter Sunday, three-cornered cakes on Trinity Sunday, and so on through the year: all made from good old Church receipts, handed down from one of my lady's earliest Protestant ancestresses. Every one of us passed a portion of the day with Lady Ludlow; and now and then we rode out with her in her coach and four. She did not like to go out with a pair of horses, considering this rather beneath her rank; and, indeed, four horses were very often needed to pull her heavy coach through the stiff mud. But it was rather a cumbersome equipage through the narrow Warwickshire lanes; and I used often to think it was well that countesses were not plentiful, or else we might have met another lady of quality in another coach and four, where there would have been no possibility of turning, or passing each other, and very little chance of backing. Once when the idea of this danger of meeting another countess in a narrow, deep-rutted lane was very prominent in my mind I ventured to ask Mrs. Medlicott what would have to be done on such an occasion; and she told me that "de latest creation must back, for sure," which puzzled me a good deal at the time, although I understand it now. I began to find out the use of the "Peerage," a book which had seemed to me rather dull before; but, as I was always a coward in a coach, I made myself well acquainted with the dates of creation of our three Warwickshire earls, and was happy to find that Earl Ludlow ranked second, the oldest earl being a hunting widower, and not likely to drive out in a carriage.
All this time I have wandered from Mr. Gray. Of course, we first saw him in church when he read himself in. He was very red-faced, the kind of redness which goes with light hair and a blushing complexion; he looked slight and short, and his bright light frizzy hair had hardly a dash of powder in it. I remember my lady making this observation, and sighing over it; for, though since the famine in seventeen hundred and ninety-nine and eighteen hundred there had been a tax on hair-powder, yet it was reckoned very revolutionary and Jacobin not to wear a good deal of it. My lady hardly liked the opinions of any man who wore his own hair; but this she would say was rather a prejudice: only in her youth none but the mob had gone wigless, and she could not get over the association of wigs with birth and breeding; a man's own hair with that class of people who had formed the rioters in seventeen hundred and eighty, when Lord George Gordon had been one of the bugbears of my lady's life. Her husband and his brothers, she told us, had been put into breeches, and had their heads shaved on their seventh birthday, each of them; a handsome little wig of the newest fashion forming the old Lady Ludlow's invariable birthday present to her sons as they each arrived at that age; and afterwards, to the day of their death, they never saw their own hair. To be without powder, as some underbred people were talking of being now, was in fact to insult the proprieties of life, by being undressed. It was English sans-culottism. But Mr. Gray did wear a little powder, enough to save him in my lady's good opinion; but not enough to make her approve of him decidedly.
The next time I saw him was in the great hall. Mary Mason and I were going to drive out with my lady in her coach, and when we went down stairs with our best hats and cloaks on, we found Mr. Gray awaiting my lady's coming. I believe he had paid his respects to her before, but we had never seen him; and he had declined her invitation to spend Sunday evening at the Court (as Mr. Mountford used to do pretty regularly--and play a game at picquet too--), which, Mrs. Medlicott told us, had caused my lady to be not over well pleased with him.
He blushed redder than ever at the sight of us, as we entered the hall and dropped him our curtsies. He coughed two or three times, as if he would have liked to speak to us, if he could but have found something to say; and every time he coughed he became hotter-looking than ever. I am ashamed to say, we were nearly laughing at him; half because we, too, were so shy that we understood what his awkwardness meant.
My lady came in, with her quick active step--she always walked quickly when she did not bethink herself of her cane--as if she was sorry to have us kept waiting--and, as she entered, she gave us all round one of those graceful sweeping curtsies, of which I think the art must have died out with her,--it implied so much courtesy;--this time it said, as well as words could do, "I am sorry to have kept you all waiting,--forgive me."
She went up to the mantelpiece, near which Mr. Gray had been standing until her entrance, and curtseying afresh to him, and pretty deeply this time, because of his cloth, and her being hostess, and he, a new guest. She asked him if he would not prefer speaking to her in her own private parlour, and looked as though she would have conducted him there. But he burst out with his errand, of which he was full even to choking, and which sent the glistening tears into his large blue eyes, which stood farther and farther out with his excitement.
"My lady, I want to speak to you, and to persuade you to exert your kind interest with Mr. Lathom--Justice Lathom, of Hathaway Manor--"
"Harry Lathom?" inquired my lady,--as Mr. Gray stopped to take the breath he had lost in his hurry,--"I did not know he was in the commission."