Mr. Ferrars watched the drooping figure, crouching on his chairs, elbows on knees, head bowed on the supporting hands, and face hidden, and, listening to the meek, affectionate hopelessness of the tone, he understood the fond love and compassion that had often surprised him in his sister, but he longed to read whether this were penitence towards God, or remorse towards man.
'Miserable indeed, Gilbert,' he said, 'but if all were irretrievably offended, there still is One who can abundantly pardon, where repentance is true.'
'I thought'—cried Gilbert—'I thought it had been true before! If pain, and shame, and abhorrence could so render it, I know it was when I came home. And then it was comparative happiness; I thought I was forgiven, I found joy and peace where they are promised'—the burning tears dropped between his fingers—but it was all delusion; not prayers nor sacraments can shield me—I am doomed, and all I ask is to be out of the way of ruining Maurice!'
'This is mere despair,' said Mr. Ferrars. 'I cannot but believe your contrition was sincere; but steadfast courage was what you needed, and you failed in the one trial that may have been sent you to strengthen and prove you. The effects have been terrible, but there is every hope that you may retrieve your error, and win back the sense of forgiveness.'
'If I could dare to hope so—but I cannot presume to take home to myself those assurances, when I know that I only resolve, that I may have resolutions to break.'
'Have you ever laid all this personally before Mr. Dusautoy?'
'No; I have thought of it, but, mixed up as this is with his nephew and my sister, it is impossible! But you are a clergyman, Mr. Ferrars!' he added, eagerly.
Mr. Ferrars thought, and then said,
'If you wish it, Gilbert, I will gladly do what I can for you. I believe that I may rightly do so.'
His face gleamed for a moment with the light of grateful gladness, as if at the first ray of comfort, and then he said, 'I am sure none was ever more grieved and wearied with the burden of sin—if that be all.'
'I think,' said Mr. Ferrars, 'that it might be better to give time to collect yourself, examine the past, separate the sorrow for the sin from the disgrace of the consequences, and then look earnestly at the sole ground of hope. How would it be to come for a couple of nights to Fairmead, at the end of next week?'
Gilbert gratefully caught at the invitation; and Mr. Ferrars gave him some advice as to his reading and self-discipline, speaking to him as gently and tenderly as Albinia herself. Both lingered in case the other should have more to say, but at last Gilbert stood up, saying,
'I would thankfully go to Calcutta now, but the situation is filled up, and my father said John Kendal had been enough trifled with. If I saw any fresh opening, where I should be safe from hurting Maurice!'
'There is no reason you and your brother should not be a blessing to each other.'
'Yes, there is. Till I lived at home, I did not know how impossible it is to keep clear of old acquaintance. They are good-natured fellows—that Tritton and the like—and after all that has come and gone, one would be a brute to cut them entirely, and Maurice is always after me, and has been more about with them than his mother knows. Even if I were very different, I should be a link, and though it might be no great harm if Maurice were a tame mamma's boy—you see, being the fellow he is, up to anything for a lark, and frantic about horses—I could never keep him from them. There's no such great harm in themselves—hearty, good-natured fellows they are—but there's a worse lot that they meet, and Maurice will go all lengths whenever he begins. Now, so little as he is now, if I were once gone, he would never run into their way, and they would never get a hold of him.'
Mr. Ferrars had unconsciously screwed up his face with dismay, but he relaxed it, and spoke kindly.
'You are right. It was a mistake to stay at home. Perhaps your regiment may be stationed elsewhere.'
'I don't know how long it may be called out. If it were but possible to make a fresh beginning.'
'Did you hear of my brother's suggestion?'
'I wish—but it is useless to talk about that. I could not presume to ask my father for a commission—Heaven knows when I shall dare to speak to him!'
'You have not personally asked his pardon after full confession.'
'N-o—Mrs. Kendal knows all.'
'Did you ever do such a thing in your life?'
'You don't know what my father is.'
'Neither do you, Gilbert. Let that be the first token of sincerity.'
Without leaving space for another word, Mr. Ferrars went through the conservatory into the garden, where, meeting the children, he took the little one in his arms, and sent Maurice to fetch his mamma. Albinia came down, looking so much heated and harassed, that he was grieved to leave her.
'Oh, Maurice, I am sorry! You always come in for some catastrophe,' she said, trying to smile. 'You have had a most forlorn morning.'
'Gilbert has been with me,' he said. 'He has told me all, my dear, and I think it hopeful: I like him better than I ever did before.'
'Poor feather, the breath of your lips has blown him the other way,' said Albinia, too unhappy for consolation.
'Well, it seems to me that you have done more for him than I ever quite believed. I did not expect such sound, genuine religious feeling.'
'He always had plenty of religious sentiment,' said Albinia, sadly.
'I have asked him to come to us next week. Will you tell Edmund so?'
'Yes. He will be thankful to you for taking him in hand. Poor boy, I know how attractive his penitence is, but I have quite left off building on it.'
Mr. Ferrars defended him no longer. He could not help being much moved by the youth's self-abasement, but that might be only because it was new to him, and he did not even try to recommend him to her mercy; he knew her own heart might be trusted to relent, and it would not hurt Gilbert in the end to be made to feel the full weight of his offence.
'I must go,' he said, 'though I am sorry to leave you in perplexity. I am afraid I can do nothing for you.'
'Nothing—but feel kindly to Gilbert,' said Albinia. 'I can't do so yet. I don't feel as if I ever could again, when I think what he was doing with Maurice. Yes, and how easily he could have brought poor Lucy to her senses, if he had been good for anything! Oh! Maurice, this is sickening work! You should be grateful to me for not scolding you for having taken me from home!'
'I do not repent,' said her brother. 'The explosion is better than the subterranean mining.'
'It may be,' said Albinia, 'and I need not boast of the good I did at home! My poor, poor Lucy! A little discreet kindness and watchfulness on my part would have made all the difference! It was all my running my own way with my eyes shut, but then, I had always lived with trustworthy people. Well, I wont keep you listening to my maundering, when Winifred wants you. Oh! why did that Polysyllable ever come near the place?'
Mr. Ferrars said the kindest and most cheering things he could devise, and drove away, not much afraid of her being unforgiving.
He was disposed to stake all his hopes of the young man on the issue of his advice to make a direct avowal to his father. And Gilbert made the effort, though rather in desperation than resolution, knowing that his condition could not be worse, and seeing no hope save in Mr. Ferrars' counsel. He was the first to seek Mr. Kendal, and dreadful to him as was the unaltering melancholy displeasure of the fixed look, the steadily penetrating deep dark eyes, and the subdued sternness of the voice, he made his confession fully, without reserve or palliation.
It was more than Mr. Kendal had expected, and more, perhaps, than he absolutely trusted, for Gilbert had not hitherto inspired faith in his protestations that he spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth, nor had he always the power of doing so when overpowered by fright. The manner in which his father laid hold of any inadvertent discrepancy, treating it as a wilful prevarication, was terror and agony; and well as he knew it to be the meed of past equivocation, he felt it cruel to torture him by implied suspicion. Yet how could it be otherwise, when he had been introducing his little brother to his own corrupters, and conniving at his sister's clandestine correspondence with a man whom he knew to be worthless?'
The grave words that he obtained at last, scarcely amounted to pardon; they implied that he had done irreparable mischief and acted disgracefully, and such forgiveness as was granted was only made conditional on there being no farther reserves.
Alas! even with all tender love and compassion, no earthly parent can forgive as does the Heavenly Father. None but the Omniscient can test the fulness of the confession, nor the sincerity of 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.' This interview only sent the son away more crushed and overwhelmed, and yearning towards the more deeply offended, and yet more compassionate Father.
Mr. Kendal, after this interview, so far relaxed his displeasure as to occasionally address Gilbert when they met at luncheon after this deplorable morning, while towards Lucy he observed a complete silence. It was not at first that she perceived this, and even then it struck more deeply on Sophia than it did on her.
Mr. Kendal shrank from inflicting pain on the good vicar, and it was decided that the wives should be the channel through which the information should be imparted. Albinia took the children, sending them to play in the garden while she talked to Mrs. Dusautoy. She found that keen little lady had some shrewd suspicions, but had discovered nothing defined enough to act upon, and was relieved to have the matter opened at last.
As to the ink, no mortal could help laughing over it; even Albinia, who had been feeling as if she could never laugh again, was suddenly struck by the absurdity, and gave way to a paroxysm of merriment.
'Properly managed, I do think it might put an end to the whole affair,' said Mrs. Dusautoy. 'He could not stand being laughed at.'
'I'm afraid he never will believe that he can be laughed at.'
'Yes, that is unlucky,' said Mrs. Dusautoy, gravely; but recollecting that she was not complimentary, she added, 'You must not think we undervalue Lucy. John is very fond of her, and the only objection is, that it would require a person of more age and weight to deal with Algernon.'
'Never mind speeches,' sighed Albinia; 'we know too well that nothing could be worse for either. Can't you give him a tutor and send him to travel.'
'I'll talk to John; but unluckily he is of age next month, and there's an end of our power. And John would never keep him away from hence, for he thinks it his only chance.'
'I suppose we must do something with Lucy. Heigh-ho! People used not to be always falling in love in my time, except Fred, and that was in a rational way; that could be got rid of!'
The effect of the intelligence on the vicar was to make him set out at once to the livery-stables in quest of his nephew, but he found that the young gentleman had that morning started for London, whither he proposed to follow him on the Monday. Lucy cried incessantly, in the fear that the gentle-hearted vicar might have some truculent intentions towards his nephew, and was so languid and unhappy that no one had the heart to scold her; and comforting her was still more impossible.
Mr. Kendal used to stride away from the sight of her swollen eyes, and ask Albinia why she did not tell her that the only good thing that could happen to her would be, that she should never see nor hear of the fellow again.
Why he did not tell her so himself was a different question.
'Well, Albinia,' said Mr. Kendal, after seeing Mr. Dusautoy on his return from London.
There was such a look of deprecation about him, that she exclaimed, 'One would really think you had been accepting this charming son-in-law.'
'Suppose I had,' he said, rather quaintly; then, as he saw her hands held up, 'conditionally, you understand, entirely conditionally. What could I do, when Dusautoy entreated me, with tears in his eyes, not to deprive him of the only chance of saving his nephew?'
'Umph,' was the most innocent sound Albinia could persuade herself to make.
'Besides,' continued Mr. Kendal, 'it will be better to have the affair open and avowed than to have all this secret plotting going on without being able to prevent it. I can always withhold my consent if he should not improve, and Dusautoy declares nothing would be such an incentive.'
'May it prove so!'
'You see,' he pursued, 'as his uncle says, nothing can be worse than driving him to these resorts, and when he is once of age, there's an end of all power over him to hinder his running straight to ruin. Now, when he is living at the Vicarage, we shall have far more opportunity of knowing how he is going on, and putting a check on their intercourse, if he be unsatisfactory.'
'If we can.'
'After all, the young man has done nothing that need blight his future life. He has had great disadvantages, and his steady attachment is much in his favour. His uncle tells me he promises to become all that we could wish, and, in that case, I do not see that I have the right to refuse the offer, when things have gone so far— conditionally, of course.' He dwelt on that saving clause like a salve for his misgivings.
'And what is to become of Gilbert and Maurice, with him always about the house?' exclaimed Albinia.
'We will take care he is not too much here. He will soon be at Oxford. Indeed, my dear, I am sorry you disapprove. I should have been as glad to avoid the connexion as you could be, but I do not think I had any alternative, when Mr. Dusautoy pressed me so warmly, and only asked that he should be taken on probation; and besides, when poor Lucy's affections are so decidedly involved.'
Albinia perceived that there had been temper in her tone, and could object no further, since it was too late, and as she could not believe that her husband had been weak, she endeavoured to acquiesce in his reasoning, and it was a strong argument that they should see Lucy bright again.
'I suppose,' he said, 'that you would prefer that I should announce my decision to her myself!'
It was a more welcome task than spreading gloom over her countenance, but she entered in great trepidation, prepared to sink under some stern mandate, and there was nothing at first to undeceive her, for her father was resolved to atone for his concession by sparing her no preliminary thunders, and began by depicting her indiscretion and deceit, as well as the folly of attaching herself to a man without other recommendations than figure and fortune.
How much Lucy heard was uncertain; she leant on a chair with drooping head and averted face, trembling, and suppressing a sob, apparently too much frightened to attend. Just when the exordium was over, and 'Therefore I lay my commands on you' might have been expected, it turned into, 'However, upon Mr. Dusautoy's kind representation, I have resolved to give the young man a trial, and provided he convinces me by his conduct that I may safely entrust your happiness to him, I have told his uncle that I will not withhold my sanction.'
With a shriek of irrepressible feeling, Lucy looked from father to mother, and clasped her hands, unable to trust her ears.
'Yes, Lucy,' said Albinia, 'your father consents, on condition that nothing further happens to excite his doubts of Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy. It rests with yourself now, it is not too late. After all that has passed, you would incur much deserved censure if you put an end to the affair; but even that would be better, far better, than entering into an engagement with a man without sound principle.'
'Your mother is quite right, Lucy,' said Mr. Kendal. 'This is the only time. Gratified vanity has led you too far, and you have acted as I hoped no child of mine would ever act, but you have not forfeited our tenderest care. You are not engaged to this man, and no word of yours would be broken. If you hesitate to commit yourself to him, you have only to speak, and we would gladly at once do everything that could conduce to make you happy.'
'You don't want me to give him up!' cried Lucy. 'Oh! mamma, did not he say he had consented?'
'I said it rested with yourself Lucy. Do not answer me now. Come to me at six o'clock, and tell me, after full reflection, whether I am to consider you as ready to pledge yourself to this young man.'
It was all that could be done. Albinia had a dim hope that the sense of responsibility, and dread of that hard will and selfish temper, might so rise upon Lucy as to startle her, but then, as Mr. Kendal observed, if she should decide against him, she would have used him so extremely ill, that they should feel nothing but shame.
'Yes,' said Albinia, 'but it would be better to be ashamed of a girl's folly, than to see her made miserable for life. Poor Lucy! if she decide against him, she will become a woman at once, if not, I'm afraid it will be the prediction about Marie Antoinette over again— very gay, and coming right through trial.'
They were obliged to tell Sophy of the state of things. She stood up straight, and said, slowly and clearly, 'I do not like the world at all.'
'I don't quite see what you mean.'
'Every one does what can't be helped, and it is not the thing.'
'Explain yourself, Sophy,' said her father, amused.
'I don't think Lucy ought to be making the decision at all,' said Sophy. She did that long ago, when first, she attended to what he said to her. If she does not take him now, it will be swearing to her neighbour, and disappointing him, because it is to her own hindrance.'
'Yes, Sophy; but I believe it is better to incur the sin of breaking a promise, than to go on when the fulfilment involves not only suffering, but mischief. Lucy has repeatedly declared there was no engagement.'
'I know it could not be helped; but Mr. Dusautoy ought not to have asked papa.'
'Nor papa to have consented, my Suleiman ben Daood,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Ah! Sophy, we all have very clear, straightforward views at eighteen of what other people ought to do.'
'Papa—I never meant—I did not think I was saying anything wrong. I only said I did not like the world.'
'And I heartily agree with you, Sophy, and if I had lived in it as short a time as you have, perhaps "considerations" would not affect my judgment.'
'I am always telling Sophy she will be more merciful as she grows older,' said Albinia.
'If it were only being more merciful, it would be very well,' said Mr. Kendal; 'but one also becomes less thorough-going, because practice is more painful than theory, and one remembers consequences that have made themselves felt. It is just as well that there should be young people to put us in mind what our flights once were.'
Albinia and Sophy left Lucy to herself; they both wished to avoid the useless 'What shall I do?' and they thought that, driven back on her own resources, even her own mind might give her better counsel than the seven watchmen aloft in a high tower.
She came down looking exceedingly pale. Mr. Kendal regarded her anxiously, and held his hand out to her kindly.
'Papa,' she said, simply, 'I can't give it up. I do love him.'
'Very well, my dear,' he answered, 'there is no more to be said than that I trust he will merit your affection and make you happy.'
Good Mr. Dusautoy was as happy as a king; he took Lucy in his arms, and kissed her as if she had been his child, and with her hands folded in his own, he told her how she was to teach his dear Algernon to be everything that was good, and to lead him right by her influence. She answered with caresses and promises, and whoever had watched her eye, would have seen it in a happy day-dream of Algernon's perfection, and his uncle thanking her for it.
She had expected that grandmamma would have been very happy; but marriage had, with the poor old lady, led to so much separation, that her weakened faculties took the alarm, and she received the tidings by crying bitterly, and declaring that every one was going away and leaving her. Lucy assured her over and over again that she was never going to desert her, and as Mr. Kendal had made it a condition that Algernon should finish his Oxford career respectably, there was little chance that poor Mrs. Meadows would survive until the marriage.
All along Gilbert made no remark. Though he had been left out of the family conclaves, and his opinion not asked, he submitted with the utmost meekness, as one who knew that he had forfeited all right to be treated as son and heir. The more he was concerned at the engagement, the greater stigma he would place on his own connivance; so he said nothing, and only devoted himself to his grandmother, as though the attendance upon her were a refuge and relief. More gentle and patient than ever, he soothed her fretfulness, invented pleasures for her, and rendered her so placid and contented, that her health began to improve.
Not for a moment did he seem to forget his error; and Albinia's resolution to separate Maurice from him, could not hold when he himself silently assumed the mournful necessity, and put the child from him when clamorous for rides, till there was an appeal to papa and mamma. Mr. Kendal gave one look of inquiry at Albinia, and she began some matter-of-course about Gilbert being so kind—whereupon the brothers were together as before. When Albinia visited her little boy at night, she found that Gilbert had been talking to him of his eldest brother, and she heard more of Edmund's habits and tastes from the little fellow who had never seen him, than from either the twin-brother or the sister who had loved him so devotedly. It was as if Gilbert knew that he could be doing Maurice no harm when leading him to think of Edmund, and perhaps he felt some intrinsic resemblance in the deep loving strength of the two natures.
The invitation to Fairmead spared him the pain and shame of Algernon Dusautoy's first reception as Lucy's accepted lover. He went early on Saturday morning, and young Dusautoy, arriving in the evening, was first ushered into the library; while Albinia did her best to soothe the excited nerves and fluttering spirits of Lucy, who was exceedingly ashamed to meet him again under the eyes of others, after such a course of stolen interviews, and what she had been told of her influence doing him good only alarmed her the more.
Well she might, for if ever character resembled that of the iron pot borne down the stream in company with the earthen one, it was the object of her choice. Poor pipkin that Gilbert was, the contact had cost him a smashing blow, and for all clay of the more fragile mould, the best hope was to give the invulnerable material a wide berth. Talk of influence! Mr. Dusautoy might as well hope that a Wedgwood cream-jug would guide a copper cauldron and keep verdigris aloof.
His attraction for Lucy had always been a mystery to her family, who perhaps hardly did justice to the magnetism of mere force of purpose. Better training might have ennobled into resolution that which was now doggedness and obstinacy, and, even in that shape, the real element of strength had a tendency to work upon softer natures. Thus it had acted in different ways with the Vicar, with Gilbert, and with Lucy; each had fallen under the power of his determination, with more or less of their own consent, and with Lucy the surrender was complete; she no sooner sat beside Algernon than she was completely his possession, and his complacent self-satisfaction was reflected on her face in a manner that told her parents that she was their own no longer, but given up to a stronger master.
Albinia liked neither to see nor to think about it, and kept aloof as much as she could, dividing herself between grandmamma and the children. On Tuesday morning, during Maurice's lessons, there was a knock at the sitting-room door. She expected Gilbert, but was delighted to see her brother.
'I thought you were much too busy to come near us?'
'So I am; I can't stay; so if Kendal be not forthcoming you must give this fellow a holiday.'
'He is gone to Hadminster, so—'
'Where's Gilbert?' broke in little Maurice.
'He went to his room to dress to go up to parade,' said Mr. Ferrars, and off rushed the boy without waiting for permission.
Albinia sighed, and said, 'It is a perfect passion.'
'Don't mourn over it. Love is too good a thing to be lamented over, and this may turn into a blessing.'
'I used to be proud of it.'
'So you shall be still. I am very much pleased with that poor lad.'
She would not raise her eyes, she was weary of hoping for Gilbert, and his last offence had touched her where she had never been touched before.
'Whatever faults he has,' Mr. Ferrars said, 'I am much mistaken if his humility, love, and contrition be not genuine, and what more can the best have?'
'Sincerity!' said Albinia, hopelessly. 'There's no truth in him!'
'You should discriminate between deliberate self-interested deception, and failure in truth for want of moral courage. Both are bad enough, but the latter is not "loving a lie," not such a ruinous taint and evidence of corruption as the former.'
'It is curious to hear you repeating my old excuses for him,' said Albinia, 'now that he has cast his glamour over you.'
'Not wrongly,' said her brother. 'He is in earnest; there is no acting about him.'
'Yes, that I believe; I know he loves us with all his heart, poor boy, especially Maurice and me, and I think he had rather go right than wrong, if he could only be let alone. But, oh! it is all "unstable as water." Am I unkind, Maurice? I know how it would be if I let him talk to me for ten minutes, or look at me with those pleading brown eyes of his!'
Mr. Ferrars knew it well, and why she was steeled against him, but he put this aside, saying that he was come to speak of the future, not of the past, and that he wanted Edmund to reconsider William's advice. He told her what Gilbert had said of the difficulty of breaking off old connexions, and the danger to Maurice from his acquaintance. An exchange into another corps of militia might be for the worse, the occupation was uncertain, and Mr. Ferrars believed that a higher position, companions of a better stamp, and the protection of a man of lively manners, quick sympathy, and sound principle, like their cousin Fred, might be the opening of a new life. He had found Gilbert most desirous of such a step, regarding it as his only hope, but thinking it so offensively presumptuous to propose it to his father under present circumstances, his Oxford terms thrown away, and himself disgraced both there and at home, that the matter would hardly have been brought forward had not Mr. Ferrars undertaken to press it, under the strong conviction that remaining at home would be destruction, above all, with young Dusautoy making part of the family.
'I declare,' said Mr. Ferrars, 'he looked so much at home in the drawing-room, and welcomed Gilbert with such an air of patronage, that I could have found it in my heart to have knocked him down!'
It was a treat to hear Maurice speak so unguardedly, and Albinia laughed, and asked whether he thought it very wrong to hope that the Polysyllable would yet do something flagrant enough to open Lucy's eyes.
'I'll allow you to hope that if he should, her eyes may be opened,' said Maurice.
Albinia began a vehement vindication for their having tolerated the engagement, in the midst of which her brother was obliged to depart, amused at her betrayal of her own sentiments by warfare against what he had never said.
She had treated his counsel as chimerical, but when she repeated it to her husband, she thought better of it, since, alas! it had become her great object to part those two loving brothers. Mr. Kendal first asked where the 25th Lancers were, then spoke of expense, and inquired what she knew of the cost of commissions, and of her cousin's means. All she could answer for was, that Fred's portion was much smaller than Gilbert's inheritance, but at least she knew how to learn what was wanted, and if her friends, the old Generals, were to be trusted, she ought to have no lack of interest at the Horse Guards.
Gilbert was taken into counsel, and showed so much right spirit and good sense, that the discussion was friendly and unreserved. It ended in the father and son resorting to Pettilove's office to ascertain the amount of ready money in his hands, and what income Gilbert would receive on coming of age. The investigation somewhat disappointed the youth, who had never thoroughly credited what his father told him of the necessity of his exerting himself for his own maintenance, nor understood how heavy a drain on his property were the life-interests of his father and grandmother, and the settlement on his aunt. By-and-by, he might be comparatively a rich man, but at first his present allowance would be little more than doubled, and the receipts would be considerably diminished by an alteration of existing system of rents, such as had so long been planned. It was plain that the almshouses were the unsubstantial fabric of a dream, but no one now dared to refer to them, and Mr. Kendal desired Albinia to write to consult her cousin.
Captain Ferrars was so much flattered at her asking his protection for anything, that he would have promised to patronize Cousin Slender himself for her sake. He praised the Colonel and lauded the mess to the skies, and economy being his present hobby, he represented himself as living upon nothing, and saving his pay. He further gave notice of impending retirements, and advised that the application should be made without loss of time, lamenting grievously himself that there was no chance for the 25th, of a touch at the Russians.
Something in his letter put every one into a hurry, and a correspondence began, which resulted in Gilbert's being summoned to Sandhurst for an examination, which he passed creditably. The purchase-money was deposited, and the household was daily thrown into a state of excitement by the arrival of official-looking envelopes, which turned out to contain solicitations from tailors and outfitters, bordered with portraits of camp-beds and portable baths, until, at last, when the real document appeared, Gilbert tossed it aside as from 'another tailor:' but Albinia knew the article too well to mistake it, and when the long blue cover was opened, it proved to convey more than they had reckoned upon.
Gilbert Kendal held a commission in the 25th Lancers, and the corps was under immediate orders for the East. The number of officers being deficient, he was to join the headquarters at Cork, without going to the depot, and would thence sail with a stated minimum of baggage.
Albinia could not look up. She knew her husband had not intended thus to risk the last of his eldest-born sons; and though her soldier-spirit might have swelled with exultation had her own brave boy been concerned, she dreaded the sight of quailing or dismay in Gilbert.
'Going really to fight the Russians,' shouted Maurice, as the meaning reached him. 'Oh! Gibbie, if I was but a man to go with you!'
'You will do your duty, my boy,' said his father.
'By God's help,' was the reverent answer which emboldened Albinia to look up at him, as he stood with Maurice clinging by both hands to him. She had done him injustice, and her heart bounded at the sight of the flush on his cheek, the light in his eyes, and the expression on his lips, making his face finer and more manly than she had ever seen it, as if the grave necessity, and the awe of the unseen glorious danger, were fixing and elevating his wandering purpose. To have no choice was a blessing to an infirm will, and to be inevitably out of his own power braced him and gave him rest. She held out her hand to him, and there was a grasp of inexpressible feeling, the first renewal of their old terms of sympathy and confidence.
There was no time to be lost; Mr. Kendal would go to London with him by the last train that day, to fit him out as speedily as possible, before he started for Cork.
Every one felt dizzy, and there was no space for aught but action. Perhaps Albinia was glad of the hurry, she could not talk to Gilbert till she had learnt to put faith in him, and she would rather do him substantial kindnesses than be made the sharer of feelings that had too often proved like the growth of the seed which found no depth of earth.
She ran about for him, worked for him, contrived for him, and gave him directions; she could not, or would not, perceive his yearning for an effusion of penitent tenderness. He looked wistfully at her when he was setting out to take leave at the Vicarage, but she had absorbed herself in flannel shirts, and would not meet his eye, nor did he venture to make the request that she would come with him.
Indeed, confidences there could be but few, for Maurice and Albinia hung on either side of him, so that he could hardly move, but he resisted all attempt to free him even from the little girl, who was hardly out of his arms for ten minutes together. It was only from her broken words that her mother understood that from the vicarage he had gone to the church. Poor little Albinia did not like it at all. 'Why was brother Edmund up in the church, and why did Gilbert cry?'
Maurice angrily enunciated, 'Men never cry,' but not a word of the visit to the church came from him.
Algernon Dusautoy had wisely absented himself, and the two sisters devoted themselves to the tasks in hand. Sophy worked as hard as did Mrs. Kendal, and spoke even less, and Lucy took care of Mrs. Meadows, whose nerves were painfully excited by the bustle in the house. It had been agreed that she should not hear of her grandson's intention till the last moment, and then he went in, putting on a cheerful manner, to bid her good-bye, only disclosing that he was going to London, but little as she could understand, there was an instinct about her that could not be deceived, and she began to cry helplessly and violently.
Mrs. Kendal and Lucy were summoned in haste; Gilbert lingered, trying to help them to restore her to composure. But time ran short; his father called him, and they hardly knew that they had received his last hurried embrace, nor that he was really gone, till they heard Maurice shouting like a Red Indian, as he careered about in the garden, his only resource against tears; and Sophy came in very still, very pale, and incapable of uttering a word or shedding a tear. Albinia was much concerned, for she could not bear to have sent him away without a more real adieu, and word of blessing and good augury; it made her feel herself truly unforgiving, and perhaps turned her heart back to him more fully and fondly than any exchange of sentiment would have done. But she had not much time to dwell on this omission, for poor Mrs. Meadows missed him sorely, and after two days' constant fretting after him, another paralytic stroke renewed the immediate danger, so that by the time Mr. Kendal returned from London she was again hovering between life and death.
Mr. Kendal, to his great joy, met Frederick Ferrars at the 'Family Office.' The changes in the regiment had given him his majority, and he had flashed over from Ireland to make his preparations for the campaign. His counsel had been most valuable in Gilbert's equipment, especially in the knotty question of horses, and he had shown himself so amiable and rational that Mr. Kendal was quite delighted, and rejoiced in committing Gilbert to his care. He had assumed the trust in a paternal manner, and, infected by his brilliant happiness and hopefulness, Gilbert had gone off to Ireland in excellent spirits.
'Another thing conduced to cheer him,' said Mr. Kendal afterwards to his wife, with a tone that caused her to exclaim, 'You don't mean that he saw Genevieve?'
'You are right. We came upon her in Rivington's shop, while we were looking for the smallest Bible. I saw who it was chiefly by his change of colour, and I confess I kept out of the way. The whole did not last five minutes; she had her pupils with her, and soon went away; but he thanked me, and took heart from that moment. Poor boy, who would have thought the impression would have been so lasting?'
'Well, by the time he is a field-officer, even William will let him please himself,' said Albinia, lightly, because her heart was too full for her to speak seriously.
She tried, by a kind letter, to atone for the omitted farewell, and it seemed to cheer and delight Gilbert. He wrote from Cork as if he had imbibed fresh hope and enterprise from his new companions, he liked them all, and could not say enough of the kindness of Major Ferrars. Everything went smoothly, and in the happiest frame he sailed from Cork, and was heard of again at Malta and Gallipoli, direfully sea-sick, but reviving to write most amusing long descriptive letters, and when he reached the camp at Yarna, he reported as gratefully of General Ferrars as the General did kindly of him.
Those letters were the chief pleasures in a harassing spring and summer. It was well that practice had trained Sophia in the qualities of a nurse, for Lucy was seldom available when Algernon Dusautoy was at home; she was sure to be riding with him, or sitting for her picture, or the good Vicar, afraid of her overworking herself, insisted on her spending the evening at the vicarage.
She yielded, but not with an easy conscience, to judge by her numerous apologies, and when Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy returned to Oxford, she devoted herself with great assiduity to the invalid. Her natural gifts were far more efficient than Sophy's laboriously-earned gentleness, and her wonderful talent for prattling about nothing had a revivifying influence, sparing much of the plaintive weariness which accompanied that mournful descent of life's hill.
Albinia had reckoned on a rational Lucy until the Oxford term should be over. She might have anticipated a failure in the responsions, (who, in connexion with the Polysyllable, could mention being plucked for the little-go?) but it was more than she did expect that his rejection would send him home in sullen resentment resolved to punish Oxford by the withdrawal of his august name. He had been quizzed by the young, reprimanded by the old, plucked by the middle-aged, and he returned with his mouth, full of sentences against blind, benighted bigotry, and the futility of classical study, and of declamations, as an injured orphan, against his uncle's disregard of the intentions of his dear deceased parent, in keeping him from Bonn, Jena, Heidelberg, or any other of the outlandish universities whose guttural names he showered on the meek Vicar's desponding head.
He was twenty-one, and could not be sent whither he would not go. His uncle's resource was Mr. Kendal, who strongly hoped that the link was about to snap, when, summoning the gentleman to the library, he gave him to understand that he should consider a refusal to resume his studies as tantamount to a dissolution of the engagement. A long speech ensued about dear mothers, amiable daughters, classics, languages, and foreign tours. That was all the account Mr. Kendal could give his wife of the dialogue, and she could only infer that Algernon's harangue had sent him into such a fit of abstraction, that he really could not tell the drift of it. However, he was clear that he had himself given no alternative between returning to Oxford and resigning Lucy.
That same evening, Lucy, all blushes and tears, faltered out that she was very unwilling, she could not bear to leave them all, nor dear grandmamma, but dear Algernon had prevailed on her to say next August!
When indignant astonishment permitted Albinia to speak, she reminded Lucy that a respectable career at Oxford had been the condition.
'I know,' said Lucy, 'but dear Algernon convinced papa of the unreasonableness of such a stipulation under the circumstances.'
Albinia felt the ground cut away under her feet, and all she could attempt was a dry answer. 'We shall see what papa says; but you, Lucy, how can you think of marrying with your grandmamma in this state, and Gilbert in that camp of cholera—'
'I told Algernon it was not to be thought of,' said Lucy, her tears flowing fast. But I don't know what to do, no one can tell how long it may go on, and we have no right to trifle with his feelings.'
'If he had any feelings for you, he would not ask it.'
'No, mamma, indeed!' cried Lucy, earnestly; 'it was his feeling for me; he said I was looking quite languid and emaciated, and that he could not allow my—good looks and vivacity to be diminished by my attendance in a sick chamber. I told him never to mind, for it did not hurt me; but he said it was incumbent on him to take thought for me, and that he could not present me to his friends if I were not in full bloom of beauty; yes, indeed, he said so; and then he said it would be the right season for Italy.'
'It is impossible you can think of going so far away! Oh, Lucy! you should not have consented.'
'I could not help it,' said Lucy, sobbing. 'I could not bear to contradict him, but please, mamma, let papa settle it for me. I don't want to go away; I told him I never would, I told him I had promised never to leave dear grandmamma; but you see he is so resolute, and he cannot bear to be without me. Oh! do get him to put it off—only if he is angry and goes to Italy without me, I know I shall die!'
'We will take care of you, my dear. I am sure we shall be able to show him how impossible a gay wedding would be at present; and I do not think he can press it,' said Albinia, moved into soothing the present distress, and relieved to find that there was no heartlessness on Lucy's side.
What a grand power is sheer obstinacy! It has all the momentum of a stone, or cannon-ball, or any other object set in motion without inconvenient sensations to obstruct its course!
Algernon Dusautoy had decided on being married in August, and taking his obedient pupil-wife through a course of lectures on the continental galleries of art; and his determined singleness of aim prevailed against the united objections and opposition of four people, each of double or quadruple his wisdom and weight.
His first great advantage was, that, as Albinia surmised, Mr. Kendal could not recal the finale of their interview, and having lost the thread of the rigmarole, did not know to what his silence had been supposed to assent. Next, Algernon conquered his uncle by representing Lucy as on the road to an atrophy, and persuading him that he should be much safer on the Continent with a wife than without one: and though the two ladies were harder to deal with in themselves, they were obliged to stand by the decision of their lords. Above all, he made way by his sincere habit of taking for granted whatever he wished, and by his magnanimous oblivion of remonstrance and denial; so that every day one party or the other found that assumed, as fixed in his favour, which had the day before been most strenuously refused.
'If you consented to this, I thought I could not refuse that.'
'I consent! I told him it was the last thing I could think of.'
'Well, I own I was surprised, but he told me you had readily come into his views.'
Such was the usual tenor of consultations between the authorities, until their marvel at themselves and each other came to a height when they found themselves preparing for the wedding on the very day originally chosen by Algernon.
Mr. Kendal's letter to Gilbert was an absolute apology. Gilbert in Turkey was a very different person from Gilbert at Bayford, and had assumed in his father's mind the natural rights of son and heir; he seemed happy and valued, and the heat of the climate, pestiferous to so many, seemed but to give his Indian constitution the vigour it needed. When his comrades were laid up, or going away for better air, much duty was falling on him, and he was doing it with hearty good-will and effectiveness. Already the rapid changes had made him a lieutenant, and he wrote in the highest spirits. Moreover, he had fallen in with Bryan O'More, and had been able to do him sundry kindnesses, the report of which brought Ulick to Willow Lawn in an overflow of gratitude.
It was a strange state of affairs there. Albinia was ashamed of the plea of 'could not help it,' and yet that was the only one to rest on; the adherence to promises alone gave a sense of duty, and when or how the promises had been given was not clear.
Besides, no one could be certain even about poor Lucy's present satisfaction; she sometimes seemed like a little bird fluttering under the fascination of a snake. She was evidently half afraid of Algernon, and would breathe more freely when he was not at hand; but then a restlessness would come on if he did not appear as soon as she expected, as if she dreaded having offended him. She had violent bursts of remorseful tears, and great outpourings of fondness towards every one at home, and she positively did look ill enough to justify Algernon in saying that the present condition of matters was hurtful to her. Still she could not endure a word that remotely tended towards advising her to break off the engagement, or even to retard the wedding, and her admiration of her intended was unabated.
Indeed, his affection could not be doubted; he liked her adoration of all his performances, and he regarded her with beneficent protection, as a piece of property; he made her magnificent presents, and conceded to her that the wedding tour should not be beyond Clifton, whence they would return to Willow Lawn, and judge ere deciding on going abroad.
He said that it would be 'de bon ton' to have the marriage strictly private. Even he saw the incongruity of festivity alongside of that chamber of decay and death; and besides, he had conceived such a distaste to the Drury family, that he had signified to Lucy that they must not make part of the spectacle.
Albinia and Sophy thought this so impertinent, that they manfully fought the battles of the Drurys, but without prevailing; Albinia took her revenge, by observing that this being the case, it was impossible to ask her brother and little Mary, whose well-sounding names she knew Algernon ambitionated for the benefit of the county paper.
Always doing what was most contrary to the theories with which she started in life, Albinia found herself taking the middle course that she contemned. She was marrying her first daughter with an aching, foreboding heart, unable either to approve or to prevent, and obliged to console and cheer just when she would have imagined herself insisting upon a rupture at all costs.
Sophy had said from the first that her sister could not go back. She expected her to be unhappy, and believed it the penalty of the wrongdoings in consenting to the clandestine correspondence; and treated her with melancholy kindness as a victim under sentence. She was very affectionate, but not at all consoling when Lucy was sad, and she was impatient and gloomy when the trousseau, or any of the privileges of a fiancee brought a renewal of gaiety and importance. A broken heart and ruined fortunes were the least of the consequences she augured, and she went about the house as if she had realized them both herself.
The wedding-day came, and grandmamma was torpid and only half conscious, so that all could venture to leave her. The bride was not allowed to see her, lest the agitation should overwhelm both; for the poor girl was indeed looking like the victim her sister thought her, pale as death, with red rings round her extinguished eyes, and trembling from head to foot, the more at the apprehension that Algernon would think her a fright.
After all that lavender and sal-volatile could do for her, she was such a spectacle, that when her father came to fetch her he was shocked, and said, tenderly, 'Lucy, my child, this must not be. Say one word, and all shall be over, and you shall never hear a word of reproach.'
But Lucy only cast a frightened glance around, and rising up with the accents of perfect sincerity, said, 'No, papa; I am quite ready; I am quite happy. I was only silly.'
Her mind was evidently made up, and it was past Albinia's divination whether her agitation were composed of fear of the future and remorse for the past, or whether it were mere love of home and hurry of spirits, exaggerated by belief that a bride ought to weep. Probably it was a compound of all, and the whole of her reply perfect truth, especially the final clause.
So they married her, poor child, very much as if they had been attending her to the block. Sophy's view of the case had infected them all beyond being dispelled by the stately complacency of the bridegroom, or the radiant joy and affection of his uncle.
They put her into a carriage, watched her away, and turned back to the task which she had left them, dreading the effects of her absence. She was missed, but less than they feared; the faculties had become too feeble for such strong emotion as had followed Gilbert's departure; and the void was chiefly perceptible by the plaintive and exacting clinging to Albinia, who had less and less time to herself and her children, and was somewhat uneasy as to the consequences as regarded Maurice. While Gilbert was at home, the child had been under some supervision; but now his independent and unruly spirit was left almost uncontrolled, except by his own intermittent young conscience, his father indulged him, and endured from him what would have been borne from no one else; and Sophy was his willing slave, unable to exact obedience, and never complaining, save under the most stringent necessity or sense of duty. He was too young for school, and there was nothing to be done but to go on, from day to day, in the trust that no harm could eventually ensue in consequence of so absolute a duty as the care of the sufferer; and that while the boy's truth and generosity were sound, though he might be a torment, his character might be all the stronger afterwards for that very indocility.
It was not satisfactory, and many mothers would have been miserable; but it was not in Albinia's nature to be miserable when her hands were full, and she was doing her best. She had heard her brother say that when good people gave their children sound principles and spoilt them, they gave the children the trouble of self-conquest instead of doing it for them. She had great faith in Maurice's undertaking this task in due time; and while she felt that she still had her hand on the rein she must be content to leave it loose for a while.
Besides, when his father and sisters, and, least of all, herself, did not find him a plague, did it much matter if other people did?
Exulting peals rang out from the Bayford tower, and as Mr. and Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy alighted from their carriage at Willow Lawn, the cry of the vicar and of the assembled household was, 'Have you heard that Sebastopol is taken?'
'Any news of Gilbert?' was Lucy's demand.
'No, the cavalry were not landed, so he had nothing to do with it.'
'I say, uncle,' said Algernon, 'shall I send up a sovereign to those ringers?'
'Eh! poor fellows, they will he very glad of it, thank you; only I must take care they don't drink it up. I'm sure they must be tired enough; they've been at it ever since the telegraph came in!'
'There!' exclaimed Algernon; 'Barton must have telegraphed from the station when we set out!'
'You? Did you think the bells were ringing for you,' exclaimed his uncle, 'when there's a great battle won, and Sebastopol taken?'
'Telegraphs are always lies!' quoth Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, tersely, 'I don't believe anything has happened at all!' and he re-pocketed the sovereign.
Meantime Lucy was in a rapture of embracing. She was spread out with stiff silk flounces and velvet mantle, so as to emulate her husband's importance, and her chains and bracelets clattered so much, that Mr. Kendal could not help saying, 'You should have taken lessons of your Ayah, to learn how to manage your bangles.'
'Oh! papa,' said she, with a newly-learnt little laugh, 'I could not help it; Louise could not find room for them in my dressing-case.'
They were not, however, lost upon the whole of the family. Grandmamma's dim eyes lighted when she recognised her favourite grand-daughter in such gorgeous array, and that any one should have come back again was so new and delightful, that it constantly recurred as a fresh surprise and pleasure.
All were glad to have her again—their own Lucy, as she still was, though somewhat of the grandiose style and self-consequence of her husband had overlaid the original nature. She was as good-natured and obliging as ever, and though beginning by conferring her favours as condescensions, she soon would forget that she was the great Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy, and quickly become the eager, helpful Lucy. She was in very good looks, and bright and happy, admiring Algernon, rejoicing to obey his behests, and enhancing his dignity and her own by her discourses upon his talents and importance. How far she was at ease with him, Albinia sometimes doubted; there now and then was an air of greater freedom when he left the room, and some of her favourite old household avocations were tenderly resumed by stealth, as though she feared he might think them unworthy of his wife.
She gave her spare time to the invalid, who was revived by her presence as by a sunbeam; and Albinia, in her relief and gratitude, did her utmost to keep Algernon happy and contented. She resigned a room to him as an atelier, and let the little Awk be captured to have her likeness taken, she promoted the guitar and key-bugle, and abstained from resenting his strictures on her dinners.
Such a guest reduced Mr. Kendal to absolute silence, but she did not think he suffered much therefrom, and he was often relieved, for all the neighbourhood asked the young couple to dinner. Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy's toilette was as good as a play to the oldest and youngest inhabitants of the house, her little sister used to stand by the dressing-table with her small fingers straightened to sustain a column of rings threaded on them, and her arm weighed down with bracelets, and grandmamma's happiest moments were when she was raised up to contemplate the costly robes, jewelled neck, and garlanded head of her darling.
When it turned out that Sebastopol was anything but taken, Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy's incredulity was a precious confirmation of his esteem for his own sagacity, more especially as Ulick O'More and Maurice had worn out the little brass piece of ordnance in firing feux de joie.
'But,' said Maurice, 'papa always said it was not true. Now you only said so when you found the bells were ringing for that, and not for you.'
Maurice's observations were not always convenient. Algernon, with much pomp, had caused a horse to be led to the door, for which he had lately paid eighty guineas, and he was expatiating on its merits, when Maurice broke out, 'That's Macheath, the horse that Archie Tritton bought of Mr. Nugent's coachman for twenty pounds.'
'Hush, Maurice!' said his father, 'you know nothing of it; and Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy pursued, 'It was bred at Lord Lewthorp's, and sold because it was too tall for its companion. Laing was on the point of sending it to Tattersalls, where he was secure of a hundred, but he was willing to oblige me, as we had had transactions before.'
'Papa!' cried Maurice, 'I know it is Macheath, for Mr. Tritton showed him to Gilbert and me, when he had just got him, and said he was a showy beast, but incurably lame, so he should get what he could for him from Laing. Now, James, isn't it?' he called to the servant who was sedulously turning away a grinning face, but just muttered, 'Same, sir.'
Mr. Kendal charitably looked the other way, and Algernon muttered some species of imprecation.
Thenceforth Maurice took every occasion of inquiring what had become of Macheath, whether Laing had refunded the price, and what had been done to him for telling stories.
If the boy began in innocence, he went on in mischief; he was just old enough to be a most aggravating compound of simplicity and malice. He was fully aware that Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy was held cheap by his own favourites, and had been partly the cause of his dear Gilbert's troubles, and his sharp wits and daring nature were excited to the utmost by the solemn irritation that he produced. Not only was it irresistibly droll to tease one so destitute of fun, but he had the strongest desire to see how angry it was possible to make the big brother-in-law, of whom every one seemed in awe.
First, he had recourse to the old term Polysyllable, and when Lucy remonstrated, he answered, 'I've a right to call my brother what I please.'
'You know how angry mamma would be to hear you.'
'Mamma calls him the Polysyllable herself,' said Maurice, looking full at his victim.
Lucy, who would have given the world to hinder this epithet from coming to her husband's knowledge, began explaining something about Gilbert's nonsense before he knew him, and how it had been long disused.
'That's not true, Lucy,' quoth the tormentor. 'I heard mamma tell Sophy herself this morning to write for some fish-sauce, because she said that Polysyllable was so fanciful about his dinner.'
Lucy was ready to cry, and Algernon, endeavouring to recal his usual dignity, exclaimed, 'If Mrs. Kendal—I mean, Mrs. Kendal has it in her power to take liberties, but if I find you repeating such again, you little imp, it shall be at your risk.'
'What will you do to me?' asked the sturdy varlet.
'Dear Maurice, I hope you'll never know! Pray don't try!' cried Lucy; but if she had had any knowledge of character, she would have seen that she had only provoked the little Berserkar's curiosity, and had made him determined on proving the undefined threat. So the unfortunate Algernon seldom descended the stairs without two childish faces being protruded from the balusters of the nursery-flight over-head, pursuing him with hissing whispers of 'Polysyllable' and 'Polly-silly,' and if he ventured on indignant gestures, Maurice returned them with nutcracker grimaces and provoking assurances to his little sister that he could not hurt her.
Algernon could not complain without making himself ridiculous, and Albinia was too much engaged to keep watch over her son, so that the persecution daily became more intolerable, and barren indications of wrath were so diverting to the little monkey, that the presence of the heads of the family was the sole security from his tricks. Poor Lucy was the chief sufferer, unable to restrain her brother, and enduring the brunt of her husband's irritation, with the great disappointment of being unable to make him happy at her home, and fearing every day that he would fulfil his threat of not staying another week in the house with that intolerable child, for the sake of any one's grandmother.
Tidings came, however, that completely sobered Maurice, and made them unable to think of moving. It was the first rumour of the charge of Balaklava, with the report that the 25th Lancers were cut to pieces. In spite of Algernon's reiteration that telegraphs were lies, all the household would have been glad to lose the sense of existence during the time of suspense. Albinia's heart was wrung as she thought of the cold hurried manner of the last farewell, and every look she cast at her husband's calm melancholy face, seemed to be asking pardon that his son was not safe in India.
Late that evening the maid came hurriedly in with a packet of papers. 'A telegraph, ma'am, come express from Hadminster.'
It was to Mrs Kendal from one of her friends at the Horse Guards. She did not know how she found courage to turn her eyes on it, but her shriek was not of sorrow.
'Major the Honourable F. Ferrars, severely wounded—right arm amputated.'
'Lieutenant Gilbert Kendal, slightly wounded—contusion, rib broken.'
She saw the light of thankfulness break upon Mr. Kendal's face, and the next moment flew up to her boy's bed-side. He started up, half asleep, but crying out, Mamma, where's Gibbie?'
'Safe, safe! Maurice dearest, safe; only slightly wounded! Oh, Maurice, God has been very good to us!'
He flung his arms round her neck, as she knelt beside his crib in the dark, and thus Mr. Kendal found the mother and son. As he bent to kiss them, Maurice exclaimed, with a sort of anger, 'Oh, mamma, why have I got a bullet in my throat?'
Albinia laughed a little hysterically, as if she had the like bullet.
'It was very kind of Lord H——,' fervently exclaimed Mr. Kendal; 'you must write to thank him, Albinia. Gilbert may be considered safe while he is laid up. Perhaps he may be sent home. What should you say to that, Maurice?'
'Oh! I wouldn't come home to lose the fun,' said Maurice. 'Oh, mamma, let me get up to tell Awkey, and run up to Ulick! Gilbert will be the colonel when I'm a cornet! Oh! I must get up!'
His outspoken childish joy seemed to relieve Albinia's swelling heart, too full for the expression of thankfulness, and the excitement was too much even for the boy, for he burst into passionate sobs when forbidden to get up and waken his little sister.
The sobering came in Mr. Kendal's mention of Fred. Albinia was obliged to ask what had happened to him, and was shocked at having overlooked so terrible a misfortune; but Maurice seemed to be quite satisfied. 'You know, mamma, it said they were cut to pieces. Can't they make him a wooden arm?' evidently thinking he could be repaired as easily as the creatures in his sister's Noah's Ark. Even Algernon showed a heartiness and fellow-feeling that seemed to make him more like one of the family. Moreover, he was so much elevated at the receipt of a telegraph direct from the fountain-head, that he rode about the next day over all the neighbourhood with the tidings and comported himself as though he had private access to all Lord Raglan's secrets.
The unwonted emotion tamed Maurice for several days, and his behaviour was the better for his daily rides with papa to Hadminster, to forestall the second post. At last, on his return, his voice rang through the house. 'Mamma, where are you? The letter is come, and Gilbert shot two Russians, and saved Cousin Fred!'
'I opened your letter, Albinia,' said Mr. Kendal; and, as she took it from him, he said, 'Thank God, I never dared hope for such a day as this!'
He shut himself into the library, while Albinia was sharing with Sophy the precious letter, but with a moment's disappointment at finding it not from Gilbert, but from her brother William.
'Before you receive this,' he wrote, 'you will have heard of the affair of to-day, and that our two lads have come out of it better than some others. There are but nine officers living, and only four unhurt out of the 25th Lancers, and Fred's escape is entirely owing to your son.'
Then followed a brief narrative of the events of Balaklava, that fatal charge so well described as 'magnifique mais pas la guerre,' a history that seemed like a dream in connexion with the timid Gilbert. His individual story was thus:—He safely rode the 'half a league' forward, but when more than half way back, his horse was struck to the ground by a splinter of the same shell that overthrew Major Ferrars, at a few paces' distance from him. Quickly disengaging himself from his horse, Gilbert ran to assist his friend, and succeeded in extricating him from his horse, and supporting him through the remainder of the terrible space commanded by the batteries. Fred, unable to move without aid, and to whom each step was agony, had entreated Gilbert to relinquish his hold, and not peril himself for a life already past rescue; but Gilbert had not seemed to hear, and when several of the enemy came riding down on them, he had used his revolver with such effect, as to lay two of the number prostrate, and deter the rest from repeating the attack.
'All this I heard from Fred,' continued the General; 'he is in his usual spirits, and tells me that he feels quite jolly since his arm has been off, and he has been in his own bed, but I fear he has a good deal to suffer, for his right side is terribly lacerated, and I shall be glad when the next few days are over. He desires me to say with his love that the best turn you ever did him was putting young Kendal into the 25th. Tell your husband that I congratulate him on his son's conduct, and am afraid that his promotion without purchase is only too certain. Gilbert's only message was his love. Speaking seems to give him pain, and he is altogether more prostrated than so slight a wound accounts for; but when I saw him, he had just been told of the death of his colonel and several of his brother officers, among them young Wynne, who shared his tent; and he was completely overcome. There is, however, no cause for uneasiness; he had not even been aware that he was hurt, until he fainted while Fred was under the surgeon's hands, and was then found to have an ugly contusion of the chest, and a fracture of the uppermost rib on the left side. A few days' rest will set all that to rights, and I expect to see him on horseback before we can ship poor Fred for Scutari. In the meantime they are both in Fred's tent, which is fairly comfortable.'
Albinia understood whence came Gilbert's heroism. He had charged at first, as he had hunted with Maurice, because there was no doing otherwise, and in the critical moment the warm heart had done the rest, and equalled constitutional courage: but then, she saw the gentle tender spirit sinking under the slight injury, and far more at the suffering of his friend, the deadly havoc among his comrades, and his own share in the carnage. The General coolly mentioned the two enemies who had fallen by his pistol, and Maurice shouted about them as if they had been two rabbits, but she knew enough of Gilbert to be sure that what he might do in the exigency of self-defence, would shock and sicken him in recollection. Poor Fred! how little would she once have believed that his frightful wound could be a secondary matter with her, only enhancing her gratitude on account of another.
That was a happy evening; Maurice was sent to ask Ulick to dinner, and at dessert drank the healths of his soldier relatives, among whom Mr. Kendal with a smile at Ulick, included Bryan O'More.
In the universal good-will of her triumph, Albinia having read her precious letter to every one, resolved to let the Drurys hear it, before forwarding it to Fairmead. Lucy's neglect of that family was becoming flagrant, and Albinia was resolved to take her to make the call. Therefore, after promulgating her intentions too decidedly for Algernon to oppose them, she set out with Lucy in the most virtuous state of mind. Maurice was to ride out with his father, and Sophy was taking care of grandmamma, so she made her expedition with an easy mind, and absolutely enjoyed the change of scenery.
The war had drawn every one nearer together, and Mrs. Drury was really anxious about Gilbert, and grateful for the intelligence. Nor did Lucy meet with anything unpleasant. Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy, in waist-deep flounces, a Paris bonnet, and her husband's dignity, impressed her cousins, and whatever use they might make of their tongues, it was not till after she was gone.
As the carriage stopped at the door, Sophy came out with such a perturbed an expression, as seemed to prelude fatal tidings; and Lucy was pausing to listen, when she was hastily summoned by her husband.
'Oh! mamma, he has struck Maurice such a blow!' cried Sophy.
'Algernon? where's Maurice? is he hurt?'
'He is in the library with papa.'
She was there in a moment. Maurice sat on his father's knee, listening to Pope's Homer, leaning against him, with eye, cheek, and nose exceedingly swelled and reddened; but these were symptoms of which she had seen enough in past days not to be greatly terrified, even while she exclaimed aghast.
'Aye!' said Mr. Kendal, sternly. 'What do you think of young Dusautoy's handiwork?'
'What could you have done to him, Maurice?'
'I painted his image.'
'The children got into the painting-room,' said Mr. Kendal, 'and did some mischief; Maurice ought to have known better, but that was no excuse for his violence. I do not know what would have been the consequence, if poor little Albinia's screams had not alarmed me. I found Algernon striking him with his doubled fist.'
'But I gave him a dig in the nose,' cried Maurice, in exultation; 'I pulled ever so much hair out of his whiskers. I had it just now.'
'This sounds very sad,' said Albinia, interrupting the search for the trophy. 'What were you doing in the painting-room? You know you had no business there.'
'Why, mamma, little Awk wanted me to look at the pictures that Lucy shows her. And then, don't you know his image? the little white bare boy pulling the thorn out of his foot. Awkey said he was naughty not to have his clothes on, and so I thought it would be such fun to make a militiaman of him, and so the paints were all about, and so I gave him a red coat and black trousers.'
'Oh, Maurice, Maurice, how could you?'
'I couldn't help it, mamma! I did so want to see what Algernon would do!'
'So he came up and caught us. And wasn't he in a jolly good rage? that's all. He stamped, and called me names, and got hold of me to shake me, but I know I kicked him well, and I had quite a handful out of his whisker; but you see poor little Awkey is only a girl, and couldn't help squalling, so papa came up.'
'And in time!' said Mr. Kendal; 'he reeled against me, almost stunned, and was hardly himself for some moments. His nose bled violently. That fellow's fist might knock down an ox.'
'But he didn't knock me down,' said Maurice. 'You told me he did not, papa.'
'That's all he thinks of!' said Mr. Kendal, in admiration.
'Not a cry nor a tear from first to last. I told Sophy to let me know when Bowles came.'
'For a black eye?' cried the hard-hearted mother, laughing. 'You should have seen what Maurice and Fred used to do to each other.'
'Oh, tell me, mamma,' cried Maurice, eagerly.
'Not now, master,' she said, not thinking his pugnacity in need of such respectable examples. 'It would be more to the purpose to ask Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy's pardon for such very bad behaviour.'
Mr. Kendal looked at her in indignant surprise. 'Ours is not the side for the apology,' he said. 'If Dusautoy has a spark of proper feeling, he must excuse himself for such a brutal assault.'
'I am afraid Maurice provoked it; I hope my little boy is sorry for having been so mischievous, and sees that he deserves—'
Mr. Kendal silenced her by an impatient gesture, and feeling that anything was better than the discussion before the boy, she tried to speak indifferently, and not succeeding, left the room, much annoyed that alarm and indignation had led the indulgent father to pet and coax the spirit that only wanted to be taken down, and as if her discipline had received its first real shock.
Mr. Kendal followed her upstairs, no less vexed. 'Albinia, this is absurd,' he said. 'I will not have the child punished, or made to ask pardon for being shamefully struck.'
'It was shameful enough,' said Albinia; 'but, after all, I can't wonder that Algernon was in a passion; Maurice did behave very ill, and it would be much better for him if you would not make him more impudent than he is already.'
'I did not expect you to take part against your own child, when he has been so severely maltreated,' said he, with such unreasonable displeasure, that almost thinking it play, she laughed and said, 'You are as bad as the mothers of the school-children, when they wont have them beaten.'
He gave a look as if loth to trust his ears, walked into his room, and shut the door. The thrill of horror came over her that this was the first quarrel. She had been saucy when he was serious, and had offended him. She sprang to the door, knocked and called, and was in agony at the moment's delay ere he returned, with his face still stern and set. Pleading and earnest she raised her eyes, and surrendered unconditionally. 'Dear Edmund, don't be vexed with me, I should not have said it.'
'Never mind,' he said, affectionately; 'I do not wish to interfere with your authority, but it would be impossible to punish a child who has suffered so severely; and I neither choose that Dusautoy should be made to think himself the injured party, nor that Maurice should be put to the pain of apologizing for an offence, which the other party has taken on himself to cancel with interest.'
Albinia was too much demolished to recollect her two arguments, that pride on their side would only serve to make Algernon prouder, and that she did not believe that asking pardon would be so bitter a pill to Maurice as his father supposed. She could only feel thankful to have been forgiven for her own offence.
When they met at dinner, all were formal, Algernon stiff and haughty, ashamed, but too grand to betray himself, and Lucy restless and uneasy, her eyes looking as if she had been crying. When Maurice came in at dessert, the fourth part of his countenance emulating the unlucky cast in gorgeous hues of crimson and violet, Algernon was startled, and turning to Albinia, muttered something about 'never having intended,' and 'having had no idea.'
He might have said more, if Mr. Kendal, with Maurice on his knee, had not looked as if he expected it; and that look sealed Albinia's lips against expressing regret for the provocation; but Maurice exclaimed, 'Never mind, Algernon, it was all fair, and it doesn't hurt now. I wouldn't have touched your image, but that I wanted to know what you would do to me. Shake hands; people always do when they've had a good mill.'
Mr. Kendal looked across the table to his wife in a state of unbounded exultation in his generous boy, and Albinia felt infinitely relieved and grateful. Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy took the firm young paw, and said with an attempt at condescension, 'Very well, Maurice, the subject shall be mentioned no more, since you have received a severer lesson than I intended, and appear sensible of your error.'
'It wasn't you that made me so,' began Maurice, with defiant eye; but with a strong sense of 'let well alone,' his father cut him short with, 'That's enough, my man, you've said all that can be wished,' lifted him again on his knee, and stopped his mouth with almonds and raisins.
The subject was mentioned no more; Lucy considered peace as proclaimed, and herself relieved from the necessity of such an unprecedented deed as preferring an accusation against Maurice, and Albinia, unaware of the previous persecution, did not trace that Maurice considered himself as challenged to prove, that experience of his brother-in-law's fist did not suffice to make him cease from his 'fun.'
Two days after, Algernon was coming in from riding, when a simple voice upon the stairs observed, 'Here's such a pretty picture!'
'Eh! what?' said Algernon; and Maurice held it near to him as he stood taking off his great coat.
'Such a pretty picture, but you mustn't have it! No, it is Ulick's.'
'Heavens and earth!' thundered Algernon, as he gathered up the meaning. 'Who has dared—? Give it me—or—' and as soon as he was freed from the sleeves, he snatched at the paper, but the boy had already sprung up to the first landing, and waving his treasure, shouted, 'No, it's not for you, I'll not give you Ulick's picture.'
'Ulick !' cried Algernon, in redoubled fury. 'You're put up to this! Give it me this instant, or it shall be the worse for you;' but ere he could stride up the first flight, Maurice's last leg was disappearing round the corner above, and the next moment the exhibition was repeated overhead in the gallery. Thither did Algernon rush headlong, following the scampering pattering feet, till the door of Maurice's little room was slammed in his face. Bursting it open, he found the chamber empty, but there was a shout of elvish laughter outside, and a cry of dismay coming up from the garden, impelled him to mount the rickety deal-table below the deep sunk dormer window, when thrusting out his head and shoulders, he beheld his wife and her parents gazing up in terror from the lawn. No wonder, for there was a narrow ledge of leading without, upon which Maurice had suddenly appeared, running with unwavering steps till in a moment he stooped down, and popped through the similar window of Gilbert's room.
While still too dizzy with horror to feel secure that the child was indeed safe within, those below were startled by a frantic shout from Algernon: 'Let me out! I say, the imp has locked me in! Let me out!'
Albinia flew into the house and upstairs. Maurice was flourishing the key, and executing a war-dance before the captive's door, with a chant alternating of war-whoops, 'Promise not to hurt it, and I'll let you out!' and 'Pity poor prisoners in a foreign land!'
She called to him to desist, but he was too wild to be checked by her voice, and as she advanced to capture him, he shot like an arrow to the other end of the passage, and down the back-stairs. She promised speedy rescue, and hurried down, hoping to seize the culprit in the hall, but he had whipped out at the back-door, and was making for the garden gate, when his father hastened down the path to meet him, and seeing his retreat cut off, he plunged into the bushes, and sprang like a cat up a cockspur-thorn, too slender for ascent by a heavier weight, and thence grinned and waved his hand to his prisoner at the window.
'Maurice,' called his father, 'what does this mean?'
'I only want to take home Ulick's picture. Then I'll let him out.'
'That's my secret.'
'This is not play, Maurice,' said Albinia. 'Attend to papa.'
The boy swung the light shrub about with him in a manner fearful to behold, and looked irresolute. Lucy put in her cry, 'You very naughty child, give up the key this moment,' and above, Algernon bawled appeals to Mr. Kendal, and threats to Maurice.
'Silence!' said Mr. Kendal, sternly. 'Maurice, this must not be. Come down, and give me the key of your room.'
'I will, papa,' said Maurice, in a reasonable voice. 'Only please promise not to let Algernon have Ulick's picture, for I got it without his knowing it.'
'I promise,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Let us put an end to this.'
Maurice came down, and brought the key to his father, and while Lucy hastened to release her husband, Mr. Kendal seized the boy, finding him already about again to take flight.
'Papa, let me take home Ulick's picture before he gets out,' said Maurice, finding the grasp too strong for him; but Mr. Kendal had taken the picture out of his hand, and looked at it with changed countenance.
It depicted the famous drawing-room scene, in its native element, the moon squinting through inky clouds at Lucy swooning on the sofa, while the lofty presence of the Polysyllable discharged the fluid from the inkstand.
'Did Mr. O'More give you this?' asked Mr. Kendal.
'No, it tumbled out of his paper-case. You know he said I might go to his rooms and get the Illustrated News with the picture of Balaklava, and so the newspaper knocked the paper-case down, and all the things tumbled out, so I picked this up, and thought I would see what Algernon would say to it, and then put it back again. Let me have it, papa, if he catches me, he'll tear it to smithereens.'
'Don't talk Irish, sir,' said his father. 'I see where your impertinence comes from, and I will put a stop to it.'
Maurice gave back a step, amazed at his father's unwonted anger, but far greater wrath was descending in the person of Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, who came striding across the lawn, and planting himself before his father-in-law, demanded, 'I beg to know, sir, if it is your desire that I should be deliberately insulted in this house?'
'No one can be more concerned than I am at what has occurred.'
'Very well, sir; then I require that this intolerable child be soundly flogged, that beggarly Irishman kicked out, and that infamous libel destroyed!'
'Oh, papa,' cried Maurice, 'you promised me the picture should be safe!'
'I promise you, you impudent brat,' cried Algernon, 'that you shall learn what it is to insult your elders! You shall be flogged till you repent it!'
'You will allow me to judge of the discipline of my own family,' said Mr. Kendal.
'Ay! I knew how it would be! You encourage that child in every sort of unbearable impudence; but I have endured it long enough, and I give you warning that I do not remain another night under this roof unless I see the impertinence flogged out of him.'
'Papa never whips me,' interposed Maurice. 'You must ask mamma.'
Mr. Kendal bit his lips, and Albinia could have smiled, but their sense of the ludicrous inflamed Algernon, and like one beside himself, he swung round, and declaring he should ask his uncle if that were proper treatment, he marched across the lawn, while Mr. Kendal exclaimed, 'More childish than Maurice!'
'Oh, mamma, what shall I do?' was Lucy's woful cry, as she turned back, finding herself unable to keep up with his huge step, and her calls disregarded.
'My dear,' said Albinia, affectionately, 'you had better compose yourself and follow him. His uncle will bring him to reason, and then you can tell him how sorry we are.'
'You may assure him,' said Mr. Kendal, 'that I am as much hurt as he can be, that such an improper use should have been made of O'More's intimacy here, and I mean to mark my sense of it.'
'And,' said Lucy, 'I don't think anything would pacify him so much as Maurice being only a little beaten, not to hurt him, you know.'
'If Maurice be punished, it shall not be in revenge,' said Mr. Kendal.
'I'm afraid nothing else will do,' said Lucy, wringing her hands. 'He has really declared that he will not sleep another night here unless Maurice is punished; and whatever he says, he'll do, and I know it would kill me to go away in this manner.'
Her father confidently averred that he would do no such thing, but she cried so much as to move Maurice into exclaiming, 'Look here, Lucy, I'll come up with you, and let him give me one good punch, and then we shall all be comfortable again.'
'I don't know about the punching,' said Albinia; 'but I think the least you can do, Maurice, is to go and ask his forgiveness for having been so very naughty. You were not thinking what you were about when you locked him in.'
This measure was adopted, Mr. Kendal accompanying Lucy and the boy, while Albinia went in search of Sophy, whom she found in grandmamma's room, looking very pale. 'Well?' was the inquiry, and she told what had passed.
'I hope Maurice will be punished,' said Sophy; so unwonted a sentiment, that Albinia quite started, though it was decidedly her own opinion.
'That meddling with papers was very bad,' she said, with an extenuating smile.
'Fun is a perfect demon when it becomes master,' said Sophy. It was plain that it was not Maurice that she was thinking of, but the caricature. Her sister should have been sacred from derision.
'We must remember,' she said, 'that it was only through Maurice's meddling that we became aware of the existence of this precious work. It is not as if ho had shown it to any one.
'How many of the O'Mores have made game of it?' asked Sophy, bitterly. 'No, I am glad I know of it, I shall not be deceived any more.'
With these words she withdrew, evidently resolved to put an end to the subject. Her face was like iron, and Albinia grieved for the deep resentment that the man whom she had ventured to think of as devoted to herself, had made game of her sister. Poor Sophy, to her that tryste had been a subject of unmitigated affliction and shame, and it was a cruel wound that Ulick O'More should, of all men, have turned it into ridicule. What would be the effect on her?
In process of time Mr. Kendal returned. 'Albinia,' he said, 'this is a most unfortunate affair. He is perfectly impracticable, insists on starting for Paris to-morrow, and I verily believe he will.'
'She is in such distress, that I could not bear to look at her, but he will not attend to her, nor to his uncle and aunt. Mrs. Dusautoy proposed that they should come to the vicarage, where there would be no danger of collisions with Maurice; but his mind can admit no idea but that he has been insulted, and that we encourage it, and he thinks his dignity concerned in resenting it.'
'Not much dignity in being driven off the field by a child of six years old.'
'So his aunt told him, but he mixes it up with O'More, and insists on my complaining to Mr. Goldsmith, and getting the lad dismissed for a libellous caricaturist, as he calls it. Now, little as I should have expected such conduct from O'More, it could not be made a ground of complaint to his uncle.'
'I should think not. No one with more wit than Algernon would have dreamt of it! But if Ulick came and apologized? Ah! but I forgot! Mr. Goldsmith sent him to London this morning. Well, it may be better that he should be out of the way of Algernon in his present mood.'
'Humph!' said Mr. Kendal. 'It is the first time I ever allowed a stranger to be intimate in my family, and it shall be the last. I never imagined him aware of the circumstance.'
'Nor I; I am sure none of us mentioned it.'
'Maurice told him, I suppose. It is well that we should be aware who has instigated the child's impertinence. I shall keep him as much as possible with me; he must be cured of Irish brogue and Irish coolness before they are confirmed.'
Mr. Kendal's conscience was evidently relieved by transferring to the Irishman the imputation of fostering Maurice's malpractices.
They were interrupted by Lucy's arrival. She was come to take leave of home, for her lord was not to be dissuaded from going to London by the evening's train. The greater the consternation, the sweeter his revenge. Never able to see more than one side of a question, he could not perceive how impossible it was for the Kendals to fulfil his condition with regard to Ulick O'More, and he sullenly adhered to his obstinate determination. Lucy was in an agony of grief, and perhaps the most painful blow was the perception how little he was swayed by consideration for her. Her maid packed, while her parents tried to console her. It was easier when she bewailed the terrors of the voyage, and the uncertainty of hearing of dear grandmamma and dear Gilbert, than when she sobbed about Algernon having no feeling for her. It might be only too true, but her wifely submission ought not to have acknowledged it, and they would not hear when they could not comfort; and so they were forced to launch her on the world, with a tyrant instead of a guide, and dreading the effect of dissipation on her levity of mind, as much as they grieved for her feeble spirit. It was a piteous parting—a mournful departure for a bride—a heavy penalty for vanity and weakness.
Unfortunately the result is to an action as the lens through which it is viewed, and the turpitude of the deed seems to increase or diminish according to the effect it produces.
Had it been in Algernon Dusautoy's nature to receive the joke good-humouredly, it might have been regarded as an audacious exercise of wit, and have been quickly forgotten, but when it had actually made a breach between him and his wife's family, and driven him from Bayford when everything conspired to make his departure unfeelingly cruel, the caricature was regarded as a serious insult and an abuse of intimacy. Even Mr. Kendal was not superior to this view, feeling the offence with all the sensitiveness of a hot-tempered man, a proud reserved guardian of the sanctities of home, and of a father who had seen his daughter's weakest and most faulty action turned into ridicule, and he seemed to feel himself bound to atone for not going to all the lengths to which Algernon would have impelled him, by showing the utmost displeasure within the bounds of common sense.
Albinia, better appreciating the irresistibly ludicrous aspect of the adventure, argued that the sketch harmlessly shut up in a paper-case showed no great amount of insolence, and that considering how the discovery had been made, it ought not to be visited. She thought the drawing had better be restored without remarks by the same hand that had abstracted it; but Mr. Kendal sternly declared this was impossible, and Sophy's countenance seconded him.
'Well, then,' said Albinia, 'put it into my hands. I'm a bad manager in general, but I can promise that Ulick will come down so shocked and concerned, that you will not have the heart not to forgive him.'
'The question is not of forgiveness,' said Sophy, in the most rigid of voices, as she saw yielding in her father's face; if any one had to forgive, it was poor Lucy and Algernon. All we have to do, is to be on our guard for the future.'
'Sophy is right,' said Mr. Kendal; 'intimacy must be over with one who has so little discretion or good taste.'
'Then after his saving Maurice, he is to be given up, because he quizzed the Polysyllable?' cried Albinia.
'I do not give him up,' said Mr. Kendal. 'I highly esteem his good qualities, and should be happy to do him a service, but I cannot have my family at the mercy of his wit, nor my child taught disrespect. We have been unwisely familiar, and must retreat.'
'And what do you mean us to do?' exclaimed Albinia. 'Are we to cut him systematically?'
'I do not know what course you may adopt,' said Mr. Kendal, in a tone whose grave precision rebuked her half petulant, half facetious inquiry. 'I have told you that I do not mean to do anything extravagant, nor to discontinue ordinary civilities, but I think you will find that our former habits are not resumed.'
'And Maurice must not be always with him,' said Sophy.
'Certainly not; I shall keep the boy with myself.'
It was with the greatest effort that Albinia held her tongue. To have Sophy not only making common cause against her, but inciting her father to interfere about Maurice, was well-nigh intolerable, and she only endured it by sealing her lips as with a bar of iron.
By-and-by came the reflection that if poor Sophy had a secret cause of bitterness, it was she herself who had given those thoughts substance and consciousness, and she quickly forgave every one save herself and Algernon.
As to her little traitor son, she took him seriously in hand at bedtime, and argued the whole transaction with him, representing the dreadful consequences of meddling with people's private papers under trust. Here was poor Lucy taken away from home, and papa made very angry with Ulick, because Maurice had been meddlesome and mischievous; and though he had not been beaten for it, he would find it a worse punishment not to be trusted another time, nor allowed to be with Ulick.
Maurice turned round with mouth open at hearing of papa's anger with Ulick, and the accusation of having brought his friend into trouble.
'Why, Maurice, you remember how unhappy we were, Gilbert and all. It was because it was sadly wrong of Gilbert and Lucy to have let Algernon in without papa's knowing it, and it was not right or friendly in Ulick to laugh at what was so wrong, and grieved us all so much.'
'It was such fun,' said Maurice.
'Yes, Maurice; but fun is no excuse for doing what is unkind and mischievous. Ulick would not have been amused if he had cared as much for us as we thought he did, but, after all, his drawing the picture would have done no harm but for a little boy, whom he trusted, never thinking that an unkind wish to tease, would betray this foolish action, and set his best friends against him.'
'I did not know I should,' said Maurice, winking hard.
'No; you did not know you were doing what, if you were older, would have been dishonourable.'
That word was too much! First he hid his face from his mother, and cried out fiercely, 'I've not—I've not been that and clenched his fist. 'Don't say it, mamma.'
'If you had known what you were doing, it would have been dishonourable,' she repeated, gravely. 'It will be a long time before you earn trust and confidence again.'
There was a great struggle with his tears. She had punished him, and almost more than she could bear to see, but she knew the conquest must be secured, and she tried, while she caressed him, to make him look at the real cause of his lapse; he declared that it was 'such fun' to provoke Algernon, and a little more brought out a confession of the whole course of persecution, the child's voice becoming quite triumphant as he told of the success of his tricks, and his mother, though appalled at their audacity, with great difficulty hindering herself from manifesting her amusement.
She did not wonder at Algernon's having found it intolerable, and though angry with him for having made himself such fair game, she set to work to impress upon Maurice his own errors, and the hatefulness of practical jokes, and she succeeded so far as to leave him crying himself to sleep, completely subdued, while she felt as if all the tears ought to have been shed by herself for her want of vigilance.
Conflicting duties! how hard to strike the balance! She had readily given up her own pleasures for the care of Mrs. Meadows, but when it came to her son's training, it was another question.
She much wished to see the note with which Mr. Kendal returned the unfortunate sketch, but one of the points on which he was sensitive, was the sacredness of his correspondence, and all that she heard was, that Ulick had answered 'not at all as Mr. Kendal had expected; he was nothing but an Irishman, after all.' But at last she obtained a sight of the note.
'Bayford, Nov. 20th, 1854. 'Dear Sir,
'I was much astonished at the contents of your letter of this morning, and greatly concerned that Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy should have done so much honour to any production of mine, as to alter his arrangements on that account.
'As the scrawl in question was not meant to meet the eye of any living being, I should, for my own part, have considered it proper to take no notice of what was betrayed by mere accident. I should have considered it more conducive to confidence between gentlemen. I fully acquiesce in what you say of the cessation of our former terms of acquaintance, and with many thanks for past kindness, believe me,
'Your obedient servant, 'U. O'MORE.'
Nothing was more evidently written in a passion at the invasion of these private papers, and Albinia, though she had always feared he might consider himself the aggrieved party, had hardly expected so much proud irritation and so little regret. Mr. Kendal called him 'foolish boy,' and tried to put the matter aside, but he was much hurt, and Ulick put himself decidedly in the wrong by passing in the street with a formal bow, when Mr. Kendal, according to his purpose of ordinary civility without an open rupture, would have shaken hands.
Sophy looked white, stern, and cold, but said not a word; she deepened her father's displeasure quite sufficiently by her countenance. His was grave disappointment in a youth whom he found less grateful than he thought he had a right to expect; hers was the rankling of what she deemed an insult to her sister, and the festering of a wound of which she was ashamed. She meant to bear it well, but it made her very hard and rigid, and even the children could hardly extract a smile from her. She seemed to have made a determination to do all that Lucy or herself had ever done, and more too, and listened to no entreaties to spare herself. Commands were met with sullen resignation, entreaties were unavailing, and both in the sickroom and the parish, she insisted on working beyond her powers. It was a nightly battle to send her to bed, and Albinia suspected that she did not sleep. Meantime Lucy had sailed, and was presently heard of in a whirl of excitement that shortened her letters, and made them joyous and self-important.