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The Young Step-Mother
by Charlotte M. Yonge
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'Ah!' said Sophy, 'she will soon forget that she ever had a home.'

'Poor dear! Wait till trouble comes, and she will remember it only too sadly,' sighed Albinia.

'Trouble is certain enough,' said Sophy; 'but I don't think what we deserve does us much good.'

Sophy could see nothing but the most ungentle and gloomy aspects. Gilbert had not yet written, and she was convinced that he was either very ill, or had only recovered to be killed at Inkermann, and she would only sigh at the Gazette that announced Lieutenant Gilbert Kendal's promotion to be Captain, and Major the Honourable Frederick Ferrars to be Lieutenant-Colonel.

The day after, however, came the long expected letter from the captain himself. It was to Mrs. Kendal, and she detected a shade of disappointment on her husband's face, so she would have handed it to him at once, but he said, 'No, the person to whom the letter is addressed, should always be the first to read it.'

The letter began with Gilbert's happiness in those from home, which he called the greatest pleasure he had ever known. He feared he had caused uneasiness by not writing sooner, but it had been out of his power while Fred Ferrars was in danger. Then followed the account of the severe illness from which Fred was scarcely beginning to rally, though that morning, on hearing that he was to be sent home as soon as he could move, he had talked about Canada and Emily. Gilbert said that not only time but strength had been wanting for writing, for attendance on Fred had been all that he could attempt, since moving produced so much pain and loss of breath, that he had been forced to be absolutely still whenever he was not wanted, but he was now much better. 'Though,' he continued, 'I do not now mind telling you that I had thought myself gone. You, who have known all my feelings, and have borne with them so kindly, will understand the effect upon me, when on the night previous to the 25th, I distinctly heard my own name, in Edmund's voice, at the head of my bed, just as he used to call me when he had finished his lessons, and wanted me to come out with him. As I started up, I heard it again outside the tent. I ran to the door, but of course there was nothing, nor did poor Wynne hear anything. I lay awake for some time, but slept at last, and had forgotten all by morning. It did not even occur to me when I saw the pleasant race they had cut out for us, nor through the whole affair. Do not ask me to describe it, the scene haunts me enough. When I found that I had not come off unhurt, and it seemed as if I could not ask for one of our fellows but to hear he was dead or dying, poor Wynne among them, then the voice seemed a summons. I was thoroughly done up, and could not even speak when General Ferrars came to me; I only wanted to be let alone to die in peace. I fancy I slept, for the next thing I heard was the Major's voice asking for some water, too feebly to wake the fellow who had been left in charge. I got up, and found him in a state of high fever and great pain, and from that time to the present, I have hardly thought of the circumstance, and know not why I have now written it to you. Did my danger actually bring Edmund nearer, or did its presence act on my imagination? Be that as it may, I think, after the first impression of awe and terror, the having heard the dear old voice braced me, and gave me a sense of being near home and less lonely. Not that my hurt has been for an instant dangerous, and I am mending every day; if it were warmer I should get on faster, but I cannot stir into the air without bringing on cough. Tell Ulick O'More that we entertained his brother at tea last evening, we were obliged to desire him to bring his own cup, and he produced the shell of a land tortoise; it was very like the fox and the crane. Poor fellow, it was the first good meal he had for weeks, and I was glad he came in for some famous bread that the General had sent us in. He made us much more merry than was convenient to either of us, not being in condition for laughing. He is a fine lad, and liked by all.' Then came a break, and the letter closed with such tidings of Inkermann as had reached the invalid's tent.

A few lines from General Ferrars spoke of the improvement in both patients, adding that Fred had had a hard struggle for his life, and had only been saved, by Gilbert's unremitting care by day and night.

Heroism had not transformed Gilbert, and Albinia's old fondness glowed with double ardour as she mused over his history of the battle-eve. His father attributed the impression to a mind full of presage and excitement, acted upon by strong memory; but woman-like, Albinia preferred the belief that the one twin might have been an actual messenger to cheer and strengthen the other for the coming trial. Sophy only said, 'Gilbert's fancies as usual.'

'This was not like fancy,' said Albinia. 'This is an unkind way of taking it.'

'It is common sense,' she bluntly answered. 'I don't see why he should think that Edmund has nothing better to do than to call him. It would be childish.'

Albinia did not reply, disturbed by this display of jealousy and harshness, as if every bud of tenderness had been dried up and withered, and poor Sophy only wanted to run counter to any obvious sentiment.

Albinia was grateful for the message which gave her an excuse for seeking Ulick out, and endeavouring to conciliate him. Mr. Kendal made no objection, and expressed a hope that he might have become reasonable. She therefore contrived to waylay him in the November darkness, holding out her hand so that he took it at unawares, as if not recollecting that he was offended, but in the midst his grasp relaxed, and his head went up.

'I have a message for you from Gilbert about your brother Bryan,' she said, and he could not defend himself from manifesting eager interest, as she told of the tea-party; but that over, it was in stiff formal English that he said, 'I hope you had a good account.'

It struck a chill, and she answered, almost imploringly, 'Gilbert is much better, thank you.'

'I am glad to hear it;' and he was going to bow and pass on, when she exclaimed,

'Ulick, why are we strangers?'

'It was agreed on all hands that things past could not be undone,' he frigidly replied.

'Too true,' she said; 'but I do not think you know how sorry we are for my poor little boy's foolish trick.'

'I owe no displeasure to Maurice. He knew no more what he was doing than if he had been a gust of wind; but if the wind had borne a private paper to my feet, I would never have acted on the contents.'

'Unhappily,' said Albinia, 'some revelations, though received against our will, cannot help being felt. We saw the drawing before we knew how he came by it, and you cannot wonder that it gave pain to find that a scene so distressing to us should have furnished you with amusement. It was absurd in itself, but we had hoped it was a secret, and it wounded us because we thought you would have been tender of our feelings.'

'You don't mean that it was fact!' cried Ulick, stopping suddenly; and as her silence replied, he continued, 'I give you my word and honour that I never imagined there was a word of truth in the farrago old Biddy told me, and I'll not deny that I did scrawl the scene down as the very picture of a bit of slander. I only wonder I'd not brought it to yourself.'

'Pray let me hear what she told you.'

'Oh! she said they two had been colloguing together by moonlight, and you came home in the midst, and Miss Kendal fainted away, so he catches up the ink and throws it over her instead of water, and you and Mr. Kendal came in and were mad entirely; and Mr. Kendal threatened to brain him with the poker if he did not quit it that instant, and sent Gilbert for a soldier for opening the door to him, but you and Lucy went down on your bare knees to get him to relent.'

'Well, I own the poker does throw an air of improbability over the whole. Minus that and the knees, I am afraid it is only too true. I suppose it got abroad through the servants.'

'It was an unlucky goose-quill that lay so handy,' exclaimed Ulick; 'but you may credit me, no eye but my own ever saw the scrawl, nor would have seen it.'

'Then, Ulick, if we all own that something is to be regretted, why do we stand aloof, and persist in quarrelling?'

'I want no quarrel,' said Ulick, stiffly. 'Mr. Kendal intimated to me that he did not wish for my company, and I'm not the man to force it.'

'Oh, Ulick, this is not what I hoped from you!'

'I'll tell you what, Mrs. Kendal, you could talk over the Giant's Causeway if you had a mind,' said Ulick, with much agitation; 'but you must not talk over me, for your own judgment would be against it. You know what I am, and what I came of, and what have I in the world except the honour of a gentleman? Mr. Kendal and yourself have been my kindest friends, and I'll be grateful to my dying day; but if Mr. Kendal thinks I can submit tamely when he resents what he never ought to have noticed, why, then, what have I to do but to show him the difference? If his kindness was to me as a gentleman and his equal, I love and bless him for it, but if it be a patronizing of the poor clerk, why, then, I owe it to myself and my people to show that I can stand alone, without cringing, and being thankful for affronts.'

'Did it ever occur to you to think whether pride be a sin?'

''Tis not pride!' cried Ulick. It is my duty to my family and my name. You'd say yourself, as you allowed before now, that it would be mere meanness and servility to swallow insults for one's own profit; and if I were to say "you're welcome, with many thanks, to shuffle over my private papers, and call myself to account," I'd better have given up my name at once, for I'd have left the gentleman behind me.'

'I do believe it is solely for the O'Mores that you are making a duty of implacability!'

'It is a duty not to run from one's word, and debase oneself for one's own advantage.'

'One would think some wonderful advantage was held out to you.'

'The pleasantest hours of my life,' murmured he sadly, under his breath.

'Well, Ulick,' she said, holding out her hand, 'I'm not quite dissatisfied; I think some day even an O'More will see that there is no exception from the law of forgiveness in their special favour, and that you will not be able to go on resenting what we have suffered from the young of the spider-monkey.'

Even this allusion produced no outward effect; he only shook hands gravely, saying, 'I never did otherwise than forgive, and regret the consequences: I am very thankful for all your past kindness.'

Worse than the Giant's Causeway, thought Albinia as she parted from him. Nothing is so hopeless as that sort of forgiveness, because it satisfies the conscience.

Mr. Kendal predicted that, the Keltic dignity having been asserted, good sense and principle would restore things to a rational footing. What this meant might be uncertain, but he certainly missed Prometheus, and found Maurice a poor substitute. Indulgence itself could hardly hold out in unmitigated intercourse with an obstreperous dunce not seven years old, and Maurice, deprived of Gilbert, cut off from Ulick, with mamma busy, and Sophy out of spirits, underwent more snubbing than had ever yet fallen to his lot. Not that he was much concerned thereat; and Mr. Kendal would resume his book after a lecture upon good manners, and then be roused to find his library a gigantic cobweb, strings tied to every leg of table or chair, and Maurice and the little Awk enacting spider and fly, heedless of the unwilling flies who might suffer by their trap. Such being the case, his magnanimity was the less amazing when he said, 'Albinia, there is no reason that O'More should not eat his Christmas dinner here.'

'Very well. I trust he will not think it needful still to be self-denying.'

'It is not our part to press advances which are repelled,' said Sophy.

'Indeed, Sophy,' said her father, smiling, 'I see nothing attractive in the attitude of rocks rent asunder.'

The undesigned allusion must have gone deep, for she coloured to a purple crimson, and said in a freezing tone, 'I thought you considered that to take him up again would be a direct insult to Lucy and her husband.'

'They do not show much consideration for us,' said Mr. Kendal. 'How long ago was the date of her last letter?'

'Nearly three weeks,' said Albinia. 'Poor child, how could she write with the catalogue raisonnee of the Louvre to learn by heart?'

The Dusautoys yearly gave a Christmas tea-party to the teachers in the Sunday-school, who had of late become more numerous, as Mr. Dusautoy's influence had had more time to tell. Mrs. Kendal was reckoned on as one of the chief supporters of the gaiety of the evening, but on this occasion she was forced to send Sophia alone.

Sophy regarded it as a duty and a penance, and submitted the more readily because it was so distasteful. It was, however, more than she had reckoned on to find that the party had been extended to the male teachers, an exceedingly good and lugubrious-looking youth lately apprenticed to Mr. Bowles, and Ulick O'More. It was the first time she had met the latter since his offence. She avoided seeing him as long as possible, though all his movements seemed to thrill her, and so confused the conversation which she was trying to keep up, that she found herself saying that Genevieve Durant had lost an arm, and that Gilbert would spend Christmas in London.

She felt him coming nearer; she knew he was passing the Miss Northover in the purple silk and red neck-ribbon; she heard him exchanging a few civil words with the sister with the hair strained off her face; she knew he was coming; she grew more eager in her fears for Mr. Rainsforth's chest.

Tea was announced. Sophy held back in the general move, Ulick made a step nearer, their eyes met, and if ever eyes spoke, hers ordered him to keep his distance, while he glanced affront for affront, bowed and stepped back.

Sophy sat by Miss Jane Northover, and endeavoured to make her talk. Anything would have been better than the echoes of the sprightliness at the lower end of the table, where Ulick was talking what he would have called blarney to Miss Susan Northover and Miss Mary Anne Higgins, both at once, till he excited them into a perpetual giggle. Mr. Dusautoy was delighted, and evidently thought this brilliant success; Mrs. Dusautoy was less at her ease—the mirth was less sober and more exclusive than she had intended; and Sophy, finding nothing could be made of Miss Jane, turned round to her other neighbour, Mr. Hope, and asked his opinion of the Whewell and Brewster controversy on the Plurality of Worlds.

Mr. Hope had rather a good opinion of Miss Sophia, and as she had never molested him, could talk to her, so he straightway became engrossed in the logical and theological aspects of the theory; and Mrs. Dusautoy could hardly suppress her smile at this unconscious ponderous attempt at a counter flirtation, with Saturn and Jupiter as weapons for light skirmishing.

Ulick received the invitation to dinner, and did not accept it. He said he had an engagement—Albinia wondered what it could be, and had reason afterwards to think that he had the silent young apothecary to a Christmas dinner in his own rooms—an act of charity at least, if not of forgiveness. Mr. Johns, the senior clerk, whose health had long been failing, was about to retire, and this announcement was followed by the appearance of a smart, keen-looking young man of six or seven-and-twenty, whom Miss Goldsmith paraded as her cousin, Mr. Andrew Goldsmith, and it was generally expected that he would be taken into partnership, and undertake old John's work, but in a fortnight he disappeared, and young O'More was promoted to the vacant post with an increase of salary. It was mortifying only to be informed through Mr. Dusautoy, instead of by the lad himself.

The Eastern letters were the chief comfort. First came tidings that Gilbert, not having yet recovered his contusion, was to accompany Colonel Ferrars to Scutari, and then after a longer interval came a brief and joyous note—Gilbert was coming home! On his voyage from the Crimea he had caught cold, and this had brought on severe inflammation on the injured chest, which had laid him by for many days at Scutari. The colonel had become the stronger of the two, in spite of a fragment of shell lodged so deeply in the side, that the medical board advised his going to London for its removal. Both were ordered home together with six months' leave, and Gilbert's note overflowed with glad messages to all, including Algernon, of whose departure he was still in ignorance.

Mr. Kendal knew not whether he was most gratified or discomfited by the insinuating ringer who touched his hat, hoping for due notice of the captain's arrival in time to welcome him with a peal of bells. Indeed, Bayford was so excited about its hero, that there were symptoms of plans for a grand reception with speeches, cheers, and triumphal arches, which caused Sophy to say she hoped that he would come suddenly without any notice, so as to put a stop to all that nonsense; while Albinia could not help nourishing a strange vague expectation that his return would be the beginning of better days.

At last, Sophia, with a touch of the old penny club fever, toiled over the school clothing wilfully and unnecessarily for two hours, kept up till evening without owning to the pain in her back, but finally returned so faint and dizzy that she was forced to be carried helpless to her room, and the next day could barely drag herself to the couch in the morning-room, where she lay quite prostrated, and grieved at increasing instead of lessening her mother's cares.

'Oh, mamma, don't stay with me. You are much too busy.'

'No, I am not. The children are out, and grandmamma asleep, and I am going to write to Lucy, but there's no hurry. Let me cool your forehead a little longer.'

'How I hate being another bother!'

'I like you much better so, than when you would not let me speak to you, my poor child.'

'I could not,' she said, stifling her voice on the cushion, and averting her head; but in a few moments she made a great effort, and said, 'You think me unforgiving, mamma. It was not entirely that. It was hating myself for an old fancy, a mere mistake. I have got over it; and I will not be in error again.'

'Sophy dear, if you find strength in pride, it will only wound yourself.'

'I do not think I am proud,' said Sophy, quietly. 'I may have been headstrong, but I despise myself too much for pride.'

'Are you sure it was mere fancy? It was an idea that occurred to more than to you.'

'Hush!' cried Sophy. 'Had it been so, could he have ridiculed Lucy? Could he have flown out so against papa? No; that caricature undeceived me, and I am thankful. He treated us as cousins—no more—he would act in the same manner by any of the Miss O'Mores of Ballymakilty, nay, by Jane Northover herself. We did not allow for Irish manner.'

'If so, he had no right to do so. I shall never wish to see him here again.'

'No, mamma, he did not know the folly he had to deal with. Next time I meet him, I shall know how to be really indifferent. Now, this is the last time we will mention the subject!'

Albinia obeyed, but still hoped. It was well that hope remained, for her task was heavier than ever; Mrs. Meadows was feebler, but more restless and wakeful, asking twenty times in an hour for Mrs. Kendal. The doctors thought it impossible that she should hold out another fortnight, but she lived on from day to day, and at times Albinia hardly could be absent from her for ten minutes together. Sophy was so completely knocked up that she could barely creep about the house, and was forbidden the sick-room; but she was softened and gentle, and was once more a companion to her father, while eagerly looking forward to devoting herself to Gilbert.

A letter with the Malta post-mark was eagerly opened, as the harbinger of his speedy arrival.

'Royal Hotel, Malta, February 10th, 1855.

'Dearest Mrs. Kendal,

'I am afraid you will all be much disappointed, though your grief cannot equal mine at the Doctor's cruel decree. We arrived here the day before yesterday, but I had been so ill all the voyage with pain in the side and cough, that there was no choice but to land, and call in Dr.——, who tells me that my broken rib has damaged my lungs so much, that I must keep perfectly quiet, and not think of going home till warm weather. If I am well enough to join by that time, I shall not see you at all unless you and my father could come out. Am I nourishing too wild a hope in thinking it possible? Since Lucy has been so kind as to promise never to leave grandmamma, I cannot help hoping you might be spared. I do not think my proposal is selfish, since my poor grandmother is so little conscious of your cares; and Ferrars insists on remaining with me till he sees me in your hands, though they say that the splinter must be extracted in London, and every week he remains here is so much suffering, besides delaying his expedition to Canada. I have entreated him to hasten on, but he will not hear of it. He is like a brother or a father to me, and nurses me most tenderly, when he ought to be nursed himself. We are famishing for letters. I suppose all ours have gone up to Balaklava, and thence will be sent to England. If we were but there! We are both much better for the quiet of these two days, and are to move to-morrow to a lodging that a friend of Fred's has taken for us at Bormola, so as to be out of the Babel of these streets—we stipulated that it should be large enough to take in you and my father. I wish Sophy and the children would come too—it would do them all the good in the world; and Maurice would go crazy among the big guns; I am only afraid we should have him enlisting as a drummer. The happy pair would be very glad to have the house to themselves, and would persuade themselves that it was another honeymoon.

'Good-bye. Instead of looking for a letter, I shall come down to meet you at the Quarantine harbour. Love to all.

'Your most affectionate 'GILBERT KENDAL.'

How differently Gilbert wrote when really ill, from his desponding style when he only fancied himself so, thought Albinia, as, perplexed and grieved, she handed the letter to her husband, and opened the enclosure, written in the laboured, ill-formed characters of a left-hand not yet accustomed to doing the offices of both.

'Dear Albinia,

'Come, if possible. His heart is set upon it, though he does not realize his condition, and I cannot bear to tell him. Only the utmost care can save him. I am doing my best for him, but my nursing is as left-handed as my writing.

'Ever yours, 'F.F.'

His wife's look of horror was Mr. Kendal's preparation for this emphatic summons, perhaps a shock less sudden to him than to her, for he had not been without misgivings ever since he had heard of the situation of the injury. He read and spoke not, till the silence became intolerable, and she burst out almost with a scream, 'Oh! Edmund, I knew not what I did when I took grandmamma into this house!'

'This is very perplexing,' he said, his feelings so intense that he dared only speak of acting; 'I must set out to-night.'

'Order me to come with you,' she said breathlessly. 'That will cancel everything else.'

'Would Mrs. Drury take charge of her aunt?' said he, with a moment's hesitation; and Albinia felt it implied his impression that they were bound by her repeated promises never to quit the invalid, but she only spoke the more vehemently—

'Mrs Drury? She might—she would, under the circumstances. She could not refuse. If you desire me to come, I should not be doing wrong; and grandmamma might never even miss me. Surely—oh surely, a young life, full of hope and promise, that may yet be saved, is not to be set against what cannot be prolonged more than a few weeks.'

'As to that,' said Mr. Kendal, in the deliberate tone which denoted dissatisfaction, 'though of course it would be the greatest blessing to have you with us, I think you may trust Gilbert to my care. And we must consider poor Sophia.'

'She could not bear to be considered.'

'No; but it would be leaving her in a most distressing position, when she is far from well, and with most uncongenial assistants. You see, poor Gilbert reckons on Lucy being here, which would make it very different. But think of poor Sophia in the event of Mrs. Meadows not surviving till our return!'

'You are right! It would half kill her! My promise was sacred; I was a wretch to think of breaking it. But when I think of my boy—my Gilbert pining for me, and I deserting him—'

'For the sake of duty,' said her husband. 'Let us do right, and trust that all will be overruled for the best. I shall go with an easier mind if I leave you with the other children, and I can be the sooner with him.'

'I could travel as fast.'

'I may soon bring him home to you. Or you might bring the others to join us in the south of France. You will all need change.'

The decision was made, and her judgment acquiesced, though she could hardly have cast the balance for herself. She urged no more, even when relentings came over her husband at the thought of the trials to which he was leaving her, and of those which he should meet in solitude; yet not without a certain secret desire to make himself sufficient for the care and contentment of his own son. He cast about for all possible helpers for her, but could devise nothing except a note entreating her brother to be with her as much as possible, and commending her to the Dusautoys. It was a less decided kindness that he ordered Maurice's pony to be turned out to grass, so as to prevent rides in solitude, thinking the boy too young to be trusted, and warned by the example of Gilbert's temptations.

Going up to the bank to obtain a supply of gold, he found young O'More there without his uncle. The tidings of Gilbert's danger had spread throughout the town, and one heart at least was softened. Ulick wrung the hand that lately he would not touch, and Mr. Kendal forgot his wrath as he replied to the warm-hearted inquiry for particulars.

'Then Mrs. Kendal cannot go with you?'

'No, it is impossible. There is no one able to take charge of Mrs. Meadows.'

'Ah! and Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy is gone! I grieve for the hour when my pen got the better of me. Mr. Kendal, this is worse than I thought. Your son will never forgive me when he knows I'm at the bottom of his disappointment.'

'There is something to forgive on all hands,' said Mr. Kendal. 'That meddlesome boy of mine has caused worse results than we could have contemplated. I believe it has been a lesson to him.'

'I know it has to some one else,' said Ulick. 'I wish I could do anything! It would be the greatest comfort you could give me to tell me of a thing I could do for Gilbert or any of you. If you'd send me to find Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, and tell him 'twas all my fault, and bring them back—'

'Rather too wild a project, thank you,' said Mr. Kendal, smiling. 'No; the only thing you could do, would be—if that boy of mine have not completely forfeited your kindness—'

'Maurice! Ah! how I have missed the rogue.'

'Poor little fellow, I am afraid he may be a burthen to himself and every one else. It would be a great relief if you could be kind enough now and then to give him the pleasure of a walk.'

Maurice did not attend greatly to papa's permission to go out with Mr. O'More. Either it was clogged with too many conditions of discretion, and too many reminiscences of the past; or Maurice's mind was too much bent on the thought of his brother. Both children haunted the packing up, entreating to send out impossible presents. Maurice could hardly be persuaded out of contributing a perilous-looking boomerang, which he argued had some sense in it; while he scoffed at the little Awk, who stood kissing and almost crying over the china countenance of her favourite doll, entreating that papa would take dear Miss Jenny because Gibbie loved her the best of all, and always put her to sleep on his knees. At last matters were compromised by Sophy, who roused herself to do one of the few things for which she had strength, engrossing them by cutting out in paper an interminable hunt with horses and dogs adhering together by the noses and tails, which, when brilliantly painted according to their united taste, they might safely imagine giving pleasure to Gilbert, while, at any rate, it would do no harm in papa's pocket-book.



CHAPTER XXVI.



The day after Mr. Kendal's departure, Mrs. Meadows had another attack, but a fortnight still passed before the long long task was over and the weary spirit set free. There had been no real consciousness and no one could speak of regret; of anything but relief and thankfulness that release had come at last, when Albinia had redeemed her pledge and knew she should no more hear of the dreary 'very bad night,' nor be greeted by the low, restless moan. The long good-night was come, and, on the whole, there was peace and absence of self-condemnation in looking back on the past connexion. Forbearance and unselfishness were recompensed by the calm tenderness with which she could regard one who at the outset had appeared likely to cause nothing but frets and misunderstandings.

Had she and Sophy been left to themselves, there would have been nothing to break upon this frame of mind, but early the next day arrived Mr. and Mrs. Drury, upsetting all her arrangements, implying that it had been presumptuous to exert any authority without relationship. It did seem hard that the claims of kindred should be only recollected in order to unsettle her plans, and offend her unostentatious tastes.

Averse both to the proposals, and to the discussion, she felt unprotected and forlorn, but her spirit revived as she heard her brother's voice in the hall, and she hastened to put herself in his hands. He declined doing battle, he said it would be better to yield than to argue, and leave a grudge for ever. 'It will not vex Edmund,' he said, 'and though you and Sophy may be pained by incongruities, they will hurt you less than disputing.'

She felt that he was right, and by yielding the main points he contrived amicably to persuade Mr. Drury out of the numerous invitations and grand luncheon as well as to adhere to the day that she had originally fixed for the funeral, after which he hoped to take her and the young ones home with him and give her the thorough change and rest of which the over-energy of her manner betrayed the need.

Not that she consented. She could not bear not to meet her letters at once; or suppose Edmund and Gilbert should return to an empty, unaired house, and she thought herself selfish, when it might do so much good to Sophy, &c., &c., &c.—till Mr. Ferrars, going home for a night, agreed with Winifred, that domineering would be the only way to deal with her.

On his return he found Albinia on the stairs, and boxes and trunks carried down after her. Running to him, she exclaimed, abruptly, 'I am going to Malta, Maurice, to-morrow evening!'

'Has Edmund sent for you?'

'Not exactly—he did not know—but Gilbert is dying, and wretched at my not coming. I never wished him good-by—he thinks I did not forgive him. Don't say a word—I shall go.'

He held her trembling hands, and said, 'This is not the way to be able to go. Come in here, sit down and tell me.'

'It is no use to argue. It is my duty now,' said Albinia; but she let him lead her into the room, where Sophy was changing the bright border of a travelling-cloak to crape, and Maurice stood watching, as if stunned.

'It is settled,' continued she, rapidly. 'Sophy and the children go to the vicarage. Yes, I know, you are very kind, but Maurice would be troublesome, and Winifred is not well enough, and the Dusautoys wish it.'

'Yes, that may be the best plan, as I shall be absent.'

She turned round, startled.

'I cannot let you go alone.'

'Nonsense—Winifred—Sunday—Lent—I don't want any one. Nothing could happen to me.'

Mr. Ferrars caught Sophy's eye beaming with sudden relief and gratitude, and repeated, 'If you go, I must take you.'

'I can't wait for Sunday,' she said.

'What have you heard?'

She produced the letter, and read parts of it. The whole stood thus:—

'Bormola, 11 p.m., February 28th, 1855. 'Dearest Albinia,

'I hope all has gone fairly well with you in my absence, and that Sophia is well again. Could I have foreseen the condition of affairs here, I doubt whether I could have resolved on leaving you at home, though you may be spared much by not being with us. I landed at noon to-day, and was met in the harbour by your cousin, who had come off in a boat in hopes of finding you on board. He did his best to prepare me for Gilbert's appearance, but I was more shocked than I can express. There can no longer be any doubt that it is a case of rapid decline, brought on by exposure, and, aggravated by the injury at Balaklava. Colonel Ferrars fancies that Gilbert's exertions on his behalf in the early part of his illness may have done harm, by preventing the broken bone from uniting, and causing it to press on the lungs; but knowing the constitutional tendency, we need not dwell on secondary causes, and there is no one to whom we owe a deeper debt of gratitude than to your cousin, for his most assiduous and affectionate attendance at a time when he is very little equal to exertion. They are like brothers together, and I am sure nothing has been wanting to Gilbert that he could devise for his comfort. They are in a tolerably commodious airy lodging, where I found Gilbert propped up with cushions on a large chair by the window, flushed with eager watching. Poor fellow, to see how his countenance fell when he found I was alone, was the most cutting reproach I ever received in my life. He was so completely overcome, that he could not restrain his tears, though he strove hard to command himself in this fear of wounding my feelings; but there are moments when the truth will have its way, and you have been more to him than his father has ever been. May it be granted that he may yet know how I feel towards him! His first impression was that you had never forgiven him for his unfortunate adventure with Maurice, and could never feel towards him as before; and though I trust I have removed this idea, perhaps such a letter as you can write might set his heart at rest. Ferrars says that hitherto his spirits have kept up wonderfully, though latterly he had been evidently aware of his condition, but he has been very much depressed this evening, probably from the reaction of excited expectation. On learning the cause of Lucy's desertion, he seemed to consider that his participation in the transactions of that night had recoiled upon himself, and deprived him of your presence. It was very painful to see how he took it. He was eager to be told of the children, and the only time I saw him brighten was when I gave him their messages. I am writing while I hope he sleeps. I am glad to be here to relieve the Colonel, who for several nights past has slept on the floor, in his room, not thinking the Maltese servant trustworthy. He looks very ill and suffering, but seems to have no thought but for Gilbert, and will not hear of leaving him; and, in truth, they cling together so affectionately, that I could not bear to urge their parting, even were Fred more fit to travel home alone. I will close my letter to-morrow after the doctor's visit.'

The conclusion was even more desponding; the physician had spoken of the case as hopeless, and likely to terminate rapidly; and Gilbert, who was always at the worst in the morning, had shown no symptom that could lead his father to retract his first impression.

Mr. Ferrars saw that it would be useless and cruel to endeavour to detain his sister, and only doubted whether in her precipitation, she might not cross and miss her husband in a still sadder journey homeward, and this made him the more resolved to be her escort. When she dissuaded him vehemently as though she were bent on doing something desperate, he replied that he was anxious about Fred, and if she and her husband were engrossed by their son, he should be of service in bringing him home; and this somewhat reconciled her to what was so much to her benefit. Only she gave notice that he must not prevent her from travelling day and night, to which he made no answer, while Sophy hoarsely said that but for knowing herself to be a mere impediment, she should have insisted on going, and her uncle must not keep mamma back. Then Maurice imitatively broke out, 'Mamma, take me to Gilbert, I wont be a plague, I promise you.' He was scarcely silenced before Mr. Dusautoy came striding in to urge on her that Fanny and himself should be much happier if he were permitted to conduct Mrs. Kendal to Malta (the fact being that Fanny was persuaded that Mr. Ferrars would obviate such necessity). Albinia almost laughed, as she had declared that she had set all the parsons in the country in commotion, and Mr. Dusautoy was obliged to limit his good offices to the care of the children, and the responsibility of the Fairmead Sunday services.

The good hard-worked brother had hardly time to eat his luncheon, before he started to inform his wife, and prepare for his journey. Winifred was a very good sister on an emergency; she had not once growled since poor Mrs. Meadows had been really ill; and though she had been feeding on hopes of Albinia's visit, and was far from strong, she quashed her husband's misgivings, and cheerily strove to convince him that he would be wanted by no one, least of all by herself. A slight vituperation of the polysyllabic pair was all the relief she permitted herself, and who could blame her for that, when even Mr. Dusautoy called the one 'that foolish fellow,' and the other 'poor dear Lucy?'

Albinia and Sophy safe over the fire that evening, after their sorrowful tasks unable to turn to anything else, wondering how and when they should meet again, and their words coming slowly, and with long intervals of silence.

'Dear child,' said Albinia, 'promise me to take care of yourself, and to let Mrs. Dusautoy judge what you can do.'

'I'm not worth taking care of,' muttered Sophy.

'We think you worth our anxiety,' said Albinia, tenderly.

'I will not make it worse for you,' meekly replied Sophy. 'I don't think I'm cross now, I could not be—'

'No, indeed you are not, my dear. We have leant on each other, and when we come home, you will make our welcome.'

'The children will.'

'Ah! I think Maurice will behave well. He is very much subdued. I told him he was to do no lessons, and he fairly burst out crying.'

'Oh, mamma!' exclaimed Sophy, hurt, indignant, and nearly ready to follow his example.

'I do not think he has mastery over himself, so as to help being unruly and idle, when he is chained to a spelling-book. I would not for the world set him and you to worry each other for an hour a day, and I shall start afresh with him all the better, when he knows what absence of lessons is, and has forgotten all the old associations.'

'How could you make him cry?' said Sophy, in reproach.

'I believe the tears only wanted an excuse. I did put it on his naughtiness, which usually would have elated him; but his heart was so full as to make even a long holiday a punishment. That boy often shows me what a thorough Kendal he is; things sink into him as they never did into us at the same age, when my aunts used to think I had no feeling. Oh, Sophy! how will you comfort him?'

'His will be an unstained sorrow,' said Sophy, from the depths of her heart. 'O, mamma, only tell Gilbert what you know I feel—no, you don't, no one can, but what I would not give, to change all I have felt towards him? If I had been like Edmund, and prized his gentleness and sweetness, and the humility that was the best worth of all, how different it would be! But I was proud of despising where truth was wanting.'

'I should have thought I should have done the same,' said Albinia; but there was no keeping from loving Gibbie. Besides, he was sincere, except when he was afraid, and he was miserable when he was deceiving.'

'Yes, after you came,' said Sophy; 'but I believe I helped him to think truth disagreeable. I showed my scorn for his want of boldness, instead of helping him. Think of my having fancied he had no courage.'

'Kindness taught him courage,' said Albinia. 'It might perhaps have earlier taught him moral courage. If you and he could have leant against each other, and been fused together, you would have made something like what Edmund was, I suppose.'

'I drove him off,' cried Sophy. 'I was no sister to him. Will you bring me his forgiveness?'

'Indeed I will; and you may feel sure of it already, dearest. It will make you gentler all your life.'

'No, I shall grow harder and harsher the longer I live, and the fewer I have to love me in spite of myself.'

'I think not,' said Albinia. 'Humility will make your severity more gentle, and you will soften, and win love and esteem.'

She looked up, but cried, 'I shall never make up to Gilbert nor to grandmamma!'

Albinia felt it almost as hard to leave her as the two little ones.

When once on her journey, and feeling each moment an advance towards the goal, Albinia was less unhappy than she could have thought possible; she trusted to her brother, and enjoyed the absence of responsibility, and while he let her go on, could give her mind to what pleased and interested him, and he, who was an excellent courier, so managed that there were few detentions to overthrow her equanimity on the way to Marseilles.

But when the Vectis came in sight of the rocky isle, with its white stony heights, the heart-sickness of apprehension grew over her, and she saw, as in a mist, the noble crescent-shaped harbour, the stately ramparts, mighty batteries, the lofty terraces of flat-roofed dwellings, apparently rather hewn out of, than built on, the dazzling white stone, between the intense blue of the sky above and of the sea below. Her eye roamed as in a dream over the crowds of gay boats with white awnings, and the motley crowds of English and natives, the boatmen screaming and fighting for the luggage, and beggars plaintively whining out their entreaties for small coins. Her brother Maurice had been at Malta as a little boy, and remembered the habits of the place enough, as soon as they had set foot on shore, to secure a brown-skinned loiterer, in Phrygian cap, loose trousers, and crimson sash, to act as guide and porter.

Along the Strada San Giovanni, a street of stairs, shut in by high stone walls, with doors opening on either side, they went not as fast as Albinia's quivering limbs would fain have moved, yet too fast when her breath came thick with anxiety—down again by the stone stairs called 'Nix Mangiare' (nothing to eat), from the incessant cry of the beggars that haunt them—then again in a boat, which carried them amid a strange world of shipping to the bottom of the dockyard creek, where, again landing, she was told she had but to ascend, and she would be at Bormola.

She could have paused, in dread; and she leant heavily on her brother's arm when they presently turned up a lane, no broader than a passage, with low stone steps at irregular intervals. They were come!

The summons at the door was answered by a dark-visaged Maltese, and while Maurice was putting the question whether Colonel Ferrars and Captain Kendal lived here, a figure appeared on the stairs, and beckoned, ascending noiselessly with languid steps and slippered feet, and leading the way into a slightly furnished room, with green balcony and striped blind. There he turned and held out his hand; but Albinia hardly recognised him till he said, 'I thought I heard your voice, Maurice;' and then the low subdued tone, together with the gaunt wasted form, haggard aged face, the long beard, and worn undress uniform, with the armless sleeve, made her so realize his sufferings, that, clasping his remaining hand in both her own, she could utter nothing but, 'Oh! Fred! Fred!'

He looked at her brother with such inquiry, perplexity, and compassion, that almost in despair Maurice exclaimed, 'We are not too late!'

'No, thank God!' said Frederick. 'We did hope you might come! Sit down, Albinia; I'll—'

'Edmund! Is he there!' she said, scarcely alive to what was passing, and casting another expressively sorrowful look at Maurice, Fred answered, 'Yes, I will tell him: I will see if you can come in.'

'Stay,' said Mr. Ferrars; 'she should compose herself, or she will only hurt herself and Gilbert.'

'I don't know,' murmured Fred, hastily leaving them.

Maurice understood that Gilbert was even then summoned by one who would brook no delays; but Albinia, too much agitated to notice slight indications, was about to follow, when her brother took her hand, and checked her like a child. 'Wait a minute, my dear, he will soon come back.'

'Where's Edmund? Why mayn't I go to Gilbert?' she said, still bewildered.

'Fred is gone to tell them. Sit down, my dear; take off your bonnet, you are heated, you will be better able to go to him, if you are quiet.'

She passively submitted to be placed on a chair, and to remove her bonnet; and seeing some dressing apparatus through an open door, Maurice brought her some cold water to refresh her burning face. She looked up with a smile, herself again. 'There thank you, Maurice: I wont be foolish now.'

'God support you, my dear!' said her brother, for the longer the Colonel tarried, the worse were his forebodings.

'Perhaps the doctor is there,' she proceeded. 'That will be well. Ask him everything, Maurice. But oh! did you ever see any one so much altered as poor Fred! He looks twenty years older! Ah! I am quite good now! I may go now!' she cried, as the door opened.

But as Frederick returned, there was that written on his brow, which lifted her out of the childishness of her agitation.

'My dear Albinia,' he said in a trembling voice, 'Mr. Kendal cannot leave him to come to you. He has been much worse since last night,' and as her face showed that she was gathering his meaning, he pursued in a lower and more awe-struck tone: 'We think he is sensible, but we cannot tell. It could not hurt him for you to come in, and perhaps he may know you, but are you able to bear it? Is she, Maurice?'

'Yes, I am,' she answered; and the calm firmness of her tone proved that she was a woman again. Her hand shook less than did that of her cousin, as silently and reverently he took it, and led her into another room on the same floor.

There, in the subdued light, she saw her husband, seated on the bed, holding in his arms his son, who lay lifted up and supported upon his breast, with head resting on his shoulder, and eyes closed. There was no greeting, no sound save the long, heavily drawn, gasping breaths. Mr. Kendal raised his eyes to her; she silently knelt down and took the wasted hand that lay helplessly on the coverlet, but it moved feebly from her as though harassed by the touch.

'Gilbert, dear boy,' said his father, earnestly, 'she is come! Speak to him, Albinia.'

She hardly knew her own voice as she said, 'Gilbert, Gibbie dear, here I am.'

Those large brown eyes were shown for a few moments beneath the heavy lids, and met hers. The mouth, hitherto only gasping for air, endeavoured to form a word; the hand sought hers. She kissed him, and his eyes opened wide and brightened, while he said, 'I think it is pardon now.'

'Pardon indeed!' said his father, with a greater look of relief than Albinia understood, 'you are resting in His Merits.'

Gilbert's look brightened, and he said, 'I know it now.'

'Thank God,' said Mr. Kendal.

His eyes closed, and Fred whispered to the father, 'Maurice is here too.'

Again the light woke in the eye, with almost a smile, the look that always welcomed the little brother; and Albinia grieved to say, 'Not little Maurice, though he longed to come; it is my brother.' But the air of eagerness did not pass away, and he seemed satisfied when Mr. Ferrars came in. It was as a priest, speaking words not his own; and Albinia and Fred knelt with him. At the close of each prayer or psalm, Gilbert signed imploringly for more, even like our mighty dying queen; and at each short pause, the distressed agonized expression would again contract the brow, though in the sound of the holy words all was peace. The Psalm of the Good Shepherd with the Rod and Staff in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, recurred so strongly to Maurice, that he repeated it like a cadence after each penitential supplication, every time bringing a look of peace to the countenance of the sufferer.

They must have remained long thus, Fred had grown exhausted with kneeling and had been forced to sit on the floor, and Maurice's voice waxed low and hoarse; yet he durst not pause, though doubting whether Gilbert could follow the meaning. At length the eyes were again raised. With a start as of haste, Gilbert looked full at Albinia, and said, 'Thank you. Tell Maurice—' He could not finish, and there was an agony for breath, then as his father raised him, he contrived to say, 'Father—mother—kiss me; it is forgiven!'

Another look brought Fred to press his hand, and he smiled his thanks.

There were a few more terrible minutes, from which they would fain have led away Albinia, but suddenly his brow grew smooth, his eyes were eagerly fixed as on something before him, and as if replying to a call, he said, 'Yes!' with a start and a quiver of all his limbs, and then—

The first words were Mr. Kendal's. 'Edmund has come for him!'

It was to the rest as if the father had been in some manner conscious of the presence of the one twin-brother, and, were resigning the other to his charge, for he calmly kissed the forehead, closed the eyes, laid down the form, he had so long held in his arms, and after a few moments on his knees, with his face hidden, in his hands, he rose with composure, and said to his wife, 'I am glad you were in time.'

Had he given way, Albinia would have been strong, but there was no need to support to counteract the force of disappointment and grief, acting upon overwrought spirits, and a fatigued, exhausted frame. Were these half-conscious looks and broken words all she had come for, all she should ever have of Gilbert? This was the moment's predominant sensation; she was past thinking; and though she still controlled herself, she cast a wild, piteous eye on her husband, and as he lifted her up, she sank on his breast, not fainting, not sobbing, but utterly prostrated, and needing all his support as he led her out, and laid her on a couch in the next room, speaking softly as if hoping his voice would restore her. 'We had some faint hope of you; we knew you would wish it, so you see all is ready. But you have done too much, my dear: Maurice should not have let you travel so fast.'

'No, no,' said Albinia, catching her breath. 'Oh! not to have come sooner!' and she gave way to a violent burst of tears, during which he fondled and soothed her till she suddenly said, 'I did not come here to behave in this way! I came to help you! Edmund, what shall I do?' and she would have started up.

'Only lie still, and let me take care of you,' said he. 'Nothing could be to me like your coming,' and she was forced to believe his glistening eyes and voice of tenderness.

'Can you keep quiet a little while,' said Mr. Kendal, wistfully, 'while I go to speak to your brother? It was very good in him to come! Don't speak; I will come back directly.'

She did lie still, for she was too much spent to move, and the silence was good for her; for if the overwhelming sensation of grief would sweep over her, on the other hand, there was the remembrance of the look of peace, and the perception that her husband was not as yet so struck to the earth as she had feared. He was not long in returning, bringing some coffee for her and for himself, and speaking with the same dreamy serenity, though looking excessively pale. 'Your brother told me to give you this,' he said. 'I am glad the colonel is under such care, for he is terribly distressed and not at all fit to bear it. I could not make him go to bed all last night.'

'You were up all last night, and many nights before,' said Albinia; 'and all alone! Oh! why was I not here to help!'

'Fred was a great comfort,' said Mr. Kendal. 'I cannot describe my gratitude to him. And dearest—' He paused, and added with hesitation, 'I do not now regret the having come out alone. After the first disappointment, I think that my boy and I learnt to know each other better. If he had left me nothing but the recollection that I had been too severe and unsympathizing to win his confidence, I hardly know how I could have borne it.'

'He was able to talk to you, then?' cried Albinia. 'That was what I always wished! Yes, it was right, so it came right. I had got between you as I ought not to have done, and it was well you should have him to yourself.'

'Not as you ought not,' he fondly answered. 'You always were his better angel, and you came at last as a messenger of peace. There was relief and hope from the moment that he knew you.'

He told her what could scarcely have passed his lips save in those earlier hours of affliction. It had been a time of grievous mental distress. Neither natural temperament nor previous life had been such as to arm poor Gilbert to meet the King of Terrors; and as day by day he felt the cold grasp tightening on him, he had fluttered like a bird in the snare of the fowler, physically affrighted at the death-pang, shrinking from the lonely entrance into the unknown future, and despairing of the acceptableness of his own repentance. He believed that he had too often relapsed, and he could not take heart to grasp the hope of mercy and rest in the great atonement. The last Communion had been melancholy, the contrite spirit unable to lift itself up, and apparently only sunk the lower by the weight of love and gratitude, deepening the sense of how much had been disregarded. There had since been a few hopeful gleams, but dimmed by bodily suffering and terror; and doubly mournful had been the weary hours of the night and morning, while he lay gasping away his life upon his father's breast. Having at first taken the absence of his stepmother as a sign that she had not forgiven him, he had only laid aside this notion for a more morbid fancy that the deprivation was a token of wrath from above; and there could be little doubt that her final appearance was hailed as a seal of pardon not merely from her. Her brother, who had raised him up after his last fall, was likewise the person above all others to bring the message of mercy to speed him to the Unseen, where, as his look and gesture had persuaded his father, his brother, or some yet more blessed one, had received and welcomed the frail and trembling spirit.

That last farewell, that dawn of peace, so long prayed for, so ardently desired, had given Mr. Kendal such thankfulness and relief as sustained him, and enabled him to support his wife, who knew not how to meet her first home grief; whereas to him sorrow had long been a household guest more familiar than joy; and he was more at rest about his son than he had been for many a year. He could dwell on him together with Edmund, instead of connecting him with shame, grief, and pain; though how little could he have borne to think that thus it would end, when in the springtime of his manhood he had rejoiced over his beautiful twin boys.

He knew his son better than heretofore. After the first day's disappointment, Gilbert had found him all-sufficient, and had rested on his tenderness. All sternness had ceased on one side, all concealment on the other, and the sweetness of both characters had had full scope. Gilbert's ardent love of home had shown itself in every word, and his last exertion, had been to write a long letter to his little brother, which had been completed and despatched by a private hand a few days previously. He had desired that Maurice should have his sword, and mentioned the books which he wished his sisters to share, talking of Sophy as one whom he honoured much, and wished he had known better; but much pained by hearing nothing from Lucy, and lamenting his share in her union with Algernon. He had said something about his wish that the almshouses should be built, but his father had turned away the subject, knowing that in case of his dying intestate and unmarried, the property was settled on the sisters, and seeing little chance of any such work being carried out with the co-operation of Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy. Latterly he had spoken of Genevieve Durant; he knew better how unworthy of her he had been, and how harassing his pursuit must have appeared, but he could not help entreating that her pardon might be asked in his name, that she might hear that he had loved her to the last, and above all, that his father would never lose sight of her; and Mr. Kendal's promise to regard her as the next thing to his daughters had been requited with a look of the utmost gratitude and affection.

This was the substance of what Mr. Kendal told his wife as they sat together, unwitting of the lapse of time, and shrinking from any interruption that might mar their present peace and renew the sense of bereavement.

Mr. Ferrars was the first to knock at the door. He had been doing his utmost to spare both them and Fred, who needed all his care. These four months of mutual dependence had been even more endearing than the rescue of Fred's life on the battlefield; and he declared that Gilbert had done him more good than any one else. They had been so thrown together as to make the 'religious sentiment' of the younger tell upon the warm though thoughtless heart of the elder. They had been most fondly attached; and in his present state, reduced by wounds and exhausted by watching, Fred was more overpowered than those more closely concerned. He could hardly speak collectedly when an officer of the garrison called to consult him with regard to a military funeral, and it was for this that Maurice was obliged to refer to the father. There were indeed none of his regiment in the island, but there was a universal desire in the garrison to do honour to the distinguished young officer, for whom great interest had been felt and the compliment brought a glow of exultation to Mr. Kendal's face, as he expressed his warm thanks, but desired that the decision might rest with Fred himself, as his son's lieutenant-colonel.

Maurice felt himself fully justified in his expedition when he found that all devolved on him, even writing to Sophy, and making the most necessary arrangements; for the colonel was incapable of exertion, Albinia was prostrated by the shock, and Mr. Kendal appeared to be lulled into a strange calm by the effects of the excessive bodily weariness consequent on the exhausting attendance of the last few days. They all depended upon Mr. Ferrars, and recognised his presence as an infinite comfort.

In the morning Albinia came forth like one who had been knocked down and shattered, weary and gentle, and with the tears ever welling into her eyes, above all when she endeavoured to write to Sophy; and she showed her ordinary earnestness only when she entreated to see her boy once more. Her husband took her to look on the countenance settled into the expression of unearthly peace, but she was not satisfied; it was not her own Gilbert, boyish, sensitive, dependent, and shrinking. The pale brow, the marked manly features, the lower ones concealed by the brown moustache, belonged to the hero who had dared the deadly ride and borne his friend through the storm of shot and shell; the noble, settled, steadfast face was the face of a stranger, and gave her a thrill of disappointment. She gloried in the later Gilbert, but the last she had seen of him whom she loved for his weakness, had been when she had not heeded his farewell.

It made the pang the less when evening came and he was carried to his resting-place. They would have persuaded Frederick to spare himself, but as the only officer of the same corps, as well as for the sake of many closer ties, he would not hear of being absent, and made his cousin Maurice do his best to restore the smart soldierly air which he for the first time thought of regretting.

Gilbert's horse had perished at Balaklava, but his cap, sword, and spurs, were laid on the coffin, and from her shaded window Albinia watched it borne between the files of soldiers with arms reversed; and the procession of officers whose bright array contrasted with the colonel's war-worn dress, ghastly cheek, and empty sleeve, tokens of the reality of war amid its pageantry, as all moved slowly away to the deep tones of the solemn Dead March, music well befitting the calm grandeur of the face she had seen, and leaving her heart throbbing with the deep exulting awe and pathos of a soldier's funeral. She knelt alone, and followed the burial service in the stillness of the room overlooking the broad expanse of blue sea and sky; and by-and-by, through the window came the sound of the volley fired over the grave, the farewell of the army to the soldier at rest, his battles ended.

'There was peace, and there was glory; but she could not divest herself of a sense of unreality. She could not feel as if it were really and truly Gilbert, and she were mourning for him. All was like a dream—that solemn military spectacle—the serene, grave sunshine on the fortress-harbour stretching its mailed arms into the sea—the roofs of the knightly old monastic city rising in steps from the bay crowded with white sails—and even those around her were different, her husband pale and still, as in a region above common life, and her cousin like another man, without his characteristic joyousness and insouciance. She could hardly induce herself, in her drowsy state, to believe that all was indeed veritable and tangible.

There was nothing to detain them at Malta, and Mr. Ferrars, who arranged everything, thought the calm of a sea-voyage would be better for them all than the bustle and fatigue of a land journey.

'Kendal himself does not care about getting home,' he said to Fred, who was afraid this was determined on his account. 'I fear many annoyances are in store for him. His son-in-law will not be pleasant to deal with about the property.'

With an exclamation Fred started from the chairs on which he had been resting, and dived into his sabre-tasch which hung from the wall. 'I never liked to begin about it,' he said, 'but I ought to have given them this. It was done when he was so bad at Scutari. One night he worked himself into a fever lest he should not live till his birthday, and said a great deal about this Dusautoy making himself an annoyance, perhaps insisting on a sale and turning his father out. Nothing pacified him till, the very day he was of age, we got the vice-consul to draw up what he wanted, and witness it, and so did I and the doctor, and here it is. Afterwards he warned me to say nothing of it when Mr. Kendal came, for he said if the other fellow made a row, it would be better his father should be able to say he had known nothing of the matter.'

'Does he make his father his heir?'

'That's the whole of it. He said his sisters would see it was the only way to get things even, and I was to tell Albinia something about building cottages or almshouses. Ay, "his father was to do what ought to have been done."'

'Well, there's the best deed of poor Gilbert's life!'

'Thank you,' mumbled Fred, hall drolly, half gravely.

'Ay, Kendal and Albinia will do more good with that property than you have thought of in all your life, sir.'

'Their future and my past,' laughed Fred, adding more gravely, 'Scamp as I am, there's more responsibility coming on me now, and I have gone through some preparation for it. If I can get out to Canada—'

'You will not lessen your responsibilities,' said Maurice, smiling, 'nor your competency to meet them.'

'I trust not,' said Fred.

Mr. Ferrars read in his countenance far more than was implied by those words. The General, by treating him as a boy, had kept him one, and perhaps his levity had been prolonged by the rejection of his first love; but a really steady attachment had settled his character, and he had been undergoing much training through his own sufferings, Gilbert's illness, and the sense of the new position that awaited him as commanding officer; and for the first time Maurice, who had always been very fond of him, felt that he was talking to a high-principled and right-minded man instead of the family pet and laughing-stock.

'I suppose,' he said, 'that you cannot have heard often from Montreal since you have been in the East.'

'No. If my letters are anywhere, it is at the Family Office. I desired them to be forwarded thither from head-quarters, not expecting to be detained here. But,' cried Fred with animation, 'what think you of the General actually writing to Mr. Kinnaird from Balaklava?'

'It would have been too bad if he had not.'

'I believe he did so solely to make me sleep, but it is the first time he has deigned to treat the affair as anything but a delusion, and he can't retract now. Since that, poor Gilbert has made a scrap or two of mine presentable, and there's all that I have been able to accomplish; but I hope it may have set her mind at rest.'

'Shall I be secretary?'

'Thank you, I think not. She would only worry herself about what is before me; and if the doctors let me off easy, I had rather report of myself in person.'

His eyes danced, and Maurice thought his unselfishness deserved a reward.

'My poor Gilbert's last secret,' said Mr. Kendal, as he laid before his wife the brief document by which his son had designated him as his sole heir and executor. 'A gift to you, and a trust to me.'

Albinia looked up for explanation.

'While he intrusts his sisters to my justice, he tacitly commends to me the works which you wished to see accomplished.'

'The almshouses! The improvements! Do you mean to undertake them?'

'It shall be my most sacred duty.'

'Oh! that we could have planned it with him!'

'Perhaps I value this the more from the certainty that it is spontaneous,' said Mr. Kendal. 'It showed great consideration and forethought, that he said nothing of his intention to me. Had he mentioned it, I should have thought it right to suggest his leaving his sisters their share; and yet, as we are situated with young Dusautoy, it would have been awkward to have interfered. He did well and wisely to be silent.'

'You don't expect Algernon to be discontented. Impossible, at such a time, and so well off as he is!'

'I wish it may be impossible.'

'What do you mean, to do?'

'As far as I can see at present, I shall do this. I fear neither the mode of acquisition nor the management of that property was such as to bring a blessing, and I believe my poor boy has made it over to me in order to free his sisters from the necessity of winking at oppression and iniquity. Had it gone to them, matters must have been let alone till Sophia came of age, and even then, all improvements must have depended on Algernon's consent. The land and houses we will keep, and sufficient ready money for the building and repairs; and to this, Sophia, at least, will gladly agree. The rest— something under twenty thousand, if I remember correctly—is the girls' right. I will settle Lucy's share on her so as to be out of her husband's power, and Sophia shall have hers when she comes of age.'

'I am sure that will take from Algernon all power of grumbling, though I cannot believe that even he could complain.'

'You approve, then?'

'How can yon ask? It is the first thing that has seemed like happiness, if it did not make one long for him to talk it over!' The wound was still very recent, and her spirits very tender, and the more she felt the blessing of the association with Gilbert in the work of love, the more she wept, though not altogether in sorrow.

Mortified at having come so much overworked and weakened, as to occasion only trouble and anxiety, she yielded resignedly when forbidden to wear out strength and spirits by a visit to the burial-ground before her embarkation. She must content herself with Maurice's description of the locality, and carry away in her eye only the general picture of the sapphire ocean and white rock fortress of the holy warriors vowed to tenderness and heroism, as the last resting-place of her cherished Gilbert, when 'out of weakness he had been made strong' in penitence and love.



CHAPTER XXVII.



Had Sophia's wishes been consulted, she would have preferred nursing her sorrows at home; but no choice had been left, and at the vicarage the fatherly kindness of Mr. Dusautoy, and the considerate let-alone system of his wife, kept her at ease and not far from cheerful, albeit neither the simplicity of the one nor the keenness of the other was calculated to draw her into unreserve: comfort was in the children.

The children clung to her as if she made their home, little Albinia preferring her even to Uncle John, as he had insisted on being called ever since Lucy had become his niece, and Maurice invoking caresses, the bestowal of which was his mother's rare privilege. The boy was dull and listless, and though riot and mirth could be only too easily excited, his wildest shouts and most frantic gesticulations were like efforts to throw off a load at his heart. Time hung heavy on his hands, and he would lie rolling and kicking drearily on the floor, watching with some envy his little sister as she spelt her way prosperously through 'Little Charles,' or daintily and distinctly repeated her hymns. 'Nothing to do' was the burthen of his song, and with masculine perverseness he disdained every occupation suggested to him. Sophy might boast of his obedience and quiescence, but Mrs. Dusautoy pitied all parties, and wondered when he would be disposed of at school.

Permission to open letters had been left with Sophy, who with silent resignation followed the details of poor Gilbert's rapid decay. At last came the parcel by the private hand, containing a small packet for each of the family. Sophy received a silver Maltese Cross, and little Albinia a perfumy rose-leaf bracelet. There was a Russian grape-shot for Maurice, and with it a letter.

With childish secrecy, he refused to let any one look at so much as the envelope, and ran away with it, shouting 'It's mine.' Sophy was grieved that it should be treated like a toy, and fearing that, while playing at importance, he would lose or destroy it, without coming to a knowledge of the contents, she durst not betray her solicitude, lest she should give a stimulus to his wilfulness and precipitate its fate. However, when he had galloped about enough, he called imperatively, 'Sophy;' and she found him lying on his back on the grass, the black cat an unwilling prisoner on his chest.

'You may read it to Smut and me,' he said.

It bore date the day after his father's arrival, but it had evidently been continued at many different times; and as the handwriting became more feeble, the style grew more earnest, so that, but for her hoarse, indifferent voice, Sophy could hardly have accomplished the reading.

'My dear Maurice,

'Many, many thanks to you and dear little Awkey for your present. I have set it up like a picture, and much do I like to look at it, and guess who chose the colours and who are the hunters. I am sure the fat man in the red coat is the admiral. It makes the place seem like home to see what tells so plainly of you and baby.

'Kiss my little Awk for me, and thank her for wanting to send me Miss Jenny, dear little maid; I like to think of it. You will not let her quite forget me. You must show her my name if it is put up in church, like Edmund's and all the little ones'; and you will sometimes tell her about dear old Ned on a Sunday evening when you are both very good.

'I think you know that you and she will never again run out into the hall to pull Gibbie almost down between you. Perhaps by the time you read this, you will be the only son, with all the comfort and hope of the house resting upon you. My poor Maurice, I know what it is to be told so, and only to feel that one has no brother; but at least it cannot be to you as it was with me, when it was as if half myself were gone, and all my stronger, better, braver self.

'My father has been reading to me the Rich Man and Lazarus. Maurice, when you read of him and the five brethren, think of me, and how I pray that I may not have left seeds of temptation for you. In the time of my loneliness, Tritton was good-natured, but I ought to have avoided him; and that to which he introduced me has been the bane of my life. Nothing gives me such anguish as to think I have made you acquainted with that set. Keep out of their way! Never go near those pigeon-shootings and donkey-races; they seem good fun, but it is disobedience to go, and the things that happen there are like the stings of venomous creatures; the poison was left to fester even when your mother seemed to have cured me. Neither now nor when you are older resort to such things or such people. Next time you meet Tritton and Shaw tell them I desired to be remembered to them; after that have nothing to do with them; touch your hat and pass on. They meant it in good nature, and thought no harm, but they were my worst enemies; they led me astray, and taught me deception as a matter of course. Oh! Maurice, never think it manly to have the smallest reserve with your parents. I would give worlds to have sooner known that truth would have been freedom and rest. Thank Heaven, your faults are not my faults. If you go wrong, it will be with a high hand, but you would wring hearts that can ill bear further grief and disappointment. Oh! that I were more worthy to pray that you may use your strength and spirit the right way; then you will be gladness to our father and mother, and when you lie down to die, you will be happier than I am.

'I want to tell you more, but it hurts me to write long. If I could only see you—not only in my dreams. I wake, and my heart sickens with longing for a sight of my brave boy's merry face, till I almost feel as if it would make me well; but it is a blessing past hope to have my father with me, and know him as I have never done before. Give little Albinia these beads, with my love, and be a better brother to her than I was to poor Lucy.

'Good-by, Maurice. No one can tell what you have been to me since your mother put you into my arms, and I felt I had a brother again. God bless you and cancel all evil you may have caught from me. Papa will give you my sword. Perhaps you will wear it one day, and under my colonel. I have never been so happy as in the time it was mine. When you look at it, always say this to yourself: "Fear God, and fear nothing else." O that I had done so!

'Let your dear, dear mother be happy in you: it will be the only way to make her forgive me in her heart. Good-by, my own dear, brave boy.

'Your most affectionate brother, 'G. KENDAL.'

'I say, Smut,' quoth Maurice, 'I think you and our Tabby would make two famous horses for Awkey's little cart. I shall take you home and harness you.'

Sophy sat breathless at his indifference. 'You mustn't,' she said in hasty anger; 'Smut is not yours.'

'Well, Jack said that our Tabby had two kittens up in the loft; I think they'll make better ponies. I shall go and try them!'

'Don't plague the kittens.'

'I'll not plague them; I'll only make ponies of them. Give me the letter.'

'No, not to play with the cats. I thought you would have cared about such a letter!'

'You have no right to keep it! It is mine; give it me!' cried Maurice, passionately.

'Promise to take real care of it.'

He only tore it from her, and was gone.

'I'm a fool to expect anything from such a child,' she thought.

At two o'clock the Vicar hurried into the bank. 'Good morning, Mr. Goldsmith, I beg your pardon; I wanted to ask if Mr. O'More has seen little Maurice Kendal.'

'Not since yesterday—what's the matter?'

'The child is not come in to dinner. He is nowhere at home or at Willow Lawn.'

'Ha!' cried Ulick. 'Can he be gone to see his pony at Hobbs's!'

'No, it has been sent to Fairmead. Then you have no notion where the child can be? Sophy is nearly distracted. She saw him last about ten o'clock, bent on harnessing some kittens, but he's not in the hay-loft!'

'He may be gone to the toy-shop after the harness. Or has anyone looked in the church-tower—he was longing to go up it, and if the door were open—'

'The very thing!' cried the Vicar. 'I'll go this moment.'

'Or there's old Peter, the sailor,' called Ulick; 'if he wanted any tackle fitted, he might go to him.'

'You had better go yourself, More,' said Mr. Goldsmith. 'One would not wish to keep poor Miss Kendal in suspense, though I dare say the boy is safe enough.'

Mr. Goldsmith was thanked, and Ulick hurried out, Hyder Ali leaping up in amazement at his master being loose at that time of day.

Everybody had thought the child was with somebody else till dinner-time, and the state of the vicarage was one of dire alarm and self-reproach. Sophy was seeking and calling in every possible place, and had just brought herself to own the message of remembrance in Gilbert's letter, thinking it possible Maurice might have gone to deliver it at Robbles Leigh; and Mr. Hope had undertaken to go thither in quest of him. Ulick and Mr. Dusautoy, equally disappointed by the tower and the sailor, went again to Willow Lawn to interrogate the servants. The gardener's boy had heard Maurice scolding and the cat squalling, and the cook had heard his step in the house. They hurried into his little room—he was not there, but the drawers had been disturbed.

'He may be gone to Fairmead!' cried the Vicar.

'How?' said Ulick. 'Ha! Hyder, sir!' holding up a little shoe. 'Seek! That's my fine doggie—they only call you a mongrel because you have all the canine virtues united. See what you can do as sleuth hound. Ha! We'll nose him out for you in no time, Mr. Dusautoy!'

After sniffing round the drawers, the yellow tripod made an ungainly descent of the stairs, his nose down all the way, then across the hall and out at the gate; but when, after poking about, the animal set off on the turnpike-road, the Vicar demurred.

'Stay; the poor dog only wants to get you out for a walk. He is making for the Hadminster road.'

'And why wouldn't he, if the child is nowhere in Bayford?

'I can't answer it to his mother wasting time in this way. You may do as you like. I shall go to the training-stables, where he has once been, if not on to Fairmead. I can't see Sophy till he is found!'

'I shall abide by my little Orangeman,' said Ulick; and they parted.

Hyder Ali pursued his way in the March dust, while Ulick eagerly scanned for the traces of a child's foot. Four miles did the dog go on, evidently following a scent, but Ulick's mind misgave him as Hadminster church-tower rose before him, and the dog took the ascent to the station.

Ulick made his way in as a train stood panting before the platform. He had a glimpse of a square face and curly hair at the window of a second-class carriage.

'Maurice, come back!' he cried. 'Here, guard! this little boy must come back!'

'Go on!' shouted Maurice. 'I've got my ticket. 'No one can stop me. I'm going to Malta!' and he tried to get to the other side of a stout traveller, who defended his legs from him, and said, 'Ha! Running away from school, young master! Here's your usher.'

'No, I'm not running away! I'm not at school! I'm Maurice Kendal! I'm going to my brother at Malta!'

'He is the son of Mr. Kendal of Bayford,' said Ulick to the station-master,' his parents are from home, and there will be dreadful distress if he goes in this way. Maurice, your sister has troubles enough already.'

'I've my ticket, and can't be stopped.'

But even as he spoke, the stout traveller picked him up by the collar, and dropped him like a puppy dog into Ulick's arms, just as the train was getting into motion; and a head protruded from every window to see the truant, who was pommelling Ulick in a violent fury, and roaring, 'Let me go; I will go to Gilbert!'

'Behave like a man,' said Ulick; 'don't disgrace yourself in that way.'

The boy coloured, and choking with passion and disappointment, and straining against Ulick's hold of his shoulder.

'Indeed, sir,' said the station-master, 'if we had recognised the young gentleman, we would have made more inquiries, but he asked so readily for his ticket, not seeming at a loss, and we have so many young travellers, that we thought of nothing amiss. Will you have a fly, sir?'

'I'm not going home,' said the boy, undaunted.

'You must submit, Maurice. You do not wish to make poor Sophy miserable.'

'I must go to Malta,' the boy persisted. 'Gilbert says it would make him well to see me. I know my way; I saw it in the map, and I've a roll, and the end of a cold tongue, and a clean shirt, and my own sovereign, and four shillings, and a half-crown, and a half-penny in my pocket; and I'm going!'

'But, Maurice, this gentleman will tell you that your whole sovereign would not carry you a quarter of the way to Malta.'

The station-master gave so formidable a description of the impossibilities of the route, that the hardy little fellow's look of decision relaxed into dejection, his muscles lost their tension, and he struggled hard with his tears.

He followed Ulick to the carriage, and hid his face in a corner, while orders were given to stop at the post-office in case there were fresh letters. There was one for Miss Kendal, in Mr. Ferrars' writing, and with black borders. Ulick felt too surely what it must be, and hardly could bear to address Maurice, who had shrunk from him with some remains of passion, but hearing suppressed sobs, he put his hand on him and said, 'My poor little man.'

'Get away,' said Maurice, shaking him off. 'Why did you come and bother?'

'I came because it would have almost killed your sister and mother for you to be lost. If you had seen Sophy's face, Maurice!'

'I don't care. Now I shall never see Gilbert again, and he did want me so!' Maurice hid his face, and his frame shook with sobs.

'Yes,' said Ulick, 'every one knew he wanted you; but if it had been possible for you to go, your mamma would have taken you. If your uncle had to take care of her how could you go alone?'

'I'd have got there somehow,' cried Maurice. 'I'd have seen and heard Gilbert. He's written me a letter to say he wants to see me, and I can't even make that out!'

'Has not your sister read it to you!'

'I hate Sophy's reading!' cried Maurice. 'It makes it all grumpy, like her. Take it, Ulick—you read it.'

That rich, sensitive, modulated voice brought out the meaning of the letter, though there were places where Ulick had nearly broken down; and Maurice pressed against him with the large tears in his eyes, and was some minutes without speaking.

'He does not think of your coming; he does not expect you, dear boy,' said Ulick. 'It is a precious letter to have. I hope you will keep it and read it often, and heed it too.'

'I can't read it,' said Maurice, ruefully. 'If I could, I shouldn't mind.'

'You soon will. You see how he tells you you are to be a comfort; and if you are a good boy, you'll quickly leave the dunce behind.'

'I can't,' said Maurice. 'Mamma said I should not do a bit of a lesson with Sophy, or I should tease her heart out. Would it come quite out?'

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