Two lovers to befriend at once! Two desirable attachments to foster! There was glory! Not that Albinia fulfilled her mission to a great extent; shamefacedness always restrained her, and she had not Emily's gift for making opportunities. Indeed, when she did her best, so perversely bashful were the parties, that the wrong pairs resorted together, the two who could talk being driven into conversation by the silence of the others.
Of Mr. Hope's sentiments there could be no doubt. He was fairly carried off his feet by the absorption of the passion, which was doubly engrossing because all ladies had hitherto appeared to him as beings with whom conversation was an impossible duty; but after all he had heard of Miss Durant, he might as a judicious man select her for an excellent parsoness, and as a young man fall vehemently in love. Nothing could be more evident to the lookers-on, but Albinia could not satisfy herself whether Genevieve had any suspicion.
She was not very young, knew something of the world, and was acute and observing; but on the other hand, she had made it a principle never to admit the thought of courtship, and she might not be sufficiently acquainted with the habits of the individual to be sensible of the symptomatic alteration.
She had begged the Dusautoys to make her leisure profitable, and spent much of her time upon the schools, on her little patient in Tibb's Alley, and in going about among the poor; she visited her old shopkeeper friends, and drank tea with them much oftener than gratified Mr. Kendal, talking so openly of the pleasure of seeing them again, that Albinia sometimes thought the blood of the O'Mores was a little chafed.
'There,' said Genevieve, completing a housewife, filled with needles ready threaded, 'I wonder whether the omnibus is too protestant to leave a parcel at the convent?'
'I don't think its scruples of conscience would withstand sixpence,' said Albinia.
'You might post it for less than that,' said Sophy.
'Don't you know,' said Ulick O'More, who was playing with the little Awk in the window, 'that the feminine mind loves expedients? It would be less commonplace to confide the parcel to the conductor, than merely let him receive it as guard of the mail bag and servant of the public.'
'Exactly,' laughed Genevieve. 'Think of the moral influence of being selected as bearer of a token of tenderness to my aunt on her fete, instead of being treated as a mere machine, devoid of human sympathies.'
'Sophy, where were we reading of a nation which gives the simplest transaction the air of a little romance?' said Ulick.
'And I have heard of a nation which denudes every action of sentiment, and leaves you the tree without the leaves,' was Genevieve's retort.
'That misses fire, Miss Durant; my nation does everything by the soul, nothing by mechanism.'
'When they do do it.'
'That's a defiance. You must deprive the conductor of the moral influence, whether as man or machine, and entrust the parcel to me.'
'That would be like chartering a steamer to send home a Chinese puzzle.'
'No, indeed; I must go to Hadminster. Bear me witness, Sophy, Miss Goldsmith wants me to talk to the house agent.'
'Mind, if you miss St. Leocadia's day, you will miss my aunt's fete.'
Mr. O'More succeeded in carrying off the little parcel. The next morning, as the ladies were descending the hill, a hurried step came after them, and the curate said in an abrupt rapid manner, 'I beg your pardon, I was going to Hadminster; could I do anything for you?'
'Nothing, thank you,' said Albinia, at whom he looked.
'Did I not hear—Miss Durant had some work to send her aunt to-day?'
'How did you know that, Mr. Hope?' exclaimed Genevieve.
'I heard something pass, when some one was admiring your work,' he said, not looking at her. 'And this—I think—is St. Leocadia's day.'
'I am very much obliged to you for remembering it, but I have sent my little parcel otherwise, so I need not trouble you.'
'Ah! how stupid in me! I am very sorry. I beg your pardon,' and he hurried off, looking as if very sorry were not a mere matter of course.
'Poor man,' thought Albinia, 'I dare say he has reckoned on it all this time, and hunted out St. Leocadia in Alban Butler, and then tried to screw up his courage all yesterday. Ulick has managed to traverse a romance, but perhaps it is just as well, for what would be the effect on the public of Mr. Hope in that coat being seen ringing at the convent door?'
'Well, Miss Durant,' said Ulick, entering the drawing-room in the winter twilight, 'here is evidence for you!'
'You have actually penetrated the convent, and seen my aunt? Impossible! and yet this pencilled note is her own dear writing!'
'You don't mean that you really were let in?' cried Sophy.
'I entered quite legitimately, I assure you. It was all luck. I'd just been putting up at the Crown, when what should I see in a sort of a trance, staring right into the inn-yard, but as jolly-looking a priest as ever held a station. "An' it's long since I've seen the like of you," says he aloud to himself. "Is it the car?" says I. "Sure it is," says he. "I've not laid my eyes on so iligant a vehicle since I left County Tyrone."'
'Mr. O'Hara!' exclaimed Genevieve.
'"And I'm mistaken if you're not the master of it," he goes on, taking the measure of me all over,' continued Ulick, putting on his drollest brogue. 'You see he had too much manners to say that such a personable young gentleman, speaking such correct English, could be no other than an Irishman, so I made my bow, and said the car and I were both from County Galway, and we were straight as good friends as if we'd hunted together at Ballymakilty. To be sure, he was a little taken aback when he found I was one of the Protestant branch, of the O'Mores, but a countryman is a countryman in a barbarous land, and he asked me to call upon him, and offered to do me any service in his power.'
'I am sure he would. He is the kindest old gentleman I know,' exclaimed Genevieve. 'He always used to bring me barleysugar-drops when I was a little girl, and it was he who found out our poor old Biddy in distress at Hadminster, and sent her to live with us.'
'Indeed! Then I owe him another debt of gratitude—in fact, he told me that one of his flock, meaning Biddy, had spoken to him honourably of me. "Well," said I, "the greatest service you could do me, sir, would be to introduce me to Mademoiselle Belmarche; I have a young lady's commission for her." "From my little Genevieve," he said, "the darling that she is. Did you leave the child well?" And so when I said it was a present for her saint's day, and that your heart was set on it—'
'But, Mr. O'More, I never did set my heart on your seeing her.'
'Well, well, you would have done it if you'd known there had been any chance of it, besides, your heart was set on her getting the work, and how could I make sure of that unless I gave it into her own hand? I wouldn't have put it into Mr. O'Hara's snuffy pocket to hinder myself from being bankrupt'
'Then he took you in?'
'So he did, like an honest Irishman as he was. He rang at the bell and spoke to the portress, and had me into the parlour and sent up for the lady; and I have seldom spent a pleasanter hall-hour. Mademoiselle Belmarche bade me tell you that she would write fuller thanks to you another day, and that her eyes would thank you every night.'
'Was her cold gone? Did she seem well, the dear aunt?'
Genevieve was really grateful, and had many questions to ask about her aunt, which met with detailed answers.
'By-the-by,' said Ulick,' I met Mr. Hope in the street as I was coming away, I offered him a lift, but he said he was not coming home till late. I wonder what he is doing.'
Albinia and Sophy exchanged glances, and had almost said, 'Poor Mr. Hope!' It was very hard that the good fortune and mere good nature of an indifferent person should push him where the quiet curate so much wished to be. Albinia would have liked to have had either a little impudence or a little tact to enable her to give a hint to Ulick to be less officious.
St. Leocadia's feast was the 9th of December. Three days after, Genevieve received a letter which made her change countenance, and hurry to her own room, whence she did not emerge till luncheon-time.
In the late afternoon, there was a knock at the drawing-room door, and Mr. Dusautoy said, 'Can I speak with you a minute, Mrs. Kendal?'
Dreading ill news of Lucy, she hurried to the morning-room with him.
'Fanny said I had better speak to you. This poor fellow is in a dreadful state.'
'No, indeed. Poor Hope! What has possessed the girl?'
'Genevieve has not refused him?'
'Did you not know it? I found him in his rooms as white as a sheet! I asked what was the matter, he begged me to let him go away for one Sunday, and find him a substitute. I saw how it was, and at the first word he broke down and told me.'
'Was this to-day?'
'Yes. What can the silly little puss be thinking of to put an excellent fellow like that to so much pain? Going about it in such an admirable way, too, writing to old Mamselle first, and getting a letter from her which he sends with his own, and promising to guarantee her fifty pounds a year out of his own pocket. 'I should like to know what that little Jenny means by it. I gave her credit for more sense.'
'Perhaps she thinks, under the circumstances of her coming here, within the year—'
'Ah! very proper, very pretty of her; I never thought of that; I suppose I have your permission to tell Hope?'
'I believe all the town knew it,' said Albinia.
'Yes; he need not be downhearted, he has only to be patient, and he will like her the better for it. After all, though he is as good a man as breathes, he cannot be Gilbert, and it will be a great relief to him. I'll tell him to put all his fancies about O'More out of his head.'
'Most decidedly,' said Albinia; 'nothing can be greater nonsense. Tell him by no means to go away, for when she finds that our feelings are not hurt, and has become used to the idea, I have every hope that she will be able to form a new—'
'Ay; ay; poor Gilbert would have wished it himself. It is very good of you, Mrs. Kendal; I'll put the poor fellow in spirits again.'
'Did you hear whether she gave any reasons?'
'Oh! I don't know—something about her birth and station; but that's stuff—she's a perfect lady, and much more.'
'And he is only a bookseller's son.'
'True, and though it might be awkward to have the parson's father-in-law cutting capers if he lived in the same town, yet being dead these fifteen or eighteen years, where's the damage?'
'Was that all?'
'I fancy that she said she never meant to marry, but that's all nonsense; she is the very girl that ought, and I hope you will talk to her and bring her to reason. There's not a couple in the whole place that I should be so glad to marry as those two.'
Albinia endeavoured to discuss the matter with Genevieve that night when they went upstairs. It was not easy to do, for Genevieve seemed resolved to wish her good-night outside her door, but she made her entrance, and putting her arm round her little friend's waist, said, 'Am I very much in your way, my dear? I thought you might want a little help, or at least a little talk.'
'Oh! Mrs. Kendal, I hoped you did not know!' and her eyes filled with tears.
Mr. Dusautoy told me, my dear; poor Mr. Hope's distress betrayed him, and Mr. Dusautoy was anxious I should—'
Genevieve did not let her finish, but exclaiming, 'I did not expect this from you, madame,' gave way to a shower of tears.
'My dear child, do we not all feel you the more one with ourselves for this reluctance?' said Albinia, caressing her fondly. 'It shall not be forced upon you any more till you can bear it.'
'Till!' exclaimed Genevieve, alarmed. 'Oh! do not say that! Do not hold out false hopes! I never shall!'
'I do not think you are a fair judge as yet, my dear.'
'I think I am,' said Genevieve, slowly, 'I must not let you love me on false pretences, dearest Mrs. Kendal. I do not think it is all for—for his sake—but indeed, though I must esteem Mr. Hope, I do not believe I could ever feel for him as—' then breaking off. 'I pray you, with all my heart, dearest friend, never to speak to me of marriage. I am the little governess, and while Heaven gives me strength to work for my aunt, and you let me call this my home, I am content, I am blessed. Oh! do not disturb and unsettle me!'
So imploringly did she speak, that she obliterated all thought of the prudent arguments with which Albinia had come stored. It was no time for them; there was no possibility of endeavouring to dethrone the memory of her own Gilbert, and her impulse was far more to agree that no one else could ever be loved, than to argue in favour of a new attachment. She was proud of Gilbert for being thus recollected, and doubly pleased with the widowed heart; nor was it till the first effect of Genevieve's tears had passed off that she began to reflect that the idea might become familiar, and that romance having been abundantly satisfied by the constancy of the Lancer, sober esteem might be the basis of very happy married affection.
Mr. Hope did not go away, but he shrank into himself, and grew more timid than ever, and it was through the Dusautoys that Albinia learnt that he was much consoled, and intended to wait patiently. He had written to Mdlle. Belmarche, who had been extremely disappointed, and continued to believe that so excellent and well brought up a young girl as her niece would not resist her wishes with regard to a young pastor so respectable.
Sophy, when made aware of what was going on, did not smile or shed a tear, only a strange whiteness came across her face. She made a commonplace remark with visible effort, nor was she quite herself for some time. It was as if the reference to her brother had stirred up the old wound. Genevieve seemed to have been impelled to manifest her determination of resuming her occupation, she wrote letters vigorously, answered advertisements, and in spite of the united protest of her friends, advertised herself as a young person of French extraction, but a member of the Church of England, accustomed to tuition, and competent to instruct in French, Italian, music, and all the ordinary branches of education. Address, G. C. D., Mr. Richardson's, bookseller, Bayford.
Miss Goldsmith went to spend Christmas with an old friend, leaving Ulick more liberty than he had enjoyed for a long time. He used it a good deal at Willow Lawn, and was there of course on Christmas-day. After dinner the decoration of the church was under discussion. The Bayford neighbourhood was unpropitious to holly, and Sophy and Genevieve had hardly ever seen any, except that Genevieve remembered the sooty bits sold in London. Something passed about sending for a specimen from Fairmead, but Albinia said that would not answer, for her brother's children were in despair at the absence of berries, and had ransacked Colonel Bury's plantations in vain.
The next day, about twilight, Albinia and Sophy were arranging some Christmas gifts for the old women, in the morning-room; Genevieve was to come and help them on her return from the child in Tibb's Alley.
'Oh, here she comes, up the garden,' said Sophy, who was by the window.
Presently Albinia heard a strange sound as of tightened breath, and looking up saw Sophy deathly pale, with her eyes fixed on the window. In terror she flew to her side, but Sophy spoke not, she only clutched her hand with fingers cold and tight as iron, and gazed with dilated eyes. Albinia looked—
Ulick had come from the house—there was a scarlet-berried spray in Genevieve's hand, which she was trying to make him take again—his face was all pleading and imploring—she turned hastily from him, and they saw her cheek glowing with crimson—she tried to force back the holly spray—but her hand was caught—he was kissing it. No, she had rent it away—she had fled in through the conservatory—they heard the doors—she had rushed up to her own room.
Sophy's grasp grew more rigid—she panted for breath.
'My child! my child!' said Albinia, throwing her arms round her, expecting her to faint. 'Oh! could I have imagined such treason?' Her eyes flashed, and her frame quivered with indignation. 'He shall never come into this house again!'
'Mamma! hush!' said Sophy, releasing herself from her embrace, and keeping her body upright, though obliged to seat herself on the nearest chair. 'It is not treason,' she said slowly, as though her mouth were parched.
'Contemptible fickleness!' burst out Albinia, but Sophy implored silence by a gesture.
'No,' she said; 'it was a dream, a degrading, humiliating dream; but it is over.'
'There is no degradation except to the base trifler I once thought better things of.'
'He has not trifled,' said Sophy. 'Wait! hush!'
There was a composure about her that awed Albinia, who stood watching in suspense while she went to the bed-room, drank some water, cooled her brow, pushed back her hair, and sitting down again in the same collected manner, which gave her almost a look of majesty, she said, 'Promise me, mamma, that all shall go on as if this folly had never crossed our minds.'
'I can't! I can't, Sophy!' said Albinia in the greatest agitation. 'I can't unknow that you have been shamefully used.'
'Then you will lead papa to break his promise to Genevieve, and lower me not only in my own eyes, but in those of every one.'
'He little knew that he was bringing her here to destroy his daughter's happiness. So that was why she held off from Mr. Hope,' cried Albinia, burning with such indignation, that on some one she must expend it, but a tirade against the artfulness of the little French witch was cut off short by an authoritative—
'Don't, mamma! You are unjust! How can she help being loveable!'
'He had no business to know whether she was or not.'
'You are wrong, mamma. The absurdity was in thinking I ever was so.'
'Very little absurd,' said Albinia, twining her arms round Sophy.
'Don't make me silly,' hastily said Sophy, her voice trembling for a moment; 'I want to tell you all about it, and you will see that no one is to blame. The perception has been growing on me for a long time, but I was weak enough to indulge in the dream. It was very sweet!' There again she struggled not to break down, gained the victory, and went on, 'I don't think I should have dared to imagine it myself, but I saw others thought it, who knew more; I knew the incredible was sometimes true, and every little kindness he did—Oh! how foolish! as if he could help doing kindnesses! My better sense told me he did not really distinguish me; but there was something that would feed upon every word and look. Then last year I was wakened by the caricature business. That opened my eyes, for no one who had that in him would have turned my sister into derision. I was sullen then and proud, and when—when humanity and compassion brought him to me in my distress—oh! why—why could not I have been reasonable, and not have selfishly fed on what I thought was revived?'
'He had no right—' began Albinia, fiercely.
'He could neither help saving Maurice, nor speaking comfort and support when he found me exhausted and sinking. It was I who was the foolish creature—I hate myself! Well, you know how it has been—I liked to believe it was the thing—I knew he cared less for me than—but I thought it was always so between men and women, and that I would not have petty distrusts. But when she came, I saw what the true—true feeling is—I saw that he felt when she came into the room—I saw how he heard her words and missed mine—I saw—' Sophy collected herself, and spoke quietly and distinctly, 'I saw his love, and that it had never been for me.'
There was a pause; Albinia could not bear to look, speak, or move. Sophy's words carried conviction that swept away her sand castle.
'Now, mamma,' said Sophy, earnestly, 'you own that he has not been false or fickle.'
'If he has not, he has disregarded the choicest jewel that lay in his way,' said Albinia with some sharpness.
'But he has not been that,' persisted Sophy.
'Well—no; I suppose not.'
'And no one can be less to blame than Genevieve.'
'Little flirt, I've no patience with her.'
'She can't help her manners,' repeated Sophy, 'I feel them so much more charming than mine every moment. She will make him so happy.'
'What are you talking of, Sophy? He must be mad if he is in earnest. A man of his family pride! His father will never listen to it for a moment.'
'I don't know what his father may do,' said Sophy; 'but I know what I pray and entreat we may do, and that is, do our utmost to make this come to good.'
'Sophy, don't ask it. I could not, I know you could not.'
'There is no loss of esteem. I honour him as I always did,' said Sophy. 'Yes, the more since I see it was all for papa and the right, all unselfish, on that 5th of November. Some day I shall have worn out the selfishness.'
She kept her hand tightly pressed on her heart as she spoke, and Albinia exclaimed, 'You shall not see it; you overrate your strength; it is my business to prevent you!'
'Think, mamma,' said Sophy, rising in her earnestness. 'Here is a homeless orphan, whom you have taught to love you, whom papa has brought here as to a home, and for Gilbert's sake. Is it fair— innocent, exemplary as she is—to turn against her because she is engaging and I am not, to cut her off from us, drive her away to the first situation that offers, be it what it may, and with that thought aching and throbbing in her heart? Oh, mamma! would that be mercy or justice?'
'You are not asking to have it encouraged in the very house with you?'
'I do not see how else it is to be,' said Sophy.
'Let him go after her, if there's anything in it but Irish folly and French coquetry—'
'How, mamma? Where? When she is a governess in some strange place? How could he leave his business? How could she attend to him? Oh, mamma! you used to be kind: how can you wish to put two people you love so much to such misery?'
'Because I can't put one whom I love better than both, and who deserves it, to greater misery,' said Albinia, embracing her.
'Then do not put me to the misery of being ungenerous, and the shame of having my folly suspected.'
Albinia would have argued still, but the children came in, Sophy went away, and there was no possibility of a tete-a-tete. How strange it was to have such a tumult of feeling within, and know that the same must be tenfold multiplied in the hearts of those two girls, and yet go through all the domestic conventionalities, each wearing a mask of commonplace ease, as though nothing had happened!
Genevieve had, Albinia suspected, been crying excessively; for there was that effaced annihilated appearance that tears produced on her, but otherwise she did her part in answering her host, who was very fond of her, and always made her an object of attention. Albinia found herself betraying more abstraction, she was so anxiously watching Sophy, who acquitted herself best of all, had kept tears from her eyes, talked more than usual, and looked brilliant, with a bright colour dyeing her cheeks. She was evidently sustained by eagerness to obtain her generous purpose, and did not yet realize the price.
The spray of holly was lying as if it had been tossed in vexation upon the marble slab in the hall. Albinia, from the stairs, saw Sophy take it up, and waited to see what she would do with it. The Sophy she had once known would have dashed it into the flames, and then have repented. No! Sophy held it tenderly, and looked at the glossy leaves and coral fruit with no angry eye; she even raised it to her lips, but it was to pierce with one of the long prickles till her brow drew together at the smart, and the blood started. Then she began to mount the stairs, and meeting Albinia, said quietly, 'I was going to take this to Genevieve's room, it is empty now, but perhaps you had better take care of it for her, out of sight. It will be her greatest treasure to-morrow.'
Mr. Kendal read aloud as usual, but who of his audience attended? Certainly not Albinia. She sat with her head bent over her work, revolving the history of these last two years, and trying to collect herself after the sudden shock, and the angry feelings of disappointment that surged within, in much need of an object of wrath. Alas! who could that object be but that blind, warm-hearted, impulsive Mistress Albinia Kendal?
She saw plain enough, now it was too late, that there had not been a shadow of sentiment in that lively confiding Irishman, used to intimacy with a herd of cousins, and viewing all connexions as cousins. She remembered his conversation with her brother and her brother's impression; she thought of the unloverlike dread of ague in Emily's moonlight walk; she recalled the many occasions when she had thought him remiss, and she could not but acquit him of any designed flirtation, any dangerous tenderness, or what Mdlle. Belmarche would call legerete. He could not be reserved—he was naturally free and open—and how could she have put such a construction on his frankness, when Sophy herself had long been gradually arriving at a conviction of the truth! It was a comfort at least to remember that it had not been the fabrication of her own brain, she had respectable authority for the idea, and she trusted to its prompter to participate in her indignation, argue Ulick out of so poor a match, and at least put a decided veto upon Sophy's Spartan magnanimity— Sophy's health and feelings being the subject, she sometimes thought, which concerned him above all.
Ah! but the evil had not been his doing. He had but gossiped out a pleasant conjecture to his wife as a trustworthy help-meet. What business had she to go and telegraph that conjecture, with her significant eyes, to the very last person who ought to have shared it, and then to have kept up the mischief by believing it herself, and acting, looking, and arranging, as on a certainty implied, though not expressed? Mrs. Osborne or Mrs. Drury might have spoken more broadly, they could not have acted worse, thought she to herself.
The notion might never have been suggested; Sophy might have simply enjoyed these years of intimacy, and even if her heart had been touched, it would have been unconsciously, and the pain and shame of unrequited affection have merely been a slight sense of neglect, a small dreariness, lost in eagerness for the happiness of both friends. Now, two years of love that she had been allowed to imagine returned and sanctioned, and love with the depth and force of Sophy's whole nature—the shame of having loved unasked, the misery of having lived in a delusion—how would they act upon a being of her morbid tendency, frail constitution, and proud spirit? As Albinia thought of the passive endurance of last year's estrangement, her heart sank within her! Illness—brain-fever—permanent ill-health and crushed spirits—nay, death itself she augured—and all—all her own fault! The last and best of Edmund's children so cruelly and deeply wounded, and by her folly! She longed to throw herself at his feet and ask his pardon, but it was Sophy's secret as well as hers, and how could womanhood betray that unrequited love? At least she thought, for noble Sophy's sake, she would not raise a finger to hinder the marriage, but as to forwarding it, or promoting the courtship under Sophy's very eyes—that would be like murdering her outright, and she would join Mr. Kendal with all her might in removing their daughter from the trying spectacle. Talk of Aunt Maria! This trouble was ten thousand times worse!
Albinia began to watch the timepiece, longing to have the evening over, that she might prepare Mr. Kendal. It ended at last, and Genevieve took up her candle, bade good-night, and disappeared. Sophy lingered, till coming forward to her father as he stood by the fire, she said, 'Papa, did you not promise Gilbert that Genevieve should be as another daughter?'
'I wish she would be, my dear,' said Mr. Kendal; 'but she is too independent, and your mamma thinks she would consider it as a mere farce to call her little Albinia's governess, but if you can persuade her—'
'What I want you to do, papa, is to promise that she shall be married from this house, as her home, and that you will fit her out as you did Lucy.'
'Ha! Is she beginning to relent?'
'No, papa. It will be Ulick O'More.'
'You don't mean it!' exclaimed Mr. Kendal, more taken by surprise than perhaps he had ever been, and looking at his wife, who was standing dismayed, yet admiring the gallant girl who had forestalled her precautions. Obliged to speak, she said, 'I am afraid so, Sophy and I witnessed a scene to-day.'
'Afraid?' said Mr. Kendal; 'I see no reason to be afraid, if Ulick likes it. They are two of the most agreeable and best people that ever fell in my way, and I shall be delighted if they can arrange it, for they are perfectly suited to each other.'
'But such a match!' exclaimed Albinia.
'As to that, a sensible, economical wife will be worth more to him than an expensive one, with however large a fortune. And for the family pride, I am glad the lad has more sense than I feared; he has a full right to please himself, having won the place he has, and he may make his father consent. He wants a wife—nothing else will keep him from running headlong into speculation, for want of something to do. Yes, I see what you are thinking of, my dear, but you know we could not wish her, as you said yourself, never to form another attachment.'
'But here!' sighed Albinia, the ground knocked away from under her, yet still clinging to the last possible form of murmur.
'It will cost us something,' said Mr. Kendal, 'but no more than we will cheerfully bear, for the sake of one who has such claims upon us; and it will be amply repaid by having such a pair of friends settled close to us.'
'Then you will, papa?' said Sophy.
'Will do what, my dear?'
'Treat her as—as you did Lucy, papa.'
'And with much more pleasure, and far more hope, than when we fitted out poor Lucy,' said Mr. Kendal.
Sophy thanked him, and said 'Good-night;' and the look which accompanied her kiss to her step-mother was a binding over to secrecy and non-interference.
'Is she gone?' said Mr. Kendal, who had been musing after his last words. 'Gone to tell her friend, I suppose? I wanted to ask what this scene was.'
'Oh!' said Albinia, 'it was in the garden—we saw it from the window—only he brought her a bit of holly, and was trying to kiss her hand.'
'Strong premises, certainly. How did she receive the advance?'
'She would not listen, but made her escape.'
'Then matters are not in such a state of progress as for me to congratulate her? I suppose that you ladies are the best judges whether he may not meet with the same fate as poor Hope?'
'Sophy seems to take it for granted that he will not.'
'Irishman as he is, he must be pretty secure of his ground before coming to such strong measures. Well! I hope we may hear no more of brow-ague. But—' with sudden recollection—'I thought, Albinia, you fancied he had some inclination for Sophy?'
Was it not a good wife to suppress the 'You did'? If she could merrily have said, 'You told me so,' it would have been all very well, but her mood would admit of nothing but a grave and guarded answer—'We did fancy so, but I am convinced it was entirely without reason.'
That superior smile at her lively imagination was more than human nature could bear, without the poor relief of an entreaty that he would not sit meditating, and go to sleep in his chair.
Albinia thought she had recovered equanimity during her night's rest, but in the midst of her morning toilette, Sophy hurried in, exclaiming, 'She'll go away! She is writing letters and packing!' and she answered, 'Well, what do you want me to do? You don't imagine that I can rush into her room and lay hands on her? She will not go upon a wishing-carpet. It will be time to interfere when we know more of the matter.'
Sophy looked blank, and vanished, and Albinia felt excessively vexed at having visited on the chief sufferer her universal crossness with all mankind. She knew she had only spoken common sense, but that made it doubly hateful; and yet she could not but wish Miss Durant anywhere out of sight, and Mr. O'More on the top of the Hill of Howth.
At breakfast, Sophy's looks betrayed nothing to the uninitiated, though Albinia detected a feverish restlessness and covert impatience, and judged that her sleep had been little. Genevieve's had perhaps been less, for she was very sallow, with sunken eyes, and her face looked half its usual size; but Albinia could not easily have compassion on the poor little unwitting traitress, even when she began, 'Dear Mrs. Kendal, will you excuse me if I take a sudden leave? I find it will answer best for me to accept Mrs. Elwood's invitation; I can then present myself to any lady who may wish to see me, and, as I promised my aunt another visit, I had better go to Hadminster by the three o'clock omnibus.'
Albinia was thankful for the loud opposition which drowned the faint reluctance of her own; Mr. Kendal insisting that she should not leave them; little Awk coaxing her; and Maurice exclaiming, 'If the ladies want her, let them come after her! One always goes to see a horse.'
'I'm not so well worth the trouble, Maurice.'
'I know Ulick O'More would come in to see you when all the piebalds for the show were going by!'
'Some day you will come to the same good taste,' said his father, to lessen the general confusion.
'See a lady instead of a piebald? Never!' cried Maurice with indignation, that made the most preoccupied laugh; under cover of which Genevieve effected a retreat. Sophy looked imploringly at Albinia—Albinia was moving, but not with alacrity, and Mr. Kendal was saying, 'I do not understand all this,' when, scarcely pausing to knock, Ulick opened the door, cheeks and eyes betraying scarcely repressed eagerness.
'What—where,' he stammered, as if even his words were startled away; 'is not Miss Durant well?'
'She was here just this moment,' said Mr. Kendal.
'I will go and see for her,' said Sophy. 'Come, children.'
Whether Sophy's powers over herself or over Genevieve would avail, was an anxious marvel, but it did not last a moment, for Maurice came clattering down to say that Genevieve was gone out into the town. In such a moment! She must have snatched up her bonnet, and fled one way while Ulick entered by the other. He made one step forward, exclaiming, 'Where is she gone?' then pausing, broke out, 'Mrs. Kendal, you must make her give me a hearing, or I shall go mad!'
'A hearing?' repeated Mrs. Kendal, with slight malice.
'Yes; why, don't you know?'
'So your time has come, Ulick, has it?' said Mr. Kendal.
'Well, and I were worse than an old ledger if it had not, when she was before me! Make her listen to me, Mrs. Kendal, if she do not, I shall never do any more good in this world!'
'I should have thought,' said Albinia, 'that an Irishman would be at no loss for making opportunities.'
'You don't know, Mrs. Kendal; she is so fenced in with scruples, humility—I know not what—that she will not so much as hear me out. I'm not such a blockhead as to think myself worthy of her, but I do think, if she would only listen to me, I might stand a chance: and she runs off, as if she thought it a sin to hear a word from my mouth!'
'It is very honourable to her,' said Mr. Kendal.
'Very honourable to her,' replied Ulick, 'but cruelly hard upon me.'
'I think, too,' continued Mr. Kendal, stimulated thereto by his lady's severely prudent looks, 'that you ought—granting Miss Durant to be, as I well know her to be, one of the most excellent persons who ever lived—still to count the cost of opening such an affair. It is not fair upon a woman to bring her into a situation where disappointments may arise which neither may be able to bear.'
'Do you mean my family, Mr. Kendal? Trust me for getting consent from home. You will write my father a letter, saying what you said just now; Mrs. Kendal will write another to my mother; and I'll just let them see my heart is set on it, and they'll not hold out.'
'Could you bear to see her—looked down on?' said Albinia.
'Ha!' he cried, with flashing eyes. 'No, believe me, Mrs. Kendal, the O'Mores have too much gentle blood to do like that, even if she were one whom any one could scorn. Why, what is my mother herself but a Goldsmith by birth, and I'd like to see who would cast it up to any of the family that she was not as noble as an O'More! And Genevieve herself—isn't every look and every movement full of the purest gentility her fathers' land can show?'
'I dare say, once accepted, the O'Mores would heartily receive her; but here, in this place, there are some might think it told against you, and might make her uncomfortable.'
'What care I? I've lived and thriven under Bayford scorn many a day. And for her—Oh! I defy anything so base to wound a heart so high as hers, and with me to protect her!'
'And you can afford it?' said Mr. Kendal. 'Remember she has her aunt to maintain.'
'I can,' said Ulick. 'I have gone over it all again and again; and recalling his man-of-business nature, he demonstrated that even at present he was well able to support Mdlle. Belmarche, as well as to begin housekeeping, and that there was every reason to believe that his wider and more intelligent system of management would continue to increase his income.'
'Well, Ulick,' said Mr. Kendal at last, 'I wish you success with all my heart, and esteem you for a choice so entirely founded upon the qualities most certain to ensure happiness.'
'You don't mean to say that she has not the most glorious eyes, the most enchanting figure!' exclaimed Ulick, affronted at the compliment that seemed to aver that Genevieve's external charms were not equal to her sterling merit.
Mr. Kendal and Albinia laughed; and the former excused himself, not quite to the lover's satisfaction, by declaring the lady much more attractive than many regularly handsome people; but he added, that what he meant was, that he was sure the attachment was built upon a sound foundation. Then he entreated that Mrs. Kendal would persuade her to listen to him, for she had fled from him ever since his betrayal of his sentiments till he was half crazed, and had been walking up and down his room all night. He should do something distracted, if not relieved from suspense before night! And Mr. Kendal got rid of him in the midst of his transports, and turning to Albinia said, 'We must settle this as fast as possible, or he will lose his head, and get into a scrape.'
'I do not like such wild behaviour. It is not dignified.'
'It is only temperament,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Will you speak to her?'
'Yes, whenever she comes in.'
'I suspect she has gone out on purpose. Could you not go to find her at the school, or wherever she is likely to be?'
'I don't know where to find her. I cannot give up the children's lessons. Nothing hurts Maurice so much as irregularity.'
He made no answer, but his look of disappointment excited her to observe to herself that she supposed he expected her to run all over the town without ordering dinner first, and she wondered how he would like that!
Presently she heard him go out at the front door, and felt some contrition.
She had not the heart to seek Sophy to report progress, and did not see her till about eleven o'clock, when she came in hastily with her bonnet on, asking, 'Well, mamma?'
'Where have you been, Sophy?'
'To school,' she said. 'Has anything happened?'
'We have had it out, and I am to speak to her when she comes in,' said Albinia, glad as perhaps was Sophy of the enigmatical form to which Maurice's presence restrained the communication.
Sophy went away, but presently returning and taking up her work, but with eyes that betrayed how she was listening; but there was so entire an apparent absence of personal suffering, that Albinia began to discharge the weight from her mind, and believe that the sentiment had been altogether imaginary even on Sophy's side, and the whole a marvellous figment of her own.
At last, Mr. Kendal's foot was heard; Sophy started up, and sat down again. He came upstairs, and his face was all smiles.
'Well,' he said, 'I don't think she will go by the three o'clock omnibus.'
'You have spoken to her?' cried Albinia in compunction.
'Has Maurice finished? Then go out, my boy, for the present.'
'Well?' said Albinia, interrogatively, and Sophy laid down her work and crossed one hand over the other on her knees, and leant back as though to hinder visible tremor.
'Yes,' he said, going on with what had been deferred till Maurice was gone. 'I thought it hard on him—and as I was going to speak to Edwards, I asked if she were at the Union, where I found her, taking leave of the old women, and giving them little packets of snuff, and small presents, chiefly her own work, I am sure. I took her with me into the fields, and persuaded her at last to talk it over with me. Poor little thing! I never saw a more high-minded, conscientious spirit: she was very unhappy about it, and said she knew it was all her unfortunate manner, she wished to be guarded, but a little excitement and conversation always turned her head, and she entreated me not to hinder her going back to a school-room, out of the way of every one. I told her that she must not blame herself for being more than usually agreeable; but she would not listen, and I could hardly bring her to attend to what I said of young O'More. Poor girl! I believe she was running away from her own heart.'
'You have prevented her?' cried Sophy.
'At least I have induced her to hear his arguments. I told her my opinion of him, which was hardly needed, and what I thought might have more weight—that he has earned the right to please himself, and that I believed she would be better for him than riches. She repeated several times "Not now," and "Not here;" and I found that she was shocked at the idea of the subject being brought before us. I was obliged to tell her that nothing would gratify any of us so much, and that this was the time to fulfil her promise of considering me as a father.'
'Oh, thank you,' murmured Sophy.
'So finally I convinced her that she owed Ulick a hearing, and I think she felt that to hear was to yield. She had certainly been feeling that flight was the only measure, and between her dread of entrapping him and of hurting our feelings, had persuaded herself it was her duty. The last thing she did was to catch hold of me as I was going, and ask if he knew what her father was.'
'I dare say it has been the first thing she has said to him,' said Albinia. 'She is a noble little creature! But what have you done with them now?'
'I brought him to her in the parsonage garden. I believe they are walking in the lanes,' said Mr. Kendal, much gratified with his morning's work.
'She deserves him,' said Sophy; and then her eyes became set, as if looking into far distance.
The walk in the lanes had not ended by luncheon-time, and an afternoon loaded with callers was oppressive, but Sophy kept up well. At last, in the twilight, the door was heard to open, and Genevieve came in alone. They listened, and knew she must have run up to her own room. What did it portend? Albinia must be the one to go and see, so after a due interval, she went up and knocked. Genevieve opened the door, and threw herself into her arms. 'Dear Mrs. Kendal! Oh! have I done wrong? I am so very happy, and I cannot help it!'
Albinia kissed her, and assured her she had done nothing to repent of.
'I am so glad you think so. I never dreamt such happiness could be meant for me, and I am afraid lest I should have been selfish and wrong, and bring trouble on him.'
'We have been all saying you deserve him.'
'Oh no—no—so good, so noble, so heroic as he is. How could he think of the poor little French teacher! And he will pay my aunt's fifty pounds! I told him all, and he knew it before, and yet he loves me! Oh! why are people so very good to me?'
'I could easily find an answer to that question,' said Albinia. 'Where is he, my dear?'
'He is gone home. I would not come into the town with him. It is nothing, you know; no one must hear of it, for he must be free unless his parents consent—and I know they never can,' she said, shaking her head, sadly, 'but even then I shall have one secret of happiness- -I shall know what has been! But oh! Mrs. Kendal, let me go away—'
'Go away now?' exclaimed Albinia.
'Yes—it cannot be—here, in this house! Oh! it is outraging your kindness.'
'No,' said Albinia; 'it is but letting us fulfil a very precious charge.'
Genevieve's tears flowed as she said, 'Such goodness! Mr. Kendal spoke to me in this way in the morning, when he was more kind and patient than I can express. But tell me, dearest madame, tell me candidly, is my remaining here the cause of any secret pain to him?'
With regard to him, Albinia could answer sincerely that it was a gratification; and Genevieve owned that she should be glad to await the letters from Ireland, which she tried to persuade herself she believed would put an end to everything, except the precious remembrance.
Sophy here came in with some tea. She had recollected that Genevieve had wandered all day without any bodily sustenance.
There was great sweetness in the quiet, grave manner in which she bent over her friend and kissed her brow. All she said was, 'Papa had goes to fetch him to dinner. Genevieve, you must let me do your hair.'
It was in Genevieve's eyes an astonishing fancy, and Albinia said, 'Come away now, my dear; she must have a thorough rest after such a day.'
Genevieve looked too much excited for rest, but that was the more reason for leaving her to herself; and besides, it was so uncomfortable not to be able to be kind enough.
However, when people are happy, a little kindness goes a great way, and there was a subdued lustre like a glory in her eyes when she came downstairs, with the holly leaves and berries glistening in her hair, the first ornament she had ever worn there.
'It was Sophy's doing,' she said. 'Naughty girl; she tried to take me by surprise. She would not let me look in the glass, but I guessed—and oh! she was wounding her poor hands so sadly.'
I must thank her,' said Ulick, looking ecstatic. 'Why does she not come down?'
As she did not appear, Albinia went up, doubtful if it were wise, yet too uneasy not to go in quest of her.
It was startling to have so faint an answer on knocking, and on entering the room, she saw Sophy lying on her bed, upon her back, with her arms by her sides, and with a ghastly whiteness on her features.
Scarcely a pulse could be felt, and her hands were icy cold, her voice sank to nothing, her eyelids scarcely raised, as if the strain of the day had exhausted all vital warmth or energy, and her purpose accomplished, annihilation was succeeding. Much terrified, Albinia would have hurried in search of remedies, but she raised her hand imploringly, and murmured, 'Please don't. I'm not faint—I'm not ill. If you would only let me be still.'
Albinia teased her so far as to cover her with warmed shawls, and force on her a stimulant. She shut her eyes, but presently opened them to say, 'Please go.'
She was so often unable to appear at dinner, that no observation was made; and it was to be feared that her absence was chiefly regretted by the lovers, because it prevented them from sitting on the same side of the table.
Always frank and unrestrained, Ulick made his felicity so apparent, that Albinia had no toleration for him, and not much for the amusement it afforded Mr. Kendal. She would have approved of her husband much more if he had put her into a great quandary by anxious inquiries what was the matter with his daughter, instead of that careless, 'O you are going up to Sophy; I hope she will be able to come down to tea,' when she left him on guard over the children and the lovers.
'So it is with woman's martyrdoms,' said she to herself as she walked upstairs, chewing the cud of all the commonplaces by which women have, of late years, flattered themselves, and been flattered; 'but at any rate I'll have her out of sight of all their absurdity. It is enough to kill her!'
Sophy hardly stirred at her entrance, but there was less ghastliness about her, and as Albinia sat down she did not remove her hand, and turned slightly round, so as to lose that strange corpse-like attitude of repose.
'You are not so cold, dearest,' said Albinia. 'Have you slept?'
'I think not.'
'Are you better? Have you been comfortable?'
'Oh yes.' Then, with a pause, 'Yes—it was like being nothing!'
'You were not faint, I hope?'
'No—only lying still. Don't you know the comfort of not thinking or feeling?'
'Yes; this has been far too much for you. You have done enough now, my generous Sophy.'
'Not generous; one can't give away what one never had.'
'I think it more gracious to yield without jealousy or bitterness—'
'Only not quite base,' said Sophy. Then presently, turning on her pillow as though more willing to converse, she said, 'I am glad it was not last year.'
'We had troubles enough then!'
'Not for that—because I should have been base then, and hated myself for it all the time.'
'That you never could have been!' cried Albinia. 'But, my dear, you must let me contrive for you; I would not betray you for all the world, but the sight of these two is more than you ought to undergo. I will not send Genevieve away, but you must go from home.'
'I don't think I shall be cross,' said poor Sophy, simply; 'I should be ashamed.'
'Cross! It is I who am cross, because I am to blame; but, dearest, think if you are keeping up out of pride; that will never, never do.'
'I do not believe it is pride,' said Sophy, meekly; 'at least, I hope not. I feel humiliated enough, and I think it may be a sort of shame, as well as consideration for them, that would make me wish that no difference should be made. Do you not think we may let things go on?' she said, in so humble a manner, that it brought Albinia's tears, and a kiss was the only answer. 'Please tell me,' said Sophy; 'for I don't want to deceive myself.'
'I am sure I am no judge,' cried Albinia, 'after the dreadful mischief I have done.'
'The mischief was in me,' said Sophy, 'or you could not have done it. I saw it all when I was lying awake last night, and how it began, or rather it was before I can remember exactly. I always had craving after something—a yearning for something to fix myself on—and after I grew to read and look out into the world, I thought it must be that. And when I knew I was ugly and disagreeable, I brooded and brooded, and only in my better moments tried to be satisfied with you and papa and the children.'
'And the All-satisfying, Sophy dear.'
'I tried—I did—but it was duty—not heart. I used to fancy what might be, if I shot out into beauty and grace—not admiration, but to have that one thing to lean on. You see it was all worldly, and only submissive by fits—generally it was cross repining, yielding because I could not help it—and so, when the fancy came the throne was ready made, empty, swept, and garnished, for the idol. I wont talk of all that time; but I don't believe even Genevieve, though she knows she may, can dwell upon the thought as I did, in just the way to bring punishment. And so I thought, by-and-by, at the caricature time, that I was punished. I looked into the fallacy, when I had got over the temper and the pride, and I saw it all clear, and owned I was rightly served, for it had been an earthly aim, and an idol worship. Well, the foolish hope came back again, but indeed, indeed, I think I was the better for all the chastening; I had seen grandmamma die, I was fresh from hearing of Gilbert, and I did feel as I never had done before, that God was first. I don't believe that feeling had passed, though the folly came back, and made me feel glad to love all the world. There were—gleams of religions thought'—she spoke with difficulty, but her face had a strange beauty—'that taught me how, if I was more good—there could be a fulness of joy that all the rest flowed out from. And so when misgivings came, and I saw at times how little he could care for me—oh! it was pain enough, but not the worst sort. And yet I don't know—' She turned away and hid her face on the pillow. It was agony, though still, as she had said, not the worst, untempered by faith or resignation. What a history of that apparently cold, sullen, impassive spirit! what an unlocking of pent-up mysteries!
'It has been blessed to you,' said Albinia, affectionately. 'My dear, we always thought your character one that wanted the softening of such—an attachment. Perhaps that made me wrongly eager for it, and ready to imagine where I ought not; I think it did soften you; but if you had not conquered what was earthly and exaggerated in it, how it would be hardening and poisoning you now!'
'I hope I may have,' sighed Sophy, as if she were doubtful.
'Then will you not listen to me? You have done nobly so far, and I know your feelings will be right in the main; but do you think you can bear the perpetual irritation of being neglected, and seeing—what I must call rather a parade of his preference?'
'I think it would be the best cure,' said Sophy; 'it would make me feel it real, and I could be glad to see him—them—so happy—'
'I don't know how to judge! I don't know whether it be right for you to have him always before your mind.'
'He would be so all the more while I was away with nothing to do,' said Sophy; 'fancy might be worse than fact. You don't know how I used to forget the nonsense when he had been ten minutes in the room, because it was just starved out. Now, when it will be a sin, I believe that strength will be given me to root it out;' her look grew determined, but she gasped for breath.
'And your bodily strength, my dear?'
'If I should be ill, then it would be natural to go away,' said Sophy, smiling; 'but I don't think I shall be. This is only the end of my fever to see it settled. Now I am thankful, and my heart has left off throbbing when I am still. I shall be all right to-morrow.'
'I hope so; but you must spare yourself.'
'Besides,' she added, 'one of the worst parts has been that, in the fancy that a change was to come, I have gone about everything in an unsettled way; and now I want to begin again at my duties, my readings and parish matters, as my life's work, steadily and in earnest.'
'Not violently, not to drive care away.'
'I have tried that once, and will not again. You shall arrange for me, and I will do just as you tell me;' and she raised her eyes with the most deep and earnest gaze of confiding love that had ever greeted Albinia from any of the three. I'll try not to grieve you, for you are too sorry for me;' and she threw her arms round her neck. 'Oh, mamma! nothing is so bad when you help me to bear it!'
Tears fell fast at this precious effusion from the deep, sincere heart, at the moment when Albinia herself was most guilty in her own eyes. Embraces were her only answer, and how fervent!
'And, mamma,' whispered Sophy, 'if you could only let me have some small part of teaching little Albinia.'
A trotting of small feet and a call of mamma was heard. The little maiden was come with her good-nights, and in one moment Albinia had lifted her into her sister's arms, where she was devoured with kisses, returning them with interest, and with many a fondling 'Poor Sophy,' and 'Dear Sophy.'
When the last fond good-night had passed, and the little one had gone away to her nest, Sophy said in a soft, natural, unconstrained voice, 'I am very sleepy. If you will be so kind as to send up my tea, I will go to bed. Thank you; goodnight.'
That was the redrawing of the curtain of reserve, the resignation of sentiment, the resumption of common life. The romance of Sophia Kendal's early life had ended when she wounded her fingers in wreathing Genevieve's hair. Her next romance might be on behalf of her beautiful little sister.
Albinia was cured of her fretfulness towards the new order of events, and her admiration of Sophy carried her through all that was yet to come. It was the easier since Sophy did not insist on unreasonable self-martyrdoms, and in her gratitude for being allowed her purpose in the main, was submissive in detail, and had mercy on her own powers of endurance, not inflicting the sight of the lovers on herself more than was needful, and not struggling with the languor that was a good reason for remaining much upstairs. She worked and read, but without overdoing anything, and wisely undertook a French translation, as likely to occupy her attention without forcing her to over-exert her powers. Not that she said so; she carefully avoided all reference to her feelings; and Albinia could almost have deemed the whole a dream, excepting for the occasional detection of a mournful fixed gaze, which was instantaneously winked away as soon as Sophy herself became aware of it.
Her trouble, though of a kind proverbially the most hardening and exacerbating, had an entirely contrary tendency on her. The rigidity and harsh judgment which had betokened her states of morbid depression since she had outgrown the sulky form, had passed away, and she had been right in predicting that she should not be cross, for she had become sweet and gentle towards all. Her voice was pitched more softly, and though she looked ill, and had lost the bloom which had once given her a sort of beauty, her eyes had a meek softness that made them finer than when they wore the stern, steady glance that used to make poor Gilbert quail. Her strength came not from pride, but from Grace; and to her, disappointment was more softening than even the prosperous affection that Albinia had imagined. It was love; not earthly but heavenly.
If her father had been less busy, her pale cheek might have alarmed him; but he was very much taken up with builders and estimates, with persuading some of the superfluous population to emigrate, and arranging where they should go, and while she kept the family hours and habits, he did not notice lesser indications of flagging spirits, or if he did, he was wise, and thought the cause had better not be put into words.
Albinia had brought herself to give fair sympathy to the lovers; and when once she had begun it was easy to go on, not as ardently as if she had never indulged in her folly, but enough to gratify two such happy and grateful people, who wanted no one but each other, and agreed in nothing better than in thinking her a sort of guardian angel to them both.
Genevieve had assuredly never given her heart to Gilbert, and it was ready in all the freshness of maidenly bliss to meet the manly ardour of Ulick O'More. He was almost overpoweringly demonstrative and eager, now and then making game of himself, but yet not able to help rushing down to Willow Lawn ten or twelve times a day, just to satisfy himself that his treasure was there, and if he could not meet with her, catching hold of Mr. or Mrs. Kendal to rave till they drove him back to his business. Such glee danced in his eyes, there was such suppressed joyousness in his countenance, and his step was so much nearer a dance than a walk, that his very air well-nigh betrayed what was to be an absolute secret, till there had been an answer from Ballymakilty, until which time Genevieve would not rest in the hope of a happy future, nor give up her fears that she had not brought pain upon him.
In he came at last, so exulting and so grateful, that it was a shock to discover that 'the kindest letter and fullest consent in the world,' meant his father's 'supposing he would do as he pleased; as long as he asked for nothing, it was no concern of his.' It was discovered, by Ulick's delight, that he had expected to have a battle, and Albinia was scandalized, but Mr. Kendal told her it somewhat depended on what manner of father it was, whether an independent son could defer implicitly to his judgment; and though principle might withhold Ulick from flat disobedience, he might not scruple at extorting reluctant consent. Besides his mother, whom he honoured far more really, had written, not without disappointment, but with full confidence in his ability to judge for himself.
Mr. Kendal and Mr. Ferrars both wrote warmly in Genevieve's praise, and certainly her footing at Willow Lawn was the one point d'appui in bringing round the O'More family; so that as Ulick truly said, 'It was Mrs. Kendal whom he had to thank for the blessing of his life.' Had poor Miss Goldsmith's description of Miss Durant's birth, parentage, and education been the only one that had reached Ballymakilty, a prohibition would assuredly have been issued; but he was left sufficiently free to satisfy his own conscience, and before Genevieve had surmounted half her scruples, the whole town was ringing with the news, though no one could guess how it had got wind. To be sure the Dusautoys had been put into a state of rapture, and poor Mr. Hope had had the fatal stroke administered to him. He looked so like a ghost that Mr. Dusautoy contrived to release him at once, whereupon he went to try the most unwholesome curacy he could find, with serious intentions of exchanging his living for it; but he fortunately became so severely and helplessly ill there, that he was pretty well cured of his mental fever, and quite content to go to his heath, and do his work there like the humble and earnest man that he was, perhaps all the better for having been personally taught something more than could be gained from books and colleges.
Miss Goldsmith was the most to be pitied. She would not hear a word from her nephew, refused to go near Willow Lawn, packed up her goods and went to Bath, where Ulick promised the much distressed Genevieve that she would yet relent. Genevieve was somewhat consoled by the increasing cordiality of the Irish letters, and was carried along by the extreme delight and triumph of her good old aunt. By some wonderful exertion of Irish faculties, Ulick succeeded in bringing mademoiselle to Bayford in his jaunting car, when she laughed, wept, sobbed, and embraced, in a bewilderment of transport; pronounced the trousseau worthy of an angel of the ancien regime; warned Genevieve against expecting amour to continue instead of amitie, and carried home conversation for the nuns for the rest of their lives.
That trousseau was Sophy's special charge, and most jealous was she that it should in no respect fall short of that outfit of Lucy's for which she had cared so little. A hard task it was to make Genevieve accept what Lucy had exacted, but Sophy held the purse-strings, wrote the orders, and had her own way.
She and her little sister were the only available bridesmaids, since Rose O'More was not allowed to come. Having made up her mind to this from the first, when the subject came forward, her open, cheerful look and manner were meant to show that she was not afraid, and that her wish was real. Freely resigning him, why should she not be glad to join in calling down the blessing?
The wedding was fixed for Easter week, which fell early, and Albinia cast about for some excuse for taking her away afterwards. An opportune occasion offered. Sir William Ferrars wrote from the East to propose the Kendals meeting him in Italy, and travelling home together, he was longing, he said, to see something of his sister, and he should enjoy sight-seeing ten times as much with a clever man like her husband to tell him all about it.
Mr. Ferrars strongly seconded the project! Clever fellow, not a word did he say; but did not he know the secrets of that household as well or better than the inmates themselves?'
Now that Tibb's Alley was deserted, and plans fixed, architect and clerk of the works chosen, March winds ready for building and underground work to begin at once, what could be more prudent than for the inhabitants of Willow Lawn to remove far from the disturbance of ancient drains and no drains, and betake themselves to a purer atmosphere? Mr. Kendal was of no use as a superintendent, and needed no persuasion to flee from the chance of typhus.
As to the children, the time had come early when Maurice's whole nature cried out for school. He was much improved, and there was that real principle within him which made it not unsafe to launch him in a world where he might meet with more useful trials than those of home. Child as he was, his propensities were too much limited by the bounds of the town-house and garden, and the society of his sisters, one too old and one too young to serve as tomboys. He needed to meet his match, and work his way; Albinia felt that school had become his element, and Mr. Kendal only wanted to make his education the reverse of Gilbert's; so he ran nearly frantic between the real jacket and the promise of going to school with Willie. He knew not, though his mother mourned over, the coming heart-sickness and mother-sickness of the first night, the first Sunday, the first trouble. It was sure to be very severe in one of such strong and affectionate feeling, but it must come sooner or later, and the better that it should be conquered while home was still a paradise. Fairmead was not so far from his destination but that his uncle would keep an eye on him; and Winifred held out a hope that if the tour lasted long enough, he should bring out both boys to spend their holidays with them. A very good Winifred!
Albinia the Less was to become a traveller, for the good reason that nobody could or would go without her. They were to go direct to Lucy, who was at Naples with a second boy, and pining for home faces and home comforts—the inducement which perhaps worked most strongly to make Sophy like the journey, for since her delusion had been swept, away, a doubly deep and intense feeling had sprung up towards her own only sister, whose foibles had been forgotten in long separation.
The Lake of Lucerne lay blue and dark in the shade of the mountains, on whose summits the evening sunshine was fast mounting, peak after peak falling into purple shadow.
There was a small inlet where a stream rushed down between the hills, and on the green slope stood a chalet, the rich red of the roof contrasting with the green pasture. A little boat was moored to a stump near the land, and in it sat Sophia Kendal, her hat by her side, listening to and answering merrily the chatter of Maurice, who tumbled about in the boat, often causing it severe shocks, while he inspected the cut of the small sail which she was making for the miniature specimen, which he often tried in the clear cold water.
Farther off, a little up the hill-side, Willie Ferrars was holding the hand of the chestnut-curled, black-eyed fairy, 'little Awk,' who was impressing him by her fluency in two languages at once, according as she chattered to him in English, or in French to a picturesque peasant, her great ally, who was mowing his flowery crop of hay, glancing like an illumination, with an under-current of brilliant blossoms among the grass.
Wandering with slow conversational pace up and down the beach of the lake, were Mr. Kendal and Sir William Ferrars, conversing as usual; the soldier, with quick alert comprehension, wide observation, and clearness of mind, which jumped to the very points to which the scholar's deeply-read and long-digested arguments were bringing him more slowly.
On a projecting point sat Albinia, her fair hair shaded under her dark hat, beneath which her English complexion glowed fresh and youthful, as with flat tin box by her side, and block sketch-book on her knee, she mixed and she painted, and tried to catch those purples and those blues with unabated ardour. Suddenly a great trailing frond of mountain fern came over the brim of her hat from behind. 'Oh, Maurice, don't!' Then, looking up and laughing, 'Oh, it is you, is it? I knew Maurice would do, whichever it might be; but see, the other is quite out of mischief.'
'Unless he should upset Sophy into the lake.'
'He can't do that, the rope is too short. But is not he very much improved? He has quite lost his imperious manner towards her.'
'Nothing like school for making a boy behave himself to his sisters.'
'Exactly, as I learnt by experience long ago. I am glad William did not see him till he had learnt to be agreeable. How he does admire him!'
'You'll never make anything of that sketch; the mountain is humpbacked, and the face of that precipice is exactly like Colonel Bury;' and he caught up a pencil to help out the resemblance with nostril and eyebrow.
'For shame, to be so mischievieous; such a great boy as you.'
'Well, we all came out here to be great boys, didn't we? I am sure you look a dozen years younger than when I last saw you, Mrs. Grandmother. By-the-by, it was a bold stroke to encumber yourself with that brat; what's become of him?'
'Susan has taken him in asleep. You see, Maurice, I really could not help it, the poor little thing was so sickly, and had never thriven; but when they were a little while in bracing air, Lucy was longing to have him in England, and his father, who never believes in anything but what he likes, would not see it, and what with those Italian servants, and Algernon hunting Lucy about as he does, it would have been the death of him. Susan, good creature, had taken to him of her own accord the moment we came to Naples, and could not have borne to leave him, and you know the Awk is almost off her hands now, and Sophy, who first proposed it, or I am sure I should never have ventured, is delighted to do anything for either of them, and always has her little sister in her room. As to papa, he was very good, and the child is very little in his way, and has been quite well ever since we have been in this delicious air.'
'How did you get Lucy to consent?'
'Poor dear, it was a melancholy business; but she had so often been in alarm about him, and had suffered so much from having to leave him with people she did not trust, that she caught at the proposal before she fairly contemplated what the parting would be; and when she did, Algernon was too glad to be relieved from him not to keep her up to it, but it wont do to think of it, she has her baby, who is healthier, and if they remain abroad, I suspect we shall keep little Ralph altogether; he is a dear little fellow, and Sophy has so taken possession of Albinia, that I should be quite lost if I did not set up a private child.
'What do you call him? I thought his name was Belraven.'
'I could not possibly call him so; and his aunts, by way of adding to the aviary, made him Ralph the Raven, so I mean it to stick by him; I believe papa has forgotten the other dreadful fact, for I caught him giving his name as Ralph Cavendish Dusautoy. How the dear vicar of Bayford will devour him! and what work I shall have to keep him from being spoilt!'
'Then you think they will remain abroad?'
'Algernon hates England; and all his habits are foreign.'
'Did he make himself tolerably agreeable?'
'He really did. One could bear to be patronized by one's host better than by one's guest, and he was in wholesome awe of William. Besides, he is really at home in Italy, and knows his way about so well, that he was not a bad Cicerone. I am sure Sophy could never have done either Vesuvius or Pompeii without his arrangements; and as long as he had a victim for his catalogue raisonnee, he was very placable and obliging. That was all extracts, so it really was not so bad.'
'So you were satisfied?'
'He has a bad lot about him, that's the worst—Polish counts, disreputable artists and poets, any one who has a spurious sort of fame, and knows how to flatter him. Edmund was terribly disgusted.'
'Very bad for his wife.'
'You see, she is a thorough-going mother, and no linguist. She really is improved, and I like her more really than ever I could, poor dear. I believe her head was once quite turned, and that he influenced her entirely, and made her forget everything else; but she has a heart, though not much of a head, and sorrow and illness and children have brought it out, and she is what a 'very woman' becomes, I suppose, if there be any good in her, an abstract wife and mother.'
'Was it not dangerous to take away her child?'
'There was another, you know, and it was to save his life. The duties clashed, and were destroying all comfort.'
'How does he behave to her?'
'I believe she has all the love he has to spare; he is proud of her, and dresses her up, and has endless portraits of her. Luckily she keeps her beauty. She is more refined, and has more expression; one could sometimes cry to watch her, and he likes to have her with him, and to discourse to her, but without the slightest perception or consideration of what she would prefer, and with no notion of sacrificing anything for her or the children. I know she is afraid of him; I have seen her tremble if there were any chance of his being annoyed; and she would not object to any plan of his if it were to cost her life. I believe it would be misery to her, but I think she would resist—ay, she did resist, and in vain, for the sake of her child.'
'Does her affection hold out, do you think?'
'Oh, yes, the spaniel and walnut-tree love, which is in us all, and doubly in the very woman. It is very beautiful. She is so proud of him and of her gilded slavery, and so unconsciously submissive and patient; but it is a harder life, I guess, than we can see. I am sure it must be, for every bit of personal vanity and levity is worn out of her; she only goes out to satisfy him; dresses to please his eye, and talks, with her eye seeking round for him, in dread of being rebuked for mistakes or bad French. And for the rest, her joy is to be left in peace with little Algernon upon her lap. Yes, I hope living in all womanly virtues may be training and compensation, but the saddest part of the affair is that he does not think it fashionable to be religious, and she has not moral courage to make open resistance.'
'May it come,' fervently.
'It is strange, how much more real and good a creature she is now, than when at home in the midst of all external observances. Yet it cannot be right! she surely ought to make more stand, but it is too, too literally being afraid to say her soul is her own, for she is unhappy. She does the utmost she can without offending him, and feels it as she never did before.'
'There is no judging,' said Maurice, as his sister looked at him with eyes full of sorrowful yearning. 'No one can tell where are the boundaries of the two duties. Poor girl! she has put herself into a state of temptation and trial; but she may be shielded by her exercise of so much that is simply good, and her womanly qualities may become not idolatry, but a training in reaching higher.'
'May it be so, indeed!' said Albinia. 'Oh, Maurice! how I once disdained being told I was too young, and how true it was! What visions I had about those three, and what failures have resulted!'
'Your visions may have vanished, but you did your work faithfully, and it has not been fruitless.'
'Ay, in shipwrecked lives. Mischiefs wherever I meant to do best! Why, I let even my own Maurice grow unmanageable while I was nursing poor grandmamma. The voluntary duty choked the natural one, and yet—'
'And yet,' interrupted her brother, 'that was no error.'
'Oh, no! I would not have done it for anything.'
'Nor do I think the boy the worse for it. I may venture now on saying he was intolerable, and it hastened school, but though your rein was loose, you never let it fall; and maybe, the self-conquest was the best thing for him. If you had neglected him wilfully for your own pleasure, nothing but harm could have been expected. As you were absorbed by a sacred act of duty, I believe it will all be made up to you in your son.'
'Oh, Maurice, if I might trust so! I believe I am doubly set on that boy doing well, because his father must not, must not have another pang!'
'I think he knows that. I do not imagine that he will never be carried astray by high spirits; but I am sure that he has the strength, honour, and sweetness that are the elements of greatness!'
'Nothing we did so changed him as the loss of his brother. Oh, Maurice! there was my most earnest wish to do right, and my most fatal mistake!'
'And greatest success. Gilbert owed everything to you.'
'Had I but silenced my foolish pride, he might have been safe in India now.'
'We do not know how safe he might be. I did indeed think it a pity your influence led the other way, but things might have been far worse; if you made some blunders, your love and your earnestness were working on that susceptible nature, and what better hope can we wish to have than what rested with us at Malta? what better influence than has remained with Maurice or with Fred?'
Albinia had not yet learnt to talk calmly of Gilbert's last hours, so she put this aside, and smiling through her tears, said, 'Ah! when Emily writes to Sophy, that their boy is to have his name, since they can wish nothing better for him than to be like him.'
'The past vision always a little above what is visible?'
'Hardly, Emily and Fred are as proud of each other as two peacocks, and well they may be, for—stoop down, 'tis an intense secret; but do you know the effect of their Sebastopol den?'
'Lieutenant-General Sir William Ferrars is going out in quest of Emily's younger sister.'
'You ridiculous child! That's a trick of yours.'
'No, indeed. William was surprised into a moment of confidence, walking home in the moonlight from the Coliseum. En vrai militaire, he has begun at the right end, and written to Mr. Kinnaird to ask leave to come and try his luck; and cool as he looks, I believe he would rather prepare for Inkermann.'
'Well! if he be not making a fool of himself at his time of life, I am sure I am very glad!'
'Time of life! He's but three years older than Edmund. If you are not more respectful, we shall have to go out to Canada to countenance him.'
'I shall be rejoiced to see him with a home, and finding life beyond his profession; but I had rather he had known more of her.'
'That's what he never would do. He cannot talk to a young lady. Why he admires Lucy a great deal more than Sophy!'
'Well, judging by the recent brides, I think if it had been me, I should have gone in search of Mrs. Ulick O'More's younger sister.'
'Ah! I wanted particularly to hear of your visit at the bank. You had luncheon there, I think. How do they get on?'
'It is the most charming menage in the world. She looks very graceful and elegant, and keeps him in great order, and is just the wife he wanted—a little sauciness and piquancy to spur him up at one time, and restrain him at another, with the real ballast that both have, makes such a perfect compound, that it is only too delightful to see anything so happy and so good in this world. They both seem to have such vivid enjoyment of life.'
'Pray, has any one called on Genevieve? though she could dispense with it.'
'Oh, yes; Bryan O'More spent a fortnight there. And see what a moustache will do! The Osbornes, Drurys, Wolfes, and Co., all dubbed themselves dear Mrs. O'More's dearest friends. I found a circle of them round her, and when I observed that Bryan was not half such a handsome fellow as his brother, you should see how I was scorned.'
'I hope Bryan may not play his father's game again. Do you know how she was received in Ireland?'
'The whole clan adore her! Ulick, with, his Anglo-Saxon truthfulness, got into serious scrapes for endeavouring to disabuse them of the notion that she was sole heiress of the ancient marquisate of Durant. I believe Connel was ready to call Ulick out for disrespect to his own wife.'
'And was she happy there!'
'Very much amused, and treated like a queen; charmed with his mother, and great friends with Rose. They have brought Redmond home to lick him into shape, and I believe Rose is to come and be tamed.'
'Always Ulick's wish,' said Albinia, as her eye fixed upon Sophy.
And her brother, with perhaps too obvious a connexion of ideas, said, 'Is she quite strong?'
'Very well,' said Albinia. 'I am glad we brought her. The sight of beauty has been like a new existence. I saw it on her brow, in calmness and rest, the first evening of the Bay of Naples. It has seemed to soothe and elevate her, though all in her own silent way; but watch her as she sits with her face to those mountains, hear her voice, and you will feel that the presence of grandeur and beauty is repose and happiness to her; and I think the remembrance will always be so, even in work-a-day Bayford.'
'Yes, because remembrance of such glory connects with hope of future glory.'
'And it is a rest from human frets and passions. She has taken to botany, too, and I am glad, for I think those studies that draw one off from men's works and thoughts, do most good to the weary, self-occupied brain. And the children are a delight to her!'
'Sophy is your greatest work.'
'Not mine!' cried Albinia. 'The noblest by nature, the dearest, the most generous.'
'Great qualities; but they would have been only wretched self-preying torments, but for the softening of your affection,' said Maurice.
'Dear, dear friend and sister and child in one,' cried Albinia. And then meeting her brother's eyes, she said, 'Yes, you know to the full how noble she is, and how—'
'I can guess how imprudent a young step-mother can be,' said Maurice, smiling.
'It is very strange. I don't, know how to be thankful enough for it; but really her spirits have been more equal, her temper more even than ever it had been, and that just when I thought my folly had been most ruinous.'
'Yes, Albinia. After all, it is more than man can hope or expect to make no blunders; but I do verily believe that while an earnest will saves us, by God's grace, from wilful sins, the effects of the inadvertences that teach us our secret faults will not be fatal, and while we are indeed honestly and faithfully doing our best, though we are truly unprofitable servants, that our lapses through infirmity will be compensated, both in the training of our own character and the results upon others.'