'He can write more freely to me,' said Albinia; 'and it comes to the same thing. I am not in the least afraid of anything wrong, but perhaps he may be making some proposal for the future. I want to know how he is. Fancy his being so foolish as to go out bathing. I am afraid of his colds.'
Many times during the consultation did Mr. Ferrars detect Albinia's eye stealing wistfully towards that 'E. Kendal, Esq.;' and when the proper owner came in, he was evidently as much struck, for he paused, as if in dread of opening the letter. Her eyes were on his countenance as he read, and did not gather much consolation. 'I am afraid this is serious,' at last he said.
'His cold?' exclaimed Albinia.
'Yes,' said Mr. Kendal, reading aloud sentence by sentence, with gravity and consideration.
'I do not wish to alarm Mrs. Kendal, and therefore address myself at once to you, for I do not think it right to keep you in ignorance that I have had some of the old symptoms. I do not wish to make any one uneasy about me, and I may have made light of the cold I caught a month since; but I cannot conceal from myself that I have much painful cough, an inclination to shortness of breath, and pain in the back and shoulders, especially after long reading or writing. I thought it right to speak to Mr. Downton, but people in high health can understand nothing short of a raging fever; however, at last he called in the parish surgeon, a stupid, ignorant fellow, who understands my case no more than his horse, and treats me with hyoscyamus, as if it were a mere throat-cough. I thought it my duty to speak openly, since, though I am quite aware that circumstances make little difference in constitutional cases, I know you and dear Mrs. Kendal will wish that all possible means should be used, and I think it—'
Mr. Kendal broke down, and handed the letter to his wife, who proceeded,
'I think it best you should be prepared for the worst, as I wish and endeavour to be; and truly I see so much trial and disappointment in the course of life before me, that it would hardly be the worst to me, except—'
That sentence finished Albinia's voice, and stealing her hand into her husband's, she read on in silence,
'for the additional sorrow to you, and my grief at bringing pain to my more than mother, but she has long known of the presentiment that has always hung over me, and will be the better prepared for its realization. If it would be any satisfaction to you, I could easily take a ticket, and go up to London to see any physician you would prefer. I could go with Price, who is going for his sister's birthday, and I could sleep at his father's house; but, in that case, I should want three pounds journey money, and I should be very glad if you would be so kind as to let me have a sovereign in advance of my allowance, as Price knows of a capital secondhand bow and arrows. With my best love to all, 'Your affectionate son, 'GILBERT KENDAL.'
Albinia held the letter to her brother, to whom she looked for something cheering, but, behold! a smile was gaining uncontrollably on the muscles of his cheeks, though his lips strove hard to keep closely shut. She would not look at him, and turning to her husband, exclaimed, 'We will take him to London ourselves!'
'I am afraid that would be inconvenient,' observed Maurice.
'That would not signify,' continued Albinia; 'I must hear myself what is thought of him, and how I am to nurse him. Oh! taking it in time, dear Edmund, we need not be so much afraid! Maurice will not mind making his visit another time.'
'I only meant inconvenient to the birthday party,' drily said her brother.
'Maurice!' cried she, 'you don't know the boy!'
'I have no doubt that he has a cold.'
'And I know there is a great deal more the matter!' cried Albinia. 'We have let him go away to be neglected and badly treated! My poor, dear boy! Edmund, I will fetch him home to-morrow.'
'You had better send me,' said Maurice, mischievously, for he saw he was diminishing Mr. Kendal's alarm, and had a brotherly love of teasing Albinia, and seeing how pretty she looked with her eyes flashing through wrathful tears, and her foot patting impetuously on the carpet.
'You!' she cried; 'you don't believe in him! You fancy all boys are made of iron and steel—you would only laugh at him—you made us send him there—I wish—'
'Gently, gently, my dear Albinia,' said her husband, dismayed at her vehemence, just when it most amused her brother. 'You cannot expect Maurice to feel exactly as we do, and I confess that I have much hope that this alarm may be more than adequate.'
'He thinks it all a scheme!' said Albinia, in a tone of great injury.
'No, indeed, Albinia,' answered her brother, seriously, 'I fully believe that Gilbert imagines all that he tells you, but you cannot suppose that either the tutor or doctor could fail to see if he were so very ill.'
'Certainly not,' assented Mr. Kendal.
'And low spirits are more apt to accompany a slight ailment, than such an illness as you apprehend.'
'I believe you are right,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Where is the letter?'
Albinia did not like it to come under discussion, but could not withhold it, and as she read it again, she felt that neither Maurice nor her cousin Fred could have written the like, but she was only the more impelled to do battle, and when she came to the unlucky conclusion, she exclaimed, 'I am sure that was an afterthought. I dare say Price asked him while he was writing.'
'What's this?' asked Mr. Kendal, coming to the 'presentiment.'
She hesitated, afraid both of him and of Maurice, but there was no alternative. 'Poor Gilbert!' she said. 'It was a cry or call from his brother just at last. It has left a very deep impression.'
'Indeed!' said his father, much moved. 'Yes. Edmund gave a cry such as was not to be forgotten,' and the sigh told how it had haunted his own pillow; 'but I had not thought that Gilbert was in a condition to notice it. Did he mention it to you?'
'Yes, not long after I came, he thinks it was a call, and I have never known exactly how to deal with it.'
'It is a case for very tender handling,' said Maurice.
'I should have desired him never to think of it again,' said Mr. Kendal, decidedly. 'Mere nonsense to dwell on it. Their names were always in Edmund's mouth, and it was nothing but accident. You should have told him so, Albinia.'
And he walked out of the room.
'Ah! it will prey upon him now,' said Albinia.
'Yes, I thought he only spoke of driving it away because it was what he would like to be able to do. But things do not prey on people of his age as they do on younger ones.'
'I wonder if I did right,' said Albinia. 'I never liked to ask you, though I wished it. I could not bear to treat it as a fancy. How was I to know, if it may not have been intended to do him good? And you see his father says it was very remarkable.'
'Do you imagine that it dwells much upon his mind?'
'Not when he is well—not when it would do him good,' said Albinia; 'it rather haunts him the instant he is unwell.'
'He makes it a superstition, then, poor boy! You thought me hard on him, Albinia; but really I could not help being angry with him for so lamentably frightening his father and you.'
'Let us see how he is before you find fault with him,' said Albinia.
'You're as bad as if you were his mother, or worse!' exclaimed Maurice.
'Oh! Maurice, I can't help it! He had no one to care for him till I came, and he is such a very dear fellow—he wants me so much!'
Mr. Ferrars agreed to go with Mr. Kendal to Traversham. He thought his father would be encouraged by his presence, and he was not devoid of curiosity. Albinia would not hear of staying at home; in fact, Maurice suspected her of being afraid to trust Gilbert to his mercy.
With a trembling heart she left the train at the little Traversham station, making resolutions neither to be too angry with the negligent tutor, nor to show Gilbert how much importance she attached to his illness.
As they walked into the village, they heard a merry clamour of tongue, and presently met five or six boys, and, a few paces behind them, Mr. Downton.
'Ah!' he exclaimed, 'I am glad you are come. I would have written yesterday, but that I found your boy had done so. I shall be very glad to have him cheered up about himself. I will turn back with you. You go on, Price. They are setting out for one of Hullah's classes, so we shall have the house clear.'
'I hope there is not much amiss?' said Mr. Kendal.
'A tedious cold,' said the tutor; 'but the doctor assures me that there is nothing wrong with his chest, and I do believe he would not cough half so much, if he were not always watching himself.'
'Who has been attending him?'
'Lee, the union doctor, a very good man, with a large family,' (Albinia could have beaten him). 'Indeed,' he continued perceiving some dissatisfied looks, 'I think you will find that a little change is all that he wants.'
'I hope you can give a good account of him in other respects?' said Mr. Kendal.
'Oh! yes, in every way; he is the most good-natured lad in the world, and quite the small boys' friend. Perhaps he has been a little more sentimental of late, but that may be only from being rather out of order. I'll call him.'
The last words were spoken as they entered the parsonage, where opening a door, he said, 'Here, Kendal, here's a new prescription for you.'
Albinia had a momentary view of a tabby-cat and kitten, a volume of poetry, a wiry-haired terrier, and Gilbert, all lying promiscuously on the hearth-rug, before the two last leaped up, the one to bark, and the other to come forward with outstretched hand, and glad countenance.
He looked flushed and languid, but the roaring fire and close room might account for that, and though, when the subject was mentioned, he gave a short uncomfortable cough, Albinia's mind was so far relieved, that she was in doubt with whom to be angry, and prepared to stand on the defensive, should her brother think him too well.
The gentlemen went away together, and Gilbert, grasping her hand, gave way to one of his effusions of affection—'So kind to come to him—he knew he had her to trust to, whatever happened'—and he leant his cheek on his hand in a melancholy mood.
'Don't be so piteous, Gibbie,' she said. 'You were quite right to tell us you were not well, only you need not have been so very doleful, I don't like papa to be frightened.'
'I thought it was no use to go on in this way,' said Gilbert, with a cough: 'it was the old thing over again, and nobody would believe I had anything the matter with me.'
And he commenced a formidable catalogue of symptoms which satisfied her that Maurice would think him fully justified. Just at a point where it was not easy to know what next to say, the kitten began to play tricks with her mother's tail, and a happy diversion was made; Gilbert began to exhibit the various drolleries of the animals, to explain the friendship between dog and cat, and to leave off coughing as he related anecdotes of their sagacity; and finally, when the gentlemen returned, laughing was the first sound they heard, and Mrs. Kendal was found sitting on the floor at play with the livestock.
They had come to fetch her to see the church and schools, and on going out, she found that Mr. Ferrars had moved and carried that Gilbert should be taken home at once, and, on the way, be shown to a physician at the county town. From this she gathered that Maurice was compassionate, and though, of course, he would make no such admission, she had reason afterwards to believe that he had shown Mr. Downton that the pupil's health ought to have met with a shade more attention.
With Gilbert wrapped up to the tip of his nose, they set off, and found the doctor at home. Nothing could have been more satisfactory to Albinia, for it gave her a triumph over her brother, without too much anxiety for the future. The physician detected the injury to the lungs left by an attack that the boy had suffered from in his first English winter, and had scarcely outgrown when Albinia first knew him. The recent cold had so far renewed the evil, that though no disease actually existed, the cough must be watched, and exposure avoided; in fact, a licence for petting to any extent was bestowed, and therewith every hope of recovery.
Albinia and her son sat in their corners of the carriage in secret satisfaction, while Mr. Kendal related the doctor's opinion to Mr. Ferrars, but one of them, at least, was unprepared for the summing-up. 'Under the circumstances, Gilbert is most fortunate. A few years in his native climate will quite set him up.'
'Oh! but he is too old for Haileybury,' burst out Albinia, in her consternation.
'Nearly old enough for John Kendal's bank, eh, Gilbert?'
'Oh!' cried Albinia, 'pray don't let us talk of that while poor Gilbert is so ill.'
'Hm!' said Mr. Kendal with interrogative surprise, almost displeasure, and no more was said.
Albinia felt guilty, as she remembered that she had no more intended to betray her dislike to the scheme, than to gratify Gilbert by calling him 'so ill.' Aristocratic and military, she had no love for the monied interest, and had so sedulously impressed on her friends that Mr. Kendal had been in the Civil Service, and quite unconnected with the bank, that Mr. Ferrars had told her she thought his respectability depended on it, and she was ashamed that her brother should hear her give way again so foolishly to the weakness.
Gilbert became the most talkative as they drew near home, and was the first to spring out and open the hall door, displaying his two sisters harnessed tandem-fashion with packthread, and driven at full speed by little Maurice, armed with the veritable carriage whip! The next moment it was thrown down, with a rapturous shout, and Maurice was lost to everything but his brother!
'Oh! girls, how could you let him serve you so?' began the horrified Albinia. 'Sophy will be laid up for a week!'
'Never mind,' said Sophy, dropping on a chair. 'Poor little fellow, he wished it so much!'
'I tried to stop her, mamma,' said Lucy, 'but she will do as Maurice pleases.'
'See, this is the way they will spoil my boy, the instant my back is turned!' said Albinia. 'What's the use of all I can do with him, if every one else will go and be his bond-slave! I do believe Sophy would let him kill her, if he asked her!'
'It is no real kindness,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Their good-nature ought not to go beyond reason.'
The elder Maurice could hardly help shrugging his shoulders. Well did he know that Mr. Kendal would have joined the team if such had been the will of that sovereign in scarlet merino, who stood with one hand in Gilbert's, and the whip in the other.
'Come here, Maurice,' quoth Albinia; 'put down the whip,' and she extracted it from his grasp, with grave resolution, against which he made no struggle, gave it to Lucy to be put away, and seated him on her knee. 'Now listen, Maurice; poor sister Sophy is tired, and you are never to make a horse of her. Do you hear?'
'Yes,' said Maurice, fidgeting.
'Mind, if ever you make a horse of Sophy, mamma will put you into the black cupboard. You understand?'
'Sophy shan't be horse,' said Maurice. 'Sophy naughty, lazy horse. Boy has Gibbie—'
'There's gratitude,' said Mr. Ferrars, as 'Boy' slid off his mamma's knee, stood on tiptoe to pull the door open, and ran after Gilbert to grandmamma's room.
'Yes,' said Albinia, 'no one is grateful for services beyond all reason. So, Sophy, mind, into the cupboard he goes, the very next time you are so silly as to be a horse.'
'To punish which of them?' asked her brother.
'Sophy knows,' said Albinia.
Sophy was too miserable to smile. Sarah Anne Drury had been calling, and on hearing of Gilbert's indisposition, had favoured them with 'mamma's remarks,' and when Mrs. Kendal was blamed, Sophy had indignantly told Sarah Anne that she knew nothing about it, and had no business to interfere. Then followed the accusation, that Mrs. Kendal had set the whole family against their old friends, and Sophy had found all her own besetting sins charged upon her step-mother.
'My dear!' said Albinia, 'don't you know that if a royal tiger were to eat up your cousin John in India, the Drurys would say Mrs. Kendal always let the tigers run about loose! Nor am I sure that your faults are not my fault. I helped you to be more exclusive and intolerant, and I am sure I tried your temper, when I did not know what was the matter with you—'
'No—no,' said the choked voice. It would have been an immense comfort to cry, or even to be able to return the kiss; but she was a great deal too wretched to be capable of any demonstration; physically exhausted by being driven about by Maurice; mentally worn out by the attempts to be amiable, which had degenerated into wrangling, full of remorse for having made light of her brother's illness, and, for that reason, persuaded that she was to be punished by seeing it become fatal. Not a word of all this did she say, but, dejected and silent, she spent the evening in a lonely corner of the drawing-room, while her brother, in the full pleasure of returning home, and greatly enjoying his invalid privileges, was discussing the projected improvements.
Talking at last brought back his cough with real violence, and he was sent to bed; Albinia went up with him to see that his fire burnt. He set Mr. Ferrars's drawing of the alms-houses over his mantelshelf. 'I shall nail it up to-morrow,' he said. 'I always wanted a picture here, and that's a jolly one to look to.'
'It would be a beautiful beginning,' she said. 'I think your life would go the better for it, Gibbie.'
'I suppose old nurse would be too grand for one,' he said, 'but I should like to have her so near! And you must mind and keep old Mrs. Baker out of the Union for it. And that famous old blind sailor! I shall put him up a bench to sit in the sun, and spin his yarns on, and tell him to think himself at Greenwich.'
Albinia went down, only afraid that his being so very good was a dangerous symptom.
Sophy was far from well in the morning, and Albinia kept her upstairs, and sent her godfather to make her a visit. He always did her good; he knew how to probe deeply, and help her to speak, and he gave her advice with more experience than his sister, and more encouragement than her father.
Sophy said little, but her eyes had a softened look.
'One good thing about Sophy,' said he afterwards to his sister, 'is, that she will never talk her feelings to death.'
'That reserve is my great pain. I don't get at the real being once in six months.'
'So much the better for people living together.'
'Well, I was thinking that you and I are a great deal more intimate and confidential when we meet now, than we used to be when we were always together.'
'People can't be often confidential from the innermost when they live together,' said Maurice.
'Since I have been a Kendal, such has been my experience.'
'It was the same before, only we concealed it by an upper surface of chatter,' said Maurice. '"As iron sharpeneth iron, so doth a man the countenance of his friend;" but if the mutual sharpening went on without intermission, both irons would wear away, and no work would be done. Aren't you coming with me? Edmund is going to drive me to Woodside to meet the pony-carriage from home.'
'I wish I could; but you see what happens when I go out pleasuring!'
'Well, you can take one element of mischief with you—that imp, Maurice.'
'Ye—es. Papa would like it, if you do.'
'I should like you to come on worse terms.'
'Very well, then; and Sophy is safe; I had already asked Genevieve to come and read to her this afternoon. If Gilbert can spare me, I will go.'
Gilbert did not want her, and begged Lucy not to think of staying indoors on his account. He was presently left in solitary possession of the drawing-room, whereupon he rose, settled his brown locks at the glass, arranged his tie, brushed his cuffs, leisurely walked upstairs, and tapped at the door of the morning-room, meekly asking, 'May I come in?' with a cough at each end of the sentence.
'Oh! Gilbert!' cried his anxious sister, starting up. 'Are you come to see me?' and she would have wheeled round her father's arm-chair for him, but Genevieve was beforehand with her, and he sank into it, saying pathetically, 'Ah! thank you, Miss Durant; you are come to a perfect hospital. Oh! this is too much,' as she further gave him a footstool. 'Oh! no, thank you, Sophy,' for she would have handed Genevieve her own pillow for his further support; 'this is delightful!' reclining pathetically in his chair. 'This is not like Traversham.'
'Where they would not believe he was ill!' said Sophy.
'I hope he does not look so very ill,' said Genevieve, cheerfully, but this rather hurt the feelings of both; the one said, 'Oh! but he is terribly pale,' the other coughed, and said, 'Looks are deceitful.'
'That is the very reason,' said Genevieve. 'You don't look deceitful enough to be so ill—so ill as Miss Sophie fears; now you are at home, and well cared for, you will soon be well.'
'Care would have prevented it all,' said Sophy.
'And not brought me home!' said Gilbert. 'Home is home on any terms. No one there had the least idea a fellow could ever be unwell or out of spirits!'
'Ah! you must have been ill,' cried his sister, 'you who never used to be miserable!'
Gilbert gave a sigh. 'They were such mere boys,' he said.
'Monsieur votre Precepteur?' asked Genevieve.
'Ah! he was otherwise occupied!'
'There is some mystery beneath,' said Genevieve, turning to Sophy, who exclaimed abruptly, 'Oh! is he in love?'
'Sophy goes to the point,' said Gilbert, smiling, the picture of languid comfort; 'but I own there are suspicious circumstances. He always has a photograph in his pocket, and Price has seen him looking at it.'
'Ah! depend upon it, Miss Sophy, it is all a romance of these young gentlemen,' said Genevieve, turning to her with a droll provoking air of confidence; 'ce pauvre Monsieur had the portrait of his sister!'
'Catch me carrying Sophy's face in my waistcoat pocket, cried Gilbert, forgetting his languor.
'Speak for yourself, Mr. Gilbert,' laughed Genevieve.
'And he writes letters every day, and wont let any of us put them into the post for him; but we know the direction begins with Miss—'
'Oh! the curious boys!' cried Genevieve. 'If I could only hint to this poor tutor to let them read Miss Downton on one!'
'I assure you,' cried Gilbert, 'Price has laid a bet that she's an heiress with forty thousand pounds and red hair.'
'Mr. Price is an impertinent! I hope you will inform me how he looks when he is the loser.'
'But he has seen her! He met Mr. Downton last Christmas in Regent Street, in a swell carriage, with a lady with such carrots, he thought her bonnet was on fire; and Mr. Downton never saw Price, though he bowed to him, and you know nobody would marry a woman with red hair unless she was an heiress.'
'Miss Sophy,' whispered Genevieve, 'prepare for a red-haired sister-in-law. I predict that every one of the pupils of the respectable Mr. Downton will marry ladies with lively chestnut locks.'
'What, you think me so mercenary, Genevieve?' said Gilbert.
'I only hope to see this school-boy logic well revenged!' said Genevieve. 'Mrs. Price shall have locks of orange red, and for Mrs. Gilbert Kendal—ah! we will content ourselves with her having a paler shade—sandy gold.'
'No,' said Gilbert, speaking slowly, turning round his eyes. 'I could tell you what Mrs. G. Kendal's hair will be—'
Genevieve let this drop, and said, 'You do not want me: good-bye, Miss Sophie.'
'Going! why, you came to read to me, Genevieve,' exclaimed Sophy.
'Ah! I beg your pardon, I have been interrupting you all this time,' cried Gilbert; 'I never meant to disturb you. Pray let me listen.'
And Genevieve read while Gilbert resumed his reclining attitude, with half-closed eyes, listening to the sweet intonations and pretty refined accent of the ancien regime.
Sophy enjoyed this exceedingly, she made it her especial occupation to take care of Gilbert, and enter into his fireside amusements. This indisposition had drawn the two nearer together, and essentially unlike as they were, their two characters seemed to be fitting well one into the other. His sentiment accorded with her strain of romance, and they read poetry and had discussions as they sat over the fire, growing constantly into greater intimacy and confidence. Sophy waited on him, and watched him perpetually, and her assiduity was imparting a softness and warmth quite new to her, while the constant occupation kept affronts and vexations out of her sight, and made her amiable.
Gilbert's health improved, though with vicissitudes that enforced the necessity of prudence. Rash when well, and desponding at each renewal of illness, he was not easy to manage, but he was always so gentle, grateful, and obliging, that he endeared himself to the whole household. It was no novelty for him to be devoted to his step-mother and his little brother, but he was likewise very kind to Lucy, and spent much time in helping in her pursuits; he was becoming companionable to his father, and could play at chess sufficiently well to be a worthy antagonist in Mr. Kendal's scientific and interminable games. He would likewise play at backgammon with grandmamma, and could entertain her for hours together by listening to her long stories of the old Bayford world. He was a favourite in her little society, and would often take a hand at cards to make up a rubber, nay, even when not absolutely required, he was very apt to bestow his countenance upon the little parties, where he had the pleasure of being treated as a great man, and which, at least, had the advantage of making a variation in his imprisonment during the east winds.
Madame Belmarche and her daughter and grandchild were sometimes of the party, and on these occasions, Sophy always claimed Genevieve, and usually succeeded in carrying her off when Gilbert would often join them. Their books and prints were a great treat to her; Gilbert had a beautiful illustrated copy of Longfellow's poems, and the engravings and 'Evangeline' were their enjoyment; Gilbert regularly proffering the loan of the book, and she as regularly refusing it, and turning a deaf ear to gentle insinuations of the pleasure of knowing that an book of his was in her hands. Gilbert had never had much of the schoolboy manner, and he was adopting a gentle, pathetic tone, at which Albinia was apt to laugh, but in her absence was often verged upon tendresse, especially with Genevieve. She, however, by her perfect simplicity and lively banter, always nipped the bud of his sentiment, she had known him from a child, and never lost the sense of being his elder, treating him somewhat as a boy to be played with. Perfectly aware of her own position, her demeanour, frank and gracious as it was, had something in it which kept in check other Bayford youths less gentlemanlike than Gilbert Kendal. If she never forgot that she was dancing-master's daughter, she never let any one else forget that she was a lady.
When the building began, Gilbert had a wholesome occupation, saving his father some trouble and—not quite so much expense by overlooking the workmen. Mr. Kendal was glad to be spared giving orders and speaking to people, and would always rather be overcharged than be at the pains of bargaining or inquiring. 'It was Gilbert's own house,' he said, 'and it was good for the boy to take an interest in it, and not to be too much interfered with.' So the bay window and the conservatory were some degrees grander than Mr. Ferrars had proposed but all was excused by the pleasure and experience they afforded Gilbert, and it was very droll to see Maurice following him about after the workmen, watching them most knowingly, and deep in mischief at every opportunity. Once he had been up to his knees in a tempting blancmanger-like lake of lime, many times had he hammered or cut his fingers, and once his legs had gone through the new drawing-room ceiling, where he hung by the petticoats screaming till rescued by his brother. The room was under these auspices finished, and was a very successful affair—the conservatory, in which the hall terminated, and into which a side door of the drawing-room opened, gave a bright fragrant, flowery air to the whole house; and the low fireplace and comfortable fan-shaped fender made the room very cheerful. Fresh delicately-tinted furniture, chosen con amore by the London aunts, had made the apartment very unlike old Willow-Lawn, and Albinia had so much enjoyed setting it off to the best advantage, that she sent word to Winifred that she was really becoming a furniture fancier.
It was a very pretty paper, and some choice prints hung on it, but Albinia and Sophy had laid violent hands on all the best-looking books, and kept them for the equipment of one of the walls. The rest were disposed, for Mr. Kendal's delectation, in the old drawing-room, henceforth to be named the library. Lucy thought it sounded better, and he was quite as willing as Albinia was that the name of study should be extinct. Meantime Mr. Downton had verified the boys' prediction by writing to announce that he was about to marry and give up pupils.
Gilbert was past seventeen, and it was time to decide on his profession. Albinia had virtuously abstained from any hint adverse to the house of Kendal and Kendal, for she knew it hurt her husband's feelings to hear any disparagement of the country where he had spent some of his happiest years. He was fond of his cousins, and knew that they would give his son a safe and happy home, and he believed that the climate was exactly what his health needed.
Sophy fired at the idea. Her constant study of the subject and her vivid imagination had taken the place of memory, which could supply nothing but the glow of colouring and the dazzling haze which enveloped all the forms that she would fain believe that she remembered. She and her father would discuss Indian scenery as if they had been only absent from it a year, she envied Gilbert his return thither, but owned that it was the next thing to going herself, and was already beginning to amass a hoard of English gifts for the old ayahs and bearers who still lived in her recollection, in preparation for the visit which on his first holiday her brother must pay to her birthplace and first home.
Gilbert, however, took no part in this enthusiasm, he made no opposition, but showed no alacrity; and at last his father asked Albinia whether she knew of any objection on his part, or any design which he might be unwilling to put forward. With a beating heart she avowed her cherished scheme.
'Is this his own proposal?' asked Mr. Kendal.
'No; he has never spoken of it, but your plan has always seemed so decided that perhaps he thinks he has no choice.'
'That is not what I wish,' said his father. 'If his inclinations be otherwise, he has only to speak, and I will consider.'
'Shall I sound him?' suggested Albinia, dreading the timidity that always stood between the boy and his father.
'Do not inspire him with the wish and then imagine it his own,' said Mr. Kendal; and then thinking he had spoken sternly, added 'I know you would be the last to wish him to take holy orders inconsiderately, but you have such power over him, that I question whether he would know his wishes from yours.'
Albinia began to disavow the desire of actuating him.
'You would not intend it, but he would catch the desire from you, and I own I would rather he were not inspired with it. If he now should express it, I should fear it was the unconscious effort to escape from India. If it had been his brother Edmund, I would have made any sacrifice, but I do not think Gilbert has the energy or force of character I should wish to see in a clergyman, nor do I feel willing to risk him at the university.'
'Oh! Edmund, why will you distrust Oxford? Why will you not believe what I know through Maurice and his friends?'
'If my poor boy had either the disposition or the discipline of your brother, I should not feel the same doubt.'
'Maurice had no discipline except at school and when William licked him,' cried Albinia. 'You know he was but eleven years old when my father died, and my aunts spoilt us without mitigation.'
'I said the disposition,' repeated Mr. Kendal; 'I can see nothing in Gilbert marking him for a clergyman, and I think him susceptible to the temptations that you cannot deny to exist at any college. Nor would I desire to see him fixed here, until he has seen something of life and of business, for which this bank affords the greatest facilities with the least amount of temptation. He would also be doing something for his own support; and with the life-interests upon his property, he must be dependent on his own exertions, unless I were to do more for him than would be right by the other children.'
'Then I am to say nothing to him?'
'I will speak to him myself. He is quite old enough to understand his prospects and decide for himself.'
'But, Edmund,' cried Albinia, with sudden vehemence, 'you are not sacrificing Gilbert for Maurice's sake?'
She had more nearly displeased him than she had ever done before, though he looked up quietly, saying, 'Certainly not. I am not sacrificing Gilbert, and I should do the same if Maurice were not in existence.'
She was too much ashamed of her foolish fancy to say more, and she cooled into candour sufficient to perceive that he was wise in distrusting her tact where her preference was so strong. But she foresaw that Gilbert would shrink and falter before his father, and that the conference would lead to no discovery of his views, and she was not surprised when her husband told her that he could not understand the boy, and believed that the truth was, that he would like to do nothing at all. It had ended by Mr. Kendal, in a sort of despair, undertaking to write to his cousin John for a statement of what would be required, after which the decision was to be made.
Meantime Mr. Kendal advised Gilbert to attend to arithmetic and book-keeping, and offered to instruct him in his long-forgotten Hindostanee. Sophy learnt all these with all her heart, but Gilbert always had a pain in his chest if he sat still at any kind of study!
Colonel Bury was the most open-hearted old bachelor in the country. His imagination never could conceive the possibility of everybody not being glad to meet everybody, his house could never be too full, his dinner-parties of 'a few friends' overflowed the dining-room, and his 'nobody' meant always at least six bodies. Every season was fertile in occasions of gathering old and young together to be made happy, and little Mary Ferrars, at five years old, had told her mamma that 'the Colonel's parties made her quite dissipated.'
One bright summer day, his beaming face appeared at Willow-Lawn with a peremptory invitation. His nephew and heir had newly married a friend of Albinia's girlhood, and was about to pay his wedding visit. Too happy to keep his guests to himself, the Colonel had fixed the next Thursday for a fete, and wanted all the world to come to it—the Kendals, every one of them—if they could only sleep there—but Albinia brought him to confession that he had promised to lodge five people more than the house would hold; and the aunts were at the parsonage, where nobody ventured to crowd their servants.
But there was a moon—and though Mr. Kendal would not allow that she was the harvest moon, the hospitable Colonel dilated on her as if she had been bed, board, and lodging, and he did not find much difficulty in his persuasions.
Few invitations ever gave more delight; Albinia appreciated a holiday to the utmost, and the whole family was happy at Sophy's chance of at length seeing Fairmead, and taking part in a little gaiety. And if Mr. Kendal's expectations of pleasure were less high, he submitted very well, smiled benignantly at the felicity around him, and was not once seen to shudder.
Sarah Anne Drury had been invited to enliven grandmamma, and every one augured a beautiful day and perfect enjoyment. The morning was beautiful, but alas! Sophy was hors de combat, far too unwell to think of making one of the party. She bore the disappointment magnanimously, and even the pity. Every one was sorry, and Gilbert wanted her to go and wait at Fairmead Parsonage for the chance of improving, promising to come and fetch her for any part of the entertainment; and her father told her that he had looked to her as his chief companion while the gay people were taking their pleasure. No one was uncomfortably generous enough to offer to stay at home with her; but Lucy suggested asking Genevieve to come and take care of her.
'Nay,' said Sophy, 'it would be much better if she were to go in my stead.'
Gilbert and Lucy both uttered an exclamation; and Sophy added, 'She would have so much more enjoyment than I could! Oh, it would quite make up for my missing it!'
'My dear,' said grandmamma, 'you don't know what you are talking of. It would be taking such a liberty.'
'There need be no scruples on that score,' said Albinia; 'the Colonel would only thank me if I brought him half Bayford.'
'Then,' cried Sophy, 'you think we may ask her? Oh, I should like to run up myself;'—and a look of congratulation and gratitude passed between her and her brother.
'No, indeed, you must not, let me go,' said Lucy, 'I'll just finish this cup of tea—'
'My dear, my dear,' interposed Mrs. Meadows, 'pray consider. She is a very good little girl in her way, but it is only giving her a taste for things out of her station'
'Oh! don't say that, dear grandmamma,' interposed Albinia, 'one good festival does carry one so much better through days of toil!'
'Ah, well! my dear, you will do as you think proper; but considering who the poor child is, I should call it no kindness to bring her forward in company.'
Something passed between the indignant Gilbert and Sophy about French counts and marquises, but Lucy managed much better. 'Dear me, grandmamma, nobody wishes to bring her forward. She will only play with the children, and see the fireworks, and no one will speak to her.'
Albinia averted further discussion till grandmamma had left the breakfast-table, when all four appealed with one voice to Mr. Kendal, who saw no objection, whereupon Lucy ran off, while Albinia finished her arrangements for the well-being of grandmamma, Sophy, and Maurice, who were as difficult to manage as the fox, goose, and cabbage. At every turn she encountered Gilbert, touching up his toilette at each glass, and seriously consulting her and Sophy upon the choice between lilac and lemon-coloured gloves, and upon the bows of his fringed neck-tie.
'My dear Gilbert,' said Albinia, on the fifth anxious alternative, 'it is of no use. No living creature will be the wiser, and do what you will, you will never look half so well as your father.'
Gilbert flung aside, muttering something about 'fit to be seen,' but just then Lucy hurried in. 'Oh! mamma, she wont go—she is very much obliged, but she can't go.'
'Can't! she must,' cried Albinia and Gilbert together.
'She says you are very kind, but that she cannot. I said everything I could; I told her she should wear Sophy's muslin mantle, or my second best polka.'
'No doubt you went and made a great favour of it,' said Gilbert.
'No, I assure you I did not; I persuaded her with all my might; I said mamma wished it, and we all wished it; and I am sure she would really have been very glad if she could have gone.'
'It can't be the school, it is holiday time,' said Gilbert. 'I'll go and see what is the matter.'
'No, I will go,' said Albinia, 'I will ask the old ladies to luncheon here, and that will make her happy, and make it easier for Sophy to get on with Sarah Anne Drury.'
Lucy had seen Genevieve alone; Albinia took her by storm before Madame Belmarche, whose little black eyes sparkled as she assured Mrs. Kendal that the child merited that and every other pleasure; and when Genevieve attempted to whisper objections, silenced her with an embrace, saying, 'Ah! my love, where is your gratitude to Madame? Have no fears for us. Your pleasure will be ours for months to come.'
The liquid sweetness of Genevieve's eyes spoke of no want of gratitude, and with glee which she no longer strove to repress, she tripped away to equip herself, and Albinia heard her clear young voice upstairs, singing away the burthen of some queer old French ditty.
Albinia found Gilbert and Sophy in disgrace with Lucy for having gathered the choicest flowers, which they were eagerly making up into bouquets. Genevieve's was ready before she arrived in the prettiest tremor of gratitude and anticipation, and presented to her by Gilbert, whilst Sophy looked on, and blushed crimson, face, neck, and all, as Genevieve smelt and admired the white roses that had so cruelly been reft from Lucy's beloved tree.
With every advantage of pretty features, good complexion, and nice figure, the English Lucy, in her blue-and-white checked silk, worked muslin mantle, and white chip bonnet with blue ribbons, was eclipsed by the small swarthy French girl, in that very old black silk dress, and white trimmed coarse straw bonnet, just enlivened by little pink bows at the neck and wrists. It had long been acknowledged that Genevieve was unrivalled in the art of tying bows, and those pink ones were paragons, redolent of all her own fresh sprightly archness and refinement. Albinia herself was the best representative of English good looks, and never had she been more brilliant, her rich chestnut hair waving so prettily on the rounded contour of her happy face, her fair cheek tinted with such a healthy fresh bloom, her grey eyes laughing with merry softness, her whole person so alert and elastic with exuberant life and enjoyment, that grandmamma was as happy in watching her as if she had been her own daughter, and stroked down the broad flounces of her changeable silk, and admired her black lace, as if she felt the whole family exalted by Mrs. Kendal's appearance.
It was a merry journey, through the meadows and corn-fields, laughing in the summer sunshine, and in due time they saw the flag upon Fairmead steeple, and Albinia nodded to curtseying old friends at the cottage doors. The lodge gate swung open wide, and the well-known striped marquee was seen among the trees in the distance, as they went up the carriage road; but at the little iron gate leading to the shrubbery there was a halt; Mr. Ferrars called to the carriage to stop, and opened the door. At the same moment Albinia gave a cry of wonder, and exclaimed, 'Why, Fred? is William here?'
'No; at Montreal, but very well,' was the answer, with a hearty shake of the hand.
'Edmund, it is Fred Ferrars,' said Albinia. 'Why, Maurice, you never told us.'
'He took us by surprise yesterday.'
'Yes; I landed yesterday morning, went to the Family Office, found Belraven was nowhere, and the aunts at Fairmead, and so came on here,' explained Fred, as be finished shaking hands with all the party, and walked on beside Albinia. He was tall, fresh-coloured, a good deal like her, with a long fair moustache, and light, handsome figure; and Lucy, though rather disconcerted at Genevieve being taken for one of themselves, began eagerly to whisper her conviction that he was Lord Belraven's brother, mamma's first cousin, captain in the 25th Lancers, and aide-de-camp to General Ferrars.
It was the first meeting since an awkward parting. The only son of a foolish second marriage, and early left an orphan, Frederick Ferrars bad grown up under the good aunts' charge, somewhat neglected by his half-brother, by many years his senior. He was little older than Albinia, and a merry, bantering affection had always subsisted between them, till he had begun to give it the air of something more than friendship. Albinia was, however, of a nature to seek for something of depth and repose, on which to rely for support and anchorage. Fred's vivacious disposition had never for a moment won her serious attachment; she was 'very fond of him,' but no more; her heart was set on sharing her brother's life as a country pastor. She went to Fairmead, Fred was carried off by the General to Canada, and she presently heard of his hopeless attachment to a lovely Yankee, whom he met on board the steamer. All this was now cast behind the seven most eventful years of Albinia's life; and in the dignity of her matronhood, she looked more than ever on 'poor Fred' as a boy, and was delighted to see him again, and to hear of her brother William.
A few steps brought them to the shade of the large cedar-tree, where was seated Winifred, and Mrs. Annesley was with her. The greetings had hardly been exchanged before the Colonel came upon them in all his glory, with his pretty shy bride niece on his arm, looking very like the Alice Percy of the old times, when Fred used to tease the two girls.
Genevieve was made heartily welcome, and Sophia's absence deplored, and then the Colonel carried off the younger ones to the archery, giving his arm to the much-flattered Lucy, and followed by Gilbert and Genevieve, with Willie and Mary adhering to them closely, and their governess in sight.
Mr. Ferrars and Mr. Kendal fell into one of their discussions, and paced up and down the shady walk, while Albinia sat, in the complete contentment, between Alice and Winifred, with Fred Ferrars on the turf at their feet, living over again the bygone days, laughing over ancient jokes, resuscitating past scrapes, tracing the lot of old companions, or telling mischievous anecdotes of each other, for the very purpose of being contradicted. They were much too light-hearted to note the lapse of time, till Maurice came to take his wife home, thinking she had had fatigue enough. Mrs. Annesley went with her, and Albinia, on looking for her husband, was told that he had fallen in with some old Indian acquaintances; and Charles Bury presently came to find his wife, and conduct the party to luncheon. There was no formal meal, but a perpetual refection laid out in the dining-room, for relays of guests. Fred took care of Albinia and here they met Miss Ferrars, who had been with one of her old friends, to whom she was delighted to exhibit her nephew and niece in their prime of good looks.
'But I must go,' said Albinia; 'having found the provisions, I must secure that Mr. Kendal and the children are not famished.'
Fred came with her, and she turned down the long alley leading to the archery-ground. He felt old times so far renewed as to resume their habits of confidence, and began, 'I suppose the General has not told you what has brought me home?'
'He has not so much as told me you were coming.'
'Ay, ay, of course you know how he treats those things.'
'Oh—h!' said Albinia, perfectly understanding.
'But,' continued Frederick, eagerly, 'even he confesses that she is the very sweetest—I mean,' as Albinia smiled at this evident embellishment, 'even he has not a word of objection to make except the old story about married officers.'
'And who is she, Fred?'
'Oh, mamma, there you are!' and Lucy joined them as they emerged on the bowling-green, where stood the two bright targets, and the groups of archers, whose shafts, for the most part, flew far and wide.
'Where are the rest, my dear? are they shooting?'
'Yes; Gilbert has been teaching Genevieve—there, she is shooting now.'
The little light figure stood in advance. Gilbert held her arrows, and another gentleman appeared to be counselling her. There seemed to be general exultation when one of her arrows touched the white ring outside the target.
'That has been her best shot,' said Lucy. 'I am sure I would not shoot in public unless I knew how!'
'Do you not like shooting?' asked Captain Ferrars; and Lucy smiled, and lost her discontented air.
'It hurts my fingers, she said; 'and I have always so much to do in the garden.'
Albinia asked if she had had anything to eat.
'Oh, yes; the Colonel asked Gilbert to carve in the tent there, for the children and governesses,' said Lucy, 'he and Genevieve were very busy there, but I found I was not of much use so, I came away with the Miss Bartons to look at the flowers, but now they are shooting, and I could not think what had become of you.'
And Lucy bestowed her company on Albinia and the Captain, reducing him to dashing, disconnected talk, till they met Mr. Kendal, searching for them in the same fear that they were starving, and anxious to introduce his wife to his Indian friends. When at the end of the path, Albinia looked round, the Lancer had disappeared, and Lucy was walking by her father, trying to look serenely amused by a discussion on the annexation of the Punjaub.
The afternoon was spent in pleasant loitering, chiefly with Miss Ferrars, who asked much after Sophy, lamented greatly over Winifred's delicate health, and was very anxious to know what could have brought Fred home, being much afraid it was some fresh foolish attachment.
Ominous notes were heard from the band, and the Colonel came to tell them that there was to be dancing till it was dark enough for the fireworks, his little Alice had promised him her first country-dance. Fred Ferrars emerged again with a half-laughing, half-imploring, 'For the sake of old times, Albinia! We've been partners before!'
'You'll take care of Lucy,' said Albinia, turning to her aunt; but Mr. Winthrop had already taken pity on her, and Albinia was led off by her cousin to her place in the fast lengthening rank. How she enjoyed it! She had cared little for London balls after the first novelty, but these Fairmead dances on the turf had always had an Arcadian charm to her fancy, and were the more delightful after so long an interval, in the renewal of the old scene, and the recognition of so many familiar faces.
With bounding step and laughing lips, she flew down the middle, more exhilarated every moment, exchanging merry scraps of talk with her partner or bright fragments as she poussetted with pair after pair; and when the dance was over, with glowing complexion and eyes still dancing, she took Fred's arm, and heard the renewal of his broken story—the praise of his Emily, the fairest of Canadians, whom even the General could not dislike, though, thorough soldier as he was, he would fain have had all military men as devoid of encumbrances as himself, and thought an officer's wife one of the most misplaced articles in the world. Poor Fred had been in love so often, that he laboured under the great vexation of not being able to persuade any of his friends to regard his passion seriously, but Albinia was quite sisterly enough to believe him this time, and give full sympathy to his hopes and fears. Far less wealth had fallen to his lot than to that of his cousins, and his marriage must depend on what his brother would 'do for him,' a point on which he tried to be sanguine, and Albinia encouraged him against probability, for Lord Belraven was never liberal towards his relations, and had lately married an expensive wife, with whom he lived chiefly abroad.
This topic was not exhausted when Fred fell a prey to the Colonel, who insisted on his dancing again, and Albinia telling him to do his duty, he turned towards a group that had coalesced round Miss Ferrars, consisting of Lucy, Gilbert, Genevieve, and the children from the parsonage, and at once bore off the little Frenchwoman, leaving more than one countenance blank. Lucy and Willie did their best for mutual consolation, while Albinia undertook to preside over her niece and a still smaller partner in red velvet, in a quadrille. It was amusing to watch the puzzled downright motions of the sturdy little bluff King Hal, and the earnest precision of the prim little damsel, and Albinia hovering round, now handing one, now pointing to the other, keeping lightly out of every one's way, and far more playful than either of the small performers in this solemn undertaking. As it concluded she found that Mr. Kendal had been watching her, with much entertainment, and she was glad to take his arm, and assure herself that he had not been miserable, but had been down to the parsonage, where he had read the newspaper in peace, and had enjoyed a cup of tea in quiet with Winifred and Mrs. Annesley.
The dancing had been transferred to the tent, which presented a very pretty scene from without, looking through the drooping festoons of evergreens at the lamps and the figures flitting to and fro in their measured movements, while the shrubs and dark foliage of the trees fell into gloom around; and above, the sky assumed the deep tranquil blue of night, the pale bright stars shining out one by one. The Kendals were alone in the terrace, far enough from the gay tumult to be sensible of the contrast.
'How beautiful!' said Albinia: 'it is like a poem.'
'I was just thinking so,' he answered.
'This is the best part of all,' she said, feeling, though hardly expressing to herself the repose of his lofty, silent serenity, standing aloof from gaiety and noise. She could have compared him and her lively cousin to the evening stillness contrasted with the mirthful scene in the tent; and though her nature seemed to belong to the busy world, her best enjoyment lay with what calmed and raised her above herself; and she was perfectly happy, standing still with her arm upon that of her silent husband.
'These things are well imagined,' said he. 'The freedom and absence of formality give space for being alone and quiet.'
'Yes,' said Albinia, saucily, 'when that is what you go into society for.'
'You have me there,' he said, smiling; 'but I must own how much I enjoyed coming back from the parsonage by myself. I am glad we brought that little Genevieve; she seems to be so perfectly in her element. I saw her amusing a set of little children in the prettiest, most animated way; and afterwards, when the young people were playing at some game, her gestures were so sprightly and graceful, that no one could look at the English girls beside her. Indeed I think she was making quite a sensation; your cousin seemed to admire her very much. If she were but in another station, she would shine anywhere.'
'How much you have seen, Edmund!'
'I have been a spectator, you an actor,' he said, smiling.
Her quiescence did not long continue, for the poor people had begun to assemble on the gravel road before the front door to see the fireworks, and she hurried away to renew her acquaintance with her village friends, guessing at them in the dark, asking after old mothers and daughters at service, inquiring the names of new babies, and whether the old ones were at school, and excusing herself for having become 'quite a stranger.'
In the midst—whish—hiss, with steady swiftness, up shot in the dark purple air the first rocket, bursting and scattering a rain of stars. There was an audible gasp in the surrounding homely world, a few little cries, and a big boy clutched tight hold of her arm, saying, 'I be afeard.' She was explaining away his alarms, when she heard her brother's voice, and found her arm drawn into his.
'Here you are, then,' he said; 'I thought I heard your voice.'
'Oh! Maurice, I have hardly seen you. Let us have a nice quiet turn in the park together.'
He resisted, saying, 'I don't approve of parents and guardians losing themselves. What have you done with all your children?'
'What have you done with yours?' retorted she.
'I left Willie and Mary at the window with their governess, I came to see that these other children of mine were orderly.'
'Most proper, prudential, and exemplary Maurice!' his sister laughed. 'Now I have an equally hearty belief in my children being somewhere, sure to turn up when wanted. Come, I want to get out from the trees to look for Colonel Bury's harvest moon, for I believe she is an imposition.'
'No, I'm not coming. You, don't understand your duties. Your young ladies ought always to know where to find you, and you where to find them.'
'Oh! Maurice, what must you have suffered before you imported Winifred to chaperon me!'
'You are in so mad a mood that I shall attempt only one moral maxim, and that is, that no one should set up for a chaperon, till she has retired from business on her own account.'
'That's a stroke at my dancing with poor Fred, but it was his only chance of speaking to me.'
'Not particularly at the dancing.'
'You'll see, by-and-bye. It was not your fault if those girls were not in all sorts of predicaments.'
'I believe you think life is made up of predicaments. And I want to hear whether William has written to you anything about poor Fred.'
'Only that he is more mad than ever, and that he let him go, thinking that there is no chance of Belraven helping him, but that it may wear itself out on the journey.'
A revolving circle shedding festoons of purple and crimson jets of fire made all their talk interjectional, and they had by this time reached the terrace, where all the company were assembled, the open windows at regular intervals casting bewildering lights on the heads and shoulders in front of them. Then out burst a grand wheat-sheaf of yellow flame with crimson ears and beards, by whose light Albinia recognised Gilbert standing close to her in the shadow, and asked him where the rest where.'
'I can't tell; Lucy and my father were here just now.'
'Are you feeling the chill, Gilbert?' asked Albinia, struck by something in his tone. 'You had better look from the window.'
He neither moved nor made answer, but a great illumination of Colonel Bury's coat-of-arms, with Roman candles and Chinese trees at the four corners, engrossed every eye, and flashing on every face, enabled Albinia to join Mr. Kendal, who was with Lucy and Miss Ferrars. No one knew where Genevieve was, but Albinia was confident that she could take good care of herself, and was not too uneasy to enjoy the grand representation of Windsor Castle, and the finale of interlaced ciphers amidst a multitude of little fretful sputtering tongues of flame. Then it was, amid good nights, donning of shawls, and announcing of carriages, that Captain Ferrars and Miss Durant made their appearance together, having been 'looking everywhere for Mrs. Kendal,' and it was not in the nature of a brother not to look a little arch, though Albinia returned him as resolute and satisfied a glance as could express 'Well, what of that?'
In consideration of the night air, Mr. Kendal put Gilbert inside the carriage, and mounted the box, to revel in the pleasures of silence. The four within talked incessantly and compared adventures. Lucy had been gratified by being patronized by Miss Ferrars, and likewise had much to say of the smaller fry, and went into raptures about many a 'dear little thing,' none of whom would, however, stand a comparison with Maurice; Gilbert was critical upon every one's beauty; and Genevieve was more animated than all, telling anecdotes with great piquancy, and rehearsing the comical Yankee stories she had heard from Captain Ferrars. She had enjoyed with the zest and intensity of a peculiarly congenial temperament, and she seemed not to be able to cease from working off her excitement in repetitions of her thanks, and in discussing the endless delights the day had afforded.
But the day had begun early, and the way was long, so remarks became scanty, and answers were brief and went astray, and Albinia thought she was travelling for ever to Montreal, when she was startled by a pettish exclamation from Lucy, 'Is that all! It was not worth while to wake me only to see the moon.'
'I beg your pardon,' said Genevieve, 'but I thought Mrs. Kendal wished to see it rise.'
'Thank you, Genevieve,' said Albinia, opening her sleepy eyes; 'she is as little worth seeing as a moon can well be, a waning moon does well to keep untimely hours.'
'Why do you think she is so much more beautiful in the crescent, Mrs. Kendal?' said Genevieve, in the most wakeful manner.
'I'm sure I don't know,' said Albinia, subsiding into her corner.
'Is it from the situation of the mountains in the moon?' continued the pertinacious damsel.
'In Africa!' said Albinia, well-nigh asleep, but Genevieve's laugh roused her again, partly because she thought it less mannerly than accorded with the girl's usual politeness. No mere sleep was allowed her; an astronomical passion seemed to have possessed the young lady, and she dashed into the tides, and the causes of the harvest-moon, and volcanoes, and thunderbolts, and Lord Rosse's telescope, forcing her tired friend to reply by direct appeals, till Albinia almost wished her in the moon herself; and was rejoiced when in the dim greyness of the early summer dawn, the carriage drew up at Madame Belmarche's house. As the light from the weary maid's candle flashed on Genevieve's face, it revealed such a glow of deep crimson on each brown cheek, that Albinia perceived that the excitement must have been almost fever, and went to bed speculating on the strange effects of a touch of gaiety on the hereditary French nature, startling her at once from her graceful propriety and humility of demeanour, into such extraordinary obtrusive talkativeness.
She heard more the next morning that vexed her. Lucy was seriously of opinion that Genevieve had not been sufficiently retiring. She herself had heedfully kept under the wing of Mary's governess, mamma, or Miss Ferrars, and nobody had paid her any particular attention; but Genevieve had been with Gilbert half the day, had had all the gentlemen round her at the archery and in the games, had no end of partners in the dances, and had walked about in the dark with Captain Ferrars. Lucy was sure she was taken for her sister, and whenever she had told people the truth, they had said how pretty she was.
'You are jealous, Lucy,' Sophy said.
Lucy protested that it was quite the reverse. She was glad poor little Jenny should meet with any notice, there was no cause for jealousy of her, and she threw back her head in conscious beauty; 'only she was sorry for Jenny, for they were quite turning her head, and laughing at her all the time.'
Albinia's candour burst out as usual, 'Say no more about it, my dear; it was a mistake from beginning to end. I was too much taken up with my own diversion to attend to you, and now you are punishing me for it. I left you to take care of yourselves, and exposed poor little Genevieve to unkind remarks.'
'I don't know what I said,' began Lucy. 'I don't mean to blame her; it was just as she always is with Gilbert, so very French.'
That word settled it—Lucy pronounced it with ineffable pity and contempt—she was far less able to forgive another for being attractive, than for trying to attract.
Sophy looked excessively hurt and grieved, and in private asked her step-mother what she thought of Genevieve's behaviour.
'My dear, I cannot tell; I think she was off her guard with excitement; but all was very new to her, and there was every excuse. I was too happy to be wise, so no wonder she was.'
'And do you think Captain Ferrars was laughing at her? I wish you would tell her, mamma. Gilbert says he is a fine, flourishing officer in moustaches, who, he is sure, flirts with and breaks the heart of every girl he meets. If he is right, mamma, it would cure Genevieve to tell her so, and you would not mind it, though he is your cousin.'
'Poor Fred!' said Albinia. 'I am sorry Gilbert conceived such a notion. But Genevieve's heart is too sensible to break in that way, even if Fred wished it, and I can acquit him of such savage intentions. I never should have seen any harm in all that Genevieve did last night if she had not talked us to death coming home! Still I think she was off her balance, and I own I am disappointed. But we don't know what it is to be born French!'
'Mrs. Kendal, dear Madame, a great favour, could you spare me a few moments?'
A blushing face was raised with such an expression of contrite timidity, that Albinia felt sure that the poor little Frenchwoman had recovered from her brief intoxication, and wanted to apologize and be comforted, so she said kindly,
'I was wishing to see you, my dear; I was afraid the day had been too much for you; I was certain you were feverish.'
'Ah! you were so good to make excuses for me. I am so ashamed when I think how tedious, how disagreeable I must have been. It was why I wished to speak to you.'
'Never mind apologies, my dear; I have felt and done the like many a time—it is the worst of enjoying oneself.'
'Oh! that was not all—I could not help it—enjoyment—no!' stammered Genevieve. 'If you would be kind enough to come this way.'
She opened her grandmother's back gate, the entrance to a slip of garden smothered in laurels, and led the way to a small green arbour, containing a round table, transformed by calico hangings into what the embroidered inscription called 'Autel a l'Amour filial et maternel,' bearing a plaster vase full of fresh flowers, but ere Albinia had time to admire this achievement of French sentiment, Genevieve exclaimed, clasping her hands, 'Oh, madame, pardon me, you who are so good! You will tell no one, you will bring on him no trouble, but you will tell him it is too foolish—you will give him back his billet, and forbid him ever to send another.'
Spite of the confidence about Emily, spite of all unreason, such was the family opinion of Fred's propensity to fall in love, that Albinia's first suspicion lighted upon him, but as her eye fell on the pink envelope the handwriting concerned her even more nearly.
'Gilbert!' she cried. 'My dear, what is this? Do you wish me to read it?'
'Yes, for I cannot.' Genevieve turned away, as in his best hand, and bad it was, Albinia read the commencement—
"My hope, my joy, my Genevieve!"
In mute astonishment Albinia looked up, and met Genevieve's eyes. 'Oh, madame, you are displeased with me!' she cried in despair, misinterpreting the look, 'but indeed I could not help it.'
'My dear child,' said Albinia, affectionately putting her arm round her waist, and drawing her down on the seat beside her, 'indeed I am not displeased with you; you are doing the very best thing possible by us all. Think I am your sister, and tell me what is the meaning of all this, and then I will try to help you.'
'Oh, madame, you are too good,' said Genevieve, weeping; and kindly holding the trembling hand, Albinia finished the letter, herself. 'Silly boy! Genevieve, dear girl, you must set my mind at rest; this is too childish—this is not the kind of thing that would touch your affections, I am sure.'
'Oh! pour cela non,' said Genevieve. 'Oh! no; I am grateful to Mr. Gilbert Kendal, for, even as a little boy, he was always kind to me, but for the rest—he is so young, madame, even if I could forget—'
'I see,' said Albinia. 'I am sure that you are much too good and sensible at your age to waste a moment's thought or pain on such a foolish boy, as he certainly is, Genevieve, though not so foolish in liking you, whatever he may be in the way of expressing it. Though of course—' Albinia had floundered into a dreadful bewilderment between her sense of Genevieve's merits and of the incompatibility of their station, and she plunged out by asking, 'And how long has this been going on?'
Genevieve hesitated. 'To speak the truth, madame, I have long seen that, like many other youths, he would be—very attentive if one were not guarded; but I had known him so long, that perhaps I did not soon enough begin, to treat him en jeune homme.
'And this is his first letter?'
'Oh! yes, madame.'
'He complains that you will not hear him? Do you dislike to tell me if anything had passed previously?'
'Thursday,' was slightly whispered.
'Thursday! ah! now I begin to understand the cause of your being suddenly moon-struck.'
'Ah! madame, pardon me!'
'I see—it was the only way to avoid a tete-a-tete!' said Albinia. 'Well done, Genevieve. What had he been saying to you, my dear?'
Poor Genevieve cast about for a word, and finally faltered out, 'Des sottises, Madame.'
'That I can well believe,' said Albinia. 'Well, my dear—'
'I think,' pursued Genevieve, 'that he was vexed because I would not let him absorb me exclusively at Fairmead; and began to reproach me, and protest—'
'And like a wise woman you waked the sleeping dragon,' said Albinia. 'Was this all?'
'No, madame; so little had passed, that I hoped it was only the excitement, and that he would forget; but on Saturday he met me in the flagged path, and oh! he said a great deal, though I did my best to convince him that he could only make himself be laughed at. I hoped even then that he was silenced, and that I need not mention it, but I see he has been watching me, and I dare not go out alone lest I should meet him. He called this morning, and not seeing me left this note.'
'Do your grandmother and aunt know?'
'Oh, no! I would far rather not tell them. Need I? Oh! madame, surely you can speak to him, and no one need ever hear of it?' implored Genevieve. 'You have promised me that no one shall be told!'
'No one shall, my dear. I hope soon to tell you that he is heartily ashamed of having teased you. No one need be ashamed of thinking you very dear and good—you can't help being loveable, but Master Gibbie has no right to tell you so, and we'll put an end to it. He will soon be in India out of your way. Good-bye!'
Albinia kissed the confused and blushing maiden, and walked away, provoked, yet diverted.
She found Gilbert alone, and was not slow in coming to the point, endeavouring to model her treatment on that of her brother, the General, towards his aide-de-camp in the like predicaments.
'Gilbert, I want to speak to you. I am afraid you have been making yourself troublesome to Miss Durant. You are old enough to know better than to write such a note as this.'
He was all one blush, made an inarticulate exclamation, and burst out, 'That abominable treacherous old wooden doll of a mademoiselle.'
'No, Miss Belmarche knows nothing of it. No one ever shall if you will promise to drive this nonsense out of your head.'
'Nonsense! Mrs. Kendal!' with a gesture of misery.
'Gilbert, you are making yourself absurd.'
He turned about, and would have marched out of the room, but she pursued him. 'You must listen to me. It is not fit that you should carry on this silly importunity. It is exceedingly distressing to her, and might lead to very unpleasant and hurtful remarks.' Seeing him look sullen, she took breath, and considered. 'She came to me in great trouble, and begged me to restore your letter, and tell you never to repeat the liberty.'
He struck his hand on his brow, crying vehemently, 'Cruel girl! She little knows me—you little know me, if you think I am to be silenced thus. I tell you I will never cease! I am not bound by your pride, which has sneered down and crushed the loveliest—'
'Not mine,' said Albinia, disconcerted at his unexpected violence.
'Yes!' he exclaimed. 'I know you could patronize! but a step beyond, and it is all the same with you as with the rest—you despise the jewel without the setting.'
'No,' said Albinia, 'so far from depreciating her, I want to convince you that it is an insult to pursue her in this ridiculous underhand way.'
'You do me no justice,' said Gilbert loftily; 'you little understand what you are pleased to make game of,' and with one of his sudden alternations, he dropped into a chair, calling himself the most miserable fellow in the world, unpitied where he would gladly offer his life, and his tenderest feelings derided, and he was so nearly ready to cry, that Albinia pitied him, and said, 'I'll laugh no more if I can help it, Gibbie, but indeed you are too young for all this misery to be real. I don't mean that you are pretending, but only that this is your own fancy.'
'Fancy!' said the boy solemnly. 'The happiness of my life is at stake. She shall be the sharer of all that is mine, the moment my property is in my own hands.'
'And do you think so high-minded a girl would listen to you, and take advantage of a fancy in a boy so much younger, and of a different class?'
'It would be ecstasy to raise her, and lay all at her feet!'
'So it might, if it were worthy of her to accept it. Gilbert, if you knew what love is, you would never wish her to lower herself by encouraging you now. She would be called artful—designing—'
'If she loved me—' he said disconsolately.
'I wish I could bring you to see how unlikely it is that a sensible, superior woman could really attach herself to a mere lad. An unprincipled person might pretend it for the sake of your property—a silly one might like you because you are good-looking and well-mannered; but neither would be Genevieve.'
'There is no use in saying any more,' he said, rising in offended dignity.
'I cannot let you go till you have given me your word never to obtrude your folly on Miss Durant again.'
'Have you anything else to ask me?' cried Gilbert in a melodramatic tone.
'Yes, how would you like your father to know of this? It is her secret, and I shall keep it, unless you are so selfish as to continue the pursuit, and if so, I must have recourse to his authority.'
'Oh! Mrs. Kendal,' he said, actually weeping, 'you have always pitied me hitherto.'
'A man should not ask for pity,' said Albinia; 'but I am sorry for you, for she is an admirable person, and I see you are very unhappy; but I will do all I can to help you, and you will get over it, if you are reasonable. Now understand me, I will and must protect Genevieve, and I shall appeal to your father unless you promise me to desist from this persecution.'
The debate might have been endless, if Mr. Kendal had not been heard coming in. 'You promise?' she said. 'Yes,' was the faint reply, in nervous terror of immediate reference to his father; and they hurried different ways, trying to look unconcerned.
'Never mind,' said Albinia to herself. 'Was not Fred quite as bad about me, and look at him now! Yes, Gilbert must go to India, it will cure him, or if it should not, his affection will be respectable, and worth consideration. If he were but older, and this were the genuine article, I would fight for him, but—'
And she sat down to write a loving note to Genevieve. Her sanguine disposition made her trust that all would blow over, but her experience of the cheerful buoyant Ferrars temperament was no guide to the morbid Kendal disposition, Gilbert lay on the grass limp and doleful till the fall of the dew, when he betook himself to a sofa; and in the morning turned up his eyes reproachfully at her instead of eating his breakfast.
About eleven o'clock the Fairmead pony-carriage stopped at the door, containing Mr. Ferrars, the Captain, Aunt Gertrude, and little Willie. Albinia, her husband, and Lucy, were soon in the drawing-room welcoming them; and Lucy fetched her little brother, who had been vociferous for three days about Cousin Fred, the real soldier, but now, struck with awe at the mighty personage, stood by his mamma, profoundly silent, and staring. He was ungracious to his aunt, and still more so to Willie, the latter of whom was despatched under Lucy's charge to find Gilbert, but they came back unsuccessful. Nor did Sophy make her appearance; she was reported to be reading to grandmamma—Mrs. Meadows preferred to Miss Ferrars! there was more in this than Albinia could make out, and she sat uneasily till she could exchange a few words with Lucy. 'My dear, what is become of the other two?'
'I am sure I don't know what is the matter with them,' said Lucy. 'Gilbert is gone out—nobody knows where—and when I told Sophy who was here, she said Captain Ferrars was an empty-headed coxcomb, and she did not want to see him!'
'Oh! the geese!' murmured Albinia to herself, till the comical suspicion crossed her mind that Gilbert was jealous, and that Sophy was afraid of falling a victim to the redoubtable lady killer.
Luncheon-time produced Sophy, grave and silent, but no Gilbert, and Mr. Kendal, receiving no satisfactory account of his absence, said, 'Very strange,' and looked annoyed.
Captain Ferrars seemed to have expected to see his bright little partner of Thursday, for he inquired for her, and Willie imparted the information that Fred had taken her for Sophy all the time! Fred laughed, and owned it, but asked if she were not really the governess? 'A governess,' said Albinia, 'but not ours,' and an explanation followed, during which Sophy blushed violently, and held up her head as if she had an iron bar in her neck.
'A pity,' said the Lancer, when he had heard who she was, and under his moustache he murmured to Albinia, 'She is rather in Emily's style.'
'Oh, Fred,' thought Albinia, 'after all, it may be lucky that you aren't going to stay here!'
When Albinia was alone with her brother, she could not help saying, 'Maurice, you were right to scold me; I reproached you with thinking life made up of predicaments. I think mine is made of blunders!'
'Ah! I saw you were harassed to-day,' said her brother kindly.
'Whenever one is happy, one does something wrong!'
'You are generous not to say you warned me months ago. Mind, it is no fault of hers, she is behaving beautifully; but oh! the absurdity, and the worst of it is, I have promised not to tell Edmund.'
'Then don't tell me. You have a judgment quite good enough for use.'
'No, I have not. I have only sense, and that only serves me for what other people ought to do.'
'Then ask Albinia what Mrs. Kendal ought to do.'
Gilbert came in soon after their departure, with an odd, dishevelled, abstracted look, and muttering something inaudible about not knowing the time. His depression absolutely courted notice, but as a slight cough would at any time reduce him to despair, he obtained no particular observation, except from Sophy, who made much of him, flushed at Genevieve's name, and looked reproachful, that it was evident that she was his confidante. Several times did Albinia try to lead her to enter on the subject, but she set up her screen of silence. It was disappointing, for Albinia had believed better things of her sense, and hardly made allowance for the different aspect of the love-sorrows of seventeen, viewed from fifteen or twenty-six—vexatious, too, to be treated with dry reserve, and probably viewed as a rock in the course of true love; and provoking to see perpetual tete-a-tetes that could hardly fail to fill Sophy's romantic head with folly.
At the end of another week, Albinia received the following note:—
'Dear and most kind Madame,
'I would not trouble you again, but this is the third within four days. I returned the two former ones to himself, but he continues to write. May I ask your permission to speak to my relatives, for I feel that I ought to hide this no longer from them, and that we must take some measures for ending it. He does me the honour to wait near the house, and I never dare go out, since—for I will confess all to you, madame—he met me by the river on Monday. I am beginning to fear that his assiduities have been observed, and I should be much obliged if you would tell me how to act. Your kind perseverance in your goodness towards me is my greatest comfort, and I hope that you will still continue it, for indeed it is most unwillingly that I am a cause of perplexity and vexation to you. Entreating your pardon,
'Your most faithful and obliged servant, Genevieve Celeste Durant.'
What was to be done? That broken pledge overpowered Albinia with a personal sense of shame, and though it set her free to tell all to her husband, she shrank from provoking his stern displeasure towards his son, and feared he might involve Genevieve in his anger. She dashed off a note to her poor little friend, telling her to do as she thought fit by her aunt and grandmother, and then sought another interview with the reluctant Gilbert, to whom she returned the letter, saying, 'Oh, Gilbert, at least I thought you would keep your word.'
'I think,' he said, angrily, trying for dignity, though bewrayed by his restless eyes and hands—'I think it is too much to accuse me of—of—when I never said—What word did I ever give?'
'You promised never to persecute her again.'
'There may be two opinions as to what persecution means,' said Gilbert.
'I little thought of subterfuges. I trusted you.'
'Mrs. Kendal! hear me,' he passionately cried. 'You knew not the misery you imposed. To live so near, and not a word, not a look! I bore it as long as I could; but when Sophy would not so much as take one message, human nature could not endure.'
'Well, if you cannot restrain yourself like a rational creature, some means must be taken to free Miss Durant from a pursuit so injurious and disagreeable to her.'
'Ay,' he cried, 'you have filled her with your own prejudices, and inspired her with such a dread of the hateful fences of society, that she does not dare to confess—'
'For shame, Gilbert, you are accusing her of acting a part.'
'No!' he exclaimed, 'all I say is, that she has been so thrust down and forced back, that she cannot venture to avow her feelings even to herself!'
'Oh!' said Albinia, 'you conceited person!'
'Well!' cried the boy, so much nettled by her sarcasm that he did not know what he said, 'I think—considering—considering our situations, I might be worth her consideration!'
'Who put that in your head?' asked Albinia. 'You are too much a gentleman for it to have come there of its own accord.'
He blushed excessively, and retracted. 'No, no! I did not mean that! No, I only mean I have no fair play—she will not even think. Oh! if I had but been born in the same station of life!'
Gilbert making entrechats with a little fiddle! It had nearly overthrown her gravity, and she made no direct answer, only saying, 'Well, Gilbert, these talks are useless. I only thought it right to give you notice that you have released me from my engagement not to make your father aware of your folly.'
He went into an agony of entreaties, and proffers of promises, but no more treaties of secrecy could he obtain, she would only say that she should not speak immediately, she should wait and see how things turned out. By which she meant, how soon it might be hoped that he would be safe in the Calcutta bank, where she heartily wished him.
She sought a conference with Genevieve, and took her out walking in the meadows, for the poor child really needed change and exercise, the fear of Gilbert had made her imprison herself within the little garden, till she looked sallow and worn. She said that her grandmother and aunt had decided that she should go in a couple of days to the Convent at Hadminster, to remain there till Mr. Gilbert went to India—the superior was an old friend of her aunt, and Genevieve had often been there, and knew all the nuns.
Albinia was startled by this project. 'My dear, I had much rather send you to stay at my brother's, or—anywhere. Are you sure you are not running into temptation?'
'Not of that kind,' said Genevieve. 'The priest, Mr. O'Hara, is a good-natured old gentleman, not in the least disposed to trouble himself about my conversion.'
'And the sisters?'
'Good old ladies, they have always been very kind to me, and petted me exceedingly when I was a little child, but for the rest—' still seeing Albinia's anxious look—'Oh! they would not think of it; I don't believe they could argue; they are not like the new-fashioned Roman Catholics of whom you are thinking, madame.'
'And are there no enthusiastic young novices?'
'I should think no one would ever be a novice there,' said Genevieve.
'You seem to be bent on destroying all the romance of convents, Genevieve!'
'I never thought of anything romantic connected with the reverend mothers,' rejoined Genevieve, 'and yet when I recollect how they came to Hadminster, I think you will be interested. You know the family at Hadminster Hall in the last century were Roman Catholics, and a daughter had professed at a convent in France. At the time of the revolution, her brother, the esquire, wrote to offer her an asylum at his house. The day of her arrival was fixed—behold! a stage-coach draws up to the door—black veils inside—black veils clustered on the roof—a black veil beside the coachman, on the box—eighteen nuns alight, and the poor old infirm abbess is lifted out. They had not even figured to themselves that the invitation could be to one without the whole sisterhood!'
'And what did the esquire do with the good ladies?'
'He took them as a gift from Providence, he raised a subscription among his friends, and they were lodged in the house at Hadminster, where something like a sisterhood had striven to exist ever since the days of James II.'
'Are any of these sisters living still?'
'Only poor old Mother Therese, who was a little pensionnaire when they came, and now is blind, and never quits her bed. There are only seven sisters at present, and none of them are less than five-and-forty.'
'And what shall you do there, Genevieve?'
'If they have any pupils from the town, perhaps I may help to teach them French. And I shall have plenty of time for my music. Oh! madame, would you lend me a little of your music to copy?'
'With all my heart. Any books?'
'Oh! that would be the greatest kindness of all! And if it were not presuming too much, if madame would let me take the pattern of that beautiful point lace that she sometimes wears in the evening, then I should make myself welcome!'
'And put out your eyes, my dear! But you may turn out my whole lace-drawer if you think anything there will be a pleasure to the old ladies.'
'Ah! you do not guess the pleasure, madame. Needlework and embroidery is their excitement and delight. They will ask me closely about all I have seen and done for months past, and the history of the day at Fairmead will be a fete in itself.'
'Well! my dear, it is very right of you; and I do feel very thankful to you for treating the matter thus. Pray tell your grandmamma and aunt to pardon the sad revolution we have made in their comfort, and that I hope it will soon be over!'
Genevieve took no leave. Albinia sent her a goodly parcel of books and work-patterns, and she returned an affectionate note; but did not attempt to see Lucy and Sophy.
The next Indian mail brought the expected letter, giving an exact account of the acquirements and habits that would be required of Gilbert, with a promise of a home where he would be treated as a son, and of admission to the firm after due probation. The letter was so sensible and affectionate, that Mr. Kendal congratulated his son upon such an advantageous outset in life.
Gilbert made slight reply, but the next morning Sophy sought Albinia out, and with some hesitation began to tell her that Gilbert was very anxious that she would intercede with papa not to send him to Calcutta.
'You now, Sophy!' cried Albinia. 'You who used to think nothing equal to India!'
'I wish it were I,' said Sophy, 'but you know—'
'Well,' said Albinia, coldly.
Sophy was too shy to begin on that tack, and dashed off on another.
'Oh, mamma, he is so wretched. He can't bear to thwart papa, but he says it would break his heart to go so far away, and that he knows it would kill him to be confined to a desk in that climate.'
'You know papa thinks that nothing would confirm his health so much as a few years without an English winter.'
'One's own instinct—' began Sophy; then breaking off, she added, 'Mamma, you never were for the bank.'
'I used not to see the expediency, and I did not like the parting; but now I understand your father's wishes, and the sort of allegiance he feels towards India, so that Gilbert's reluctance will be a great mortification to him.'
'So it will,' said Sophy, mournfully, 'I am sure it is to me. I always looked forward to Gilbert's going to Talloon, and seeing the dear old bearer, and taking all my presents there, but you see, of course, mamma, he cannot bear to go—'
'Sophy, dear,' said Albinia, 'you have been thinking me a very hard-hearted woman this last month. I have been longing to have it out.'
'Not hard-hearted,' said Sophy, looking down, 'only I had always thought you different from other people.'
'And you considered that I was worldly, and not romantic enough. Is that it, Sophy?'
'I thought you knew how to value her for herself, so good and so admirable—a lady in everything—with such perfect manners. I thought you would have been pleased and proud that Gilbert's choice was so much nobler than beauty, or rank, or fashion could make it,' said Sophy, growing enthusiastic as she went on.
'Well, my dear, perhaps I am.'
'But, mamma, you have done all you could to separate them: you have shut Genevieve up in a convent, and you want to banish him.'
'It sounds very grand, and worthy of a cruel step-dame,' said Albinia; 'but, my dear, though I do think Genevieve in herself an admirable creature, worthy of any one's love, what am I to think of the way Gilbert has taken to show his admiration?'
'And is it not very hard,' cried Sophy, 'that even you, who own all her excellences, should turn against him, and give in to all this miserable conventionality, that wants riches and station, and trumpery worldly things, and crushes down true love in two young hearts?'
'Sophy dear, I am afraid the love is not proved to be true in the one heart, and I am sure there is none in the other!'
'Mamma! 'Tis her self-command—'
'Nonsense! His attentions are nothing but distress to her! Sensible grown-up young women are not apt to be flattered by importunity from silly boys. Has he told you otherwise?'
'He thinks—he hopes, at least—and I am sure—it is all stifled by her sense of duty, and fear of offending you, or appearing mercenary.'
'All delusion!' said Albinia; 'there's not a spark of consciousness about her! I see you don't like to believe it, but it is my great comfort. Think how she would suffer if she did love him! Nay, think, before you are angry with me for not promoting it, how it would bring them into trouble and disgrace with all the world, even if your father consented. Have you once thought how it would appear to him?'
'You can persuade papa to anything !'
'Sophy! you ought to know your father better than to say that!' cried Albinia, as if it had been disrespect to him.
'Then you think he would never allow it! You really think that such a creature as Genevieve, as perfect a lady as ever existed, must always be a victim to these hateful rules about station.'
'No,' said Albinia, 'certainly not; but if she were in the very same rank, if all else were suitable, Gilbert's age would make the pursuit ridiculous.'
'Only three years younger,' sighed Sophy. 'But if they were the same age? Do you mean that no one ever ought to marry, if they love ever so much, where the station is different?'
'No, but that they must not do so lightly, but try the love first to see whether it be worth the sacrifice. If an attachment last through many years of adverse circumstances, I think the happiness of the people has been shown to depend on each other, but I don't think it safe to disregard disparities till there has been some test that the love is the right stuff, or else they may produce ill-temper, regrets, and unhappiness, all the rest of their lives.'
'If Gilbert went on for years, mamma?'
'I did not say that, Sophy.'
'Suppose,' continued the eager girl, 'he went out to Calcutta, and worked these five years, and was made a partner. Then he would be two-and-twenty, nobody could call him too young, and he would come home, and ask papa's consent, and you—'
'I should call that constancy,' said Albinia.
'And he would take her out to Calcutta, and have no Drurys and Osborns to bother her! Oh! It would be beautiful! I would watch over her while he was gone! I'll go and tell him!'
'Stop, Sophy, not from me—that would never do. I don't think papa would think twenty-two such a great age—'
'But he would have loved her five years!' said Sophy. 'And you said yourself that would be constancy!'
'True, but, Sophy, I have known a youth who sailed broken-hearted, and met a lady "just in the style" of the former one, on board the steamer—'
Sophy made a gesture of impatient disdain, and repeated, 'Do you allow me to tell Gilbert that this is the way?'
'Not from me. I hold out no hope. I don't believe Genevieve cares for him, and I don't know whether his father would consent—' but seeing Sophy's look of disappointment, 'I see no harm in your suggesting it, for it is his only chance with either of them, and would be the proof that his affection was good for something.'
'And you think her worth it?'
'I think her worth anything in the world—the more for her behaviour in this matter. I only doubt if Gilbert have any conception how much she is worth.'
Away went Sophy in a glow that made her almost handsome, while Albinia, as usual, wondered at her own imprudence.
At luncheon Sophy avoided her eye, and looked crestfallen, and when afterwards she gave a mute inquiring address, shook her head impatiently. It was plain that she had failed, and was too much pained and shamed by his poorness of spirit to be able as yet to speak of it.
Next came Gilbert, who pursued Albinia to the morning-room to entreat her interference in his behalf, appealing piteously to her kindness; but she was obdurate. If any remonstrance were offered to his father, it must be by himself.
Gilbert fell into a state of misery, threw himself about upon the chairs, and muttered in the fretfulness of childish despair something about its being very hard, when he was owner of half the town, to be sent into exile—it was like jealousy of his growing up and being master.