'I hope you made the refusal evident to his intellect.'
'He drove me to be more explicit than I intended. I think he was astonished. He stared at me for full three minutes before he could believe in the refusal. Poor lad, it must be real attachment, there could be no other inducement.'
'And Lucy is exceedingly pretty.'
Mr. Kendal glanced at the portrait over the mantelpiece smiled sadly, and shook his head.
'Poor dear,' continued Albinia, 'what a commotion there will be in her head; but she has behaved so well hitherto, that I hope we may steer her safely through, above all, if one of the six cousins will but catch him in the rebound! Have you spoken to her?'
'Is it necessary?'
'So asked her grandfather,' said Albinia, smiling, as he, a little out of countenance, muttered something of 'foolish affair—mere child—and turn her head—'
'That's done!' said Albinia, 'we have only to try to get it straight. Besides, it would hardly be just to let her think he had meant nothing, and I have promised to deal openly with her, otherwise we can hardly hope for plain dealing from her.'
'And you think it will be a serious disappointment?'
'She is highly flattered by his attention, but I don't know how deep it may have gone.'
'I wish people would let one's daughters alone!' exclaimed Mr. Kendal. 'You will talk to her then, Albinia, and don't let her think me more harsh than you can help, and come and tell me how she bears it.'
'Won't you speak to her yourself?'
'Do you think I must?' he said, reluctantly; 'you know so much better how to manage her.'
'I think you must do this, dear Edmund,' she said, between decision and entreaty. 'She knows that I dislike the man, and may fancy it my doing it she only hears it at second hand. If you speak, there will be no appeal, and besides there are moments when the really nearest should have no go-betweens.'
'We were not very near without you,' he said. 'If it were Sophy, I should know better what to be about.'
'Sophy would not put you in such a fix.'
'So I have fancied—' he paused, smiling, while she waited in eager curiosity, such as made him finish as if ashamed. 'I have thought our likings much the same. Have you never observed what I mean?'
'Oh! I never observe anything. I did not find out Maurice and Winifred till he told me. Who do you think it is? I always thought love would be the making of Sophy. I see she is another being. What is your guess, Mr. Hope?'
Mr. Kendal made a face of astonishment at such an improbable guess, and was driven into exclaiming, 'How could any one help thinking of O'More?'
'Oh! only too delightful!' cried Albinia. 'Why didn't I think of it—but then his way is so free and cousinly with us all.'
'There may be nothing in it,' said Mr. Kendal; 'and under present circumstances it would hardly be desirable.'
'If old Mr. Goldsmith acts as he ought,' continued Albinia, 'we should never lose our Sophy—and what a son we should have! he has so exactly the bright temper that she needs.'
'Well, well, that is all in the clouds,' said Mr. Kendal. 'I wish the present were equally satisfactory.'
'Ah, I had better call poor Lucy.'
'Come back with her, pray,' called Mr. Kendal, nervously.
Albinia regretted her superfluous gossip when Lucy appeared with eyes so sparkling, and cheeks so flushed, that it was plain that she had been in all the miseries of suspense. Her countenance glowed with feeling, that lifted her beyond her ordinary doll-like prettiness. Albinia's heart sank with compassion as she held her hand, and her father stood as if struck by something more like the vision or his youth than he had been prepared for; each feeling that something genuine was present, and respecting it accordingly.
'Lucy,' said Mr. Kendal, tenderly, 'I see I need not tell you why I have sent for you. You are very young, my dear, and you must trust us to care for your happiness.'
'Yes.' Lucy looked up wistfully.
'This gentleman has some qualities such as may make him shine in the eyes of a young lady; but it is our duty to look farther, and I am afraid I know nothing of him that could justify me in trusting him with anything so precious to me.'
Lucy's face became full of consternation, her hand lay unnerved in Albinia'a pressure, and Mr. Kendal turned his eyes from her to his wife, as he proceeded,
'I have seen so much wretchedness caused by want of religious principle, that even where the morals appeared unblemished, I should feel no confidence where I saw no evidence of religion, and I should consider it as positively wrong to sanction an engagement with such a person. Now you must perceive that we have every means of forming an opinion of this young man, and that he has given us no reason to think he would show the unselfish care for your welfare that we should wish to secure.'
Albinia tried to make it comprehensible. 'You know, my dear, we have always seen him resolved on his own way, and not caring how he may inconvenience his uncle and aunt. We know his temper is not always amiable, and differently as you see him, you must let us judge.'
Wrenching her hand away, Lucy burst into tears. Her father looked at Albinia, as if she ought to have saved him this infliction, and she began a little whispering about not distressing papa, which checked the sobs, and enabled him to say, 'There, that's right, my dear, I see you are willing to submit patiently to our judgment, and I believe you will find it for the best. We will do all in our power to help you, and make you happy,' and bending down he kissed her, and left her to his wife.
In such family scenes, logic is less useful than the power of coming to a friendly conclusion; Lucy's awe of her father was a great assistance, she was touched with his unwonted softness, and did not apprehend how total was the rejection. But what he was spared, was reserved for Albinia. There was a lamentable scene of sobbing and weeping, beyond all argument, and only ending in physical exhaustion, which laid her on the bed all the rest of the day.
Gilbert and Sophy could not but be aware of the cause of her distress. The former thought it a great waste.
'Tell Lucy,' he said, 'that if she wishes to be miserable for life, she has found the best way! He is a thorough-bred tyrant at heart, pig-headed, and obstinate, and with the very worst temper I ever came across. Not a soul can he feel for, nor admire but himself. His wife will be a perfect slave. I declare I would as soon sell her to Legree.'
Sophy's views of the gentleman were not more favourable, but she was in terror lest Lucy should have a permanently broken heart, after the precedent of Aunt Maria. And on poor Sophy fell the misfortune of being driven up by grandmamma's inquiries, to own that the proposal had been rejected.
Shade of poor dear Mr. Meadows, didst thou not stand aghast! Five thousand a year refused! Grandmamma would have had a fit if she had not conceived a conviction, that imparted a look of shrewdness to her mild, simple old face. Of course Mr. Kendal was only holding off till the young man was a little older. He could have no intention of letting his daughter miss such a match, and dear Lucy would have her carriage, and be presented at court.
Sophy argued vehemently against this, and poor grandmamma, who had with difficulty been taught worldly wisdom as a duty, and always thought herself good when she talked prudently, began to cry. Sophy, quite overcome, was equally distressing with her apologies; Albinia found them both in tears, and Sophy was placed on the sick-list by one of her peculiar headaches of self-reproach.
It was a time of great perplexity. Lucy cried incessantly, bursting out at every trifle, but making no complaints, and submitting so meekly, that the others were almost as unhappy as herself.
She was first cheered by the long promised visit from Mrs. Annesley and Miss Ferrars. Albinia had now no fears of showing off home or children, and it was a great success.
The little Awk was in high beauty, and graciously winning, and Maurice's likeness to his Uncle William enchanted the aunts, though they were shocked at his mamma's indifference to his constant imperilling of life and limb, and grievously discomfited his sisters by adducing children who talked French and read history, whereas he could not read d-o-g without spelling, and had peculiar views as to b and d, p and q. However, if he could not read he could ride, and Mrs. Annesley scarcely knew the extent of the favour she conferred, when she commissioned Gilbert to procure for him a pony as his private property.
Miss Ferrars had not expected one of the thirty-six O'Mores to turn up here. She gave some good advice about hasty intimacies, and as it was received with a defence of the gentility of the O'Mores, the two good ladies agreed that dear Albinia was quite a child still, not fit for the care of those girls, and it would be only acting kindly to take Lucy to Brighton, and show her something of the world, or Albinia would surely let her fall a prey to that Irish clerk.
They liked Lucy's pretty face and obliging ways, and were fond of having a young lady in their house; they saw her looking ill and depressed, and thought sea air would be good for her, and though Lucy fancied herself past caring for gaiety, and was very sorry to leave home and mamma, she was not insensible to the refreshment of her wardrobe, and the excitement and honour of the invitation. At night she cried lamentably, and clung round Albinia'a neck, sobbing, 'Oh, mamma, what will become of me without you?' but in the morning she went off in very fair spirits, and Albinia augured hopefully that soon her type of perfection would be no longer Polysyllabic. Her first letters were deplorable, but they soon became cheerful, as her mornings were occupied by lessons in music and drawing, and her evenings in quiet parties among the friends whom the aunts met at Brighton. Aunt Gertrude wrote to announce that her charge had recovered her looks and was much admired, and this was corroborated by the prosperous complacency of Lucy's style. Albinia was more relieved than surprised when the letters dwindled in length and number, well knowing that the Family Office was not favourable to leisure; and devoid of the epistolary gift herself, she always wondered more at people's writing than at their silence, and scarcely reciprocated Lucy's effusions by the hurried notes which she enclosed in the well-filled envelopes of Gilbert and Sophy, who, like their father, could cover any amount of sheets of paper.
'There!' cried Ulick O'More, 'I may wish you all good-bye. There's an end of it.'
Mr. Kendal stood aghast.
'He's insulted my father and my family,' cried Ulick, 'and does he think I'll write another cipher for him?'
'Don't call him my uncle. I wish I'd never set eyes on his wooden old face, to put the family name and honour in the power of such as he.'
'What has he done to you?'
'He has offered to take me as his partner,' cried Ulick, with flashing eyes; and as an outcry arose, not in sympathy with his resentment, he continued vehemently, 'Stay, you have not heard! 'Twas on condition I'd alter my name, leave out the O that has come down to me from them that were kings and princes before his grandfathers broke stones on the road.'
'He offered to take you into partnership,' repeated Mr. Kendal.
'Do you think I could listen to such terms!' cried the indignant lad. 'Give up the O! Why, I would never be able to face my brothers!'
'Don't talk to me, Mr. Kendal; I wouldn't sell my name if you were to argue to me like Plato, nor if his bank were the Bank of England. I might as well be an Englishman at once.'
'Then this was the insult?'
'And enough too, but it wasn't all. When I answered, speaking as coolly, I assure you, as I'm doing this minute, what does he do, but call it a folly, and taunt us for a crew of Irish beggars! Beggars we may be, but we'll not be bought by him.'
'Well, this must have been an unexpected reception of such a proposal.'
'You may say that! The English think everything may be bought with money! I'd have overlooked his ignorance, poor old gentleman, if he would not have gone and spoken of my O as vulgar. Vulgar! So when I began to tell him how it began from Tigearnach, the O'More of Ballymakilty, that was Tanist of Connaught, in the time of King Mac Murrough, and that killed Phadrig the O'Donoghoe in single combat at the fight of Shoch-knockmorty, and bit off his nose, calling it a sweet morsel of revenge, what does he do but tell me I was mad, and that he would have none of my nonsensical tales of the savage Irish. So I said I couldn't stand to hear my family insulted, and then—would you believe it? he would have it that it was I that was insolent, and when I was not going to apologize for what I had borne from him, he said he had always known how it would be trying to deal with one of our family, no better than making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. "And I'm obliged for the compliment," said I, quite coolly and politely, "but no Irish pig would sell his ear for a purse;" and so I came away, quite civilly and reasonably. Aye, I see what you would do, Mr. Kendal, but I beg with all my heart you won't. There are some things a gentleman should not put up with, and I'll not take it well of you if you call it my duty to hear my father and his family abused. I'll despise myself if I could. You don't—' cried he, turning round to Albinia.
'Oh, no, but I think you should try to understand Mr. Goldsmith's point of view.'
'I understand it only too well, if that would do any good. Point of view—why, 'tis the farmyard cock's point of view, strutting on the top of that bank of his own, and patronizing the free pheasant out in the woods. More fool I for ever letting him clip my wings, but he's seen the last of me. No, don't ask me to make it up. It can't be done—'
'What can be done to the boy?' asked Albinia; 'how can he be brought to hear reason?'
'Leave him alone,' Mr. Kendal said, aside; while Ulick in a torrent of eager cadences protested his perfect sanity and reason, and Mr. Kendal quietly left the room, again to start on a peace-making mission, but it was unpromising, for Mr. Goldsmith began by declaring he would not hear a single word in favour of the ungrateful young dog.
Mr. Kendal gathered that young O'More had become so valuable, and that cold and indifferent as Mr. Goldsmith appeared, he had been growing so fond and so proud of his nephew, as actually to resolve on giving him a share of the business, and dividing the inheritance which had hitherto been destined to a certain Andrew Goldsmith, brought up in a relation's office at Bristol. Surprised at his own graciousness, and anticipating transports of gratitude, his dismay and indignation at the reception of his proposal were extreme, especially as he had no conception of the offence he had given regarding the unfortunate O as a badge of Hibernianism and vulgarity. 'I put it to you, Mr. Kendal, as a sensible man, whether it would not be enough to destroy the credit of the bank to connect it with such a name as that, looking like an Irish haymaker's. I should be ashamed of every note I issued.'
'It is unlucky,' said Mr. Kendal, 'and a difficulty the lad could hardly appreciate, since it is a good old name, and the O is a special mark of nobility.'
'And what has a banker to do with nobility? Pretty sort of nobility too, at that dog-kennel of theirs in Ireland, and his father, a mere adventurer if ever there lived one! But I swore when he carried off poor Ellen that his speculation should do him no good, and I've kept my word. I wish I hadn't been fool enough to meddle with one of the concern! No, no, 'tis no use arguing, Mr. Kendal, I have done with him! I would not make him a partner, not if he offered to change his name to John Smith! I never thought to meet with such ingratitude, but it runs in the breed! I might have known better than to make much of one of the crew. Yet it is a pity too, we have not had such a clear-headed, trustworthy fellow about the place since young Bowles died; he has a good deal of the Goldsmith in him when you set him to work, and makes his figures just like my poor father. I thought it was his writing the other day till I looked at the date. Clever lad, very, but it runs in the blood. I shall send for Andrew Goldsmith.'
One secret of Mr. Kendal's power was that he never interrupted, but let people run themselves down and contradict themselves; and all he observed was, 'However it may end, you have done a great deal for him. Even if you parted now, he would be able to find a situation.'
'Why—yes,' said Mr. Goldsmith, 'the lad knew nothing serviceable when he came, we had an infinity of maggots about algebra and logarithms to drive out of his head; but now he really is nearly as good an accountant as old Johns.'
'You would be sorry to part with him, and I cannot help hoping this may be made up.'
'You don't bring me any message! I've said I'll listen to nothing.'
'No; the poor boy's feelings are far too much wounded,' said Mr. Kendal. 'Whether rightly or wrongly, he fancies that his father and family have been slightingly spoken of, and he is exceedingly hurt.'
'His father! I'm sure I did not say a tenth part of what the fellow richly deserves. If the young gentleman is so touchy, he had better go back to Ireland again.'
Nothing more favourable could Mr. Kendal obtain, though he thought Mr. Goldsmith uneasy, and perhaps impressed by the independence of his nephew's attitude.
It was an arduous office for a peace-maker, where neither party could comprehend the feelings of the other, but on his return he found that Ulick had stormed himself into comparative tranquillity, and was listening the better to the womankind, because they had paid due honour to the amiable ancestral Tigearnach and all his guttural posterity, whose savage exploits and bloody catastrophes acted as such a sedative, that by the time he had come down to Uncle Bryan of the Kaffir war, he actually owned that as to the mighty 'O,' Mr. Goldsmith might have erred in sheer ignorance.
'After all,' said Albinia, 'U. O'More is rather personal in writing to a creditor'
'It might be worse,' said Ulick, laughing, 'if my name was John. I. O'More would be a dangerous confession. But I'll not be come round even by your fun, Mrs. Kendal, I'll not part with my father's name.'
'No, that would be base,' said Sophy.
'Who would wish to persuade you?' added Albinia. 'I am sure you are right in refusing with your feelings; I only want you to forgive your uncle, and not to break with him.'
'I'd forgive him his ignorance, but my mother herself could not wish me to forgive what he said of my father.'
'And how if he thinks this explosion needs forgiveness?'
'He must do without it,' said Ulick. 'No, I was cool, I assure you, cool and collected, but it was not fit for me to stand by and hear my father insulted.'
Albinia closed the difficult discussion by observing that it was time to dress, and Sophy followed her from the room burning with indignant sympathy. 'It would be meanly subservient to ask pardon for defending a father whom he thought maligned,' said Albinia, and Sophy took exception at the word 'thought.'
'Ah! of course he cannot be deceived!' said Albinia—but no sooner were the words spoken than she was half-startled, half-charmed by finding they had evoked a glow of colour.
'How do you think it will end?' asked Sophy.
'I can hardly fancy he will not be forgiven, and yet—it might be better.'
'Yes, I do think he would get on faster in India,' said Sophy eagerly; 'he could do just as Gilbert might have done.'
Was it possible for Albinia to have kept out of her eyes a significant glance, or to have disarmed her lips of a merry smile of amused encouragement! How she had looked she knew not, but the red deepened on Sophy's whole face, and after one inquiring gaze from the eyes they were cast down, and an ineffable brightness came over the expression, softening and embellishing.
'What have I done?' thought Albinia. 'Never mind—it must have been all there, or it would not have been wakened so easily—if he goes they will have a scene first.'
But when Mr. Kendal came back he only advised Ulick to go to his desk as usual the next day, as if nothing had happened.
And Ulick owned that, turn out as things might, he could not quit his work in the first ardour of his resentment, and with a great exertion of Christian forgiveness, he finally promised not to give notice of his retirement unless his uncle should repeat the offence. This time Albinia durst not look at Sophy.
Rather according to his friend's hopes than his own, he was able to report at the close of the next day, that he had not 'had a word from his uncle, except a nod;' and thus the days passed on, Andrew Goldsmith did not appear, and it became evident that he was to remain on sufferance as a clerk. Nor did Albinia and Sophy venture to renew the subject between themselves. At first there was consciousness in their silence; soon their minds were otherwise engrossed.
Mrs. Meadows was suddenly stricken with paralysis, and was thought to be dying. She recovered partial consciousness in the course of the next day, but was constantly moaning the name of her eldest and favourite granddaughter, and when telegraph and express train brought home the startled and trembling Lucy, she was led at once to the sick bed—where at her name there was the first gleam of anything like pleasure.
'And where have you been, my dear, this long time?'
'I've been at—at Brighton, dear grandmamma,' said Lucy, so much agitated as scarcely to be able to recall the name, or utter the words.
'And—I say, my dear love,' said Mrs. Meadows, earnestly and mysteriously, 'have you seen him?'
Poor Lucy turned scarlet with distress and confusion, but she was held fast, and grandmamma pursued, 'I'm sure he has not his equal for handsomeness and stateliness, and there must have been a pair of you.'
'Dear grandmamma, we must let Lucy go and take off her things; she shall come back presently, but she has had a long journey,' interposed Albinia, seeing her ready to sink into the earth.
But Mrs. Meadows had roused into eagerness, and would not let her go. 'I hope you danced with him, dear,' she went on; 'and it's all nonsense about his being high and silent. Your papa is bent on it, and you'll live like a princess in India.'
'She takes you for your mother—she means papa, whispered Albinia, not without a secret flash at once of indignation at perceiving how his first love had been wasted, yet of exultation in finding that no one but herself had known how to love him; but poor Lucy, completely and helplessly overcome, could only exclaim in a faltering voice: 'Oh, grandmamma, don't—' and Albinia was forced to disengage her, support her out of the room, and leaving her to her sister, hasten back to soothe the old lady, who had been terrified by her emotion. It had been a great mistake to bring her in abruptly, when tired with her journey, and not fully aware what awaited her. But there was at that time reason to think all would soon be over, and Albinia was startled and confused.
Albinia had hitherto been the only efficient nurse of the family. Sophy's presence seemed to stir up instincts of the old wrangling habits, and the invalid was always fretful when left to her, so that to her own exceeding distress she was kept almost entirely out of the sick room.
Lucy, on the other hand, was extremely valuable there, her bright manner and unfailing chatter always amused if needful, and her light step and tender hand made her useful, and highly appreciated by the regular nurse.
For the first few days, they watched in awe for the last dread summons, but gradually it was impossible not to become in a manner habituated to the suspense, so that common things resumed their interest, and though Sophy was pained by the incongruity, it could not have been otherwise without the spirits and health giving way under the strain. Nothing could be more trying than to have the mind wrought up to hourly anticipation of the last parting, and then the delay, without the reaction of recovery, the spirit beyond all reach of intercourse, and the mortal frame languishing and drooping. Mr. Kendal had from the first contemplated the possibility of the long duration of such lingering, and did his utmost to promote such enlivenment and change for the attendants as was consistent with their care of the sufferer. They never dared to be all beyond call at once, since a very little agitation might easily suffice to bring on a fatal attack, and Albinia and Lucy were forced to share the hours of exercise and employment between them, and often Albinia could not leave the house and garden at all.
Gilbert was an excellent auxiliary, and would devote many an hour to the cheering of the poor shattered mind. His entrance seldom failed to break the thread of melancholy murmurs, and he had exactly the gentle, bright attentive manner best fitted to rouse and enliven. Nothing could be more irreproachable, than his conduct, and his consideration and gentleness so much endeared him, that he had never been so much at peace. All he dreaded was the leaving what was truly to him the sanctuary of home, he feared alike temptation and the effort of resistance and could not bear to go away when his grandmother was in so precarious a state, and he could so much lighten Mrs. Kendal's cares both by being with her, and by watching over Maurice. His parents were almost equally afraid of trusting him in the world; and the embodiment of the militia for the county offered a quasi profession, which would keep him at home and yet give him employment. He was very anxious to be allowed to apply for a commission, and pleaded so earnestly and humbly that it would be his best hope of avoiding his former errors, that Mr. Kendal yielded, though with doubt whether it would be well to confine him to so narrow a sphere. Meantime the corps was quartered at Bayford, and filled the streets with awkward louts in red jackets, who were inveterate in mistaking the right for the left, Gilbert had a certain shy pride in his soldiership, and Maurice stepped like a young Field Marshal when he saw his brother saluted.
Nothing had so much decided this step as the finding that young Dusautoy was to return to his college after Easter. He was at the Vicarage again, marking his haughty avoidance of the Kendal family, and to their great joy, Lucy did not appear distressed, she was completely absorbed in her grandmother, and shrank from all allusion to her lover. Had the small flutter of vanity been cured by a glimpse beyond her own corner of the world?
But soon Albinia became sensible of an alteration in Gilbert. He had no sooner settled completely into his new employment, than a certain restless dissatisfaction seemed to have possessed him. He was fastidious at his meals, grumbled at his horse, scolded the groom, had fits of petulance towards his brother, and almost neglected Mrs. Meadows. No one could wonder at a youth growing weary of such attendance, but his tenderness and amiability had been his best points, and it was grievous to find them failing. Albinia would have charged the alteration on his brother officers, if they had not been a very steady and humdrum set, whose society Gilbert certainly did not prefer. She was more uneasy at finding that he sometimes saw Algernon Dusautoy, though for Lucy's sake, he always avoided bringing his name forward.
A woman was ill in the bargeman's cottage by the towing-path, and Albinia had walked to see her. As she came down-stairs, she heard voices, and beheld Mr. Hope evidently on the same errand with herself, talking to Gilbert. She caught the words, ere she could safely descend the rickety staircase, Gilbert was saying,
'Oh! some happy pair from the High Street!'
'I beg your pardon,' said Mr. Hope, 'I am so blind, I really took it for your sister, but our shopkeepers' daughters do dress so!'
Albinia looking in the same direction, beheld in a walk that skirted the meadow towards the wood, two figures, of which only one was clearly visible, it was nearly a quarter of a mile off, but there was something about it that made her exclaim, 'Why, that's Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy! whom can he be walking with?'
Gilbert started violently at hearing her behind him, and a word or two of greeting passed with Mr. Hope, then there was some spying at the pair, but they were getting further off, and disappeared in the wood, while Gilbert, screwing up his eyes, and stammering, declared he did not know; it might be, he did not think any one could be recognised at such a distance; and then saying that he had fallen in with Mr. Hope by chance, he hastened on. The curate made a brief visit, and walked home with her, examining her on her impression that the gentleman was young Dusautoy, and finally consulting her on the expediency of mentioning the suspicion to the vicar, in case he should be deluding some foolish tradesman's daughter. Albinia strongly advised his doing so; she had much faith in her own keen eyesight, and could not mistake the majestic mien of Algernon; she thought the vicar ought at once to be warned, but felt relieved that it was not her part to speak.
She was very glad when Mr. Hope took an opportunity of telling her that young Dusautoy was going to the Greenaways in a day or two.
As to Gilbert, it was as if this departure had relieved him from an incubus; he was in better spirits from that moment, and returned to his habits of kindness to both grandmamma and Maurice.
The manifold duties of head sick-nurse, governess, and housekeeper, were apt to clash, and valiant and unwearied as Albinia was, she was obliged perforce to leave the children more to others than she would have preferred. Little Albinia was all docility and sweetness, and already did such wonders with her ivory letters, that the exulting Sophy tried to abash Maurice by auguring that she would be the first to read; to which, undaunted, he replied, 'She'll never be a boy!' Nevertheless Maurice was developing a species of conscience, rendering him trustworthy and obedient out of sight, better, in fact, alone with his own honour and his mother's commands, than with any authority that he could defy. He knew when his father meant to be obeyed, and Gilbert managed him easily; but he warred with Lucy, ruled Sophy, and had no chivalry for any one but little Albinia, nor obedience except for his mother, and was a terror to maid-servants and elder children. With much of promise, he was anything but an agreeable child, and whilst no one but herself ever punished, contradicted, or complained of him, Albinia had a task that would have made her very uneasy, had not her mind been too fresh and strong for over-sense of responsibility. Each immediate duty in its turn was sufficient for her.
Maurice's shadow-like pursuit of Gilbert often took him off her hands. It might sometimes be troublesome to the elder brother, and now and then rewarded with a petulant rebuff, but Maurice was only the more pertinacious, and on the whole his allegiance was requited with ardent affection and unbounded indulgence. Nay, once when Maurice and his pony, one or both, were swept on by the whole hunt, and obliged to follow the hounds, Gilbert in his anxiety took leaps that he shuddered to remember, while the urchin sat the first gallantly, and though he fell into the next ditch, scrambled up on the instant, and was borne by his spirited pony over two more, amid universal applause. Mr. Nugent himself rode home with the brothers to tell the story; papa and mamma were too much elated at his prowess to scold.
The eventful year 1854 had begun, and General Ferrars was summoned from Canada to a command in the East. On his arrival in England, he wrote to his brother and sister to meet him in London, and the aunts, delighted to gather their children once more round them, sent pressing invitations, only regretting that there was not room enough in the Family Office for the younger branches.
Mr. Ferrars' first measure was to ride to Willow Lawn. Knocking at the door of his sister's morning-room, he found Maurice with a pouting lip, back rounded, and legs twisted, standing upon his elbows, which were planted upon the table on either side of a calico spelling-book. Mr. Kendal stood up straight before the fire, looking distressed and perplexed, and Albinia sat by, a little worn, a little irritable, and with the expression of a wilful victim.
All greeted the new-comer warmly, and Maurice exclaimed, 'Mamma, I may have a holiday now!'
'Not till you have learnt your spelling.' There was some sharpness in the tone, and Maurice's shoulder-blades looked sulky.
'In consideration of his uncle,' began Mr. Kendal, but she put her hand on the boy, saying, 'You know we agreed there were to be no holidays for a week, because we did not use the last properly.'
He moved off disconsolately, and his father said, 'I hope you are come to arrange the journey to London. Is Winifred coming with you?'
'No; a hurry and confusion, and the good aunts would be too much for her, you will be the only one for inspection.'
'Yes, take him with you, Maurice,' said Albinia, 'he must see William.'
'You must be the exhibitor, then,' her brother replied.
'Now, Maurice, I know what you are come for, but you ought to know better than to persuade me, when you know there are six good reasons against my going.'
'I know of one worth all the six.'
'Yes,' said Mr. Kendal; 'I have been telling her that she is convincing me that I did wrong in allowing her to burthen herself with this charge.'
'That's nothing to the purpose,' said Albinia; 'having undertaken it, when you all saw the necessity, I cannot forsake it now—'
'If Mrs. Meadows were in the same condition as she was in two months ago, there might be a doubt,' said Mr. Kendal; but she is less dependent on your attention, and Lucy and Gilbert are most anxious to devote themselves to her in your absence.'
'I know they all wish to be kind, but if anything went wrong, I should never forgive myself!'
'Not if you went out for pleasure alone,' said her brother; 'but relationship has demands.'
'Of course,' she said, petulantly, 'if Edmund is resolved, I must go, but that does not convince me that it is right to leave everything to run riot here.'
Mr. Kendal looked serious, and Mr. Ferrars feared that the winter cares had so far told on her temper, that perplexity made her wilful in self-sacrifice. There was a pause, but just as she began to perceive she had said something wrong, the lesser Maurice burst out in exultation,
'There, it is not indestructible!'
'What mischief have you been about?' The question was needless, for the table was strewn with snips of calico.
'This nasty spelling-book! Lucy said it was called indestructible, because nobody could destroy it, but I've taken my new knife to it. And see there!'
'And now can you make another?' said his uncle.
'I don't want to.'
'Nor one either, sir,' said Mr. Kendal. 'What shall we have to tell Uncle William about you! I'm afraid you are one of the chief causes of mamma not knowing how to go to London.'
Maurice did not appear on the way to penitence, but his mother said, 'Bring me your knife.'
He hung down his head, and obeyed without a word. She closed it, and laid it on the mantel-shelf, which served as a sort of pound for properties in sequestration.
'Now, then, go,' she said, 'you are too naughty for me to attend to you.'
'But when will you, mamma?' laying a hand on her dress.
'I don't know. Go away now.'
He slowly obeyed, and as the door shut, she said, 'There!' in a tone as if her view was established.
'You must send him to Fairmead,' said the uncle.
'To "terrify" Winifred? No, no, I know better than that; Gilbert can look after him. I don't so much care about that.'
The admission was eagerly hailed, and objection after objection removed, and having recovered her good humour, she was candid, and owned how much she wished to go. 'I really want to make acquaintance with William. I've never seen him since I came to my senses, and have only taken him on trust from you.'
'I wish equally that he should see you,' said her brother. 'It would be good for him, and I doubt whether he has any conception what you are like.'
'I'd better stay at home, to leave you and Edmund to depict for his benefit a model impossible idol—the normal woman.'
Maurice looked at her, and shook his head.
'No—it would be rather—it and its young one, eh?'
Maurice took both her hands. 'I should not like to tell William what I shall believe if you do not come.'
'That Edmund is right, and you have been overtasked till you are careful and troubled about many things.'
'Only too much bent on generous self-devotion,' said Mr. Kendal, eagerly; 'too unselfish to cast the balance of duties.'
'Hush, Edmund,' said Albinia. 'I don't deserve fine words. I honestly believe I want to do what is right, but I can't be sure what it is, and I have made quite fuss enough, so you two shall decide, and then I shall be made right anyway. Only do it from your consciences.'
They looked at each other, taken aback by the sudden surrender. Mr. Ferrars waited, and her husband said, 'She ought to see her brother. She needs the change, and there is no sufficient cause to detain her.'
'She must be content sometimes to trust,' said Mr. Ferrars.
'Aye, and all that will go wrong, when my back is turned.'
'Let it,' said her brother. 'The right which depends on a single human eye is not good for much. Let the weeds grow, or you can't pull them up.'
'Let the mice play, that the cat may catch them,' said Albinia, striving to hide her care. 'One good effect is, that Edmund has not begun to groan.'
Indeed, in his anxiety that she should consent to enjoy herself, he had not had time to shrink from the introduction.
Outside the door they found Maurice waiting, his spelling learnt from a fragment of the indestructible spelling-book, and the question followed, 'Now, mamma, you wont say I'm too naughty for you to go to London and see Uncle William?'
'No, my little boy, I mean to trust you, and tell Uncle William that my young soldier is learning the soldier's first duty—obedience.'
'And may I have my knife, mamma?'
Papa had settled that question by himself taking it off the chimney-piece and restoring it. If mamma wished the penance to have been longer, she neither looked it nor said it.
The young people received the decision with acclamation, and the two elder ones vied with one another in attempts to set her mind at rest by undertaking everything, and promising for themselves and the children perfect regularity and harmony. Sophy, with a bluntness that King Lear would have highly disapproved, said, 'She was glad mamma was going, but she knew they should be all at sixes and sevens. She would do her best, and very bad it would be.'
'Not if you don't make up your mind beforehand that it must be bad,' said her uncle.
Sophy smiled, she was much less impervious to cheerful auguries, and spoke with gladness of the pleasure it would give her friend Genevieve to see Mrs. Kendal.
Mr. Ferrars had a short interview with Ulick, and was amused by observing that little Maurice had learnt as much Irish as Ulick had dropped. After the passing fever about his O had subsided, he was parting with some of his ultra-nationality. The whirr of his R's and his Irish idioms were far less perceptible, and though a word of attack on his country would put him on his mettle, and bring out the Kelt in full force, yet in his reasonable state, his good sense and love of order showed an evident development, and instead of contending that Galway was the most perfect county in the world, he only said it might yet be so.
'Isn't he a noble fellow?' cried Albinia, warmly.
'Yes,' said her brother; 'I doubt whether all the O'Mores put together have ever made such a conquest as he has.'
'It was fun to see how the aunts were dismayed to find one of the horde in full force here. I believe it was as a measure of precaution that they took Lucy away. I was very glad for Lucy to go, but hers was not exactly the danger.'
'Ha!' said Maurice; and Albinia blushed. Whereupon he said interrogatively, 'Hem?' which made her laugh so consciously that he added, 'Don't you go and be romantic about either of your young ladies, or there will be a general burning of fingers.'
'If you knew all our secrets, Maurice, you would think me a model of prudence and forbearance.'
'Ho!' was his next interjection, 'so much the worse. For my own part, I don't expect prudence will come to you naturally till the little Awk has a lover.'
'Won't it come any other way?'
'Yes, in one way,' he said, gravely.
'And that way is not easily found by those who have neither humility nor patience,' she said, sadly, 'who rush on their own will.'
'Nay, Albinia, it is being sought, I do believe; and remember the lines—
"Thine own mild energy bestow, And deepen while thou bidst it flow, More calm our stream of love."'
Forced to resign herself to her holiday, Albinia did so with a good grace, in imitation of her brother, who assured her that he had brought a bottle of Lethe, and had therein drowned wife, children, and parish. Mr. Kendal's spirits, as usual, rose higher every mile from Bayford, and they were a very lively party when they arrived in Mayfair.
The good aunts were delighted to have round them all those whom they called their children; all except Fred, whom the new arrangements had sent to rejoin his regiment in Ireland.
Sinewy, spare, and wiry, with keen gray eyes under straight brows, narrow temples, a sunburnt face, and alert, upright bearing and quick step, William Ferrars was every inch a soldier; but nothing so much struck Mr. and Mrs. Kendal as the likeness to their little Maurice, though it consisted more in air and gesture than in feature. His speech was brief and to the point, softened into delicately-polished courtesy towards womankind, in the condescension of strength to weakness—the quality he evidently thought their chief characteristic.
Albinia was amused as she watched him with grown-up eyes, and compared present with past impressions. She could now imagine that she had been an inconvenient charge to a young soldier brother, and that he had been glad to make her over to the aunts, only petting and indulging her as a child; looking down on her fancies, and smiling at her sauciness when she was an enthusiastic maiden—treatment which she had so much resented, that she had direfully offended Maurice by pronouncing William a mere martinet, when she was hurt at his neither reading the Curse of Kehama, nor entering into her plans for Fairmead school.
Having herself become a worker, she could better appreciate a man who had seen and acted instead of reading, recollected herself as an emanation of conceit, and felt shy and anxious, even more for her husband than for herself. How would the scholar and the soldier fare together? and could she and Maurice keep them from wearying of each other? She had little trust in her own fascinations, though she saw the General's eye approvingly fixed on her, and believing herself to be a more pleasing object in her womanly bloom than in her unformed girlhood.
'How does the Montreal affair go on?' she asked.
'Fred and Miss Kinnaird.'
'I am sorry to say he has not put it out of his head.'
'Surely she is a very nice person.'
'Pshaw! He has no right to think of a wife these dozen years.'
'Not even think? When he is not to have one at any rate till he is a field officer!'
'And he is a fool to have one then. A mere encumbrance to himself and the entire corps.'
'Yes, I know,' said Albinia, 'she always gets the best cabin.'
'And that is no place for her! No man, as I have told Fred over and over again, ought to drag a woman into hardships for which she is not fitted, and where she interferes with his effectiveness and the comfort of every one else.'
The identical lecture of twelve years since, when he had feared Albinia's becoming this inconvenient appendage! If he had repeated it on all like occasions, she did not wonder that it had wearied his aide-de-camp.
'Perhaps,' she said, 'the backwoods may have fitted Miss Emily for the life; and I can't but be glad of Fred's having been steady to anything.'
Considering this speech like the Kehama days, the General went on to dilate on the damage that marriage was to the 'service,' removing the best officers, first from the mess, and then from the army.
'What a pity William was born too late to be a Knight of St. John!' said Albinia.
All laughed, but she doubted whether he were pleased, for he addressed himself to one of the aunts, while Maurice spoke to her in an under tone—'I believe he is quite right. Homes are better for the individual man, but not for the service. How remarkably the analogy holds with this other service!'
'You mean what St. Paul says of the married and unmarried?'
'I always think he and his sayings are the most living lessons I know on the requirements of the other army.'
Albinia mused on the insensible change in Maurice. He had not embraced his profession entirely by choice. It had always been understood that one of the younger branches must take the family living; and as Fred had spurned study, he had been bred up to consider it as his fate, and if he had ever had other wishes, he had entirely accepted his destiny, and sincerely turned to his vocation. The knowledge that he must be a clergyman had ruled him and formed him from his youth, and acting through him on his sister, had rendered her more than the accomplished, prosperous young lady her aunts meant to have made her. Yet, even up to a year or two after his Ordination, there had been a sense of sacrifice; he loved sporting, and even balls, and it had been an effort to renounce them. He had avoided coming to London because his keen enjoyment of society tended to make him discontented with his narrow sphere; she had even known him to hesitate to ride with the staff at a review, lest he should make himself liable to repinings. And now how entirely had all this passed away, not merely by outgrowing the enterprising temper and boyish habits, nor by contentment in a happy home, but by the sufficiency and rest of his service, the engrossment in the charge from his great Captain. Without being himself aware of it, he had ceased to distrust a holiday, because it was no longer a temptation; and his animation and mirth were the more free, because self-regulation was so thoroughly established, that restraint was no longer felt.
Mrs. Annesley was talking of the little Kendals, who she had ruled should be at Fairmead.
'No,' said Maurice, 'Albinia thought her son too mighty for Winifred. Our laudable efforts at cousinly friendship usually produce war-whoops that bring the two mammas each to snatch her own offspring from the fray, with a scolding for the sake of appearances though believing the other the only guilty party.'
'Now, Maurice,' cried Albinia, 'you confess how fond Mary is of setting people to rights.'
'Well—when Maurice bullies Alby.'
'Aye, you talk of the mammas, and you only want to make out poor Maurice the aggressor.'
'Never mind, they will work in better than if they were fabulous children. Ah, you are going to contend that yours is a fabulous child. Take care I don't come on you with the indestructible—'
'Take care I don't come on you with Mary's lessons to Colonel Bury on the game-law.'
'Does it not do one good to see those two quarrelling just like old times?' exclaimed one aunt to the other.
'And William looking on as contemptuous as ever?' said Albinia.
'Not at all. I rejoice to have this week with you. I should like to see your boy. Maurice says he is a thorough young soldier.'
Mr. Kendal looked pleased.
The man of study had a penchant for the man of action, and the brothers-in-law were drawing together. Mars, the great geographical master, was but opening his gloomy school on the Turkish soil, and the world was discovering its ignorance beyond the Pinnock's Catechisms of its youth. Maurice treated Mr. Kendal as a dictionary, and his stores of Byzantine, Othman, and Austrian lore, chimed in with the perceptions of the General, who, going by military maps, described plans of operations which Mr. Kendal could hardly believe he had not found in history, while he could as little credit that Mr. Kendal had neither studied tactics, nor seen the spots of which he could tell such serviceable minutiae.
They had their heads together over the map the whole evening, and the next morning, when the General began to ask questions about Turkish, his sister was proud to hear her husband answering with the directness and precision dear to a military man.
'That's an uncommonly learned man, Albinia's husband,' began the General, as soon as he had started with his brother on a round of errands.
'I never met a man of more profound and universal knowledge.'
'I don't see that he is so grave and unlike other people. Fred reported that he was silence itself, and she might as well have married Hamlet's ghost.'
'Fred saw him at a party,' said Maurice; then remembering that this might not be explanatory, he added, 'He shines most when at ease, and every year since his marriage has improved and enlivened him.'
'I am satisfied. I hardly knew how to judge, though I did not think myself called upon to remonstrate against the marriage, as the aunts wished. I knew I might depend on you, and I thought it high time that she should be settled.'
'I have been constantly admiring her discernment, for I own that at first his reserve stood very much in my way, but since she has raised his spirits, and taught him to exert himself, he has been a most valuable brother to me.
'Then you think her happy? I was surprised to see her such a fine-looking woman; my aunts had croaked so much about his children and his mother, that I thought she would be worn to a shadow.'
'Very happy. She has casual troubles, and a great deal of work, but that is what she is made for.'
'How does she get on with his children?'
'Hearty love for them has carried her through the first difficulties, which appalled me, for they had been greatly mismanaged. I am afraid that she has not been able to undo some of the past evil; and with all her good intentions, I am sometimes afraid whether she is old enough to deal with grown-up young people.'
'You don't mean that Kendal's children are grown up? I should think him younger than I am.'
'He is so, but civil servants marry early, and not always wisely; and the son is about twenty. Poor Albinia dotes on him, and has done more for him than ever his father did; but the lad is weak and tender every way, with no stamina, moral or physical, and with just enough property to do him harm. He has been at Oxford and has failed, and now he is in the militia, but what can be expected of a boy in a country town, with nothing to do? I did not like his looks last week, and I don't think his being there, always idle, is good for that little manly scamp of Albinia's own.'
'Why don't they put him into the service?'
'He is too old.'
'Not too old for the cavalry!'
'He can ride, certainly, and is a tall, good-looking fellow; but I should not have thought him the stuff to make a dragoon. He has always been puling and delicate, unfit for school, wanting force.'
'Wanting discipline,' said the General. 'I have seen a year in a good regiment make an excellent officer of that very stamp of youngster, just wanting a mould to give him substance.'
'The regiment should be a very good one,' said Mr. Ferrars; 'he would be only too easily drawn in by the bad style of subaltern.'
'Put him into the 25th Lancers,' said the General, 'and set Fred to look after him. Rattlepate as he is, he can take excellent care of a lad to whom he takes a fancy, and if Albinia asked him, he would do it with all his heart.'
'I wish you would propose it, though I am afraid his father will never consent. I would do a great deal to get him away before he has led little Maurice into harm.'
'This consideration moved the Rector of Fairmead himself to broach the subject, but neither Mr. Kendal nor Albinia could think of venturing their fragile son in the army, though assured that there was little chance that the 25th Lancers would be summoned to the east, and they would only hold out hopes of little Maurice by and by.
Albinia's martial ardour was revived as she listened with greater grasp of comprehension to subjects familiar in her girlhood. She again met old friends of her father, the lingering glories of the Peninsula and Waterloo, who liked her for her own sake as well as for her father's, while Maurice looked on, amused by her husband's silent pride in her, and her hourly progress in the regard of the General, who began to talk of making a long visit to Fairmead, after what he expected would be a slight demonstration on the Danube. He even began to regret the briefness of the time that he could spend in their society.
Much was crowded into that week, but Albinia contrived to find an hour for a call on her little French friend, to whom she had already forwarded the parcels she had brought from home—a great barm-brack from Biddy, and a store of delicate convent confections from Hadminster.
She was set down at a sober old house in the lawyers' quarter of the world, and conducted to a pretty, though rather littered drawing-room, where she found a delicate-looking young mamma, and various small children.
'I'm so glad,' said little Mrs. Rainsforth, 'that you have been able to come; it will be such a pleasure to dear Miss Durant; and while one of the children was sent to summon the governess, the lady continued, nervously but warmly, 'I hope you will think Miss Durant looking well; I am afraid she shuts herself up too much. I'm sure she is the greatest comfort, the greatest blessing to us.'
Albinia's reply was prevented by a rush of children, followed by the dear little trim, slight figure. There was no fear that Genevieve did not look well or happy. Her olive complexion was healthy; her dark eyes lustrous with gladness; her smile frank and unquelled; her movements full of elastic life.
She led the way to the back parlour, dingy by nature, but bearing living evidence to the charm which she infused into any room. Scratched table, desks, copybooks, and worn grammars, had more the air of a comfortable occupation than of the shabby haunt of irksome taskwork. There were flowers in the window, and the children's treasures were arranged with taste. Genevieve loved her school-room, and showed off its little advantages with pretty exultation. If Mrs. Kendal could only see how well it looked with the curtains down, after tea!
And then came the long, long talk over home affairs, and the history of half the population of Bayford, Genevieve making inquiries, and drinking in the answers as if she could not make enough of her enjoyment.
Not till all the rest had been discussed, did she say, with dropped eyelids, and a little blush, 'Is Mr. Gilbert Kendal quite strong?'
'Thank you, he has been much better this winter, and so useful and kind in nursing grandmamma!'
'Yes, he was always kind.'
'He was going to beg me to remember him to you, but he broke off, and said you would not care.'
'I care for all goodness towards me,' answered Genevieve, lifting her eyes with a flash of inquiry.
'I am afraid he is as bad as ever, poor fellow,' said Albinia, with a little smile and sigh; 'but he has behaved very well. I must tell you that you were in the same train with him on his journey from Oxford, and he was ashamed to meet your eye.'
'Ah, I remember well. I thought I saw him. I was bringing George and Fanny from a visit to their aunts, and I was sure it must be Mr. Gilbert.'
'As prudent as ever, Genevieve.'
'It would not have been right,' she said, blushing; 'but it was such a treat to see a Bayford face, that I had nearly sprung out of the waiting-room to speak to him at the first impulse.'
'My poor little exile!' said Albinia.
'No, that is not my name. Call me my aunt's bread-winner. That's my pride! I mean my cause of thankfulness. I could not have earned half so much at home.'
'I hope indeed you have a home here.'
'That I have,' she fervently answered. 'Oh, without being a homeless orphan, one does not learn what kind hearts there are. Mr. and Mrs. Rainsforth seemed only to fear that they should not be good enough to me.'
'Do you mean that you found it a little oppressive?'
'Fi donc, Madame! Yet I must own that with her timid uneasy way, and his so perfect courtesy, they did alarm me a little at first. I pitied them, for I saw them so resolved not to let me feel myself de trop, that I knew I was in their way.'
'Did not that vex you?'
'Why, I suppose they set their inconvenience against the needs of their children, and my concern was to do my duty, and be as little troublesome as possible. They pressed me to spend my evenings with them, but I thought that would be too hard on them, so I told them I preferred the last hours alone, and I do not come in unless there are others to prevent their being tete-a-tete.'
'Very wise. And do you not find it lonely?'
'It is my time for reading—my time for letters—my time for being at home!' cried Genevieve. 'Now however that I hope I am no longer a weight on them, Mrs. Rainsforth will sometimes ask me to come and sing to him, or read aloud, when he comes home so tired that he cannot speak, and her voice is weak. Alas! they are both so fragile, so delicate.'
Her soul was evidently with them and with her charges, of whom there was so much to say, that the carriage came all too soon to hurry Albinia away from the sight of that buoyant sweetness and capacity of happiness.
She was rather startled by Miss Ferrars saying, 'By-the-by, Albinia, how was it that you never told us of the development of the Infant prodigy?
'I don't know what you mean, Aunt Gertrude.'
'Don't you remember that boy, that Mrs. Dusautoy Cavendish's son, whom that poor little companion of hers used to call l'Enfant prodigue. I did not know he was a neighbour of yours, as I find from Lucy.'
'What did Lucy tell you about him? She did not meet him!' cried Albinia, endeavouring not to betray her alarm. 'I mean, did she meet him?'
'Indeed,' said Miss Ferrars, 'you should have warned us if you had any objection, my dear.'
'Well, but what did happen?'
'Oh, nothing alarming, I assure you. They met at a ball at Brighton; Lucy introduced him, and said he was your vicar's nephew; they danced together. I think only once.'
'I wish you had mentioned it. When did it happen?'
'I can hardly tell. I think she had been about a fortnight with us, but she seemed so indifferent that I should never have thought it worth mentioning. I remember my sister thought of asking him to a little evening party of ours, and Lucy dissuading her. Now, really, Albinia, don't look as if we had been betraying our trust. You never gave us any reason to think—'
'No, no. I beg your pardon, dear aunt. I hope there's no harm done. If I could have thought of his turning up, I would—But I hope it is all right.'
Such good accounts came from both homes, and the General was so unwilling to part with his brother and sister, that he persuaded them to accompany him to Southampton for embarkation. They all felt that these last days, precious now, might be doubly precious by-and-by, and alone with them and free from the kindly scrutiny of the good aunts, William expanded and evinced more warm fraternal feeling than he had ever manifested. He surprised his sister by thanking her warmly for having come to meet him. 'I am glad to have been with you, Albinia; I am glad to have seen your husband. I have told Maurice that I am heartily rejoiced to see you in such excellent hands.'
'You must come and see the children, and know him better.'
'I hope so, when this affair is over, and I expect it will be soon settled. Anyway, I am glad we have been together. If we meet again, we will try to see more of one another.'
He had said much more to his brother, expressing regret that he had been so much separated from his sister. Thorough soldier as he was, and ardent for active service, the sight of her and her husband had renewed gentler thoughts, and he was so far growing old that the idea of home and rest came invitingly before him. He was softened at the parting, and when he wrung their hands for the last time on the deck of the steamer, they were glad that his last words were, 'God bless you.'
There had been some uncertainty as to the time of his sailing, and Fairmead and Bayford had been told that unless their travellers arrived by the last reasonable train on Friday, they were not to be expected till the same time on Saturday, Maurice having concocted a scheme for crossing by several junction lines, so as to save waiting; but they had not reckoned on the discourtesies of two rival companies whose lines met at the same station, and the southern train was only in time to hear the parting snort of the engine that it professed to catch.
The Ferrars' nature, above all when sore with farewells, was not made to submit to having time wasted by treacherous trains on a cold wintry day, and at a small new station, with an apology for a waiting-room, no bookstall, and nothing to eat but greasy gingerbread and hard apples.
Maurice relieved his feelings by heartily rowing all the officials, but he could obtain no redress, as he knew full well the whole time, nor would any train pick them up for full three hours.
So indignant was he, that amusement rendered Albinia patient, especially when he took to striding up and down the platform, devising cases in which the delay might be actionable, and vituperating the placability of Mr. Kendal, who having wrapt up his wife in plaids and seated her on the top of the luggage, had set his back to the wall, and was lost to the present world in a book.
'Never mind, Maurice,' said Albinia; 'in any other circumstances we should think three hours of each other a great boon.'
'If anything could be an aggravation, it would be to see Albinia philosophical.'
'You make me so on the principle of the Helots and Spartans.'
It was possible to get to Hadminster by half-past seven, and on to Bayford by nine o'clock, but Fairmead lay further from the line, and the next train did not stop at the nearest station, so Maurice agreed to sleep at Bayford that night; and this settled, set out with his sister to explore the neighbourhood for eatables and church architecture. They made an ineffectual attempt to rouse Mr. Kendal to go with them, but he was far too deep in his book, and only muttered something about looking after the luggage. They found a stale loaf of bread, and a hideous church, but it was a merry walk, and brought them back in their liveliest mood, which lasted even to pronouncing it 'great fun' that the Hadminster flies were all at a ball, and that the omnibus must convey them home by the full moonlight.
Slowly the omnibus rumbled over the wooden bridge, and then with a sudden impulse it thundered up to the front door.
Albinia jumped out, and caught Sophy in her arms, exclaiming, 'And how are you all, my dear?'
'We had quite given you up,' Gilbert was saying. 'The fire is in the library,' he added, as Mr. Kendal was opening the drawing-room door, and closing it in haste at the sight of a pale, uninviting patch of moonlight, and the rush of a blast of cold wind.
'And how is grandmamma? and the children? My Sophy, you don't look well, and where's Lucy?'
Ere she could receive an answer, down jumped, two steps at a time, a half-dressed figure, all white stout legs and arms which were speedily hugging mamma.
'There's my man!' said Mr. Kendal, 'a good boy, I know.'
'No!' cried the bold voice.
'No?' (incredulously) what have you been doing?'
'I broke the conservatory with the marble dog, and—' he looked at Gilbert.
'There's my brave boy,' said Mr. Kendal, who had suffered so much from his elder son's equivocation as to be ready to overlook anything for the sake of truth. 'Here, Uncle Maurice, shake hands with your godson, who always tells truth.'
The urchin folded his arms on his bosom, and looked like a young Bonaparte.
'Where's your hand? said his uncle. 'Wont you give it to me?'
'He will be wiser to-morrow, if you are so good as to try him again,' said Albinia, who knew nothing did him more harm than creating a commotion by his caprices; 'he is up too late, and fractious with sleepiness. Go to bed now, my dear.'
'I shall not be wiser to-morrow,' quoth the child, marching out of the room in defiance.
'Monkey! what's the matter now?' exclaimed Albinia; 'I suppose you have all been spoiling him. But what's become of Lucy?'
'Gilbert said she was at the Dusautoys,' replied Sophy; 'but if you would but come to grandmamma! She found out that you were expected, and she is in such a state that we have not known what to do.'
'I'll come, only, Sophy dear, please order tea and something to eat. Your uncle looks ravenous.'
She broke off, as there advanced into the room a being like Lucy, but covered with streams and spatters of flowing sable tears, like a heraldic decoration, over face, neck, and dress.
All unconscious, she came with outstretched hands and words of welcome, but an astonished cry of 'Lucy!' met her, and casting her eyes on her dress, she screamed, 'Oh goodness! it's ink!'
'Where can you have been? what have you been doing?'
'I—don't know—Oh! it was the great inkstand, and not the scent—Oh! it is all over me! It's in my hair!' shuddering. 'Oh, dear! oh dear! I shall never get it out!' and off she rushed, followed by Gilbert, and was soon heard calling the maids to bring hot water to her room.
'What is all this?' asked Mr. Kendal.
'I do not know,' mournfully answered Sophy.
Albinia left the library, and taking a candle, went into the empty drawing-room. The moonlight shone white upon the table, and showed the large cut-glass ink-bottle in a pool of its own contents; and the sofa-cover had black spots and stains as if it had partaken of the libation.
Sophy saw, and stood like a statue.
'You know nothing, I am sure,' said Albinia.
'Nothing!' repeated Sophy, with a blank look of wretchedness.
'If you please, ma'am,' said the nurse at the door, 'could you be kind enough to come to Mrs. Meadows, she will be quieter when she has seen you?'
'Sophy dear, we must leave it now,' said Albinia. 'You must see to their tea, they have had nothing since breakfast.'
She hastened to the sick room, where she found Mrs. Meadows in a painful state of agitation and excitement. The nurse said that until this evening, she had been as usual, but finding that Mrs. Kendal was expected, she had been very restless; Miss Kendal was out, and neither Miss Sophy nor Mr. Gilbert could soothe her.
She eagerly grasped the hand of Albinia who bent down to kiss her, and asked how she had been.
'Oh! my dear, very unwell, very. They should not leave me to myself so long, my dear. I thought you would never come back,' and she began to cry, and say, 'no one cared for an old woman.'
Albinia assured her that she was not going away, and restrained her own eager and bewildered feelings to tranquillize her, by prosing on in the lengthy manner which always soothed the poor old lady. It was a great penance, in her anxiety to investigate the mysteries that seemed to swarm in the house, but at last she was able to leave the bedside, though not till she had been twice summoned to tea.
Sophy, lividly pale, was presiding with trembling hands; Gilbert, flushed and nervous, waiting on every one, and trying to be lively and at ease, but secret distress was equally traceable in each.
She durst only ask after the children, and heard that her little namesake had been as usual as good and sweet as child could be. And Maurice?
'He's a famous fellow, went on capitally,' said Gilbert.
'Yes, till yesterday,' hoarsely gasped Sophy, sincerity wrenching out the protest by force.
'Ah, what has he been doing to the conservatory?'
'He let the little marble dog down from the morning-room window with my netting silk; it fell, and made a great hole,' said Sophy.
'What, as a form of dawdling at his lessons?'
'Yes, but he has not been at all tiresome about them except to-day and yesterday.'
'And he has told the exact truth,' said Mr. Kendal, 'his gallant confession has earned the little cannon I promised him.'
'I believe,' said Albinia, 'that it would be greater merit in Maurice to learn forbearance than to speak truth and be praised for it. I have never seen his truth really tried.'
'I value truth above all other qualities,' said Mr. Kendal.
'So do I,' said Albinia, 'and it is my greatest joy in that little fellow; but some time or other it must cost him something, or it will not be tested.'
Mr. Kendal did not like this, and repeated that he must have his cannon. Albinia fancied that she heard something like a groan from Gilbert.
When they broke up for the night, she threw her arm round Sophy as they went upstairs, saying, 'My poor dear, you look half dead. Have things been going very wrong?'
'Only these two days,' said Sophy, 'and I don't know that they have either. I am glad you are come!'
'What kind of things?' said Albinia, following her into her room.
'Don't ask,' at first began Sophy, but then, frowning as if she could hardly speak, she added, 'I mean, I don't know whether it is my own horrid way, or that there is really an atmosphere of something I don't make out.'
'Didn't you tell me Lucy was at the Vicarage?' said Albinia, suddenly.
'Gilbert said yes, when I asked if she could be with the Dusautoys,' said Sophy, 'when grandmamma wanted her and she did not come. Mamma, please don't think of what I said, for very likely it is only that I am cross, because of being left alone with grandmamma so long this evening, and then Maurice being slow at his lessons.'
'You are not cross, Sophy; you are worn out, and perplexed, and unhappy.'
'Oh! not now you are come home,' and Sophy laid her head on her shoulder and cried with relief and exhaustion. Albinia caressed her, saying,
'My trust, my mainstay, my poor Sophy! There, go to bed and sleep, and don't think of it now. Only first tell me one thing, is that Algernon at home?'
'No!' said Sophy, vehemently, 'certainly not!'
Albinia breathed more freely.
'Everybody,' said Sophy, collecting herself, 'has gone on well, Gilbert and Lucy have been as kind as could be, and Maurice very good, but yesterday morning he went on in his foolish way at lessons, and Gilbert took him out riding before he had finished them. They came in very late, and I think Maurice must have been overtired, for he was so idle this morning, that I threatened to tell, and put him in mind of the cannon papa promised him; but somehow I must have managed badly for he only grew more defiant, and ended by letting the marble dog out of window, so that it went through the roof of the conservatory.'
'Yes, of course it was your fault, or the marble dog's,' said Albinia, smiling, and stroking her fondly. 'Ah! we ought to have come home at the fixed time, and not left you to their mercy; but one could not hurry away from William, when he was so much more sorry to leave us than we ever expected.'
'Oh! mamma, don't talk so! We were so glad. If only we could help being such a nuisance!'
Albinia contrived to laugh, and withdrew, intending to make a visit of inquiry to Lucy, but she could not refuse herself the refreshment of a kiss to the little darling who could have no guile to hide, no wrong to confess. She had never so much realized the value of the certainty of innocence as when she hung over the crib, and thought that when those dark fringed lids were lifted, the eyes would flash with delight at meeting her, without one drawback.
Suddenly a loud roar burst from the little room next to Gilbert's, in which Maurice had lately been installed. She hurried swiftly in that direction, but a passage and some steps lay between, and Gilbert had been beforehand with her.
She heard the words, 'I don't care! I don't care if it is manly! I will tell; I can't bear this!' then as his brother seemed to be hushing him, he burst out again, 'I wouldn't have minded if papa wouldn't give me the cannon, but he will, and that's as bad as telling a lie!' I can't sleep if you wont let me off my promise!'
Trembling from head to foot, her voice low and quivering with concentrated, incredulous wrath, Albinia advanced. 'Are you teaching my child falsehood?' she said; and Gilbert felt as if her look were worse to him than a thousand deaths.
'O mamma! mamma! Gilbert! let me tell her,' cried the child; and Albinia, throwing herself on her knees, clasped him in her arms, as though snatching him from the demon of deceit.
'Tell all, Maurice,' said Gilbert, folding his arms; 'it is to your credit, if you would believe so. I shall be glad to have this misery ended any way! It was all for the sake of others.'
'Mamma,' Maurice said, in the midst of these mutterings of his unhappy brother, 'I can't have the cannon without papa knowing it all. I couldn't shake hands with Uncle Maurice for telling the truth, for I had not told it.'
'And what is it, my boy?' tell me now, no one can hinder you.'
'I scratched and fought him—Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy—I kicked down the decanter of wine. They told me it was manly not to tell, and I promised.'
He was crying with the exceeding pain and distress of a child whose tears were rare, and Albinia rocked him in her arms.
Gilbert cautiously shut the door, and said sadly, 'Maurice behaved nobly, if he would only believe so. You would be proud of your son if you had seen him. They wanted to make him drink wine, and he was fighting them off.'
'And where were you, Gilbert, you to whom I trusted him?'
'I could not help it,' said Gilbert; then as her lip curled with contempt, and her eye spoke disappointment, he cast himself on the ground, exclaiming, 'Oh, if you knew how I have been mixed up with others, and what I have gone through, you would pity me. Oh, Maurice, don't cry, when I would give worlds to be like you. Why do you let him cry? why don't you tell him what a brave noble boy he is?'
'I don't know what to think or believe,' said Albinia, coldly, but returning vehemently to her child, she continued, 'Maurice, my dear, no one is angry with you! You, at least, I can depend on. Tell me where you have been, and what they have been doing to you.'
Even with Gilbert's explanations, she could hardly understand Maurice's narrative, but she gathered that on Thursday, the brothers had ridden out, and were about to turn homewards, when Archie Tritton, of whom to her vexation Maurice spoke familiarly, had told Gilbert that a friend was waiting for him at the inn connected with the training stables, three miles farther on. Gilbert had demurred, but was told the matter would brook no delay, and yielded on being pressed. He tried to suppress the friend's name, but Maurice had called him Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy.
While Gilbert was engaged with him, Tritton had introduced Maurice to the horses and stable boys, whose trade had inspired him with such emulation, that he broke off in the midst of his confession to ask whether he could be a jockey and also a gentleman. All this had detained them till so late, that they had been drawn into staying to dinner. Maurice had gone on very happily, secure that he was right in Gilbert's hands, and only laying up a few curious words for explanation; but when he was asked to drink wine, he stoutly answered that mamma did not allow it.
Idle mischief prompted Dusautoy and Tritton to set themselves to overpower his resistance. Gilbert's feeble remonstrances were treated as a jest, and Algernon, who could brook no opposition, swore that he would conquer the little prig. Maurice found himself pinioned by strong arms, but determined and spirited, he made a vigorous struggle, and so judiciously aimed a furious kick, that Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy staggered back, stumbling against the table, and causing a general overthrow.
The victory was with Maurice, but warned as he had often been against using his natural weapons, he thought himself guilty of a great crime. The others, including, alas! Gilbert, strove to persuade him it was a joke, and, above all, to bind him to silence, for Tritton and Dusautoy would never have ventured so far, could they have imagined the possibility of such terms as those on which he lived with his parents. They attacked the poor child on the score of his manly aspirations, telling him it was babyish to tell mamma and sisters everything, a practice fit for girls, not for boys or men. These assurances extracted a pledge of secrecy, which was kept as long as his mother was absent, and only rendered him reckless by the sense that he had forfeited the prize of good conduct; but the sight of her renewed the instinct of confidence, and his father's reliance on his truth so acted on his sense of honour, that he could not hold his peace.
'May I tell papa? and will he let me have the cannon?' he finished.
'You shall certainly tell him, my dear, dear little boy, and we will see what he says about the cannon,' she said, fervently kissing him. 'It will be some comfort for him to hear how you have behaved, my precious little man. I thank God with all my heart that He has saved you from putting anything before truth. I little thought I was leaving you to a tempter!'
The child did not fully understand her. His was a very simple nature, and he was tired out by conflicting emotions. His breast was relieved, and his mother caressed him; he cared for nothing more, and drawing her hand so as to rest his cheek on it, he looked up in her face with soft weary happiness in his eyes, then let the lids sink over them, and fell peacefully asleep, while the others talked on. 'At least you will do me the poor justice of believing it was not willingly,' said Gilbert.
'I wish you would not talk to me,' she answered, averting her face and speaking low as if to cut the heart; 'I don't want to reproach you, and I can't speak to you properly.'
'If you would only hear me, my only friend and helper! But it was all that was wanting! I have forfeited even your toleration! I wonder why I was born!'
He was taking up his light to depart, but Albinia's fear of her own temper made her suspect that she had spoken vindictively, and she said, 'What can I do, Gilbert? Here is this poor child, whom I trusted to you, who can never again be ignorant of the sound of evil words, and only owes it to God's mercy on his brave spirit that this has not been the beginning of destruction. I feel as if you had been trying to snatch away his soul!'
'And will you, can you not credit,' said Gilbert, nearly inaudibly, 'that I did not act by my free will? I had no notion that any such thing could befall him, and would never have let them try to silence him, but to shield others.'
'Others! Yes, Archie Tritton and Algernon Dusautoy! I know what your free-will is in their hands, and yet I thought you cared for your brother enough to guard him, if not yourself.'
'If you knew the coercion,' muttered Gilbert. 'I protest, as I would to my dying day, that I had no intention of going near the stables when I set out, and would never have consented could I have helped it.'
'And why could not you help it?'
Gilbert gasped. 'Tritton brought me a message from Dusautoy, insisting on my meeting him there. It was too late to take Maurice home, and I could not send him with Archie. I expected only to exchange a few words at the door. It was Tritton who took Maurice away to the stables.'
'I hear, but I do not see the compulsion, only the extraordinary weakness that leads you everywhere after those men.'
'I must tell you, I suppose,' groaned Gilbert; 'I can bear anything but this. There's a miserable money entanglement that lays me under a certain obligation to Dusautoy.'
'Your father believed you had told him of all your debts,' she said, in a tone of increased scorn and disappointment.
'I did—I mean—Oh! Mrs. Kendal, believe me, I intended to have told him the utmost farthing—I thought I had done so—but this was a thing—Dusautoy had persuaded me into half consenting to have some wine with him from a cheating Portuguese—then ordered more than ever I knew of, and the man went and became bankrupt, and sent in a great abominable bill that I no more owned, nor had reason to expect than my horse.'
'So you preferred intriguing with this man to applying openly to your father?'
'It was no doing of mine. It was forced upon me, and, in fact, the account was mixed up with his. It was the most evil hour of my life when I consented. I've not had a moment's peace or happiness since, and it was the promise of the bill receipted that led me to this place.'
'And why was this place chosen for the meeting? You and Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy live only too near one another.'
'He is not at the Vicarage,' faltered Gilbert.
Albinia suddenly grew pale with apprehension. 'Gilbert,' she said, 'there is only one thing that could make this business worse;' and as she saw his change of countenance, she continued, 'Then it is so, and Lucy is his object.'
'He did not speak, but his face was that of a convicted traitor, and fresh perceptions crowded on her, as she exclaimed, horror struck, 'The ink! Yes, when you said she was with the Dusautoys! I understand! He has been in hiding, he has been here! And this expedition was to arrange a clandestine meeting between them under your father's own roof! You conniving! you who said you would sooner see your sister sold to Legree!'
'It is all true,' said Gilbert, moodily, his elbows on the table and his face in his hands, 'and if the utmost misery for weeks past could be any atonement, it would be mine. But at least I have done nothing willingly to bring them together. I have only gone on in the hope and trust that I was some protection to poor Lucy.'
'Fine protection,' sighed Albinia. 'And how has it been? how does it stand?'
'Why, they met at Brighton, I believe. She used to walk on the chain pier before breakfast, and he met her there. If he chooses, he can make any one do what he likes, because he does not understand no for an answer. Then when she came home, he used to meet her on the bridge, when you sent her out for a turn in the evening, and sometimes she would make me take her out walking to meet him. Don't you see how utterly miserable it was for me; when they had volunteered this help all out of kindness, it was impossible for me to speak to you.'
Albinia made a sound of contempt, and said, 'Go on.'
'That time when you and Mr. Hope saw them, Lucy was frightened, and they had a quarrel, he went away, and I hoped and trusted it had died out. I heard no more till yesterday, when I was dragged into giving him this meeting. It seems that he had only just discovered your absence, and wanted to take the opportunity of seeing her. I was in hopes you would have come back; I assured him you would; but he chose to watch, till evening, and then Lucy was to meet him in the conservatory. Poor Lucy, you must not be very angry with her, for she was much averse to it, and I enclosed a letter from her to forbid him to come. I thought all was safe, till I actually heard their voices, and grandmamma got into an agitation, and Sophy was running about wild to find Lucy. When you came home, papa's opening the door frightened Lucy, and it seems that Dusautoy thought that she was going to faint and scream, and laid hold of the ink instead of the eau-de-cologne. There! I believe the ink would have betrayed it without me. Now you have heard everything, Mrs. Kendal, and can believe there is not a more wretched and miserable creature breathing than I am.'
Albinia slowly rose, and put her hand to her brow, as though confused with the tissue of deceit and double dealing.
'Oh! Mrs. Kendal, will you not speak to me?' I solemnly declare that I have told you all.'
'I am thinking of your father.'
With a gesture of acquiescent anguish and despair, he let her pass, held open the door, and closed it softly, so as not to awaken the happy sleeper.
'Good night,' she said, coldly, and turned away, but his mournful, resigned 'Good night,' was so utterly broken down that her heart was touched, and turning she said, 'Good night, Gilbert, I am sorry for you; I believe it is weakness and not wickedness.'
She held out her hand, but instead of being shaken, it was pressed to his lips, and the fingers were wet with his tears.
Feeling as though the bad dreams of a night had taken shape and life, Albinia stood by the fire in her sitting-room the next morning, trying to rally her judgment, and equally dreading the sight of those who had caused her grief, and of those who would share the shock she had last night experienced.
The first knock announced one whom she did not expect—Gilbert, wretchedly pale from a sleepless night, and his voice scarcely audible.
'I beg your pardon,' he said; 'but I thought I might have led you to be hard on Lucy: I do believe it was against her will.'
Before she could answer, the door flew wide, and in rushed Maurice, shouting, 'Good morning, mamma;' and at his voice Mr. Kendal's dressing-room door was pushed back, and he called, 'Here, Maurice.'
As the boy ran forward, he was met and lifted to his father's breast, while, with a fervency he little understood, though he never forgot it, the words were uttered,
'God bless you, Maurice, and give you grace to go on to withstand temptation, and speak the truth from your heart!'
Maurice was impressed for a moment, then he recurred to his leading thought—
'May I have the cannon, papa? I did kick—I broke the bottle, but may I have the cannon?'
'Maurice, you are too young to understand the value of your resistance. Listen to me, my boy, for you must never forget this: you have been taken among persons who, I trust, will never be your companions.'
'Oh!' interrupted Maurice, 'must I never be a jockey?'
'No, Maurice. Horses are perverted to bad purposes by thoughtless men, and you must keep aloof from such. You were not to blame, for you refused to do what you knew to be wrong, and did not know it was an improper place for you.'
'Gilbert took me,' said Maurice, puzzled at the gravity, which convinced him that some one was in fault, and of course it must be himself.
'Gilbert did very wrong,' said Mr. Kendal, 'and henceforth you must learn that you must trust to your own conscience, and no longer believe that all your brother tells you is right.'
Maurice gazed in inquiry, and perceiving his brother's downcast air, ran to his mother, crying, 'Is papa angry?'
'Yes,' said Gilbert, willing to spare her the pain of a reply, 'he is justly angry with me for having exposed you to temptation. Oh, Maurice, if I had been made such as you, it would have been better for us all!'
It was the first perception that a grown person could do wrong, and that person his dear Gilbert. As if the grave countenances were insupportable, he gave a long-drawn breath, hid his face on his mother's knee, and burst into an agony of weeping. He was lifted on her lap in a moment, father and mother both comforting him with assurances that he was a very good boy, and that papa was much pleased with him, Mr. Kendal even putting the cannon into his hand, as a tangible evidence of favour; but the child thrust aside the toy, and sliding down, took hold of his brother's languid, dejected hand, and cried, with a sob and stamp of his foot,
'You shan't say you are naughty: I wont let you!'
Alas! it was a vain repulsion of the truth that this is a wicked world. Gilbert only put him back, saying,
'You had better go away from me, Maurice: you cannot understand what I have done. Pray Heaven yon may never know what I feel!'
Maurice did but cling the tighter, and though Mr. Kendal had not yet addressed the culprit, he respected the force of that innocent love too much to interfere. The bell rang, and they went down, Maurice still holding by his brother, and when his uncle met them, it was touching to see the generous little fellow hanging back, and not giving his own hand till he had seen Gilbert receive the ordinary greeting.
Though Mr. Ferrars had been told nothing, he could not but be aware of the symptoms of a family crisis—the gravity of some, and the pale, jaded looks of others. Lucy was not one of these; she came down with little Albinia in her arms, and began to talk rather airily, excusing herself for not having come down in the evening because that 'horrid ink' had got into her hair, and tittering a little over the absurdity of her having picked up the inkstand in the dark. Not a word of response did she meet, and her gaiety died away in vague alarm. Sophy, the most innocent, looked wretched, and Maurice absolutely began to cry again, at the failure of some manoeuvre to make his father speak to Gilbert.
His tears broke up the breakfast-party. His mother led him away to reason with him, that, sad as it was, it was better that people should be grieved when they had transgressed, as the only hope of their forgiveness and improvement. Maurice wanted her to reverse the declaration that Gilbert had done wrong; but, alas! this could not be, and she was obliged to send him out with his little sister, hoping that he would work off his grief by exercise. It was mournful to see the first shadow of the penalty of sin falling on the Eden of his childhood!
With an aching heart, she went in search of Lucy, who had taken sanctuary in Mrs. Meadows's room, and was not easily withdrawn from thence to a tete-a-tete. Fearful of falsehood, Albinia began by telling her she knew all, and how little she had expected such a requital of trust.
Lucy exclaimed that it had not been her fault, she had always wanted to tell, and gradually Albinia drew from her the whole avowal, half shamefaced, half exultant.
She had never dreamt of meeting Algernon at Brighton—it was quite by chance that she came upon him at the officers' ball when he was staying with Captain Greenaway. He asked her to dance, and she had said yes, all on a sudden, without thinking, and then she fancied he would go away; she begged him not to come again, but whenever she went out on the chain-pier before breakfast, there he was.
Why did she go thither? She hung her head. Mrs. Annesley had desired her to walk; she could not help it; she was afraid to write and tell what was going on—besides, he would come, though she told him she would not see him; and she could not bear to make him unhappy. Then, when she came home, she had been in hopes it was all over, but she had been very unhappy, and had been on the point of telling all about it many times, when mamma looked at her kindly; but then he came to the Vicarage, and he would wait for her at the bridge, and write notes to her, and she could not stop it; but she had always told him it was no use, she never would be engaged to him without papa's consent. She had only promised that she would not marry any one else, only because he was so very desperate, and she was afraid to break it off entirely, lest he should go and marry the Principessa Bianca, a foreigner and Papist, which would be so shocking for him and his uncle. Gilbert could testify how grieved she was to have any secrets from mamma; but Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy was so dreadful when she talked of telling, that she did not know what would happen.
When he went away, and she thought it was all over—mamma might recollect how hard it was for her to keep up, and what a force she put upon herself—but she would rather have pined to death than have said one word to bring him back, and was quite shocked when Gilbert gave her his note, to beg her to let him see her that evening, before the party returned; she said, with all her might, that he must not come, and when he did, she was begging him all the time to go away, and she was so dreadfully frightened when they actually came, that she had all but gone into hysterics, or fainted away, and that was the way he came to throw the ink at her—she was so very much shocked, and so would he be—and really she felt the misfortune to the beautiful new sofa-cover as a most serious calamity and aggravation of her offence.
It was not easy to know how to answer; Albinia was scornful of the sofa-cover, and yet it was hard to lay hold of a tangible subject on which to show Lucy her error, except in the concealment, which, by her own showing, she had lamented the whole time. She had always said no, but, unluckily, her noes were of the kind that might easily be made to mean yes, and she evidently had been led on partly by her own heart, partly by the force of the stronger will, though her better principles had filled her with scruples and misgivings at every stage. She had been often on the point of telling all, and asking forgiveness; and here it painfully crossed Albinia, that if she herself had been less hurried, and less disposed to take everything for granted, a little tenderness might have led to a voluntary confession.
Still Lucy defended herself by the compulsion exercised on her, and she would hear none of the conclusions Albinia drew therefrom; she would not see that the man who drove her to a course of disobedience and subterfuge could be no fit guide, and fired up at a word of censure, declaring that she knew that mamma had always hated him, and that now he was absent, she would not hear him blamed. The one drop of true love made her difficult to deal with, for the heart was really made over to the tyrant, and Albinia did not feel herself sufficiently guiltless of negligence and imprudence to rebuke her with a comfortable conscience.
Mr. Kendal had been obliged to attend to some justice business— better for him, perhaps, than acting as domestic magistrate—and meanwhile the Vicar of Fairmead found himself forgotten. He wanted to be at home, yet did not like to leave his sister in unexplained trouble, though not sure whether he might not be better absent.
Time passed on, he finished the newspaper, and wrote letters, and then, seeing no one, he had gone into the hall to send for a conveyance, when Gilbert, coming in from the militia parade, became the recipient of his farewells, but apparently with so little comprehension, that he broke off, struck by the dejected countenance, and wandering eye.
'I beg your pardon,' Gilbert said, passing his hand over his brow, 'I did not hear.'
'I was only asking you to tell my sister that I would not disturb her, and leaving my good-byes with you.'
'You are not going?'
'Thank you; I think my wife will grow anxious.'
'I had hoped'—Gilbert sighed and paused—'I had thought that perhaps—'
The wretchedness of his tone drove away Mr. Ferrars's purpose of immediate departure, and returning to the drawing-room he said, 'If there were any way in which I could be of use.'
'Then you do not know?' said Gilbert, veiling his face with his hand, as he leant on the mantel-shelf.
'I know nothing. I could only see that something was amiss. I was wishing to know whether my presence or absence would be best for you all.'
'Oh! don't go!' cried Gilbert. Nobody must go who can be any comfort to Mrs. Kendal.'
A few kind words drew forth the whole piteous history that lay so heavily on his heart. Reserves were all over now; and irregularly and incoherently he laid open his griefs and errors, his gradual absorption into the society with which he had once broken, and the inextricable complication of mischief in which he had been involved by his debt.
'Yet,' he said, 'all the time I longed from my heart to do well. It was the very thing that led me into this scrape. I thought if the man applied to my father, as he threatened, that I should be suspected of having concealed this on purpose, and be sent to India, and I was so happy, and thought myself so safe here. I did believe that home and Mrs. Kendal would have sheltered me, but my destiny must needs hunt me out here, and alienate even her!'
'The way to find the Devil behind the Cross, is to cower beneath it in weak idolatry, instead of grasping it in courageous faith,' said Mr. Ferrars. 'Such faith would have made you trust yourself implicitly to your father. Then you would either have gone forth in humble acceptance of the punishment, or else have stayed at home, free, pardoned, and guarded; but, as it was, no wonder temptation followed you, and you had no force to resist it.'
'And so all is lost! Even dear little Maurice can never be trusted to me again! And his mother, who would, if she could, be still merciful and pitying as an angel, she cannot forget to what I exposed him! She will never be the same to me again! Yet I could lay down my life for any of them!'