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Produced by Sandra Laythorpe






THE YOUNG STEP-MOTHER

or, A CHRONICLE OF MISTAKES

By Charlotte M Yonge


Fail - yet rejoice, because no less
The failure that makes thy distress
May teach another full success.

Nor with thy share of work be vexed
Though incomplete and even perplexed
It fits exactly to the next.
ADELAIDE A PROCTOR





CHAPTER I.


'Have you talked it over with her?' said Mr. Ferrars, as his little
slender wife met him under the beeches that made an avenue of the lane
leading to Fairmead vicarage.

'Yes!' was the answer, which the vicar was not slow to understand.

'I cannot say I expected much from your conversation, and perhaps we
ought not to wish it. We are likely to see with selfish eyes, for what
shall we do without her?'

'Dear Albinia! You always taunted me with having married your sister as
much as yourself.'

'So I shall again, if you cannot give her up with a good grace.'

'If I could have had my own way in disposing of her.'

'Perhaps the hero of your own composition might be less satisfactory to
her than is Kendal.'

'At least he should be minus the children!'

'I fancy the children are one great attraction. Do you know how many
there are?'

'Three; but if Albinia knows their ages she involves them in a discreet
haze. I imagine some are in their teens.'

'Impossible, Winifred, he is hardly five-and-thirty.'

'Thirty-eight, he said yesterday, and he married very early. I asked
Albinia if her son would be in tail-coats; but she thought I was
laughing at her, and would not say. She is quite eager at the notion of
being governess to the girls.'

'She has wanted scope for her energies,' said Mr. Ferrars. 'Even
spoiling her nephew, and being my curate, have not afforded field enough
for her spirit of usefulness.'

'That is what I am afraid of.'

'Of what, Winifred?'

'That it is my fault. Before our marriage, you and she were the whole
world to each other; but since I came, I have seen, as you say, that the
craving for work was strong, and I fear it actuates her more than she
knows.'

'No such thing. It is a case of good hearty love. What, are you afraid
of that, too?'

'Yes, I am. I grudge her giving her fresh whole young heart away to a
man who has no return to make. His heart is in his first wife's grave.
Yes, you may smile, Maurice, as if I were talking romance; but only look
at him, poor man! Did you ever see any one so utterly broken down? She
can hardly beguile a smile from him.'

'His melancholy is one of his charms in her eyes.'

'So it may be, as a sort of interesting romance. I am sure I pity the
poor man heartily, but to see her at three-and-twenty, with her sweet
face and high spirits, give herself away to a man who looks but half
alive, and cannot, if he would, return that full first love - have the
charge of a tribe of children, be spied and commented on by the first
wife's relations - Maurice, I cannot bear it.'

'It is not what we should have chosen,' said her husband, 'but it has
a bright side. Kendal is a most right-minded, superior man, and she
appreciates him thoroughly. She has great energy and cheerfulness, and
if she can comfort him, and rouse him into activity, and be the kind
mother she will be to his poor children, I do not think we ought to
grudge her from our own home.'

'You and she have so strong a feeling for motherless children!'

'Thinking of Kendal as I do, I have but one fear for her.'

'I have many - the chief being the grandmother.'

'Mine will make you angry, but it is my only one. You, who have only
known her since she has subdued it, have probably never guessed that she
has that sort of quick sensitive temper - '

'Maurice, Maurice! as if I had not been a most provoking, presuming
sister-in-law. As if I had not acted so that if Albinia ever had a
temper, she must have shown it.'

'I knew you would not believe me, and I really am not afraid of her
doing any harm by it, if that is what you suspect me of. No, indeed; but
I fear it may make her feel any trials of her position more acutely than
a placid person would.'

'Oho! so you own there will be trials!'

'My dear Winifred, as if I had not sat up till twelve last night laying
them before Albinia. How sick the poor child must be of our arguments,
when there is no real objection, and she is so much attached! Have you
heard anything about these connexions of his? Did you not write to Mrs.
Nugent? I wish she were at home.'

'I had her answer by this afternoon's post, but there is nothing to
tell. Mr. Kendal has only been settled at Bayford Bridge a few years,
and she never visited any one there, though Mr. Nugent had met Mr.
Kendal several times before his wife's death, and liked him. Emily is
charmed to have Albinia for a neighbour.'

'Does she know nothing of the Meadows' family?'

'Nothing but that old Mrs. Meadows lives in the town with one unmarried
daughter. She speaks highly of the clergyman.'

'John Dusautoy? Ay, he is admirable - not that I have done more than see
him at visitations when he was curate at Lauriston.'

'Is he married?'

'I fancy he is, but I am not sure. There is one good friend for Albinia
any way!'

'And now for your investigations. Did you see Colonel Bury?'

'I did, but he could say little more than we knew. He says nothing
could be more exemplary than Kendal's whole conduct in India, he only
regretted that he kept so much aloof from others, that his principle and
gentlemanly feeling did not tell as much as could have been wished. He
has always been wrapped up in his own pursuits - a perfect dictionary of
information.'

'We had found out that, though he is so silent. I should think him a
most elegant scholar.'

'And a deep one. He has studied and polished his acquirements to
the utmost. I assure you, Winifred, I mean to be proud of my
brother-in-law.'

'What did you hear of the first wife?'

'It was an early marriage. He went home as soon as he had sufficient
salary, married her, and brought her out. She was a brilliant dark
beauty, who became quickly a motherly, housewifely, common-place
person - I should think there had been a poet's love, never awakened
from.'

'The very thing that has always struck me when, poor man, he has tried
to be civil to me. Here is a man, sensible himself, but who has never
had the hap to live with sensible women.'

'When their children grew too old for India, she came into some little
property at Bayford Bridge, which enabled him to retire. Colonel Bury
came home in the same ship, and saw much of them, liked him better and
better, and seems to have been rather wearied by her. A very good woman,
he says, and Kendal most fondly attached; but as to comparing her with
Miss Ferrars, he could not think of it for a moment. So they settled at
Bayford, and there, about two years ago, came this terrible visitation
of typhus fever.'

'I remember how Colonel Bury used to come and sigh over his friend's
illness and trouble.'

'He could not help going over it again. The children all fell ill
together - the two eldest were twin boys, one puny, the other a very
fine fellow, and his father's especial pride and delight. As so often
happens, the sickly one was spared, the healthy one was taken.'

'Then Albinia will have an invalid on her hands!'

'The Colonel says this Edmund was a particularly promising boy, and poor
Kendal felt the loss dreadfully. He sickened after that, and his wife
was worn out with nursing and grief, and sank under the fever at
once. Poor Kendal has never held up his head since; he had a terrible
relapse.'

'And,' said Winifred, 'he no sooner recovers than he goes and marries
our Albinia!'

'Two years, my dear.'

'Pray explain to me, Maurice, why, when people become widowed in any
unusually lamentable way, they always are the first to marry again.'

'Incorrigible. I meant to make you pity him.'

'I did, till I found I had wasted my pity. Why could not these Meadowses
look after his children! Why must the Colonel bring him here? I believe
it was with malice prepense!'

'The Colonel went to see after him, and found him so drooping and
wretched, that he insisted on bringing him home with him, and old Mrs.
Meadows and her daughter almost forced him to accept the invitation.'

'They little guessed what the Colonel would be at!'

'You will be better now you have the Colonel to abuse,' said her
husband.

'And pray what do you mean to say to the General?'

'Exactly what I think.'

'And to the aunts?' slyly asked the wife.

'I think I shall leave you all that correspondence. It will be too
edifying to see you making common cause with the aunts.'

'That comes of trying to threaten one's husband; and here they come,'
said Winifred. 'Well, Maurice, what can't be cured must be endured.
Albinia'a heart is gone, he is a very good man, and spite of India,
first wife, and melancholy, he does not look amiss!'

Mr. Ferrars smiled at the chary, grudging commendation of the tall,
handsome man who advanced through the beech-wood, but it was too true
that his clear olive complexion had not the line of health, that there
was a world of oppression on his broad brow and deep hazel eyes, and
that it was a dim, dreamy, reluctant smile that was awakened by the
voice of the lady who walked by his side, as if reverencing his grave
mood.

She was rather tall, very graceful, and well made, but her features were
less handsome than sweet, bright, and sensible. Her hair was nut-brown,
in long curled waves; her eyes, deep soft grey, and though downcast
under the new sympathies, new feelings, and responsibilities that
crowded on her, the smile and sparkle that lighted them as she blushed
and nodded to her brother and sister, showed that liveliness was the
natural expression of that engaging face.

Say what they would, it was evident that Albinia Ferrars had cast in
her lot with Edmund Kendal, and that her energetic spirit and love of
children animated her to embrace joyfully the cares which such a choice
must impose on her.

As might have been perceived by one glance at the figure, step, and
bearing of Mr. Ferrars, perfectly clerical though they were, he belonged
to a military family. His father had been a distinguished Peninsular
officer, and his brother, older by many years, held a command in Canada.
Maurice and Albinia, early left orphans, had, with a young cousin, been
chiefly under the charge of their aunts, Mrs. Annesley and Miss Ferrars,
and had found a kind home in their house in Mayfair, until Maurice had
been ordained to the family living of Fairmead, and his sister had gone
to live with him there, extorting the consent of her elder brother
to her spending a more real and active life than her aunts' round of
society could offer her.

The aunts lamented, but they could seldom win their darling to them for
more than a few weeks at a time, even after their nephew Maurice had - as
they considered - thrown himself away on a little lively lady of Irish
parentage, no equal in birth or fortune, in their opinion, for the
grandson of Lord Belraven.

They had been very friendly to the young wife, but their hopes had all
the more been fixed on Albinia; and even Winifred could afford them some
generous pity in the engagement of their favourite niece to a retired
East India Company's servant - a widower with three children.




CHAPTER II.



The equinoctial sun had long set, and the blue haze of March east
wind had deepened into twilight and darkness when Albinia Kendal found
herself driving down the steep hilly street of Bayford. The town was not
large nor modern enough for gas, and the dark street was only lighted
here and there by a shop of more pretension; the plate-glass of the
enterprising draper, with the light veiled by shawls and ribbons, the
'purple jars,' green, ruby, and crimson of the chemist; and the modest
ray of the grocer, revealing busy heads driving Saturday-night bargains.

'How well I soon shall know them all,' said Albinia, looking at her
husband, though she knew she could not see his face, as he leant back
silently in his corner, and she tried to say no more. She was sure that
coming home was painful to him; he had been so willing to put it off,
and to prolong those pleasant seaside days, when there had been such
pleasant reading, walking, musing, and a great deal of happy silence.

Down the hill, and a little way on level ground - houses on one side,
something like hedge or shrubbery on the other - a stop - a gate
opened - a hollow sound beneath the carriage, as though crossing a wooden
bridge - trees - bright windows - an open door - and light streaming from
it.

'Here is your home, Albinia,' said that deep musical voice that she
loved the better for the subdued melancholy of the tones, and the
suppressed sigh that could not be hidden.

'And my children,' she eagerly said, as he handed her out, and,
springing to the ground, she hurried to the open door opposite,
where, in the lamp-light, she saw, moving about in shy curiosity and
embarrassment, two girls in white frocks and broad scarlet sashes, and
a boy, who, as she advanced, retreated with his younger sister to the
fireplace, while the elder one, a pretty, and rather formal looking girl
of twelve, stood forward.

Albinia held out her arms, saying, 'You are Lucy, I am sure,' and
eagerly kissed the girl's smiling, bright face.

'Yes, I am Lucy,' was the well-pleased answer, 'I am glad you are come.'

'I hope we shall be very good friends,' said Albinia, with the sweet
smile that few, young or old, could resist. 'And this is Gilbert,' as
she kissed the blushing cheek of a thin boy of thirteen - 'and Sophia.'

Sophia, who was eleven, had not stirred to meet her. She alone inherited
her father's fine straight profile, and large black eyes, but she had
the heaviness of feature that sometimes goes with very dark complexions.
The white frock did not become her brown neck and arms, her thick black
hair was arranged in too womanly a manner, and her head and face looked
too large; moreover, there was no lighting-up to answer the greeting,
and Albinia was disappointed.

Poor child, she thought, she is feeling deeply that I am an interloper,
it will be different now her father is coming.

Mr. Kendal was crossing the hall, and as he entered he took the hand and
kissed the forehead of each of the three, but Sophia stood with the same
half sullen indifference - it might be shyness, or sensibility.

'How much you are grown!' he said, looking at the children with some
surprise.

In fact, though Albinia knew their ages, they were all on a larger scale
than she had expected, and looked too old for the children of a man of
his youthful appearance. Gilbert had the slight look of rapid growth;
Lucy, though not so tall, and with a small, clear, bright face, had the
air of a little woman, and Sophia's face might have befitted any age.

'Yes, papa,' said Lucy; 'Gilbert has grown an inch-and-a-half since
October, for we measured him.'

'Have you been well, Gilbert?' continued Mr. Kendal, anxiously.

'I have the toothache, said Gilbert, piteously.

'Happily, nothing more serious,' thrust in Lucy; 'Mr. Bowles told Aunt
Maria that he considers Gilbert's health much improved.'

Albinia asked some kind questions about the delinquent tooth, but the
answers were short; and, to put an end to the general constraint, she
asked Lucy to show her to her room.

It was a pretty bay-windowed room, and looked cheerful in the firelight.
Lucy's tongue was at once unloosed, telling that Gilbert's tutor, Mr.
Salsted, had insisted on his having his tooth extracted, and that he had
refused, saying it was quite well; but Lucy gave it as her opinion that
he much preferred the toothache to his lessons.

'Where does Mr. Salsted live?'

'At Tremblam, about two miles off; Gilbert rides the pony over there
every day, except when he has the toothache, and then he stays at home.'

'And what do you do?'

'We went to Miss Belmarche till the end of our quarter, and since that
we have been at home, or with grandmamma. Do you _really_ mean that we
are to study with you?'

'I should like it, my dear. I have been looking forward very much to
teaching you and Sophia.'

'Thank you, mamma.'

The word was said with an effort as if it came strangely, but it
thrilled Albinia's heart, and she kissed Lucy, who clung to her, and
returned the caress.

'I shall tell Gilbert and Sophy what a dear mamma you are,' she said.
'Do you know, Sophy says she shall never call you anything but Mrs.
Kendal; and I know Gilbert means the same.'

'Let them call me whatever suits them best,' said Albinia; 'I had
rather they waited till they feel that they like to call me as you have
done - thank you for it, dear Lucy. You must not fancy I shall be at
all hurt at your thinking of times past. I shall want you to tell me of
them, and of your own dear mother, and what will suit papa best.'

Lucy looked highly gratified, and eagerly said, 'I am sure I shall love
you just like my own mamma.'

'No,' said Albinia, kindly; 'I do not expect that, my dear. I don't ask
for any more than you can freely give, dear child. You must bear with
having me in that place, and we will try and help each other to
make your papa comfortable; and, Lucy, you will forgive me, if I am
impetuous, and make mistakes.'

Lucy's little clear black eyes looked as if nothing like this had ever
come within her range of observation, and Albinia could sympathize with
her difficulty of reply.

Mr. Kendal was not in the drawing-room when they re-entered, there was
only Gilbert nursing his toothache by the fire, and Sophy sitting in the
middle of the rug, holding up a screen. She said something good-natured
to each, but neither responded graciously, and Lucy went on talking,
showing off the room, the chiffonieres, the ornaments, and some pretty
Indian ivory carvings. There was a great ottoman of Aunt Maria's work,
and a huge cushion with an Arab horseman, that Lucy would uncover,
whispering, 'Poor mamma worked it,' while Sophy visibly winced, and
Albinia hurried it into the chintz cover again, lest Mr. Kendal should
come. But Lucy had full time to be communicative about the household
with such a satisfied, capable manner, that Albinia asked if she had
been keeping house all this time.

'No; old Nurse kept the keys, and managed till now; but she went this
morning.'

Sophy's mouth twitched.

'She was so very fond - ' continued Lucy.

'Don't!' burst out Sophy, almost the first word Albinia had heard from
her; but no more passed, for Mr. Kendal came in, and Lucy's conversation
instantly was at an end.'

Before him she was almost as silent as the others, and he seldom
addressed himself to her, only inquiring once after her grandmamma's
health, and once calling Sophy out of the way when she was standing
between the fire and - He finished with the gesture of command, whether
he said 'Your mamma,' none could tell.

It was late, and the meal was not over before bed-time, when Albinia
lingered to find remedies for Gilbert's toothache, pleased to feel
herself making a commencement of motherly care, and to meet an
affectionate glance of thanks from Mr. Kendal's eye. Gilbert, too,
thanked her with less shyness than before, and was hopeful about the
remedy; and with the feeling of having made a beginning, she ran down
to tell Mr. Kendal that she thought he had hardly done justice to the
children - they were fine creatures - something so sweet and winning about
Lucy - she liked Gilbert's countenance - Sophy must have something deep
and noble in her.

He lifted his head to look at her bright face, and said, 'They are very
much obliged to you.'

'You must not say that, they are my own.'

'I will not say it again, but as I look at you, and the home to which I
have brought you, I feel that I have acted selfishly.'

Albinia timidly pressed his hand, 'Work was always what I wished,' she
said, 'if only I could do anything to lighten your grief and care.'

He gave a deep, heavy sigh. Albinia felt that if he had hoped to have
lessened the sadness, he had surely found it again at his own door. He
roused himself, however, to say, 'This is using you ill, Albinia; no one
is more sensible of it than I am.'

'I never sought more than you can give,' she murmured; 'I only wish to
do what I can for you, and you will not let me disturb you.'

'I am very grateful to you,' was his answer; a sad welcome for a bride.
'And these poor children will owe everything to you.'

'I wish I may do right by them,' said Albinia, fervently.

'The flower of the flock' - began Mr. Kendal, but he broke off at once.

Albinia had told Winifred that she could bear to have his wife's memory
first with him, and that she knew that she could not compensate to him
for his loss, but the actual sight of his dejection came on her with
a chill, and she had to call up all her energies and hopes, and, still
better, the thought of strength not her own, to enable her to look
cheerfully on the prospect. Sleep revived her elastic spirits, and with
eager curiosity she drew up her blind in the morning, for the first view
of her new home.

But there was a veil - moisture made the panes resemble ground glass, and
when she had rubbed that away, and secured a clear corner, her range of
vision was not much more extensive. She could only see the grey outline
of trees and shrubs, obscured by the heavy mist; and on the lawn below,
a thick cloud that seemed to hang over a dark space which she suspected
to be a large pond.

'There is very little to be gained by looking out here!' Albinia
soliloquized. 'It is not doing the place justice to study it on a misty,
moisty morning. It looks now as if that fever might have come bodily out
of the pond. I'll have no more to say to it till the sun has licked
up the fog, and made it bright! Sunday morning - my last Sunday without
school-teaching I hope! I famish to begin again - and I will make time
for that, and the girls too! I am glad he consents to my doing whatever
I please in that way! I hope Mr. Dusautoy will! I wish Edmund knew him
better - but oh! what a shy man it is!'

With a light step she went down-stairs, and found Mr Kendal waiting for
her in the dining-room, his face brightening as she entered.

'I am sorry Bayford should wear this heavy cloud to receive you,' he
said.

'It will soon clear,' she answered, cheerfully. 'Have you heard of poor
Gilbert this morning?'

'Not yet.' Then, after a pause, 'I have generally gone to Mrs. Meadows
after the morning service,' he said, speaking with constraint.

'You will take me?' said Albinia. 'I wish it, I assure you.'

It was evidently what he wished her to propose, and he added, 'She must
never feel herself neglected, and it will be better at once.'

'So much more cordial,' said Albinia. 'Pray let us go!'

They were interrupted by the voices of the girls - not unpleasing voices,
but loud and unsubdued, and with a slight tone of provincialism, which
seemed to hurt Mr. Kendal's ears, for he said, 'I hope you will tune
those voices to something less unlike your own.'

As he spoke, the sisters appeared in the full and conscious rustling
of new lilac silk dresses, which seemed to have happily carried off all
Sophy's sullenness, for she made much more brisk and civil answers, and
ran across the room in a boisterous manner, when her father sent her to
see whether Gilbert were up.

There was a great clatter, and Gilbert chased her in, breathless and
scolding, but the tongues were hushed before papa, and no more was heard
than that the tooth was better, and had not kept him awake. Lucy seemed
disposed to make conversation, overwhelming Albinia with needless
repetitions of 'Mamma dear,' and plunging into what Mrs. Bowles and Miss
Goldsmith had said of Mr. Dusautoy, and how he kept so few servants,
and the butcher had no orders last time he called. Aunt Maria thought he
starved and tyrannized over that poor little sickly Mrs. Dusautoy.

Mr. Kendal said not one word, and seemed not to hear. Albinia felt as if
she had fallen into a whirlpool of gossip; she looked towards him, and
hoped to let the conversation drop, but Sophy answered her sister,
and, at last, when it came to something about what Jane heard from
Mrs. Osborn's Susan, Albinia gently whispered, 'I do not think this
entertains your papa, my dear,' and silence sank upon them all.

Albinia's next venture was to ask about that which had been her Sunday
pleasure from childhood, and she turned to Sophy, and said, 'I suppose



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