THE YOUNG STEP-MOTHER;
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'They little guessed what the Colonel would be at!'
'You will be better now you have the Colonel to abuse,' said her
'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
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
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
'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
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
'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, 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
'How much you are grown!' he said, looking at the children with some
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
'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
'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
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
'No; old Nurse kept the keys, and managed till now; but she went this
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
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
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
'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
'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
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