Sophy heard of the arrangement without remark, and quietly listened
to Albinia's explanation that she was not to be sent up to the
attics, but was to inhabit the spare room, which was large enough to
serve her for a sitting-room.
But in the evening Mr. Kendal happened
in her absence to take up the book which she had been reading, and
did not perceive at once on her entrance that she wanted it. When he
did so, he yielded it with a few kind words of apology, but this
vexation had been sufficient to bring down the thunder-cloud which
had been lowering since the morning. There were no signs of
clearance the next day; but Albinia had too much upon her hands to
watch the symptoms, and was busy making measurements for the
furniture in the morning-room when Mr. Kendal came in.
'I have been thinking,' he said, 'that it is a pity to disturb this
room. I dare say Mrs. Meadows would prefer that below-stairs. It
used to be her parlour, where she always sat when I first knew the
'The dining-room? How could we spare that?'
'No, the study.'
Albinia remained transfixed.
'We could put the books here and in the dining-room,' he continued,
'until next spring, when, as your brother said, we can build a new
wing on the drawing-room side.'
'And what is to become of you?' she continued.
'Perhaps you will admit me here,' he said, smiling, for he was
pleased with himself. 'Turn me out when I am in the way.'
'Oh! Edmund, how delightful! See, we shall put your high desk under
the window, and your chair in your own corner. This will be the
pleasantest place in the house, with you and your books! Dear
Winifred! she did me one of her greatest services when she made me
keep this room habitable!'
'And I think Sophy will not object to give up her present little room
for my dressing-room. Shall you, my dear?' said he, anxious to judge
of her temper by her reply.
'I don't care,' she said; 'I don't want any difference made to please
me; I think that weak.'
'Sophy!' began Albinia, indignantly, but Mr. Kendal stopped her, and
made her come down, to consider of the proposal in the study.
That study, once an oppressive rival to the bride, now not merely
vanquished, but absolutely abandoned by its former captive!
'Don't say anything to her,' said Mr. Kendal, as they went
downstairs. 'Of course her spirits are one consideration, but were
it otherwise, I could not see you give up your private room.'
'It is very kind in you, but indeed I can spare mine better than you
can,' said Albinia. 'I am afraid you will never feel out of the
'Yours would be a loss to us all,' said Mr. Kendal. 'The more
inmates there are in a house, the more needful to have them well
'Just so; and that makes me afraid - '
'Of me? No, Albinia, I will try not to be a check on your spirits.'
'You! Oh! I meant that we should disturb you.'
'You never disturb me, Albinia; and it is not what it was when the
children's voices were untrained and unsubdued.'
'I can't say much for Master Maurice's voice.'
He smiled, he had never yet found those joyous notes de trop, and he
continued, 'Your room is of value and use to us all; mine has been of
little benefit to me, and none to any one else. I wish I could as
easily leave behind me all the habits I have fostered there.'
'Edmund, it is too good! When poor Sophy recovers her senses she
will feel it, for I believe that morning room would have been a great
loss to her.'
'It was too much to ask in her present state. I should have come to
the same conclusion without her showing how much this plan cost her,
for nothing can be plainer than that while she continues subject to
these attacks, she must have some retreat.'
'Yet,' ventured Albinia, 'if you think solitude did you no good, do
you think letting these fits have their swing is good for Sophy?'
'I _cannot_ drive her about! They must not be harshly treated,' he
answered quickly. 'Resistance can only come from within; compulsion
is worse than useless. Poor child, it is piteous to watch that state
of dull misery! On other grounds, I am convinced this is the best
plan. The communication with the offices will prevent that maid from
being always on the stairs. Mrs. Meadows will have her own visitors
more easily, and will get out of doors sooner, and I think she will
be better pleased.'
'Yes, it will be a much better plan for every one but Mr. Kendal
himself,' said Albinia; 'and if he can be happy with us, we shall be
all the happier. So this was the old sitting-room!' 'Yes, I knew
them first here,' he said. 'It used to be cheerful then, and I dare
say you can make it the same again. We must dismantle it before Mrs.
Meadows or Maria come to see it, or it will remind them of nothing
but the days when I was recovering, and anything but grateful for
their attention. Yes,' he added, 'poor Mrs. Meadows bore most gently
and tenderly with a long course of moroseness. I am glad to have it
in my power to make any sort of amends, though it is chiefly through
Albinia might well be very happy! It was her moment of triumph, and
whatever might be her fears for the future, and uneasiness at Sophy's
discontent, nothing could take away the pleasure of finding herself
deliberately preferred to the study.
Sophy did not fail to make another protest, and when told that 'it
was not solely on her account,' the shame of having fancied herself
so important, rendered her ill-humour still more painful and
deplorable. It was vain to consult her about the arrangements, she
would not care about anything, except that by some remarkable effect
of her perverse condition, she had been seized with a penchant for
maize colour and blue for the bridesmaids, and was deeply offended
when Albinia represented that they would look like a procession of
macaws, and her aunt declared that Sophy herself would be the most
sacrificed by such colours. She made herself so grim that Maria
broke up the consultation by saying good-humouredly, 'Yes, we will
settle it when Lucy comes home.'
'Yes,' muttered Sophy, 'Lucy is ready for any sort of nonsense.'
Mr. and Mrs. Kendal went to Woodside to meet Lucy, hoping that
solitude would be beneficial. Albinia grieved at the manifestations
of these, her sullen fits, if only because they made Lucy feel
herself superior. In truth, Lucy was superior in temper, amiability,
and all the qualities that smooth the course of life, and it was very
pleasant to greet her pretty bright face, so full of animation.
'Dear grandmamma going to live with us? Oh, how nice! I can always
take care of her when you are busy, mamma.'
That accommodating spirit was absolute refreshment, and long before
Albinia reached home the task of keeping the household contented
seemed many degrees easier.
A grand wedding was 'expected,' so all the Bayford flys were bespoken
three deep, a cake was ordered from Gunter, and so many invitations
sent out, that Albinia speculated how all were to come alive out of
the little dining-room.
And Mr. Kendal the presiding gentleman!
He had hardly seemed aware of his impending fate till the last
evening, when, as the family were separating at night, he sighed
disconsolately, and said, 'I am as bad as you are, Sophy.'
It awoke her first comfortable smile.
Experience had, however, shown him that such occasions might be
survived, and he was less to be pitied than his daughter, who felt as
if she and her great brown face would be the mark of all beholders.
Poor Sophy! all scenes were to her like daguerreotypes in a bad
light, she saw nothing but herself distorted!
And yet she was glad that the period of anticipation had consumed
itself and its own horrors, and found herself not insensible to the
excitement of the occasion. Lucy was joyous beyond description,
looking very pretty, and solicitously decorating her sister, while
both bestowed the utmost rapture on their step-mother's appearance.
Having learnt at last what Bayford esteemed a compliment, she had
commissioned her London aunts to send her what she called 'an
unexceptionable garment,' and so well did they fulfil their orders,
that not only did her little son scream, 'Mamma, pretty, pretty!' and
Gilbert stand transfixed with admiration, but it called forth Mr.
Kendal's first personal remark, 'Albinia, you look remarkably well;'
and Mrs. Meadows reckoned among the honours done to her Maria, that
Mrs. Kendal wore a beautiful silk dress, and a lace bonnet, sent down
on purpose from London!
Maria Meadows made a very nice bride, leaning on her brother-in-law,
and not more agitated than became her well. The haggard restless
look had long been gone, repose had taken away the lean sharpness of
countenance, the really pretty features had fair play, and she was
astonishingly like her niece Lucy, and did not look much older. Her
bridegroom was so beaming and benignant, that it might fairly be
hoped that even if force of habit should bring back fretfulness, he
had a stock of happiness sufficient for both. The chairs were jammed
so tight round the table, that it was by a desperate struggle that
people took their seats, and Mr. Dusautoy's conversation was a series
of apologies for being unable to keep his elbows out of his
neighbours' way while carving, and poor Sophy, whose back was not two
feet from the fire, was soon obliged to retreat. She had gained the
door before any one perceived her, and then her brother and sister
both followed; Albinia was obliged to leave her to their care, being
in the innermost recesses, where moving was impossible.
There was not much the matter, she only wanted rest, and Gilbert
undertook to see her safely home.
'I shall be heartily glad to get away,' he said. 'There is no
breathing in there, and they'll begin talking the most intolerable
nonsense presently. Besides, I want to be at home to take baby down
to the gate to halloo at the four white horses from the King's Head.
Come along, Sophy.'
'Mind you don't make her walk too fast,' said the careful Lucy, 'and
take care how you take off your muslin, Sophy, you had better go to
the nursery for help.'
Gilbert did not seem inclined to hurry his sister as they came near
Madame Belmarche's. He lingered, and presently said, 'Should you be
too tired to come in here for a moment? it was an intolerable shame
that none of them were asked.'
'Mamma did beg for Genevieve, but there was so little room, and the
Drurys did not like it. Mrs. Drury said it would only be giving her
a taste for things above her station.'
'Then Mrs. Drury should never come out of the scullery. I am sure
she looks as if her station was to black the kettles!' cried Gilbert,
with some domestic confusion in his indignation. 'Didn't she look
like a housekeeper with her mistress's things on by mistake?'
'She did not look like mamma, certainly,' said Sophy. 'Mamma looked
no more aware that she had on those pretty things than if she had
been in her old grey - '
'Mamma - yes - Mrs. Drury might try seventy years to look like mamma,
or Genevieve either! Put Genevieve into satin or into brown holland,
you couldn't help her looking ten times more the lady than Mrs. Drury
ever will! But come in, I have got a bit of the cake for them here,
and they will like to see you all figged out, as they have missed all
the rest of the show. Aunt Maria might have cared for her old
Sophy wished to be amiable, and refrained from objecting.
It was a holiday in honour of cette chere eleve of five-and-twenty
years since, and the present pupils were from their several homes
watching for the first apparition of the four greys from the King's
Head, with the eight white satin rosettes at their eight ears.
Madame Belmarche and her daughter were discovered in the parlour,
cooking with a stew pan over the fire a concoction which Sophy
guessed to be a conserve of the rose-leaves yearly begged of the
pupils, which were chiefly useful as serving to be boiled up at any
leisure moment, to make a cosmetic for Mademoiselle's complexion.
She had diligently used it these forty-five years, but the effect was
not encouraging, as brown, wrinkled, with her frizzled front awry,
with not stainless white apron, and a long pewter spoon, she turned
round to confront the visitors in their wedding finery.
But what Frenchwoman ever was disconcerted? Away went the spoon,
forward she sprang, both hands outstretched, and her little black
eyes twinkling with pleasure. 'Ah! but this is goodness itself,'
said she, in the English wherein she flattered herself no French
idiom appeared. 'You are come to let us participate in your
rejoicing. Let me but summon Genevieve, the poor child is at every
free moment trying to perfectionnate her music in the school-room.'
Madame Belmarche had arisen to receive the guests with her dignified
courtesy and heartfelt felicitations, which were not over when
Genevieve tripped in, all freshness and grace, with her neat little
collar, and the dainty black apron that so prettily marked her
slender waist. One moment, and she had arranged a resting-place for
Sophy, and as she understood Gilbert's errand, quickly produced from
a corner-cupboard a plate, on which he handed it to the two other
ladies, who meanwhile paid their compliments in the most perfect
The history of the morning was discussed, and Madame Belmarche
described her sister's wedding, and the curiosity which she had
shared with the bride for the first sight of 'le futur,' when the two
sisters had been brought from their convent for the marriage.
'But how could she get to like him?' cried Sophy.
'My sister was too well brought up a young girl to acknowledge a
preference,' replied Madame Belmarche. 'Ah! my dear, you are
English; you do not understand these things.'
'No,' said Sophy, 'I can't understand how people can marry without
loving. How miserable they must be!'
'On the contrary, my dear, especially if one continued to live with
one's mother. It is far better to earn the friendship and esteem of
a husband than to see his love grow cold.'
'And was your sister happy?' asked Sophy, abruptly.
'Ah, my dear, never were husband and wife more attached. My
brother-in-law joined the army of the Prince de Conde, and never was
seen after the day of Valmy; and my sister pined away and died of
grief. My daughter and granddaughter go to the Catholic burying-ground
at Hadminster on her fete day, to dress her grave with immortelles.'
Now Sophy knew why the strip of garden grew so many of the grey-leaved,
woolly-stemmed, little yellow-and-white everlasting flowers. Good
madame began to regret having saddened her on this day of joy.
'Oh! no,' said Sophy, 'I like sad things best.'
'Mais, non, my child, that is not the way to go through life,' said
the old lady, affectionately. 'Look at me; how could I have lived
had I not always turned to the bright side? Do not think of sorrow,
it, is always near enough.'
This conversation had made an impression on Sophy, who took the first
opportunity of expressing her indignation at the system of mariages
'And, mamma, she said if people began with love, it always grew cold.
Now, has not papa loved you better and better every day?'
Albinia could not be displeased, though it made her blush, and she
could not answer such a home push. 'We don't quite mean the same
things,' she said evasively. 'Madame is thinking of passion
independent of esteem or confidence. But, Sophy, this is enough even
for a wedding-day. Let us leave it off with our finery, and resume
'Only tell me one thing, mamma.'
She paused and brought it out with an effort. It had evidently
occupied her for a long time. 'Mamma, must not every one with
feeling be in love once in their life?'
'Well done, reserve!' thought Albinia - 'but she is only a child,
after all; not a blush, only those great eyes seeming ready to devour
my answer. What ought it to be? Whatever it is, she will brood on
it till her time comes. I must begin, or I shall grow nervous: "Dear
Sophy, these are not things good to think upon. There is quite
enough to occupy a Christian woman's heart and soul without that - no
need for her feelings to shrivel up for want of exercise. No, I
don't believe in the passion once in the life being a fate, and pray
don't you, my Sophy, or you may make yourself very silly, or very
unhappy, or both."'
Sophy drew up her head, and her brown skin glowed. Albinia feared
that she had said the wrong thing, and affronted her, but it was all
working in the dark.
At any rate the sullenness was dissipated, and there were no tokens
of a recurrence. Sophy set herself to find ways of making amends for
the past, and as soon as she had begun to do little services for
grandmamma, she seemed to have forgotten her gloomy anticipations,
even while some of them were partly realized. For as it would be
more than justice to human nature to say that Mrs. Meadows's
residence at Willow Lawn was a perfect success, so it would be less
than justice to call it a failure.
To put the darker side first. Grandmamma's interest in life was to
know the proceedings of the whole household, and comment on each.
Now Albinia could endure housewifely advice, some espionage on her
servants, and even counsel about her child; but she could not away
with the anxiety that would never leave Sophy alone, tried to force
her sociability, and regretted all extra studies, unable to perceive
the delicate treatment her disposition needed. And Sophy, in the
intolerance of early girlhood, was wretched at hearing poor
grandmamma's petty views, and narrow, ignorant prejudices. She might
resolve to be filial and agreeable, but too often found herself just
achieving a moody, disgusted silence, or else bursting out with some
true but unbecoming reproof.
On the whole, all did well. Mrs. Meadows was happy; she enjoyed the
animation of the larger party, liked their cheerful faces, grew fond
of Maurice, and daily more dependent on Lucy and Mrs. Kendal.
Probably she had never before had so much of her own way, and her
gentle placid nature was left to rest, instead of being constantly
worried. Her son-in-law was kind and gracious, though few words
passed between them, and he gave her a sense of protection. Indeed,
his patience and good-humour were exemplary; he never complained even
when he was driven from the dining-room by the table-cloth, to find
Maurice rioting in the morning-room, and a music lesson in the
drawing-room, or still worse, when he heard the Drurys everywhere;
and he probably would have submitted quietly for the rest of his
life, had not Albinia insisted on bringing forward the plan of
When Captain and Mrs. Pringle returned to Bayford to take leave, they
found grandmamma so thoroughly at home, that Maria could find no
words to express her gratitude. Maria herself could hardly have been
recognised, she had grown so like her husband in look and manner! If
her sentences did not always come to their legitimate development,
they no longer seemed blown away by a frosty wind, but pushed aside
by fresh kindly impulses, and her pride in the Captain, and the rest
in his support, had set her at peace with all the world and with
herself. A comfortable, comely, happy matron was she, and even her
few weeks beyond the precincts of Bayford had done something to
enlarge her mind.
It was as if her education had newly begun. The fixed aim, and the
union with a practical man, had opened her faculties, not deficient
in themselves, but contracted and nipped by the circumstances which
she had not known how to turn to good account. Such a fresh stage in
middle life comes to some few, like the midsummer shoot to repair the
foliage that has suffered a spring blight; but it cannot be reckoned on,
and Mrs. Pringle would have been a more effective and self-possessed
woman, a better companion to her husband, and with more root in herself,
had Maria Meadows learnt to tune her nerves and her temper in the
overthrow of her early hopes.
Maurice Ferrars was a born architect, with such a love of brick and
mortar, that it was meritorious in him not to have overbuilt Fairmead
parsonage. With the sense of giving him an agreeable holiday, his
sister wrote to him in February that Gilbert's little attic was at
his service if he would come and give his counsel as to the building
Mr. Kendal disliked the trouble and disturbance as much as Maurice
loved it; but he quite approved and submitted, provided they asked
him no questions; he gave them free leave to ruin him, and set out to
take Sophy for a drive, leaving the brother and sister to their
calculations. Of ruin, there was not much danger, Mr. Kendal had a
handsome income, and had always lived within it; and Albinia's
fortune had not appeared to her a reason for increased expense, so
there was a sufficient sum in hand to enable Mr. Ferrars to plan with
A new drawing-room, looking southwards, with bedrooms over it, was
the matter of necessity; and Albinia wished for a bay-window, and
would like to indulge Lucy by a conservatory, filling up the angle to
the east with glass doors opening into the drawing-room and hall.
Maurice drew, and she admired, and thought all so delightful, that
she began to be taken with scruples as to luxury.
'No,' said Maurice, 'these are not mere luxuries. You have full
means, and it is a duty to keep your household fairly comfortable and
at ease. Crowded as you are with rather incongruous elements, you
are bound to give them space enough not to clash.'
'They don't clash, except poor Sophy. Gilbert and Lucy are elements
of union, with more plaster of Paris than stone in their nature.'
'Pray, has Kendal made up his mind what to do with Gilbert?'
'I have heard nothing lately; I hope he is grown too old for India.'
'Gilbert is rather too well off for his good,' said Mr. Ferrars; 'the
benefit of a profession is not evident enough.'
'I know what I wish! If he could but be Mr. Dusautoy's curate, in
five or six years' time, what glorious things we might do with the
'Eh! is that his wish?'
'I have sometimes hoped that his mind is taking that turn. He is
ready to help in anything for the poor people. Once he told me he
never wished to look beyond Bayford for happiness or occupation; but
I did not like to draw him out, because of his father's plans. Why,
what have you drawn? The alms-houses?'
'I could do no other when I was improving Gilbert's house for him.'
'That would be the real improvement! How pretty! I will keep them
The second post came in, bringing a letter from Gilbert to his
father, and Albinia was so much surprised, that her brother asked
whether Gilbert were one of the boys who only write to their father
with a reason.
'He can write more freely to me,' said Albinia; 'and it comes to the
same thing. I am not in the least afraid of anything wrong, but
perhaps he may be making some proposal for the future. I want to
know how he is. Fancy his being so foolish as to go out bathing. I
am afraid of his colds.'
Many times during the consultation did Mr. Ferrars detect Albinia's
eye stealing wistfully towards that 'E. Kendal, Esq.;' and when the
proper owner came in, he was evidently as much struck, for he paused,
as if in dread of opening the letter. Her eyes were on his
countenance as he read, and did not gather much consolation. 'I am
afraid this is serious,' at last he said.
'His cold?' exclaimed Albinia.
'Yes,' said Mr. Kendal, reading aloud sentence by sentence, with
gravity and consideration.
'I do not wish to alarm Mrs. Kendal, and therefore address myself at once
to you, for I do not think it right to keep you in ignorance that I have
had some of the old symptoms. I do not wish to make any one uneasy about
me, and I may have made light of the cold I caught a month since; but I
cannot conceal from myself that I have much painful cough, an inclination
to shortness of breath, and pain in the back and shoulders, especially
after long reading or writing. I thought it right to speak to Mr.
Downton, but people in high health can understand nothing short of a
raging fever; however, at last he called in the parish surgeon, a stupid,
ignorant fellow, who understands my case no more than his horse, and
treats me with hyoscyamus, as if it were a mere throat-cough. I thought
it my duty to speak openly, since, though I am quite aware that