success; Mrs. Dusautoy was less at her ease - the mirth was less sober
and more exclusive than she had intended; and Sophy, finding nothing
could be made of Miss Jane, turned round to her other neighbour, Mr.
Hope, and asked his opinion of the Whewell and Brewster controversy
on the Plurality of Worlds.
Mr. Hope had rather a good opinion of Miss Sophia, and as she had
never molested him, could talk to her, so he straightway became
engrossed in the logical and theological aspects of the theory; and
Mrs. Dusautoy could hardly suppress her smile at this unconscious
ponderous attempt at a counter flirtation, with Saturn and Jupiter as
weapons for light skirmishing.
Ulick received the invitation to dinner, and did not accept it. He
said he had an engagement - Albinia wondered what it could be, and had
reason afterwards to think that he had the silent young apothecary to
a Christmas dinner in his own rooms - an act of charity at least, if
not of forgiveness. Mr. Johns, the senior clerk, whose health had
long been failing, was about to retire, and this announcement was
followed by the appearance of a smart, keen-looking young man of six
or seven-and-twenty, whom Miss Goldsmith paraded as her cousin, Mr.
Andrew Goldsmith, and it was generally expected that he would be
taken into partnership, and undertake old John's work, but in a
fortnight he disappeared, and young O'More was promoted to the vacant
post with an increase of salary. It was mortifying only to be
informed through Mr. Dusautoy, instead of by the lad himself.
The Eastern letters were the chief comfort. First came tidings that
Gilbert, not having yet recovered his contusion, was to accompany
Colonel Ferrars to Scutari, and then after a longer interval came a
brief and joyous note - Gilbert was coming home! On his voyage from
the Crimea he had caught cold, and this had brought on severe
inflammation on the injured chest, which had laid him by for many
days at Scutari. The colonel had become the stronger of the two, in
spite of a fragment of shell lodged so deeply in the side, that the
medical board advised his going to London for its removal. Both were
ordered home together with six months' leave, and Gilbert's note
overflowed with glad messages to all, including Algernon, of whose
departure he was still in ignorance.
Mr. Kendal knew not whether he was most gratified or discomfited by
the insinuating ringer who touched his hat, hoping for due notice of
the captain's arrival in time to welcome him with a peal of bells.
Indeed, Bayford was so excited about its hero, that there were
symptoms of plans for a grand reception with speeches, cheers, and
triumphal arches, which caused Sophy to say she hoped that he would
come suddenly without any notice, so as to put a stop to all that
nonsense; while Albinia could not help nourishing a strange vague
expectation that his return would be the beginning of better days.
At last, Sophia, with a touch of the old penny club fever, toiled
over the school clothing wilfully and unnecessarily for two hours,
kept up till evening without owning to the pain in her back, but
finally returned so faint and dizzy that she was forced to be carried
helpless to her room, and the next day could barely drag herself to
the couch in the morning-room, where she lay quite prostrated, and
grieved at increasing instead of lessening her mother's cares.
'Oh, mamma, don't stay with me. You are much too busy.'
'No, I am not. The children are out, and grandmamma asleep, and I am
going to write to Lucy, but there's no hurry. Let me cool your
forehead a little longer.'
'How I hate being another bother!'
'I like you much better so, than when you would not let me speak to
you, my poor child.'
'I could not,' she said, stifling her voice on the cushion, and
averting her head; but in a few moments she made a great effort, and
said, 'You think me unforgiving, mamma. It was not entirely that.
It was hating myself for an old fancy, a mere mistake. I have got
over it; and I will not be in error again.'
'Sophy dear, if you find strength in pride, it will only wound
'I do not think I am proud,' said Sophy, quietly. 'I may have been
headstrong, but I despise myself too much for pride.'
'Are you sure it was mere fancy? It was an idea that occurred to
more than to you.'
'Hush!' cried Sophy. 'Had it been so, could he have ridiculed Lucy?
Could he have flown out so against papa? No; that caricature
undeceived me, and I am thankful. He treated us as cousins - no
more - he would act in the same manner by any of the Miss O'Mores of
Ballymakilty, nay, by Jane Northover herself. We did not allow for
'If so, he had no right to do so. I shall never wish to see him here
'No, mamma, he did not know the folly he had to deal with. Next time
I meet him, I shall know how to be really indifferent. Now, this is
the last time we will mention the subject!'
Albinia obeyed, but still hoped. It was well that hope remained, for
her task was heavier than ever; Mrs. Meadows was feebler, but more
restless and wakeful, asking twenty times in an hour for Mrs. Kendal.
The doctors thought it impossible that she should hold out another
fortnight, but she lived on from day to day, and at times Albinia
hardly could be absent from her for ten minutes together. Sophy was
so completely knocked up that she could barely creep about the house,
and was forbidden the sick-room; but she was softened and gentle, and
was once more a companion to her father, while eagerly looking
forward to devoting herself to Gilbert.
A letter with the Malta post-mark was eagerly opened, as the
harbinger of his speedy arrival.
'Royal Hotel, Malta,
February 10th, 1855.
'Dearest Mrs. Kendal,
'I am afraid you will all be much disappointed, though your grief
cannot equal mine at the Doctor's cruel decree. We arrived here the
day before yesterday, but I had been so ill all the voyage with pain
in the side and cough, that there was no choice but to land, and call
in Dr. - - , who tells me that my broken rib has damaged my lungs so
much, that I must keep perfectly quiet, and not think of going home
till warm weather. If I am well enough to join by that time, I shall
not see you at all unless you and my father could come out. Am I
nourishing too wild a hope in thinking it possible? Since Lucy has
been so kind as to promise never to leave grandmamma, I cannot help
hoping you might be spared. I do not think my proposal is selfish,
since my poor grandmother is so little conscious of your cares; and
Ferrars insists on remaining with me till he sees me in your hands,
though they say that the splinter must be extracted in London, and
every week he remains here is so much suffering, besides delaying his
expedition to Canada. I have entreated him to hasten on, but he will
not hear of it. He is like a brother or a father to me, and nurses
me most tenderly, when he ought to be nursed himself. We are
famishing for letters. I suppose all ours have gone up to Balaklava,
and thence will be sent to England. If we were but there! We are
both much better for the quiet of these two days, and are to move
to-morrow to a lodging that a friend of Fred's has taken for us at
Bormola, so as to be out of the Babel of these streets - we stipulated
that it should be large enough to take in you and my father. I wish
Sophy and the children would come too - it would do them all the good
in the world; and Maurice would go crazy among the big guns; I am
only afraid we should have him enlisting as a drummer. The happy
pair would be very glad to have the house to themselves, and would
persuade themselves that it was another honeymoon.
'Good-bye. Instead of looking for a letter, I shall come down to
meet you at the Quarantine harbour. Love to all.
'Your most affectionate
How differently Gilbert wrote when really ill, from his desponding
style when he only fancied himself so, thought Albinia, as, perplexed
and grieved, she handed the letter to her husband, and opened the
enclosure, written in the laboured, ill-formed characters of a left-hand
not yet accustomed to doing the offices of both.
'Come, if possible. His heart is set upon it, though he does not
realize his condition, and I cannot bear to tell him. Only the
utmost care can save him. I am doing my best for him, but my nursing
is as left-handed as my writing.
His wife's look of horror was Mr. Kendal's preparation for this
emphatic summons, perhaps a shock less sudden to him than to her, for
he had not been without misgivings ever since he had heard of the
situation of the injury. He read and spoke not, till the silence
became intolerable, and she burst out almost with a scream, 'Oh!
Edmund, I knew not what I did when I took grandmamma into this
'This is very perplexing,' he said, his feelings so intense that he
dared only speak of acting; 'I must set out to-night.'
'Order me to come with you,' she said breathlessly. 'That will
cancel everything else.'
'Would Mrs. Drury take charge of her aunt?' said he, with a moment's
hesitation; and Albinia felt it implied his impression that they were
bound by her repeated promises never to quit the invalid, but she
only spoke the more vehemently -
'Mrs Drury? She might - she would, under the circumstances. She
could not refuse. If you desire me to come, I should not be doing
wrong; and grandmamma might never even miss me. Surely - oh surely, a
young life, full of hope and promise, that may yet be saved, is not
to be set against what cannot be prolonged more than a few weeks.'
'As to that,' said Mr. Kendal, in the deliberate tone which denoted
dissatisfaction, 'though of course it would be the greatest blessing
to have you with us, I think you may trust Gilbert to my care. And
we must consider poor Sophia.'
'She could not bear to be considered.'
'No; but it would be leaving her in a most distressing position, when
she is far from well, and with most uncongenial assistants. You see,
poor Gilbert reckons on Lucy being here, which would make it very
different. But think of poor Sophia in the event of Mrs. Meadows not
surviving till our return!'
'You are right! It would half kill her! My promise was sacred; I
was a wretch to think of breaking it. But when I think of my boy - my
Gilbert pining for me, and I deserting him - '
'For the sake of duty,' said her husband. 'Let us do right, and
trust that all will be overruled for the best. I shall go with an
easier mind if I leave you with the other children, and I can be the
sooner with him.'
'I could travel as fast.'
'I may soon bring him home to you. Or you might bring the others to
join us in the south of France. You will all need change.'
The decision was made, and her judgment acquiesced, though she could
hardly have cast the balance for herself. She urged no more, even
when relentings came over her husband at the thought of the trials to
which he was leaving her, and of those which he should meet in
solitude; yet not without a certain secret desire to make himself
sufficient for the care and contentment of his own son. He cast
about for all possible helpers for her, but could devise nothing
except a note entreating her brother to be with her as much as
possible, and commending her to the Dusautoys. It was a less decided
kindness that he ordered Maurice's pony to be turned out to grass, so
as to prevent rides in solitude, thinking the boy too young to be
trusted, and warned by the example of Gilbert's temptations.
Going up to the bank to obtain a supply of gold, he found young
O'More there without his uncle. The tidings of Gilbert's danger had
spread throughout the town, and one heart at least was softened.
Ulick wrung the hand that lately he would not touch, and Mr. Kendal
forgot his wrath as he replied to the warm-hearted inquiry for
'Then Mrs. Kendal cannot go with you?'
'No, it is impossible. There is no one able to take charge of Mrs.
'Ah! and Mrs. Cavendish Dusautoy is gone! I grieve for the hour when
my pen got the better of me. Mr. Kendal, this is worse than I
thought. Your son will never forgive me when he knows I'm at the
bottom of his disappointment.'
'There is something to forgive on all hands,' said Mr. Kendal. 'That
meddlesome boy of mine has caused worse results than we could have
contemplated. I believe it has been a lesson to him.'
'I know it has to some one else,' said Ulick. 'I wish I could do
anything! It would be the greatest comfort you could give me to tell
me of a thing I could do for Gilbert or any of you. If you'd send me
to find Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, and tell him 'twas all my fault, and
bring them back - '
'Rather too wild a project, thank you,' said Mr. Kendal, smiling.
'No; the only thing you could do, would be - if that boy of mine have
not completely forfeited your kindness - '
'Maurice! Ah! how I have missed the rogue.'
'Poor little fellow, I am afraid he may be a burthen to himself and
every one else. It would be a great relief if you could be kind
enough now and then to give him the pleasure of a walk.'
Maurice did not attend greatly to papa's permission to go out with
Mr. O'More. Either it was clogged with too many conditions of
discretion, and too many reminiscences of the past; or Maurice's mind
was too much bent on the thought of his brother. Both children
haunted the packing up, entreating to send out impossible presents.
Maurice could hardly be persuaded out of contributing a perilous-looking
boomerang, which he argued had some sense in it; while he scoffed at the
little Awk, who stood kissing and almost crying over the china
countenance of her favourite doll, entreating that papa would take
dear Miss Jenny because Gibbie loved her the best of all, and always
put her to sleep on his knees. At last matters were compromised by
Sophy, who roused herself to do one of the few things for which she
had strength, engrossing them by cutting out in paper an interminable
hunt with horses and dogs adhering together by the noses and tails,
which, when brilliantly painted according to their united taste, they
might safely imagine giving pleasure to Gilbert, while, at any rate,
it would do no harm in papa's pocket-book.
The day after Mr. Kendal's departure, Mrs. Meadows had another
attack, but a fortnight still passed before the long long task was
over and the weary spirit set free. There had been no real
consciousness and no one could speak of regret; of anything but
relief and thankfulness that release had come at last, when Albinia
had redeemed her pledge and knew she should no more hear of the
dreary 'very bad night,' nor be greeted by the low, restless moan.
The long good-night was come, and, on the whole, there was peace and
absence of self-condemnation in looking back on the past connexion.
Forbearance and unselfishness were recompensed by the calm tenderness
with which she could regard one who at the outset had appeared likely
to cause nothing but frets and misunderstandings.
Had she and Sophy been left to themselves, there would have been
nothing to break upon this frame of mind, but early the next day
arrived Mr. and Mrs. Drury, upsetting all her arrangements, implying
that it had been presumptuous to exert any authority without
relationship. It did seem hard that the claims of kindred should be
only recollected in order to unsettle her plans, and offend her
Averse both to the proposals, and to the discussion, she felt
unprotected and forlorn, but her spirit revived as she heard her
brother's voice in the hall, and she hastened to put herself in his
hands. He declined doing battle, he said it would be better to yield
than to argue, and leave a grudge for ever. 'It will not vex
Edmund,' he said, 'and though you and Sophy may be pained by
incongruities, they will hurt you less than disputing.'
She felt that he was right, and by yielding the main points he
contrived amicably to persuade Mr. Drury out of the numerous
invitations and grand luncheon as well as to adhere to the day that
she had originally fixed for the funeral, after which he hoped to
take her and the young ones home with him and give her the thorough
change and rest of which the over-energy of her manner betrayed the
Not that she consented. She could not bear not to meet her letters
at once; or suppose Edmund and Gilbert should return to an empty,
unaired house, and she thought herself selfish, when it might do so
much good to Sophy, &c., &c., &c. - till Mr. Ferrars, going home for a
night, agreed with Winifred, that domineering would be the only way
to deal with her.
On his return he found Albinia on the stairs, and boxes and trunks
carried down after her. Running to him, she exclaimed, abruptly, 'I
am going to Malta, Maurice, to-morrow evening!'
'Has Edmund sent for you?'
'Not exactly - he did not know - but Gilbert is dying, and wretched at
my not coming. I never wished him good-by - he thinks I did not
forgive him. Don't say a word - I shall go.'
He held her trembling hands, and said, 'This is not the way to be
able to go. Come in here, sit down and tell me.'
'It is no use to argue. It is my duty now,' said Albinia; but she
let him lead her into the room, where Sophy was changing the bright
border of a travelling-cloak to crape, and Maurice stood watching, as
'It is settled,' continued she, rapidly. 'Sophy and the children go
to the vicarage. Yes, I know, you are very kind, but Maurice would
be troublesome, and Winifred is not well enough, and the Dusautoys
'Yes, that may be the best plan, as I shall be absent.'
She turned round, startled.
'I cannot let you go alone.'
'Nonsense - Winifred - Sunday - Lent - I don't want any one. Nothing
could happen to me.'
Mr. Ferrars caught Sophy's eye beaming with sudden relief and
gratitude, and repeated, 'If you go, I must take you.'
'I can't wait for Sunday,' she said.
'What have you heard?'
She produced the letter, and read parts of it. The whole stood
11 p.m., February 28th, 1855.
'I hope all has gone fairly well with you in my absence, and that
Sophia is well again. Could I have foreseen the condition of affairs
here, I doubt whether I could have resolved on leaving you at home,
though you may be spared much by not being with us. I landed at noon
to-day, and was met in the harbour by your cousin, who had come off
in a boat in hopes of finding you on board. He did his best to
prepare me for Gilbert's appearance, but I was more shocked than I
can express. There can no longer be any doubt that it is a case of
rapid decline, brought on by exposure, and, aggravated by the injury
at Balaklava. Colonel Ferrars fancies that Gilbert's exertions on
his behalf in the early part of his illness may have done harm, by
preventing the broken bone from uniting, and causing it to press on
the lungs; but knowing the constitutional tendency, we need not dwell
on secondary causes, and there is no one to whom we owe a deeper debt
of gratitude than to your cousin, for his most assiduous and
affectionate attendance at a time when he is very little equal to
exertion. They are like brothers together, and I am sure nothing has
been wanting to Gilbert that he could devise for his comfort. They
are in a tolerably commodious airy lodging, where I found Gilbert
propped up with cushions on a large chair by the window, flushed with
eager watching. Poor fellow, to see how his countenance fell when he
found I was alone, was the most cutting reproach I ever received in
my life. He was so completely overcome, that he could not restrain
his tears, though he strove hard to command himself in this fear of
wounding my feelings; but there are moments when the truth will have
its way, and you have been more to him than his father has ever been.
May it be granted that he may yet know how I feel towards him! His
first impression was that you had never forgiven him for his
unfortunate adventure with Maurice, and could never feel towards him
as before; and though I trust I have removed this idea, perhaps such
a letter as you can write might set his heart at rest. Ferrars says
that hitherto his spirits have kept up wonderfully, though latterly
he had been evidently aware of his condition, but he has been very
much depressed this evening, probably from the reaction of excited
expectation. On learning the cause of Lucy's desertion, he seemed to
consider that his participation in the transactions of that night had
recoiled upon himself, and deprived him of your presence. It was
very painful to see how he took it. He was eager to be told of the
children, and the only time I saw him brighten was when I gave him
their messages. I am writing while I hope he sleeps. I am glad to
be here to relieve the Colonel, who for several nights past has slept
on the floor, in his room, not thinking the Maltese servant
trustworthy. He looks very ill and suffering, but seems to have no
thought but for Gilbert, and will not hear of leaving him; and, in
truth, they cling together so affectionately, that I could not bear
to urge their parting, even were Fred more fit to travel home alone.
I will close my letter to-morrow after the doctor's visit.'
The conclusion was even more desponding; the physician had spoken of
the case as hopeless, and likely to terminate rapidly; and Gilbert,
who was always at the worst in the morning, had shown no symptom that
could lead his father to retract his first impression.
Mr. Ferrars saw that it would be useless and cruel to endeavour to
detain his sister, and only doubted whether in her precipitation, she
might not cross and miss her husband in a still sadder journey
homeward, and this made him the more resolved to be her escort. When
she dissuaded him vehemently as though she were bent on doing
something desperate, he replied that he was anxious about Fred, and
if she and her husband were engrossed by their son, he should be of
service in bringing him home; and this somewhat reconciled her to
what was so much to her benefit. Only she gave notice that he must
not prevent her from travelling day and night, to which he made no
answer, while Sophy hoarsely said that but for knowing herself to be
a mere impediment, she should have insisted on going, and her uncle
must not keep mamma back. Then Maurice imitatively broke out,
'Mamma, take me to Gilbert, I wont be a plague, I promise you.' He
was scarcely silenced before Mr. Dusautoy came striding in to urge on
her that Fanny and himself should be much happier if he were
permitted to conduct Mrs. Kendal to Malta (the fact being that Fanny
was persuaded that Mr. Ferrars would obviate such necessity).
Albinia almost laughed, as she had declared that she had set all the
parsons in the country in commotion, and Mr. Dusautoy was obliged to
limit his good offices to the care of the children, and the
responsibility of the Fairmead Sunday services.
The good hard-worked brother had hardly time to eat his luncheon,
before he started to inform his wife, and prepare for his journey.
Winifred was a very good sister on an emergency; she had not once
growled since poor Mrs. Meadows had been really ill; and though she
had been feeding on hopes of Albinia's visit, and was far from
strong, she quashed her husband's misgivings, and cheerily strove to
convince him that he would be wanted by no one, least of all by
herself. A slight vituperation of the polysyllabic pair was all the
relief she permitted herself, and who could blame her for that, when
even Mr. Dusautoy called the one 'that foolish fellow,' and the other
'poor dear Lucy?'
Albinia and Sophy safe over the fire that evening, after their
sorrowful tasks unable to turn to anything else, wondering how and
when they should meet again, and their words coming slowly, and with
long intervals of silence.
'Dear child,' said Albinia, 'promise me to take care of yourself, and
to let Mrs. Dusautoy judge what you can do.'
'I'm not worth taking care of,' muttered Sophy.