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- The Young Step-Mother - 110/124 -

wine and hot water.

'There, Emily,' said Albinia, when he had taken his leave; 'what shall we say to your nightingales, if Mr. O'More catches his ague again?'

'Oh, there are moments when people don't catch agues,' said Fred. 'He would be a poor fellow to catch an ague after all that, though, by-the-bye, it is not a place to go to at night without a cigar.'

Albinia was on thorns, lest Sophy should be offended; but though her cheeks lighted up, and she was certainly aware of some part of their meaning, either she did not believe in the possibility of any one bantering her, or else the assumption was more agreeable than the presumption was disagreeable. She endured with droll puzzled dignity, when Fred teased her anxiety the next day to know whether Mr. O'More had felt any ill effects; and it really appeared as if she liked him better for what might have been expected to be a dire affront; but then he was a man whose manner enabled to do and say whatever he pleased.

Emily never durst enter on the subject with her, but had more than one confidential little gossip with Albinia, and repeatedly declared that she hoped to be in England when 'it' took place. Indeed that week's visit made them all so intimate, that it was not easy to believe how recent was the acquaintance.

The aunts had been so much disappointed at Fred's desertion, so much discomfited at his recovery contrary to all predictions, and so much annoyed at his marriage, that it took all their kindness, and his Crimean fame, to make them invite him and his colonial wife to the Family Office, to be present at the royal distribution of medals. However, the good ladies did their duty; and Emily and Sophy parted with promises of letters.

The beginning of the correspondence was as full a description of the presentation of the medals as could be given by a person who only saw one figure wherever she went, and to whom the great incident of the day was, that the gracious and kindhearted Queen had herself fastened the left-handed colonel's medal as well as Emily could have done it herself! There was another medal, with two clasps, that came to Bayford, and which was looked at in pensive but not unhappy silence. 'You shall have it some day, Maurice, but not now,' said Mr. Kendal, and all felt that now meant his own lifetime. It was placed where Gilbert would well have liked to see it, beside his brother Edmund's watch.

Emily made Mrs. Annesley and Miss Ferrars more fond of her in three days, than eleven years had made them of Winifred; too fond, indeed, for they fell to preaching to Fred upon the horrors of Sebastopol, till they persuaded him that he was a selfish wretch, and brought him to decree that she should stay with them during his absence. But, as Emily observed, that was not what she left home for; she demolished his arguments with a small amount of playing at petulance, and triumphantly departed for the East, leaving Aunt Mary crying over her as a predestined victim.

The last thing Fred did before sailing, was to send Albinia a letter from his brother, that she might see 'how very kind and cordial Belraven was,' besides something that concerned her more nearly.

Lord Belraven was civil when it cost him nothing, and had lately regarded his inconvenient younger brother with favour, as bringing him distinction, and having gained two steps without purchase, removed, too, by his present rank, and the pension for his wound, from being likely to become chargeable to him; so he had written such brotherly congratulations, that good honest Fred was quite affected. He was even discursive enough to mention some connexions of the young man who had been with Fred in the Crimea, a Mr. Cavendish Dusautoy, a very good sort of fellow, who gave excellent dinners, and was a pleasant yachting companion. His wife was said to be very pretty and pleasing, but she had arrived at Genoa very unwell, had been since confined, and was not yet able to see any one. It was said to be the effect of her distress for the death of her brother, and the estrangement from her family, who had behaved very ill about his property. Had not Albinia Ferrars married into that family?

Albinia knew enough of her noble relative to be aware that good dinners and obsequiousness were the way to his esteem, and Algernon's was the sort of arrogance that would stoop to adore a coronet. All this was nothing, however, to the idea of Lucy, ill in that strange place, with no one to care for her but her hard master. Albinia sometimes thought of going to find her out at Genoa; but this was too utterly wild and impossible, and nothing could be done but to write letters of affectionate inquiry, enclosing them to Lord Belraven.

Algernon's answer was solemn, and as brief as he could make anything. He was astonished that the event bad escaped the notice of the circle at Bayford, since he believed it had appeared in all the principal European newspapers; and his time had been so fully occupied, that he had imagined that intimation sufficient, since it was evident from the tone of the recent correspondence, that the family of Bayford were inclined to drop future intercourse. He was obliged for the inquiries for Lucy, and was happy to say she was recovering favourably, though the late unfortunate events, and the agitation caused by letters from home, had affected her so seriously, that they had been detained at Genoa for nearly four months to his great inconvenience, instead of pushing on to Florence and Rome. It had been some compensation that he had become extremely intimate with that most agreeable and superior person, Lord Belraven, who had consented to become sponsor to his son.

Lucy wrote to Albinia. Poor thing, the letter was the most childishly expressed, and the least childishly felt, she had ever written; its whole aspect was weak and wobegone; yet there was less self-pity, and more endeavour to make the best of it, than before. She had the dearest little baby in the world; but he was very delicate, and she wished mamma would send out an English nurse, for she could not bear that Italian woman--her black eyes looked so fierce, and she was sure it was not safe to have those immense pins in her hair. Expense was nothing, but she should never be happy till she had an Englishwoman about him, especially now that she was getting better, and Algernon would want her to come out again with him. Dear Algernon, he had lost the Easter at Rome for her sake, but perhaps it was a good thing, for he was often out in Lord Belraven's yacht, and she could be quiet with baby. She did wish baby to have had her dear brothers' names, but Algernon would not consent. Next Tuesday he was to be christened; and then followed a string of mighty names, long enough for a Spanish princess, beginning with Belraven!!!

Lucy Dusautoy's dreary condition in the midst of all that wealth could give, was a contrast to Emily Ferrars' buoyant delight in the burrow which was her first married home, and proved a paradise to many a stray officer, aye, maybe, to Lieutenant-General Sir William Ferrars himself. Her letters were charming, especially a detail of Fred meeting Bryan O'More coming out of the trenches, grim, hungry, and tired, having recently kicked a newly alighted shell down from the parapet, with the cool words, 'Be off with you, you ugly baste you;' of his wolfish appetite after having been long reduced to simple rations, though he kept a curly black lamb loose about his hut, because he hadn't the heart to kill it; and it served him for bed if not for board, all his rugs and blankets having flown off in the hurricane, or been given to the wounded; he had been quite affronted at the suggestion that a Galway pig was as well lodged as himself--it was an insult to any respectable Irish animal!

Albinia sent Maurice to summon Ulick to enjoy the letter in store for him. He looked grave and embarrassed, and did not light up as usual at Bryan's praises. He said that his aunt, who had written to him on business, had given a bad account of Mr. Goldsmith, but Albinia hardly thought this accounted for his preoccupation, and was considering how to probe it, when her brother Maurice opened the door. 'Ulick O'More! that's right; the very man I was in search of!'

'How's Winifred, Maurice?'

'Getting on wonderfully well. I really think she is going to make a start, after all! and she is in such spirits herself.'

'And the boy?'

'Oh, a thumping great fellow! I promise you he'll be a match for your Maurice.'

'I do believe it is to reward Winifred for sparing you in the spring when we wanted you so much! Come, sit down, and wait for Edmund.'

'No; I've not a moment to stay. I'm to meet Bury again at Woodside at six o'clock, he drove me there, and I walked on, looking in at your lodgings by the way, Ulick.'

'I'm not there now. I am keeping guard at the bank.'

'So they told me. Well, I hope your guard is not too strict for you to come over to Fairmead on Sunday; we want you to do our boy the kindness to be his godfather!'

Sophy blushed with approving gratitude.

'I don't consider that it will be a sinecure--he squalls in such a characteristic manner that I am convinced he will rival his cousin here in all amiable and amenable qualities; so I consider it particularly desirable that he should be well provided with great disciplinarians.'

'You certainly could not find any one more accomplished in teaching dunces to read,' said Albinia.

'When their mammas have taught them already!' added Ulick, laughing. 'Thank you; but you know I can't sleep out; Hyder Ali and I are responsible for a big chest of sovereigns, and all the rest of it.'

'Nor could I lodge you at present; so we are agreed. My proposition is that you should drive my sister over on Sunday morning. My wife is wearying for a sight of her; and she has not been at Fairmead on a Sunday since she left it, eh, Albinia?'

'I suppose for such a purpose it is not wrong to use the horse,' she said, her eyes sparkling.

'And you might put my friend Maurice between you, if you can't go out pleasuring without him.'

'I scorn you, sir; Maurice is as good as gold; I shall leave him at home, I think, to prove that I can--'

'That's the reward of merit!' exclaimed Sophy.

'She expects my children to corrupt him!' quoth Mr. Ferrars.

The Young Step-Mother - 110/124

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