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- The Young Step-Mother - 124/124 -
'May it come,' fervently.
'It is strange, how much more real and good a creature she is now, than when at home in the midst of all external observances. Yet it cannot be right! she surely ought to make more stand, but it is too, too literally being afraid to say her soul is her own, for she is unhappy. She does the utmost she can without offending him, and feels it as she never did before.'
'There is no judging,' said Maurice, as his sister looked at him with eyes full of sorrowful yearning. 'No one can tell where are the boundaries of the two duties. Poor girl! she has put herself into a state of temptation and trial; but she may be shielded by her exercise of so much that is simply good, and her womanly qualities may become not idolatry, but a training in reaching higher.'
'May it be so, indeed!' said Albinia. 'Oh, Maurice! how I once disdained being told I was too young, and how true it was! What visions I had about those three, and what failures have resulted!'
'Your visions may have vanished, but you did your work faithfully, and it has not been fruitless.'
'Ay, in shipwrecked lives. Mischiefs wherever I meant to do best! Why, I let even my own Maurice grow unmanageable while I was nursing poor grandmamma. The voluntary duty choked the natural one, and yet--'
'And yet,' interrupted her brother, 'that was no error.'
'Oh, no! I would not have done it for anything.'
'Nor do I think the boy the worse for it. I may venture now on saying he was intolerable, and it hastened school, but though your rein was loose, you never let it fall; and maybe, the self-conquest was the best thing for him. If you had neglected him wilfully for your own pleasure, nothing but harm could have been expected. As you were absorbed by a sacred act of duty, I believe it will all be made up to you in your son.'
'Oh, Maurice, if I might trust so! I believe I am doubly set on that boy doing well, because his father must not, _must_ not have another pang!'
'I think he knows that. I do not imagine that he will never be carried astray by high spirits; but I am sure that he has the strength, honour, and sweetness that are the elements of greatness!'
'Nothing we did so changed him as the loss of his brother. Oh, Maurice! there was my most earnest wish to do right, and my most fatal mistake!'
'And greatest success. Gilbert owed everything to you.'
'Had I but silenced my foolish pride, he might have been safe in India now.'
'We do not know how safe he might be. I did indeed think it a pity your influence led the other way, but things might have been far worse; if you made some blunders, your love and your earnestness were working on that susceptible nature, and what better hope can we wish to have than what rested with us at Malta? what better influence than has remained with Maurice or with Fred?'
Albinia had not yet learnt to talk calmly of Gilbert's last hours, so she put this aside, and smiling through her tears, said, 'Ah! when Emily writes to Sophy, that their boy is to have his name, since they can wish nothing better for him than to be like him.'
'The past vision always a little above what is visible?'
'Hardly, Emily and Fred are as proud of each other as two peacocks, and well they may be, for--stoop down, 'tis an intense secret; but do you know the effect of their Sebastopol den?'
'Lieutenant-General Sir William Ferrars is going out in quest of Emily's younger sister.'
'You ridiculous child! That's a trick of yours.'
'No, indeed. William was surprised into a moment of confidence, walking home in the moonlight from the Coliseum. En vrai militaire, he has begun at the right end, and written to Mr. Kinnaird to ask leave to come and try his luck; and cool as he looks, I believe he would rather prepare for Inkermann.'
'Well! if he be not making a fool of himself at his time of life, I am sure I am very glad!'
'Time of life! He's but three years older than Edmund. If you are not more respectful, we shall have to go out to Canada to countenance him.'
'I shall be rejoiced to see him with a home, and finding life beyond his profession; but I had rather he had known more of her.'
'That's what he never would do. He cannot talk to a young lady. Why he admires Lucy a great deal more than Sophy!'
'Well, judging by the recent brides, I think if it had been me, I should have gone in search of Mrs. Ulick O'More's younger sister.'
'Ah! I wanted particularly to hear of your visit at the bank. You had luncheon there, I think. How do they get on?'
'It is the most charming menage in the world. She looks very graceful and elegant, and keeps him in great order, and is just the wife he wanted--a little sauciness and piquancy to spur him up at one time, and restrain him at another, with the real ballast that both have, makes such a perfect compound, that it is only too delightful to see anything so happy and so good in this world. They both seem to have such vivid enjoyment of life.'
'Pray, has any one called on Genevieve? though she could dispense with it.'
'Oh, yes; Bryan O'More spent a fortnight there. And see what a moustache will do! The Osbornes, Drurys, Wolfes, and Co., all dubbed themselves dear Mrs. O'More's dearest friends. I found a circle of them round her, and when I observed that Bryan was not half such a handsome fellow as his brother, you should see how I was scorned.'
'I hope Bryan may not play his father's game again. Do you know how she was received in Ireland?'
'The whole clan adore her! Ulick, with, his Anglo-Saxon truthfulness, got into serious scrapes for endeavouring to disabuse them of the notion that she was sole heiress of the ancient marquisate of Durant. I believe Connel was ready to call Ulick out for disrespect to his own wife.'
'And was she happy there!'
'Very much amused, and treated like a queen; charmed with his mother, and great friends with Rose. They have brought Redmond home to lick him into shape, and I believe Rose is to come and be tamed.'
'Always Ulick's wish,' said Albinia, as her eye fixed upon Sophy.
And her brother, with perhaps too obvious a connexion of ideas, said, 'Is _she_ quite strong?'
'Very well,' said Albinia. 'I am glad we brought her. The sight of beauty has been like a new existence. I saw it on her brow, in calmness and rest, the first evening of the Bay of Naples. It has seemed to soothe and elevate her, though all in her own silent way; but watch her as she sits with her face to those mountains, hear her voice, and you will feel that the presence of grandeur and beauty is repose and happiness to her; and I think the remembrance will always be so, even in work-a-day Bayford.'
'Yes, because remembrance of such glory connects with hope of future glory.'
'And it is a rest from human frets and passions. She has taken to botany, too, and I am glad, for I think those studies that draw one off from men's works and thoughts, do most good to the weary, self-occupied brain. And the children are a delight to her!'
'Sophy is your greatest work.'
'Not mine!' cried Albinia. 'The noblest by nature, the dearest, the most generous.'
'Great qualities; but they would have been only wretched self-preying torments, but for the softening of your affection,' said Maurice.
'Dear, dear friend and sister and child in one,' cried Albinia. And then meeting her brother's eyes, she said, 'Yes, you know to the full how noble she is, and how--'
'I can guess how imprudent a young step-mother can be,' said Maurice, smiling.
'It is very strange. I don't, know how to be thankful enough for it; but really her spirits have been more equal, her temper more even than ever it had been, and that just when I thought my folly had been most ruinous.'
'Yes, Albinia. After all, it is more than man can hope or expect to make no blunders; but I do verily believe that while an earnest will saves us, by God's grace, from wilful sins, the effects of the inadvertences that teach us our secret faults will not be fatal, and while we are indeed honestly and faithfully doing our best, though we are truly unprofitable servants, that our lapses through infirmity will be compensated, both in the training of our own character and the results upon others.'
'If we are indeed faithfully doing our best,' repeated Albinia.
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