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- The Young Step-Mother - 3/124 -
'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 best.'
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 time.
'No; old Nurse kept the keys, and managed till now; but she went this morning.'
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 care.'
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 once.
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 said.
'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 constraint.
'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 own.'
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 suppose you have not begun to teach at the school yet!'
Sophy's great eyes expanded, and Lucy said, 'Oh dear mamma! nobody does that but Genevieve Durant and the monitors. Miss Wolte did till Mr. Dusautoy came, but she does not approve of him.'
'Lucy, you do not know what you are saying,' said Mr. Kendal, and again there was an annihilating silence, which Albinia did not attempt to disturb.
At church time, she met the young ladies in the hall, in pink bonnets and sea-green mantillas over the lilac silks, all evidently put on for the first time in her honour, an honour of which she felt herself the less deserving, as, sensible that this was no case for bridal display, she wore a quiet dark silk, a Cashmere shawl, and plain straw bonnet, trimmed with white.
With manifest wish for reciprocity, Lucy fell into transports over the shawl, but gaining nothing by this, Sophy asked if she did not like the mantillas? Albinia could only make civility compatible with truth by saying that the colour was pretty, but where was Gilbert? He was on a stool before the dining-room fire, looking piteous, and
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