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- The Young Step-Mother - 50/124 -


very successful affair--the conservatory, in which the hall terminated, and into which a side door of the drawing-room opened, gave a bright fragrant, flowery air to the whole house; and the low fireplace and comfortable fan-shaped fender made the room very cheerful. Fresh delicately-tinted furniture, chosen con amore by the London aunts, had made the apartment very unlike old Willow-Lawn, and Albinia had so much enjoyed setting it off to the best advantage, that she sent word to Winifred that she was really becoming a furniture fancier.

It was a very pretty paper, and some choice prints hung on it, but Albinia and Sophy had laid violent hands on all the best-looking books, and kept them for the equipment of one of the walls. The rest were disposed, for Mr. Kendal's delectation, in the old drawing-room, henceforth to be named the library. Lucy thought it sounded better, and he was quite as willing as Albinia was that the name of study should be extinct. Meantime Mr. Downton had verified the boys' prediction by writing to announce that he was about to marry and give up pupils.

Gilbert was past seventeen, and it was time to decide on his profession. Albinia had virtuously abstained from any hint adverse to the house of Kendal and Kendal, for she knew it hurt her husband's feelings to hear any disparagement of the country where he had spent some of his happiest years. He was fond of his cousins, and knew that they would give his son a safe and happy home, and he believed that the climate was exactly what his health needed.

Sophy fired at the idea. Her constant study of the subject and her vivid imagination had taken the place of memory, which could supply nothing but the glow of colouring and the dazzling haze which enveloped all the forms that she would fain believe that she remembered. She and her father would discuss Indian scenery as if they had been only absent from it a year, she envied Gilbert his return thither, but owned that it was the next thing to going herself, and was already beginning to amass a hoard of English gifts for the old ayahs and bearers who still lived in her recollection, in preparation for the visit which on his first holiday her brother must pay to her birthplace and first home.

Gilbert, however, took no part in this enthusiasm, he made no opposition, but showed no alacrity; and at last his father asked Albinia whether she knew of any objection on his part, or any design which he might be unwilling to put forward. With a beating heart she avowed her cherished scheme.

'Is this his own proposal?' asked Mr. Kendal.

'No; he has never spoken of it, but your plan has always seemed so decided that perhaps he thinks he has no choice.'

'That is not what I wish,' said his father. 'If his inclinations be otherwise, he has only to speak, and I will consider.'

'Shall I sound him?' suggested Albinia, dreading the timidity that always stood between the boy and his father.

'Do not inspire him with the wish and then imagine it his own,' said Mr. Kendal; and then thinking he had spoken sternly, added 'I know you would be the last to wish him to take holy orders inconsiderately, but you have such power over him, that I question whether he would know his wishes from yours.'

Albinia began to disavow the desire of actuating him.

'You would not intend it, but he would catch the desire from you, and I own I would rather he were not inspired with it. If he now should express it, I should fear it was the unconscious effort to escape from India. If it had been his brother Edmund, I would have made any sacrifice, but I do not think Gilbert has the energy or force of character I should wish to see in a clergyman, nor do I feel willing to risk him at the university.'

'Oh! Edmund, why will you distrust Oxford? Why will you not believe what I know through Maurice and his friends?'

'If my poor boy had either the disposition or the discipline of your brother, I should not feel the same doubt.'

'Maurice had no discipline except at school and when William licked him,' cried Albinia. 'You know he was but eleven years old when my father died, and my aunts spoilt us without mitigation.'

'I said the disposition,' repeated Mr. Kendal; 'I can see nothing in Gilbert marking him for a clergyman, and I think him susceptible to the temptations that you cannot deny to exist at any college. Nor would I desire to see him fixed here, until he has seen something of life and of business, for which this bank affords the greatest facilities with the least amount of temptation. He would also be doing something for his own support; and with the life-interests upon his property, he must be dependent on his own exertions, unless I were to do more for him than would be right by the other children.'

'Then I am to say nothing to him?'

'I will speak to him myself. He is quite old enough to understand his prospects and decide for himself.'

'But, Edmund,' cried Albinia, with sudden vehemence, 'you are not sacrificing Gilbert for Maurice's sake?'

She had more nearly displeased him than she had ever done before, though he looked up quietly, saying, 'Certainly not. I am not sacrificing Gilbert, and I should do the same if Maurice were not in existence.'

She was too much ashamed of her foolish fancy to say more, and she cooled into candour sufficient to perceive that he was wise in distrusting her tact where her preference was so strong. But she foresaw that Gilbert would shrink and falter before his father, and that the conference would lead to no discovery of his views, and she was not surprised when her husband told her that he could not understand the boy, and believed that the truth was, that he would like to do nothing at all. It had ended by Mr. Kendal, in a sort of despair, undertaking to write to his cousin John for a statement of what would be required, after which the decision was to be made.

Meantime Mr. Kendal advised Gilbert to attend to arithmetic and book-keeping, and offered to instruct him in his long-forgotten Hindostanee. Sophy learnt all these with all her heart, but Gilbert always had a pain in his chest if he sat still at any kind of study!

CHAPTER XV.

Colonel Bury was the most open-hearted old bachelor in the country. His imagination never could conceive the possibility of everybody not being glad to meet everybody, his house could never be too full, his dinner-parties of 'a few friends' overflowed the dining-room, and his 'nobody' meant always at least six bodies. Every season was fertile in occasions of gathering old and young together to be made happy, and little Mary Ferrars, at five years old, had told her mamma that 'the Colonel's parties made her quite dissipated.'

One bright summer day, his beaming face appeared at Willow-Lawn with a peremptory invitation. His nephew and heir had newly married a friend of Albinia's girlhood, and was about to pay his wedding visit. Too happy to keep his guests to himself, the Colonel had fixed the next Thursday for a fete, and wanted all the world to come to it--the Kendals, every one of them--if they could only sleep there--but Albinia brought him to confession that he had promised to lodge five people more than the house would hold; and the aunts were at the parsonage, where nobody ventured to crowd their servants.

But there was a moon--and though Mr. Kendal would not allow that she was the harvest moon, the hospitable Colonel dilated on her as if she had been bed, board, and lodging, and he did not find much difficulty in his persuasions.

Few invitations ever gave more delight; Albinia appreciated a holiday to the utmost, and the whole family was happy at Sophy's chance of at length seeing Fairmead, and taking part in a little gaiety. And if Mr. Kendal's expectations of pleasure were less high, he submitted very well, smiled benignantly at the felicity around him, and was not once seen to shudder.

Sarah Anne Drury had been invited to enliven grandmamma, and every one augured a beautiful day and perfect enjoyment. The morning was beautiful, but alas! Sophy was hors de combat, far too unwell to think of making one of the party. She bore the disappointment magnanimously, and even the pity. Every one was sorry, and Gilbert wanted her to go and wait at Fairmead Parsonage for the chance of improving, promising to come and fetch her for any part of the entertainment; and her father told her that he had looked to her as his chief companion while the gay people were taking their pleasure. No one was uncomfortably generous enough to offer to stay at home with her; but Lucy suggested asking Genevieve to come and take care of her.

'Nay,' said Sophy, 'it would be much better if she were to go in my stead.'

Gilbert and Lucy both uttered an exclamation; and Sophy added, 'She would have so much more enjoyment than I could! Oh, it would quite make up for my missing it!'

'My dear,' said grandmamma, 'you don't know what you are talking of. It would be taking such a liberty.'

'There need be no scruples on that score,' said Albinia; 'the Colonel would only thank me if I brought him half Bayford.'

'Then,' cried Sophy, 'you think we may ask her? Oh, I should like to run up myself;'--and a look of congratulation and gratitude passed between her and her brother.

'No, indeed, you must not, let me go,' said Lucy, 'I'll just finish this cup of tea--'

'My dear, my dear,' interposed Mrs. Meadows, 'pray consider. She is a very good little girl in her way, but it is only giving her a taste for things out of her station'

'Oh! don't say that, dear grandmamma,' interposed Albinia, 'one good festival does carry one so much better through days of toil!'


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