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- The Young Step-Mother - 80/124 -


'No; a hurry and confusion, and the good aunts would be too much for her, you will be the only one for inspection.'

'Yes, take him with you, Maurice,' said Albinia, 'he must see William.'

'You must be the exhibitor, then,' her brother replied.

'Now, Maurice, I know what you are come for, but you ought to know better than to persuade me, when you know there are six good reasons against my going.'

'I know of one worth all the six.'

'Yes,' said Mr. Kendal; 'I have been telling her that she is convincing me that I did wrong in allowing her to burthen herself with this charge.'

'That's nothing to the purpose,' said Albinia; 'having undertaken it, when you all saw the necessity, I cannot forsake it now--'

'If Mrs. Meadows were in the same condition as she was in two months ago, there might be a doubt,' said Mr. Kendal; but she is less dependent on your attention, and Lucy and Gilbert are most anxious to devote themselves to her in your absence.'

'I know they all wish to be kind, but if anything went wrong, I should never forgive myself!'

'Not if you went out for pleasure alone,' said her brother; 'but relationship has demands.'

'Of course,' she said, petulantly, 'if Edmund is resolved, I must go, but that does not convince me that it is right to leave everything to run riot here.'

Mr. Kendal looked serious, and Mr. Ferrars feared that the winter cares had so far told on her temper, that perplexity made her wilful in self-sacrifice. There was a pause, but just as she began to perceive she had said something wrong, the lesser Maurice burst out in exultation,

'There, it is not indestructible!'

'What mischief have you been about?' The question was needless, for the table was strewn with snips of calico.

'This nasty spelling-book! Lucy said it was called indestructible, because nobody could destroy it, but I've taken my new knife to it. And see there!'

'And now can you make another?' said his uncle.

'I don't want _to_.'

'Nor _one_ either, sir,' said Mr. Kendal. 'What shall we have to tell Uncle William about you! I'm afraid you are one of the chief causes of mamma not knowing how to go to London.'

Maurice did not appear on the way to penitence, but his mother said, 'Bring me your knife.'

He hung down his head, and obeyed without a word. She closed it, and laid it on the mantel-shelf, which served as a sort of pound for properties in sequestration.

'Now, then, go,' she said, 'you are too naughty for me to attend to you.'

'But when will you, mamma?' laying a hand on her dress.

'I don't know. Go away now.'

He slowly obeyed, and as the door shut, she said, 'There!' in a tone as if her view was established.

'You must send him to Fairmead,' said the uncle.

'To "terrify" Winifred? No, no, I know better than that; Gilbert can look after him. I don't so much care about that.'

The admission was eagerly hailed, and objection after objection removed, and having recovered her good humour, she was candid, and owned how much she wished to go. 'I really want to make acquaintance with William. I've never seen him since I came to my senses, and have only taken him on trust from you.'

'I wish equally that he should see you,' said her brother. 'It would be good for him, and I doubt whether he has any conception what you are like.'

'I'd better stay at home, to leave you and Edmund to depict for his benefit a model impossible idol--the normal woman.'

Maurice looked at her, and shook his head.

'No--it would be rather--it and its young one, eh?'

Maurice took both her hands. 'I should not like to tell William what I shall believe if you do not come.'

'Well, what--'

'That Edmund is right, and you have been overtasked till you are careful and troubled about many things.'

'Only too much bent on generous self-devotion,' said Mr. Kendal, eagerly; 'too unselfish to cast the balance of duties.'

'Hush, Edmund,' said Albinia. 'I don't deserve fine words. I honestly believe I want to do what is right, but I can't be sure what it is, and I have made quite fuss enough, so you two shall decide, and then I shall be made right anyway. Only do it from your consciences.'

They looked at each other, taken aback by the sudden surrender. Mr. Ferrars waited, and her husband said, 'She ought to see her brother. She needs the change, and there is no sufficient cause to detain her.'

'She must be content sometimes to trust,' said Mr. Ferrars.

'Aye, and all that will go wrong, when my back is turned.'

'Let it,' said her brother. 'The right which depends on a single human eye is not good for much. Let the weeds grow, or you can't pull them up.'

'Let the mice play, that the cat may catch them,' said Albinia, striving to hide her care. 'One good effect is, that Edmund has not begun to groan.'

Indeed, in his anxiety that she should consent to enjoy herself, he had not had time to shrink from the introduction.

Outside the door they found Maurice waiting, his spelling learnt from a fragment of the indestructible spelling-book, and the question followed, 'Now, mamma, you wont say I'm too naughty for you to go to London and see Uncle William?'

'No, my little boy, I mean to trust you, and tell Uncle William that my young soldier is learning the soldier's first duty--obedience.'

'And may I have my knife, mamma?'

Papa had settled that question by himself taking it off the chimney-piece and restoring it. If mamma wished the penance to have been longer, she neither looked it nor said it.

The young people received the decision with acclamation, and the two elder ones vied with one another in attempts to set her mind at rest by undertaking everything, and promising for themselves and the children perfect regularity and harmony. Sophy, with a bluntness that King Lear would have highly disapproved, said, 'She was glad mamma was going, but she knew they should be all at sixes and sevens. She would do her best, and very bad it would be.'

'Not if you don't make up your mind beforehand that it must be bad,' said her uncle.

Sophy smiled, she was much less impervious to cheerful auguries, and spoke with gladness of the pleasure it would give her friend Genevieve to see Mrs. Kendal.

Mr. Ferrars had a short interview with Ulick, and was amused by observing that little Maurice had learnt as much Irish as Ulick had dropped. After the passing fever about his O had subsided, he was parting with some of his ultra-nationality. The whirr of his R's and his Irish idioms were far less perceptible, and though a word of attack on his country would put him on his mettle, and bring out the Kelt in full force, yet in his reasonable state, his good sense and love of order showed an evident development, and instead of contending that Galway was the most perfect county in the world, he only said it might yet be so.

'Isn't he a noble fellow?' cried Albinia, warmly.

'Yes,' said her brother; 'I doubt whether all the O'Mores put together have ever made such a conquest as he has.'

'It was fun to see how the aunts were dismayed to find one of the horde in full force here. I believe it was as a measure of precaution that they took Lucy away. I was very glad for Lucy to go, but hers was not exactly the danger.'

'Ha!' said Maurice; and Albinia blushed. Whereupon he said interrogatively, 'Hem?' which made her laugh so consciously that he added, 'Don't you go and be romantic about either of your young ladies, or there will be a general burning of fingers.'

'If you knew all our secrets, Maurice, you would think me a model of prudence and forbearance.'

'Ho!' was his next interjection, 'so much the worse. For my own part, I don't expect prudence will come to you naturally till the little Awk has a lover.'

'Won't it come any other way?'


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