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- The Young Step-Mother - 90/124 -
boy, especially Maurice and me, and I think he had rather go right than wrong, if he could only be let alone. But, oh! it is all "unstable as water." Am I unkind, Maurice? I know how it would be if I let him talk to me for ten minutes, or look at me with those pleading brown eyes of his!'
Mr. Ferrars knew it well, and why she was steeled against him, but he put this aside, saying that he was come to speak of the future, not of the past, and that he wanted Edmund to reconsider William's advice. He told her what Gilbert had said of the difficulty of breaking off old connexions, and the danger to Maurice from his acquaintance. An exchange into another corps of militia might be for the worse, the occupation was uncertain, and Mr. Ferrars believed that a higher position, companions of a better stamp, and the protection of a man of lively manners, quick sympathy, and sound principle, like their cousin Fred, might be the opening of a new life. He had found Gilbert most desirous of such a step, regarding it as his only hope, but thinking it so offensively presumptuous to propose it to his father under present circumstances, his Oxford terms thrown away, and himself disgraced both there and at home, that the matter would hardly have been brought forward had not Mr. Ferrars undertaken to press it, under the strong conviction that remaining at home would be destruction, above all, with young Dusautoy making part of the family.
'I declare,' said Mr. Ferrars, 'he looked so much at home in the drawing-room, and welcomed Gilbert with such an air of patronage, that I could have found it in my heart to have knocked him down!'
It was a treat to hear Maurice speak so unguardedly, and Albinia laughed, and asked whether he thought it very wrong to hope that the Polysyllable would yet do something flagrant enough to open Lucy's eyes.
'I'll allow you to hope that _if_ he should, her eyes _may_ be opened,' said Maurice.
Albinia began a vehement vindication for their having tolerated the engagement, in the midst of which her brother was obliged to depart, amused at her betrayal of her own sentiments by warfare against what he had never said.
She had treated his counsel as chimerical, but when she repeated it to her husband, she thought better of it, since, alas! it had become her great object to part those two loving brothers. Mr. Kendal first asked where the 25th Lancers were, then spoke of expense, and inquired what she knew of the cost of commissions, and of her cousin's means. All she could answer for was, that Fred's portion was much smaller than Gilbert's inheritance, but at least she knew how to learn what was wanted, and if her friends, the old Generals, were to be trusted, she ought to have no lack of interest at the Horse Guards.
Gilbert was taken into counsel, and showed so much right spirit and good sense, that the discussion was friendly and unreserved. It ended in the father and son resorting to Pettilove's office to ascertain the amount of ready money in his hands, and what income Gilbert would receive on coming of age. The investigation somewhat disappointed the youth, who had never thoroughly credited what his father told him of the necessity of his exerting himself for his own maintenance, nor understood how heavy a drain on his property were the life-interests of his father and grandmother, and the settlement on his aunt. By-and-by, he might be comparatively a rich man, but at first his present allowance would be little more than doubled, and the receipts would be considerably diminished by an alteration of existing system of rents, such as had so long been planned. It was plain that the almshouses were the unsubstantial fabric of a dream, but no one now dared to refer to them, and Mr. Kendal desired Albinia to write to consult her cousin.
Captain Ferrars was so much flattered at her asking his protection for anything, that he would have promised to patronize Cousin Slender himself for her sake. He praised the Colonel and lauded the mess to the skies, and economy being his present hobby, he represented himself as living upon nothing, and saving his pay. He further gave notice of impending retirements, and advised that the application should be made without loss of time, lamenting grievously himself that there was no chance for the 25th, of a touch at the Russians.
Something in his letter put every one into a hurry, and a correspondence began, which resulted in Gilbert's being summoned to Sandhurst for an examination, which he passed creditably. The purchase-money was deposited, and the household was daily thrown into a state of excitement by the arrival of official-looking envelopes, which turned out to contain solicitations from tailors and outfitters, bordered with portraits of camp-beds and portable baths, until, at last, when the real document appeared, Gilbert tossed it aside as from 'another tailor:' but Albinia knew the article too well to mistake it, and when the long blue cover was opened, it proved to convey more than they had reckoned upon.
Gilbert Kendal held a commission in the 25th Lancers, and the corps was under immediate orders for the East. The number of officers being deficient, he was to join the headquarters at Cork, without going to the depot, and would thence sail with a stated minimum of baggage.
Albinia could not look up. She knew her husband had not intended thus to risk the last of his eldest-born sons; and though her soldier-spirit might have swelled with exultation had her own brave boy been concerned, she dreaded the sight of quailing or dismay in Gilbert.
'Going really to fight the Russians,' shouted Maurice, as the meaning reached him. 'Oh! Gibbie, if I was but a man to go with you!'
'You will do your duty, my boy,' said his father.
'By God's help,' was the reverent answer which emboldened Albinia to look up at him, as he stood with Maurice clinging by both hands to him. She had done him injustice, and her heart bounded at the sight of the flush on his cheek, the light in his eyes, and the expression on his lips, making his face finer and more manly than she had ever seen it, as if the grave necessity, and the awe of the unseen glorious danger, were fixing and elevating his wandering purpose. To have no choice was a blessing to an infirm will, and to be inevitably out of his own power braced him and gave him rest. She held out her hand to him, and there was a grasp of inexpressible feeling, the first renewal of their old terms of sympathy and confidence.
There was no time to be lost; Mr. Kendal would go to London with him by the last train that day, to fit him out as speedily as possible, before he started for Cork.
Every one felt dizzy, and there was no space for aught but action. Perhaps Albinia was glad of the hurry, she could not talk to Gilbert till she had learnt to put faith in him, and she would rather do him substantial kindnesses than be made the sharer of feelings that had too often proved like the growth of the seed which found no depth of earth.
She ran about for him, worked for him, contrived for him, and gave him directions; she could not, or would not, perceive his yearning for an effusion of penitent tenderness. He looked wistfully at her when he was setting out to take leave at the Vicarage, but she had absorbed herself in flannel shirts, and would not meet his eye, nor did he venture to make the request that she would come with him.
Indeed, confidences there could be but few, for Maurice and Albinia hung on either side of him, so that he could hardly move, but he resisted all attempt to free him even from the little girl, who was hardly out of his arms for ten minutes together. It was only from her broken words that her mother understood that from the vicarage he had gone to the church. Poor little Albinia did not like it at all. 'Why was brother Edmund up in the church, and why did Gilbert cry?'
Maurice angrily enunciated, 'Men never cry,' but not a word of the visit to the church came from him.
Algernon Dusautoy had wisely absented himself, and the two sisters devoted themselves to the tasks in hand. Sophy worked as hard as did Mrs. Kendal, and spoke even less, and Lucy took care of Mrs. Meadows, whose nerves were painfully excited by the bustle in the house. It had been agreed that she should not hear of her grandson's intention till the last moment, and then he went in, putting on a cheerful manner, to bid her good-bye, only disclosing that he was going to London, but little as she could understand, there was an instinct about her that could not be deceived, and she began to cry helplessly and violently.
Mrs. Kendal and Lucy were summoned in haste; Gilbert lingered, trying to help them to restore her to composure. But time ran short; his father called him, and they hardly knew that they had received his last hurried embrace, nor that he was really gone, till they heard Maurice shouting like a Red Indian, as he careered about in the garden, his only resource against tears; and Sophy came in very still, very pale, and incapable of uttering a word or shedding a tear. Albinia was much concerned, for she could not bear to have sent him away without a more real adieu, and word of blessing and good augury; it made her feel herself truly unforgiving, and perhaps turned her heart back to him more fully and fondly than any exchange of sentiment would have done. But she had not much time to dwell on this omission, for poor Mrs. Meadows missed him sorely, and after two days' constant fretting after him, another paralytic stroke renewed the immediate danger, so that by the time Mr. Kendal returned from London she was again hovering between life and death.
Mr. Kendal, to his great joy, met Frederick Ferrars at the 'Family Office.' The changes in the regiment had given him his majority, and he had flashed over from Ireland to make his preparations for the campaign. His counsel had been most valuable in Gilbert's equipment, especially in the knotty question of horses, and he had shown himself so amiable and rational that Mr. Kendal was quite delighted, and rejoiced in committing Gilbert to his care. He had assumed the trust in a paternal manner, and, infected by his brilliant happiness and hopefulness, Gilbert had gone off to Ireland in excellent spirits.
'Another thing conduced to cheer him,' said Mr. Kendal afterwards to his wife, with a tone that caused her to exclaim, 'You don't mean that he saw Genevieve?'
'You are right. We came upon her in Rivington's shop, while we were looking for the smallest Bible. I saw who it was chiefly by his change of colour, and I confess I kept out of the way. The whole did not last five minutes; she had her pupils with her, and soon went away; but he thanked me, and took heart from that moment. Poor boy, who would have thought the impression would have been so lasting?'
'Well, by the time he is a field-officer, even William will let him please himself,' said Albinia, lightly, because her heart was too
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