‘Quite true,’ said Mr. Kendal. ’The man is warranted in his proceedings, and thinks them his duty, though I believe he has a satisfaction in the power of thwarting me.’
‘I’m sure he has!’ cried Gilbert. ’I am sure there was spite in his grin when he pulled out that horrid old parchment, with the lines a yard long, and read us out the abominable old crabbed writing, all about the houses, messuages, and tenements thereupon, and a lot of lawyer’s jargon. I’m sure I thought it was left to Peter Pettilove himself. And when I came to understand it, one would have thought it took my father to be the worst enemy we had in the world, bent on cheating us!’
‘That is the assumption on which settlements are drawn up, Gilbert,’ said his father.
‘Can nothing be done, then?’ said Albinia.
‘Thus much,’ said Mr. Kendal. ’Pettilove will not object to our putting the houses somewhat in repair, as, in fact, that will be making a present to Gilbert; but he will not spend a farthing on them of the trust, except to hinder their absolute falling, nor will he make any regulation on the number of lodgers. As to taking them down, that is, as I always supposed, out of the question, though I think the trustees might have stretched a point, being certain of both my wishes and Gilbert’s.’
‘Don’t you think,’ said Mr. Ferrars, looking up from his book, ’that a sanatory commission might be got to over-ride Gilbert’s guardian?’
‘My guardian! do not call him so!’ muttered Gilbert.
‘I am afraid,’ said Mr. Kendal, ’that unless your commission emulated of Albinia and Dusautoy they would have little perception of the evils. Our local authorities are obtuse in such matters.’
‘Agitate! agitate!’ murmured Mr. Ferrars, going on with his book.
‘Well,’ said Albinia, ’at least there is one beer-shop less in Tibbs’s Alley. And if there are tolerable seasons, I daresay paint, whitewash, and windows to open, may keep the place moderately wholesome till—Are you sixteen yet, Gilbert? Five years.’
‘Yes, and then—’
Gilbert came and sat down beside her, and they built a scheme for the almshouses so much wanted. Gilbert was sure the accumulation would easily cover the expense, and Albinia had many an old woman, who it was hoped might live to enjoy the intended paradise there.
‘Yes, yes, I promise,’ cried Gilbert, warming with the subject, ’the first thing I shall do—’
‘No, don’t promise,’ said Albinia. ’Do it from your heart, or not at all.’
‘No, don’t promise, Gilbert,’ said Sophy.
‘Why not, Sophy?’ he said good-humouredly.
‘Because you are just what you feel at the moment,’ said Sophy.
‘You don’t think I should keep it?’
The grave answer fell like lead, and Albinia told her she was not kind or just to her brother. But she still looked steadily at him, and answered, ’I cannot help it. What is truth, is truth, and Gilbert cares only for what he sees at the moment.’