Albinia hailed the event as a fertile source of conjecture which might stave off dangerous subjects in the Sunday call, but there was no opportunity for any discussion, for Maria was popping about, settling and unsettling everything and everybody, in a state of greater confusion than ever, inextricably entangling her inquiries for Sophy with her explanations about the rheumatism which had kept grandmamma from church, and jumping up to pull down the Venetian blind, which descended awry, and went up worse. The lines got into such a hopeless complication, that Albinia came to help her, while Mr. Kendal stood dutifully by the fire, in the sentry-like manner in which he always passed that hour, bending now and then to listen and respond to some meek remark of old Mrs. Meadows, and now and then originating one. As to assisting Maria in any pother, he well knew that would be a vain act of chivalry, and he generally contrived to be insensible to her turmoils.
‘Who could that have been in old Pringle’s seat?’ he presently began, appropriating Albinia’s cherished morsel of gossip; but he was not allowed to enjoy it, for Miss Meadows broke out,
‘Oh, Edmund! this blind, I beg your pardon, but if you would help—’
He was obliged to move to the window, and nervously clutching his arm, she whispered, ’You’ll excuse it, I know, but don’t mention it— not a word to mamma.’ Mr. Kendal looked at Albinia to gather what could be this dreadful subject, but the next words made it no longer doubtful. ’Ah, you were away, there’s no use in explaining—but not a word of Sam Pringle. It would only make her uneasy—’ she gasped in a floundering whisper, stopping suddenly short, for at that moment the stranger and his son were entering the garden, so near them, that they might have seen the three pairs of eyes levelled on them, through the wide open end of the unfortunate blind, which was now in the shape of a fan.
Albinia’s cheeks glowed with sympathy, and she longed for the power of helping her, marvelling how a being so nervously restless and devoid of self-command could pass through a scene likely to be so trying. The bell sounded, and the loud hearty tones of a manly voice were heard. Albinia looked to see whether her help were needed, but Miss Meadows’s whole face was brightened, and moving across the room with unusually even steps, she leant on the arm of her mother’s chair, saying, ’Mamma, it is Captain Pringle. You remember Samuel Pringle? He settled in the Mauritius, you know, and he was at church this morning with his little boy.’
There was something piteous in the searching look of inquiry that Mrs. Meadows cast at her daughter’s face, but Maria had put it aside with an attempt at a smile, as ‘Captain Pringle’ was announced.
He trod hard, and spoke loud, and his curly grizzled hair was thrown back from a bronzed open face, full of broad heartiness, as he walked in with outstretched hand, exclaiming, ‘Well, and how do you do?’ shaking with all his might the hand that Maria held out. ’And how are you, Mrs. Meadows? You see I could not help coming back to see old friends.’