Lucy did not understand the tone, and went on patronizing. ’And if they say you look younger than they expected, I don’t object to that at all. I had rather you were not as old as Aunt Maria, or Miss Belmarche.’
‘Who thinks me so young?’
’Oh! Aunt Maria, and grandmamma, and Mrs. Osborn, and all; but I don’t mind that, it is only Sophy who says you look like a girl. Aunt Maria says Sophy has an unmanageable temper.’
‘Don’t you think you can let me find that out for myself?’
‘I thought you wanted me to tell you about everybody.’
‘Ah! but tell me of the good in your brother and sister.’
‘I don’t know how,’ said Lucy. ’Gilbert is so tiresome, and so is Sophy. I heard Mary telling Jane, “I’m sure the new missus will have a heavy handful of those two."’
‘And what of yourself?’ said Albinia.
‘Oh! I don’t know,’ said Lucy, modestly.
Mr. Kendal came in, and as Albinia looked at his pensive brow, she was oppressed by the thought of his sufferings in that dreary convalescence. At night, when she looked from her window, the fog hung white, like mildew over the pond, and she could not reason herself out of a spectral haunting fancy that sickness lurked in the heavy, misty atmosphere. She dreamt of it and the four babies, started, awoke, and had to recall all her higher trust to enable her vigour to chase off the oppressive imagination.
Fog greeted Mrs. Kendal’s eyes as she rose, and she resolved to make an attack on the pond without loss of time. But Mr. Kendal was absorbed nearly all breakfast-time in a letter from India, containing a scrap in some uncouth character. As he finished his last cup of tea, he looked up and said, ’A letter from my old friend Penrose, of Bombay—an inscription in the Salsette caves.’
’Have you seen the Salsette caves?
She was longing to hear about them, but his horse was announced.
’You said you would be engaged in the morning while I ride out, Albinia?’ he said, ’I shall return before luncheon. Gilbert, you had better go at once to Mr. Bowles. I shall order your pony to be ready when you come back.’
There was not a word of remonstrance, though the boy looked very disconsolate, and began to murmur the moment his father had gone. Albinia, who had regarded protection at a dentist’s one of the offices of the head of a family, though dismayed at the task, told Gilbert that she would come with him in a moment. The girls exclaimed that no one thought of going with him, and fearing she had put an affront on his manliness, she asked what he would like, but could get no answer, only when Lucy scolded him for lingering, he said, ‘I thought she was going with me.’
‘Amiable,’ thought Albinia, as she ran up to put on her bonnet; ’but I suppose toothache puts people out of the pale of civilization. And if he is thankless, is not that treating me more like a mother?’