Averse both to the proposals, and to the discussion, she felt unprotected and forlorn, but her spirit revived as she heard her brother’s voice in the hall, and she hastened to put herself in his hands. He declined doing battle, he said it would be better to yield than to argue, and leave a grudge for ever. ’It will not vex Edmund,’ he said, ’and though you and Sophy may be pained by incongruities, they will hurt you less than disputing.’
She felt that he was right, and by yielding the main points he contrived amicably to persuade Mr. Drury out of the numerous invitations and grand luncheon as well as to adhere to the day that she had originally fixed for the funeral, after which he hoped to take her and the young ones home with him and give her the thorough change and rest of which the over-energy of her manner betrayed the need.
Not that she consented. She could not bear not to meet her letters at once; or suppose Edmund and Gilbert should return to an empty, unaired house, and she thought herself selfish, when it might do so much good to Sophy, &c., &c., &c.—till Mr. Ferrars, going home for a night, agreed with Winifred, that domineering would be the only way to deal with her.
On his return he found Albinia on the stairs, and boxes and trunks carried down after her. Running to him, she exclaimed, abruptly, ’I am going to Malta, Maurice, to-morrow evening!’
‘Has Edmund sent for you?’
’Not exactly—he did not know—but Gilbert is dying, and wretched at my not coming. I never wished him good-by—he thinks I did not forgive him. Don’t say a word—I shall go.’
He held her trembling hands, and said, ’This is not the way to be able to go. Come in here, sit down and tell me.’
‘It is no use to argue. It is my duty now,’ said Albinia; but she let him lead her into the room, where Sophy was changing the bright border of a travelling-cloak to crape, and Maurice stood watching, as if stunned.
‘It is settled,’ continued she, rapidly. ’Sophy and the children go to the vicarage. Yes, I know, you are very kind, but Maurice would be troublesome, and Winifred is not well enough, and the Dusautoys wish it.’
‘Yes, that may be the best plan, as I shall be absent.’
She turned round, startled.
‘I cannot let you go alone.’
’Nonsense—Winifred—Sunday—Lent—I don’t want any one. Nothing could happen to me.’
Mr. Ferrars caught Sophy’s eye beaming with sudden relief and gratitude, and repeated, ‘If you go, I must take you.’
‘I can’t wait for Sunday,’ she said.
‘What have you heard?’
She produced the letter, and read parts of it. The whole stood thus:—
11 p.m., February 28th, 1855.