Mr. Ferrars was laying himself out to guard his brother-in-law from being oppressed by the sympathetic welcome of the good aunts; but though the good ladies never failed in kindness, all the excess was directed into a different channel; Albinia herself was but secondary to the wounded hero, for whom alone they had eyes and ears. They would hardly let him stand erect for a moment; easy-chairs and couches were offered, soup and wine, biscuits and coffee were suggested, and questions were crowded on him, while he, poor fellow, wistfully gazed at the oft-directed pile of foreign letters on the side-table, and in pure desperation became too fatigued to go down to luncheon.
When the others returned, he was standing on the rug, curling his moustaches. There was a glow of colour on his hollow cheek, and his eyes danced; he put out his hand, and catching Albinia’s with boyish playfulness, he squeezed it triumphantly, with the words, ’Albinia, she’s a brick!’
They went their several ways, Fred to rest, Maurice to make an appointment for him with the doctor, and Albinia to Genevieve, whom Mr. Kendal regarded like his son’s widow, forgetting that the attachment had been neither sanctioned nor returned. He could not rest without seeing her, and delivering that last message, but he was glad to have the way prepared by his wife, and proposed to call for her when his law business should be over.
Albinia sent in her card, and asked whether Miss Durant were at liberty. Genevieve came hurrying to her with outstretched hands: ‘Dear Mrs. Kendal, this is kind!’ and led her to the back drawing-room, where they were with one impulse enfolded in each other’s tearful embrace.
‘Oh! madame, how much you have suffered!’
‘You know all?’ said Albinia.
’O no, very little. My aunt knows little of Bayford now, and her sight is too weak for much writing.’
Genevieve pushed back her hair; she looked ill and heavy-eyed, with the extinguished air that sorrow gave her. Gilbert had distressed, perplexed her, and driven her from home, but what could be remembered, save the warm affection he had lavished on her, and the pain she had inflicted? Uneasiness and sorrow, necessarily unavowed, had preyed on the poor girl for weeks in secret; and even now she hardly presumed to give way, relief, almost luxury, as it was to be pressed in those kind arms, and suffered to weep freely for the champion of her younger days. When she had heard how he had thought of her to the last, her emotion grew less controllable; and Albinia was touched by the idea that there had all along been a stifled preference. Embellished as Gilbert now was, she could not but wish to believe that his affection had not been wasted; and his constancy might well be touching in one of the heroes of the six hundred. At least, Genevieve had a most earnest and loving appetite for every detail, and though the afternoon was nearly gone, neither felt as if half an hour had passed when admittance was asked for Mr. Kendal.