As long as The Three Musqueteers lasted, he had come constantly to her dressing-room, and afterwards she promised to find other pleasant reading; but after such excitement, it was not easy to find anything that did not appear dry. As the daughter of a Peninsular man, she thought nothing so charming as the Subaltern, and Gilbert seemed to enjoy it; but by the time he had heard all her oral traditions of the war by way of notes, his attendance began to slacken; he stayed out later, and always brought excuses—Mr. Salsted had kept him, he had been with a fellow, or his pony had lost a shoe. Albinia did not care to question, the evenings were light and warm, and the one thing she desired for him was manly exercise: she thought it much better for him to be at play with his fellow-pupils, and she could not regret the gain of another hour to her hurried day.
One morning, however, Mr. Kendal called her, and his look was so grave and perturbed, that she hardly waited till the door was shut to ask in terror, what could be the matter.
‘Nothing to alarm you,’ he said. ’It is only that I am vexed about Gilbert. I have reason to fear that he is deceiving us again; and I want you to help us to recollect on which days he should have been at Tremblam. My dear, do not look so pale!’
For Albinia had turned quite white at hearing that the boy, on whom she had fixed her warm affection, had been carrying on a course of falsehood; but a moment’s hope restored her. ’I did keep him at home on Tuesday,’ she said, ’it was so very hot, and he had a headache. I thought I might. You told me not to send him on doubtful days.’
‘I hope you may be able to make out that it is right,’ said Mr. Kendal, ’but I am afraid that Mr. Salsted has too much cause of complaint. It is the old story!’
And so indeed it proved, when Albinia heard what the tutor had come to say. The boy was seldom in time, often altogether missing, excusing himself by saying he was kept at home by fears of the weather; but Mr. Salsted was certain that his father could not know how he disposed of his time, namely, in a low style of sporting with young Tritton, the son of a rich farmer or half-gentleman, who was the pest of Mr. Salsted’s parish. Ill-learnt, slurred-over lessons, with lame excuses, were nothing as compared with this, and the amount of petty deceit, subterfuge, and falsehood, was frightful, especially when Albinia recollected the tone of thought which the boy had seemed to be catching from her. Unused to duplicity, except from mere ignorant, unmanageable school-children, she was excessively shocked, and felt as if he must be utterly lost to all good, and had been acting a lie from first to last. After the conviction had broken on her, she hardly spoke, while Mr. Kendal was promising to talk to his son, threaten him with severe punishment, and keep a strict account of his comings and goings, to be compared weekly with Mr. Salsted’s notes of his arrival. This settled, the tutor departed, and no sooner was he gone, than Albinia, hiding her face in her hands, shed tears of bitter grief and disappointment. ‘My dearest,’ said her husband, fondly, ’you must not let my boy’s doings grieve you in this manner. You have been doing your utmost for him, if any one could do him good, it would be you.’