The aunts lamented, but they could seldom win their darling to them for more than a few weeks at a time, even after their nephew Maurice had—as they considered—thrown himself away on a little lively lady of Irish parentage, no equal in birth or fortune, in their opinion, for the grandson of Lord Belraven.
They had been very friendly to the young wife, but their hopes had all the more been fixed on Albinia; and even Winifred could afford them some generous pity in the engagement of their favourite niece to a retired East India Company’s servant—a widower with three children.
The equinoctial sun had long set, and the blue haze of March east wind had deepened into twilight and darkness when Albinia Kendal found herself driving down the steep hilly street of Bayford. The town was not large nor modern enough for gas, and the dark street was only lighted here and there by a shop of more pretension; the plate-glass of the enterprising draper, with the light veiled by shawls and ribbons, the ‘purple jars,’ green, ruby, and crimson of the chemist; and the modest ray of the grocer, revealing busy heads driving Saturday-night bargains.
‘How well I soon shall know them all,’ said Albinia, looking at her husband, though she knew she could not see his face, as he leant back silently in his corner, and she tried to say no more. She was sure that coming home was painful to him; he had been so willing to put it off, and to prolong those pleasant seaside days, when there had been such pleasant reading, walking, musing, and a great deal of happy silence.
Down the hill, and a little way on level ground—houses on one side, something like hedge or shrubbery on the other—a stop—a gate opened—a hollow sound beneath the carriage, as though crossing a wooden bridge—trees—bright windows—an open door—and light streaming from it.
‘Here is your home, Albinia,’ said that deep musical voice that she loved the better for the subdued melancholy of the tones, and the suppressed sigh that could not be hidden.
‘And my children,’ she eagerly said, as he handed her out, and, springing to the ground, she hurried to the open door opposite, where, in the lamp-light, she saw, moving about in shy curiosity and embarrassment, two girls in white frocks and broad scarlet sashes, and a boy, who, as she advanced, retreated with his younger sister to the fireplace, while the elder one, a pretty, and rather formal looking girl of twelve, stood forward.
Albinia held out her arms, saying, ‘You are Lucy, I am sure,’ and eagerly kissed the girl’s smiling, bright face.
‘Yes, I am Lucy,’ was the well-pleased answer, ’I am glad you are come.’
‘I hope we shall be very good friends,’ said Albinia, with the sweet smile that few, young or old, could resist. ‘And this is Gilbert,’ as she kissed the blushing cheek of a thin boy of thirteen—’and Sophia.’