‘And these are all locked up for ever. No one has seen them.’
’So. When I was a young lad, my poor father put some lines of mine into a newspaper. That sufficed me,’ and he shut the clasped book as if repenting of having revealed the contents.
’No, I was not thinking of anything you would dislike with regard to those verses. I don’t like to let in the world on things precious, but (how could she venture so far!) I was thinking how many powers and talents are shut up in that study! and whether they might not have been meant for more. I beg your pardon if I ought not to say so.’
‘The time is past,’ he replied, without displeasure; ’my youth is gone, and with it the enterprise and hopefulness that can press forward, insensible to annoyance. You should have married a man with freshness and energy more responsive to your own.’
‘Oh, Edmund, that is a severe reproach for my impertinent speech.’
‘You must not expect too much from me,’ he continued. ’I told you that I was a broken, grief-stricken man, and you were content to be my comforter.’
‘Would that I could be so!’ exclaimed Albinia, ’but to try faithfully, I must say what is on my mind. Dear Edmund, if you would only look out of your books, and see how much good you could do, here in your own sphere, how much the right wants strengthening, how much evil cries out to be repressed, how sadly your own poor suffer—oh! if you once began, you would be so much happier!’
She trembled with earnestness, and with fear of her own audacity, but a resounding knock at the door prevented her from even discovering whether he were offended. He started away to secure his book, and the two girls came in. Albinia could hardly believe it late enough for their return, but they accounted for having come rather earlier by saying that Gilbert had been making himself so ridiculous when he had come at last, that grandmamma had sent him home.
‘At last!’ said Albinia. ’He set off only ten minutes after you, as soon as he found that papa was not coming.’
‘All I know,’ said Lucy, ’is, that he did not come till half-past nine, and said he had come from home.’
‘And where can he be now?’
‘Gone to bed,’ growled Sophy.
‘I don’t know what he has been doing,’ said Lucy, who since the suspicion of favouritism, had seemed to find especial pleasure in bringing forward her brother’s faults; ’but he came in laughing like a plough-boy, and talking perfect nonsense. And when Aunt Maria spoke to him, he answered quite rudely, that he wasn’t going to be questioned and called to order, he had enough of petticoat government at home.’
‘No,’ said Sophy, breaking in with ungracious reluctance, as if against her will conveying some comfort to her step-mother for the sake of truth, ’what he said was, that if he bore with petticoat government at home, it was because Mrs. Kendal was pretty and kind, and didn’t torment him out of his life for nothing, and what he stood from her, he would not stand from any other woman.’