Sophia, who was eleven, had not stirred to meet her. She alone inherited her father’s fine straight profile, and large black eyes, but she had the heaviness of feature that sometimes goes with very dark complexions. The white frock did not become her brown neck and arms, her thick black hair was arranged in too womanly a manner, and her head and face looked too large; moreover, there was no lighting-up to answer the greeting, and Albinia was disappointed.
Poor child, she thought, she is feeling deeply that I am an interloper, it will be different now her father is coming.
Mr. Kendal was crossing the hall, and as he entered he took the hand and kissed the forehead of each of the three, but Sophia stood with the same half sullen indifference—it might be shyness, or sensibility.
‘How much you are grown!’ he said, looking at the children with some surprise.
In fact, though Albinia knew their ages, they were all on a larger scale than she had expected, and looked too old for the children of a man of his youthful appearance. Gilbert had the slight look of rapid growth; Lucy, though not so tall, and with a small, clear, bright face, had the air of a little woman, and Sophia’s face might have befitted any age.
‘Yes, papa,’ said Lucy; ’Gilbert has grown an inch-and-a-half since October, for we measured him.’
‘Have you been well, Gilbert?’ continued Mr. Kendal, anxiously.
’I have the toothache, said Gilbert, piteously.
‘Happily, nothing more serious,’ thrust in Lucy; ’Mr. Bowles told Aunt Maria that he considers Gilbert’s health much improved.’
Albinia asked some kind questions about the delinquent tooth, but the answers were short; and, to put an end to the general constraint, she asked Lucy to show her to her room.
It was a pretty bay-windowed room, and looked cheerful in the firelight. Lucy’s tongue was at once unloosed, telling that Gilbert’s tutor, Mr. Salsted, had insisted on his having his tooth extracted, and that he had refused, saying it was quite well; but Lucy gave it as her opinion that he much preferred the toothache to his lessons.
‘Where does Mr. Salsted live?’
’At Tremblam, about two miles off; Gilbert rides the pony over there every day, except when he has the toothache, and then he stays at home.’
‘And what do you do?’
’We went to Miss Belmarche till the end of our quarter, and since that we have been at home, or with grandmamma. Do you really mean that we are to study with you?’
’I should like it, my dear. I have been looking forward very much to teaching you and Sophia.’
‘Thank you, mamma.’
The word was said with an effort as if it came strangely, but it thrilled Albinia’s heart, and she kissed Lucy, who clung to her, and returned the caress.
‘I shall tell Gilbert and Sophy what a dear mamma you are,’ she said. ’Do you know, Sophy says she shall never call you anything but Mrs. Kendal; and I know Gilbert means the same.’