’Oh, no, I don’t accuse any one. Only if they like to put me down under their feet and trample on me, they are welcome. That’s all I have to say.’
Albinia was too much annoyed to be amused, and said, as she rose to take leave, ’I think it would be better for Gilbert, as well as for ourselves, if we were to say no more till some more cool and reasonable moment.’
‘I am as cool as possible,’ said Miss Meadows, convulsively clutching her hand; ’I’m not excited. Don’t excite yourself, Mrs. Kendal—it is very bad for you. Tell her not, Mamma—oh! no, don’t be excited— I mean nothing—I forgive poor dear Gibbie whatever little matters—I know there was excuse—boys with unsettled homes—but pray don’t go and excite yourself—you see how cool I am—’
And she pursued Albinia to the garden-gate, recommending her at every step not to be excited, for she was as cool as possible, trembling and stammering all the time, with flushed cheeks, and tears in her eyes.
‘I wonder who she thinks is excited?’ exclaimed Albinia, as they finally turned their backs on her.
It was hardly in human nature to help making the observation, but it was not prudent. Gilbert took licence to laugh, and say, ’Aunt Maria is beside herself.’
‘I never heard anything so absurd or unjust!’ cried Albinia, too much irritated to remember anything but the sympathy of her auditor. ’If I am to be treated in this manner, I have done striving to please them. Due respect shall be shown, but as to intimacy and confidence—’
‘I’m glad you see it so at last!’ cried Gilbert. ’Aunt Maria has been the plague of my life, and I’m glad I told her a bit of my mind!’
What was Albinia’s consternation! Her moment’s petulance had undone her morning’s work.
‘Gilbert,’ she said, ’we are both speaking very wrongly. I especially, who ought to have helped you.’
Spite of all succeeding humility the outburst had been fatal, and argue and plead as she might, she could not restore the boy to anything like the half satisfactory state of penitence in which she had led him from home. The giving way to her worse nature had awakened his, and though he still allowed that she should prepare the way for his confession to his father, all real sense of his outrageous conduct towards his aunt was gone.
Disheartened and worn out, Albinia did not feel equal even to going to take off her walking things, but sat down in the drawing-room on the sofa, and tried to silence the girls’ questions and chatter, by desiring Lucy to read aloud.
By-and-by Mr. Kendal was heard returning, and she rose to arrest him in the hall. Her looks began the story, for he exclaimed, ’My dear Albinia, what is the matter?’
’Oh, Edmund, I have such things to tell you! I have been doing so wrong.’
She was almost sobbing, and he spoke fondly. ’No, Albinia, I can hardly believe that. Something has vexed you, and you must take time to compose yourself.’