The spare room did not look expectant of guests, and felt still less so. It struck Winifred as very like the mouth of a well, and the paper showed patches of ancient damp. One maid was hastily laying the fire, the other shaking out the curtains, in the endeavour to render it habitable, and Lucy began saying, ’I must apologize. If papa had only given us notice that we were to have the pleasure of seeing you,’ and then she dashed at the maid in all the pleasure of authority. ’Eweretta, go and bring up Mrs. Ferrars’s trunks directly, and some water, and some towels.’
Winifred thought the greatest mercy to the hunted maid would be to withdraw as soon as she had hastily thrown off bonnet and cloak, and Lucy followed her into the passage, repeating that papa was so absent and forgetful, that it was very inconvenient in making arrangements. Whatever was ordinarily repressed in her, was repaying itself with interest in the pleasure of acting as mistress of the house.
Mrs. Ferrars beheld Gilbert sitting listlessly on the deep window-seat at the end of the passage, resting his head on his hand.
‘Well!’ exclaimed Lucy, ’if he is not there still! He has hardly stirred since breakfast! Come and speak to Mrs. Ferrars, Gilbert. Or,’ and she simpered, ‘shall it be Aunt Winifred?’
‘As you please,’ said Mrs. Ferrars, advancing towards her old acquaintance, whom she would hardly have recognised, so different was the pale, downcast, slouching figure, from the bright, handsome lad she remembered.
‘How cold your hand is!’ she exclaimed; ’you should not sit in this cold passage.’
‘As I have been telling him all this morning,’ said Lucy.
‘How is she?’ whispered the boy, rousing himself to look imploringly in Winifred’s face.
‘Your father seems satisfied about her.’
At that moment a door at some distance was opened, and Gilbert seemed to thrill all over as for the moment ere it closed a baby’s cry was heard. He turned his face away, and rested it on the window. ’My brother! my brother!’ he murmured, but at that moment his father turned the corner of the passage, saying that Albinia had heard their arrival, and was very eager to see her sister.
Still Winifred could not leave the boy without saying, ’You can make Gilbert happy about her, can you not? He is waiting here, watching anxiously for news of her.’
‘Gilbert himself best knows whether he has a right to be made happy,’ said Mr. Kendal, gravely. ’I promised to ask no questions till she is able to explain, but I much fear that he has been causing her great grief and distress.’
He fixed his eyes on his son, and Winifred, in the belief that she was better out of their way, hurried to Albinia’s room, and was seen very little all the rest of the day.