More accustomed to Albinia’s epistolary habits, Winifred exclaimed at the first glance, ’What can you mean? There is not one word of the little one! It is only Sophy!’
The immediate clearing of his face was not complimentary to poor Sophy, as he said, ’Can you be quite sure? I had begun to hope that Albinia might at least have the comfort of seeing this little fellow healthy; but let me see—she says nursed and—and danced—is it? this poor child—’
’No, no; it is hunted and driven; that’s the way she always will make her h’s; besides, what nonsense the other would be.’
‘This poor child—’ repeated Mr. Kendal, ’Going up to London for advice. She would hardly do that with Sophia.’
’Who ever heard of a baby of six months old having a spine complaint?’ cried Mrs. Ferrars almost angrily.
‘I have lost one in that way,’ he replied.
A dead silence ensued, till Winifred, to her great relief, spied the feminine pronoun, but could not fully satisfy Mr. Kendal that the ups and downs were insufficient for the word him; and each scrawl was discussed as though it had been a cuneiform inscription, until he had been nearly argued into believing in the lesser evil. He then was persuaded that the Meadowses had been harassing and frightening Albinia into this startling measure. It was so contrary to his own nature, that he hardly believed that it had actually taken place, and that she must be in London by this time, but at any rate, he must join her there, and know the worst. He would take the whole party to an hotel, if it were too great a liberty to quarter themselves upon Mrs. Annesley.
Winifred was as much surprised as if the chess-king had taken a knight’s move, but she encouraged his resolution, assured him of a welcome at what the cousinhood were wont to call the Family Office, and undertook the charge of Gilbert and Lucy. The sorrowful, almost supplicating tone of his wife’s letter, would have sufficed to bring him to her, even without his disquietude for his child, whichever of them it might be; and though Albinia’s merry blue-eyed boy had brought a renewed spring of hope and life, his crashed spirits trembled at the least alarm.
Thus, though the cheerful Winifred had convinced his reason, his gloomy anticipations revived before he reached London; and with the stern composure of one accustomed to bend to the heaviest blows, he knocked at Mrs. Annesley’s door. He was told that Mrs. Kendal was out; but on further inquiry, learnt that Sophy was in the drawing-room, where he found her curled up in the corner of the sofa, reading intently.
She sprang to her feet with a cry of surprise, but did not approach, though he held out his arms, saying in a voice husky with anxiety, ‘Is the baby well, Sophia?’
‘Yes,’ she cried, ‘quite well; he is out in the carriage with them.’ Then shrinking as he was stooping to kiss her, she reddened, reddening deeply, ’Papa, I did very wrong; I was sly and disobedient, and I might have killed him.’