‘Well,’ said Elizabeth, drawing a long breath, as she went out to walk with Anne and Helen, ’there is the even-handed justice of this world. Of the four delinquents of last Friday, there goes one with flying colours, in all the glory of a successful deceit; you, Anne, who, to say the best of you, acted like a very great goose, are considered as wise as ever; I, who led you all into the scrape with my eyes wilfully blinded, am only pitied and comforted; poor Kitty, who had less idea of what she was doing than any of us, has had more crying and scolding than anybody else; and Lucy, who behaved so well —oh! I cannot bear to think of her.’
‘It is a puzzle indeed,’ said Helen; ’I mean as far as regards Harriet and Lucy.’
‘Not really, Helen,’ said Elizabeth; ’it is only a failure in story book justice. Lucy is too noble a creature to be rewarded in a story-book fashion; and as for Harriet, impunity like hers is in reality a greater punishment than all the reproof in the world.’
’How could she sit by and listen to all that Papa and Mrs. Hazleby were saying?’ said Helen.
‘How could she bear the glance of Papa’s eye?’ said Elizabeth; ’did you watch it? I thought I never saw it look so stern, and yet that contemptible creature sat under it as contentedly as possible. Oh! it made me quite sick to watch her.’
Are you quite sure that she knew whether my uncle was aware of her share in the matter?’ said Anne.
’She must have seen it in that glance, or have been the most insensible creature upon earth,’ said Elizabeth.
‘Ah!’ said Anne, ’I have some notion what that eye of your Papa’s can be.’
‘You, Anne?’ said Elizabeth; ’you do not mean that you could ever have done anything to make him look at you in that way?’
‘Indeed I have,’ said Anne; ‘do not you remember?’
‘No, indeed,’ said Elizabeth.
‘However, it was not quite so bad as this,’ said Anne.
‘But do tell us what it was,’ said Elizabeth, ’or I shall think it something uncommonly shocking.’
‘I never spoke of it since, because I was too much ashamed,’ said Anne; ‘and it was very silly of me to do so now.’
‘But when was it?’ said Elizabeth.
‘Two years ago,’ said Anne, ’when you were all staying at Merton Hall, just before that nice nursery-maid of yours, Susan, married our man Evans.’
‘Yes, I remember,’ said Elizabeth; ’but what has that to do with your crime, whatever it may be?’
‘A great deal,’ said Anne; ’do not you recollect our hunting all over the garden one day for Winifred and Dora, and at last our asking old Ambrose whether he had seen them?’
‘Oh yes, I think I do,’ said Elizabeth; ’and he said that he had seen Susan and the children go down the blind walk. Then I said Dora had talked of seeing a blackbird’s nest there, and he answered, with a most comical look, ’Ah! ha! Miss Woodbourne, I fancy they be two-legged blackbirds as Susan is gone to see.’’