Elizabeth heartily joined in her cousin’s merriment. ’I will tell you what I do mean, Anne, what the great law of society is. Now, do not put on that absurd face of mock gravity, or I shall only laugh, instead of arguing properly.’
‘Well, let us hear,’ said Anne.
’It is almost more important than the law that you must eat with a knife and fork,’ said Elizabeth. ’There is one level of conversation, fit for the meanest capacity; and whoever ventures to transgress it, is instantly called blue, or a horrid bore, &c., &c.’
‘Nonsense, Lizzie,’ said Anne, laughing; ’I am sure I have heard plenty of clever people talk, about sensible things too, and never did I hear them called bores, or blue, or any of your awful et ceteras either.’
‘Because people did not dare to do so,’ said Elizabeth, ’but they thought it all the same.’
‘What do you mean by people?’ said Anne.
’The dull, respectable, common-place gentry, who make up the mass of mankind,’ said Elizabeth.
‘Do they ?’ said Anne.
‘Do not they?’ said Elizabeth.
‘I do not know what the mass of mankind may be at Abbeychurch,’ said Anne, ’but I am sure the people whom we see oftenest at home, are such as I think it a privilege to know.’ And she began to enumerate these friends.
‘Oh! Anne,’ interrupted Elizabeth, ’do not, for pity’s sake, make me discontented; here am I in Abbeychurch, and must make the best of it. I must be as polite and hypocritical as I can make myself. I must waste my time and endure dullness.’
‘As to waste of time,’ said Anne, ’perhaps it is most usefully employed in what is so irksome as you find being in company. Mamma has always wished me to remember, that acquiring knowledge may after all be but a selfish gratification, and many things ought to be attended to first.’
‘That doctrine would not do for everybody,’ said Elizabeth.
‘No,’ said Anne, ’but it does for us; and you will see it plainer, if you remember on what authority it is said that all knowledge is profitable for nothing without charity.’
‘Charity, yes,’ said Elizabeth; ’but Christian love is a very different thing from drawing-room civility.’
‘Not very different from bearing and forbearing, as Helen said,’ answered Anne.
‘Politeness is not great enough,’ said Elizabeth, ’to belong to charity.’
‘You are not the person to say so,’ said Anne.
‘Because I dislike it so much,’ said Elizabeth, ’but that is because I despise it. It is such folly to sit a whole evening with your hands before you doing nothing.’
‘But do you not think,’ said Anne, ’that enduring restraint, and listening to what is not amusing, for the sake of pleasing others, is doing something?’
‘Passively, not actively,’ said Elizabeth; ’but it is not to please others, it is only that they may think you well bred, or rather that they may not think about you at all.’