At this moment the gentleman quite in Elizabeth’s line came into the room. He had a quantity of bushy black hair, a long gold chain round his neck, a plaid velvet waistcoat, in which scarlet was the predominant colour—and his whole air expressed full consciousness of the distinguished part which he was about to act. Poor Elizabeth! little reliance as she usually placed in Katherine’s descriptions, she had expected to see something a little more gentleman-like than what she now beheld; and her dismay was increased, when Mrs. Turner addressed her nephew—’Augustus, Augustus, my dear, you never were so flattered in your life? Here is Miss Merton, and Miss Hazleby, and Miss Lizzie Woodbourne, all come on purpose to hear your lecture!’
Mr. Augustus said something about being very happy, and bowed, but whether to the young ladies or to his own reflection in the looking-glass was doubtful. He was then regularly introduced to Anne and Elizabeth; and upon Mr. Turner making his appearance, they arranged themselves for the walk to the Mechanics’ Institute. Mr. Turner, a fat silent old gentleman, very ceremoniously offered his arm to Miss Merton, who, though by this time exceedingly amazed and disgusted by all she saw and heard, could scarcely refrain from laughing at the airs and graces of her squire, or at the horror she plainly perceived in Elizabeth’s face, when the talking Mrs. Turner exclaimed, ’Now, Augustus, I must have you take Miss Woodbourne—I know you will be such friends!’
Little did Mrs. Turner suspect, as in the overflowing of her pride and delight she bestowed upon Elizabeth the hero of the night, the mingled feeling of shame and repugnance which the poor girl had to encounter as she placed her hand within the offered arm of Mr. Mills, almost groaning at her own folly, and vainly seeking some possible means of escape. Mrs. Turner followed with Harriet; and Katherine and Wilhelmina brought up the rear.
‘You are very fond of study, I believe, Miss Woodbourne?’ said Mr. Mills, as they left the house.
Elizabeth made some inarticulate answer: she was in the utmost dread of meeting either of the curates, or worse still, her cousin Rupert Merton, if he should chance to arrive that evening.
‘Most interesting pursuit!’ continued Mr. Mills, wishing to shew his aunt how well he and his companion agreed. ’I am quite devoted to it, always was! You are a classical scholar, I presume?’
Elizabeth was ready to wish she had never learnt to read: she fancied she saw a figure like Rupert’s at the other end of the street, and was too much frightened to reply.
While they were traversing one street of the old town, crossing the bridge over the little stream which flowed along the valley, and walking along the principal street of the new town, Mr. Mills continued to talk, and Elizabeth to echo the last word of each sentence; or when that would not serve for a reply, she had recourse to the simple interjection ‘Oh!’ that last refuge of listeners with nothing to say. After a walk, which she thought was at least as many miles in length as it was yards, they arrived at the Mechanics’ Institute, outside which they found sundry loiterers, and a strong scent of tobacco; and inside some crowded benches, a table with some chairs ranged round it, and a strong odour of gas.