After a good deal of pushing and shoving, the ladies were safely deposited on one of the front benches; while Mr. Turner, who was one of the managing committee, seated himself on one of the chairs; and Mr. Augustus Mills stood at the table.
Elizabeth felt as if the crimson flush called up by vexation and embarrassment, together with her hasty walk, would never leave her cheeks; she held her head down till Katherine touched her to make her look up, and trusting that her bonnet would screen her heightened colour from observation, she obeyed the sign. A flaring gas-light hung opposite to her; and as she raised her face she encountered the gaze of Mr. Higgins, the Radical and Dissenting editor of a newspaper which had several times abused Mr. Woodbourne. The moment he caught her eye, he bowed with something of a triumphant air; and she, doubly ashamed of herself and provoked with him, bent her head so low that he might well imagine that she returned the bow. She hoped by looking down to escape all further observation, but unfortunately for her, Mrs. Turner had taken care to find a conspicuous place for her party; and Katherine, who had by this time quite forgotten her doubts and misgivings, was nodding and smiling to everyone, with what she considered the utmost grace and affability. Anne, meanwhile, was trying to account for Elizabeth’s ever having thought of going to such a place, wondering what Sir Edward and Lady Merton would think of the expedition, and for a moment considering whether Mr. Woodbourne could approve of it, yet at the same time keenly enjoying all that was ludicrous in the scene, and longing to talk it over with Rupert. She was also much diverted with Mr. Augustus Mills’s eloquent lecture, in which she afterwards declared that she heard the words ‘barbarous institution’ fifteen times repeated, and ’civilized and enlightened age,’ at least twenty-three times. She was, however, not a little fatigued before it was nearly concluded, and was heartily glad when after an hour and a half it was terminated by a mighty flourish of rhetoric, upon the universal toleration, civilization, and liberty enjoyed in the nineteenth century.
Deafened by the applause of those who had heard little and understood less, half stifled by the heat of the room, and their heads aching from the smell of gas, the girls now hoped to escape; but they were forced to wait till the crowd nearer the door had dispersed, and then to listen to the numerous compliments and congratulations which poured in upon Mrs. Turner from all quarters before they could reach the open air; and then, strenuously refusing all invitations to take tea in St. Martin’s Street, they happily regained the Vicarage. Helen and Lucy met them at the door, with hopes that they had had a pleasant evening.