’People certainly cannot stop themselves easily when they have taken the first wrong step,’ said Lady Merton.
Anne sighed. ‘Then I am afraid we have done very wrong,’ said she.
‘For yourself, Anne,’ said her mother, ’I do not think you are much to blame, since I cannot see how you were to know that your cousins were going without their father’s consent.’
‘I am glad you think so, Mamma,’ said Anne; ’but I cannot be quite happy about it, for I might certainly have supposed that there was some reason against our going, when Helen and the youngest Miss Hazleby turned back and went home.’
‘You heard none of Helen’s remonstrances?’ said Lady Merton.
’No, Mamma; I was foolish enough to be satisfied with Lizzie’s saying that she had been talking nonsense,’ said Anne; ’besides, I could see that Helen was out of temper, and I thought that might account for her objecting.’
‘These are very good reasons, Anne,’ said Lady Merton.
‘Indeed they are not, Mamma,’ said Anne; ’I am afraid the real cause was, that my head was so full of the pleasure I expected in going to the lecture, that I did not choose to think that we ought not to go. I am afraid I am growing thoughtless, as you said I should here.’
‘No, no, Anne,’ said Lady Merton, smiling, ’I did not say you would, I only said you must guard against doing so; and as far as I have seen, you have shewn more self-command than when you and Lizzie were last together.’
‘Ah! but when you are not looking on, Mamma,’ said Anne; ’that is the dangerous time, especially now Rupert is come; he and Lizzie will make us laugh dreadfully.’
‘I hope they will,’ said Lady Merton, ’provided it is without flippancy or unkindness.’
‘But, Mamma,’ said Anne, presently after, ’what do you think about Lizzie? was she in the wrong?’
‘I cannot tell without knowing more about it,’ said Lady Merton; ’do you know what she thinks herself?’
‘No, Mamma,’ said Anne; ’she was asleep before I went to bed last night, and up before I awoke this morning. But I do firmly believe, that if Lizzie had had the slightest idea that she was doing wrong in going there, she would as soon have thought of flying as of doing so.’
It was now breakfast-time; and Rupert came up to summon his mother and sister, and to inform them that his portmanteau had just been broken open for the seventh time since it had been in his possession. He said this with some satisfaction, for he was somewhat vain of his carelessness, for of what cannot people be vain?
During breakfast, it was arranged that the three elder ladies should go in the Mertons’ carriage to Baysmouth, a large town, which was about ten miles distant from Abbeychurch, and take Winifred and Edward with them; Dora was to accompany the other young people in a long walk, to a farm-house, which report said had been a baronial castle in the days of King Stephen, and from exploring the antiquities of which some of them expected great things, especially as it was known by the mysterious name of Whistlefar. Mr. Woodbourne and Sir Edward expected to be engaged all day in the final settlement of accounts with the architect of the church.