As soon as the two parties of pleasure had been arranged, Elizabeth left the breakfast-table to tell the children of the treat in store for them, and to write a little note to Horace, to accompany Dora’s letter, which had been finished that morning before breakfast.
Just after she had quitted the room, Sir Edward asked what the smart-looking building, at the corner of Aurelia Place, was.
‘You mean the Mechanics’ Institute,’ said Mr. Woodbourne.
‘Never was new town without one,’ said Rupert.
‘Is this one well conducted?’ inquired Lady Merton.
‘Not much worse than such things usually are,’ replied Mr. Woodbourne; ’two or three Socialist lectures were given there, but they were stopped before they had time to do much harm.’
‘Were you obliged to interfere?’ said Sir Edward.
‘Yes,’ said Mr. Woodbourne; ’I went to some of the managing committee—Mr. Green and old Mr. Turner—and after some rather strong representations on my part, they found means to put a stop to them. Higgins, their chief promoter, made several violent attacks upon me in his newspaper for my illiberality and bigotry; and poor Mr. Turner was so much distressed, that he came to entreat me to go myself, or at least to allow my girls to go, to some lectures, which he promised should be perfectly harmless. I told him that I disapproved of Mechanics’ Institutes in general, and especially of the way in which this one is conducted, and that I had resolved long before that none of my family should ever set foot in it. Here the matter ended; and I have heard no more of it, except that Mrs. Turner is constantly tormenting my wife with offers to take the girls to some peculiarly interesting lecture.’
If Elizabeth had been present, she would certainly have immediately confessed her indiscretion of the evening before; but she was not there, and Katherine, who was on the point of speaking, was checked by an imploring glance from Harriet. The conversation was changed, and nothing more was said on the subject. As soon as they could leave the breakfast-table, all the young ladies instantly flew to the school-room, where Elizabeth was sitting alone, writing.
‘Lizzie, Lizzie!’ exclaimed three voices at once, ’do you know what you have done ?’
‘Is it anything very fatal?’ said Elizabeth, looking quite composed.
‘A fine scrape you have got into!’ cried Katherine.
‘A pretty kettle of fish you have brought us into!’ exclaimed Harriet.
‘But what is the matter, good ladies?’ said Elizabeth; ’why do you look so like the form that drew Priam’s curtains at the dead of night?’
‘Come, Lizzie,’ said Katherine pettishly, ’do not be so provoking with Priam and all that stuff, but tell us what is to be done about that horrid Institute.’
‘Oh! that is it, is it?’ said Elizabeth; ’so I suppose Fido was stolen there, and you are afraid to tell!’