Mr. Barrett swung hurriedly round and walked some paces away with his head downward. The ladies remained in a tolerant attitude for a minute or so, silent. They then wheeled with one accord, and Emilia was left to herself.
Richford was an easy drive from Brookfield, through lanes of elm and white hawthorn.
The ladies never acted so well as when they were in the presence of a fact which they acknowledged, but did not recognize. Albeit constrained to admit that this was the first occasion of their ever being on their way to the dinner-table of a person of quality, they could refuse to look the admission in the face. A peculiar lightness of heart beset them; for brooding ambition is richer in that first realizing step it takes, insignificant though it seem, than in any subsequent achievement. I fear to say that the hearts of the ladies boiled, because visages so sedate, and voices so monotonously indifferent, would witness decidedly against me. The common avoidance of any allusion to Richford testified to the direction of their thoughts; and the absence of a sign of exultation may be accepted as a proof of the magnitude of that happiness of which they might not exhibit a feature. The effort to repress it must have cost them horrible pain. Adela, the youngest of the three, transferred her inward joy to the cottage children, whose staring faces from garden porch and gate flashed by the carriage windows. “How delighted they look!” she exclaimed more than once, and informed her sisters that a country life was surely the next thing to Paradise. “Those children do look so happy!” Thus did the weak one cunningly relieve herself. Arabella occupied her mind by giving Emilia leading hints for conduct in the great house. “On the whole, though there is no harm in your praising particular dishes, as you do at home, it is better in society to say nothing on those subjects until your opinion is asked: and when you speak, it should be as one who passes the subject by. Appreciate flavours, but no dwelling on them! The degrees of an expression of approbation, naturally enough, vary with age. Did my instinct prompt me to the discussion of these themes, I should be allowed greater licence than you.” And here Arabella was unable to resist a little bit of the indulgence Adela had taken: “You are sure to pass a most agreeable evening, and one that you will remember.”
North Pole sat high above such petty consolation; seldom speaking, save just to show that her ideas ranged at liberty, and could be spontaneously sympathetic on selected topics.
Their ceremonious entrance to the state-room of Richford accomplished, the ladies received the greeting of the affable hostess; quietly perturbed, but not enough so to disorder their artistic contemplation of her open actions, choice of phrase, and by-play. Without communication or pre-arrangement, each knew that the other would not let slip the opportunity, and, after the first five minutes of languid general converse; they were mentally at work comparing notes with one another’s imaginary conversations, while they said “Yes,” and “Indeed,” and “I think so,” and appeared to belong to the world about them.