‘Very free from affectation and nonsense,’ said Lily, ’as William said of him last Christmas. You were in a fine fright about his speech, Claude.’
’More than I ought to have been. I should have known that he is too simple-minded and straightforward to say anything but just what he ought. What a nice person that Miss Aylmer is.’
’Is not she, Claude? I was very glad you had her for a neighbour. Happy the children who have her for a governess. How sensible and gentle she seems. The Westons—But oh! Claude, tell me one thing, did you hear—’
’I am ashamed to say. That preposterous report about papa. Why, Rotherwood himself seems to believe it, and Mr. Carrington began to congratulate—’
’The public has bestowed so many ladies on the Baron, that I wonder it is not tired,’ said Claude. ’It is time it should patronise William instead.’
‘Rotherwood is not the public,’ said Lily, ’and he is the last person to say anything impertinent of papa. And I myself heard papa call her Alethea, which he never used to do. Claude, what do you think?’
After a long pause Claude slowly replied, ’Think? Why, I think Miss Weston must be a person of great courage. She begins the world as a grandmother, to say nothing of her eldest daughter and son being considerably her seniors.’
‘I do not believe it,’ said Lily. ‘Do you, Claude?’
’I cannot make up my mind—it is too amazing. My hair is still standing on end. When it comes down I may be able to tell you something.’
Such were the only answers that Lily could extract from him. He did not sufficiently disbelieve the report to treat it with scorn, yet he did not sufficiently credit it to resign himself to such a state of things.
On coming home Lily found Emily and Jane in her room, eagerly discussing the circumstances which, to their prejudiced eyes, seemed strong confirmation. While their tongues were in full career the door opened and Eleanor appeared. She told them it was twelve o’clock, turned Jane out of the room, and made Emily and Lily promise not to utter another syllable that night.
CHAPTER XXVI: THE CRISIS
’"Is this your care of the nest?” cried he, “It comes of your gadding abroad,” said she.’
To the consternation of the disconsolate damsels, the first news they heard the next morning was that Mr. Mohun was gone to breakfast at Broomhill, and the intelligence was received by Frank Hawkesworth with a smile which they thought perfectly malicious. Frank, William, and Reginald talked a little at breakfast about the fete, but no one joined them, and Claude looked so grave that Eleanor was convinced that he had a headache, and vainly tried to persuade him to stay at home, instead of setting off to Devereux Castle immediately after breakfast.
The past day had not been spent in vain by Ada. Mrs. Weston had led her by degrees to open her heart to her, had made her perceive the real cause of her father’s displeasure, see her faults, and promise to confess them, a promise which she performed with many tears, as soon as she saw Eleanor in the morning.