‘It was my chief temptation,’ said Claude. ’As long as we know we are out of the path of duty it does not make much difference whether we have turned to the right hand or to the left.’
‘Was it Harry’s death that made you look upon it in this light?’ said Lily.
‘I knew it well enough before,’ said Claude, ’it was what he had often set before me. Indeed, till I came home, and saw this place without him, I never really knew what a loss he was. At Eton I did not miss him more than when he went to Oxford, and I did not dwell on what he was to papa, or what I ought to be; and even when I saw what home was without him, I should have contented myself with miserable excuses about my health, if it had not been for my confirmation; then I awoke, I saw my duty, and the wretched way in which I had been spending my time. Thoughts of Harry and of my father came afterwards; I had not vigour enough for them before.’
Here they reached the house, and parted—Claude, ashamed of having talked of himself for the first time in his life, and Lily divided between shame at her own folly and pleasure at Claude’s having thus opened his mind.
Jane, who was most in fault, escaped censure. Her father was ignorant of her improper speech. Emily forgot it, and it was not Claude’s place to reprove his sisters, though to Lily he spoke as a friend. It passed away from her mind like other idle words, which, however, could not but leave an impression on those who heard her.
An unlooked-for result of the folly of this evening was, that Claude was prevented from appreciating Miss Weston He could not learn to like her, nor shake off an idea, that she was prying into their family concerns; he thought her over-praised, and would not even give just admiration to her singing, because he had once fancied her eager to exhibit it. It was unreasonable to dislike his sister’s friend for his sister’s folly, but Claude’s wisdom was not yet arrived at its full growth, and he deserved credit for keeping his opinion to himself.
CHAPTER IX—THE WASP
’Whom He hath blessed and called His own,
He tries them early, look and tone,
Bent brow and throbbing heart,
Tries them with pain.’
The next week Lily had the pleasure of fitting out Faith Longley for her place at Mrs. Weston’s. She rejoiced at this opportunity of patronising her, because in her secret soul she felt that she might have done her a little injustice in choosing her own favourite Esther in her stead. Esther’s popularity at the New Court, however, made Lilias confident in her own judgment; the servants liked her because she was quick and obliging, Mr. Mohun said she looked very neat, Phyllis liked her because a mischance to her frock was not so brave an offence with her as with Rachel, and Ada was growing very fond of her, because she was in the habit of bestowing great admiration on her golden curls as she arranged them, and both little girls were glad not to be compelled to put away the playthings they took out.