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all the population of Fordington had an opportunity of gratifying their pent-up curiosity,Sir Frederick stopped at the Post Office; then at the Inn, to enquire about a parcel he was expecting by the coach ; and at the Shop, to purchase half a dozen yards of black shoeriband. It required, to execute this order, the united intellects of the master of the establishment and his wife, besides the youth who went on errands, and who had just darted to the horses' heads; or, perhaps, each was anxious to have a good look at the ladies.
It was a relief to turn out of the glare of the sunshine into the shady lane planted with trees, and with the blue sea terminating the view.
A very small cove, with the brook spreading out and losing itself among the sands,—two or three bathing machines, and a sort of sentry-box, in which a sulky-looking coast-guardsman was observing the signs of the times ---appeared to form the object of their drive.
Bold promontories of red sandstone shut in the bay. A strong tide was rolling in against them. Sir Frederick's intentions not having been known, the beach was quite solitary; but, before they had been ten minutes sitting in the carriage, with their faces turned towards the sea, inhaling the fresh breeze, -by twos and threes, the idle and inquisitive pedestrians of the place were sauntering down the lane, towards the water side.
“Excuse me, Laura, but I must speak to Mrs. Bingley !” Sir Frederick said, drawing up suddenly, as they retraced their course, when they came opposite to a door in the wall which formed one side of the lane, and appeared to belong to private grounds. A very pretty woman was standing against it, and keeping her children with some difficulty from getting in the way of the horses, owing to their anxiety to shake hands with Sir Frederick. She seemed to have just come through the portal, with her merry little group. Two
young men with cricket bats in their hands, were following the party.
Sir Frederick shook hands with but did not introduce the lady to his piece. He threw a merry glance at Clarice, as he urged the
young men, above all things, and whatever Bingley said, to mind their cricket; and told them that the ground at Maydwell would be open in a fortnight; and invited the handsome mother and her children to attend the next match. The youngsters shouted with delight:—The mother 'said, she would come; yes, certainly ! “that is,” she added, smiling, “if Bingley will let me; but he is so much engaged in the parish, and sometimes he does not like my going anywhere without him.”
Sir Frederick laughed at her scruples.
” he said, “ you are not always teaching and preaching. If Bingley cannot spare the time, one of the young men will drive you over. Don't bury yourself, as he does, among the cottages and school-houses !"
The pretty woman shrugged her shoulders.
Bingley is so particular !” she answered. “The other day, we were at a Consecration, and I begged and prayed of him to let me look on at your cricket-ground, for half an hour, in returning. He would not hear of it. He drove like the wind past your gates. But I will try to come. Thank goodness! there is not a Consecration every day in the week, and as for the school, it makes my head ache, and the children are so stupid, I can do nothing with them."
The gay Cheltenham belle, whom the grave curate, in a luckless hour, had chosen as his helpmate, passed on, calling in a sentimental manner to Adolphe, “cher Adolphe !”—one of the young cricketers, to help her to take care of the boys. They were a great deal too much for her nerves.
A few paces farther on, coming out of the National Sehool, a very absent man in spectacles and a black coat, almost ran against the
carriage. Sir Frederick accosted him with marked respect.
Always at your duty, Bingley I wish we were all like you. You must not keep the boys under lock and key, though, nor your pretty wife. Depend upon it, that does not answer. Drive them over to my house, on Thursday fortnight. The lads are wanted for cricket, and Mrs. Bingley likes to look on. Mind you come and take care of her. She is too handsome and good to be trusted to those wild young fellows, the pupils.”
He introduced the clergyman to Laura and Clarice, saying in a pointed tone to the latter:
“ You will find this gentleman wherever danger, distress, and difficulty, most do congregate. He is the very prince of pastors. I am certain you will be good friends."
Both of the girls felt pleased with the grave, unworldly countenance, which unbent from its seriousness to smile upon them benevolently. Mr. Bingley had, of course, heard of Laura's