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probably, from having been completely taken by surprise. They had led such an undisturbed existence, lately, that Laura, though she did not like to refuse to receive her uncle's friends, felt the shock which a sensitive mind always experiences, when the bounds which set those whom a great sorrow has visited apart from the world, are first transgressed.
Mrs. Holcombe's self-possession seldom failed her; but, woman of the world as she was, the task of forming acquaintance with Sir Frederick's languid niece was more arduous than she had anticipated. Miss Derwent seemed insensible to flattery, and shrank back from her polite attempts at sympathy. Something in her visitor's manner jarred against her feelings. Laura had, at all times, great difficulty in controlling them. After a few formal sentences had been uttered, she sat silent, and left the trouble of entertaining the Rector's wife, to Clarice.
Mrs. Holcombe's manners were lively and
easy, but she was a person who never did any thing without an object. As her visit was intended to be one of investigation, she would hardly have thought it worth while to admire a bed of moss-roses in full bloom, opposite to the window, if she had not wished for a tête-à-tête with the beautiful girl whose lively countenance, certainly, promised a more congenial response to her overtures towards cordiality, than Laura's dejected reserve. The manœuvre succeeded completely. In a few moments, Clarice, who was glad to give Laura time to compose herself, was walking with Mrs. Holcombe on the lawn.
She did not seem inclined to be communicative, when Mrs. Holcombe, in pursuance of her desire to know her motives for establishing herself at Maydwell, questioned her with seeming interest and sympathy respecting her friends on the continent, and enquired whether she had resided with Miss Derwent in Italy.
"Not exactly:" answered Clarice, colouring,
she hardly knew why, at Mrs. Holcombe's manner of putting the question. "We were very much together; and, before Laura's parents left England, we were schoolfellows. That was the beginning of our friendship."
She was gathering the roses, which they had come out to admire, for Mrs. Holcombe, while she spoke.
"Oh, pray, Miss Le Sage, do not cut these beautiful flowers for me! Some persons are so particular; though Sir Frederick generally brings me in to rob his garden, when these favourite roses of mine are in bloom. But then, he might not like it so well, now that he has ladies in the house. I cannot suffer you to gather them for me."
26 They will scarcely be missed:" said Clarice. "I do not think Sir Frederick Derwent cares much about flowers, excepting for the pleasure they afford to others. There are very few about the place. He calls these Mrs.
Holcombe's roses, and was telling us, yesterday morning, how much you admired them."
Mrs. Holcombe looked pleased, and allowed Clarice to go on increasing the fragrant bouquet, without farther opposition.
"I dare say you have been accustomed to much more beautiful gardens than these, in Italy:" she observed. "I must show you mine, though you will, perhaps, think very little of it. Indeed, you see nearly its whole extent from the road. Sir Frederick says, my borders are always gay, and often begs for a flower in passing. I hope that Miss Derwent will soon recover her spirits. He is of a very cheerful disposition. I can scarcely imagine any circumstance making him serious long; and we are usually very good neighbours. You will not like England, after the gay life which, no doubt, you have been accustomed to leading abroad, if your friend's depression of spirits keeps you a prisoner. Is Miss Derwent
always so pale and sad? You must find it a great trial to be with her; for, if your eyes speak truth, your disposition is sanguine and mirthful."
Mrs. Holcombe used a strong interrogative accent. Perhaps she thought Miss Le Sage's clear complexion and animated features, bright glances, and freedom of speech, unbecoming for a companion; but, if this were her opinion, her countenance did not betray it. She seemed interested and amused; yet Clarice involuntarily shrank fram her.
"It will be some time, I fear, before Laura regains her spirits," she said, very gravely. "She is extremely sensitive, and wishes to lead a retired life, if possible; though she is anxious not to alter Sir Frederick's habits, with which, as yet, we are hardly acquainted. I like this place very much, and am not at all afraid of dullness. Sir Frederick does all in his power to make us happy."
"He is the most goodnatured of men,"