« PreviousContinue »
Unconscious of the disturbance their présence had created, Laura and Clarice, meanwhile, after parting from Sir Frederick, inhaled the sea-breeze with a delightful feeling of exhilaration. They had assured him that they should be able to amuse themselves, without exactly knowing how far his incautious communications had committed them. If they grew tired of expecting him to join them on the sands, before his visits in the neighbourhood were paid, he had desired them to walk up and wait for him at the Hotel. He would speak to the people, as he drove by, and desire them to pay all possible attention to their wishes.
They walked past the pretty little garden of the cottage at the corner, and the larger territory appertaining to the Parsonage, enjoying the quiet appearance of everything, and talking pleasantly to each other. Laura had not felt inclined to bathe. She was very timid, and said that she must accustom herself to the sight of the sea a little more, before she ven
tured into it. They had brought their work, and meant to sit among the rocks.
After watching the young ladies for some time, and seeing them go farther away from the machines, one or two of the inhabitants timidly took possession of them. The old horse drew them out, with a fearful number of jerks and thumps, over the barrier of shingles, and then discreetly retired with the old man at its head, to a short distance. After two or three of these journeys had been performed, the traffic slackened : no other person required their services. Coals, on the contrary, even during summer, were generally in demand, in small quantities. The mermaidish-looking woman resumed her ordinary attire. The machines were drawn high up on the shore; and, after a dissatisfied glance at the young ladies from Maydwell, these useful functionaries departed. As nothing remarkable appeared to be going on, the elderly ladies put up their parasols, and
walked home to their early dinners, leaving the shore almost deserted.
At some little distance from the station which Laura had chosen, an artist was sketching the coast. The curve of the bay was very beautiful from this spot. The two girls fancied that he must catch a better view than they did of the outline of the white cliff stretching out to sea; but they did not go near enough to disturb him. Several boats were hauled up on the beach just in front of them; and one, after a considerable bustle, had been pushed down the shingly slope, and was skimming, with spread sails, over the water. They'imagined he would put it into his picture, with the busy group of fishermen in their blue striped shirts, and trowsers tucked up above their knees, shoving it off, and the bright waves bounding in and dashing up to their waists.
At last, he put up his sketchbook, and came towards them.
He was, perhaps, the only
person on the beach who had not been discomposed by their appearance; but Sir Frederick's announcement of their intentions had not reached him, and he was entirely in ignorance how much beauty and grace was concealed from him, by an intervening cluster of rocks, until he came close to them.
Both parties were surprised and slightly embarrassed, on recognising each other. Laura had perceived, sooner than Clarice, that it was Lewis Pemberton who approached them; but she did not say anything to her friend.
She was considering in her own mind how far such an acquaintance was likely to be agreeable to her uncle; and this idea probably caused her deep blush, when the young clergyman stopped beside them. She had not decided in the least what Sir Frederick would think about it, when she found herself engaged in conversation with Lewis.
He seemed to enjoy without any drawback the pleasure of meeting them thus accidentally.
The society at his brother's house was very distasteful to him; and he was not fond of promiscuous visiting. He told Laura that the only person with whom he was on terms of intimacy at Fordington, was Mr. Bingley, the Curate, whose friendship he greatly valued. They had the same tastes, and, in their hours of leisure, found ample amusement in geological pursuits. The rocks and fossils were very curious there, and they both frequently ran no small risk of being caught by the tide, while they were knocking out specimens, and studying the secrets of nature, as she revealed herself to the student of this science in the formation of the coast.
He had been fortunate enough to witness, with Bingley, the last great landslip which had taken place, when a large portion of the upper cliff had settled down with the trees and cottages upon it, nearly to the sea level. The buildings, though tottering, unsafe, and out of the perpendicular, still existed, and the trees