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SIR FREDERICK DERWENT.
challenge was from an old and celebrated cricket-club, in a distant part of the county. The game was to be played out in Maydwell Park. Every week, and very often, by agree. ment, on the intermediate days, the men and boys of the neighbourhood congregated in the pretty, open space, almost the only level spot on his property, which Sir Frederick had set apart for this purpose.
From the upper windows of the house, there was a tolerable view, through the trees, of the ground. Laura and Clarice saw the men in their shirt sleeves standing by the wickets, while others, in a wider circle, were waiting to catch the ball wherever it might happen to be sent, and cast it back to the bowler. It was not a regular match; no particular costume was adopted. Some of the players were gentlemen, others, especially the fielders, were the tradespeople of Fordington, the farmers' sons, and the servants of Sir Frederick's establishAt this distance, they could distinguish no one but Sir Frederick, who was taller than any person on the ground. He was standing by the wicket, and Clarice watched for some moments the active movements and graceful skill of the bowler opposite to him. Every attitude was a picture, and his easy elegance showed him to be a gentleman; but she did not recognise him in the least. He seemed to cast the ball without an effort, holding his hand low, and sending it skimming over the turf, straight in the direction of the wicket. It was only by observing the even and rapid course it described, and hearing the shouts of approbation which arose from the bystanders, that Clarice perceived how artfully those apparently careless efforts were studied.
Notwithstanding the exertions of his antagonist, Sir Frederick kept his post. His vigorous strokes, as he guarded his wicket and parried the ball, sent it afar off, beyond the circle of carefully-levelled turf. Often it had to be sought for among the trees. At last as she watched the players with more interest than she had imagined that the game,
of which she knew very little, could excite, a louder shout than usual arose from the spectators. She distinguished the words, “Bravo, Holcombe !” accompanied with clapping of hands, as the graceful bowler sent the ball straight at the wicket, and knocked it down. Sir Frederick resigned his bat, and Clarice, with a feeling of mortification at his discomfiture, walked away from the window, not having any inclination to watch the Rector's achievements longer.
Laura had gone down to the drawingroom some time previously. The afternoon was intensely warm. Neither of them felt disposed to encounter the heat, in order to take a nearer view of the ground.
The house was unusually quiet. Refreshments were liberally provided for all comers in a tent under the trees. No one approached
the dwelling. Even the servants, as many as could be spared, were gone forth. As they sat in the drawingroom, with the windows open to the garden, not a sound but the notes of the blackbirds and thrushes, and the murmur of the brook, came to the ears of the two girls. The cricket-ground was on the other side of the mansion. Even the dogs had followed their master and the grooms, and sat demurely, like arbiters of the game, watching its progress.
Several hours passed away without any interruption, except a goodnatured visit of a few minutes from the owner of the house, to its quiet solitary inmates. He tried to persuade them to come out; but Laura declined, saying that their ramble on the shore at Fordington had fatigued her. They had amused themselves with observing the players, for some time, from the upper windows, and now preferred being quiet. She begged him not to disturb himself about them, but to return to the ground. After a short delay, he consented
SIR FREDERICK DERWENT.
to leave them, saying, as he went out of the room, that he should bring Holcombe for a cup of coffee, at eight o'clock.
Neither Miss Derwent nor Clarice made any remark to him or to each other respecting this announcement. They probably considered that he was the master there, and no reasonable objection could be alleged against his bringing the clergyman of the place into their society. He was too goodhumoured and accommodating for them to feel inclined to cavil, after he left the room, at his proceedings; but they were not disposed to express any satisfaction at Mr. Holcombe's being excepted from the general sentence of exclusion passed upon visitors.
They had dined earlier than usual in the afternoon; immediately after their return from Fordington. This was the custom always when the cricketers met to practise. The domestics were at liberty to amuse themselves, for the evening, as it suited them. On these points, Dixon understood her master's wishes perfectly;