Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/152

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exhibit the perfect adaptability and uniform amiableness of deportment which are characteristics of the skilful fascinator.

Harry Maurice, the young lawyerling, failed not to fulfil his appointment with his friend; and at four o’clock on the following day, he found himself the vis-à-vis of the bewitching Mrs. Howard, gazing on her loveliness through the somewhat hazy atmosphere of a steaming dinner-table. If he was struck with her appearance when he saw her only stepping from a carriage, he was now completely bewildered by the whole battery of charms which were directed against him. A well-rounded and graceful figure, whose symmetry was set off by a close-fitting dress of black bombazine; superb arms gleaming through sleeves of the thinnest crape; a neck of dazzling whiteness, only half concealed beneath the folds of a fichu à la grand’mère; features not regularly beautiful, somewhat sharp in outline, but full of expression, and enlivened by the brightest of eyes and pearliest of teeth, were the most obvious of her attractions.

The ordinary civilities of the table, proffered with profound respect by Maurice, and accepted with quiet dignity by the lady, opened the way to conversation. Before the dessert came on, the first barriers to acquaintance had been removed, and, somewhat to his own surprise, Harry Maurice found himself perpetrating bad puns and uttering gay bon-mots in the full hearing, and evidently to the genuine amusement, of the lovely widow. When dinner was over, the trio found themselves in the midst of an animated discussion respecting the relative capacity for sentiment in men and women. The subject was too interesting to be speedily dropped, and the party adjourned to a convenient corner of the drawing-room. As usual, the peculiar character of the topic upon which they had fallen, led to the unguarded expression of individual opinions, and of course to the development of much implied experience. Nothing could have been better calculated to display Mrs. Howard as one of the most sensitive, as well as sensible of her sex. She had evidently been one of the victims to the false notions of society. A premature marriage, an uncongenial partner, and all the thousand-