Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/153

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and-one ills attendant upon baffled sentiment, had probably entered largely into the lady’s bygone knowledge of life. Not that she deigned to confide any of her personal experience to her new friends, but they possessed active imaginations, and it was easy to make large inferences from small premises.

Midnight sounded ere the young men remembered that some thing was due to the ordinary forms of society, and that they had been virtually “talking love,” for seven hours, to a perfect stranger. The sudden reaction of feeling, the dread lest they had been exposing their peculiar habits of thought to the eye of ridicule, the frightful suspicion that they must have seemed most particularly “fresh” to the lady, struck both the gentlemen at the same moment. They attempted to apologize, but the womanly tact of Mrs. Howard spared them all the discomfort of such an awkward explanation. She reproached herself so sweetly for having suffered her impulsive nature to beguile her with such unwonted confidence,—she thanked them so gently for their momentary interest in her “melancholy recollections of blighted feelings,”—she so earnestly implored them to forget her indiscreet communings with persons “whose singular congeniality of soul had made her forget that they were strangers,” that she succeeded in restoring them to a comfortable sense of their own powers of attraction. Instead of thinking they had acted like men “afflicted with an extraordinary quantity of youngness,” they came to the conclusion that Mrs. Howard was one of the most discriminating of her sex; and the tear which swam in her soft eyes as she gave them her hand in parting, added the one irresistible charm to their previous bewilderment.

The acquaintance so auspiciously begun was not allowed to languish. Harry Maurice took lodgings in the same house; and thus, without exposing the fair widow to invidious remark, he was enabled to enjoy her society with less restraint. Unlike most of his sudden fancies, he found his liking for this lady “to grow by what it fed on.” She looked so very lovely in her simple white morning dress and pretty French cap, and her manners partook so agreeably of the simplicity and easy negligence of her breakfast attire, that she seemed more charming than ever. Indeed, almost