Transcribed from the 1896 Frederick Warne & Co. edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
A LADY OF QUALITY
Being a most curious, hitherto unknown history, as related by Mr. Isaac Bickerstaff but not presented to the World of Fashion through the pages of The Tatler, and now for the first time written down by Francis Hodgson Burnett
Were Nature just to Man from his first hour, he need not ask for Mercy; then 'tis for us—the toys of Nature—to be both just and merciful, for so only can the wrongs she does be undone.
CHAPTER I—The twenty-fourth day of November 1690
On a wintry morning at the close of 1690, the sun shining faint and red through a light fog, there was a great noise of baying dogs, loud voices, and trampling of horses in the courtyard at Wildairs Hall; Sir Jeoffry being about to go forth a-hunting, and being a man with a choleric temper and big, loud voice, and given to oaths and noise even when in good-humour, his riding forth with his friends at any time was attended with boisterous commotion. This morning it was more so than usual, for he had guests with him who had come to his house the day before, and had supped late and drunk deeply, whereby the day found them, some with headaches, some with a nausea at their stomachs, and some only in an evil humour which made them curse at their horses when they were restless, and break into loud surly laughs when a coarse joke was made. There were many such jokes, Sir Jeoffry and his boon companions being renowned throughout the county for the freedom of their conversation as for the scandal of their pastimes, and this day 'twas well indeed, as their loud- voiced, oath-besprinkled jests rang out on the cold air, that there were no ladies about to ride forth with them.
'Twas Sir Jeoffry who was louder than any other, he having drunk even deeper than the rest, and though 'twas his boast that he could carry a bottle more than any man, and see all his guests under the table, his last night's bout had left him in ill-humour and boisterous. He strode about, casting oaths at the dogs and rating the servants, and when he mounted his big black horse 'twas amid such a clamour of voices and baying hounds that the place was like Pandemonium.
He was a large man of florid good looks, black eyes, and full habit of body, and had been much renowned in his youth for his great strength, which was indeed almost that of a giant, and for his deeds of prowess in the saddle and at the table when the bottle went round. There were many evil stories of his roysterings, but it was not his way to think of them as evil, but rather to his credit as a man of the world, for, when he heard that they were gossiped about, he greeted the information with a loud triumphant laugh. He had married, when she was fifteen, the blooming toast of the county, for whom his passion had long died out, having indeed departed with the honeymoon, which had been of the briefest, and afterwards he having borne her a grudge for what he chose to consider her undutiful conduct. This grudge was founded on the fact that, though she had presented him each year since their marriage with a child, after nine years had passed none had yet been sons, and, as he was bitterly at odds with his next of kin, he considered each of his offspring an ill turn done him.
He spent but little time in her society, for she was a poor, gentle creature of no spirit, who found little happiness in her lot, since her lord treated her with scant civility, and her children one after another sickened and died in their infancy until but two were left. He scarce remembered her existence when he did not see her face, and he was certainly not thinking of her this morning, having other things in view, and yet it so fell out that, while a groom was shortening a stirrup and being sworn at for his awkwardness, he by accident cast his eye upward to a chamber window peering out of the thick ivy on the stone. Doing so he saw an old woman draw back the curtain and look down upon him as if searching for him with a purpose.
He uttered an exclamation of anger.
"Damnation! Mother Posset again," he said. "What does she there, old frump?"
The curtain fell and the woman disappeared, but in a few minutes more an unheard-of thing happened—among the servants in the hall, the same old woman appeared making her way with a hurried fretfulness, and she descended haltingly the stone steps and came to his side where he sat on his black horse.
"The Devil!" he exclaimed—"what are you here for? 'Tis not time for another wench upstairs, surely?"
"'Tis not time," answered the old nurse acidly, taking her tone from his own. "But there is one, but an hour old, and my lady—"
"Be damned to her!" quoth Sir Jeoffry savagely. "A ninth one—and 'tis nine too many. 'Tis more than man can bear. She does it but to spite me."
"'Tis ill treatment for a gentleman who wants an heir," the old woman answered, as disrespectful of his spouse as he was, being a time-serving crone, and knowing that it paid but poorly to coddle women who did not as their husbands would have them in the way of offspring. "It should have been a fine boy, but it is not, and my lady—"
"Damn her puling tricks!" said Sir Jeoffry again, pulling at his horse's bit until the beast reared.
"She would not let me rest until I came to you," said the nurse resentfully. "She would have you told that she felt strangely, and before you went forth would have a word with you."
"I cannot come, and am not in the mood for it if I could," was his answer. "What folly does she give way to? This is the ninth time she hath felt strangely, and I have felt as squeamish as she—but nine is more than I have patience for."
"She is light-headed, mayhap," said the nurse. "She lieth huddled in a heap, staring and muttering, and she would leave me no peace till I promised to say to you, 'For the sake of poor little Daphne, whom you will sure remember.' She pinched my hand and said it again and again."
Sir Jeoffry dragged at his horse's mouth and swore again.
"She was fifteen then, and had not given me nine yellow-faced wenches," he said. "Tell her I had gone a-hunting and you were too late;" and he struck his big black beast with the whip, and it bounded away with him, hounds and huntsmen and fellow-roysterers galloping after, his guests, who had caught at the reason of his wrath, grinning as they rode.
* * * * *
In a huge chamber hung with tattered tapestries and barely set forth with cumbersome pieces of furnishing, my lady lay in a gloomy, canopied bed, with her new-born child at her side, but not looking at or touching it, seeming rather to have withdrawn herself from the pillow on which it lay in its swaddling-clothes.
She was but a little lady, and now, as she lay in the large bed, her face and form shrunken and drawn with suffering, she looked scarce bigger than a child. In the brief days of her happiness those who toasted her had called her Titania for her fairy slightness and delicate beauty, but then her fair wavy locks had been of a length that touched the ground when her woman unbound them, and she had had the colour of a wild rose and the eyes of a tender little fawn. Sir Jeoffry for a month or so had paid tempestuous court to her, and had so won her heart with his dashing way of love-making and the daringness of his reputation, that she had thought herself—being child enough to think so—the luckiest young lady in the world that his black eye should have fallen upon her with favour. Each year since, with the bearing of each child, she had lost some of her beauty. With each one her lovely hair fell out still more, her wild-rose colour faded, and her shape was spoiled. She grew thin and yellow, only a scant covering of the fair hair was left her, and her eyes were big and sunken. Her marriage having displeased her family, and Sir Jeoffry having a distaste for the ceremonies of visiting and entertainment, save where his own cronies were concerned, she had no friends, and grew lonelier and lonelier as the sad years went by. She being so without hope and her life so dreary, her children were neither strong nor beautiful, and died quickly, each one bringing her only the anguish of birth and death. This wintry morning her ninth lay slumbering by her side; the noise of baying dogs and boisterous men had died away with the last sound of the horses' hoofs; the little light which came into the room through the ivied window was a faint yellowish red; she was cold, because the fire in the chimney was but a scant, failing one; she was alone—and she knew that the time had come for her death. This she knew full well.
She was alone, because, being so disrespected and deserted by her lord, and being of a timid and gentle nature, she could not command her insufficient retinue of servants, and none served her as was their duty. The old woman Sir Jeoffry had dubbed Mother Posset had been her sole attendant at such times as these for the past five years, because she would come to her for a less fee than a better woman, and Sir Jeoffry had sworn he would not pay for wenches being brought into the world. She was a slovenly, guzzling old crone, who drank caudle from morning till night, and demanded good living as a support during the performance of her trying duties; but these last she contrived to make wondrous light, knowing that there was none to reprove her.
"A fine night I have had," she had grumbled when she brought back Sir Jeoffry's answer to her lady's message. "My old bones are like to break, and my back will not straighten itself. I will go to the kitchen to get victuals and somewhat to warm me; your ladyship's own woman shall sit with you."
Her ladyship's "own woman" was also the sole attendant of the two little girls, Barbara and Anne, whose nursery was in another wing of the house, and my lady knew full well she would not come if she were told, and that there would be no message sent to her.
She knew, too, that the fire was going out, but, though she shivered under the bed-clothes, she was too weak to call the woman back when she saw her depart without putting fresh fuel upon it.
So she lay alone, poor lady, and there was no sound about her, and her thin little mouth began to feebly quiver, and her great eyes, which stared at the hangings, to fill with slow cold tears, for in sooth they were not warm, but seemed to chill her poor cheeks as they rolled slowly down them, leaving a wet streak behind them which she was too far gone in weakness to attempt to lift her hand to wipe away.
"Nine times like this," she panted faintly, "and 'tis for naught but oaths and hard words that blame me. I was but a child myself and he loved me. When 'twas 'My Daphne,' and 'My beauteous little Daphne,' he loved me in his own man's way. But now—" she faintly rolled her head from side to side. "Women are poor things"—a chill salt tear sliding past her lips so that she tasted its bitterness—"only to be kissed for an hour, and then like this—only for this and nothing else. I would that this one had been dead."
Her breath came slower and more pantingly, and her eyes stared more widely.
"I was but a child," she whispered—"a child—as—as this will be—if she lives fifteen years."
Despite her weakness, and it was great and woefully increasing with each panting breath, she slowly laboured to turn herself towards the pillow on which her offspring lay, and, this done, she lay staring at the child and gasping, her thin chest rising and falling convulsively. Ah, how she panted, and how she stared, the glaze of death stealing slowly over her wide-opened eyes; and yet, dimming as they were, they saw in the sleeping infant a strange and troublous thing—though it was but a few hours old 'twas not as red and crumple visaged as new-born infants usually are, its little head was covered with thick black silk, and its small features were of singular definiteness. She dragged herself nearer to gaze.
"She looks not like the others," she said. "They had no beauty—and are safe. She—she will be like—Jeoffry—and like me."
The dying fire fell lower with a shuddering sound.
"If she is—beautiful, and has but her father, and no mother!" she whispered, the words dragged forth slowly, "only evil can come to her. From her first hour—she will know naught else, poor heart, poor heart!"
There was a rattling in her throat as she breathed, but in her glazing eyes a gleam like passion leaped, and gasping, she dragged nearer.
"'Tis not fair," she cried. "If I—if I could lay my hand upon thy mouth—and stop thy breathing—thou poor thing, 'twould be fairer—but—I have no strength."
She gathered all her dying will and brought her hand up to the infant's mouth. A wild look was on her poor, small face, she panted and fell forward on its breast, the rattle in her throat growing louder. The child awakened, opening great black eyes, and with her dying weakness its new-born life struggled. Her cold hand lay upon I its mouth, and her head upon its body, for she was too far gone to move if she had willed to do so. But the tiny creature's strength was marvellous. It gasped, it fought, its little limbs struggled beneath her, it writhed until the cold hand fell away, and then, its baby mouth set free, it fell a-shrieking. Its cries were not like those of a new-born thing, but fierce and shrill, and even held the sound of infant passion. 'Twas not a thing to let its life go easily, 'twas of those born to do battle.
Its lusty screaming pierced her ear perhaps—she drew a long, slow breath, and then another, and another still—the last one trembled and stopped short, and the last cinder fell dead from the fire.
* * * * *
When the nurse came bustling and fretting back, the chamber was cold as the grave's self—there were only dead embers on the hearth, the new-born child's cries filled all the desolate air, and my lady was lying stone dead, her poor head resting on her offspring's feet, the while her open glazed eyes seemed to stare at it as if in asking Fate some awful question.
CHAPTER II—In which Sir Jeoffry encounters his offspring
In a remote wing of the house, in barren, ill-kept rooms, the poor infants of the dead lady had struggled through their brief lives, and given them up, one after the other. Sir Jeoffry had not wished to see them, nor had he done so, but upon the rarest occasions, and then nearly always by some untoward accident. The six who had died, even their mother had scarcely wept for; her weeping had been that they should have been fated to come into the world, and when they went out of it she knew she need not mourn their going as untimely. The two who had not perished, she had regarded sadly day by day, seeing they had no beauty and that their faces promised none. Naught but great beauty would have excused their existence in their father's eyes, as beauty might have helped them to good matches which would have rid him of them. But 'twas the sad ill fortune of the children Anne and Barbara to have been treated by Nature in a way but niggardly. They were pale young misses, with insignificant faces and snub noses, resembling an aunt who died a spinster, as they themselves seemed most likely to. Sir Jeoffry could not bear the sight of them, and they fled at the sound of his footsteps, if it so happened that by chance they heard it, huddling together in corners, and slinking behind doors or anything big enough to hide them. They had no playthings and no companions and no pleasures but such as the innocent invention of childhood contrives for itself.
After their mother's death a youth desolate and strange indeed lay before them. A spinster who was a poor relation was the only person of respectable breeding who ever came near them. To save herself from genteel starvation, she had offered herself for the place of governess to them, though she was fitted for the position neither by education nor character. Mistress Margery Wimpole was a poor, dull creature, having no wilful harm in her, but endowed with neither dignity nor wit. She lived in fear of Sir Jeoffry, and in fear of the servants, who knew full well that she was an humble dependant, and treated her as one. She hid away with her pupils' in the bare school-room in the west wing, and taught them to spell and write and work samplers. She herself knew no more.
The child who had cost her mother her life had no happier prospect than her sisters. Her father felt her more an intruder than they had been, he being of the mind that to house and feed and clothe, howsoever poorly, these three burdens on him was a drain scarcely to be borne. His wife had been a toast and not a fortune, and his estate not being great, he possessed no more than his drinking, roystering, and gambling made full demands upon.
The child was baptized Clorinda, and bred, so to speak, from her first hour, in the garret and the servants' hall. Once only did her father behold her during her infancy, which event was a mere accident, as he had expressed no wish to see her, and only came upon her in the nurse's arms some weeks after her mother's death. 'Twas quite by chance. The woman, who was young and buxom, had begun an intrigue with a groom, and having a mind to see him, was crossing the stable-yard, carrying her charge with her, when Sir Jeoffry came by to visit a horse.
The woman came plump upon him, entering a stable as he came out of it; she gave a frightened start, and almost let the child drop, at which it set up a strong, shrill cry, and thus Sir Jeoffry saw it, and seeing it, was thrown at once into a passion which expressed itself after the manner of all his emotion, and left the nurse quaking with fear.
"Thunder and damnation!" he exclaimed, as he strode away after the encounter; "'tis the ugliest yet. A yellow-faced girl brat, with eyes like an owl's in an ivy-bush, and with a voice like a very peacocks. Another mawking, plain slut that no man will take off my hands."
He did not see her again for six years. But little wit was needed to learn that 'twas best to keep her out of his sight, as her sisters were kept, and this was done without difficulty, as he avoided the wing of the house where the children lived, as if it were stricken with the plague.
But the child Clorinda, it seemed, was of lustier stock than her older sisters, and this those about her soon found out to their grievous disturbance. When Mother Posset had drawn her from under her dead mother's body she had not left shrieking for an hour, but had kept up her fierce cries until the roof rang with them, and the old woman had jogged her about and beat her back in the hopes of stifling her, until she was exhausted and dismayed. For the child would not be stilled, and seemed to have such strength and persistence in her as surely infant never showed before.
"Never saw I such a brat among all I have brought into the world," old Posset quavered. "She hath the voice of a six-months boy. It cracks my very ears. Hush thee, then, thou little wild cat."
This was but the beginning. From the first she grew apace, and in a few months was a bouncing infant, with a strong back, and a power to make herself heard such as had not before appeared in the family. When she desired a thing, she yelled and roared with such a vigour as left no peace for any creature about her until she was humoured, and this being the case, rather than have their conversation and love-making put a stop to, the servants gave her her way. In this they but followed the example of their betters, of whom we know that it is not to the most virtuous they submit or to the most learned, but to those who, being crossed, can conduct themselves in a manner so disagreeable, shrewish or violent, that life is a burden until they have their will. This the child Clorinda had the infant wit to discover early, and having once discovered it, she never ceased to take advantage of her knowledge. Having found in the days when her one desire was pap, that she had but to roar lustily enough to find it beside her in her porringer, she tried the game upon all other occasions. When she had reached but a twelvemonth, she stood stoutly upon her little feet, and beat her sisters to gain their playthings, and her nurse for wanting to change her smock. She was so easily thrown into furies, and so raged and stamped in her baby way that she was a sight to behold, and the men-servants found amusement in badgering her. To set Mistress Clorinda in their midst on a winter's night when they were dull, and to torment her until her little face grew scarlet with the blood which flew up into it, and she ran from one to the other beating them and screaming like a young spitfire, was among them a favourite entertainment.
"Ifackens!" said the butler one night, "but she is as like Sir Jeoffry in her temper as one pea is like another. Ay, but she grows blood red just as he does, and curses in her little way as he does in man's words among his hounds in their kennel."
"And she will be of his build, too," said the housekeeper. "What mishap changed her to a maid instead of a boy, I know not. She would have made a strapping heir. She has the thigh and shoulders of a handsome man-child at this hour, and she is not three years old."
"Sir Jeoffry missed his mark when he called her an ugly brat," said the woman who had nursed her. "She will be a handsome woman—though large in build, it may be. She will be a brown beauty, but she will have a colour in her cheeks and lips like the red of Christmas holly, and her owl's eyes are as black as sloes, and have fringes on them like the curtains of a window. See how her hair grows thick on her little head, and how it curls in great rings. My lady, her poor mother, was once a beauty, but she was no such beauty as this one will be, for she has her father's long limbs and fine shoulders, and the will to make every man look her way."
"Yes," said the housekeeper, who was an elderly woman, "there will be doings—there will be doings when she is a ripe young maid. She will take her way, and God grant she mayn't be too like her father and follow his."
It was true that she had no resemblance to her plain sisters, and bore no likeness to them in character. The two elder children, Anne and Barbara, were too meek-spirited to be troublesome; but during Clorinda's infancy Mistress Margery Wimpole watched her rapid growth with fear and qualms. She dare not reprove the servants who were ruining her by their treatment, and whose manners were forming her own. Sir Jeoffry's servants were no more moral than their master, and being brought up as she was among them, their young mistress became strangely familiar with many sights and sounds it is not the fortune of most young misses of breeding to see and hear. The cooks and kitchen-wenches were flighty with the grooms and men-servants, and little Mistress Clorinda, having a passion for horses and dogs, spent many an hour in the stables with the women who, for reasons of their own, were pleased enough to take her there as an excuse for seeking amusement for themselves. She played in the kennels and among the horses' heels, and learned to use oaths as roundly as any Giles or Tom whose work was to wield the curry comb. It was indeed a curious thing to hear her red baby mouth pour forth curses and unseemly words as she would at any one who crossed her. Her temper and hot-headedness carried all before them, and the grooms and stable- boys found great sport in the language my young lady used in her innocent furies. But balk her in a whim, and she would pour forth the eloquence of a fish-wife or a lady of easy virtue in a pot-house quarrel. There was no human creature near her who had mind or heart enough to see the awfulness of her condition, or to strive to teach her to check her passions; and in the midst of these perilous surroundings the little virago grew handsomer and of finer carriage every hour, as if on the rank diet that fed her she throve and flourished.
There came a day at last when she had reached six years old, when by a trick of chance a turn was given to the wheel of her fate.
She had not reached three when a groom first set her on a horse's back and led her about the stable-yard, and she had so delighted in her exalted position, and had so shouted for pleasure and clutched her steed's rein and clucked at him, that her audience had looked on with roars of laughter. From that time she would be put up every day, and as time went on showed such unchildish courage and spirit that she furnished to her servant companions a new pastime. Soon she would not be held on, but riding astride like a boy, would sit up as straight as a man and swear at her horse, beating him with her heels and little fists if his pace did not suit her. She knew no fear, and would have used a whip so readily that the men did not dare to trust her with one, and knew they must not mount her on a steed too mettlesome. By the time she passed her sixth birthday she could ride as well as a grown man, and was as familiar with her father's horses as he himself, though he knew nothing of the matter, it being always contrived that she should be out of sight when he visited his hunters.
It so chanced that the horse he rode the oftenest was her favourite, and many were the tempests of rage she fell into when she went to the stable to play with the animal and did not find him in his stall, because his master had ordered him out. At such times she would storm at the men in the stable-yard and call them ill names for their impudence in letting the beast go, which would cause them great merriment, as she knew nothing of who the man was who had balked her, since she was, in truth, not so much as conscious of her father's existence, never having seen or even heard more of him than his name, which she in no manner connected with herself.
"Could Sir Jeoffry himself but once see and hear her when she storms at us and him, because he dares to ride his own beast," one of the older men said once, in the midst of their laughter, "I swear he would burst forth laughing and be taken with her impudent spirit, her temper is so like his own. She is his own flesh and blood, and as full of hell-fire as he."
Upon this morning which proved eventful to her, she had gone to the stables, as was her daily custom, and going into the stall where the big black horse was wont to stand, she found it empty. Her spirit rose hot within her in the moment. She clenched her fists, and began to stamp and swear in such a manner as it would be scarce fitting to record.
"Where is he now?" she cried. "He is my own horse, and shall not be ridden. Who is the man who takes him? Who? Who?"
"'Tis a fellow who hath no manners," said the man she stormed at, grinning and thrusting his tongue in his cheek. "He says 'tis his beast, and not yours, and he will have him when he chooses."
"'Tis not his—'tis mine!" shrieked Miss, her little face inflamed with passion. "I will kill him! 'Tis my horse. He shall be mine!"
For a while the men tormented her, to hear her rave and see her passion, for, in truth, the greater tempest she was in, the better she was worth beholding, having a colour so rich, and eyes so great and black and flaming. At such times there was naught of the feminine in her, and indeed always she looked more like a handsome boy than a girl, her growth being for her age extraordinary. At length a lad who was a helper said to mock her—
"The man hath him at the door before the great steps now. I saw him stand there waiting but a moment ago. The man hath gone in the house."
She turned and ran to find him. The front part of the house she barely knew the outside of, as she was kept safely in the west wing and below stairs, and when taken out for the air was always led privately by a side way—never passing through the great hall, where her father might chance to encounter her.
She knew best this side-entrance, and made her way to it, meaning to search until she found the front. She got into the house, and her spirit being roused, marched boldly through corridors and into rooms she had never seen before, and being so mere a child, notwithstanding her strange wilfulness and daring, the novelty of the things she saw so far distracted her mind from the cause of her anger that she stopped more than once to stare up at a portrait on a wall, or to take in her hand something she was curious concerning.
When she at last reached the entrance-hall, coming into it through a door she pushed open, using all her childish strength, she stood in the midst of it and gazed about her with a new curiosity and pleasure. It was a fine place, with antlers, and arms, and foxes' brushes hung upon the walls, and with carved panels of black oak, and oaken floor and furnishings. All in it was disorderly and showed rough usage; but once it had been a notable feature of the house, and well worth better care than had been bestowed upon it. She discovered on the walls many trophies that attracted her, but these she could not reach, and could only gaze and wonder at; but on an old oaken settle she found some things she could lay hands on, and forthwith seized and sat down upon the floor to play with them. One of them was a hunting-crop, which she brandished grandly, until she was more taken with a powder-flask which it so happened her father, Sir Jeoffry, had lain down but a few minutes before, in passing through. He was going forth coursing, and had stepped into the dining-hall to toss off a bumper of brandy.
When he had helped himself from the buffet, and came back in haste, the first thing he clapped eyes on was his offspring pouring forth the powder from his flask upon the oaken floor. He had never seen her since that first occasion after the unfortunate incident of her birth, and beholding a child wasting his good powder at the moment he most wanted it and had no time to spare, and also not having had it recalled to his mind for years that he was a parent, except when he found himself forced reluctantly to pay for some small need, he beheld in the young offender only some impudent servant's brat, who had strayed into his domain and applied itself at once to mischief.
He sprang upon her, and seizing her by the arm, whirled her to her feet with no little violence, snatching the powder-flask from her, and dealing her a sound box on the ear.
"Blood and damnation on thee, thou impudent little baggage!" he shouted. "I'll break thy neck for thee, little scurvy beast;" and pulled the bell as he were like to break the wire.
But he had reckoned falsely on what he dealt with. Miss uttered a shriek of rage which rang through the roof like a clarion. She snatched the crop from the floor, rushed at him, and fell upon him like a thousand little devils, beating his big legs with all the strength of her passion, and pouring forth oaths such as would have done credit to Doll Lightfoot herself.
"Damn thee!—damn thee!"—she roared and screamed, flogging him. "I'll tear thy eyes out! I'll cut thy liver from thee! Damn thy soul to hell!"
And this choice volley was with such spirit and fury poured forth, that Sir Jeoffry let his hand drop from the bell, fell into a great burst of laughter, and stood thus roaring while she beat him and shrieked and stormed.
The servants, hearing the jangled bell, attracted by the tumult, and of a sudden missing Mistress Clorinda, ran in consternation to the hall, and there beheld this truly pretty sight—Miss beating her father's legs, and tearing at him tooth and nail, while he stood shouting with laughter as if he would split his sides.
"Who is the little cockatrice?" he cried, the tears streaming down his florid cheeks. "Who is the young she-devil? Ods bodikins, who is she?"
For a second or so the servants stared at each other aghast, not knowing what to say, or venturing to utter a word; and then the nurse, who had come up panting, dared to gasp forth the truth.
"'Tis Mistress Clorinda, Sir Jeoffry," she stammered—"my lady's last infant—the one of whom she died in childbed."
His big laugh broke in two, as one might say. He looked down at the young fury and stared. She was out of breath with beating him, and had ceased and fallen back apace, and was staring up at him also, breathing defiance and hatred. Her big black eyes were flames, her head was thrown up and back, her cheeks were blood scarlet, and her great crop of crow- black hair stood out about her beauteous, wicked little virago face, as if it might change into Medusa's snakes.
"Damn thee!" she shrieked at him again. "I'll kill thee, devil!"
Sir Jeoffry broke into his big laugh afresh.
"Clorinda do they call thee, wench?" he said. "Jeoffry thou shouldst have been but for thy mother's folly. A fiercer little devil for thy size I never saw—nor a handsomer one."
And he seized her from where she stood, and held her at his big arms' length, gazing at her uncanny beauty with looks that took her in from head to foot.
CHAPTER III—Wherein Sir Jeoffry's boon companions drink a toast
Her beauty of face, her fine body, her strength of limb, and great growth for her age, would have pleased him if she had possessed no other attraction, but the daring of her fury and her stable-boy breeding so amused him and suited his roystering tastes that he took to her as the finest plaything in the world.
He set her on the floor, forgetting his coursing, and would have made friends with her, but at first she would have none of him, and scowled at him in spite of all he did. The brandy by this time had mounted to his head and put him in the mood for frolic, liquor oftenest making him gamesome. He felt as if he were playing with a young dog or marking the spirit of a little fighting cock. He ordered the servants back to their kitchen, who stole away, the women amazed, and the men concealing grins which burst forth into guffaws of laughter when they came into their hall below.
"'Tis as we said," they chuckled. "He had but to see her beauty and find her a bigger devil than he, and 'twas done. The mettle of her—damning and flogging him! Never was there a finer sight! She feared him no more than if he had been a spaniel—and he roaring and laughing till he was like to burst."
"Dost know who I am?" Sir Jeoffry was asking the child, grinning himself as he stood before her where she sat on the oaken settle on which he had lifted her.
"No," quoth little Mistress, her black brows drawn down, her handsome owl's eyes verily seeming to look him through and through in search of somewhat; for, in sooth, her rage abating before his jovial humour, the big burly laugher attracted her attention, though she was not disposed to show him that she leaned towards any favour or yielding.
"I am thy Dad," he said. "'Twas thy Dad thou gavest such a trouncing. And thou hast an arm, too. Let's cast an eye on it."
He took her wrist and pushed up her sleeve, but she dragged back.
"Will not be mauled," she cried. "Get away from me!"
He shouted with laughter again. He had seen that the little arm was as white and hard as marble, and had such muscles as a great boy might have been a braggart about.
"By Gad!" he said, elated. "What a wench of six years old. Wilt have my crop and trounce thy Dad again!"
He picked up the crop from the place where she had thrown it, and forthwith gave it in her hand. She took it, but was no more in the humour to beat him, and as she looked still frowning from him to the whip, the latter brought back to her mind the horse she had set out in search of.
"Where is my horse?" she said, and 'twas in the tone of an imperial demand. "Where is he?"
"Thy horse!" he echoed. "Which is thy horse then?"
"Rake is my horse," she answered—"the big black one. The man took him again;" and she ripped out a few more oaths and unchaste expressions, threatening what she would do for the man in question; the which delighted him more than ever. "Rake is my horse," she ended. "None else shall ride him."
"None else?" cried he. "Thou canst not ride him, baggage!"
She looked at him with scornful majesty.
"Where is he?" she demanded. And the next instant hearing the beast's restless feet grinding into the gravel outside as he fretted at having been kept waiting so long, she remembered what the stable-boy had said of having seen her favourite standing before the door, and struggling and dropping from the settle, she ran to look out; whereupon having done so, she shouted in triumph.
"He is here!" she said. "I see him;" and went pell-mell down the stone steps to his side.
Sir Jeoffry followed her in haste. 'Twould not have been to his humour now to have her brains kicked out.
"Hey!" he called, as he hurried. "Keep away from his heels, thou little devil."
But she had run to the big beast's head with another shout, and caught him round his foreleg, laughing, and Rake bent his head down and nosed her in a fumbling caress, on which, the bridle coming within her reach, she seized it and held his head that she might pat him, to which familiarity the beast was plainly well accustomed.
"He is my horse," quoth she grandly when her father reached her. "He will not let Giles play so."
Sir Jeoffry gazed and swelled with pleasure in her.
"Would have said 'twas a lie if I had not seen it," he said to himself. "'Tis no girl this, I swear. I thought 'twas my horse," he said to her, "but 'tis plain enough he is thine."
"Put me up!" said his new-found offspring.
"Hast rid him before?" Sir Jeoffry asked, with some lingering misgiving. "Tell thy Dad if thou hast rid him."
She gave him a look askance under her long fringed lids—a surly yet half- slyly relenting look, because she wanted to get her way of him, and had the cunning wit and shrewdness of a child witch.
"Ay!" quoth she. "Put me up—Dad!"
He was not a man of quick mind, his brain having been too many years bemuddled with drink, but he had a rough instinct which showed him all the wondrous shrewdness of her casting that last word at him to wheedle him, even though she looked sullen in the saying it. It made him roar again for very exultation.
"Put me up, Dad!" he cried. "That will I—and see what thou wilt do."
He lifted her, she springing as he set his hands beneath her arms, and flinging her legs over astride across the saddle when she reached it. She was all fire and excitement, and caught the reins like an old huntsman, and with such a grasp as was amazing. She sat up with a straight, strong back, her whole face glowing and sparkling with exultant joy. Rake seemed to answer to her excited little laugh almost as much as to her hand. It seemed to wake his spirit and put him in good-humour. He started off with her down the avenue at a light, spirited trot, while she, clinging with her little legs and sitting firm and fearless, made him change into canter and gallop, having actually learned all his paces like a lesson, and knowing his mouth as did his groom, who was her familiar and slave. Had she been of the build ordinary with children of her age, she could not have stayed upon his back; but she sat him like a child jockey, and Sir Jeoffry, watching and following her, clapped his hands boisterously and hallooed for joy.
"Lord, Lord!" he said. "There's not a man in the shire has such another little devil—and Rake, 'her horse,'" grinning—"and she to ride him so. I love thee, wench—hang me if I do not!"
She made him play with her and with Rake for a good hour, and then took him back to the stables, and there ordered him about finely among the dogs and horses, perceiving that somehow this great man she had got hold of was a creature who was in power and could be made use of.
When they returned to the house, he had her to eat her mid-day meal with him, when she called for ale, and drank it, and did good trencher duty, making him the while roar with laughter at her impudent child-talk.
"Never have I so split my sides since I was twenty," he said. "It makes me young again to roar so. She shall not leave my sight, since by chance I have found her. 'Tis too good a joke to lose, when times are dull, as they get to be as a man's years go on."
He sent for her woman and laid strange new commands on her.
"Where hath she hitherto been kept?" he asked.
"In the west wing, where are the nurseries, and where Mistress Wimpole abides with Mistress Barbara and Mistress Anne," the woman answered, with a frightened curtsey.
"Henceforth she shall live in this part of the house where I do," he said. "Make ready the chambers that were my lady's, and prepare to stay there with her."
From that hour the child's fate was sealed. He made himself her playfellow, and romped with and indulged her until she became fonder of him than of any groom or stable-boy she had been companions with before. But, indeed, she had never been given to bestowing much affection on those around her, seeming to feel herself too high a personage to show softness. The ones she showed most favour to were those who served her best; and even to them it was always favour she showed, not tenderness. Certain dogs and horses she was fond of, Rake coming nearest to her heart, and the place her father won in her affections was somewhat like to Rake's. She made him her servant and tyrannised over him, but at the same time followed and imitated him as if she had been a young spaniel he was training. The life the child led, it would have broken a motherly woman's heart to hear about; but there was no good woman near her, her mother's relatives, and even Sir Jeoffry's own, having cut themselves off early from them—Wildairs Hall and its master being no great credit to those having the misfortune to be connected with them. The neighbouring gentry had gradually ceased to visit the family some time before her ladyship's death, and since then the only guests who frequented the place were a circle of hunting, drinking, and guzzling boon companions of Sir Jeoffry's own, who joined him in all his carousals and debaucheries.
To these he announced his discovery of his daughter with tumultuous delight. He told them, amid storms of laughter, of his first encounter with her; of her flogging him with his own crop, and cursing him like a trooper; of her claiming Rake as her own horse, and swearing at the man who had dared to take him from the stable to ride; and of her sitting him like an infant jockey, and seeming, by some strange power, to have mastered him as no other had been able heretofore to do. Then he had her brought into the dining-room, where they sat over their bottles drinking deep, and setting her on the table, he exhibited her to them, boasting of her beauty, showing them her splendid arm and leg and thigh, measuring her height, and exciting her to test the strength of the grip of her hand and the power of her little fist.
"Saw you ever a wench like her?" he cried, as they all shouted with laughter and made jokes not too polite, but such as were of the sole kind they were given to. "Has any man among you begot a boy as big and handsome? Hang me! if she would not knock down any lad of ten if she were in a fury."
"We wild dogs are out of favour with the women," cried one of the best pleased among them, a certain Lord Eldershawe, whose seat was a few miles from Wildairs Hall—"women like nincompoops and chaplains. Let us take this one for our toast, and bring her up as girls should be brought up to be companions for men. I give you, Mistress Clorinda Wildairs—Mistress Clorinda, the enslaver of six years old—bumpers, lads!—bumpers!"
And they set her in the very midst of the big table and drank her health, standing, bursting into a jovial, ribald song; and the child, excited by the noise and laughter, actually broke forth and joined them in a high, strong treble, the song being one she was quite familiar with, having heard it often enough in the stable to have learned the words pat.
* * * * *
Two weeks after his meeting with her, Sir Jeoffry was seized with the whim to go up to London and set her forth with finery. 'Twas but rarely he went up to town, having neither money to waste, nor finding great attraction in the more civilised quarters of the world. He brought her back such clothes as for richness and odd, unsuitable fashion child never wore before. There were brocades that stood alone with splendour of fabric, there was rich lace, fine linen, ribbands, farthingales, swansdown tippets, and little slippers with high red heels. He had a wardrobe made for her such as the finest lady of fashion could scarcely boast, and the tiny creature was decked out in it, and on great occasions even strung with her dead mother's jewels.
Among these strange things, he had the fantastical notion to have made for her several suits of boy's clothes: pink and blue satin coats, little white, or amber, or blue satin breeches, ruffles of lace, and waistcoats embroidered with colours and silver or gold. There was also a small scarlet-coated hunting costume and all the paraphernalia of the chase. It was Sir Jeoffry's finest joke to bid her woman dress her as a boy, and then he would have her brought to the table where he and his fellows were dining together, and she would toss off her little bumper with the best of them, and rip out childish oaths, and sing them, to their delight, songs she had learned from the stable-boys. She cared more for dogs and horses than for finery, and when she was not in the humour to be made a puppet of, neither tirewoman nor devil could put her into her brocades; but she liked the excitement of the dining-room, and, as time went on, would be dressed in her flowered petticoats in a passion of eagerness to go and show herself, and coquet in her lace and gewgaws with men old enough to be her father, and loose enough to find her premature airs and graces a fine joke indeed. She ruled them all with her temper and her shrewish will. She would have her way in all things, or there should be no sport with her, and she would sing no songs for them, but would flout them bitterly, and sit in a great chair with her black brows drawn down, and her whole small person breathing rancour and disdain.
Sir Jeoffry, who had bullied his wife, had now the pleasurable experience of being henpecked by his daughter; for so, indeed, he was. Miss ruled him with a rod of iron, and wielded her weapon with such skill that before a year had elapsed he obeyed her as the servants below stairs had done in her infancy. She had no fear of his great oaths, for she possessed a strangely varied stock of her own upon which she could always draw, and her voice being more shrill than his, if not of such bigness, her ear-piercing shrieks and indomitable perseverance always proved too much for him in the end. It must be admitted likewise that her violence of temper and power of will were somewhat beyond his own, notwithstanding her tender years and his reputation. In fact, he found himself obliged to observe this, and finally made something of a merit and joke of it.
"There is no managing of the little shrew," he would say. "Neither man nor devil can bend or break her. If I smashed every bone in her carcass, she would die shrieking hell at me and defiance."
If one admits the truth, it must be owned that if she had not had bestowed upon her by nature gifts of beauty and vivacity so extraordinary, and had been cursed with a thousandth part of the vixenishness she displayed every day of her life, he would have broken every bone in her carcass without a scruple or a qualm. But her beauty seemed but to grow with every hour that passed, and it was by exceeding good fortune exactly the fashion of beauty which he admired the most. When she attained her tenth year she was as tall as a fine boy of twelve, and of such a shape and carriage as young Diana herself might have envied. Her limbs were long, and most divinely moulded, and of a strength that caused admiration and amazement in all beholders. Her father taught her to follow him in the hunting-field, and when she appeared upon her horse, clad in her little breeches and top-boots and scarlet coat, child though she was, she set the field on fire. She learned full early how to coquet and roll her fine eyes; but it is also true that she was not much of a languisher, as all her ogling was of a destructive or proudly-attacking kind. It was her habit to leave others to languish, and herself to lead them with disdainful vivacity to doing so. She was the talk, and, it must be admitted, the scandal, of the county by the day she was fifteen. The part wherein she lived was a boisterous hunting shire where there were wide ditches and high hedges to leap, and rough hills and moors to gallop over, and within the region neither polite life nor polite education were much thought of; but even in the worst portions of it there were occasional virtuous matrons who shook their heads with much gravity and wonder over the beautiful Mistress Clorinda.
CHAPTER IV—Lord Twemlow's chaplain visits his patron's kinsman, and Mistress Clorinda shines on her birthday night
Uncivilised and almost savage as her girlish life was, and unregulated by any outward training as was her mind, there were none who came in contact with her who could be blind to a certain strong, clear wit, and unconquerableness of purpose, for which she was remarkable. She ever knew full well what she desired to gain or to avoid, and once having fixed her mind upon any object, she showed an adroitness and brilliancy of resource, a control of herself and others, the which there was no circumventing. She never made a blunder because she could not control the expression of her emotions; and when she gave way to a passion, 'twas because she chose to do so, having naught to lose, and in the midst of all their riotous jesting with her the boon companions of Sir Jeoffry knew this.
"Had she a secret to keep, child though she is," said Eldershawe, "there is none—man or woman—who could scare or surprise it from her; and 'tis a strange quality to note so early in a female creature."
She spent her days with her father and his dissolute friends, treated half like a boy, half a fantastical queen, until she was fourteen. She hunted and coursed, shot birds, leaped hedges and ditches, reigned at the riotous feastings, and coquetted with these mature, and in some cases elderly, men, as if she looked forward to doing naught else all her life.
But one day, after she had gone out hunting with her father, riding Rake, who had been given to her, and wearing her scarlet coat, breeches, and top-boots, one of the few remaining members of her mother's family sent his chaplain to remonstrate and advise her father to command her to forbear from appearing in such impudent attire.
There was, indeed, a stirring scene when this message was delivered by its bearer. The chaplain was an awkward, timid creature, who had heard stories enough of Wildairs Hall and its master to undertake his mission with a quaking soul. To have refused to obey any behest of his patron would have cost him his living, and knowing this beyond a doubt, he was forced to gird up his loins and gather together all the little courage he could muster to beard the lion in his den.
The first thing he beheld on entering the big hall was a beautiful tall youth wearing his own rich black hair, and dressed in scarlet coat for hunting. He was playing with a dog, making it leap over his crop, and both laughing and swearing at its clumsiness. He glanced at the chaplain with a laughing, brilliant eye, returning the poor man's humble bow with a slight nod as he plainly hearkened to what he said as he explained his errand.
"I come from my Lord Twemlow, who is your master's kinsman," the chaplain faltered; "I am bidden to see and speak to him if it be possible, and his lordship much desires that Sir Jeoffry will allow it to be so. My Lord Twemlow—"
The beautiful youth left his playing with the dog and came forward with all the air of the young master of the house.
"My Lord Twemlow sends you?" he said. "'Tis long since his lordship favoured us with messages. Where is Sir Jeoffry, Lovatt?"
"In the dining-hall," answered the servant. "He went there but a moment past, Mistress."
The chaplain gave such a start as made him drop his shovel hat. "Mistress!" And this was she—this fine young creature who was tall and grandly enough built and knit to seem a radiant being even when clad in masculine attire. He picked up his hat and bowed so low that it almost swept the floor in his obeisance. He was not used to female beauty which deigned to cast great smiling eyes upon him, for at my Lord Twemlow's table he sat so far below the salt that women looked not his way.
This beauty looked at him as if she was amused at the thought of something in her own mind. He wondered tremblingly if she guessed what he came for and knew how her father would receive it.
"Come with me," she said; "I will take you to him. He would not see you if I did not. He does not love his lordship tenderly enough."
She led the way, holding her head jauntily and high, while he cast down his eyes lest his gaze should be led to wander in a way unseemly in one of his cloth. Such a foot and such—! He felt it more becoming and safer to lift his eyes to the ceiling and keep them there, which gave him somewhat the aspect of one praying.
Sir Jeoffry stood at the buffet with a flagon of ale in his hand, taking his stirrup cup. At the sight of a stranger and one attired in the garb of a chaplain, he scowled surprisedly.
"What's this?" quoth he. "What dost want, Clo? I have no leisure for a sermon."
Mistress Clorinda went to the buffet and filled a tankard for herself and carried it back to the table, on the edge of which she half sat, with one leg bent, one foot resting on the floor.
"Time thou wilt have to take, Dad," she said, with an arch grin, showing two rows of gleaming pearls. "This gentleman is my Lord Twemlow's chaplain, whom he sends to exhort you, requesting you to have the civility to hear him."
"Exhort be damned, and Twemlow be damned too!" cried Sir Jeoffry, who had a great quarrel with his lordship and hated him bitterly. "What does the canting fool mean?"
"Sir," faltered the poor message-bearer, "his lordship hath—hath been concerned—having heard—"
The handsome creature balanced against the table took the tankard from her lips and laughed.
"Having heard thy daughter rides to field in breeches, and is an unseemly- behaving wench," she cried, "his lordship sends his chaplain to deliver a discourse thereon—not choosing to come himself. Is not that thy errand, reverend sir?"
The chaplain, poor man, turned pale, having caught, as she spoke, a glimpse of Sir Jeoffry's reddening visage.
"Madam," he faltered, bowing—"Madam, I ask pardon of you most humbly! If it were your pleasure to deign to—to—allow me—"
She set the tankard on the table with a rollicking smack, and thrust her hands in her breeches-pockets, swaying with laughter; and, indeed, 'twas ringing music, her rich great laugh, which, when she grew of riper years, was much lauded and written verses on by her numerous swains.
"If 'twere my pleasure to go away and allow you to speak, free from the awkwardness of a young lady's presence," she said. "But 'tis not, as it happens, and if I stay here, I shall be a protection."
In truth, he required one. Sir Jeoffry broke into a torrent of blasphemy. He damned both kinsman and chaplain, and raged at the impudence of both in daring to approach him, swearing to horsewhip my lord if they ever met, and to have the chaplain kicked out of the house, and beyond the park gates themselves. But Mistress Clorinda chose to make it her whim to take it in better humour, and as a joke with a fine point to it. She laughed at her father's storming, and while the chaplain quailed before it with pallid countenance and fairly hang-dog look, she seemed to find it but a cause for outbursts of merriment.
"Hold thy tongue a bit, Dad," she cried, when he had reached his loudest, "and let his reverence tell us what his message is. We have not even heard it."
"Want not to hear it!" shouted Sir Jeoffry. "Dost think I'll stand his impudence? Not I!"
"What was your message?" demanded the young lady of the chaplain. "You cannot return without delivering it. Tell it to me. I choose it shall be told."
The chaplain clutched and fumbled with his hat, pale, and dropping his eyes upon the floor, for very fear.
"Pluck up thy courage, man," said Clorinda. "I will uphold thee. The message?"
"Your pardon, Madam—'twas this," the chaplain faltered. "My lord commanded me to warn your honoured father—that if he did not beg you to leave off wearing—wearing—"
"Breeches," said Mistress Clorinda, slapping her knee.
The chaplain blushed with modesty, though he was a man of sallow countenance.
"No gentleman," he went on, going more lamely at each word—"notwithstanding your great beauty—no gentleman—"
"Would marry me?" the young lady ended for him, with merciful good-humour.
"For if you—if a young lady be permitted to bear herself in such a manner as will cause her to be held lightly, she can make no match that will not be a dishonour to her family—and—and—"
"And may do worse!" quoth Mistress Clo, and laughed until the room rang.
Sir Jeoffry's rage was such as made him like to burst; but she restrained him when he would have flung his tankard at the chaplain's head, and amid his storm of curses bundled the poor man out of the room, picking up his hat which in his hurry and fright he let fall, and thrusting it into his hand.
"Tell his lordship," she said, laughing still as she spoke the final words, "that I say he is right—and I will see to it that no disgrace befalls him."
"Forsooth, Dad," she said, returning, "perhaps the old son of a—"—something unmannerly—"is not so great a fool. As for me, I mean to make a fine marriage and be a great lady, and I know of none hereabouts to suit me but the old Earl of Dunstanwolde, and 'tis said he rates at all but modest women, and, in faith, he might not find breeches mannerly. I will not hunt in them again."
She did not, though once or twice when she was in a wild mood, and her father entertained at dinner those of his companions whom she was the most inclined to, she swaggered in among them in her daintiest suits of male attire, and caused their wine-shot eyes to gloat over her boyish- maiden charms and jaunty airs and graces.
On the night of her fifteenth birthday Sir Jeoffry gave a great dinner to his boon companions and hers. She had herself commanded that there should be no ladies at the feast; for she chose to announce that she should appear at no more such, having the wit to see that she was too tall a young lady for childish follies, and that she had now arrived at an age when her market must be made.
"I shall have women enough henceforth to be dull with," she said. "Thou art but a poor match-maker, Dad, or wouldst have thought of it for me. But not once has it come into thy pate that I have no mother to angle in my cause and teach me how to cast sheep's eyes at bachelors. Long-tailed petticoats from this time for me, and hoops and patches, and ogling over fans—until at last, if I play my cards well, some great lord will look my way and be taken by my shape and my manners."
"With thy shape, Clo, God knows every man will," laughed Sir Jeoffry, "but I fear me not with thy manners. Thou hast the manners of a baggage, and they are second nature to thee."
"They are what I was born with," answered Mistress Clorinda. "They came from him that begot me, and he has not since improved them. But now"—making a great sweeping curtsey, her impudent bright beauty almost dazzling his eyes—"now, after my birth-night, they will be bettered; but this one night I will have my last fling."
When the men trooped into the black oak wainscotted dining-hall on the eventful night, they found their audacious young hostess awaiting them in greater and more daring beauty than they had ever before beheld. She wore knee-breeches of white satin, a pink satin coat embroidered with silver roses, white silk stockings, and shoes with great buckles of brilliants, revealing a leg so round and strong and delicately moulded, and a foot so arched and slender, as surely never before, they swore one and all, woman had had to display. She met them standing jauntily astride upon the hearth, her back to the fire, and she greeted each one as he came with some pretty impudence. Her hair was tied back and powdered, her black eyes were like lodestars, drawing all men, and her colour was that of a ripe pomegranate. She had a fine, haughty little Roman nose, a mouth like a scarlet bow, a wonderful long throat, and round cleft chin. A dazzling mien indeed she possessed, and ready enough she was to shine before them. Sir Jeoffry was now elderly, having been a man of forty when united to his conjugal companion. Most of his friends were of his own age, so that it had not been with unripe youth Mistress Clorinda had been in the habit of consorting. But upon this night a newcomer was among the guests. He was a young relation of one of the older men, and having come to his kinsman's house upon a visit, and having proved himself, in spite of his youth, to be a young fellow of humour, high courage in the hunting-field, and by no means averse either to entering upon or discussing intrigue and gallant adventure, had made himself something of a favourite. His youthful beauty for a man almost equalled that of Mistress Clorinda herself. He had an elegant, fine shape, of great strength and vigour, his countenance was delicately ruddy and handsomely featured, his curling fair hair flowed loose upon his shoulders, and, though masculine in mould, his ankle was as slender and his buckled shoe as arched as her own.
He was, it is true, twenty-four years of age and a man, while she was but fifteen and a woman, but being so tall and built with such unusual vigour of symmetry, she was a beauteous match for him, and both being attired in fashionable masculine habit, these two pretty young fellows standing smiling saucily at each other were a charming, though singular, spectacle.
This young man was already well known in the modish world of town for his beauty and adventurous spirit. He was indeed already a beau and conqueror of female hearts. It was suspected that he cherished a private ambition to set the modes in beauties and embroidered waistcoats himself in time, and be as renowned abroad and as much the town talk as certain other celebrated beaux had been before him. The art of ogling tenderly and of uttering soft nothings he had learned during his first season in town, and as he had a great melting blue eye, the figure of an Adonis, and a white and shapely hand for a ring, he was well equipped for conquest. He had darted many an inflaming glance at Mistress Clorinda before the first meats were removed. Even in London he had heard a vague rumour of this handsome young woman, bred among her father's dogs, horses, and boon companions, and ripening into a beauty likely to make town faces pale. He had almost fallen into the spleen on hearing that she had left her boy's clothes and vowed she would wear them no more, as above all things he had desired to see how she carried them and what charms they revealed. On hearing from his host and kinsman that she had said that on her birth-night she would bid them farewell for ever by donning them for the last time, he was consumed with eagerness to obtain an invitation. This his kinsman besought for him, and, behold! the first glance the beauty shot at him pierced his inflammable bosom like a dart. Never before had it been his fortune to behold female charms so dazzling and eyes of such lustre and young majesty. The lovely baggage had a saucy way of standing with her white jewelled hands in her pockets like a pretty fop, and throwing up her little head like a modish beauty who was of royal blood; and these two tricks alone, he felt, might have set on fire the heart of a man years older and colder than himself.
If she had been of the order of soft-natured charmers, they would have fallen into each other's eyes before the wine was changed; but this Mistress Clorinda was not. She did not fear to meet the full battery of his enamoured glances, but she did not choose to return them. She played her part of the pretty young fellow who was a high-spirited beauty, with more of wit and fire than she had ever played it before. The rollicking hunting-squires, who had been her play-fellows so long, devoured her with their delighted glances and roared with laughter at her sallies. Their jokes and flatteries were not of the most seemly, but she had not been bred to seemliness and modesty, and was no more ignorant than if she had been, in sooth, some gay young springald of a lad. To her it was part of the entertainment that upon this last night they conducted themselves as beseemed her boyish masquerading. Though country-bred, she had lived among companions who were men of the world and lived without restraints, and she had so far learned from them that at fifteen years old she was as worldly and as familiar with the devices of intrigue as she would be at forty. So far she had not been pushed to practising them, her singular life having thrown her among few of her own age, and those had chanced to be of a sort she disdainfully counted as country bumpkins.
But the young gallant introduced to-night into the world she lived in was no bumpkin, and was a dandy of the town. His name was Sir John Oxon, and he had just come into his title and a pretty property. His hands were as white and bejewelled as her own, his habit was of the latest fashionable cut, and his fair flowing locks scattered a delicate French perfume she did not even know the name of.
But though she observed all these attractions and found them powerful, young Sir John remarked, with a slight sinking qualm, that her great eye did not fall before his amorous glances, but met them with high smiling readiness, and her colour never blanched or heightened a whit for all their masterly skilfulness. But he had sworn to himself that he would approach close enough to her to fire off some fine speech before the night was ended, and he endeavoured to bear himself with at least an outward air of patience until he beheld his opportunity.
When the last dish was removed and bottles and bumpers stood upon the board, she sprang up on her chair and stood before them all, smiling down the long table with eyes like flashing jewels. Her hands were thrust in her pockets—with her pretty young fop's air, and she drew herself to her full comely height, her beauteous lithe limbs and slender feet set smartly together. Twenty pairs of masculine eyes were turned upon her beauty, but none so ardently as the young one's across the table.
"Look your last on my fine shape," she proclaimed in her high, rich voice. "You will see but little of the lower part of it when it is hid in farthingales and petticoats. Look your last before I go to don my fine lady's furbelows."
And when they filled their glasses and lifted them and shouted admiring jests to her, she broke into one of her stable-boy songs, and sang it in the voice of a skylark.
No man among them was used to showing her the courtesies of polite breeding. She had been too long a boy to them for that to have entered any mind, and when she finished her song, sprang down, and made for the door, Sir John beheld his long-looked-for chance, and was there before her to open it with a great bow, made with his hand upon his heart and his fair locks falling.
"You rob us of the rapture of beholding great beauties, Madam," he said in a low, impassioned voice. "But there should be indeed but one happy man whose bliss it is to gaze upon such perfections."
"I am fifteen years old to-night," she answered; "and as yet I have not set eyes upon him."
"How do you know that, madam?" he said, bowing lower still.
She laughed her great rich laugh.
"Forsooth, I do not know," she retorted. "He may be here this very night among this company; and as it might be so, I go to don my modesty."
And she bestowed on him a parting shot in the shape of one of her prettiest young fop waves of the hand, and was gone from him.
* * * * *
When the door closed behind her and Sir John Oxon returned to the table, for a while a sort of dulness fell upon the party. Not being of quick minds or sentiments, these country roisterers failed to understand the heavy cloud of spleen and lack of spirit they experienced, and as they filled their glasses and tossed off one bumper after another to cure it, they soon began again to laugh and fell into boisterous joking.
They talked mostly, indeed, of their young playfellow, of whom they felt, in some indistinct manner, they were to be bereft; they rallied Sir Jeoffry, told stories of her childhood and made pictures of her budding beauties, comparing them with those of young ladies who were celebrated toasts.
"She will sail among them like a royal frigate," said one; "and they will pale before her lustre as a tallow dip does before an illumination."
The clock struck twelve before she returned to them. Just as the last stroke sounded the door was thrown open, and there she stood, a woman on each side of her, holding a large silver candelabra bright with wax tapers high above her, so that she was in a flood of light.
She was attired in rich brocade of crimson and silver, and wore a great hooped petticoat, which showed off her grandeur, her waist of no more bigness than a man's hands could clasp, set in its midst like the stem of a flower; her black hair was rolled high and circled with jewels, her fair long throat blazed with a collar of diamonds, and the majesty of her eye and lip and brow made up a mien so dazzling that every man sprang to his feet beholding her.
She made a sweeping obeisance and then stood up before them, her head thrown back and her lips curving in the triumphant mocking smile of a great beauty looking upon them all as vassals.
"Down upon your knees," she cried, "and drink to me kneeling. From this night all men must bend so—all men on whom I deign to cast my eyes."
CHAPTER V—"Not I," said she. "There thou mayst trust me. I would not be found out."
She went no more a-hunting in boy's clothes, but from this time forward wore brocades and paduasoys, fine lawn and lace. Her tirewoman was kept so busily engaged upon making rich habits, fragrant waters and essences, and so running at her bidding to change her gown or dress her head in some new fashion, that her life was made to her a weighty burden to bear, and also a painful one. Her place had before been an easy one but for her mistress's choleric temper, but it was so no more. Never had young lady been so exacting and so tempestuous when not pleased with the adorning of her face and shape. In the presence of polite strangers, whether ladies or gentlemen, Mistress Clorinda in these days chose to chasten her language and give less rein to her fantastical passions, but alone in her closet with her woman, if a riband did but not suit her fancy, or a hoop not please, she did not fear to be as scurrilous as she chose. In this discreet retirement she rapped out oaths and boxed her woman's ears with a vigorous hand, tore off her gowns and stamped them beneath her feet, or flung pots of pomade at the poor woman's head. She took these freedoms with such a readiness and spirit that she was served with a despatch and humbleness scarcely to be equalled, and, it is certain, never excelled.
The high courage and undaunted will which had been the engines she had used to gain her will from her infant years aided her in these days to carry out what her keen mind and woman's wit had designed, which was to take the county by storm with her beauty, and reign toast and enslaver until such time as she won the prize of a husband of rich estates and notable rank.
It was soon bruited abroad, to the amazement of the county, that Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had changed her strange and unseemly habits of life, and had become as much a young lady of fashion and breeding as her birth and charm demanded. This was first made known by her appearing one Sunday morning at church, accompanied—as though attended with a retinue of servitors—by Mistress Wimpole and her two sisters, whose plain faces, awkward shape, and still more awkward attire were such a foil to her glowing loveliness as set it in high relief. It was seldom that the coach from Wildairs Hall drew up before the lych-gate, but upon rare Sunday mornings Mistress Wimpole and her two charges contrived, if Sir Jeoffry was not in an ill-humour and the coachman was complaisant, to be driven to service. Usually, however, they trudged afoot, and, if the day chanced to be sultry, arrived with their snub-nosed faces of a high and shiny colour, or if the country roads were wet, with their petticoats bemired.
This morning, when the coach drew up, the horses were well groomed, the coachman smartly dressed, and a footman was in attendance, who sprang to earth and opened the door with a flourish.
The loiterers in the churchyard, and those who were approaching the gate or passing towards the church porch, stared with eyes wide stretched in wonder and incredulity. Never had such a thing before been beheld or heard of as what they now saw in broad daylight.
Mistress Clorinda, clad in highest town fashion, in brocades and silver lace and splendid furbelows, stepped forth from the chariot with the air of a queen. She had the majestic composure of a young lady who had worn nothing less modish than such raiment all her life, and who had prayed decorously beneath her neighbours' eyes since she had left her nurse's care.
Her sisters and their governess looked timorous, and as if they knew not where to cast their eyes for shamefacedness; but not so Mistress Clorinda, who moved forward with a stately, swimming gait, her fine head in the air. As she stepped into the porch a young gentleman drew back and made a profound obeisance to her. She cast her eyes upon him and returned it with a grace and condescension which struck the beholders dumb with admiring awe. To some of the people of a commoner sort he was a stranger, but all connected with the gentry knew he was Sir John Oxon, who was staying at Eldershawe Park with his relative, whose estate it was.
How Mistress Clorinda contrived to manage it no one was aware but herself, but after a few appearances at church she appeared at other places. She was seen at dinners at fine houses, and began to be seen at routs and balls. Where she was seen she shone, and with such radiance as caused matchmaking matrons great dismay, and their daughters woeful qualms. Once having shone, she could not be extinguished or hidden under a bushel; for, being of rank and highly connected through mother as well as father, and playing her cards with great wit and skill, she could not be thrust aside.
At her first hunt ball she set aflame every male breast in the shire, unmasking such a battery of charms as no man could withstand the fire of. Her dazzling eye, her wondrous shape, the rich music of her laugh, and the mocking wit of her sharp saucy tongue were weapons to have armed a dozen women, and she was but one, and in the first rich tempting glow of blooming youth.
She turned more heads and caused more quarrels than she could have counted had she sat up half the night. She went to her coach with her father followed by a dozen gallants, each ready to spit the other for a smile. Her smiles were wondrous, but there seemed always a touch of mockery or disdain in them which made them more remembered than if they had been softer.
One man there was, who perchance found something in her high glance not wholly scornful, but he was used to soft treatment from women, and had, in sooth, expected milder glances than were bestowed upon him. This was young Sir John Oxon, who had found himself among the fair sex that night as great a beau as she had been a belle; but two dances he had won from her, and this was more than any other man could boast, and what other gallants envied him with darkest hatred.
Sir Jeoffry, who had watched her as she queened it amongst rakes and fops and honest country squires and knights, had marked the vigour with which they plied her with an emotion which was a new sensation to his drink- bemuddled brain. So far as it was in his nature to love another than himself, he had learned to love this young lovely virago of his own flesh and blood, perchance because she was the only creature who had never quailed before him, and had always known how to bend him to her will.
When the chariot rode away, he looked at her as she sat erect in the early morning light, as unblenching, bright, and untouched in bloom as if she had that moment risen from her pillow and washed her face in dew. He was not so drunk as he had been at midnight, but he was a little maudlin.
"By God, thou art handsome, Clo!" he said. "By God, I never saw a finer woman!"
"Nor I," she answered back, "which I thank Heaven for."
"Thou pretty, brazen baggage," her father laughed. "Old Dunstanwolde looked thee well over to-night. He never looked away from the moment he clapped eyes on thee."
"That I knew better than thee, Dad," said the beauty; "and I saw that he could not have done it if he had tried. If there comes no richer, younger great gentleman, he shall marry me."
"Thou hast a sharp eye and a keen wit," said Sir Jeoffry, looking askance at her with a new maggot in his brain. "Wouldst never play the fool, I warrant. They will press thee hard and 'twill be hard to withstand their love-making, but I shall never have to mount and ride off with pistols in my holsters to bring back a man and make him marry thee, as Chris Crowell had to do for his youngest wench. Thou wouldst never play the fool, I warrant—wouldst thou, Clo?"
She tossed her head and laughed like a young scornful devil, showing her white pearl teeth between her lips' scarlet.
"Not I," she said. "There thou mayst trust me. I would not be found out."
She played her part as triumphant beauty so successfully that the cleverest managing mother in the universe could not have bettered her position. Gallants brawled for her; honest men fell at her feet; romantic swains wrote verses to her, praising her eyes, her delicate bosom, the carnation of her cheek, and the awful majesty of her mien. In every revel she was queen, in every contest of beauties Venus, in every spectacle of triumph empress of them all.
The Earl of Dunstanwolde, who had the oldest name and the richest estates in his own county and the six adjoining ones, who, having made a love- match in his prime, and lost wife and heir but a year after his nuptials, had been the despair of every maid and mother who knew him, because he would not be melted to a marriageable mood. After the hunt ball this mourning nobleman, who was by this time of ripe years, had appeared in the world again as he had not done for many years. Before many months had elapsed, it was known that his admiration of the new beauty was confessed, and it was believed that he but waited further knowledge of her to advance to the point of laying his title and estates at her feet.
But though, two years before, the entire county would have rated low indeed the wit and foresight of the man who had even hinted the possibility of such honour and good fortune being in prospect for the young lady, so great was Mistress Clorinda's brilliant and noble beauty, and with such majesty she bore herself in these times, that there were even those who doubted whether she would think my lord a rich enough prize for her, and if, when he fell upon his knees, she would deign to become his countess, feeling that she had such splendid wares to dispose of as might be bartered for a duke, when she went to town and to court.
During the length of more than one man's lifetime after, the reign of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs was a memory recalled over the bottle at the dining-table among men, some of whom had but heard their fathers vaunt her beauties. It seemed as if in her person there was not a single flaw, or indeed a charm, which had not reached the highest point of beauty. For shape she might have vied with young Diana, mounted side by side with her upon a pedestal; her raven locks were of a length and luxuriance to clothe her as a garment, her great eye commanded and flashed as Juno's might have done in the goddess's divinest moments of lovely pride, and though it was said none ever saw it languish, each man who adored her was maddened by the secret belief that Venus' self could not so melt in love as she if she would stoop to loving—as each one prayed she might—himself. Her hands and feet, her neck, the slimness of her waist, her mantling crimson and ivory white, her little ear, her scarlet lip, the pearls between them and her long white throat, were perfection each and all, and catalogued with oaths of rapture.
"She hath such beauties," one admirer said, "that a man must toast them all and cannot drink to her as to a single woman. And she hath so many that to slight none her servant must go from the table reeling."
There was but one thing connected with her which was not a weapon to her hand, and this was, that she was not a fortune. Sir Jeoffry had drunk and rioted until he had but little left. He had cut his timber and let his estate go to rack, having, indeed, no money to keep it up. The great Hall, which had once been a fine old place, was almost a ruin. Its carved oak and noble rooms and galleries were all of its past splendours that remained. All had been sold that could be sold, and all the outcome had been spent. The county, indeed, wondered where Mistress Clorinda's fine clothes came from, and knew full well why she was not taken to court to kneel to the Queen. That she was waiting for this to make her match, the envious were quite sure, and did not hesitate to whisper pretty loudly.
The name of one man of rank and fortune after another was spoken of as that of a suitor to her hand, but in some way it was discovered that she refused them all. It was also known that they continued to worship her, and that at any moment she could call even the best among them back. It seemed that, while all the men were enamoured of her, there was not one who could cure himself of his passion, however hopeless it might be.
Her wit was as great as her beauty, and she had a spirit before which no man could stand if she chose to be disdainful. To some she was so, and had the whim to flout them with great brilliancy. Encounters with her were always remembered, and if heard by those not concerned, were considered worthy both of recollection and of being repeated to the world; she had a tongue so nimble and a wit so full of fire.
Young Sir John Oxon's visit to his relative at Eldershawe being at an end, he returned to town, and remaining there through a few weeks of fashionable gaiety, won new reputations as a triumpher over the female heart. He made some renowned conquests and set the mode in some new essences and sword-knots. But even these triumphs appeared to pall upon him shortly, since he deserted the town and returned again to the country, where, on this occasion, he did not stay with his relative, but with Sir Jeoffry himself, who had taken a boisterous fancy to him.
It had been much marked since the altered life of Mistress Clorinda that she, who had previously defied all rules laid down on behaviour for young ladies, and had been thought to do so because she knew none of them, now proved that her wild fashion had been but wilfulness, since it was seen that she must have observed and marked manners with the best. There seemed no decorum she did not know how to observe with the most natural grace. It was, indeed, all grace and majesty, there being no suggestion of the prude about her, but rather the manner of a young lady having been born with pride and stateliness, and most carefully bred. This was the result of her wondrous wit, the highness of her talents, and the strength of her will, which was of such power that she could carry out without fail anything she chose to undertake. There are some women who have beauty, and some who have wit or vigour of understanding, but she possessed all three, and with them such courage and strength of nerve as would have well equipped a man.
Quick as her wit was and ready as were her brilliant quips and sallies, there was no levity in her demeanour, and she kept Mistress Margery Wimpole in discreet attendance upon her, as if she had been the daughter of a Spanish Hidalgo, never to be approached except in the presence of her duenna. Poor Mistress Margery, finding her old fears removed, was overpowered with new ones. She had no lawlessness or hoyden manners to contend with, but instead a haughtiness so high and demands so great that her powers could scarcely satisfy the one or her spirit stand up before the other.
"It is as if one were lady-in-waiting to her Majesty's self," she used to whimper when she was alone and dare do so. "Surely the Queen has not such a will and such a temper. She will have me toil to look worthy of her in my habit, and bear myself like a duchess in dignity. Alack! I have practised my obeisance by the hour to perfect it, so that I may escape her wrath. And I must know how to look, and when and where to sit, and with what air of being near at hand, while I must see nothing! And I must drag my failing limbs hither and thither with genteel ease while I ache from head to foot, being neither young nor strong."
The poor lady was so overawed by, and yet so admired, her charge, that it was piteous to behold.
"She is an arrant fool," quoth Mistress Clorinda to her father. "A nice duenna she would be, forsooth, if she were with a woman who needed watching. She could be hoodwinked as it pleased me a dozen times a day. It is I who am her guard, not she mine! But a beauty must drag some spy about with her, it seems, and she I can make to obey me like a spaniel. We can afford no better, and she is well born, and since I bought her the purple paduasoy and the new lappets she has looked well enough to serve."
"Dunstanwolde need not fear for thee now," said Sir Jeoffry. "Thou art a clever and foreseeing wench, Clo."
"Dunstanwolde nor any man!" she answered. "There will be no gossip of me. It is Anne and Barbara thou must look to, Dad, lest their plain faces lead them to show soft hearts. My face is my fortune!"
When Sir John Oxon paid his visit to Sir Jeoffry the days of Mistress Margery were filled with carking care. The night before he arrived, Mistress Clorinda called her to her closet and laid upon her her commands in her own high way. She was under her woman's hands, and while her great mantle of black hair fell over the back of her chair and lay on the floor, her tirewoman passing the brush over it, lock by lock, she was at her greatest beauty. Either she had been angered or pleased, for her cheek wore a bloom even deeper and richer than usual, and there was a spark like a diamond under the fringe of her lashes.
At her first timorous glance at her, Mistress Margery thought she must have been angered, the spark so burned in her eyes, and so evident was the light but quick heave of her bosom; but the next moment it seemed as if she must be in a pleasant humour, for a little smile deepened the dimples in the corner of her bowed, full lips. But quickly she looked up and resumed her stately air.
"This gentleman who comes to visit to-morrow," she said, "Sir John Oxon—do you know aught of him?"
"But little, Madame," Mistress Margery answered with fear and humility.
"Then it will be well that you should, since I have commands to lay upon you concerning him," said the beauty.
"You do me honour," said the poor gentlewoman.
Mistress Clorinda looked her straight in the face.
"He is a gentleman from town, the kinsman of Lord Eldershawe," she said. "He is a handsome man, concerning whom many women have been fools. He chooses to allow it to be said that he is a conqueror of female hearts and virtue, even among women of fashion and rank. If this be said in the town, what may not be said in the country? He shall wear no such graces here. He chooses to pay his court to me. He is my father's guest and a man of fashion. Let him make as many fine speeches as he has the will to. I will listen or not as I choose. I am used to words. But see that we are not left alone."
The tirewoman pricked up her ears. Clorinda saw her in the glass.
"Attend to thy business if thou dost not want a box o' the ear," she said in a tone which made the woman start.
"You would not be left alone with the gentleman, Madam?" faltered Mistress Margery.
"If he comes to boast of conquests," said Mistress Clorinda, looking at her straight again and drawing down her black brows, "I will play as cleverly as he. He cannot boast greatly of one whom he never makes his court to but in the presence of a kinswoman of ripe years. Understand that this is to be your task."
"I will remember," Madam, answered Mistress Margery. "I will bear myself as you command."
"That is well," said Mistress Clorinda. "I will keep you no more. You may go."
CHAPTER VI—Relating how Mistress Anne discovered a miniature
The good gentlewoman took her leave gladly. She had spent a life in timid fears of such things and persons as were not formed by Nature to excite them, but never had she experienced such humble terrors as those with which Mistress Clorinda inspired her. Never did she approach her without inward tremor, and never did she receive permission to depart from her presence without relief. And yet her beauty and wit and spirit had no admirer regarding them with more of wondering awe.
In the bare west wing of the house, comfortless though the neglect of its master had made it, there was one corner where she was unafraid. Her first charges, Mistress Barbara and Mistress Anne, were young ladies of gentle spirit. Their sister had said of them that their spirit was as poor as their looks. It could not be said of them by any one that they had any pretension to beauty, but that which Mistress Clorinda rated at as poor spirit was the one element of comfort in their poor dependent kinswoman's life. They gave her no ill words, they indulged in no fantastical whims and vapours, and they did not even seem to expect other entertainment than to walk the country roads, to play with their little lap-dog Cupid, wind silks for their needlework, and please themselves with their embroidery-frames.
To them their sister appeared a goddess whom it would be presumptuous to approach in any frame of mind quite ordinary. Her beauty must be heightened by rich adornments, while their plain looks were left without the poorest aid. It seemed but fitting that what there was to spend must be spent on her. They showed no signs of resentment, and took with gratitude such cast-off finery as she deigned at times to bestow upon them, when it was no longer useful to herself. She was too full of the occupations of pleasure to have had time to notice them, even if her nature had inclined her to the observance of family affections. It was their habit, when they knew of her going out in state, to watch her incoming and outgoing through a peep-hole in a chamber window. Mistress Margery told them stories of her admirers and of her triumphs, of the county gentlemen of fortune who had offered themselves to her, and of the modes of life in town of the handsome Sir John Oxon, who, without doubt, was of the circle of her admiring attendants, if he had not fallen totally her victim, as others had.
Of the two young women, it was Mistress Anne who had the more parts, and the attraction of the mind the least dull. In sooth, Nature had dealt with both in a niggardly fashion, but Mistress Barbara was the plainer and the more foolish. Mistress Anne had, perchance, the tenderer feelings, and was in secret given to a certain sentimentality. She was thin and stooping, and had but a muddy complexion; her hair was heavy, it is true, but its thickness and weight seemed naught but an ungrateful burden; and she had a dull, soft eye. In private she was fond of reading such romances as she could procure by stealth from the library of books gathered together in past times by some ancestor Sir Jeoffry regarded as an idiot. Doubtless she met with strange reading in the volumes she took to her closet, and her simple virgin mind found cause for the solving of many problems; but from the pages she contrived to cull stories of lordly lovers and cruel or kind beauties, whose romances created for her a strange world of pleasure in the midst of her loneliness. Poor, neglected young female, with every guileless maiden instinct withered at birth, she had need of some tender dreams to dwell upon, though Fate herself seemed to have decreed that they must be no more than visions.
It was, in sooth, always the beauteous Clorinda about whose charms she builded her romances. In her great power she saw that for which knights fought in tourney and great kings committed royal sins, and to her splendid beauty she had in secrecy felt that all might be forgiven. She cherished such fancies of her, that one morning, when she believed her absent from the house, she stole into the corridor upon which Clorinda's apartment opened. Her first timid thought had been, that if a chamber door were opened she might catch a glimpse of some of the splendours her sister's woman was surely laying out for her wearing at a birth-night ball, at the house of one of the gentry of the neighbourhood. But it so happened that she really found the door of entrance open, which, indeed, she had not more than dared to hope, and finding it so, she stayed her footsteps to gaze with beating heart within. On the great bed, which was of carved oak and canopied with tattered tapestry, there lay spread such splendours as she had never beheld near to before. 'Twas blue and silver brocade Mistress Clorinda was to shine in to-night; it lay spread forth in all its dimensions. The beautiful bosom and shoulders were to be bared to the eyes of scores of adorers, but rich lace was to set their beauties forth, and strings of pearls. Why Sir Jeoffry had not sold his lady's jewels before he became enamoured of her six-year-old child it would be hard to explain. There was a great painted fan with jewels in the sticks, and on the floor—as if peeping forth from beneath the bravery of the expanded petticoats—was a pair of blue and silver shoes, high-heeled and arched and slender. In gazing at them Mistress Anne lost her breath, thinking that in some fashion they had a regal air of being made to trample hearts beneath them.
To the gentle, hapless virgin, to whom such possessions were as the wardrobe of a queen, the temptation to behold them near was too great. She could not forbear from passing the threshold, and she did with heaving breast. She approached the bed and gazed; she dared to touch the scented gloves that lay by the outspread petticoat of blue and silver; she even laid a trembling finger upon the pointed bodice, which was so slender that it seemed small enough for even a child.
"Ah me," she sighed gently, "how beautiful she will be! How beautiful! And all of them will fall at her feet, as is not to be wondered at. And it was always so all her life, even when she was an infant, and all gave her her will because of her beauty and her power. She hath a great power. Barbara and I are not so. We are dull and weak, and dare not speak our minds. It is as if we were creatures of another world; but He who rules all things has so willed it for us. He has given it to us for our portion—our portion."