Part 1 out of 5
This etext was prepared from the 1896 Fredericke 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 court-yard 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
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
He uttered an exclamation of anger.
"Damnation! Mother Posset again," he said. "What does she there,
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
"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
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
"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 bedclothes, 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
"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
"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,
There was a rattling in her throat as she breathed, but in her
glazing eyes a gleam like passion leaped, and gasping, she dragged
"'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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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-
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 tire-woman 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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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.
"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
"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-
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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 fur-belows, 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
"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 lovemaking, 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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
Her dull, poor face dropped a little as she spoke the words, and her
eyes fell upon the beauteous tiny shoes, which seemed to trample
even when no foot was within them. She stooped to take one in her
hand, but as she was about to lift it something which seemed to have
been dropped upon the floor, and to have rolled beneath the valance
of the bed, touched her hand. It was a thing to which a riband was
attached--an ivory miniature--and she picked it up wondering. She
stood up gazing at it, in such bewilderment to find her eyes upon it
that she scarce knew what she did. She did not mean to pry; she
would not have had the daring so to do if she had possessed the
inclination. But the instant her eyes told her what they saw, she
started and blushed as she had never blushed before in her tame
life. The warm rose mantled her cheeks, and even suffused the neck
her chaste kerchief hid. Her eye kindled with admiration and an
emotion new to her indeed.
"How beautiful!" she said. "He is like a young Adonis, and has the
bearing of a royal prince! How can it--by what strange chance hath
it come here?"
She had not regarded it more than long enough to have uttered these
words, when a fear came upon her, and she felt that she had fallen
"What must I do with it?" she trembled. "What will she say, whether
she knows of its being within the chamber or not? She will be angry
with me that I have dared to touch it. What shall I do?"
She regarded it again with eyes almost suffused. Her blush and the
sensibility of her emotion gave to her plain countenance a new
liveliness of tint and expression.
"I will put it back where I found it," she said, "and the one who
knows it will find it later. It cannot be she--it cannot be she!
If I laid it on her table she would rate me bitterly--and she can be
bitter when she will."
She bent and placed it within the shadow of the valance again, and
as she felt it touch the hard oak of the polished floor her bosom
rose with a soft sigh.
"It is an unseemly thing to do," she said; "'tis as though one were
uncivil; but I dare not--I dare not do otherwise."
She would have turned to leave the apartment, being much overcome by
the incident, but just as she would have done so she heard the sound
of horses' feet through the window by which she must pass, and
looked out to see if it was Clorinda who was returning from her
ride. Mistress Clorinda was a matchless horsewoman, and a marvel of
loveliness and spirit she looked when she rode, sitting upon a horse
such as no other woman dared to mount--always an animal of the
greatest beauty, but of so dangerous a spirit that her riding-whip
was loaded like a man's.
This time it was not she; and when Mistress Anne beheld the young
gentleman who had drawn rein in the court she started backward and
put her hand to her heart, the blood mantling her pale cheek again
in a flood. But having started back, the next instant she started
forward to gaze again, all her timid soul in her eyes.
"'Tis he!" she panted; "'tis he himself! He hath come in hope to
speak with my sister, and she is abroad. Poor gentleman, he hath
come in such high spirit, and must ride back heavy of heart. How
comely, and how finely clad he is!"
He was, in sooth, with his rich riding-habit, his handsome face, his
plumed hat, and the sun shining on the fair luxuriant locks which
fell beneath it. It was Sir John Oxon, and he was habited as when
he rode in the park in town and the court was there. Not so were
attired the country gentry whom Anne had been wont to see, though
many of them were well mounted, knowing horseflesh and naught else,
as they did.
She pressed her cheek against the side of the oriel window, over
which the ivy grew thickly. She was so intent that she could not
withdraw her gaze. She watched him as he turned away, having
received his dismissal, and she pressed her face closer that she
might follow him as he rode down the long avenue of oak-trees, his
servant riding behind.
Thus she bent forward gazing, until he turned and the oaks hid him
from her sight; and even then the spell was not dissolved, and she
still regarded the place where he had passed, until a sound behind
her made her start violently. It was a peal of laughter, high and
rich, and when she so started and turned to see whom it might be,
she beheld her sister Clorinda, who was standing just within the
threshold, as if movement had been arrested by what had met her eye
as she came in. Poor Anne put her hand to her side again.
"Oh sister!" she gasped; "oh sister!" but could say no more.
She saw that she had thought falsely, and that Clorinda had not been
out at all, for she was in home attire; and even in the midst of her
trepidation there sprang into Anne's mind the awful thought that
through some servant's blunder the comely young visitor had been
sent away. For herself, she expected but to be driven forth with
wrathful, disdainful words for her presumption. For what else could
she hope from this splendid creature, who, while of her own flesh
and blood, had never seemed to regard her as being more than a poor
superfluous underling? But strangely enough, there was no anger in
Clorinda's eyes; she but laughed, as though what she had seen had
made her merry.
"You here, Anne," she said, "and looking with light-mindedness after
gallant gentlemen! Mistress Margery should see to this and watch
more closely, or we shall have unseemly stories told. YOU, sister,
with your modest face and bashfulness! I had not thought it of
Suddenly she crossed the room to where her sister stood drooping,
and seized her by the shoulder, so that she could look her well in
"What," she said, with a mocking not quite harsh--"What is this?
Does a glance at a fine gallant, even taken from behind an oriel
window, make such change indeed? I never before saw this look, nor
this colour, forsooth; it hath improved thee wondrously, Anne--
"Sister," faltered Anne, "I so desired to see your birth-night ball-
gown, of which Mistress Margery hath much spoken--I so desired--I
thought it would not matter if, the door being open and it spread
forth upon the bed--I--I stole a look at it. And then I was