Part 2 out of 5
tempted--and came in."
"And then was tempted more," Clorinda laughed, still regarding her
downcast countenance shrewdly, "by a thing far less to be resisted--
a fine gentleman from town, with love-locks falling on his shoulders
and ladies' hearts strung at his saddle-bow by scores. Which found
you the most beautiful?"
"Your gown is splendid, sister," said Anne, with modest shyness.
"There will be no beauty who will wear another like it; or should
there be one, she will not carry it as you will."
"But the man--the man, Anne," Clorinda laughed again. "What of the
Anne plucked up just enough of her poor spirit to raise her eyes to
the brilliant ones that mocked at her.
"With such gentlemen, sister," she said, "is it like that I have
aught to do?"
Mistress Clorinda dropped her hand and left laughing.
"'Tis true," she said, "it is not; but for this one time, Anne, thou
lookest almost a woman."
"'Tis not beauty alone that makes womanhood," said Anne, her head on
her breast again. "In some book I have read that--that it is mostly
pain. I am woman enough for that."
"You have read--you have read," quoted Clorinda. "You are the
bookworm, I remember, and filch romances and poems from the shelves.
And you have read that it is mostly pain that makes a woman? 'Tis
not true. 'Tis a poor lie. I am a woman and I do not suffer--for I
WILL not, that I swear! And when I take an oath I keep it, mark
you! It is men women suffer for; that was what your scholar meant--
for such fine gentlemen as the one you have just watched while he
rode away. More fools they! No man shall make ME womanly in such a
fashion, I promise you! Let THEM wince and kneel; I will not."
"Sister," Anne faltered, "I thought you were not within. The
gentleman who rode away--did the servants know?"
"That did they," quoth Clorinda, mocking again. "They knew that I
would not receive him to-day, and so sent him away. He might have
known as much himself, but he is an arrant popinjay, and thinks all
women wish to look at his fine shape, and hear him flatter them when
he is in the mood."
"You would not--let him enter?"
Clorinda threw her graceful body into a chair with more light
"I would not", she answered. "You cannot understand such
ingratitude, poor Anne; you would have treated him more softly. Sit
down and talk to me, and I will show thee my furbelows myself. All
women like to chatter of their laced bodices and petticoats. THAT
is what makes a woman."
Anne was tremulous with relief and pleasure. It was as if a queen
had bid her to be seated. She sat almost with the humble lack of
case a serving-woman might have shown. She had never seen Clorinda
wear such an air before, and never had she dreamed that she would so
open herself to any fellow-creature. She knew but little of what
her sister was capable--of the brilliancy of her charm when she
chose to condescend, of the deigning softness of her manner when she
chose to please, of her arch-pleasantries and cutting wit, and of
the strange power she could wield over any human being, gentle or
simple, with whom she came in contact. But if she had not known of
these things before, she learned to know them this morning. For
some reason best known to herself, Mistress Clorinda was in a high
good humour. She kept Anne with her for more than an hour, and was
dazzling through every moment of its passing. She showed her the
splendours she was to shine in at the birth-night ball, even
bringing forth her jewels and displaying them. She told her stories
of the house of which the young heir to-day attained his majority,
and mocked at the poor youth because he was ungainly, and at a
distance had been her slave since his nineteenth year.
"I have scarce looked at him," she said. "He is a lout, with great
eyes staring, and a red nose. It does not need that one should look
at men to win them. They look at us, and that is enough."
To poor Mistress Anne, who had seen no company and listened to no
wits, the entertainment bestowed upon her was as wonderful as a
night at the playhouse would have been. To watch the vivid changing
face; to hearken to jesting stories of men and women who seemed like
the heroes and heroines of her romances; to hear love itself--the
love she trembled and palpitated at the mere thought of--spoken of
openly as an experience which fell to all; to hear it mocked at with
dainty or biting quips; to learn that women of all ages played with,
enjoyed, or lost themselves for it--it was with her as if a nun had
been withdrawn from her cloister and plunged into the vortex of the
"Sister," she said, looking at the Beauty with humble, adoring eyes,
"you make me feel that my romances are true. You tell such things.
It is like seeing pictures of things to hear you talk. No wonder
that all listen to you, for indeed 'tis wonderful the way you have
with words. You use them so that 'tis as though they had shapes of
their own and colours, and you builded with them. I thank you for
being so gracious to me, who have seen so little, and cannot tell
the poor, quiet things I have seen."
And being led into the loving boldness by her gratitude, she bent
forward and touched with her lips the fair hand resting on the
Mistress Clorinda fixed her fine eyes upon her in a new way.
"I' faith, it doth not seem fair, Anne," she said. "I should not
like to change lives with thee. Thou hast eyes like a shot
pheasant--soft, and with the bright hid beneath the dull. Some man
might love them, even if thou art no beauty. Stay," suddenly;
She uprose from her chair and went to the oaken wardrobe, and threw
the door of it open wide while she looked within.
"There is a gown and tippet or so here, and a hood and some ribands
I might do without," she said. "My woman shall bear them to your
chamber, and show you how to set them to rights. She is a nimble-
fingered creature, and a gown of mine would give almost stuff enough
to make you two. Then some days, when I am not going abroad and
Mistress Margery frets me too much, I will send for you to sit with
me, and you shall listen to the gossip when a visitor drops in to
have a dish of tea."
Anne would have kissed her feet then, if she had dared to do so.
She blushed red all over, and adored her with a more worshipping
gaze than before.
"I should not have dared to hope so much," she stammered. "I could
not--perhaps it is not fitting--perhaps I could not bear myself as I
should. I would try to show myself a gentlewoman and seemly. I--I
AM a gentlewoman, though I have learned so little. I could not be
aught but a gentlewoman, could I, sister, being of your own blood
and my parents' child?" half afraid to presume even this much.
"No," said Clorinda. "Do not be a fool, Anne, and carry yourself
too humbly before the world. You can be as humble as you like to
"I shall--I shall be your servant and worship you, sister," cried
the poor soul, and she drew near and kissed again the white hand
which had bestowed with such royal bounty all this joy. It would
not have occurred to her that a cast-off robe and riband were but
It was not a minute after this grateful caress that Clorinda made a
sharp movement--a movement which was so sharp that it seemed to be
one of dismay. At first, as if involuntarily, she had raised her
hand to her tucker, and after doing so she started--though 'twas but
for a second's space, after which her face was as it had been
"What is it?" exclaimed Anne. "Have you lost anything?"
"No," quoth Mistress Clorinda quite carelessly, as she once more
turned to the contents of the oaken wardrobe; "but I thought I
missed a trinket I was wearing for a wager, and I would not lose it
before the bet is won."
"Sister," ventured Anne before she left her and went away to her own
dull world in the west wing, "there is a thing I can do if you will
allow me. I can mend your tapestry hangings which have holes in
them. I am quick at my needle, and should love to serve you in such
poor ways as I can; and it is not seemly that they should be so
worn. All things about you should be beautiful and well kept."
"Can you make these broken things beautiful?" said Clorinda. "Then
indeed you shall. You may come here to mend them when you will."
"They are very fine hangings, though so old and ill cared for," said
Anne, looking up at them; "and I shall be only too happy sitting
here thinking of all you are doing while I am at my work."
"Thinking of all I am doing?" laughed Mistress Clorinda. "That
would give you such wondrous things to dream of, Anne, that you
would have no time for your needle, and my hangings would stay as
"I can think and darn also," said Mistress Anne, "so I will come."
CHAPTER VII--'Twas the face of Sir John Oxon the moon shone upon
From that time henceforward into the young woman's dull life there
came a little change. It did not seem a little change to her, but a
great one, though to others it would have seemed slight indeed. She
was an affectionate, house-wifely creature, who would have made the
best of wives and mothers if it had been so ordained by Fortune, and
something of her natural instincts found outlet in the furtive
service she paid her sister, who became the empress of her soul.
She darned and patched the tattered hangings with a wonderful
neatness, and the hours she spent at work in the chamber were to her
almost as sacred as hours spent at religious duty, or as those nuns
and novices give to embroidering altar-cloths. There was a
brightness in the room that seemed in no other in the house, and the
lingering essences in the air of it were as incense to her. In
secrecy she even busied herself with keeping things in better order
than Rebecca, Mistress Clorinda's woman, had ever had time to do
before. She also contrived to get into her own hands some duties
that were Rebecca's own. She could mend lace cleverly and arrange
riband-knots with taste, and even change the fashion of a gown. The
hard-worked tirewoman was but too glad to be relieved, and kept her
secret well, being praised many times for the set or fashion of a
thing into which she had not so much as set a needle. Being a
shrewd baggage, she was wise enough always to relate to Anne the
story of her mistress's pleasure, having the wit to read in her
delight that she would be encouraged to fresh effort.
At times it so befell that, when Anne went into the bed-chamber, she
found the beauty there, who, if she chanced to be in the humour,
would detain her in her presence for a space and bewitch her over
again. In sooth, it seemed that she took a pleasure in showing her
female adorer how wondrously full of all fascinations she could be.
At such times Anne's plain face would almost bloom with excitement,
and her shot pheasant's eyes would glow as if beholding a goddess.
She neither saw nor heard more of the miniature on the riband. It
used to make her tremble at times to fancy that by some strange
chance it might still be under the bed, and that the handsome face
smiled and the blue eyes gazed in the very apartment where she
herself sat and her sister was robed and disrobed in all her beauty.
She used all her modest skill in fitting to her own shape and
refurnishing the cast-off bits of finery bestowed upon her. It was
all set to rights long before Clorinda recalled to mind that she had
promised that Anne should sometime see her chance visitors take
their dish of tea with her.
But one day, for some cause, she did remember, and sent for her.
Anne ran to her bedchamber and donned her remodelled gown with
shaking hands. She laughed a little hysterically as she did it,
seeing her plain snub-nosed face in the glass. She tried to dress
her head in a fashion new to her, and knew she did it ill and
untidily, but had no time to change it. If she had had some red she
would have put it on, but such vanities were not in her chamber or
Barbara's. So she rubbed her cheeks hard, and even pinched them, so
that in the end they looked as if they were badly rouged. It seemed
to her that her nose grew red too, and indeed 'twas no wonder, for
her hands and feet were like ice.
"She must be ashamed of me," the humble creature said to herself.
"And if she is ashamed she will be angered and send me away and be
friends no more."
She did not deceive herself, poor thing, and imagine she had the
chance of being regarded with any great lenience if she appeared
"Mistress Clorinda begged that you would come quickly," said
Rebecca, knocking at the door.
So she caught her handkerchief, which was scented, as all her
garments were, with dried rose-leaves from the garden, which she had
conserved herself, and went down to the chintz parlour trembling.
It was a great room with white panels, and flowered coverings to the
furniture. There were a number of ladies and gentlemen standing
talking and laughing loudly together. The men outnumbered the
women, and most of them stood in a circle about Mistress Clorinda,
who sat upright in a great flowered chair, smiling with her mocking,
stately air, as if she defied them to dare to speak what they felt.
Anne came in like a mouse. Nobody saw her. She did not, indeed,
know what to do. She dared not remain standing all alone, so she
crept to the place where her sister's chair was, and stood a little
behind its high back. Her heart beat within her breast till it was
like to choke her.
They were only country gentlemen who made the circle, but to her
they seemed dashing gallants. That some of them had red noses as
well as cheeks, and that their voices were big and their gallantries
boisterous, was no drawback to their manly charms, she having seen
no other finer gentlemen. They were specimens of the great
conquering creature Man, whom all women must aspire to please if
they have the fortunate power; and each and all of them were plainly
trying to please Clorinda, and not she them.
And so Anne gazed at them with admiring awe, waiting until there
should come a pause in which she might presume to call her sister's
attention to her presence; but suddenly, before she had indeed made
up her mind how she might best announce herself, there spoke behind
her a voice of silver.
"It is only goddesses," said the voice, "who waft about them as they
move the musk of the rose-gardens of Araby. When you come to reign
over us in town, Madam, there will be no perfume in the mode but
that of rose-leaves, and in all drawing-rooms we shall breathe but
And there, at her side, was bowing, in cinnamon and crimson, with
jewelled buttons on his velvet coat, the beautiful being whose fair
locks the sun had shone on the morning she had watched him ride
away--the man whom the imperial beauty had dismissed and called a
Clorinda looked under her lashes towards him without turning, but in
so doing beheld Anne standing in waiting.
"A fine speech lost," she said, "though 'twas well enough for the
country, Sir John. 'Tis thrown away, because 'tis not I who am
scented with rose-leaves, but Anne there, whom you must not ogle.
Come hither, sister, and do not hide as if you were ashamed to be
And she drew her forward, and there Anne stood, and all of them
stared at her poor, plain, blushing face, and the Adonis in cinnamon
and crimson bowed low, as if she had been a duchess, that being his
conqueror's way with gentle or simple, maid, wife, or widow, beauty
or homespun uncomeliness.
It was so with him always; he could never resist the chance of
luring to himself a woman's heart, whether he wanted it or not, and
he had a charm, a strange and wonderful one, it could not be denied.
Anne palpitated indeed as she made her curtsey to him, and wondered
if Heaven had ever before made so fine a gentleman and so beautiful
She went but seldom to this room again, and when she went she stood
always in the background, far more in fear that some one would
address her than that she should meet with neglect. She was used to
neglect, and to being regarded as a nonentity, and aught else
discomfited her. All her pleasure was to hear what was said, though
'twas not always of the finest wit--and to watch Clorinda play the
queen among her admirers and her slaves. She would not have dared
to speak of Sir John Oxon frequently--indeed, she let fall his name
but rarely; but she learned a curious wit in contriving to hear all
things concerning him. It was her habit cunningly to lead Mistress
Margery to talking about him and relating long histories of his
conquests and his grace. Mistress Wimpole knew many of them,
having, for a staid and prudent matron, a lively interest in his
ways. It seemed, truly--if one must believe her long-winded
stories--that no duchess under seventy had escaped weeping for him
and losing rest, and that ladies of all ranks had committed follies
for his sake.
Mistress Anne, having led her to this fruitful subject, would sit
and listen, bending over her embroidery frame with strange emotions,
causing her virgin breast to ache with their swelling. She would
lie awake at night thinking in the dark, with her heart beating.
Surely, surely there was no other man on earth who was so fitted to
Clorinda, and to whom it was so suited that this empress should give
her charms. Surely no woman, however beautiful or proud, could
dismiss his suit when he pressed it. And then, poor woman, her
imagination strove to paint the splendour of their mutual love,
though of such love she knew so little. But it must, in sooth, be
bliss and rapture; and perchance, was her humble thought, she might
see it from afar, and hear of it. And when they went to court, and
Clorinda had a great mansion in town, and many servants who needed a
housewife's eye upon their doings to restrain them from wastefulness
and riot, might it not chance to be that if she served well now, and
had the courage to plead with her then, she might be permitted to
serve her there, living quite apart in some quiet corner of the
house. And then her wild thoughts would go so far that she would
dream--reddening at her own boldness--of a child who might be born
to them, a lordly infant son and heir, whose eyes might be blue and
winning, and his hair in great fair locks, and whom she might nurse
and tend and be a slave to--and love--and love--and love, and who
might end by knowing she was his tender servant, always to be
counted on, and might look at her with that wooing, laughing glance,
and even love her too.
The night Clorinda laid her commands upon Mistress Wimpole
concerning the coming of Sir John Oxon, that matron, after receiving
them, hurried to her other charges, flurried and full of talk, and
poured forth her wonder and admiration at length.
"She is a wondrous lady!" she said--"she is indeed! It is not alone
her beauty, but her spirit and her wit. Mark you how she sees all
things and lets none pass, and can lay a plan as prudent as any lady
old enough to be twice her mother. She knows all the ways of the
world of fashion, and will guard herself against gossip in such a
way that none can gainsay her high virtue. Her spirit is too great
to allow that she may even SEEM to be as the town ladies. She will
not have it! Sir John will not find his court easy to pay. She
will not allow that he shall be able to say to any one that he has
seen her alone a moment. Thus, she says, he cannot boast. If all
ladies were as wise and cunning, there would be no tales to tell."
She talked long and garrulously, and set forth to them how Mistress
Clorinda had looked straight at her with her black eyes, until she
had almost shaken as she sat, because it seemed as though she dared
her to disobey her will; and how she had sat with her hair trailing
upon the floor over the chair's back, and at first it had seemed
that she was flushed with anger, but next as if she had smiled.
"Betimes," said Mistress Wimpole, "I am afraid when she smiles, but
to-night some thought had crossed her mind that pleased her. I
think it was that she liked to think that he who has conquered so
many ladies will find that he is to be outwitted and made a mock of.
She likes that others shall be beaten if she thinks them impudent.
She liked it as a child, and would flog the stable-boys with her
little whip until they knelt to beg her pardon for their freedoms."
That night Mistress Anne went to her bed-chamber with her head full
of wandering thoughts, and she had not the power to bid them
disperse themselves and leave her--indeed, she scarce wished for it.
She was thinking of Clorinda, and wondering sadly that she was of so
high a pride that she could bear herself as though there were no
human weakness in her breast, not even the womanly weakness of a
heart. How could it be possible that she could treat with disdain
this gallant gentleman, if he loved her, as he surely must? Herself
she had been sure that she had seen an ardent flame in his blue
eyes, even that first day when he had bowed to her with that air of
grace as he spoke of the fragrance of the rose leaves he had thought
wafted from her robe. How could a woman whom he loved resist him?
How could she cause him to suffer by forcing him to stand at arm's
length when he sighed to draw near and breathe his passion at her
In the silence of her chamber as she disrobed, she sighed with
restless pain, but did not know that her sighing was for grief that
love--of which there seemed so little in some lives--could be wasted
and flung away. She could not fall into slumber when she lay down
upon her pillow, but tossed from side to side with a burdened heart.
"She is so young and beautiful and proud," she thought. "It is
because I am so much older that I can see these things--that I see
that this is surely the one man who should be her husband. There
may be many others, but they are none of them her equals, and she
would scorn and hate them when she was once bound to them for life.
This one is as beautiful as she--and full of grace, and wit, and
spirit. She could not look down upon him, however wrath she was at
any time. Ah me! She should not spurn him, surely she should not!"
She was so restless and ill at ease that she could not lie upon her
bed, but rose therefrom, as she often did in her wakeful hours, and
went to her lattice, gently opening it to look out upon the night,
and calm herself by sitting with her face uplifted to the stars,
which from her childhood she had fancied looked down upon her kindly
and as if they would give her comfort.
To-night there were no stars. There should have been a moon three-
quarters full, but, in the evening, clouds had drifted across the
sky and closed over all heavily, so that no moonlight was to be
seen, save when a rare sudden gust made a ragged rent, for a moment,
in the blackness.
She did not sit this time, but knelt, clad in her night-rail as she
was. All was sunk into the profoundest silence of the night. By
this time the entire household had been long enough abed to be
plunged in sleep. She alone was waking, and being of that simple
mind which, like a child's, must ever bear its trouble to a
protecting strength, she looked up at the darkness of the cloudy sky
and prayed for the better fortune of the man who had indeed not
remembered her existence after the moment he had made her his
obeisance. She was too plain and sober a creature to be remembered.
"Perchance," she murmured, "he is at this moment also looking at the
clouds from his window, because he cannot sleep for thinking that in
two days he will be beneath her father's roof and will see her
loveliness, and he must needs be contriving within his mind what he
will say, if she do but look as if she might regard him with favour,
which I pray she will."
From the path below, that moment there rose a slight sound, so
slight a one that for a moment she thought she must have been
deceived in believing it had fallen upon her ear. All was still
after it for full two minutes, and had she heard no more she would
have surely forgotten she had heard aught, or would have believed
herself but the victim of fancy. But after the long pause the same
sound came again, though this time it was slighter; yet, despite its
slightness, it seemed to her to be the crushing of the earth and
stone beneath a cautious foot. It was a foot so cautious that it
was surely stealthy and scarce dared to advance at all. And then
all was still again. She was for a moment overcome with fears, not
being of a courageous temper, and having heard, but of late, of a
bold gipsy vagabond who, with a companion, had broken into the lower
rooms of a house of the neighbourhood, and being surprised by its
owner, had only been overcome and captured after a desperate fight,
in which shots were exchanged, and one of the hurriedly-awakened
servants killed. So she leaned forward to hearken further,
wondering what she should do to best alarm the house, and, as she
bent so, she heard the sound again and a smothered oath, and with
her straining eyes saw that surely upon the path there stood a dark-
draped figure. She rose with great care to her feet, and stood a
moment shaking and clinging to the window-ledge, while she bethought
her of what servants she could wake first, and how she could reach
her father's room. Her poor heart beat in her side, and her breath
came quickly. The soundlessness of the night was broken by one of
the strange sudden gusts of wind which tossed the trees, and tore at
the clouds as they hurried. She heard the footsteps again, as if it
feared its own sound the less when the wind might cover it. A faint
pale gleam showed between two dark clouds behind which the moon had
been hidden; it grew brighter, and a jagged rent was torn, so that
the moon herself for a second or so shone out dazzling bright before
the clouds rushed over her again and shut her in.
It was at this very instant Mistress Anne heard the footsteps once
more, and saw full well a figure in dark cloak and hat which stepped
quickly into the shade of a great tree. But more she saw--and
clapped her hand upon her mouth to stifle the cry that would have
otherwise risen in spite of her--that notwithstanding his fair locks
were thrust out of sight beneath his hat, and he looked strange and
almost uncomely, it was the face of Sir John Oxon, the moon,
bursting through the jagged clouds, had shone upon.
CHAPTER VIII--Two meet in the deserted rose garden, and the old Earl
of Dunstanwolde is made a happy man
It was not until three days later, instead of two, that Sir John
Oxon rode into the courtyard with his servant behind him. He had
been detained on his journey, but looked as if his impatience had
not caused him to suffer, for he wore his finest air of spirit and
beauty, and when he was alone with Sir Jeoffry, made his compliments
to the absent ladies, and inquired of their health with his best
Mistress Clorinda did not appear until the dining hour, when she
swept into the room like a queen, followed by her sister, Anne, and
Mistress Wimpole, this being the first occasion of Mistress Anne's
dining, as it were, in state with her family.
The honour had so alarmed her, that she looked pale, and so ugly
that Sir Jeoffry scowled at sight of her, and swore under his breath
to Clorinda that she should have been allowed to come.
"I know my own affairs the best, by your leave, sir," answered
Clorinda, as low and with a grand flash of her eye. "She hath been
This she had indeed, and so had Mistress Wimpole, and throughout Sir
John Oxon's stay they were called upon to see that they played well
their parts. Two weeks he stayed and then rode gaily back to town,
and when Clorinda made her sweeping curtsey to the ground to him
upon the threshold of the flowered room in which he bade her
farewell, both Anne and Mistress Wimpole curtseyed a step behind
"Now that he has gone and you have shown me that you can attend me
as I wish," she said, turning to them as the sound of his horse's
hoofs died away, "it will not trouble me should he choose some day
to come again. He has not carried with him much that he can boast
In truth, it seemed to the outer world that she had held him well in
hand. If he had come as a sighing lover, the whole county knew she
had shown him but small favour. She had invited companies to the
house on several occasions, and all could see how she bore herself
towards him. She carried herself with a certain proud courtesy as
becoming the daughter of his host, but her wit did not spare him,
and sometimes when it was more than in common cutting he was seen to
wince though he held himself gallantly. There were one or two who
thought they now and then had seen his blue eyes fall upon her when
he believed none were looking, and rest there burningly for a
moment, but 'twas never for more than an instant, when he would
rouse himself with a start and turn away.
She had been for a month or two less given to passionate outbreaks,
having indeed decided that it was to her interest as a young lady
and a future great one to curb herself. Her tirewoman, Rebecca, had
begun to dare to breathe more freely when she was engaged about her
person, and had, in truth, spoken of her pleasanter fortune among
her fellows in the servants' hall.
But a night or two after the visitor took his departure, she gave
way to such an outburst as even Rebecca had scarce ever beheld,
being roused to it by a small thing in one sense, though in yet
another perhaps great enough, since it touched upon the despoiling
of one of her beauties.
She was at her toilet-table being prepared for the night, and her
long hair brushed and dressed before retiring. Mistress Wimpole had
come in to the chamber to do something at her bidding, and chancing
to stand gazing at her great and heavy fall of locks as she was
waiting, she observed a thing which caused her, foolish woman that
she was, to give a start and utter an unwise exclamation.
"Madam!" she gasped--"madam!"
"What then!" quoth Mistress Clorinda angrily. "You bring my heart
to my throat!"
"Your hair!" stammered Wimpole, losing all her small wit--"your
beauteous hair! A lock is gone, madam!"
Clorinda started to her feet, and flung the great black mass over
her white shoulder, that she might see it in the glass.
"Gone!" she cried. "Where? How? What mean you? Ah-h!"
Her voice rose to a sound that was well-nigh a scream. She saw the
rifled spot--a place where a great lock had been severed jaggedly--
and it must have been five feet long.
She turned and sprang upon her woman, her beautiful face distorted
with fury, and her eyes like flames of fire. She seized her by each
shoulder and boxed her ears until her head spun round and bells rang
"'Twas you!" she shrieked. "'Twas you--she-devil-beast--slut that
you are! 'Twas when you used your scissors to the new head you made
for me. You set it on my hair that you might set a loop--and in
your sluttish way you snipped a lock by accident and hid it from
She beat her till her own black hair flew about her like the mane of
a fury; and having used her hands till they were tired, she took her
brush from the table and beat her with that till the room echoed
with the blows on the stout shoulders.
"Mistress, 'twas not so!" cried the poor thing, sobbing and
struggling. "'Twas not so, madam!"
"Madam, you will kill the woman," wept Mistress Wimpole. "I beseech
you -! 'Tis not seemly, I beseech--"
Mistress Clorinda flung her woman from her and threw the brush at
Mistress Wimpole, crying at her with the lordly rage she had been
wont to shriek with when she wore breeches.
"Damnation to thy seemliness!" she cried, "and to thee too! Get
thee gone--from me, both--get thee gone from my sight!"
And both women fled weeping, and sobbing, and gasping from the room
She was shrewish and sullen with her woman for days after, and it
was the poor creature's labour to keep from her sight, when she
dressed her head, the place from whence the lock had been taken. In
the servants' hall the woman vowed that it was not she who had cut
it, that she had had no accident, though it was true she had used
the scissors about her head, yet it was but in snipping a ribbon,
and she had not touched a hair.
"If she were another lady," she said, "I should swear some gallant
had robbed her of it; but, forsooth, she does not allow them to come
near enough for such sport, and with five feet of hair wound up in
coronals, how could a man unwind a lock, even if 'twas permitted him
to stand at her very side."
Two years passed, and the beauty had no greater fields to conquer
than those she found in the country, since her father, Sir Jeoffry,
had not the money to take her to town, he becoming more and more
involved and so fallen into debt that it was even whispered that at
times it went hard with him to keep even the poor household he had.
Mistress Clorinda's fortunes the gentry of the neighbourhood
discussed with growing interest and curiosity. What was like to
become of her great gifts and powers in the end, if she could never
show them to the great world, and have the chance to carry her
splendid wares to the fashionable market where there were men of
quality and wealth who would be like to bid for them. She had not
chosen to accept any of those who had offered themselves so far, and
it was believed that for some reason she had held off my lord of
Dunstanwolde in his suit. 'Twas evident that he admired her
greatly, and why he had not already made her his countess was a sort
of mystery which was productive of many discussions and bore much
talking over. Some said that, with all her beauty and his
admiration, he was wary and waited, and some were pleased to say
that the reason he waited was because the young lady herself
contrived that he should, it being her desire to make an open
conquest of Sir John Oxon, and show him to the world as her slave,
before she made up her mind to make even a much greater match. Some
hinted that for all her disdainfulness and haughty pride she would
marry Sir John if he asked her, but that he being as brilliant a
beau as she a beauty, he was too fond of his pleasures and his gay
town life to give them up even to a goddess who had no fortune. His
own had not been a great one, and he had squandered it
magnificently, his extravagances being renowned in the world of
fashion, and having indeed founded for him his reputation.
It was, however, still his way to accept frequent hospitalities from
his kinsman Eldershawe, and Sir Jeoffry was always rejoiced enough
to secure him as his companion for a few days when he could lure him
from the dissipation of the town. At such times it never failed
that Mistress Wimpole and poor Anne kept their guard. Clorinda
never allowed them to relax their vigilance, and Mistress Wimpole
ceased to feel afraid, and became accustomed to her duties, but Anne
never did so. She looked always her palest and ugliest when Sir
John was in the house, and she would glance with sad wonder and
timid adoration from him to Clorinda; but sometimes when she looked
at Sir John her plain face would grow crimson, and once or twice he
caught her at the folly, and when she dropped her eyes overwhelmed
with shame, he faintly smiled to himself, seeing in her a new though
There came a day when in the hunting-field there passed from mouth
to mouth a rumour, and Sir Jeoffry, hearing it, came pounding over
on his big black horse to his daughter and told it to her in great
"He is a sly dog, John Oxon," he said, a broad grin on his rubicund
face. "This very week he comes to us, and he and I are cronies, yet
he has blabbed nothing of what is being buzzed about by all the
"He has learned how to keep a closed mouth," said Mistress Clorinda,
without asking a question.
"But 'tis marriage he is so mum about, bless ye!" said Sir Jeoffry.
"And that is not a thing to be hid long. He is to be shortly
married, they say. My lady, his mother, has found him a great
fortune in a new beauty but just come to town. She hath great
estates in the West Indies, as well as a fine fortune in England--
and all the world is besieging her; but Jack hath come and bowed
sighing before her, and writ some verses, and borne her off from
"'Tis time," said Clorinda, "that he should marry some woman who can
pay his debts and keep him out of the spunging house, for to that he
will come if he does not play his cards with skill."
Sir Jeoffry looked at her askance and rubbed his red chin.
"I wish thou hadst liked him, Clo," he said, "and ye had both had
fortunes to match. I love the fellow, and ye would have made a
Mistress Clorinda laughed, sitting straight in her saddle, her fine
eyes unblenching, though the sun struck them.
"We had fortunes to match," she said--"I was a beggar and he was a
spendthrift. Here comes Lord Dunstanwolde."
And as the gentleman rode near, it seemed to his dazzled eyes that
the sun so shone down upon her because she was a goddess and drew it
from the heavens.
In the west wing of the Hall 'twas talked of between Mistress
Wimpole and her charges, that a rumour of Sir John Oxon's marriage
"Yet can I not believe it," said Mistress Margery; "for if ever a
gentleman was deep in love, though he bitterly strove to hide it,
'twas Sir John, and with Mistress Clorinda."
"But she," faltered Anne, looking pale and even agitated--"she was
always disdainful to him and held him at arm's length. I--I wished
she would have treated him more kindly."
"'Tis not her way to treat men kindly," said Mistress Wimpole.
But whether the rumour was true or false--and there were those who
bestowed no credit upon it, and said it was mere town talk, and that
the same things had been bruited abroad before--it so chanced that
Sir John paid no visit to his relative or to Sir Jeoffry for several
months. 'Twas heard once that he had gone to France, and at the
French Court was making as great a figure as he had made at the
English one, but of this even his kinsman Lord Eldershawe could
speak no more certainly than he could of the first matter.
The suit of my Lord of Dunstanwolde--if suit it was--during these
months appeared to advance somewhat. All orders of surmises were
made concerning it--that Mistress Clorinda had privately quarrelled
with Sir John and sent him packing; that he had tired of his love-
making, as 'twas well known he had done many times before, and
having squandered his possessions and finding himself in open
straits, must needs patch up his fortunes in a hurry with the first
heiress whose estate suited him. But 'twas the women who said these
things; the men swore that no man could tire of or desert such
spirit and beauty, and that if Sir John Oxon stayed away 'twas
because he had been commanded to do so, it never having been
Mistress Clorinda's intention to do more than play with him awhile,
she having been witty against him always for a fop, and meaning
herself to accept no man as a husband who could not give her both
rank and wealth.
"We know her," said the old boon companions of her childhood, as
they talked of her over their bottles. "She knew her price and
would bargain for it when she was not eight years old, and would
give us songs and kisses but when she was paid for them with sweet
things and knickknacks from the toy-shops. She will marry no man
who cannot make her at least a countess, and she would take him but
because there was not a duke at hand. We know her, and her beauty's
But they did not know her; none knew her, save herself.
In the west wing, which grew more bare and ill-furnished as things
wore out and time went by, Mistress Anne waxed thinner and paler.
She was so thin in two months' time, that her soft, dull eyes looked
twice their natural size, and seemed to stare piteously at people.
One day, indeed, as she sat at work in her sister's room, Clorinda
being there at the time, the beauty, turning and beholding her face
suddenly, uttered a violent exclamation.
"Why look you at me so?" she said. "Your eyes stand out of your
head like a new-hatched, unfeathered bird's. They irk me with their
strange asking look. Why do you stare at me?"
"I do not know," Anne faltered. "I could not tell you, sister. My
eyes seem to stare so because of my thinness. I have seen them in
"Why do you grow thin?" quoth Clorinda harshly. "You are not ill."
"I--I do not know," again Anne faltered. "Naught ails me. I do not
know. For--forgive me!"
"Soft little fool," she said, "why should you ask me to forgive you?
I might as fairly ask you to forgive ME, that I keep my shape and
show no wasting."
Anne rose from her chair and hurried to her sister's side, sinking
upon her knees there to kiss her hand.
"Sister," she said, "one could never dream that you could need
pardon. I love you so--that all you do, it seems to me must be
right--whatsoever it might be."
Clorinda drew her fair hands away and clasped them on the top of her
head, proudly, as if she crowned herself thereby, her great and
splendid eyes setting themselves upon her sister's face.
"All that I do," she said slowly, and with the steadfast high
arrogance of an empress' self--"All that I do IS right--for me. I
make it so by doing it. Do you think that I am conquered by the
laws that other women crouch and whine before, because they dare not
break them, though they long to do so? I am my own law--and the law
of some others."
It was by this time the first month of the summer, and to-night
there was again a birth-night ball, at which the beauty was to
dazzle all eyes; but 'twas of greater import than the one she had
graced previously, it being to celebrate the majority of the heir to
an old name and estate, who had been orphaned early, and was highly
connected, counting, indeed, among the members of his family the
Duke of Osmonde, who was one of the richest and most envied nobles
in Great Britain, his dukedom being of the oldest, his numerous
estates the most splendid and beautiful, and the long history of his
family full of heroic deeds. This nobleman was also a distant
kinsman to the Earl of Dunstanwolde, and at this ball, for the first
time for months, Sir John Oxon appeared again.
He did not arrive on the gay scene until an hour somewhat late. But
there was one who had seen him early, though no human soul had known
of the event.
In the rambling, ill-cared for grounds of Wildairs Hall there was an
old rose-garden, which had once been the pride and pleasure of some
lady of the house, though this had been long ago; and now it was but
a lonely wilderness where roses only grew because the dead Lady
Wildairs had loved them, and Barbara and Anne had tended them, and
with their own hands planted and pruned during their childhood and
young maiden days. But of late years even they had seemed to have
forgotten it, having become discouraged, perchance, having no
gardeners to do the rougher work, and the weeds and brambles so
running riot. There were high hedges and winding paths overgrown
and run wild; the stronger rose-bushes grew in tangled masses,
flinging forth their rich blooms among the weeds; such as were more
delicate, struggling to live among them, became more frail and
scant-blossoming season by season; a careless foot would have
trodden them beneath it as their branches grew long and trailed in
the grass; but for many months no foot had trodden there at all, and
it was a beauteous place deserted.
In the centre was an ancient broken sun-dial, which was in these
days in the midst of a sort of thicket, where a bold tangle of the
finest red roses clambered, and, defying neglect, flaunted their
rich colour in the sun.
And though the place had been so long forgotten, and it was not the
custom for it to be visited, about this garlanded broken sun-dial
the grass was a little trodden, and on the morning of the young
heir's coming of age some one stood there in the glowing sunlight as
This was no less than Mistress Clorinda herself. She was clad in a
morning gown of white, which seemed to make of her more than ever a
tall, transcendent creature, less a woman than a conquering goddess;
and she had piled the dial with scarlet red roses, which she was
choosing to weave into a massive wreath or crown, for some purpose
best known to herself. Her head seemed haughtier and more
splendidly held on high even than was its common wont, but upon
these roses her lustrous eyes were downcast and were curiously
smiling, as also was her ripe, arching lip, whose scarlet the
blossoms vied with but poorly. It was a smile like this, perhaps,
which Mistress Wimpole feared and trembled before, for 'twas not a
tender smile nor a melting one. If she was waiting, she did not
wait long, nor, to be sure, would she have long waited if she had
been kept by any daring laggard. This was not her way.
'Twas not a laggard who came soon, stepping hurriedly with light
feet upon the grass, as though he feared the sound which might be
made if he had trodden upon the gravel. It was Sir John Oxon who
came towards her in his riding costume.
He came and stood before her on the other side of the dial, and made
her a bow so low that a quick eye might have thought 'twas almost
mocking. His feather, sweeping the ground, caught a fallen rose,
which clung to it. His beauty, when he stood upright, seemed to
defy the very morning's self and all the morning world; but Mistress
Clorinda did not lift her eyes, but kept them upon her roses, and
went on weaving.
"Why did you choose to come?" she asked.
"Why did you choose to keep the tryst in answer to my message?" he
replied to her.
At this she lifted her great shining eyes and fixed them full upon
"I wished," she said, "to hear what you would say--but more to SEE
you than to hear."
"And I," he began--"I came--"
She held up her white hand with a long-stemmed rose in it--as though
a queen should lift a sceptre.
"You came," she answered, "more to see ME than to hear. You made
"You choose to bear yourself like a goddess, and disdain me from
Olympian heights," he said. "I had the wit to guess it would be
She shook her royal head, faintly and most strangely smiling.
"That you had not," was her clear-worded answer. "That is a later
thought sprung up since you have seen my face. 'Twas quick--for
you--but not quick enough." And the smile in her eyes was
maddening. "You thought to see a woman crushed and weeping, her
beauty bent before you, her locks dishevelled, her streaming eyes
lifted to Heaven--and you--with prayers, swearing that not Heaven
could help her so much as your deigning magnanimity. You have seen
women do this before, you would have seen ME do it--at your feet--
crying out that I was lost--lost for ever. THAT you expected! 'Tis
Debauched as his youth was, and free from all touch of heart or
conscience--for from his earliest boyhood he had been the pupil of
rakes and fashionable villains--well as he thought he knew all women
and their ways, betraying or betrayed--this creature taught him a
new thing, a new mood in woman, a new power which came upon him like
"Gods!" he exclaimed, catching his breath, and even falling back
apace, "Damnation! you are NOT a woman!"
She laughed again, weaving her roses, but not allowing that his eyes
should loose themselves from hers.
"But now, you called me a goddess and spoke of Olympian heights,"
she said; "I am not one--I am a woman who would show other women how
to bear themselves in hours like these. Because I am a woman why
should I kneel, and weep, and rave? What have I lost--in losing
you? I should have lost the same had I been twice your wife. What
is it women weep and beat their breasts for--because they love a
man--because they lose his love. They never have them."
She had finished the wreath, and held it up in the sun to look at
it. What a strange beauty was hers, as she held it so--a heavy,
sumptuous thing--in her white hands, her head thrown backward.
"You marry soon," she asked--"if the match is not broken?"
"Yes," he answered, watching her--a flame growing in his eyes and in
his soul in his own despite.
"It cannot be too soon," she said. And she turned and faced him,
holding the wreath high in her two hands poised like a crown above
her head--the brilliant sun embracing her, her lips curling, her
face uplifted as if she turned to defy the light, the crimson of her
cheek. 'Twas as if from foot to brow the woman's whole person was a
flame, rising and burning triumphant high above him. Thus for one
second's space she stood, dazzling his very eyesight with her
strange, dauntless splendour; and then she set the great rose-wreath
upon her head, so crowning it.
"You came to see me," she said, the spark in her eyes growing to the
size of a star; "I bid you look at me--and see how grief has faded
me these past months, and how I am bowed down by it. Look well--
that you may remember."
"I look," he said, almost panting.
"Then," she said, her fine-cut nostril pinching itself with her
breath, as she pointed down the path before her--"GO!--back to your
* * *
That night she appeared at the birth-night ball with the wreath of
roses on her head. No other ladies wore such things, 'twas a
fashion of her own; but she wore it in such beauty and with such
state that it became a crown again even as it had been the first
moment that she had put it on. All gazed at her as she entered, and
a murmur followed her as she moved with her father up the broad oak
staircase which was known through all the country for its width and
massive beauty. In the hall below guests were crowded, and there
were indeed few of them who did not watch her as she mounted by Sir
Jeoffry's side. In the upper hall there were guests also, some
walking to and fro, some standing talking, many looking down at the
arrivals as they came up.
"'Tis Mistress Wildairs," these murmured as they saw her.
"Clorinda, by God!" said one of the older men to his crony who stood
near him. "And crowned with roses! The vixen makes them look as if
they were built of rubies in every leaf."
At the top of the great staircase there stood a gentleman, who had
indeed paused a moment, spellbound, as he saw her coming. He was a
man of unusual height and of a majestic mien; he wore a fair
periwig, which added to his tallness; his laces and embroiderings
were marvels of art and richness, and his breast blazed with orders.
Strangely, she did not seem to see him; but when she reached the
landing, and her face was turned so that he beheld the full blaze of
its beauty, 'twas so great a wonder and revelation to him that he
gave a start. The next moment almost, one of the red roses of her
crown broke loose from its fastenings and fell at his very feet.
His countenance changed so that it seemed almost, for a second, to
lose some of its colour. He stooped and picked the rose up and held
it in his hand. But Mistress Clorinda was looking at my Lord of
Dunstanwolde, who was moving through the crowd to greet her. She
gave him a brilliant smile, and from her lustrous eyes surely there
passed something which lit a fire of hope in his.
After she had made her obeisance to her entertainers, and her
birthday greetings to the young heir, he contrived to draw closely
to her side and speak a few words in a tone those near her could not
"To-night, madam," he said, with melting fervour, "you deign to
bring me my answer as you promised."
"Yes," she murmured. "Take me where we may be a few moments alone."
He led her to an antechamber, where they were sheltered from the
gaze of the passers-by, though all was moving gaiety about them. He
fell upon his knee and bowed to kiss her fair hand. Despite the
sobriety of his years, he was as eager and tender as a boy.
"Be gracious to me, madam," he implored. "I am not young enough to
wait. Too many months have been thrown away."
"You need wait no longer, my lord," she said--"not one single hour."
And while he, poor gentleman, knelt, kissing her hand with adoring
humbleness, she, under the splendour of her crown of roses, gazed
down at his grey-sprinkled head with her great steady shining orbs,
as if gazing at some almost uncomprehended piteous wonder.
In less than an hour the whole assemblage knew of the event and
talked of it. Young men looked daggers at Dunstanwolde and at each
other; and older men wore glum or envious faces. Women told each
other 'twas as they had known it would be, or 'twas a wonder that at
last it had come about. Upon the arm of her lord that was to be,
Mistress Clorinda passed from room to room like a royal bride.
As she made her first turn of the ballroom, all eyes upon her, her
beauty blazing at its highest, Sir John Oxon entered and stood at
the door. He wore his gallant air, and smiled as ever; and when she
drew near him he bowed low, and she stopped, and bent lower in a
curtsey sweeping the ground.
'Twas but in the next room her lord led her to a gentleman who stood
with a sort of court about him. It was the tall stranger, with the
fair periwig, and the orders glittering on his breast--the one who
had started at sight of her as she had reached the landing of the
stairs. He held still in his hand a broken red rose, and when his
eye fell on her crown the colour mounted to his cheek.
"My honoured kinsman, his Grace the Duke of Osmonde," said her
affianced lord. "Your Grace--it is this lady who is to do me the
great honour of becoming my Lady Dunstanwolde."
And as the deep, tawny brown eye of the man bending before her
flashed into her own, for the first time in her life Mistress
Clorinda's lids fell, and as she swept her curtsey of stately
obeisance her heart struck like a hammer against her side.
CHAPTER IX--"I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul--
In a month she was the Countess of Dunstanwolde, and reigned in her
lord's great town house with a retinue of servants, her powdered
lackeys among the tallest, her liveries and equipages the richest
the world of fashion knew. She was presented at the Court, blazing
with the Dunstanwolde jewels, and even with others her bridegroom
had bought in his passionate desire to heap upon her the
magnificence which became her so well. From the hour she knelt to
kiss the hand of royalty she set the town on fire. It seemed to
have been ordained by Fate that her passage through this world
should be always the triumphant passage of a conqueror. As when a
baby she had ruled the servants' hall, the kennel, and the grooms'
quarters, later her father and his boisterous friends, and from her
fifteenth birthday the whole hunting shire she lived in, so she held
her sway in the great world, as did no other lady of her rank or any
higher. Those of her age seemed but girls yet by her side, whether
married or unmarried, and howsoever trained to modish ways. She was
but scarce eighteen at her marriage, but she was no girl, nor did
she look one, glowing as was the early splendour of her bloom. Her
height was far beyond the ordinary for a woman; but her shape so
faultless and her carriage so regal, that though there were men upon
whom she was tall enough to look down with ease, the beholder but
felt that her tallness was an added grace and beauty with which all
women should have been endowed, and which, as they were not, caused
them to appear but insignificant. What a throat her diamonds blazed
on, what shoulders and bosom her laces framed, on what a brow her
coronet sat and glittered. Her lord lived as 'twere upon his knees
in enraptured adoration. Since his first wife's death in his youth,
he had dwelt almost entirely in the country at his house there,
which was fine and stately, but had been kept gloomily half closed
for a decade. His town establishment had, in truth, never been
opened since his bereavement; and now--an elderly man--he returned
to the gay world he had almost forgotten, with a bride whose youth
and beauty set it aflame. What wonder that his head almost reeled
at times and that he lost his breath before the sum of his strange
late bliss, and the new lease of brilliant life which seemed to have
been given to him.
In the days when, while in the country, he had heard such rumours of
the lawless days of Sir Jeoffry Wildairs' daughter, when he had
heard of her dauntless boldness, her shrewish temper, and her
violent passions, he had been awed at the thought of what a wife
such a woman would make for a gentleman accustomed to a quiet life,
and he had indeed striven hard to restrain the desperate admiration
he was forced to admit she had inspired in him even at her first
The effort had, in sooth, been in vain, and he had passed many a
sleepless night; and when, as time went on, he beheld her again and
again, and saw with his own eyes, as well as heard from others, of
the great change which seemed to have taken place in her manners and
character, he began devoutly to thank Heaven for the alteration, as
for a merciful boon vouchsafed to him. He had been wise enough to
know that even a stronger man than himself could never conquer or
rule her; and when she seemed to begin to rule herself and bear
herself as befitted her birth and beauty, he had dared to allow
himself to dream of what perchance might be if he had great good
In these days of her union with him, he was, indeed, almost humbly
amazed at the grace and kindness she showed him every hour they
passed in each other's company. He knew that there were men,
younger and handsomer than himself, who, being wedded to beauties
far less triumphant than she, found that their wives had but little
time to spare them from the world, which knelt at their feet, and
that in some fashion they themselves seemed to fall into the
background. But 'twas not so with this woman, powerful and
worshipped though she might be. She bore herself with the high
dignity of her rank, but rendered to him the gracious respect and
deference due both to his position and his merit. She stood by his
side and not before him, and her smiles and wit were bestowed upon
him as generously as to others. If she had once been a vixen, she
was surely so no longer, for he never heard a sharp or harsh word
pass her lips, though it is true her manner was always somewhat
imperial, and her lacqueys and waiting women stood in greatest awe
of her. There was that in her presence and in her eye before which
all commoner or weaker creatures quailed. The men of the world who
flocked to pay their court to her, and the popinjays who followed
them, all knew this look, and a tone in her rich voice which could
cut like a knife when she chose that it should do so. But to my
Lord of Dunstanwolde she was all that a worshipped lady could be.
"Your ladyship has made of me a happier man than I ever dared to
dream of being, even when I was but thirty," he would say to her,
with reverent devotion. "I know not what I have done to deserve
this late summer which hath been given me."
"When I consented to be your wife," she answered once, "I swore to
myself that I would make one for you;" and she crossed the hearth to
where he sat--she was attired in all her splendour for a Court ball,
and starred with jewels--bent over his chair and placed a kiss upon
his grizzled hair.
Upon the night before her wedding with him, her sister, Mistress
Anne, had stolen to her chamber at a late hour. When she had
knocked upon the door, and had been commanded to enter, she had come
in, and closing the door behind her, had stood leaning against it,
looking before her, with her eyes wide with agitation and her poor
face almost grey.
All the tapers for which places could be found had been gathered
together, and the room was a blaze of light. In the midst of it,
before her mirror, Clorinda stood attired in her bridal splendour of
white satin and flowing rich lace, a diamond crescent on her head,
sparks of light flaming from every point of her raiment. When she
caught sight of Anne's reflection in the glass before her, she
turned and stood staring at her in wonder.
"What--nay, what is this?" she cried. "What do you come for? On my
soul, you come for something--or you have gone mad."
Anne started forward, trembling, her hands clasped upon her breast,
and fell at her feet with sobs.
"Yes, yes," she gasped, "I came--for something--to speak--to pray
you -! Sister--Clorinda, have patience with me--till my courage
comes again!" and she clutched her robe.
Something which came nigh to being a shudder passed through Mistress
Clorinda's frame; but it was gone in a second, and she touched Anne-
-though not ungently--with her foot, withdrawing her robe.
"Do not stain it with your tears," she said "'twould be a bad omen."
Anne buried her face in her hands and knelt so before her.
"'Tis not too late!" she said--"'tis not too late yet."
"For what?" Clorinda asked. "For what, I pray you tell me, if you
can find your wits. You go beyond my patience with your folly."
"Too late to stop," said Anne--"to draw back and repent."
"What?" commanded Clorinda--"what then should I repent me?"
"This marriage," trembled Mistress Anne, taking her poor hands from
her face to wring them. "It should not be."
"Fool!" quoth Clorinda. "Get up and cease your grovelling. Did you
come to tell me it was not too late to draw back and refuse to be
the Countess of Dunstanwolde?" and she laughed bitterly.
"But it should not be--it must not!" Anne panted. "I--I know,
sister, I know--"
Clorinda bent deliberately and laid her strong, jewelled hand on her
shoulder with a grasp like a vice. There was no hurry in her
movement or in her air, but by sheer, slow strength she forced her
head backward so that the terrified woman was staring in her face.
"Look at me," she said. "I would see you well, and be squarely
looked at, that my eyes may keep you from going mad. You have
pondered over this marriage until you have a frenzy. Women who live
alone are sometimes so, and your brain was always weak. What is it
that you know. Look--in my eyes--and tell me."
It seemed as if her gaze stabbed through Anne's eyes to the very
centre of her brain. Anne tried to bear it, and shrunk and
withered; she would have fallen upon the floor at her feet a
helpless, sobbing heap, but the white hand would not let her go.
"Find your courage--if you have lost it--and speak plain words,"
Clorinda commanded. Anne tried to writhe away, but could not again,
and burst into passionate, hopeless weeping.
"I cannot--I dare not!" she gasped. "I am afraid. You are right;
my brain is weak, and I--but that--that gentleman--who so loved you-
"Which?" said Clorinda, with a brief scornful laugh.
"The one who was so handsome--with the fair locks and the gallant
"The one you fell in love with and stared at through the window,"
said Clorinda, with her brief laugh again. "John Oxon! He has
victims enough, forsooth, to have spared such an one as you are."
"But he loved you!" cried Anne piteously, "and it must have been
that you--you too, sister--or--or else--" She choked again with
sobs, and Clorinda released her grasp upon her shoulder and stood
"He wants none of me--nor I of him," she said, with strange
sternness. "We have done with one another. Get up upon your feet
if you would not have me thrust you out into the corridor."
She turned from her, and walking back to her dressing-table, stood
there steadying the diadem on her hair, which had loosed a fastening
when Anne tried to writhe away from her. Anne half sat, half knelt
upon the floor, staring at her with wet, wild eyes of misery and
"Leave your kneeling," commanded her sister again, "and come here."
Anne staggered to her feet and obeyed her behest. In the glass she
could see the resplendent reflection; but Clorinda did not deign to
turn towards her while she addressed her, changing the while the
brilliants in her hair.
"Hark you, sister Anne," she said. "I read you better than you
think. You are a poor thing, but you love me and--in my fashion--I
think I love you somewhat too. You think I should not marry a
gentleman whom you fancy I do not love as I might a younger,
handsomer man. You are full of love, and spinster dreams of it
which make you flighty. I love my Lord of Dunstanwolde as well as
any other man, and better than some, for I do not hate him. He has
a fine estate, and is a gentleman--and worships me. Since I have
been promised to him, I own I have for a moment seen another
gentleman who MIGHT--but 'twas but for a moment, and 'tis done with.
'Twas too late then. If we had met two years agone 'twould not have
been so. My Lord Dunstanwolde gives to me wealth, and rank, and
life at Court. I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul-
-myself. It is an honest bargain, and I shall bear my part of it
with honesty. I have no virtues--where should I have got them from,
forsooth, in a life like mine? I mean I have no women's virtues;
but I have one that is sometimes--not always--a man's. 'Tis that I
am not a coward and a trickster, and keep my word when 'tis given.
You fear that I shall lead my lord a bitter life of it. 'Twill not
be so. He shall live smoothly, and not suffer from me. What he has
paid for he shall honestly have. I will not cheat him as weaker
women do their husbands; for he pays--poor gentleman--he pays."
And then, still looking at the glass, she pointed to the doorway
through which her sister had come, and in obedience to her gesture
of command, Mistress Anne stole silently away.
CHAPTER X--"Yes--I have marked him"
Through the brilliant, happy year succeeding to his marriage my Lord
of Dunstanwolde lived like a man who dreams a blissful dream and
knows it is one.
"I feel," he said to his lady, "as if 'twere too great rapture to
last, and yet what end could come, unless you ceased to be kind to
me; and, in truth, I feel that you are too noble above all other
women to change, unless I were more unworthy than I could ever be
since you are mine."
Both in the town and in the country, which last place heard many
things of his condition and estate through rumour, he was the man
most wondered at and envied of his time--envied because of his
strange happiness; wondered at because having, when long past youth,
borne off this arrogant beauty from all other aspirants she showed
no arrogance to him, and was as perfect a wife as could have been
some woman without gifts whom he had lifted from low estate and
endowed with rank and fortune. She seemed both to respect himself
and her position as his lady and spouse. Her manner of reigning in
his household was among his many delights the greatest. It was a
great house, and an old one, built long before by a Dunstanwolde
whose lavish feasts and riotous banquets had been the notable
feature of his life. It was curiously rambling in its structure.
The rooms of entertainment were large and splendid, the halls and
staircases stately; below stairs there was space for an army of
servants to be disposed of; and its network of cellars and wine-
vaults was so beyond all need that more than one long arched stone
passage was shut up as being without use, and but letting cold, damp
air into corridors leading to the servants' quarters. It was,
indeed, my Lady Dunstanwolde who had ordered the closing of this
part when it had been her pleasure to be shown her domain by her
housekeeper, the which had greatly awed and impressed her household
as signifying that, exalted lady as she was, her wit was practical
as well as brilliant, and that her eyes being open to her
surroundings, she meant not that her lacqueys should rob her and her
scullions filch, thinking that she was so high that she was ignorant
of common things and blind.
"You will be well housed and fed and paid your dues," she said to
them; "but the first man or woman who does a task ill or dishonestly
will be turned from his place that hour. I deal justice--not
"Such a mistress they have never had before," said my lord when she
related this to him. "Nay, they have never dreamed of such a lady--
one who can be at once so severe and so kind. But there is none
other such, my dearest one. They will fear and worship you."
She gave him one of her sweet, splendid smiles. It was the
sweetness she at rare times gave her splendid smile which was her
"I would not be too grand a lady to be a good housewife," she said.
"I may not order your dinners, my dear lord, or sweep your
corridors, but they shall know I rule your household and would rule
"You are a goddess!" he cried, kneeling to her, enraptured. "And
you have given yourself to a poor mortal man, who can but worship
"You give me all I have," she said, "and you love me nobly, and I am
Her assemblies were the most brilliant in the town, and the most to
be desired entrance to. Wits and beauties planned and intrigued
that they might be bidden to her house; beaux and fine ladies fell
into the spleen if she neglected them. Her lord's kinsman the Duke
of Osmonde, who had been present when she first knelt to Royalty,
had scarce removed his eyes from her so long as he could gaze. He
went to Dunstanwolde afterwards and congratulated him with stately
courtesy upon his great good fortune and happiness, speaking almost
with fire of her beauty and majesty, and thanking his kinsman that
through him such perfections had been given to their name and house.
From that time, at all special assemblies given by his kinsman he
was present, the observed of all observers. He was a man of whom
'twas said that he was the most magnificent gentleman in Europe;
that there was none to compare with him in the combination of gifts
given both by Nature and Fortune. His beauty both of feature and
carriage was of the greatest, his mind was of the highest, and his
education far beyond that of the age he lived in. It was not the
fashion of the day that men of his rank should devote themselves to
the cultivation of their intellects instead of to a life of
pleasure; but this he had done from his earliest youth, and now, in
his perfect though early maturity, he had no equal in polished
knowledge and charm of bearing. He was the patron of literature and
art; men of genius were not kept waiting in his ante-chamber, but
were received by him with courtesy and honour. At the Court 'twas
well known there was no man who stood so near the throne in favour,
and that there was no union so exalted that he might not have made
his suit as rather that of a superior than an equal. The Queen both
loved and honoured him, and condescended to avow as much with
gracious frankness. She knew no other man, she deigned to say, who
was so worthy of honour and affection, and that he had not married
must be because there was no woman who could meet him on ground that
was equal. If there were no scandals about him--and there were
none--'twas not because he was cold of heart or imagination. No man
or woman could look into his deep eye and not know that when love
came to him 'twould be a burning passion, and an evil fate if it
went ill instead of happily.
"Being past his callow, youthful days, 'tis time he made some woman
a duchess," Dunstanwolde said reflectively once to his wife.
"'Twould be more fitting that he should; and it is his way to honour
his house in all things, and bear himself without fault as the head
of it. Methinks it strange he makes no move to do it."
"No, 'tis not strange," said my lady, looking under her black-
fringed lids at the glow of the fire, as though reflecting also.
"There is no strangeness in it."
"Why not?" her lord asked.
"There is no mate for him," she answered slowly. "A man like him
must mate as well as marry, or he will break his heart with silent
raging at the weakness of the thing he is tied to. He is too strong
and splendid for a common woman. If he married one, 'twould be as
if a lion had taken to himself for mate a jackal or a sheep. Ah!"
with a long drawn breath--"he would go mad--mad with misery;" and
her hands, which lay upon her knee, wrung themselves hard together,
though none could see it.
"He should have a goddess, were they not so rare," said
Dunstanwolde, gently smiling. "He should hold a bitter grudge
against me, that I, his unworthy kinsman, have been given the only
"Yes, he should have a goddess," said my lady slowly again; "and
there are but women, naught but women."
"You have marked him well," said her lord, admiring her wisdom.
"Methinks that you--though you have spoken to him but little, and
have but of late become his kinswoman--have marked and read him
better than the rest of us."
"Yes--I have marked him," was her answer.
"He is a man to mark, and I have a keen eye." She rose up as she
spoke, and stood before the fire, lifted by some strong feeling to
her fullest height, and towering there, splendid in the shadow--for
'twas by twilight they talked. "He is a Man," she said--"he is a
Man! Nay, he is as God meant man should be. And if men were so,
there would be women great enough for them to mate with and to give
the world men like them." And but that she stood in the shadow, her
lord would have seen the crimson torrent rush up her cheek and brow,
and overspread her long round throat itself.
If none other had known of it, there was one man who knew that she
had marked him, though she had borne herself towards him always with
her stateliest grace. This man was his Grace the Duke himself.
From the hour that he had stood transfixed as he watched her come up
the broad oak stair, from the moment that the red rose fell from her
wreath at his feet, and he had stooped to lift it in his hand, he
had seen her as no other man had seen her, and he had known that had
he not come but just too late, she would have been his own. Each
time he had beheld her since that night he had felt this burn more
deeply in his soul. He was too high and fine in all his thoughts to
say to himself that in her he saw for the first time the woman who
was his peer; but this was very truth--or might have been, if Fate
had set her youth elsewhere, and a lady who was noble and her own
mother had trained and guarded her. When he saw her at the Court
surrounded, as she ever was, by a court of her own; when he saw her
reigning in her lord's house, receiving and doing gracious honour to
his guests and hers; when she passed him in her coach, drawing every
eye by the majesty of her presence, as she drove through the town,
he felt a deep pang, which was all the greater that his honour bade
him conquer it. He had no ignoble thought of her, he would have
scorned to sully his soul with any light passion; to him she was the
woman who might have been his beloved wife and duchess, who would
have upheld with him the honour and traditions of his house, whose
strength and power and beauty would have been handed down to his
children, who so would have been born endowed with gifts befitting
the state to which Heaven had called them. It was of this he
thought when he saw her, and of naught less like to do her honour.
And as he had marked her so, he saw in her eyes, despite her dignity
and grace, she had marked him. He did not know how closely, or that
she gave him the attention he could not restrain himself from
bestowing upon her. But when he bowed before her, and she greeted
him with all courtesy, he saw in her great, splendid eye that had
Fate willed it so, she would have understood all his thoughts,
shared all his ambitions, and aided him to uphold his high ideals.
Nay, he knew she understood him even now, and was stirred by what
stirred him also, even though they met but rarely, and when they
encountered each other, spoke but as kinsman and kinswoman who would
show each other all gracious respect and honour. It was because of
this pang which struck his great heart at times that he was not a
frequent visitor at my Lord Dunstanwolde's mansion, but appeared
there only at such assemblies as were matters of ceremony, his
absence from which would have been a noted thing. His kinsman was
fond of him, and though himself of so much riper age, honoured him
greatly. At times he strove to lure him into visits of greater
familiarity; but though his kindness was never met coldly or
repulsed, a further intimacy was in some gracious way avoided.
"My lady must beguile you to be less formal with us," said
Dunstanwolde. And later her ladyship spoke as her husband had
privately desired: "My lord would be made greatly happy if your
Grace would honour our house oftener," she said one night, when at
the end of a great ball he was bidding her adieu.
Osmonde's deep eye met hers gently and held it. "My Lord
Dunstanwolde is always gracious and warm of heart to his kinsman,"
he replied. "Do not let him think me discourteous or ungrateful.
In truth, your ladyship, I am neither the one nor the other."
The eyes of each gazed into the other's steadfastly and gravely.
The Duke of Osmonde thought of Juno's as he looked at hers; they
were of such velvet, and held such fathomless deeps.
"Your Grace is not so free as lesser men," Clorinda said. "You
cannot come and go as you would."
"No," he answered gravely, "I cannot, as I would."
And this was all.
It having been known by all the world that, despite her beauty and
her conquests, Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had not smiled with great
favour upon Sir John Oxon in the country, it was not wondered at or
made any matter of gossip that the Countess of Dunstanwolde was but
little familiar with him and saw him but rarely at her house in
Once or twice he had appeared there, it is true, at my Lord
Dunstanwolde's instance, but my lady herself scarce seemed to see
him after her first courtesies as hostess were over.
"You never smiled on him, my love," Dunstanwolde said to his wife.
"You bore yourself towards him but cavalierly, as was your
ladyship's way--with all but one poor servant," tenderly; "but he
was one of the many who followed in your train, and if these gay
young fellows stay away, 'twill be said that I keep them at a
distance because I am afraid of their youth and gallantry. I would
not have it fancied that I was so ungrateful as to presume upon your
goodness and not leave to you your freedom."
"Nor would I, my lord," she answered. "But he will not come often;
I do not love him well enough."
His marriage with the heiress who had wealth in the West Indies was
broken off, or rather 'twas said had come to naught. All the town
knew it, and wondered, and talked, because it had been believed at
first that the young lady was much enamoured of him, and that he
would soon lead her to the altar, the which his creditors had
greatly rejoiced over as promising them some hope that her fortune
would pay their bills of which they had been in despair. Later,
however, gossip said that the heiress had not been so tender as was
thought; that, indeed, she had been found to be in love with another
man, and that even had she not, she had heard such stories of Sir
John as promised but little nuptial happiness for any woman that
took him to husband.
When my Lord Dunstanwolde brought his bride to town, and she soared
at once to splendid triumph and renown, inflaming every heart, and
setting every tongue at work, clamouring her praises, Sir John Oxon
saw her from afar in all the scenes of brilliant fashion she
frequented and reigned queen of. 'Twas from afar, it might be said,
he saw her only, though he was often near her, because she bore
herself as if she did not observe him, or as though he were a thing
which did not exist. The first time that she deigned to address him
was upon an occasion when she found herself standing so near him at
an assembly that in the crowd she brushed him with her robe. His
blue eyes were fixed burningly upon her, and as she brushed him he
drew in a hard breath, which she hearing, turned slowly and let her
own eyes fall upon his face.
"You did not marry," she said.
"No, I did not marry," he answered, in a low, bitter voice. "'Twas
your ladyship who did that."
She faintly, slowly smiled.
"I should not have been like to do otherwise," she said; "'tis an
honourable condition. I would advise you to enter it."
CHAPTER XI--Wherein a noble life comes to an end
When the earl and his countess went to their house in the country,
there fell to Mistress Anne a great and curious piece of good
fortune. In her wildest dreams she had never dared to hope that
such a thing might be.
My Lady Dunstanwolde, on her first visit home, bore her sister back
with her to the manor, and there established her. She gave her a
suite of rooms and a waiting woman of her own, and even provided her
with a suitable wardrobe. This last she had chosen herself with a
taste and fitness which only such wit as her own could have devised.
"They are not great rooms I give thee, Anne," she said, "but quiet
and small ones, which you can make home-like in such ways as I know
your taste lies. My lord has aided me to choose romances for your
shelves, he knowing more of books than I do. And I shall not dress
thee out like a peacock with gay colours and great farthingales.
They would frighten thee, poor woman, and be a burden with their
weight. I have chosen such things as are not too splendid, but will
suit thy pale face and shot partridge eyes."
Anne stood in the middle of her room and looked about at its
"Sister," she said, "why are you so good to me? What have I done to
serve you? Why is it Anne instead of Barbara you are so gracious
"Perchance because I am a vain woman and would be worshipped as you
"But you are always worshipped," Anne faltered.
"Ay, by men!" said Clorinda, mocking; "but not by women. And it may
be that my pride is so high that I must be worshipped by a woman
too. You would always love me, sister Anne. If you saw me break
the law--if you saw me stab the man I hated to the heart, you would
think it must be pardoned to me."
She laughed, and yet her voice was such that Anne lost her breath
and caught at it again.
"Ay, I should love you, sister!" she cried. "Even then I could not
but love you. I should know you could not strike so an innocent
creature, and that to be so hated he must have been worthy of hate.
You--are not like other women, sister Clorinda; but you could not be
base--for you have a great heart."
Clorinda put her hand to her side and laughed again, but with less
mocking in her laughter.
"What do you know of my heart, Anne?" she said. "Till late I did
not know it beat, myself. My lord says 'tis a great one and noble,
but I know 'tis his own that is so. Have I done honestly by him,
Anne, as I told you I would? Have I been fair in my bargain--as
fair as an honest man, and not a puling, slippery woman."
"You have been a great lady," Anne answered, her great dull, soft
eyes filling with slow tears as she gazed at her. "He says that you
have given to him a year of Heaven, and that you seem to him like
some archangel--for the lower angels seem not high enough to set
"'Tis as I said--'tis his heart that is noble," said Clorinda. "But
I vowed it should be so. He paid--he paid!"
The country saw her lord's happiness as the town had done, and
wondered at it no less. The manor was thrown open, and guests came
down from town; great dinners and balls being given, at which all
the country saw the mistress reign at her consort's side with such a
grace as no lady ever had worn before. Sir Jeoffry, appearing at
these assemblies, was so amazed that he forgot to muddle himself
with drink, in gazing at his daughter and following her in all her
"Look at her!" he said to his old boon companions and hers, who were
as much awed as he. "Lord! who would think she was the strapping,
handsome shrew that swore, and sang men's songs to us, and rode to
the hunt in breeches."
He was awed at the thought of paying fatherly visits to her house,
and would have kept away, but that she was kind to him in the way he
was best able to understand.
"I am country-bred, and have not the manners of your town men, my
lady," he said to her, as he sat with her alone on one of the first
mornings he spent with her in her private apartment. "I am used to
rap out an oath or an ill-mannered word when it comes to me.
Dunstanwolde has weaned you of hearing such things--and I am too old
a dog to change."
"Wouldst have thought I was too old to change," answered she, "but I
was not. Did I not tell thee I would be a great lady. There is
naught a man or woman cannot learn who hath the wit."
"Thou hadst it, Clo," said Sir Jeoffry, gazing at her with a sort of
slow wonder. "Thou hadst it. If thou hadst not -!" He paused, and
shook his head, and there was a rough emotion in his coarse face.
"I was not the man to have made aught but a baggage of thee, Clo. I
taught thee naught decent, and thou never heard or saw aught to
teach thee. Damn me!" almost with moisture in his eyes, "if I know
what kept thee from going to ruin before thou wert fifteen."
She sat and watched him steadily.
"Nor I," quoth she, in answer. "Nor I--but here thou seest me, Dad-
-an earl's lady, sitting before thee."
"'Twas thy wit," said he, still moved, and fairly maudlin. "'Twas
thy wit and thy devil's will!"
"Ay," she answered, "'twas they--my wit and my devil's will!"
She rode to the hunt with him as she had been wont to do, but she
wore the latest fashion in hunting habit and coat; and though
'twould not have been possible for her to sit her horse better than
of old, or to take hedges and ditches with greater daring and
spirit, yet in some way every man who rode with her felt that 'twas
a great lady who led the field. The horse she rode was a fierce,
beauteous devil of a beast which Sir Jeoffry himself would scarce
have mounted even in his younger days; but she carried her loaded
whip, and she sat upon the brute as if she scarcely felt its temper,
and held it with a wrist of steel.
My Lord Dunstanwolde did not hunt this season. He had never been
greatly fond of the sport, and at this time was a little ailing, but
he would not let his lady give up her pleasure because he could not
"Nay," he said, "'tis not for the queen of the hunting-field to stay
at home to nurse an old man's aches. My pride would not let it be
so. Your father will attend you. Go--and lead them all, my dear."
In the field appeared Sir John Oxon, who for a brief visit was at
Eldershawe. He rode close to my lady, though she had naught to say
to him after her first greetings of civility. He looked not as
fresh and glowing with youth as had been his wont only a year ago.
His reckless wildness of life and his town debaucheries had at last
touched his bloom, perhaps. He had a haggard look at moments when
his countenance was not lighted by excitement. 'Twas whispered that
he was deep enough in debt to be greatly straitened, and that his
marriage having come to naught his creditors were besetting him
without mercy. This and more than this, no one knew so well as my
Lady Dunstanwolde; but of a certainty she had little pity for his
evil case, if one might judge by her face, when in the course of the
running he took a hedge behind her, and pressing his horse, came up
by her side and spoke.
"Clorinda," he began breathlessly, through set teeth.
She could have left him and not answered, but she chose to restrain
the pace of her wild beast for a moment and look at him.
"'Your ladyship!'" she corrected his audacity. "Or--'my Lady
"There was a time"--he said.
"This morning," she said, "I found a letter in a casket in my
closet. I do not know the mad villain who wrote it. I never knew
"You did not," he cried, with an oath, and then laughed scornfully.
"The letter lies in ashes on the hearth," she said. "'Twas burned
unopened. Do not ride so close, Sir John, and do not play the
madman and the beast with the wife of my Lord Dunstanwolde."
"'The wife!'" he answered. "'My lord!' 'Tis a new game this, and
well played, by God!"
She did not so much as waver in her look, and her wide eyes smiled.
"Quite new," she answered him--"quite new. And could I not have
played it well and fairly, I would not have touched the cards. Keep
your horse off, Sir John. Mine is restive, and likes not another
beast near him;" and she touched the creature with her whip, and he
was gone like a thunderbolt.
The next day, being in her room, Anne saw her come from her
dressing-table with a sealed letter in her hand. She went to the
bell and rang it.
"Anne," she said, "I am going to rate my woman and turn her from my
service. I shall not beat or swear at her as I was wont to do with
my women in time past. You will be afraid, perhaps; but you must
stay with me."
She was standing by the fire with the letter held almost at arm's
length in her finger-tips, when the woman entered, who, seeing her
face, turned pale, and casting her eyes upon the letter, paler
still, and began to shake.
"You have attended mistresses of other ways than mine," her lady
said in her slow, clear voice, which seemed to cut as knives do.
"Some fool and madman has bribed you to serve him. You cannot serve
me also. Come hither and put this in the fire. If 'twere to be
done I would make you hold it in the live coals with your hand."
The woman came shuddering, looking as if she thought she might be
struck dead. She took the letter and kneeled, ashen pale, to burn
it. When 'twas done, her mistress pointed to the door.
"Go and gather your goods and chattels together, and leave within
this hour," she said. "I will be my own tirewoman till I can find
one who comes to me honest."
When she was gone, Anne sat gazing at the ashes on the hearth. She
was pale also.
"Sister," she said, "do you--"
"Yes," answered my lady. "'Tis a man who loved me, a cur and a
knave. He thought for an hour he was cured of his passion. I could
have told him 'twould spring up and burn more fierce than ever when
he saw another man possess me. 'Tis so with knaves and curs; and
'tis so with him. He hath gone mad again."
"Ay, mad!" cried Anne--"mad, and base, and wicked!"
Clorinda gazed at the ashes, her lips curling.
"He was ever base," she said--"as he was at first, so he is now.
'Tis thy favourite, Anne," lightly, and she delicately spurned the
blackened tinder with her foot--"thy favourite, John Oxon."
Mistress Anne crouched in her seat and hid her face in her thin
"Oh, my lady!" she cried, not feeling that she could say "sister,"
"if he be base, and ever was so, pity him, pity him! The base need
pity more than all."
For she had loved him madly, all unknowing her own passion, not
presuming even to look up in his beautiful face, thinking of him
only as the slave of her sister, and in dead secrecy knowing strange
things--strange things! And when she had seen the letter she had
known the handwriting, and the beating of her simple heart had well-
nigh strangled her--for she had seen words writ by him before.
* * *
When Dunstanwolde and his lady went back to their house in town,
Mistress Anne went with them. Clorinda willed that it should be so.
She made her there as peaceful and retired a nest of her own as she
had given to her at Dunstanwolde. By strange good fortune Barbara
had been wedded to a plain gentleman, who, being a widower with
children, needed a help-meet in his modest household, and through a
distant relationship to Mistress Wimpole, encountered her charge,
and saw in her meekness of spirit the thing which might fall into
the supplying of his needs. A beauty or a fine lady would not have
suited him; he wanted but a housewife and a mother for his orphaned
children, and this, a young woman who had lived straitly, and been
forced to many contrivances for mere decency of apparel and ordinary
comfort, might be trained to become.
So it fell that Mistress Anne could go to London without pangs of
conscience at leaving her sister in the country and alone. The
stateliness of the town mansion, my Lady Dunstanwolde's retinue of
lacqueys and serving-women, her little black page, who waited on her
and took her pug dogs to walk, her wardrobe, and jewels, and
equipages, were each and all marvels to her, but seemed to her mind
so far befitting that she remembered, wondering, the days when she
had darned the tattered tapestry in her chamber, and changed the
ribbands and fashions of her gowns. Being now attired fittingly,
though soberly as became her, she was not in these days--at least,
as far as outward seeming went--an awkward blot upon the scene when
she appeared among her sister's company; but at heart she was as
timid and shrinking as ever, and never mingled with the guests in
the great rooms when she could avoid so doing. Once or twice she
went forth with Clorinda in her coach and six, and saw the
glittering world, while she drew back into her corner of the
equipage and gazed with all a country-bred woman's timorous
"'Twas grand and like a beautiful show!" she said, when she came
home the first time. "But do not take me often, sister; I am too
plain and shy, and feel that I am naught in it."
But though she kept as much apart from the great World of Fashion as
she could, she contrived to know of all her sister's triumphs; to
see her when she went forth in her bravery, though 'twere but to
drive in the Mall; to be in her closet with her on great nights when
her tirewomen were decking her in brocades and jewels, that she
might show her highest beauty at some assembly or ball of State.
And at all these times, as also at all others, she knew that she but
shared her own love and dazzled admiration with my Lord
Dunstanwolde, whose tenderness, being so fed by his lady's unfailing
graciousness of bearing and kindly looks and words, grew with every
hour that passed.
They held one night a splendid assembly at which a member of the
Royal House was present. That night Clorinda bade her sister
"Sometimes--I do not command it always--but sometimes you must show
yourself to our guests. My lord will not be pleased else. He says
it is not fitting that his wife's sister should remain unseen as if
we hid her away through ungraciousness. Your woman will prepare for
you all things needful. I myself will see that your dress becomes
you. I have commanded it already, and given much thought to its
shape and colour. I would have you very comely, Anne." And she
kissed her lightly on her cheek--almost as gently as she sometimes
kissed her lord's grey hair. In truth, though she was still a proud
lady and stately in her ways, there had come upon her some strange
subtle change Anne could not understand.
On the day on which the assembly was held, Mistress Anne's woman
brought to her a beautiful robe. 'Twas flowered satin of the sheen
and softness of a dove's breast, and the lace adorning it was like a
spider's web for gossamer fineness. The robe was sweetly fashioned,
fitting her shape wondrously; and when she was attired in it at
night a little colour came into her cheeks to see herself so far
beyond all comeliness she had ever known before. When she found
herself in the midst of the dazzling scene in the rooms of
entertainment, she was glad when at last she could feel herself lost
among the crowd of guests. Her only pleasure in such scenes was to
withdraw to some hidden corner and look on as at a pageant or a
play. To-night she placed herself in the shadow of a screen, from
which retreat she could see Clorinda and Dunstanwolde as they
received their guests. Thus she found enjoyment enough; for, in
truth, her love and almost abject passion of adoration for her
sister had grown as his lordship's had, with every hour. For a
season there had rested upon her a black shadow beneath which she
wept and trembled, bewildered and lost; though even at its darkest
the object of her humble love had been a star whose brightness was
not dimmed, because it could not be so whatsoever passed before it.
This cloud, however, being it seemed dispelled, the star had shone
but more brilliant in its high place, and she the more passionately
worshipped it. To sit apart and see her idol's radiance, to mark
her as she reigned and seemed the more royal when she bent the knee
to royalty itself, to see the shimmer of her jewels crowning her
midnight hair and crashing the warm whiteness of her noble neck, to
observe the admiration in all eyes as they dwelt upon her--this was,
indeed, enough of happiness.
"She is, as ever," she murmured, "not so much a woman as a proud
lovely goddess who has deigned to descend to earth. But my lord
does not look like himself. He seems shrunk in the face and old,
and his eyes have rings about them. I like not that. He is so kind
a gentleman and so happy that his body should not fail him. I have
marked that he has looked colourless for days, and Clorinda
questioned him kindly on it, but he said he suffered naught."
'Twas but a little later than she had thought this, that she
remarked a gentleman step aside and stand quite near without
observing her. Feeling that she had no testimony to her
fancifulness, she found herself thinking in a vague fashion that he,
too, had come there because he chose to be unobserved. 'Twould not
have been so easy for him to retire as it had been for her smallness
and insignificance to do so; and, indeed, she did not fancy that he
meant to conceal himself, but merely to stand for a quiet moment a
little apart from the crowd.
And as she looked up at him, wondering why this should be, she saw
he was the noblest and most stately gentleman she had ever beheld.
She had never seen him before; he must either be a stranger or a
rare visitor. As Clorinda was beyond a woman's height, he was
beyond a man's.
He carried himself as kingly as she did nobly; he had a countenance
of strong, manly beauty, and a deep tawny eye, thick-fringed and
full of fire; orders glittered upon his breast, and he wore a fair
periwig, which became him wondrously, and seemed to make his eye
more deep and burning by its contrast.
Beside his strength and majesty of bearing the stripling beauty of
John Oxon would have seemed slight and paltry, a thing for flippant
women to trifle with.
Mistress Anne looked at him with an admiration somewhat like
reverence, and as she did so a sudden thought rose to her mind, and
even as it rose, she marked what his gaze rested on, and how it
dwelt upon it, and knew that he had stepped apart to stand and gaze
as she did--only with a man's hid fervour--at her sister's self.
'Twas as if suddenly a strange secret had been told her. She read
it in his face, because he thought himself unobserved, and for a
space had cast his mask aside. He stood and gazed as a man who,
starving at soul, fed himself through his eyes, having no hope of
other sustenance, or as a man weary with long carrying of a burden,
for a space laid it down for rest and to gather power to go on. She
heard him draw a deep sigh almost stifled in its birth, and there
was that in his face which she felt it was unseemly that a stranger
like herself should behold, himself unknowing of her near presence.
She gently rose from her corner, wondering if she could retire from
her retreat without attracting his observation; but as she did so,
chance caused him to withdraw himself a little farther within the
shadow of the screen, and doing so, he beheld her.
Then his face changed; the mask of noble calmness, for a moment
fallen, resumed itself, and he bowed before her with the reverence
of a courtly gentleman, undisturbed by the unexpectedness of his
recognition of her neighbourhood.
"Madam," he said, "pardon my unconsciousness that you were near me.
You would pass?" And he made way for her.
She curtseyed, asking his pardon with her dull, soft eyes.
"Sir," she answered, "I but retired here for a moment's rest from