Chapter 4 Lord Twemlow’s chaplain visits his patron’s kinsman, and Mistres_lorinda shines on her birthday night
Uncivilised and almost savage as her girlish life was, and unregulated by an_utward training as was her mind, there were none who came in contact with he_ho could be blind to a certain strong, clear wit, and unconquerableness o_urpose, for which she was remarkable. She ever knew full well what sh_esired to gain or to avoid, and once having fixed her mind upon any object, she showed an adroitness and brilliancy of resource, a control of herself an_thers, the which there was no circumventing. She never made a blunde_ecause she could not control the expression of her emotions; and when sh_ave way to a passion, ’twas because she chose to do so, having naught t_ose, and in the midst of all their riotous jesting with her the boo_ompanions of Sir Jeoffry knew this.
“Had she a secret to keep, child though she is,” said Eldershawe, “there i_one—man or woman—who could scare or surprise it from her; and ’tis a strang_uality to note so early in a female creature.”
She spent her days with her father and his dissolute friends, treated hal_ike a boy, half a fantastical queen, until she was fourteen. She hunted an_oursed, shot birds, leaped hedges and ditches, reigned at the riotou_eastings, and coquetted with these mature, and in some cases elderly, men, a_f she looked forward to doing naught else all her life.
But one day, after she had gone out hunting with her father, riding Rake, wh_ad been given to her, and wearing her scarlet coat, breeches, and top-boots, one of the few remaining members of her mother’s family sent his chaplain t_emonstrate and advise her father to command her to forbear from appearing i_uch impudent attire.
There was, indeed, a stirring scene when this message was delivered by it_earer. The chaplain was an awkward, timid creature, who had heard storie_nough of Wildairs Hall and its master to undertake his mission with a quakin_oul. To have refused to obey any behest of his patron would have cost hi_is living, and knowing this beyond a doubt, he was forced to gird up hi_oins and gather together all the little courage he could muster to beard th_ion in his den.
The first thing he beheld on entering the big hall was a beautiful tall yout_earing his own rich black hair, and dressed in scarlet coat for hunting. H_as playing with a dog, making it leap over his crop, and both laughing an_wearing at its clumsiness. He glanced at the chaplain with a laughing, brilliant eye, returning the poor man’s humble bow with a slight nod as h_lainly hearkened to what he said as he explained his errand.
“I come from my Lord Twemlow, who is your master’s kinsman,” the chaplai_altered; “I am bidden to see and speak to him if it be possible, and hi_ordship much desires that Sir Jeoffry will allow it to be so. My Lor_wemlow—”
The beautiful youth left his playing with the dog and came forward with al_he air of the young master of the house.
“My Lord Twemlow sends you?” he said. “’Tis long since his lordship favoure_s with messages. Where is Sir Jeoffry, Lovatt?”
“In the dining-hall,” answered the servant. “He went there but a moment past, Mistress.”
The chaplain gave such a start as made him drop his shovel hat. “Mistress!” And this was she—this fine young creature who was tall and grandly enoug_uilt and knit to seem a radiant being even when clad in masculine attire. H_icked up his hat and bowed so low that it almost swept the floor in hi_beisance. He was not used to female beauty which deigned to cast grea_miling eyes upon him, for at my Lord Twemlow’s table he sat so far below th_alt that women looked not his way.
This beauty looked at him as if she was amused at the thought of something i_er own mind. He wondered tremblingly if she guessed what he came for an_new how her father would receive it.
“Come with me,” she said; “I will take you to him. He would not see you if _id not. He does not love his lordship tenderly enough.”
She led the way, holding her head jauntily and high, while he cast down hi_yes lest his gaze should be led to wander in a way unseemly in one of hi_loth. Such a foot and such—! He felt it more becoming and safer to lift hi_yes to the ceiling and keep them there, which gave him somewhat the aspect o_ne praying.
Sir Jeoffry stood at the buffet with a flagon of ale in his hand, taking hi_tirrup cup. At the sight of a stranger and one attired in the garb of _haplain, he scowled surprisedly.
“What’s this?” quoth he. “What dost want, Clo? I have no leisure for _ermon.”
Mistress Clorinda went to the buffet and filled a tankard for herself an_arried it back to the table, on the edge of which she half sat, with one le_ent, one foot resting on the floor.
“Time thou wilt have to take, Dad,” she said, with an arch grin, showing tw_ows of gleaming pearls. “This gentleman is my Lord Twemlow’s chaplain, who_e sends to exhort you, requesting you to have the civility to hear him.”
“Exhort be damned, and Twemlow be damned too!” cried Sir Jeoffry, who had _reat quarrel with his lordship and hated him bitterly. “What does th_anting fool mean?”
“Sir,” faltered the poor message-bearer, “his lordship hath—hath bee_oncerned—having heard—”
The handsome creature balanced against the table took the tankard from he_ips and laughed.
“Having heard thy daughter rides to field in breeches, and is an unseemly- behaving wench,” she cried, “his lordship sends his chaplain to deliver _iscourse thereon—not choosing to come himself. Is not that thy errand, reverend sir?”
The chaplain, poor man, turned pale, having caught, as she spoke, a glimpse o_ir Jeoffry’s reddening visage.
“Madam,” he faltered, bowing—“Madam, I ask pardon of you most humbly! If i_ere your pleasure to deign to—to—allow me—”
She set the tankard on the table with a rollicking smack, and thrust her hand_n her breeches-pockets, swaying with laughter; and, indeed, ’twas ringin_usic, her rich great laugh, which, when she grew of riper years, was muc_auded and written verses on by her numerous swains.
“If ’twere my pleasure to go away and allow you to speak, free from th_wkwardness of a young lady’s presence,” she said. “But ’tis not, as i_appens, and if I stay here, I shall be a protection.”
In truth, he required one. Sir Jeoffry broke into a torrent of blasphemy. H_amned both kinsman and chaplain, and raged at the impudence of both in darin_o approach him, swearing to horsewhip my lord if they ever met, and to hav_he chaplain kicked out of the house, and beyond the park gates themselves.
But Mistress Clorinda chose to make it her whim to take it in better humour, and as a joke with a fine point to it. She laughed at her father’s storming, and while the chaplain quailed before it with pallid countenance and fairl_ang-dog look, she seemed to find it but a cause for outbursts of merriment.
“Hold thy tongue a bit, Dad,” she cried, when he had reached his loudest, “an_et his reverence tell us what his message is. We have not even heard it.”
“Want not to hear it!” shouted Sir Jeoffry. “Dost think I’ll stand hi_mpudence? Not I!”
“What was your message?” demanded the young lady of the chaplain. “You canno_eturn without delivering it. Tell it to me. _I_ choose it shall be told.”
The chaplain clutched and fumbled with his hat, pale, and dropping his eye_pon the floor, for very fear.
“Pluck up thy courage, man,” said Clorinda. “I will uphold thee. Th_essage?”
“Your pardon, Madam—’twas this,” the chaplain faltered. “My lord commanded m_o warn your honoured father—that if he did not beg you to leave of_earing—wearing—”
“Breeches,” said Mistress Clorinda, slapping her knee.
The chaplain blushed with modesty, though he was a man of sallow countenance.
“No gentleman,” he went on, going more lamely at each word—“notwithstandin_our great beauty—no gentleman—”
“Would marry me?” the young lady ended for him, with merciful good-humour.
“For if you—if a young lady be permitted to bear herself in such a manner a_ill cause her to be held lightly, she can make no match that will not be _ishonour to her family—and—and—”
“And may do worse!” quoth Mistress Clo, and laughed until the room rang.
Sir Jeoffry’s rage was such as made him like to burst; but she restrained hi_hen he would have flung his tankard at the chaplain’s head, and amid hi_torm of curses bundled the poor man out of the room, picking up his hat whic_n his hurry and fright he let fall, and thrusting it into his hand.
“Tell his lordship,” she said, laughing still as she spoke the final words, “that I say he is right—and I will see to it that no disgrace befalls him.”
“Forsooth, Dad,” she said, returning, “perhaps the old son of a—”—somethin_nmannerly—“is not so great a fool. As for me, I mean to make a fine marriag_nd be a great lady, and I know of none hereabouts to suit me but the old Ear_f Dunstanwolde, and ’tis said he rates at all but modest women, and, i_aith, he might not find breeches mannerly. I will not hunt in them again.”
She did not, though once or twice when she was in a wild mood, and her fathe_ntertained at dinner those of his companions whom she was the most incline_o, she swaggered in among them in her daintiest suits of male attire, an_aused their wine-shot eyes to gloat over her boyish-maiden charms and jaunt_irs and graces.
On the night of her fifteenth birthday Sir Jeoffry gave a great dinner to hi_oon companions and hers. She had herself commanded that there should be n_adies at the feast; for she chose to announce that she should appear at n_ore such, having the wit to see that she was too tall a young lady fo_hildish follies, and that she had now arrived at an age when her market mus_e made.
“I shall have women enough henceforth to be dull with,” she said. “Thou ar_ut a poor match-maker, Dad, or wouldst have thought of it for me. But no_nce has it come into thy pate that I have no mother to angle in my cause an_each me how to cast sheep’s eyes at bachelors. Long-tailed petticoats fro_his time for me, and hoops and patches, and ogling over fans—until at last, if I play my cards well, some great lord will look my way and be taken by m_hape and my manners.”
“With thy shape, Clo, God knows every man will,” laughed Sir Jeoffry, “but _ear me not with thy manners. Thou hast the manners of a baggage, and the_re second nature to thee.”
“They are what I was born with,” answered Mistress Clorinda. “They came fro_im that begot me, and he has not since improved them. But now”—making _reat sweeping curtsey, her impudent bright beauty almost dazzling hi_yes—“now, after my birth-night, they will be bettered; but this one night _ill have my last fling.”
When the men trooped into the black oak wainscotted dining-hall on th_ventful night, they found their audacious young hostess awaiting them i_reater and more daring beauty than they had ever before beheld. She wor_nee-breeches of white satin, a pink satin coat embroidered with silver roses, white silk stockings, and shoes with great buckles of brilliants, revealing _eg so round and strong and delicately moulded, and a foot so arched an_lender, as surely never before, they swore one and all, woman had had t_isplay. She met them standing jauntily astride upon the hearth, her back t_he fire, and she greeted each one as he came with some pretty impudence. He_air was tied back and powdered, her black eyes were like lodestars, drawin_ll men, and her colour was that of a ripe pomegranate. She had a fine, haughty little Roman nose, a mouth like a scarlet bow, a wonderful lon_hroat, and round cleft chin. A dazzling mien indeed she possessed, and read_nough she was to shine before them. Sir Jeoffry was now elderly, having bee_ man of forty when united to his conjugal companion. Most of his friend_ere of his own age, so that it had not been with unripe youth Mistres_lorinda had been in the habit of consorting. But upon this night a newcome_as among the guests. He was a young relation of one of the older men, an_aving come to his kinsman’s house upon a visit, and having proved himself, i_pite of his youth, to be a young fellow of humour, high courage in th_unting-field, and by no means averse either to entering upon or discussin_ntrigue and gallant adventure, had made himself something of a favourite.
His youthful beauty for a man almost equalled that of Mistress Clorind_erself. He had an elegant, fine shape, of great strength and vigour, hi_ountenance was delicately ruddy and handsomely featured, his curling fai_air flowed loose upon his shoulders, and, though masculine in mould, hi_nkle was as slender and his buckled shoe as arched as her own.
He was, it is true, twenty-four years of age and a man, while she was bu_ifteen and a woman, but being so tall and built with such unusual vigour o_ymmetry, she was a beauteous match for him, and both being attired i_ashionable masculine habit, these two pretty young fellows standing smilin_aucily at each other were a charming, though singular, spectacle.
This young man was already well known in the modish world of town for hi_eauty and adventurous spirit. He was indeed already a beau and conqueror o_emale hearts. It was suspected that he cherished a private ambition to se_he modes in beauties and embroidered waistcoats himself in time, and be a_enowned abroad and as much the town talk as certain other celebrated beau_ad been before him. The art of ogling tenderly and of uttering soft nothing_e had learned during his first season in town, and as he had a great meltin_lue eye, the figure of an Adonis, and a white and shapely hand for a ring, h_as well equipped for conquest. He had darted many an inflaming glance a_istress Clorinda before the first meats were removed. Even in London he ha_eard a vague rumour of this handsome young woman, bred among her father’_ogs, horses, and boon companions, and ripening into a beauty likely to mak_own faces pale. He had almost fallen into the spleen on hearing that she ha_eft her boy’s clothes and vowed she would wear them no more, as above al_hings he had desired to see how she carried them and what charms the_evealed. On hearing from his host and kinsman that she had said that on he_irth-night she would bid them farewell for ever by donning them for the las_ime, he was consumed with eagerness to obtain an invitation. This hi_insman besought for him, and, behold! the first glance the beauty shot at hi_ierced his inflammable bosom like a dart. Never before had it been hi_ortune to behold female charms so dazzling and eyes of such lustre and youn_ajesty. The lovely baggage had a saucy way of standing with her whit_ewelled hands in her pockets like a pretty fop, and throwing up her littl_ead like a modish beauty who was of royal blood; and these two tricks alone, he felt, might have set on fire the heart of a man years older and colder tha_imself.
If she had been of the order of soft-natured charmers, they would have falle_nto each other’s eyes before the wine was changed; but this Mistress Clorind_as not. She did not fear to meet the full battery of his enamoured glances, but she did not choose to return them. She played her part of the prett_oung fellow who was a high-spirited beauty, with more of wit and fire tha_he had ever played it before. The rollicking hunting-squires, who had bee_er play-fellows so long, devoured her with their delighted glances and roare_ith laughter at her sallies. Their jokes and flatteries were not of the mos_eemly, but she had not been bred to seemliness and modesty, and was no mor_gnorant than if she had been, in sooth, some gay young springald of a lad.
To her it was part of the entertainment that upon this last night the_onducted themselves as beseemed her boyish masquerading. Though country- bred, she had lived among companions who were men of the world and live_ithout restraints, and she had so far learned from them that at fifteen year_ld she was as worldly and as familiar with the devices of intrigue as sh_ould be at forty. So far she had not been pushed to practising them, he_ingular life having thrown her among few of her own age, and those ha_hanced to be of a sort she disdainfully counted as country bumpkins.
But the young gallant introduced to-night into the world she lived in was n_umpkin, and was a dandy of the town. His name was Sir John Oxon, and he ha_ust come into his title and a pretty property. His hands were as white an_ejewelled as her own, his habit was of the latest fashionable cut, and hi_air flowing locks scattered a delicate French perfume she did not even kno_he name of.
But though she observed all these attractions and found them powerful, youn_ir John remarked, with a slight sinking qualm, that her great eye did no_all before his amorous glances, but met them with high smiling readiness, an_er colour never blanched or heightened a whit for all their masterl_kilfulness. But he had sworn to himself that he would approach close enoug_o her to fire off some fine speech before the night was ended, and h_ndeavoured to bear himself with at least an outward air of patience until h_eheld his opportunity.
When the last dish was removed and bottles and bumpers stood upon the board, she sprang up on her chair and stood before them all, smiling down the lon_able with eyes like flashing jewels. Her hands were thrust in he_ockets—with her pretty young fop’s air, and she drew herself to her ful_omely height, her beauteous lithe limbs and slender feet set smartl_ogether. Twenty pairs of masculine eyes were turned upon her beauty, bu_one so ardently as the young one’s across the table.
“Look your last on my fine shape,” she proclaimed in her high, rich voice.
“You will see but little of the lower part of it when it is hid i_arthingales and petticoats. Look your last before I go to don my fine lady’_urbelows.”
And when they filled their glasses and lifted them and shouted admiring jest_o her, she broke into one of her stable-boy songs, and sang it in the voic_f a skylark.
No man among them was used to showing her the courtesies of polite breeding.
She had been too long a boy to them for that to have entered any mind, an_hen she finished her song, sprang down, and made for the door, Sir Joh_eheld his long-looked-for chance, and was there before her to open it with _reat bow, made with his hand upon his heart and his fair locks falling.
“You rob us of the rapture of beholding great beauties, Madam,” he said in _ow, impassioned voice. “But there should be indeed but _one_ happy ma_hose bliss it is to gaze upon such perfections.”
“I am fifteen years old to-night,” she answered; “and as yet I have not se_yes upon him.”
“How do you know that, madam?” he said, bowing lower still.
She laughed her great rich laugh.
“Forsooth, I do not know,” she retorted. “He may be here this very nigh_mong this company; and as it might be so, I go to don my modesty.”
And she bestowed on him a parting shot in the shape of one of her pretties_oung fop waves of the hand, and was gone from him.
* * * * *
When the door closed behind her and Sir John Oxon returned to the table, for _hile a sort of dulness fell upon the party. Not being of quick minds o_entiments, these country roisterers failed to understand the heavy cloud o_pleen and lack of spirit they experienced, and as they filled their glasse_nd tossed off one bumper after another to cure it, they soon began again t_augh and fell into boisterous joking.
They talked mostly, indeed, of their young playfellow, of whom they felt, i_ome indistinct manner, they were to be bereft; they rallied Sir Jeoffry, tol_tories of her childhood and made pictures of her budding beauties, comparin_hem with those of young ladies who were celebrated toasts.
“She will sail among them like a royal frigate,” said one; “and they will pal_efore her lustre as a tallow dip does before an illumination.”
The clock struck twelve before she returned to them. Just as the last strok_ounded the door was thrown open, and there she stood, a woman on each side o_er, holding a large silver candelabra bright with wax tapers high above her, so that she was in a flood of light.
She was attired in rich brocade of crimson and silver, and wore a great hoope_etticoat, which showed off her grandeur, her waist of no more bigness than _an’s hands could clasp, set in its midst like the stem of a flower; her blac_air was rolled high and circled with jewels, her fair long throat blazed wit_ collar of diamonds, and the majesty of her eye and lip and brow made up _ien so dazzling that every man sprang to his feet beholding her.
She made a sweeping obeisance and then stood up before them, her head throw_ack and her lips curving in the triumphant mocking smile of a great beaut_ooking upon them all as vassals.
“Down upon your knees,” she cried, “and drink to me kneeling. From this nigh_ll men must bend so—all men on whom I deign to cast my eyes.”