Chapter 5 “Not I,” said she. “There thou mayst trust me. I would not b_ound out.”
She went no more a-hunting in boy’s clothes, but from this time forward wor_rocades and paduasoys, fine lawn and lace. Her tirewoman was kept so busil_ngaged upon making rich habits, fragrant waters and essences, and so runnin_t her bidding to change her gown or dress her head in some new fashion, tha_er life was made to her a weighty burden to bear, and also a painful one.
Her place had before been an easy one but for her mistress’s choleric temper, but it was so no more. Never had young lady been so exacting and s_empestuous when not pleased with the adorning of her face and shape. In th_resence of polite strangers, whether ladies or gentlemen, Mistress Clorind_n these days chose to chasten her language and give less rein to he_antastical passions, but alone in her closet with her woman, if a riband di_ut not suit her fancy, or a hoop not please, she did not fear to be a_currilous as she chose. In this discreet retirement she rapped out oaths an_oxed her woman’s ears with a vigorous hand, tore off her gowns and stampe_hem beneath her feet, or flung pots of pomade at the poor woman’s head. Sh_ook these freedoms with such a readiness and spirit that she was served wit_ despatch and humbleness scarcely to be equalled, and, it is certain, neve_xcelled.
The high courage and undaunted will which had been the engines she had used t_ain her will from her infant years aided her in these days to carry out wha_er keen mind and woman’s wit had designed, which was to take the county b_torm with her beauty, and reign toast and enslaver until such time as she wo_he prize of a husband of rich estates and notable rank.
It was soon bruited abroad, to the amazement of the county, that Mistres_lorinda Wildairs had changed her strange and unseemly habits of life, and ha_ecome as much a young lady of fashion and breeding as her birth and char_emanded. This was first made known by her appearing one Sunday morning a_hurch, accompanied—as though attended with a retinue of servitors—by Mistres_impole and her two sisters, whose plain faces, awkward shape, and still mor_wkward attire were such a foil to her glowing loveliness as set it in hig_elief. It was seldom that the coach from Wildairs Hall drew up before th_ych-gate, but upon rare Sunday mornings Mistress Wimpole and her two charge_ontrived, if Sir Jeoffry was not in an ill-humour and the coachman wa_omplaisant, to be driven to service. Usually, however, they trudged afoot, and, if the day chanced to be sultry, arrived with their snub-nosed faces of _igh and shiny colour, or if the country roads were wet, with their petticoat_emired.
This morning, when the coach drew up, the horses were well groomed, th_oachman smartly dressed, and a footman was in attendance, who sprang to eart_nd opened the door with a flourish.
The loiterers in the churchyard, and those who were approaching the gate o_assing towards the church porch, stared with eyes wide stretched in wonde_nd incredulity. Never had such a thing before been beheld or heard of a_hat they now saw in broad daylight.
Mistress Clorinda, clad in highest town fashion, in brocades and silver lac_nd splendid furbelows, stepped forth from the chariot with the air of _ueen. She had the majestic composure of a young lady who had worn nothin_ess modish than such raiment all her life, and who had prayed decorousl_eneath her neighbours’ eyes since she had left her nurse’s care.
Her sisters and their governess looked timorous, and as if they knew not wher_o cast their eyes for shamefacedness; but not so Mistress Clorinda, who move_orward with a stately, swimming gait, her fine head in the air. As sh_tepped into the porch a young gentleman drew back and made a profoun_beisance to her. She cast her eyes upon him and returned it with a grace an_ondescension which struck the beholders dumb with admiring awe. To some o_he people of a commoner sort he was a stranger, but all connected with th_entry knew he was Sir John Oxon, who was staying at Eldershawe Park with hi_elative, whose estate it was.
How Mistress Clorinda contrived to manage it no one was aware but herself, bu_fter a few appearances at church she appeared at other places. She was see_t dinners at fine houses, and began to be seen at routs and balls. Where sh_as seen she shone, and with such radiance as caused matchmaking matrons grea_ismay, and their daughters woeful qualms. Once having shone, she could no_e extinguished or hidden under a bushel; for, being of rank and highl_onnected through mother as well as father, and playing her cards with grea_it and skill, she could not be thrust aside.
At her first hunt ball she set aflame every male breast in the shire, unmasking such a battery of charms as no man could withstand the fire of. He_azzling eye, her wondrous shape, the rich music of her laugh, and the mockin_it of her sharp saucy tongue were weapons to have armed a dozen women, an_he was but one, and in the first rich tempting glow of blooming youth.
She turned more heads and caused more quarrels than she could have counted ha_he sat up half the night. She went to her coach with her father followed b_ dozen gallants, each ready to spit the other for a smile. Her smiles wer_ondrous, but there seemed always a touch of mockery or disdain in them whic_ade them more remembered than if they had been softer.
One man there was, who perchance found something in her high glance not wholl_cornful, but he was used to soft treatment from women, and had, in sooth, expected milder glances than were bestowed upon him. This was young Sir Joh_xon, who had found himself among the fair sex that night as great a beau a_he had been a belle; but two dances he had won from her, and this was mor_han any other man could boast, and what other gallants envied him wit_arkest hatred.
Sir Jeoffry, who had watched her as she queened it amongst rakes and fops an_onest country squires and knights, had marked the vigour with which the_lied her with an emotion which was a new sensation to his drink-bemuddle_rain. So far as it was in his nature to love another than himself, he ha_earned to love this young lovely virago of his own flesh and blood, perchanc_ecause she was the only creature who had never quailed before him, and ha_lways known how to bend him to her will.
When the chariot rode away, he looked at her as she sat erect in the earl_orning light, as unblenching, bright, and untouched in bloom as if she ha_hat moment risen from her pillow and washed her face in dew. He was not s_runk as he had been at midnight, but he was a little maudlin.
“By God, thou art handsome, Clo!” he said. “By God, I never saw a fine_oman!”
“Nor I,” she answered back, “which I thank Heaven for.”
“Thou pretty, brazen baggage,” her father laughed. “Old Dunstanwolde looke_hee well over to-night. He never looked away from the moment he clapped eye_n thee.”
“That I knew better than thee, Dad,” said the beauty; “and I saw that he coul_ot have done it if he had tried. If there comes no richer, younger grea_entleman, he shall marry me.”
“Thou hast a sharp eye and a keen wit,” said Sir Jeoffry, looking askance a_er with a new maggot in his brain. “Wouldst never play the fool, I warrant.
They will press thee hard and ’twill be hard to withstand their love-making, but I shall never have to mount and ride off with pistols in my holsters t_ring back a man and make him marry thee, as Chris Crowell had to do for hi_oungest wench. Thou wouldst never play the fool, I warrant—wouldst thou, Clo?”
She tossed her head and laughed like a young scornful devil, showing her whit_earl teeth between her lips’ scarlet.
“Not I,” she said. “There thou mayst trust me. _I_ would not be foun_ut.”
She played her part as triumphant beauty so successfully that the cleveres_anaging mother in the universe could not have bettered her position.
Gallants brawled for her; honest men fell at her feet; romantic swains wrot_erses to her, praising her eyes, her delicate bosom, the carnation of he_heek, and the awful majesty of her mien. In every revel she was queen, i_very contest of beauties Venus, in every spectacle of triumph empress of the_ll.
The Earl of Dunstanwolde, who had the oldest name and the richest estates i_is own county and the six adjoining ones, who, having made a love-match i_is prime, and lost wife and heir but a year after his nuptials, had been th_espair of every maid and mother who knew him, because he would not be melte_o a marriageable mood. After the hunt ball this mourning nobleman, who wa_y this time of ripe years, had appeared in the world again as he had not don_or many years. Before many months had elapsed, it was known that hi_dmiration of the new beauty was confessed, and it was believed that he bu_aited further knowledge of her to advance to the point of laying his titl_nd estates at her feet.
But though, two years before, the entire county would have rated low indee_he wit and foresight of the man who had even hinted the possibility of suc_onour and good fortune being in prospect for the young lady, so great wa_istress Clorinda’s brilliant and noble beauty, and with such majesty she bor_erself in these times, that there were even those who doubted whether sh_ould think my lord a rich enough prize for her, and if, when he fell upon hi_nees, she would deign to become his countess, feeling that she had suc_plendid wares to dispose of as might be bartered for a duke, when she went t_own and to court.
During the length of more than one man’s lifetime after, the reign of Mistres_lorinda Wildairs was a memory recalled over the bottle at the dining-tabl_mong men, some of whom had but heard their fathers vaunt her beauties. I_eemed as if in her person there was not a single flaw, or indeed a charm, which had not reached the highest point of beauty. For shape she might hav_ied with young Diana, mounted side by side with her upon a pedestal; he_aven locks were of a length and luxuriance to clothe her as a garment, he_reat eye commanded and flashed as Juno’s might have done in the goddess’_ivinest moments of lovely pride, and though it was said none ever saw i_anguish, each man who adored her was maddened by the secret belief tha_enus’ self could not so melt in love as she if she would stoop to loving—a_ach one prayed she might—himself. Her hands and feet, her neck, the slimnes_f her waist, her mantling crimson and ivory white, her little ear, he_carlet lip, the pearls between them and her long white throat, wer_erfection each and all, and catalogued with oaths of rapture.
“She hath such beauties,” one admirer said, “that a man must toast them al_nd cannot drink to her as to a single woman. And she hath so many that t_light none her servant must go from the table reeling.”
There was but one thing connected with her which was not a weapon to her hand, and this was, that she was not a fortune. Sir Jeoffry had drunk and riote_ntil he had but little left. He had cut his timber and let his estate go t_ack, having, indeed, no money to keep it up. The great Hall, which had onc_een a fine old place, was almost a ruin. Its carved oak and noble rooms an_alleries were all of its past splendours that remained. All had been sol_hat could be sold, and all the outcome had been spent. The county, indeed, wondered where Mistress Clorinda’s fine clothes came from, and knew full wel_hy she was not taken to court to kneel to the Queen. That she was waitin_or this to make her match, the envious were quite sure, and did not hesitat_o whisper pretty loudly.
The name of one man of rank and fortune after another was spoken of as that o_ suitor to her hand, but in some way it was discovered that she refused the_ll. It was also known that they continued to worship her, and that at an_oment she could call even the best among them back. It seemed that, whil_ll the men were enamoured of her, there was not one who could cure himself o_is passion, however hopeless it might be.
Her wit was as great as her beauty, and she had a spirit before which no ma_ould stand if she chose to be disdainful. To some she was so, and had th_him to flout them with great brilliancy. Encounters with her were alway_emembered, and if heard by those not concerned, were considered worthy bot_f recollection and of being repeated to the world; she had a tongue so nimbl_nd a wit so full of fire.
Young Sir John Oxon’s visit to his relative at Eldershawe being at an end, h_eturned to town, and remaining there through a few weeks of fashionabl_aiety, won new reputations as a triumpher over the female heart. He mad_ome renowned conquests and set the mode in some new essences and sword-knots.
But even these triumphs appeared to pall upon him shortly, since he deserte_he town and returned again to the country, where, on this occasion, he di_ot stay with his relative, but with Sir Jeoffry himself, who had taken _oisterous fancy to him.
It had been much marked since the altered life of Mistress Clorinda that she, who had previously defied all rules laid down on behaviour for young ladies, and had been thought to do so because she knew none of them, now proved tha_er wild fashion had been but wilfulness, since it was seen that she must hav_bserved and marked manners with the best. There seemed no decorum she di_ot know how to observe with the most natural grace. It was, indeed, al_race and majesty, there being no suggestion of the prude about her, bu_ather the manner of a young lady having been born with pride and stateliness, and most carefully bred. This was the result of her wondrous wit, th_ighness of her talents, and the strength of her will, which was of such powe_hat she could carry out without fail anything she chose to undertake. Ther_re some women who have beauty, and some who have wit or vigour o_nderstanding, but she possessed all three, and with them such courage an_trength of nerve as would have well equipped a man.
Quick as her wit was and ready as were her brilliant quips and sallies, ther_as no levity in her demeanour, and she kept Mistress Margery Wimpole i_iscreet attendance upon her, as if she had been the daughter of a Spanis_idalgo, never to be approached except in the presence of her duenna. Poo_istress Margery, finding her old fears removed, was overpowered with ne_nes. She had no lawlessness or hoyden manners to contend with, but instead _aughtiness so high and demands so great that her powers could scarcel_atisfy the one or her spirit stand up before the other.
“It is as if one were lady-in-waiting to her Majesty’s self,” she used t_himper when she was alone and dare do so. “Surely the Queen has not such _ill and such a temper. She will have me toil to look worthy of her in m_abit, and bear myself like a duchess in dignity. Alack! I have practised m_beisance by the hour to perfect it, so that I may escape her wrath. And _ust know how to look, and when and where to sit, and with what air of bein_ear at hand, while I must see nothing! And I must drag my failing limb_ither and thither with genteel ease while I ache from head to foot, bein_either young nor strong.”
The poor lady was so overawed by, and yet so admired, her charge, that it wa_iteous to behold.
“She is an arrant fool,” quoth Mistress Clorinda to her father. “A nic_uenna she would be, forsooth, if she were with a woman who needed watching.
She could be hoodwinked as it pleased me a dozen times a day. It is I who a_er guard, not she mine! But a beauty must drag some spy about with her, i_eems, and she I can make to obey me like a spaniel. We can afford no better, and she is well born, and since I bought her the purple paduasoy and the ne_appets she has looked well enough to serve.”
“Dunstanwolde need not fear for thee now,” said Sir Jeoffry. “Thou art _lever and foreseeing wench, Clo.”
“Dunstanwolde nor any man!” she answered. “There will be no gossip of me. I_s Anne and Barbara thou must look to, Dad, lest their plain faces lead the_o show soft hearts. My face is my fortune!”
When Sir John Oxon paid his visit to Sir Jeoffry the days of Mistress Marger_ere filled with carking care. The night before he arrived, Mistress Clorind_alled her to her closet and laid upon her her commands in her own high way.
She was under her woman’s hands, and while her great mantle of black hair fel_ver the back of her chair and lay on the floor, her tirewoman passing th_rush over it, lock by lock, she was at her greatest beauty. Either she ha_een angered or pleased, for her cheek wore a bloom even deeper and riche_han usual, and there was a spark like a diamond under the fringe of he_ashes.
At her first timorous glance at her, Mistress Margery thought she must hav_een angered, the spark so burned in her eyes, and so evident was the ligh_ut quick heave of her bosom; but the next moment it seemed as if she must b_n a pleasant humour, for a little smile deepened the dimples in the corner o_er bowed, full lips. But quickly she looked up and resumed her stately air.
“This gentleman who comes to visit to-morrow,” she said, “Sir John Oxon—do yo_now aught of him?”
“But little, Madame,” Mistress Margery answered with fear and humility.
“Then it will be well that you should, since I have commands to lay upon yo_oncerning him,” said the beauty.
“You do me honour,” said the poor gentlewoman.
Mistress Clorinda looked her straight in the face.
“He is a gentleman from town, the kinsman of Lord Eldershawe,” she said. “H_s a handsome man, concerning whom many women have been fools. He chooses t_llow it to be said that he is a conqueror of female hearts and virtue, eve_mong women of fashion and rank. If this be said in the town, what may not b_aid in the country? He shall wear no such graces here. He chooses to pa_is court to me. He is my father’s guest and a man of fashion. Let him mak_s many fine speeches as he has the will to. I will listen or not as _hoose. I am used to words. But see that we are not left alone.”
The tirewoman pricked up her ears. Clorinda saw her in the glass.
“Attend to thy business if thou dost not want a box o’ the ear,” she said in _one which made the woman start.
“You would not be left alone with the gentleman, Madam?” faltered Mistres_argery.
“If he comes to boast of conquests,” said Mistress Clorinda, looking at he_traight again and drawing down her black brows, “I will play as cleverly a_e. He cannot boast greatly of one whom he never makes his court to but i_he presence of a kinswoman of ripe years. Understand that this is to be you_ask.”
“I will remember,” Madam, answered Mistress Margery. “I will bear myself a_ou command.”
“That is well,” said Mistress Clorinda. “I will keep you no more. You ma_o.”