Chapter 6 Relating how Mistress Anne discovered a miniature
The good gentlewoman took her leave gladly. She had spent a life in timi_ears of such things and persons as were not formed by Nature to excite them, but never had she experienced such humble terrors as those with which Mistres_lorinda inspired her. Never did she approach her without inward tremor, an_ever did she receive permission to depart from her presence without relief.
And yet her beauty and wit and spirit had no admirer regarding them with mor_f wondering awe.
In the bare west wing of the house, comfortless though the neglect of it_aster had made it, there was one corner where she was unafraid. Her firs_harges, Mistress Barbara and Mistress Anne, were young ladies of gentl_pirit. Their sister had said of them that their spirit was as poor as thei_ooks. It could not be said of them by any one that they had any pretensio_o beauty, but that which Mistress Clorinda rated at as poor spirit was th_ne element of comfort in their poor dependent kinswoman’s life. They gav_er no ill words, they indulged in no fantastical whims and vapours, and the_id not even seem to expect other entertainment than to walk the countr_oads, to play with their little lap-dog Cupid, wind silks for thei_eedlework, and please themselves with their embroidery-frames.
To them their sister appeared a goddess whom it would be presumptuous t_pproach in any frame of mind quite ordinary. Her beauty must be heightene_y rich adornments, while their plain looks were left without the poorest aid.
It seemed but fitting that what there was to spend must be spent on her. The_howed no signs of resentment, and took with gratitude such cast-off finery a_he deigned at times to bestow upon them, when it was no longer useful t_erself. She was too full of the occupations of pleasure to have had time t_otice them, even if her nature had inclined her to the observance of famil_ffections. It was their habit, when they knew of her going out in state, t_atch her incoming and outgoing through a peep-hole in a chamber window.
Mistress Margery told them stories of her admirers and of her triumphs, of th_ounty gentlemen of fortune who had offered themselves to her, and of th_odes of life in town of the handsome Sir John Oxon, who, without doubt, wa_f the circle of her admiring attendants, if he had not fallen totally he_ictim, as others had.
Of the two young women, it was Mistress Anne who had the more parts, and th_ttraction of the mind the least dull. In sooth, Nature had dealt with bot_n a niggardly fashion, but Mistress Barbara was the plainer and the mor_oolish. Mistress Anne had, perchance, the tenderer feelings, and was i_ecret given to a certain sentimentality. She was thin and stooping, and ha_ut a muddy complexion; her hair was heavy, it is true, but its thickness an_eight seemed naught but an ungrateful burden; and she had a dull, soft eye.
In private she was fond of reading such romances as she could procure b_tealth from the library of books gathered together in past times by som_ncestor Sir Jeoffry regarded as an idiot. Doubtless she met with strang_eading in the volumes she took to her closet, and her simple virgin min_ound cause for the solving of many problems; but from the pages she contrive_o cull stories of lordly lovers and cruel or kind beauties, whose romance_reated for her a strange world of pleasure in the midst of her loneliness.
Poor, neglected young female, with every guileless maiden instinct withered a_irth, she had need of some tender dreams to dwell upon, though Fate hersel_eemed to have decreed that they must be no more than visions.
It was, in sooth, always the beauteous Clorinda about whose charms she builde_er romances. In her great power she saw that for which knights fought i_ourney and great kings committed royal sins, and to her splendid beauty sh_ad in secrecy felt that all might be forgiven. She cherished such fancies o_er, that one morning, when she believed her absent from the house, she stol_nto the corridor upon which Clorinda’s apartment opened. Her first timi_hought had been, that if a chamber door were opened she might catch a glimps_f some of the splendours her sister’s woman was surely laying out for he_earing at a birth-night ball, at the house of one of the gentry of th_eighbourhood. But it so happened that she really found the door of entranc_pen, which, indeed, she had not more than dared to hope, and finding it so, she stayed her footsteps to gaze with beating heart within. On the great bed, which was of carved oak and canopied with tattered tapestry, there lay sprea_uch splendours as she had never beheld near to before. ’Twas blue and silve_rocade Mistress Clorinda was to shine in to-night; it lay spread forth in al_ts dimensions. The beautiful bosom and shoulders were to be bared to th_yes of scores of adorers, but rich lace was to set their beauties forth, an_trings of pearls. Why Sir Jeoffry had not sold his lady’s jewels before h_ecame enamoured of her six-year-old child it would be hard to explain. Ther_as a great painted fan with jewels in the sticks, and on the floor—as i_eeping forth from beneath the bravery of the expanded petticoats—was a pai_f blue and silver shoes, high-heeled and arched and slender. In gazing a_hem Mistress Anne lost her breath, thinking that in some fashion they had _egal air of being made to trample hearts beneath them.
To the gentle, hapless virgin, to whom such possessions were as the wardrob_f a queen, the temptation to behold them near was too great. She could no_orbear from passing the threshold, and she did with heaving breast. Sh_pproached the bed and gazed; she dared to touch the scented gloves that la_y the outspread petticoat of blue and silver; she even laid a tremblin_inger upon the pointed bodice, which was so slender that it seemed smal_nough for even a child.
“Ah me,” she sighed gently, “how beautiful she will be! How beautiful! An_ll of them will fall at her feet, as is not to be wondered at. And it wa_lways so all her life, even when she was an infant, and all gave her her wil_ecause of her beauty and her power. She hath a great power. Barbara and _re not so. We are dull and weak, and dare not speak our minds. It is as i_e were creatures of another world; but He who rules all things has so wille_t for us. He has given it to us for our portion—our portion.”
Her dull, poor face dropped a little as she spoke the words, and her eyes fel_pon the beauteous tiny shoes, which seemed to trample even when no foot wa_ithin them. She stooped to take one in her hand, but as she was about t_ift it something which seemed to have been dropped upon the floor, and t_ave rolled beneath the valance of the bed, touched her hand. It was a thin_o which a riband was attached—an ivory miniature—and she picked it u_ondering. She stood up gazing at it, in such bewilderment to find her eye_pon it that she scarce knew what she did. She did not mean to pry; she woul_ot have had the daring so to do if she had possessed the inclination. Bu_he instant her eyes told her what they saw, she started and blushed as sh_ad never blushed before in her tame life. The warm rose mantled her cheeks, and even suffused the neck her chaste kerchief hid. Her eye kindled wit_dmiration and an emotion new to her indeed.
“How beautiful!” she said. “He is like a young Adonis, and has the bearing o_ royal prince! How can it—by what strange chance hath it come here?”
She had not regarded it more than long enough to have uttered these words, when a fear came upon her, and she felt that she had fallen into misfortune.
“What must I do with it?” she trembled. “What will she say, whether she know_f its being within the chamber or not? She will be angry with me that I hav_ared to touch it. What shall I do?”
She regarded it again with eyes almost suffused. Her blush and th_ensibility of her emotion gave to her plain countenance a new liveliness o_int and expression.
“I will put it back where I found it,” she said, “and the one who knows i_ill find it later. It cannot be she—it cannot be she! If I laid it on he_able she would rate me bitterly—and she can be bitter when she will.”
She bent and placed it within the shadow of the valance again, and as she fel_t touch the hard oak of the polished floor her bosom rose with a soft sigh.
“It is an unseemly thing to do,” she said; “’tis as though one were uncivil; but I dare not—I dare not do otherwise.”
She would have turned to leave the apartment, being much overcome by th_ncident, but just as she would have done so she heard the sound of horses’ feet through the window by which she must pass, and looked out to see if i_as Clorinda who was returning from her ride. Mistress Clorinda was _atchless horsewoman, and a marvel of loveliness and spirit she looked whe_he rode, sitting upon a horse such as no other woman dared to mount—always a_nimal of the greatest beauty, but of so dangerous a spirit that her riding- whip was loaded like a man’s.
This time it was not she; and when Mistress Anne beheld the young gentlema_ho had drawn rein in the court she started backward and put her hand to he_eart, the blood mantling her pale cheek again in a flood. But having starte_ack, the next instant she started forward to gaze again, all her timid sou_n her eyes.
“’Tis he!” she panted; “’tis he himself! He hath come in hope to speak wit_y sister, and she is abroad. Poor gentleman, he hath come in such hig_pirit, and must ride back heavy of heart. How comely, and how finely clad h_s!”
He was, in sooth, with his rich riding-habit, his handsome face, his plume_at, and the sun shining on the fair luxuriant locks which fell beneath it.
It was Sir John Oxon, and he was habited as when he rode in the park in tow_nd the court was there. Not so were attired the country gentry whom Anne ha_een wont to see, though many of them were well mounted, knowing horsefles_nd naught else, as they did.
She pressed her cheek against the side of the oriel window, over which the iv_rew thickly. She was so intent that she could not withdraw her gaze. Sh_atched him as he turned away, having received his dismissal, and she presse_er face closer that she might follow him as he rode down the long avenue o_ak-trees, his servant riding behind.
Thus she bent forward gazing, until he turned and the oaks hid him from he_ight; and even then the spell was not dissolved, and she still regarded th_lace where he had passed, until a sound behind her made her start violently.
It was a peal of laughter, high and rich, and when she so started and turne_o see whom it might be, she beheld her sister Clorinda, who was standing jus_ithin the threshold, as if movement had been arrested by what had met her ey_s she came in. Poor Anne put her hand to her side again.
“Oh sister!” she gasped; “oh sister!” but could say no more.
She saw that she had thought falsely, and that Clorinda had not been out a_ll, for she was in home attire; and even in the midst of her trepidatio_here sprang into Anne’s mind the awful thought that through some servant’_lunder the comely young visitor had been sent away. For herself, sh_xpected but to be driven forth with wrathful, disdainful words for he_resumption. For what else could she hope from this splendid creature, who, while of her own flesh and blood, had never seemed to regard her as being mor_han a poor superfluous underling? But strangely enough, there was no ange_n Clorinda’s eyes; she but laughed, as though what she had seen had made he_erry.
“You here, Anne,” she said, “and looking with light-mindedness after gallan_entlemen! Mistress Margery should see to this and watch more closely, or w_hall have unseemly stories told. _You_ , sister, with your modest face an_ashfulness! I had not thought it of you.”
Suddenly she crossed the room to where her sister stood drooping, and seize_er by the shoulder, so that she could look her well in the face.
“What,” she said, with a mocking not quite harsh—“What is this? Does a glanc_t a fine gallant, even taken from behind an oriel window, make such chang_ndeed? I never before saw this look, nor this colour, forsooth; it hat_mproved thee wondrously, Anne—wondrously.”
“Sister,” faltered Anne, “I so desired to see your birth-night ball-gown, o_hich Mistress Margery hath much spoken—I so desired—I thought it would no_atter if, the door being open and it spread forth upon the bed—I—I stole _ook at it. And then I was tempted—and came in.”
“And then was tempted more,” Clorinda laughed, still regarding her downcas_ountenance shrewdly, “by a thing far less to be resisted—a fine gentlema_rom town, with love-locks falling on his shoulders and ladies’ hearts strun_t his saddle-bow by scores. Which found you the most beautiful?”
“Your gown is splendid, sister,” said Anne, with modest shyness. “There wil_e no beauty who will wear another like it; or should there be one, she wil_ot carry it as you will.”
“But the man—the man, Anne,” Clorinda laughed again. “What of the man?”
Anne plucked up just enough of her poor spirit to raise her eyes to th_rilliant ones that mocked at her.
“With such gentlemen, sister,” she said, “is it like that _I_ have aught t_o?”
Mistress Clorinda dropped her hand and left laughing.
“’Tis true,” she said, “it is not; but for this one time, Anne, thou lookes_lmost a woman.”
“’Tis not beauty alone that makes womanhood,” said Anne, her head on he_reast again. “In some book I have read that—that it is mostly pain. I a_oman enough for that.”
“You have read—you have read,” quoted Clorinda. “You are the bookworm, _emember, and filch romances and poems from the shelves. And you have rea_hat 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! An_hen I take an oath I keep it, mark you! It is men women suffer for; that wa_hat your scholar meant—for such fine gentlemen as the one you have jus_atched while he rode away. More fools they! No man shall make _me_omanly in such a fashion, I promise you! Let _them_ wince and kneel; _I_ill not.”
“Sister,” Anne faltered, “I thought you were not within. The gentleman wh_ode away—did the servants know?”
“That did they,” quoth Clorinda, mocking again. “They knew that I would no_eceive him to-day, and so sent him away. He might have known as muc_imself, but he is an arrant popinjay, and thinks all women wish to look a_is 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 laughter.
“I would not,” she answered. “You cannot understand such ingratitude, poo_nne; you would have treated him more softly. Sit down and talk to me, and _ill show thee my furbelows myself. All women like to chatter of their lace_odices and petticoats. _That_ is what makes a woman.”
Anne was tremulous with relief and pleasure. It was as if a queen had bid he_o be seated. She sat almost with the humble lack of case a serving-woma_ight have shown. She had never seen Clorinda wear such an air before, an_ever 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 he_harm when she chose to condescend, of the deigning softness of her manne_hen she chose to please, of her arch-pleasantries and cutting wit, and of th_trange power she could wield over any human being, gentle or simple, wit_hom 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 mor_han an hour, and was dazzling through every moment of its passing. Sh_howed her the splendours she was to shine in at the birth-night ball, eve_ringing forth her jewels and displaying them. She told her stories of th_ouse of which the young heir to-day attained his majority, and mocked at th_oor youth because he was ungainly, and at a distance had been her slave sinc_is nineteenth year.
“I have scarce looked at him,” she said. “He is a lout, with great eye_taring, and a red nose. It does not need that one should look at men to wi_hem. They look at us, and that is enough.”
To poor Mistress Anne, who had seen no company and listened to no wits, th_ntertainment bestowed upon her was as wonderful as a night at the playhous_ould have been. To watch the vivid changing face; to hearken to jestin_tories of men and women who seemed like the heroes and heroines of he_omances; to hear love itself—the love she trembled and palpitated at the mer_hought of—spoken of openly as an experience which fell to all; to hear i_ocked at with dainty or biting quips; to learn that women of all ages playe_ith, enjoyed, or lost themselves for it—it was with her as if a nun had bee_ithdrawn from her cloister and plunged into the vortex of the world.
“Sister,” she said, looking at the Beauty with humble, adoring eyes, “you mak_e feel that my romances are true. You tell such things. It is like seein_ictures of things to hear you talk. No wonder that all listen to you, fo_ndeed ’tis wonderful the way you have with words. You use them so that ’ti_s 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 canno_ell the poor, quiet things I have seen.”
And being led into the loving boldness by her gratitude, she bent forward an_ouched with her lips the fair hand resting on the chair’s arm.
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 t_hange lives with thee. Thou hast eyes like a shot pheasant—soft, and wit_he bright hid beneath the dull. Some man might love them, even if thou ar_o beauty. Stay,” suddenly; “methinks—”
She uprose from her chair and went to the oaken wardrobe, and threw the doo_f it open wide while she looked within.
“There is a gown and tippet or so here, and a hood and some ribands I might d_ithout,” she said. “My woman shall bear them to your chamber, and show yo_ow to set them to rights. She is a nimble-fingered creature, and a gown o_ine would give almost stuff enough to make you two. Then some days, when _m not going abroad and Mistress Margery frets me too much, I will send fo_ou to sit with me, and you shall listen to the gossip when a visitor drops i_o have a dish of tea.”
Anne would have kissed her feet then, if she had dared to do so. She blushe_ed all over, and adored her with a more worshipping gaze than before.
“I should not have dared to hope so much,” she stammered. “I coul_ot—perhaps it is not fitting—perhaps I could not bear myself as I should. _ould 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 afrai_o presume even this much.
“No,” said Clorinda. “Do not be a fool, Anne, and carry yourself too humbl_efore the world. You can be as humble as you like to me.”
“I shall—I shall be your servant and worship you, sister,” cried the poo_oul, and she drew near and kissed again the white hand which had bestowe_ith such royal bounty all this joy. It would not have occurred to her that _ast-off robe and riband were but small largesse.
It was not a minute after this grateful caress that Clorinda made a shar_ovement—a movement which was so sharp that it seemed to be one of dismay. A_irst, as if involuntarily, she had raised her hand to her tucker, and afte_oing so she started—though ’twas but for a second’s space, after which he_ace was as it had been before.
“What is it?” exclaimed Anne. “Have you lost anything?”
“No,” quoth Mistress Clorinda quite carelessly, as she once more turned to th_ontents of the oaken wardrobe; “but I thought I missed a trinket I wa_earing 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 dul_orld in the west wing, “there is a thing I can do if you will allow me. _an mend your tapestry hangings which have holes in them. I am quick at m_eedle, and should love to serve you in such poor ways as I can; and it is no_eemly that they should be so worn. All things about you should be beautifu_nd well kept.”
“Can you make these broken things beautiful?” said Clorinda. “Then indeed yo_hall. 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 o_ll you are doing while I am at my work.”
“Thinking of all I am doing?” laughed Mistress Clorinda. “That would give yo_uch wondrous things to dream of, Anne, that you would have no time for you_eedle, and my hangings would stay as they are.”
“I can think and darn also,” said Mistress Anne, “so I will come.”