The stronghold of her security lay in the fact that her household so stood in awe of her, and that this room, which was one of the richest and most beautiful, though not the largest, in the mansion, all her servitors had learned to regard as a sort of sacred place in which none dared to set foot unless invited or commanded to enter. Within its four walls she read and wrote in the morning hours, no servant entering unless summoned by her; and the apartment seeming, as it were, a citadel, none approached without previous parley. In the afternoon the doors were thrown open, and she entertained there such visitors as came with less formality than statelier assemblages demanded. When she went out of it this morning to go to her chamber that her habit might be changed and her toilette made, she glanced about her with a steady countenance.
“Until the babblers flock in to chatter of the modes and playhouses,” she said, “all will be as quiet as the grave. Then I must stand near, and plan well, and be in such beauty and spirit that they will see naught but me.”
In the afternoon ’twas the fashion for those who had naught more serious in their hands than the killing of time to pay visits to each other’s houses, and drinking dishes of tea, to dispose of their neighbours’ characters, discuss the playhouses, the latest fashions in furbelows or commodes, and make love either lightly or with serious intent. One may be sure that at my Lady Dunstanwolde’s many dishes of Bohea were drunk, and many ogling glances and much witticism exchanged. There was in these days even a greater following about her than ever. A triumphant beauty on the verge of becoming a great duchess is not like to be neglected by her acquaintance, and thus her ladyship held assemblies both gay and brilliantly varied, which were the delight of the fashionable triflers of the day.
This afternoon they flocked in greater numbers than usual. The episode of the breaking of Devil, the unexpected return of his Grace of Osmonde, the preparations for the union, had given an extra stimulant to that interest in her ladyship which was ever great enough to need none. Thereunto was added the piquancy of the stories of the noticeable demeanour of Sir John Oxon, of what had seemed to be so plain a rebellion against his fate, and also of my lady’s open and cold displeasure at the manner of his bearing himself as a disappointed man who presumed to show anger against that to which he should gallantly have been resigned, as one who is conquered by the chance of war. Those who had beheld the two ride homeward together in the morning, were full of curiousness, and one and another, mentioning the matter, exchanged glances, speaking plainly of desire to know more of what had passed, and of hope that chance might throw the two together again in public, where more of interest might be gathered. It seemed indeed not unlikely that Sir John might appear among the tea-bibbers, and perchance ’twas for this lively reason that my lady’s room was this afternoon more than usually full of gay spirits and gossip-loving ones.