Uncivilised and almost savage as her girlish life was, and unregulated by any outward training as was her mind, there were none who came in contact with her who could be blind to a certain strong, clear wit, and unconquerableness of purpose, for which she was remarkable. She ever knew full well what she desired 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 and others, the which there was no circumventing. She never made a blunder because she could not control the expression of her emotions; and when she gave way to a passion, ’twas because she chose to do so, having naught to lose, and in the midst of all their riotous jesting with her the boon companions of Sir Jeoffry knew this.
“Had she a secret to keep, child though she is,” said Eldershawe, “there is none—man or woman—who could scare or surprise it from her; and ’tis a strange quality to note so early in a female creature.”
She spent her days with her father and his dissolute friends, treated half like a boy, half a fantastical queen, until she was fourteen. She hunted and coursed, shot birds, leaped hedges and ditches, reigned at the riotous feastings, and coquetted with these mature, and in some cases elderly, men, as if she looked forward to doing naught else all her life.
But one day, after she had gone out hunting with her father, riding Rake, who had 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 to remonstrate and advise her father to command her to forbear from appearing in such impudent attire.
There was, indeed, a stirring scene when this message was delivered by its bearer. The chaplain was an awkward, timid creature, who had heard stories enough of Wildairs Hall and its master to undertake his mission with a quaking soul. To have refused to obey any behest of his patron would have cost him his living, and knowing this beyond a doubt, he was forced to gird up his loins and gather together all the little courage he could muster to beard the lion in his den.
The first thing he beheld on entering the big hall was a beautiful tall youth wearing his own rich black hair, and dressed in scarlet coat for hunting. He was playing with a dog, making it leap over his crop, and both laughing and swearing 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 he plainly hearkened to what he said as he explained his errand.
“I come from my Lord Twemlow, who is your master’s kinsman,” the chaplain faltered; “I am bidden to see and speak to him if it be possible, and his lordship much desires that Sir Jeoffry will allow it to be so. My Lord Twemlow—”
The beautiful youth left his playing with the dog and came forward with all the air of the young master of the house.