“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 in farthingales and petticoats. Look your last before I go to don my fine lady’s furbelows.”
And when they filled their glasses and lifted them and shouted admiring jests to her, she broke into one of her stable-boy songs, and sang it in the voice of 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, and when she finished her song, sprang down, and made for the door, Sir John beheld his long-looked-for chance, and was there before her to open it with a great 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 a low, impassioned voice. “But there should be indeed but one happy man whose bliss it is to gaze upon such perfections.”
“I am fifteen years old to-night,” she answered; “and as yet I have not set eyes 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 night among 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 prettiest young 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 a while a sort of dulness fell upon the party. Not being of quick minds or sentiments, these country roisterers failed to understand the heavy cloud of spleen and lack of spirit they experienced, and as they filled their glasses and tossed off one bumper after another to cure it, they soon began again to laugh and fell into boisterous joking.
They talked mostly, indeed, of their young playfellow, of whom they felt, in some indistinct manner, they were to be bereft; they rallied Sir Jeoffry, told stories of her childhood and made pictures of her budding beauties, comparing them with those of young ladies who were celebrated toasts.
“She will sail among them like a royal frigate,” said one; “and they will pale before her lustre as a tallow dip does before an illumination.”
The clock struck twelve before she returned to them. Just as the last stroke sounded the door was thrown open, and there she stood, a woman on each side of her, 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 hooped petticoat, which showed off her grandeur, her waist of no more bigness than a man’s hands could clasp, set in its midst like the stem of a flower; her black hair was rolled high and circled with jewels, her fair long throat blazed with a collar of diamonds, and the majesty of her eye and lip and brow made up a mien so dazzling that every man sprang to his feet beholding her.