She made a sweeping obeisance and then stood up before them, her head thrown back and her lips curving in the triumphant mocking smile of a great beauty looking upon them all as vassals.
“Down upon your knees,” she cried, “and drink to me kneeling. From this night all men must bend so—all men on whom I deign to cast my eyes.”
She went no more a-hunting in boy’s clothes, but from this time forward wore brocades and paduasoys, fine lawn and lace. Her tirewoman was kept so busily engaged upon making rich habits, fragrant waters and essences, and so running at her bidding to change her gown or dress her head in some new fashion, that her 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 so tempestuous when not pleased with the adorning of her face and shape. In the presence of polite strangers, whether ladies or gentlemen, Mistress Clorinda in these days chose to chasten her language and give less rein to her fantastical passions, but alone in her closet with her woman, if a riband did but not suit her fancy, or a hoop not please, she did not fear to be as scurrilous as she chose. In this discreet retirement she rapped out oaths and boxed her woman’s ears with a vigorous hand, tore off her gowns and stamped them beneath her feet, or flung pots of pomade at the poor woman’s head. She took these freedoms with such a readiness and spirit that she was served with a despatch and humbleness scarcely to be equalled, and, it is certain, never excelled.
The high courage and undaunted will which had been the engines she had used to gain her will from her infant years aided her in these days to carry out what her keen mind and woman’s wit had designed, which was to take the county by storm with her beauty, and reign toast and enslaver until such time as she won the prize of a husband of rich estates and notable rank.
It was soon bruited abroad, to the amazement of the county, that Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had changed her strange and unseemly habits of life, and had become as much a young lady of fashion and breeding as her birth and charm demanded. This was first made known by her appearing one Sunday morning at church, accompanied—as though attended with a retinue of servitors—by Mistress Wimpole and her two sisters, whose plain faces, awkward shape, and still more awkward attire were such a foil to her glowing loveliness as set it in high relief. It was seldom that the coach from Wildairs Hall drew up before the lych-gate, but upon rare Sunday mornings Mistress Wimpole and her two charges contrived, if Sir Jeoffry was not in an ill-humour and the coachman was complaisant, 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 a high and shiny colour, or if the country roads were wet, with their petticoats bemired.