This morning, when the coach drew up, the horses were well groomed, the coachman smartly dressed, and a footman was in attendance, who sprang to earth and opened the door with a flourish.
The loiterers in the churchyard, and those who were approaching the gate or passing towards the church porch, stared with eyes wide stretched in wonder and incredulity. Never had such a thing before been beheld or heard of as what they now saw in broad daylight.
Mistress Clorinda, clad in highest town fashion, in brocades and silver lace and splendid furbelows, stepped forth from the chariot with the air of a queen. She had the majestic composure of a young lady who had worn nothing less modish than such raiment all her life, and who had prayed decorously beneath her neighbours’ eyes since she had left her nurse’s care.
Her sisters and their governess looked timorous, and as if they knew not where to cast their eyes for shamefacedness; but not so Mistress Clorinda, who moved forward with a stately, swimming gait, her fine head in the air. As she stepped into the porch a young gentleman drew back and made a profound obeisance to her. She cast her eyes upon him and returned it with a grace and condescension which struck the beholders dumb with admiring awe. To some of the people of a commoner sort he was a stranger, but all connected with the gentry knew he was Sir John Oxon, who was staying at Eldershawe Park with his relative, whose estate it was.
How Mistress Clorinda contrived to manage it no one was aware but herself, but after a few appearances at church she appeared at other places. She was seen at dinners at fine houses, and began to be seen at routs and balls. Where she was seen she shone, and with such radiance as caused matchmaking matrons great dismay, and their daughters woeful qualms. Once having shone, she could not be extinguished or hidden under a bushel; for, being of rank and highly connected through mother as well as father, and playing her cards with great wit and skill, she could not be thrust aside.
At her first hunt ball she set aflame every male breast in the shire, unmasking such a battery of charms as no man could withstand the fire of. Her dazzling eye, her wondrous shape, the rich music of her laugh, and the mocking wit of her sharp saucy tongue were weapons to have armed a dozen women, and she was but one, and in the first rich tempting glow of blooming youth.
She turned more heads and caused more quarrels than she could have counted had she sat up half the night. She went to her coach with her father followed by a dozen gallants, each ready to spit the other for a smile. Her smiles were wondrous, but there seemed always a touch of mockery or disdain in them which made them more remembered than if they had been softer.
One man there was, who perchance found something in her high glance not wholly scornful, but he was used to soft treatment from women, and had, in sooth, expected milder glances than were bestowed upon him. This was young Sir John Oxon, who had found himself among the fair sex that night as great a beau as she had been a belle; but two dances he had won from her, and this was more than any other man could boast, and what other gallants envied him with darkest hatred.