The poor lady was so overawed by, and yet so admired, her charge, that it was piteous to behold.
“She is an arrant fool,” quoth Mistress Clorinda to her father. “A nice duenna she would be, forsooth, if she were with a woman who needed watching. She could be hoodwinked as it pleased me a dozen times a day. It is I who am her guard, not she mine! But a beauty must drag some spy about with her, it seems, and she I can make to obey me like a spaniel. We can afford no better, and she is well born, and since I bought her the purple paduasoy and the new lappets she has looked well enough to serve.”
“Dunstanwolde need not fear for thee now,” said Sir Jeoffry. “Thou art a clever and foreseeing wench, Clo.”
“Dunstanwolde nor any man!” she answered. “There will be no gossip of me. It is Anne and Barbara thou must look to, Dad, lest their plain faces lead them to show soft hearts. My face is my fortune!”
When Sir John Oxon paid his visit to Sir Jeoffry the days of Mistress Margery were filled with carking care. The night before he arrived, Mistress Clorinda called her to her closet and laid upon her her commands in her own high way. She was under her woman’s hands, and while her great mantle of black hair fell over the back of her chair and lay on the floor, her tirewoman passing the brush over it, lock by lock, she was at her greatest beauty. Either she had been angered or pleased, for her cheek wore a bloom even deeper and richer than usual, and there was a spark like a diamond under the fringe of her lashes.
At her first timorous glance at her, Mistress Margery thought she must have been angered, the spark so burned in her eyes, and so evident was the light but quick heave of her bosom; but the next moment it seemed as if she must be in a pleasant humour, for a little smile deepened the dimples in the corner of her bowed, full lips. But quickly she looked up and resumed her stately air.
“This gentleman who comes to visit to-morrow,” she said, “Sir John Oxon—do you know aught of him?”
“But little, Madame,” Mistress Margery answered with fear and humility.
“Then it will be well that you should, since I have commands to lay upon you concerning him,” said the beauty.
“You do me honour,” said the poor gentlewoman.
Mistress Clorinda looked her straight in the face.
“He is a gentleman from town, the kinsman of Lord Eldershawe,” she said. “He is a handsome man, concerning whom many women have been fools. He chooses to allow it to be said that he is a conqueror of female hearts and virtue, even among women of fashion and rank. If this be said in the town, what may not be said in the country? He shall wear no such graces here. He chooses to pay his court to me. He is my father’s guest and a man of fashion. Let him make as many fine speeches as he has the will to. I will listen or not as I choose. I am used to words. But see that we are not left alone.”