She used all her modest skill in fitting to her own shape and refurnishing the cast-off bits of finery bestowed upon her. It was all set to rights long before Clorinda recalled to mind that she had promised that Anne should sometime see her chance visitors take their dish of tea with her.
But one day, for some cause, she did remember, and sent for her.
Anne ran to her bed-chamber and donned her remodelled gown with shaking hands. She laughed a little hysterically as she did it, seeing her plain snub-nosed face in the glass. She tried to dress her head in a fashion new to her, and knew she did it ill and untidily, but had no time to change it. If she had had some red she would have put it on, but such vanities were not in her chamber or Barbara’s. So she rubbed her cheeks hard, and even pinched them, so that in the end they looked as if they were badly rouged. It seemed to her that her nose grew red too, and indeed ’twas no wonder, for her hands and feet were like ice.
“She must be ashamed of me,” the humble creature said to herself. “And if she is ashamed she will be angered and send me away and be friends no more.”
She did not deceive herself, poor thing, and imagine she had the chance of being regarded with any great lenience if she appeared ill.
“Mistress Clorinda begged that you would come quickly,” said Rebecca, knocking at the door.
So she caught her handkerchief, which was scented, as all her garments were, with dried rose-leaves from the garden, which she had conserved herself, and went down to the chintz parlour trembling.
It was a great room with white panels, and flowered coverings to the furniture. There were a number of ladies and gentlemen standing talking and laughing loudly together. The men outnumbered the women, and most of them stood in a circle about Mistress Clorinda, who sat upright in a great flowered chair, smiling with her mocking, stately air, as if she defied them to dare to speak what they felt.
Anne came in like a mouse. Nobody saw her. She did not, indeed, know what to do. She dared not remain standing all alone, so she crept to the place where her sister’s chair was, and stood a little behind its high back. Her heart beat within her breast till it was like to choke her.
They were only country gentlemen who made the circle, but to her they seemed dashing gallants. That some of them had red noses as well as cheeks, and that their voices were big and their gallantries boisterous, was no drawback to their manly charms, she having seen no other finer gentlemen. They were specimens of the great conquering creature Man, whom all women must aspire to please if they have the fortunate power; and each and all of them were plainly trying to please Clorinda, and not she them.
And so Anne gazed at them with admiring awe, waiting until there should come a pause in which she might presume to call her sister’s attention to her presence; but suddenly, before she had indeed made up her mind how she might best announce herself, there spoke behind her a voice of silver.