It was at this very instant Mistress Anne heard the footsteps once more, and saw full well a figure in dark cloak and hat which stepped quickly into the shade of a great tree. But more she saw—and clapped her hand upon her mouth to stifle the cry that would have otherwise risen in spite of her—that notwithstanding his fair locks were thrust out of sight beneath his hat, and he looked strange and almost uncomely, it was the face of Sir John Oxon, the moon, bursting through the jagged clouds, had shone upon.
It was not until three days later, instead of two, that Sir John Oxon rode into the courtyard with his servant behind him. He had been detained on his journey, but looked as if his impatience had not caused him to suffer, for he wore his finest air of spirit and beauty, and when he was alone with Sir Jeoffry, made his compliments to the absent ladies, and inquired of their health with his best town grace.
Mistress Clorinda did not appear until the dining hour, when she swept into the room like a queen, followed by her sister, Anne, and Mistress Wimpole, this being the first occasion of Mistress Anne’s dining, as it were, in state with her family.
The honour had so alarmed her, that she looked pale, and so ugly that Sir Jeoffry scowled at sight of her, and swore under his breath to Clorinda that she should have been allowed to come.
“I know my own affairs the best, by your leave, sir,” answered Clorinda, as low and with a grand flash of her eye. “She hath been drilled well.”
This she had indeed, and so had Mistress Wimpole, and throughout Sir John Oxon’s stay they were called upon to see that they played well their parts. Two weeks he stayed and then rode gaily back to town, and when Clorinda made her sweeping curtsey to the ground to him upon the threshold of the flowered room in which he bade her farewell, both Anne and Mistress Wimpole curtseyed a step behind her.
“Now that he has gone and you have shown me that you can attend me as I wish,” she said, turning to them as the sound of his horse’s hoofs died away, “it will not trouble me should he choose some day to come again. He has not carried with him much that he can boast of.”
In truth, it seemed to the outer world that she had held him well in hand. If he had come as a sighing lover, the whole county knew she had shown him but small favour. She had invited companies to the house on several occasions, and all could see how she bore herself towards him. She carried herself with a certain proud courtesy as becoming the daughter of his host, but her wit did not spare him, and sometimes when it was more than in common cutting he was seen to wince though he held himself gallantly. There were one or two who thought they now and then had seen his blue eyes fall upon her when he believed none were looking, and rest there burningly for a moment, but ’twas never for more than an instant, when he would rouse himself with a start and turn away.