“Leave your kneeling,” commanded her sister again, “and come here.”
Anne staggered to her feet and obeyed her behest. In the glass she could see the resplendent reflection; but Clorinda did not deign to turn towards her while she addressed her, changing the while the brilliants in her hair.
“Hark you, sister Anne,” she said. “I read you better than you think. You are a poor thing, but you love me and—in my fashion—I think I love you somewhat too. You think I should not marry a gentleman whom you fancy I do not love as I might a younger, handsomer man. You are full of love, and spinster dreams of it which make you flighty. I love my Lord of Dunstanwolde as well as any other man, and better than some, for I do not hate him. He has a fine estate, and is a gentleman—and worships me. Since I have been promised to him, I own I have for a moment seen another gentleman who might—but ’twas but for a moment, and ’tis done with. ’Twas too late then. If we had met two years agone ’twould not have been so. My Lord Dunstanwolde gives to me wealth, and rank, and life at Court. I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul—myself. It is an honest bargain, and I shall bear my part of it with honesty. I have no virtues—where should I have got them from, forsooth, in a life like mine? I mean I have no women’s virtues; but I have one that is sometimes—not always—a man’s. ’Tis that I am not a coward and a trickster, and keep my word when ’tis given. You fear that I shall lead my lord a bitter life of it. ’Twill not be so. He shall live smoothly, and not suffer from me. What he has paid for he shall honestly have. I will not cheat him as weaker women do their husbands; for he pays—poor gentleman—he pays.”
And then, still looking at the glass, she pointed to the doorway through which her sister had come, and in obedience to her gesture of command, Mistress Anne stole silently away.
Through the brilliant, happy year succeeding to his marriage my Lord of Dunstanwolde lived like a man who dreams a blissful dream and knows it is one.
“I feel,” he said to his lady, “as if ’twere too great rapture to last, and yet what end could come, unless you ceased to be kind to me; and, in truth, I feel that you are too noble above all other women to change, unless I were more unworthy than I could ever be since you are mine.”
Both in the town and in the country, which last place heard many things of his condition and estate through rumour, he was the man most wondered at and envied of his time—envied because of his strange happiness; wondered at because having, when long past youth, borne off this arrogant beauty from all other aspirants she showed no arrogance to him, and was as perfect a wife as could have been some woman without gifts whom he had lifted from low estate and endowed