“’Tis the young widow of the Earl of Dunstanwolde,” people said to each other—“she that is the great beauty, and of such a wit and spirit that she is scarce like a mere young lady. ’Twas said she wed him for his rank; but afterwards ’twas known she made him a happy gentleman, though she gave him no heir. She wore weeds for him beyond the accustomed time, and is but now issuing from her retirement.”
Mistress Anne felt as if she were attending some royal lady’s progress, people so gazed at them and nudged each other, wondered and admired.
“You do not mind that all eyes rest on you,” she said to her sister; “you are accustomed to be gazed at.”
“I have been gazed at all my life,” my lady answered; “I scarce take note of it.”
On their arrival at home they met with fitting welcome and reverence. The doors of the town house were thrown open wide, and in the hall the servants stood in line, the housekeeper at the head with her keys at her girdle, the little jet-black negro page grinning beneath his turban with joy to see his lady again, he worshipping her as a sort of fetich, after the manner of his race. ’Twas his duty to take heed to the pet dogs, and he stood holding by their little silver chains a smart-faced pug and a pretty spaniel. His lady stopped a moment to pat them and to speak to him a word of praise of their condition; and being so favoured, he spoke also, rolling his eyes in his delight at finding somewhat to impart.
“Yesterday, ladyship, when I took them out,” he said, “a gentleman marked them, knowing whose they were. He asked me when my lady came again to town, and I answered him to-day. ’Twas the fair gentleman in his own hair.”
“’Twas Sir John Oxon, your ladyship,” said the lacquey nearest to him.
Her ladyship left caressing her spaniel and stood upright. Little Nero was frightened, fearing she was angered; she stood so straight and tall, but she said nothing and passed on.
At the top of the staircase she turned to Mistress Anne with a laugh.
“Thy favourite again, Anne,” she said. “He means to haunt me, now we are alone. ’Tis thee he comes after.”
The town and the World of Fashion greeted her on her return with open arms. Those who looked on when she bent the knee to kiss the hand of Royalty at the next drawing-room, whispered among themselves that bereavement had not dimmed her charms, which were even more radiant than they had been at her presentation on her marriage, and that the mind of no man or woman could dwell on aught as mournful as widowhood in connection with her, or, indeed, could think of anything but her brilliant beauty. ’Twas as if from this time she was launched into a new life. Being rich, of high rank, and no longer an unmarried woman, her position had a dignity and freedom which there