“They would be about me like vultures if I were weak fool enough to let them,” she said to Anne. “They cringe and grovel like spaniels, and flatter till ’tis like to make one sick. ’Tis always so with toadies; they have not the wit to see that their flattery is an insolence, since it supposes adulation so rare that one may be moved by it. The men with empty pockets would marry me, forsooth, and the women be dragged into company clinging to my petticoats. But they are learning. I do not shrink from giving them sharp lessons.”
This she did without mercy, and in time cleared herself of hangers-on, so that her banquets and assemblies were the most distinguished of the time, and the men who paid their court to her were of such place and fortune that their worship could but be disinterested.
Among the earliest to wait upon her was his Grace of Osmonde, who found her one day alone, save for the presence of Mistress Anne, whom she kept often with her. When the lacquey announced him, Anne, who sat upon the same seat with her, felt her slightly start, and looking up, saw in her countenance a thing she had never beheld before, nor had indeed ever dreamed of beholding. It was a strange, sweet crimson which flowed over her face, and seemed to give a wondrous deepness to her lovely orbs. She rose as a queen might have risen had a king come to her, but never had there been such pulsing softness in her look before. ’Twas in some curious fashion like the look of a girl; and, in sooth, she was but a girl in years, but so different to all others of her age, and had lived so singular a life, that no one ever thought of her but as a woman, or would have deemed it aught but folly to credit her with any tender emotion or blushing warmth girlhood might be allowed.
His Grace was as courtly of bearing as he had ever been. He stayed not long, and during his visit conversed but on such subjects as a kinsman may graciously touch upon; but Anne noted in him a new look also, though she could scarce have told what it might be. She thought that he looked happier, and her fancy was that some burden had fallen from him.
Before he went away he bent low and long over Clorinda’s hand, pressing his lips to it with a tenderness which strove not to conceal itself. And the hand was not withdrawn, her ladyship standing in sweet yielding, the tender crimson trembling on her cheek. Anne herself trembled, watching her new, strange loveliness with a sense of fascination; she could scarce withdraw her eyes, it seemed so as if the woman had been reborn.