"Tell his lordship," she said, laughing still as she spoke the final words, "that I say he is right--and I will see to it that no disgrace befalls him."
"Forsooth, Dad," she said, returning, "perhaps the old son of a--"-- something unmannerly--"is not so great a fool. As for me, I mean to make a fine marriage and be a great lady, and I know of none hereabouts to suit me but the old Earl of Dunstanwolde, and 'tis said he rates at all but modest women, and, in faith, he might not find breeches mannerly. I will not hunt in them again."
She did not, though once or twice when she was in a wild mood, and her father entertained at dinner those of his companions whom she was the most inclined to, she swaggered in among them in her daintiest suits of male attire, and caused their wine-shot eyes to gloat over her boyish-maiden charms and jaunty airs and graces.
On the night of her fifteenth birthday Sir Jeoffry gave a great dinner to his boon companions and hers. She had herself commanded that there should be no ladies at the feast; for she chose to announce that she should appear at no more such, having the wit to see that she was too tall a young lady for childish follies, and that she had now arrived at an age when her market must be made.
"I shall have women enough henceforth to be dull with," she said. "Thou art but a poor match-maker, Dad, or wouldst have thought of it for me. But not once has it come into thy pate that I have no mother to angle in my cause and teach me how to cast sheep's eyes at bachelors. Long-tailed petticoats from this time for me, and hoops and patches, and ogling over fans--until at last, if I play my cards well, some great lord will look my way and be taken by my shape and my manners."
"With thy shape, Clo, God knows every man will," laughed Sir Jeoffry, "but I fear me not with thy manners. Thou hast the manners of a baggage, and they are second nature to thee."
"They are what I was born with," answered Mistress Clorinda. "They came from him that begot me, and he has not since improved them. But now"--making a great sweeping curtsey, her impudent bright beauty almost dazzling his eyes--"now, after my birth-night, they will be bettered; but this one night I will have my last fling."
When the men trooped into the black oak wainscotted dining-hall on the eventful night, they found their audacious young hostess awaiting them in greater and more daring beauty than they had ever before beheld. She wore knee-breeches of white satin, a pink satin coat embroidered with silver roses, white silk stockings, and shoes with great buckles of brilliants, revealing a leg so round and strong and delicately moulded, and a foot so arched and slender, as surely never before, they swore one and all, woman had had to display. She met them standing jauntily astride upon the hearth, her back to the fire, and she greeted each one as he came with some pretty impudence. Her hair was tied back and powdered, her black eyes were like lodestars, drawing all men, and her colour was that of a ripe pomegranate. She had a fine, haughty little Roman nose, a mouth like a scarlet bow, a wonderful long throat, and round cleft chin. A dazzling mien indeed she possessed, and ready enough she was to shine before them. Sir Jeoffry was now elderly, having been a man of forty when united to his conjugal companion. Most of his friends were of his own age, so that it had not been with unripe youth Mistress Clorinda had been in the habit of consorting. But upon this night a newcomer was among the guests. He was a young relation of one of the older men, and having come to his kinsman's house upon a visit, and having proved himself, in spite of his youth, to be a young fellow of humour, high courage in the hunting- field, and by no means averse either to entering upon or discussing intrigue and gallant adventure, had made himself something of a favourite. His youthful beauty for a man almost equalled that of Mistress Clorinda herself. He had an elegant, fine shape, of great strength and vigour, his countenance was delicately ruddy and handsomely featured, his curling fair hair flowed loose upon his shoulders, and, though masculine in mould, his ankle was as slender and his buckled shoe as arched as her own.