Clorinda's bosom rose high in an exultant, rapturous sigh.
"'Tis the Spring that comes," she murmured breathlessly. "Never hath it come to me before."
Even as she said the words, at the very moment of her speaking, Fate--a strange Fate indeed--brought to her yet another visitor. The door was thrown open wide, and in he came, a lacquey crying aloud his name. 'Twas Sir John Oxon.
Those of the World of Fashion who were wont to gossip, had bestowed upon them a fruitful subject for discussion over their tea-tables, in the future of the widowed Lady Dunstanwolde. All the men being enamoured of her, 'twas not likely that she would long remain unmarried, her period of mourning being over; and, accordingly, forthwith there was every day chosen for her a new husband by those who concerned themselves in her affairs, and they were many. One week 'twas a great general she was said to smile on; again, a great beau and female conqueror, it being argued that, having made her first marriage for rank and wealth, and being a passionate and fantastic beauty, she would this time allow herself to be ruled by her caprice, and wed for love; again, a certain marquis was named, and after him a young earl renowned for both beauty and wealth; but though each and all of those selected were known to have laid themselves at her feet, none of them seemed to have met with the favour they besought for.
There were two men, however, who were more spoken of than all the rest, and whose court awakened a more lively interest; indeed, 'twas an interest which was lively enough at times to become almost a matter of contention, for those who upheld the cause of the one man would not hear of the success of the other, the claims of each being considered of such different nature. These two men were the Duke of Osmonde and Sir John Oxon. 'Twas the soberer and more dignified who were sure his Grace had but to proffer his suit to gain it, and their sole wonder lay in that he did not speak more quickly.
"But being a man of such noble mind, it may be that he would leave her to her freedom yet a few months, because, despite her stateliness, she is but young, and 'twould be like his honourableness to wish that she should see many men while she is free to choose, as she has never been before. For these days she is not a poor beauty as she was when she took Dunstanwolde."
The less serious, or less worldly, especially the sentimental spinsters and matrons and romantic young, who had heard and enjoyed the rumours of Mistress Clorinda Wildairs' strange early days, were prone to build much upon a certain story of that time.
"Sir John Oxon was her first love," they said. "He went to her father's house a beautiful young man in his earliest bloom, and she had never encountered such an one before, having only known country dolts and her father's friends. 'Twas said they loved each other, but were both passionate and proud, and quarrelled bitterly. Sir John went to France to strive to forget her in gay living; he even obeyed his mother and paid court to another woman, and Mistress Clorinda, being of fierce haughtiness, revenged herself by marrying Lord Dunstanwolde."