Poor woman, as she had grown thin and large-eyed in those days gone by, she grew so again. Time in passing had taught her so much that others did not know; and as she served her sister, and waited on her wishes, she saw that of which no other dreamed, and saw without daring to speak, or show by any sign, her knowledge.
The day when Lady Dunstanwolde had turned from standing among her daffodils, and had found herself confronting the open door of her saloon, and John Oxon passing through it, Mistress Anne had seen that in her face and his which had given to her a shock of terror. In John Oxon's blue eyes there had been a set fierce look, and in Clorinda's a blaze which had been like a declaration of war; and these same looks she had seen since that day, again and again. Gradually it had become her sister's habit to take Anne with her into the world as she had not done before her widowhood, and Anne knew whence this custom came. There were times when, by use of her presence, she could avoid those she wished to thrust aside, and Anne noted, with a cold sinking of the spirit, that the one she would plan to elude most frequently was Sir John Oxon; and this was not done easily. The young man's gay lightness of demeanour had changed. The few years that had passed since he had come to pay his courts to the young beauty in male attire, had brought experiences to him which had been bitter enough. He had squandered his fortune, and failed to reinstate himself by marriage; his dissipations had told upon him, and he had lost his spirit and good-humour; his mocking wit had gained a bitterness; his gallantry had no longer the gaiety of youth. And the woman he had loved for an hour with youthful passion, and had dared to dream of casting aside in boyish insolence, had risen like a phoenix, and soared high and triumphant to the very sun itself. "He was ever base," Clorinda had said. "As he was at first he is now," and in the saying there was truth. If she had been helpless and heartbroken, and had pined for him, he would have treated her as a victim, and disdained her humiliation and grief; magnificent, powerful, rich, in fullest beauty, and disdaining himself, she filled him with a mad passion of love which was strangely mixed with hatred and cruelty. To see her surrounded by her worshippers, courted by the Court itself, all eyes drawn towards her as she moved, all hearts laid at her feet, was torture to him. In such cases as his and hers, it was the woman who should sue for love's return, and watch the averted face, longing for the moment when it would deign to turn and she could catch the cold eye and plead piteously with her own. This he had seen; this, men like himself, but older, had taught him with vicious art; but here was a woman who had scorned him at the hour which should have been the moment of his greatest powerfulness, who had mocked at and lashed him in the face with the high derision of a creature above law, and who never for one instant had bent her neck to the yoke which women must bear. She had laughed it to scorn--and him--and all things-- and gone on her way, crowned with her scarlet roses, to wealth, and rank, and power, and adulation; while he--the man, whose right it was to be transgressor--had fallen upon hard fortune, and was losing step by step all she had won. In his way he loved her madly--as he had loved her before, and as he would have loved any woman who embodied triumph and beauty; and burning with desire for both, and with jealous rage of all, he swore he would not be outdone, befooled, cast aside, and trampled on.
At the playhouse when she looked from her box, she saw him leaning against some pillar or stationed in some noticeable spot, his bold blue eyes fixed burningly upon her; at fashionable assemblies he made his way to her side and stood near her, gazing, or dropping words into her ear; at church he placed himself in some pew near by, that she and all the world might behold him; when she left her coach and walked in the Mall he joined her or walked behind. At such times in my lady's close-fringed eyes there shone a steady gleam; but they were ever eyes that glowed, and there were none who had ever come close enough to her to know her well, and so there were none who read its meaning. Only Anne knew as no other creature could, and looked on with secret terror and dismay. The world but said that he was a man mad with love, and desperate at the knowledge of the powerfulness of his rivals, could not live beyond sight of her.
They did not hear the words that passed between them at times when he stood near her in some crowd, and dropped, as 'twas thought, words of burning prayer and love into her ear. 'Twas said that it was like her to listen with unchanging face, and when she deigned reply, to answer without turning towards him. But such words and replies it had more than once been Anne's ill-fortune to be near enough to catch, and hearing them she had shuddered.
One night at a grand rout, the Duke of Osmonde but just having left the reigning beauty's side, she heard the voice she hated close by her, speaking.
"You think you can disdain me to the end," it said. "Your ladyship is SURE so?"
She did not turn or answer, and there followed a low laugh.
"You think a man will lie beneath your feet and be trodden upon without speaking. You are too high and bold."