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Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg

Two young girls were robed in white gauze


At

the meeting of the four cross paths was a wide space covered with a soft woven carpet, upon which were strown cushions similar to those in my room. On these several ladies were reclining, who rose as the head of the family approached. One who seemed by her manner to be the mistress, and by her resemblance to some of her younger companions the mother, of the family, wore a sort of light golden half-helmet on the head, and over this, falling round her half-way to the waist, a crimson veil, intended apparently to protect her head and neck from the sun as much as to conceal them. Her face was partially uncovered. The dress of all was, except in colour and in certain omissions and additions, much the same. The under-garments must have been slight in material and few in number. Nothing was to be seen of them save the sleeves, which were of a delicate substance, resembling that of the finest Parisian kid gloves, but far softer and finer. Over all was a robe almost without shape, save what it took from the figure to which it closely adapted itself, suspended by broad ribbons and jewelled clasps from the shoulders, falling nearly to the ankles, and gathered in by a zone at the waist. This garment left the neck, shoulders, and the upper part of the bosom uncovered; but the veil, whether covering the head completely, drawn round all save the face, or consisting only of two separate muslin falls behind either ear, was always so arranged as to render the general effect far more decorous than
the "low dresses" of European matrons and maidens. The ankles and feet were entirely bare, save for sandals with an embroidered velvety covering for the toes, and silver bands clasped round the ankles. The eldest lady wore a pale green robe of a fine but very light silken-seeming fabric. Three younger ones wore a similar material of pink, with silver head-dresses and veils hiding everything but the eyes. All these had sleeves reaching to the wrist, ending in gloves of the same fabric. Two young girls were robed in white gauze, with gauze veils attached over either ear to a very slight silver coronal; their arms bare till the sleeve of the under-robe appeared, a couple of inches below the shoulder; their bright soft faces and their long hair (which fell freely down the back, kept in graceful order here and there by almost invisible silver clasps or bands) were totally uncovered. "A maiden," says the Martialist, "may make the most of her charms; a wife's beauty is her lord's exclusive right." One of the girls, my host's daughters, might almost have veiled her entire form above the knees in the masses of rich soft brown hair inherited from her father, but mingled with tresses of another tinge, shimmering like gold under certain lights. Her eyes, of deepest violet, were shaded by dark thick lashes, so long that when the lids were closed they traced a clear black curve on either cheek. The other maiden had, like their mother, and, I believe, like the younger matrons, the bright hair--flaxen in early childhood, pale gold in maturer years--and the blue or grey eyes characteristic of the race. My host spoke two or three words to the chief of the party, indicating me by a graceful and courteous wave of the hand, upon which the person addressed slightly bent her head, laying her hand at the same time upon her heart. The others acknowledged the introduction by a similar but slighter inclination, and all resumed their places as soon as my host, seating himself between us, signed to me to occupy some pillows which one of the young ladies arranged on his left hand, I had observed by this time that the left hand was used by preference, as we use the right, for all purposes, and therefore was naturally extended in courtesy; and the left side was, for similar reasons, the place of honour.


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