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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

A piteous story is told, and the old cellars walled in

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It was her command that there should be no time lost, and men were set at work, carrying bricks and mortar. It so chanced that one of them, going in through a back entrance with a hod over his shoulder, and being young and lively, found his eye caught by the countenance of a pretty, frightened-looking girl, who seemed to be loitering about watching, as if curious or anxious. Seeing her near each time he passed, and observing that she wished to speak, but was too timid, he addressed her -

"Would you know aught, mistress?" he said.

She drew nearer gratefully, and then he saw her eyes were red as if with weeping.

"Think you her ladyship would let a poor girl speak a word with her?" she said. "Think you I dare ask so much of a servant--or would they flout me and turn me from the door? Have you seen her? Does she look like a hard, shrewish lady?"

"That she does not, though all stand in awe of her," he answered, pleased to talk with so pretty a creature. "I but caught a glimpse of her when she gave orders concerning the closing with brick of a passage-way below. She is a tall lady, and grand and stately, but she hath a soft pair of eyes as ever man would wish to look into, be he duke or ditcher."

The tears began to run down the girl's cheeks.

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"Ay!" she said; "all men love her, they say. Many a poor girl's sweetheart has been false through her--and I thought she was cruel and ill-natured. Know you the servants that wait on her? Would you dare to ask one for me, if he thinks she would deign to see a poor girl who would crave the favour to be allowed to speak to her of--of a gentleman she knows?"

"They are but lacqueys, and I would dare to ask what was in my mind," he answered; "but she is near her wedding-day, and little as I know of brides' ways, I am of the mind that she will not like to be troubled."

"That I stand in fear of," she said; "but, oh! I pray you, ask some one of them--a kindly one."

The young man looked aside. "Luck is with you," he said. "Here comes one now to air himself in the sun, having naught else to do. Here is a young woman who would speak with her ladyship," he said to the strapping powdered fellow.

"She had best begone," the lacquey answered, striding towards the applicant. "Think you my lady has time to receive traipsing wenches."

"'Twas only for a moment I asked," the girl said. "I come from--I would speak to her of--of Sir John Oxon--whom she knows."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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