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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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The man's face changed. It was Jenfry.

"Sir John Oxon," he said. "Then I will ask her. Had you said any other name I would not have gone near her to-day."

Her ladyship was in her new closet with Mistress Anne, and there the lacquey came to her to deliver his errand.

"A country-bred young woman, your ladyship," he said, "comes from Sir John Oxon--"

"From Sir John Oxon!" cried Anne, starting in her chair.

My Lady Dunstanwolde made no start, but turned a steady countenance towards the door, looking into the lacquey's face.

"Then he hath returned?" she said.

"Returned!" said Anne.

"After the morning he rode home with me," my lady answered, "'twas said he went away. He left his lodgings without warning. It seems he hath come back. What does the woman want?" she ended.

"To speak with your ladyship," replied the man, "of Sir John himself, she says."

"Bring her to me," her ladyship commanded.

The girl was brought in, overawed and trembling. She was a country-bred young creature, as the lacquey had said, being of the simple rose-and-white freshness of seventeen years perhaps, and having childish blue eyes and fair curling locks.

She was so frightened by the grandeur of her surroundings, and the splendid beauty of the lady who was so soon to be a duchess, and was already a great earl's widow, that she could only stand within the doorway, curtseying and trembling, with tears welling in her eyes.

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"Be not afraid," said my Lady Dunstanwolde. "Come hither, child, and tell me what you want." Indeed, she did not look a hard or shrewish lady; she spoke as gently as woman could, and a mildness so unexpected produced in the young creature such a revulsion of feeling that she made a few steps forward and fell upon her knees, weeping, and with uplifted hands.

"My lady," she said, "I know not how I dared to come, but that I am so desperate--and your ladyship being so happy, it seemed--it seemed that you might pity me, who am so helpless and know not what to do."

Her ladyship leaned forward in her chair, her elbow on her knee, her chin held in her hand, to gaze at her.

"You come from Sir John Oxon?" she said.

Anne, watching, clutched each arm of her chair.

"Not FROM him, asking your ladyship's pardon," said the child, "but- -but--from the country to him," her head falling on her breast, "and I know not where he is."

"You came TO him," asked my lady. "Are you," and her speech was pitiful and slow--"are you one of those whom he has--ruined?"

The little suppliant looked up with widening orbs.

"How could that be, and he so virtuous and pious a gentleman?" she faltered.

Then did my lady rise with a sudden movement.

"Was he so?" says she.

"Had he not been," the child answered, "my mother would have been afraid to trust him. I am but a poor country widow's daughter, but was well brought up, and honestly--and when he came to our village my mother was afraid, because he was a gentleman; but when she saw his piety, and how he went to church and sang the psalms and prayed for grace, she let me listen to him."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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