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  A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

"I give to him the thing he craves with all his soul-- myself"

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In a month she was the Countess of Dunstanwolde, and reigned in her lord's great town house with a retinue of servants, her powdered lackeys among the tallest, her liveries and equipages the richest the world of fashion knew. She was presented at the Court, blazing with the Dunstanwolde jewels, and even with others her bridegroom had bought in his passionate desire to heap upon her the magnificence which became her so well. From the hour she knelt to kiss the hand of royalty she set the town on fire. It seemed to have been ordained by Fate that her passage through this world should be always the triumphant passage of a conqueror. As when a baby she had ruled the servants' hall, the kennel, and the grooms' quarters, later her father and his boisterous friends, and from her fifteenth birthday the whole hunting shire she lived in, so she held her sway in the great world, as did no other lady of her rank or any higher. Those of her age seemed but girls yet by her side, whether married or unmarried, and howsoever trained to modish ways. She was but scarce eighteen at her marriage, but she was no girl, nor did she look one, glowing as was the early splendour of her bloom. Her height was far beyond the ordinary for a woman; but her shape so faultless and her carriage so regal, that though there were men upon whom she was tall enough to look down with ease, the beholder but felt that her tallness was an added grace and beauty with which all women should have been endowed, and which, as they were not, caused them to appear but insignificant. What a throat her diamonds blazed on, what shoulders and bosom her laces framed, on what a brow her coronet sat and glittered. Her lord lived as 'twere upon his knees in enraptured adoration. Since his first wife's death in his youth, he had dwelt almost entirely in the country at his house there, which was fine and stately, but had been kept gloomily half closed for a decade. His town establishment had, in truth, never been opened since his bereavement; and now--an elderly man--he returned to the gay world he had almost forgotten, with a bride whose youth and beauty set it aflame. What wonder that his head almost reeled at times and that he lost his breath before the sum of his strange late bliss, and the new lease of brilliant life which seemed to have been given to him.

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In the days when, while in the country, he had heard such rumours of the lawless days of Sir Jeoffry Wildairs' daughter, when he had heard of her dauntless boldness, her shrewish temper, and her violent passions, he had been awed at the thought of what a wife such a woman would make for a gentleman accustomed to a quiet life, and he had indeed striven hard to restrain the desperate admiration he was forced to admit she had inspired in him even at her first ball.

The effort had, in sooth, been in vain, and he had passed many a sleepless night; and when, as time went on, he beheld her again and again, and saw with his own eyes, as well as heard from others, of the great change which seemed to have taken place in her manners and character, he began devoutly to thank Heaven for the alteration, as for a merciful boon vouchsafed to him. He had been wise enough to know that even a stronger man than himself could never conquer or rule her; and when she seemed to begin to rule herself and bear herself as befitted her birth and beauty, he had dared to allow himself to dream of what perchance might be if he had great good fortune.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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