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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

In which Sir John Oxon finds again a trophy he had lost

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"Ay!" said Clorinda, "would God that he were gone!"

But that he was not, for when she entered the assembly that night he was standing near the door as though he lay in waiting for her, and his eyes met hers with a leaping gleam, which was a thing of such exultation that to encounter it was like having a knife thrust deep into her side and through and through it, for she knew full well that he could not wear such a look unless he had some strength of which she knew not.

This gleam was in his eyes each time she found herself drawn to them, and it seemed as though she could look nowhere without encountering his gaze. He followed her from room to room, placing himself where she could not lift her eyes without beholding him; when she walked a minuet with a royal duke, he stood and watched her with such a look in his face as drew all eyes towards him.

"'Tis as if he threatens her," one said. "He has gone mad with disappointed love."

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But 'twas not love that was in his look, but the madness of long-thwarted passion mixed with hate and mockery; and this she saw, and girded her soul with all its strength, knowing that she had a fiercer beast to deal with, and a more vicious and dangerous one, than her horse Devil. That he kept at first at a distance from her, and but looked on with this secret exultant glow in his bad, beauteous eyes, told her that at last he felt he held some power in his hands, against which all her defiance would be as naught. Till this hour, though she had suffered, and when alone had writhed in agony of grief and bitter shame, in his presence she had never flinched. Her strength she knew was greater than his; but his baseness was his weapon, and the depths of that baseness she knew she had never reached.

At midnight, having just made obeisance before Royalty retiring, she felt that at length he had drawn near and was standing at her side.

"To-night," he said, in the low undertone it was his way to keep for such occasions, knowing how he could pierce her ear--"to-night you are Juno's self--a very Queen of Heaven!"

She made no answer.

"And I have stood and watched you moving among all lesser goddesses as the moon sails among the stars, and I have smiled in thinking of what these lesser deities would say if they had known what I bear in my breast to-night."

She did not even make a movement--in truth, she felt that at his next words she might change to stone.

"I have found it," he said--"I have it here--the lost treasure--the tress of hair like a raven's wing and six feet long. Is there another woman in England who could give a man a lock like it?"

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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