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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Lord Twemlow's chaplain visits his patron's kinsman, and Mistress Clorinda shines on her birthday night

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"Madam," he faltered, bowing--"Madam, I ask pardon of you most humbly! If it were your pleasure to deign to--to--allow me--"

She set the tankard on the table with a rollicking smack, and thrust her hands in her breeches-pockets, swaying with laughter; and, indeed, 'twas ringing music, her rich great laugh, which, when she grew of riper years, was much lauded and written verses on by her numerous swains.

"If 'twere my pleasure to go away and allow you to speak, free from the awkwardness of a young lady's presence," she said. "But 'tis not, as it happens, and if I stay here, I shall be a protection."

In truth, he required one. Sir Jeoffry broke into a torrent of blasphemy. He damned both kinsman and chaplain, and raged at the impudence of both in daring to approach him, swearing to horsewhip my lord if they ever met, and to have the chaplain kicked out of the house, and beyond the park gates themselves. But Mistress Clorinda chose to make it her whim to take it in better humour, and as a joke with a fine point to it. She laughed at her father's storming, and while the chaplain quailed before it with pallid countenance and fairly hang-dog look, she seemed to find it but a cause for outbursts of merriment.

"Hold thy tongue a bit, Dad," she cried, when he had reached his loudest, "and let his reverence tell us what his message is. We have not even heard it."

"Want not to hear it!" shouted Sir Jeoffry. "Dost think I'll stand his impudence? Not I!"

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"What was your message?" demanded the young lady of the chaplain. "You cannot return without delivering it. Tell it to me. I choose it shall be told."

The chaplain clutched and fumbled with his hat, pale, and dropping his eyes upon the floor, for very fear.

"Pluck up thy courage, man," said Clorinda. "I will uphold thee. The message?"

"Your pardon, Madam--'twas this," the chaplain faltered. "My lord commanded me to warn your honoured father--that if he did not beg you to leave off wearing--wearing--"

"Breeches," said Mistress Clorinda, slapping her knee.

The chaplain blushed with modesty, though he was a man of sallow countenance.

"No gentleman," he went on, going more lamely at each word-- "notwithstanding your great beauty--no gentleman--"

"Would marry me?" the young lady ended for him, with merciful good-humour. "For if you--if a young lady be permitted to bear herself in such a manner as will cause her to be held lightly, she can make no match that will not be a dishonour to her family--and--and--"

"And may do worse!" quoth Mistress Clo, and laughed until the room rang.

Sir Jeoffry's rage was such as made him like to burst; but she restrained him when he would have flung his tankard at the chaplain's head, and amid his storm of curses bundled the poor man out of the room, picking up his hat which in his hurry and fright he let fall, and thrusting it into his hand.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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