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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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He was, it is true, twenty-four years of age and a man, while she was but fifteen and a woman, but being so tall and built with such unusual vigour of symmetry, she was a beauteous match for him, and both being attired in fashionable masculine habit, these two pretty young fellows standing smiling saucily at each other were a charming, though singular, spectacle.

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This young man was already well known in the modish world of town for his beauty and adventurous spirit. He was indeed already a beau and conqueror of female hearts. It was suspected that he cherished a private ambition to set the modes in beauties and embroidered waistcoats himself in time, and be as renowned abroad and as much the town talk as certain other celebrated beaux had been before him. The art of ogling tenderly and of uttering soft nothings he had learned during his first season in town, and as he had a great melting blue eye, the figure of an Adonis, and a white and shapely hand for a ring, he was well equipped for conquest. He had darted many an inflaming glance at Mistress Clorinda before the first meats were removed. Even in London he had heard a vague rumour of this handsome young woman, bred among her father's dogs, horses, and boon companions, and ripening into a beauty likely to make town faces pale. He had almost fallen into the spleen on hearing that she had left her boy's clothes and vowed she would wear them no more, as above all things he had desired to see how she carried them and what charms they revealed. On hearing from his host and kinsman that she had said that on her birth-night she would bid them farewell for ever by donning them for the last time, he was consumed with eagerness to obtain an invitation. This his kinsman besought for him, and, behold! the first glance the beauty shot at him pierced his inflammable bosom like a dart. Never before had it been his fortune to behold female charms so dazzling and eyes of such lustre and young majesty. The lovely baggage had a saucy way of standing with her white jewelled hands in her pockets like a pretty fop, and throwing up her little head like a modish beauty who was of royal blood; and these two tricks alone, he felt, might have set on fire the heart of a man years older and colder than himself.

If she had been of the order of soft-natured charmers, they would have fallen into each other's eyes before the wine was changed; but this Mistress Clorinda was not. She did not fear to meet the full battery of his enamoured glances, but she did not choose to return them. She played her part of the pretty young fellow who was a high-spirited beauty, with more of wit and fire than she had ever played it before. The rollicking hunting-squires, who had been her play-fellows so long, devoured her with their delighted glances and roared with laughter at her sallies. Their jokes and flatteries were not of the most seemly, but she had not been bred to seemliness and modesty, and was no more ignorant than if she had been, in sooth, some gay young springald of a lad. To her it was part of the entertainment that upon this last night they conducted themselves as beseemed her boyish masquerading. Though country-bred, she had lived among companions who were men of the world and lived without restraints, and she had so far learned from them that at fifteen years old she was as worldly and as familiar with the devices of intrigue as she would be at forty. So far she had not been pushed to practising them, her singular life having thrown her among few of her own age, and those had chanced to be of a sort she disdainfully counted as country bumpkins.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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