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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

My Lady Dunstanwolde sits late alone and writes

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That she must leave the Panelled Parlour at her usual hour, or attract attention by doing that to which her household was unaccustomed, she well knew, her manner of life being ever stately and ceremonious in its regularity. When she dined at home she and Anne partook of their repast together in the large dining-room, the table loaded with silver dishes and massive glittering glass, their powdered, gold-laced lacqueys in attendance, as though a score of guests had shared the meal with them. Since her lord's death there had been nights when her ladyship had sat late writing letters and reading documents pertaining to her estates, the management of which, though in a measure controlled by stewards and attorneys, was not left to them, as the business of most great ladies is generally left to others. All papers were examined by her, all leases and agreements clearly understood before she signed them, and if there were aught unsatisfactory, both stewards and lawyers were called to her presence to explain.

"Never did I--or any other man--meet with such a head upon a woman's shoulders," her attorney said. And the head steward of Dunstanwolde and Helversly learned to quake at the sight of her bold handwriting upon the outside of a letter.

"Such a lady!" he said--"such a lady! Lie to her if you can; palter if you know how; try upon her the smallest honest shrewd trick, and see how it fares with you. Were it not that she is generous as she is piercing of eye, no man could serve her and make an honest living."

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She went to her chamber and was attired again sumptuously for dinner. Before she descended she dismissed her woman for a space on some errand, and when she was alone, drawing near to her mirror, gazed steadfastly within it at her face. When she had read Osmonde's letter her cheeks had glowed; but when she had come back to earth, and as she had sat under her woman's hands at her toilette, bit by bit the crimson had died out as she had thought of what was behind her and of what lay before. The thing was so stiffly rigid by this time, and its eyes still stared so. Never had she needed to put red upon her cheeks before, Nature having stained them with such richness of hue; but as no lady of the day was unprovided with her crimson, there was a little pot among her toilette ornaments which contained all that any emergency might require. She opened this small receptacle and took from it the red she for the first time was in want of.

"I must not wear a pale face, God knows," she said, and rubbed the colour on her cheeks with boldness.

It would have seemed that she wore her finest crimson when she went forth full dressed from her apartment; little Nero grinned to see her, the lacqueys saying among themselves that his Grace's courier had surely brought good news, and that they might expect his master soon. At the dinner-table 'twas Anne who was pale and ate but little, she having put no red upon her cheeks, and having no appetite for what was spread before her. She looked strangely as though she were withered and shrunken, and her face seemed even wrinkled. My lady had small leaning towards food, but she sent no food away untouched, forcing herself to eat, and letting not the talk flag--though it was indeed true that 'twas she herself who talked, Mistress Anne speaking rarely; but as it was always her way to be silent, and a listener rather than one who conversed, this was not greatly noticeable.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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