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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

"Not I," said she. "There thou mayst trust me. I would not be found out."

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Sir Jeoffry, who had watched her as she queened it amongst rakes and fops and honest country squires and knights, had marked the vigour with which they plied her with an emotion which was a new sensation to his drink-bemuddled brain. So far as it was in his nature to love another than himself, he had learned to love this young lovely virago of his own flesh and blood, perchance because she was the only creature who had never quailed before him, and had always known how to bend him to her will.

When the chariot rode away, he looked at her as she sat erect in the early morning light, as unblenching, bright, and untouched in bloom as if she had that moment risen from her pillow and washed her face in dew. He was not so drunk as he had been at midnight, but he was a little maudlin.

"By God, thou art handsome, Clo!" he said. "By God, I never saw a finer woman!"

"Nor I," she answered back, "which I thank Heaven for."

"Thou pretty, brazen baggage," her father laughed. "Old Dunstanwolde looked thee well over to-night. He never looked away from the moment he clapped eyes on thee."

"That I knew better than thee, Dad," said the beauty; "and I saw that he could not have done it if he had tried. If there comes no richer, younger great gentleman, he shall marry me."

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"Thou hast a sharp eye and a keen wit," said Sir Jeoffry, looking askance at her with a new maggot in his brain. "Wouldst never play the fool, I warrant. They will press thee hard and 'twill be hard to withstand their lovemaking, but I shall never have to mount and ride off with pistols in my holsters to bring back a man and make him marry thee, as Chris Crowell had to do for his youngest wench. Thou wouldst never play the fool, I warrant--wouldst thou, Clo?"

She tossed her head and laughed like a young scornful devil, showing her white pearl teeth between her lips' scarlet.

"Not I," she said. "There thou mayst trust me. I would not be found out."

She played her part as triumphant beauty so successfully that the cleverest managing mother in the universe could not have bettered her position. Gallants brawled for her; honest men fell at her feet; romantic swains wrote verses to her, praising her eyes, her delicate bosom, the carnation of her cheek, and the awful majesty of her mien. In every revel she was queen, in every contest of beauties Venus, in every spectacle of triumph empress of them all.

The Earl of Dunstanwolde, who had the oldest name and the richest estates in his own county and the six adjoining ones, who, having made a love-match in his prime, and lost wife and heir but a year after his nuptials, had been the despair of every maid and mother who knew him, because he would not be melted to a marriageable mood. After the hunt ball this mourning nobleman, who was by this time of ripe years, had appeared in the world again as he had not done for many years. Before many months had elapsed, it was known that his admiration of the new beauty was confessed, and it was believed that he but waited further knowledge of her to advance to the point of laying his title and estates at her feet.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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