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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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Her wit was as great as her beauty, and she had a spirit before which no man could stand if she chose to be disdainful. To some she was so, and had the whim to flout them with great brilliancy. Encounters with her were always remembered, and if heard by those not concerned, were considered worthy both of recollection and of being repeated to the world; she had a tongue so nimble and a wit so full of fire.

Young Sir John Oxon's visit to his relative at Eldershawe being at an end, he returned to town, and remaining there through a few weeks of fashionable gaiety, won new reputations as a triumpher over the female heart. He made some renowned conquests and set the mode in some new essences and sword-knots. But even these triumphs appeared to pall upon him shortly, since he deserted the town and returned again to the country, where, on this occasion, he did not stay with his relative, but with Sir Jeoffry himself, who had taken a boisterous fancy to him.

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It had been much marked since the altered life of Mistress Clorinda that she, who had previously defied all rules laid down on behaviour for young ladies, and had been thought to do so because she knew none of them, now proved that her wild fashion had been but wilfulness, since it was seen that she must have observed and marked manners with the best. There seemed no decorum she did not know how to observe with the most natural grace. It was, indeed, all grace and majesty, there being no suggestion of the prude about her, but rather the manner of a young lady having been born with pride and stateliness, and most carefully bred. This was the result of her wondrous wit, the highness of her talents, and the strength of her will, which was of such power that she could carry out without fail anything she chose to undertake. There are some women who have beauty, and some who have wit or vigour of understanding, but she possessed all three, and with them such courage and strength of nerve as would have well equipped a man.

Quick as her wit was and ready as were her brilliant quips and sallies, there was no levity in her demeanour, and she kept Mistress Margery Wimpole in discreet attendance upon her, as if she had been the daughter of a Spanish Hidalgo, never to be approached except in the presence of her duenna. Poor Mistress Margery, finding her old fears removed, was overpowered with new ones. She had no lawlessness or hoyden manners to contend with, but instead a haughtiness so high and demands so great that her powers could scarcely satisfy the one or her spirit stand up before the other.

"It is as if one were lady-in-waiting to her Majesty's self," she used to whimper when she was alone and dare do so. "Surely the Queen has not such a will and such a temper. She will have me toil to look worthy of her in my habit, and bear myself like a duchess in dignity. Alack! I have practised my obeisance by the hour to perfect it, so that I may escape her wrath. And I must know how to look, and when and where to sit, and with what air of being near at hand, while I must see nothing! And I must drag my failing limbs hither and thither with genteel ease while I ache from head to foot, being neither young nor strong."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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