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  A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

'Twas the face of Sir John Oxon the moon shone upon

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From that time henceforward into the young woman's dull life there came a little change. It did not seem a little change to her, but a great one, though to others it would have seemed slight indeed. She was an affectionate, house-wifely creature, who would have made the best of wives and mothers if it had been so ordained by Fortune, and something of her natural instincts found outlet in the furtive service she paid her sister, who became the empress of her soul. She darned and patched the tattered hangings with a wonderful neatness, and the hours she spent at work in the chamber were to her almost as sacred as hours spent at religious duty, or as those nuns and novices give to embroidering altar-cloths. There was a brightness in the room that seemed in no other in the house, and the lingering essences in the air of it were as incense to her. In secrecy she even busied herself with keeping things in better order than Rebecca, Mistress Clorinda's woman, had ever had time to do before. She also contrived to get into her own hands some duties that were Rebecca's own. She could mend lace cleverly and arrange riband-knots with taste, and even change the fashion of a gown. The hard-worked tirewoman was but too glad to be relieved, and kept her secret well, being praised many times for the set or fashion of a thing into which she had not so much as set a needle. Being a shrewd baggage, she was wise enough always to relate to Anne the story of her mistress's pleasure, having the wit to read in her delight that she would be encouraged to fresh effort.

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At times it so befell that, when Anne went into the bed-chamber, she found the beauty there, who, if she chanced to be in the humour, would detain her in her presence for a space and bewitch her over again. In sooth, it seemed that she took a pleasure in showing her female adorer how wondrously full of all fascinations she could be. At such times Anne's plain face would almost bloom with excitement, and her shot pheasant's eyes would glow as if beholding a goddess.

She neither saw nor heard more of the miniature on the riband. It used to make her tremble at times to fancy that by some strange chance it might still be under the bed, and that the handsome face smiled and the blue eyes gazed in the very apartment where she herself sat and her sister was robed and disrobed in all her beauty.

She used all her modest skill in fitting to her own shape and refurnishing the cast-off bits of finery bestowed upon her. It was all set to rights long before Clorinda recalled to mind that she had promised that Anne should sometime see her chance visitors take their dish of tea with her.

But one day, for some cause, she did remember, and sent for her.

Anne ran to her bedchamber and donned her remodelled gown with shaking hands. She laughed a little hysterically as she did it, seeing her plain snub-nosed face in the glass. She tried to dress her head in a fashion new to her, and knew she did it ill and untidily, but had no time to change it. If she had had some red she would have put it on, but such vanities were not in her chamber or Barbara's. So she rubbed her cheeks hard, and even pinched them, so that in the end they looked as if they were badly rouged. It seemed to her that her nose grew red too, and indeed 'twas no wonder, for her hands and feet were like ice.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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