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0100_005E A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

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

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"She must be ashamed of me," the humble creature said to herself. "And if she is ashamed she will be angered and send me away and be friends no more."

She did not deceive herself, poor thing, and imagine she had the chance of being regarded with any great lenience if she appeared ill.

"Mistress Clorinda begged that you would come quickly," said Rebecca, knocking at the door.

So she caught her handkerchief, which was scented, as all her garments were, with dried rose-leaves from the garden, which she had conserved herself, and went down to the chintz parlour trembling.

It was a great room with white panels, and flowered coverings to the furniture. There were a number of ladies and gentlemen standing talking and laughing loudly together. The men outnumbered the women, and most of them stood in a circle about Mistress Clorinda, who sat upright in a great flowered chair, smiling with her mocking, stately air, as if she defied them to dare to speak what they felt.

Anne came in like a mouse. Nobody saw her. She did not, indeed, know what to do. She dared not remain standing all alone, so she crept to the place where her sister's chair was, and stood a little behind its high back. Her heart beat within her breast till it was like to choke her.

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They were only country gentlemen who made the circle, but to her they seemed dashing gallants. That some of them had red noses as well as cheeks, and that their voices were big and their gallantries boisterous, was no drawback to their manly charms, she having seen no other finer gentlemen. They were specimens of the great conquering creature Man, whom all women must aspire to please if they have the fortunate power; and each and all of them were plainly trying to please Clorinda, and not she them.

And so Anne gazed at them with admiring awe, waiting until there should come a pause in which she might presume to call her sister's attention to her presence; but suddenly, before she had indeed made up her mind how she might best announce herself, there spoke behind her a voice of silver.

"It is only goddesses," said the voice, "who waft about them as they move the musk of the rose-gardens of Araby. When you come to reign over us in town, Madam, there will be no perfume in the mode but that of rose-leaves, and in all drawing-rooms we shall breathe but their perfume."

And there, at her side, was bowing, in cinnamon and crimson, with jewelled buttons on his velvet coat, the beautiful being whose fair locks the sun had shone on the morning she had watched him ride away--the man whom the imperial beauty had dismissed and called a popinjay.

Clorinda looked under her lashes towards him without turning, but in so doing beheld Anne standing in waiting.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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