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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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"A fine speech lost," she said, "though 'twas well enough for the country, Sir John. 'Tis thrown away, because 'tis not I who am scented with rose-leaves, but Anne there, whom you must not ogle. Come hither, sister, and do not hide as if you were ashamed to be looked at."

And she drew her forward, and there Anne stood, and all of them stared at her poor, plain, blushing face, and the Adonis in cinnamon and crimson bowed low, as if she had been a duchess, that being his conqueror's way with gentle or simple, maid, wife, or widow, beauty or homespun uncomeliness.

It was so with him always; he could never resist the chance of luring to himself a woman's heart, whether he wanted it or not, and he had a charm, a strange and wonderful one, it could not be denied. Anne palpitated indeed as she made her curtsey to him, and wondered if Heaven had ever before made so fine a gentleman and so beautiful a being.

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She went but seldom to this room again, and when she went she stood always in the background, far more in fear that some one would address her than that she should meet with neglect. She was used to neglect, and to being regarded as a nonentity, and aught else discomfited her. All her pleasure was to hear what was said, though 'twas not always of the finest wit--and to watch Clorinda play the queen among her admirers and her slaves. She would not have dared to speak of Sir John Oxon frequently--indeed, she let fall his name but rarely; but she learned a curious wit in contriving to hear all things concerning him. It was her habit cunningly to lead Mistress Margery to talking about him and relating long histories of his conquests and his grace. Mistress Wimpole knew many of them, having, for a staid and prudent matron, a lively interest in his ways. It seemed, truly--if one must believe her long-winded stories--that no duchess under seventy had escaped weeping for him and losing rest, and that ladies of all ranks had committed follies for his sake.

Mistress Anne, having led her to this fruitful subject, would sit and listen, bending over her embroidery frame with strange emotions, causing her virgin breast to ache with their swelling. She would lie awake at night thinking in the dark, with her heart beating. Surely, surely there was no other man on earth who was so fitted to Clorinda, and to whom it was so suited that this empress should give her charms. Surely no woman, however beautiful or proud, could dismiss his suit when he pressed it. And then, poor woman, her imagination strove to paint the splendour of their mutual love, though of such love she knew so little. But it must, in sooth, be bliss and rapture; and perchance, was her humble thought, she might see it from afar, and hear of it. And when they went to court, and Clorinda had a great mansion in town, and many servants who needed a housewife's eye upon their doings to restrain them from wastefulness and riot, might it not chance to be that if she served well now, and had the courage to plead with her then, she might be permitted to serve her there, living quite apart in some quiet corner of the house. And then her wild thoughts would go so far that she would dream--reddening at her own boldness--of a child who might be born to them, a lordly infant son and heir, whose eyes might be blue and winning, and his hair in great fair locks, and whom she might nurse and tend and be a slave to--and love--and love--and love, and who might end by knowing she was his tender servant, always to be counted on, and might look at her with that wooing, laughing glance, and even love her too.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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