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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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The night Clorinda laid her commands upon Mistress Wimpole concerning the coming of Sir John Oxon, that matron, after receiving them, hurried to her other charges, flurried and full of talk, and poured forth her wonder and admiration at length.

"She is a wondrous lady!" she said--"she is indeed! It is not alone her beauty, but her spirit and her wit. Mark you how she sees all things and lets none pass, and can lay a plan as prudent as any lady old enough to be twice her mother. She knows all the ways of the world of fashion, and will guard herself against gossip in such a way that none can gainsay her high virtue. Her spirit is too great to allow that she may even SEEM to be as the town ladies. She will not have it! Sir John will not find his court easy to pay. She will not allow that he shall be able to say to any one that he has seen her alone a moment. Thus, she says, he cannot boast. If all ladies were as wise and cunning, there would be no tales to tell." She talked long and garrulously, and set forth to them how Mistress Clorinda had looked straight at her with her black eyes, until she had almost shaken as she sat, because it seemed as though she dared her to disobey her will; and how she had sat with her hair trailing upon the floor over the chair's back, and at first it had seemed that she was flushed with anger, but next as if she had smiled.

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"Betimes," said Mistress Wimpole, "I am afraid when she smiles, but to-night some thought had crossed her mind that pleased her. I think it was that she liked to think that he who has conquered so many ladies will find that he is to be outwitted and made a mock of. She likes that others shall be beaten if she thinks them impudent. She liked it as a child, and would flog the stable-boys with her little whip until they knelt to beg her pardon for their freedoms."

That night Mistress Anne went to her bed-chamber with her head full of wandering thoughts, and she had not the power to bid them disperse themselves and leave her--indeed, she scarce wished for it. She was thinking of Clorinda, and wondering sadly that she was of so high a pride that she could bear herself as though there were no human weakness in her breast, not even the womanly weakness of a heart. How could it be possible that she could treat with disdain this gallant gentleman, if he loved her, as he surely must? Herself she had been sure that she had seen an ardent flame in his blue eyes, even that first day when he had bowed to her with that air of grace as he spoke of the fragrance of the rose leaves he had thought wafted from her robe. How could a woman whom he loved resist him? How could she cause him to suffer by forcing him to stand at arm's length when he sighed to draw near and breathe his passion at her feet?

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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