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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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In the silence of her chamber as she disrobed, she sighed with restless pain, but did not know that her sighing was for grief that love--of which there seemed so little in some lives--could be wasted and flung away. She could not fall into slumber when she lay down upon her pillow, but tossed from side to side with a burdened heart.

"She is so young and beautiful and proud," she thought. "It is because I am so much older that I can see these things--that I see that this is surely the one man who should be her husband. There may be many others, but they are none of them her equals, and she would scorn and hate them when she was once bound to them for life. This one is as beautiful as she--and full of grace, and wit, and spirit. She could not look down upon him, however wrath she was at any time. Ah me! She should not spurn him, surely she should not!"

She was so restless and ill at ease that she could not lie upon her bed, but rose therefrom, as she often did in her wakeful hours, and went to her lattice, gently opening it to look out upon the night, and calm herself by sitting with her face uplifted to the stars, which from her childhood she had fancied looked down upon her kindly and as if they would give her comfort.

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To-night there were no stars. There should have been a moon three-quarters full, but, in the evening, clouds had drifted across the sky and closed over all heavily, so that no moonlight was to be seen, save when a rare sudden gust made a ragged rent, for a moment, in the blackness.

She did not sit this time, but knelt, clad in her night-rail as she was. All was sunk into the profoundest silence of the night. By this time the entire household had been long enough abed to be plunged in sleep. She alone was waking, and being of that simple mind which, like a child's, must ever bear its trouble to a protecting strength, she looked up at the darkness of the cloudy sky and prayed for the better fortune of the man who had indeed not remembered her existence after the moment he had made her his obeisance. She was too plain and sober a creature to be remembered.

"Perchance," she murmured, "he is at this moment also looking at the clouds from his window, because he cannot sleep for thinking that in two days he will be beneath her father's roof and will see her loveliness, and he must needs be contriving within his mind what he will say, if she do but look as if she might regard him with favour, which I pray she will."

From the path below, that moment there rose a slight sound, so slight a one that for a moment she thought she must have been deceived in believing it had fallen upon her ear. All was still after it for full two minutes, and had she heard no more she would have surely forgotten she had heard aught, or would have believed herself but the victim of fancy. But after the long pause the same sound came again, though this time it was slighter; yet, despite its slightness, it seemed to her to be the crushing of the earth and stone beneath a cautious foot. It was a foot so cautious that it was surely stealthy and scarce dared to advance at all. And then all was still again. She was for a moment overcome with fears, not being of a courageous temper, and having heard, but of late, of a bold gipsy vagabond who, with a companion, had broken into the lower rooms of a house of the neighbourhood, and being surprised by its owner, had only been overcome and captured after a desperate fight, in which shots were exchanged, and one of the hurriedly-awakened servants killed. So she leaned forward to hearken further, wondering what she should do to best alarm the house, and, as she bent so, she heard the sound again and a smothered oath, and with her straining eyes saw that surely upon the path there stood a dark-draped figure. She rose with great care to her feet, and stood a moment shaking and clinging to the window-ledge, while she bethought her of what servants she could wake first, and how she could reach her father's room. Her poor heart beat in her side, and her breath came quickly. The soundlessness of the night was broken by one of the strange sudden gusts of wind which tossed the trees, and tore at the clouds as they hurried. She heard the footsteps again, as if it feared its own sound the less when the wind might cover it. A faint pale gleam showed between two dark clouds behind which the moon had been hidden; it grew brighter, and a jagged rent was torn, so that the moon herself for a second or so shone out dazzling bright before the clouds rushed over her again and shut her in.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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