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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Two meet in the deserted rose garden, and the old Earl of Dunstanwolde is made a happy man

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The suit of my Lord of Dunstanwolde--if suit it was--during these months appeared to advance somewhat. All orders of surmises were made concerning it--that Mistress Clorinda had privately quarrelled with Sir John and sent him packing; that he had tired of his love-making, as 'twas well known he had done many times before, and having squandered his possessions and finding himself in open straits, must needs patch up his fortunes in a hurry with the first heiress whose estate suited him. But 'twas the women who said these things; the men swore that no man could tire of or desert such spirit and beauty, and that if Sir John Oxon stayed away 'twas because he had been commanded to do so, it never having been Mistress Clorinda's intention to do more than play with him awhile, she having been witty against him always for a fop, and meaning herself to accept no man as a husband who could not give her both rank and wealth.

"We know her," said the old boon companions of her childhood, as they talked of her over their bottles. "She knew her price and would bargain for it when she was not eight years old, and would give us songs and kisses but when she was paid for them with sweet things and knickknacks from the toy-shops. She will marry no man who cannot make her at least a countess, and she would take him but because there was not a duke at hand. We know her, and her beauty's ways."

But they did not know her; none knew her, save herself.

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In the west wing, which grew more bare and ill-furnished as things wore out and time went by, Mistress Anne waxed thinner and paler. She was so thin in two months' time, that her soft, dull eyes looked twice their natural size, and seemed to stare piteously at people. One day, indeed, as she sat at work in her sister's room, Clorinda being there at the time, the beauty, turning and beholding her face suddenly, uttered a violent exclamation.

"Why look you at me so?" she said. "Your eyes stand out of your head like a new-hatched, unfeathered bird's. They irk me with their strange asking look. Why do you stare at me?"

"I do not know," Anne faltered. "I could not tell you, sister. My eyes seem to stare so because of my thinness. I have seen them in my mirror."

"Why do you grow thin?" quoth Clorinda harshly. "You are not ill."

"I--I do not know," again Anne faltered. "Naught ails me. I do not know. For--forgive me!"

Clorinda laughed.

"Soft little fool," she said, "why should you ask me to forgive you? I might as fairly ask you to forgive ME, that I keep my shape and show no wasting."

Anne rose from her chair and hurried to her sister's side, sinking upon her knees there to kiss her hand.

"Sister," she said, "one could never dream that you could need pardon. I love you so--that all you do, it seems to me must be right--whatsoever it might be."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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