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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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This was no less than Mistress Clorinda herself. She was clad in a morning gown of white, which seemed to make of her more than ever a tall, transcendent creature, less a woman than a conquering goddess; and she had piled the dial with scarlet red roses, which she was choosing to weave into a massive wreath or crown, for some purpose best known to herself. Her head seemed haughtier and more splendidly held on high even than was its common wont, but upon these roses her lustrous eyes were downcast and were curiously smiling, as also was her ripe, arching lip, whose scarlet the blossoms vied with but poorly. It was a smile like this, perhaps, which Mistress Wimpole feared and trembled before, for 'twas not a tender smile nor a melting one. If she was waiting, she did not wait long, nor, to be sure, would she have long waited if she had been kept by any daring laggard. This was not her way.

'Twas not a laggard who came soon, stepping hurriedly with light feet upon the grass, as though he feared the sound which might be made if he had trodden upon the gravel. It was Sir John Oxon who came towards her in his riding costume.

He came and stood before her on the other side of the dial, and made her a bow so low that a quick eye might have thought 'twas almost mocking. His feather, sweeping the ground, caught a fallen rose, which clung to it. His beauty, when he stood upright, seemed to defy the very morning's self and all the morning world; but Mistress Clorinda did not lift her eyes, but kept them upon her roses, and went on weaving.

"Why did you choose to come?" she asked.

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"Why did you choose to keep the tryst in answer to my message?" he replied to her.

At this she lifted her great shining eyes and fixed them full upon him.

"I wished," she said, "to hear what you would say--but more to SEE you than to hear."

"And I," he began--"I came--"

She held up her white hand with a long-stemmed rose in it--as though a queen should lift a sceptre.

"You came," she answered, "more to see ME than to hear. You made that blunder."

"You choose to bear yourself like a goddess, and disdain me from Olympian heights," he said. "I had the wit to guess it would be so."

She shook her royal head, faintly and most strangely smiling.

"That you had not," was her clear-worded answer. "That is a later thought sprung up since you have seen my face. 'Twas quick--for you--but not quick enough." And the smile in her eyes was maddening. "You thought to see a woman crushed and weeping, her beauty bent before you, her locks dishevelled, her streaming eyes lifted to Heaven--and you--with prayers, swearing that not Heaven could help her so much as your deigning magnanimity. You have seen women do this before, you would have seen ME do it--at your feet-- crying out that I was lost--lost for ever. THAT you expected! 'Tis not here."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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