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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein Sir Jeoffry's boon companions drink a toast

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"Lord, Lord!" he said. "There's not a man in the shire has such another little devil--and Rake, 'her horse,'" grinning--"and she to ride him so. I love thee, wench--hang me if I do not!"

She made him play with her and with Rake for a good hour, and then took him back to the stables, and there ordered him about finely among the dogs and horses, perceiving that somehow this great man she had got hold of was a creature who was in power and could be made use of.

When they returned to the house, he had her to eat her mid-day meal with him, when she called for ale, and drank it, and did good trencher duty, making him the while roar with laughter at her impudent child-talk.

"Never have I so split my sides since I was twenty," he said. "It makes me young again to roar so. She shall not leave my sight, since by chance I have found her. 'Tis too good a joke to lose, when times are dull, as they get to be as a man's years go on."

He sent for her woman and laid strange new commands on her.

"Where hath she hitherto been kept?" he asked.

"In the west wing, where are the nurseries, and where Mistress Wimpole abides with Mistress Barbara and Mistress Anne," the woman answered, with a frightened curtsey.

"Henceforth she shall live in this part of the house where I do," he said. "Make ready the chambers that were my lady's, and prepare to stay there with her."

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From that hour the child's fate was sealed. He made himself her playfellow, and romped with and indulged her until she became fonder of him than of any groom or stable-boy she had been companions with before. But, indeed, she had never been given to bestowing much affection on those around her, seeming to feel herself too high a personage to show softness. The ones she showed most favour to were those who served her best; and even to them it was always FAVOUR she showed, not tenderness. Certain dogs and horses she was fond of, Rake coming nearest to her heart, and the place her father won in her affections was somewhat like to Rake's. She made him her servant and tyrannised over him, but at the same time followed and imitated him as if she had been a young spaniel he was training. The life the child led, it would have broken a motherly woman's heart to hear about; but there was no good woman near her, her mother's relatives, and even Sir Jeoffry's own, having cut themselves off early from them--Wildairs Hall and its master being no great credit to those having the misfortune to be connected with them. The neighbouring gentry had gradually ceased to visit the family some time before her ladyship's death, and since then the only guests who frequented the place were a circle of hunting, drinking, and guzzling boon companions of Sir Jeoffry's own, who joined him in all his carousals and debaucheries.

To these he announced his discovery of his daughter with tumultuous delight. He told them, amid storms of laughter, of his first encounter with her; of her flogging him with his own crop, and cursing him like a trooper; of her claiming Rake as her own horse, and swearing at the man who had dared to take him from the stable to ride; and of her sitting him like an infant jockey, and seeming, by some strange power, to have mastered him as no other had been able heretofore to do. Then he had her brought into the dining-room, where they sat over their bottles drinking deep, and setting her on the table, he exhibited her to them, boasting of her beauty, showing them her splendid arm and leg and thigh, measuring her height, and exciting her to test the strength of the grip of her hand and the power of her little fist.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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