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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein Sir Jeoffry's boon companions drink a toast

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"Saw you ever a wench like her?" he cried, as they all shouted with laughter and made jokes not too polite, but such as were of the sole kind they were given to. "Has any man among you begot a boy as big and handsome? Hang me! if she would not knock down any lad of ten if she were in a fury."

"We wild dogs are out of favour with the women," cried one of the best pleased among them, a certain Lord Eldershawe, whose seat was a few miles from Wildairs Hall--"women like nincompoops and chaplains. Let us take this one for our toast, and bring her up as girls should be brought up to be companions for men. I give you, Mistress Clorinda Wildairs--Mistress Clorinda, the enslaver of six years old- -bumpers, lads!--bumpers!"

And they set her in the very midst of the big table and drank her health, standing, bursting into a jovial, ribald song; and the child, excited by the noise and laughter, actually broke forth and joined them in a high, strong treble, the song being one she was quite familiar with, having heard it often enough in the stable to have learned the words pat.

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Two weeks after his meeting with her, Sir Jeoffry was seized with the whim to go up to London and set her forth with finery. 'Twas but rarely he went up to town, having neither money to waste, nor finding great attraction in the more civilised quarters of the world. He brought her back such clothes as for richness and odd, unsuitable fashion child never wore before. There were brocades that stood alone with splendour of fabric, there was rich lace, fine linen, ribbands, farthingales, swansdown tippets, and little slippers with high red heels. He had a wardrobe made for her such as the finest lady of fashion could scarcely boast, and the tiny creature was decked out in it, and on great occasions even strung with her dead mother's jewels.

Among these strange things, he had the fantastical notion to have made for her several suits of boy's clothes: pink and blue satin coats, little white, or amber, or blue satin breeches, ruffles of lace, and waistcoats embroidered with colours and silver or gold. There was also a small scarlet-coated hunting costume and all the paraphernalia of the chase. It was Sir Jeoffry's finest joke to bid her woman dress her as a boy, and then he would have her brought to the table where he and his fellows were dining together, and she would toss off her little bumper with the best of them, and rip out childish oaths, and sing them, to their delight, songs she had learned from the stable-boys. She cared more for dogs and horses than for finery, and when she was not in the humour to be made a puppet of, neither tire-woman nor devil could put her into her brocades; but she liked the excitement of the dining-room, and, as time went on, would be dressed in her flowered petticoats in a passion of eagerness to go and show herself, and coquet in her lace and gewgaws with men old enough to be her father, and loose enough to find her premature airs and graces a fine joke indeed. She ruled them all with her temper and her shrewish will. She would have her way in all things, or there should be no sport with her, and she would sing no songs for them, but would flout them bitterly, and sit in a great chair with her black brows drawn down, and her whole small person breathing rancour and disdain.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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