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  A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a deadly war begins

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The town and the World of Fashion greeted her on her return with open arms. Those who looked on when she bent the knee to kiss the hand of Royalty at the next drawing-room, whispered among themselves that bereavement had not dimmed her charms, which were even more radiant than they had been at her presentation on her marriage, and that the mind of no man or woman could dwell on aught as mournful as widowhood in connection with her, or, indeed, could think of anything but her brilliant beauty. 'Twas as if from this time she was launched into a new life. Being rich, of high rank, and no longer an unmarried woman, her position had a dignity and freedom which there was no creature but might have envied. As the wife of Dunstanwolde she had been the fashion, and adored by all who dared adore her; but as his widow she was surrounded and besieged. A fortune, a toast, a wit, and a beauty, she combined all the things either man or woman could desire to attach themselves to the train of; and had her air been less regal, and her wit less keen of edge, she would have been so beset by flatterers and toadies that life would have been burdensome. But this she would not have, and was swift enough to detect the man whose debts drove him to the expedient of daring to privately think of the usefulness of her fortune, or the woman who manoeuvred to gain reputation or success by means of her position and power.

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"They would be about me like vultures if I were weak fool enough to let them," she said to Anne. "They cringe and grovel like spaniels, and flatter till 'tis like to make one sick. 'Tis always so with toadies; they have not the wit to see that their flattery is an insolence, since it supposes adulation so rare that one may be moved by it. The men with empty pockets would marry me, forsooth, and the women be dragged into company clinging to my petticoats. But they are learning. I do not shrink from giving them sharp lessons."

This she did without mercy, and in time cleared herself of hangers-on, so that her banquets and assemblies were the most distinguished of the time, and the men who paid their court to her were of such place and fortune that their worship could but be disinterested.

Among the earliest to wait upon her was his Grace of Osmonde, who found her one day alone, save for the presence of Mistress Anne, whom she kept often with her. When the lacquey announced him, Anne, who sat upon the same seat with her, felt her slightly start, and looking up, saw in her countenance a thing she had never beheld before, nor had indeed ever dreamed of beholding. It was a strange, sweet crimson which flowed over her face, and seemed to give a wondrous deepness to her lovely orbs. She rose as a queen might have risen had a king come to her, but never had there been such pulsing softness in her look before. 'Twas in some curious fashion like the look of a girl; and, in sooth, she was but a girl in years, but so different to all others of her age, and had lived so singular a life, that no one ever thought of her but as a woman, or would have deemed it aught but folly to credit her with any tender emotion or blushing warmth girlhood might be allowed.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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