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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a deadly war begins

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His Grace was as courtly of bearing as he had ever been. He stayed not long, and during his visit conversed but on such subjects as a kinsman may graciously touch upon; but Anne noted in him a new look also, though she could scarce have told what it might be. She thought that he looked happier, and her fancy was that some burden had fallen from him.

Before he went away he bent low and long over Clorinda's hand, pressing his lips to it with a tenderness which strove not to conceal itself. And the hand was not withdrawn, her ladyship standing in sweet yielding, the tender crimson trembling on her cheek. Anne herself trembled, watching her new, strange loveliness with a sense of fascination; she could scarce withdraw her eyes, it seemed so as if the woman had been reborn.

"Your Grace will come to us again," my lady said, in a soft voice. "We are two lonely women," with her radiant compelling smile, "and need your kindly countenancing."

His eyes dwelt deep in hers as he answered, and there was a flush upon his own cheek, man and warrior though he was.

"If I might come as often as I would," he said, "I should be at your door, perhaps, with too great frequency."

"Nay, your Grace," she answered. "Come as often as WE would--and see who wearies first. 'Twill not be ourselves."

He kissed her hand again, and this time 'twas passionately, and when he left her presence it was with a look of radiance on his noble face, and with the bearing of a king new crowned.

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For a few moments' space she stood where he had parted from her, looking as though listening to the sound of his step, as if she would not lose a footfall; then she went to the window, and stood among the flowers there, looking down into the street, and Anne saw that she watched his equipage.

'Twas early summer, and the sunshine flooded her from head to foot; the window and balcony were full of flowers--yellow jonquils and daffodils, white narcissus, and all things fragrant of the spring. The scent of them floated about her like an incense, and a straying zephyr blew great puffs of their sweetness back into the room. Anne felt it all about her, and remembered it until she was an aged woman.

Clorinda's bosom rose high in an exultant, rapturous sigh.

"'Tis the Spring that comes," she murmured breathlessly. "Never hath it come to me before."

Even as she said the words, at the very moment of her speaking, Fate--a strange Fate indeed--brought to her yet another visitor. The door was thrown open wide, and in he came, a lacquey crying aloud his name. 'Twas Sir John Oxon.

* * *

Those of the World of Fashion who were wont to gossip, had bestowed upon them a fruitful subject for discussion over their tea-tables, in the future of the widowed Lady Dunstanwolde. All the men being enamoured of her, 'twas not likely that she would long remain unmarried, her period of mourning being over; and, accordingly, forthwith there was every day chosen for her a new husband by those who concerned themselves in her affairs, and they were many. One week 'twas a great general she was said to smile on; again, a great beau and female conqueror, it being argued that, having made her first marriage for rank and wealth, and being a passionate and fantastic beauty, she would this time allow herself to be ruled by her caprice, and wed for love; again, a certain marquis was named, and after him a young earl renowned for both beauty and wealth; but though each and all of those selected were known to have laid themselves at her feet, none of them seemed to have met with the favour they besought for.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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