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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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When the earl and his countess went to their house in the country, there fell to Mistress Anne a great and curious piece of good fortune. In her wildest dreams she had never dared to hope that such a thing might be.

My Lady Dunstanwolde, on her first visit home, bore her sister back with her to the manor, and there established her. She gave her a suite of rooms and a waiting woman of her own, and even provided her with a suitable wardrobe. This last she had chosen herself with a taste and fitness which only such wit as her own could have devised.

"They are not great rooms I give thee, Anne," she said, "but quiet and small ones, which you can make home-like in such ways as I know your taste lies. My lord has aided me to choose romances for your shelves, he knowing more of books than I do. And I shall not dress thee out like a peacock with gay colours and great farthingales. They would frighten thee, poor woman, and be a burden with their weight. I have chosen such things as are not too splendid, but will suit thy pale face and shot partridge eyes."

Anne stood in the middle of her room and looked about at its comforts, wondering.

"Sister," she said, "why are you so good to me? What have I done to serve you? Why is it Anne instead of Barbara you are so gracious to?"

"Perchance because I am a vain woman and would be worshipped as you worship me."

"But you are always worshipped," Anne faltered.

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"Ay, by men!" said Clorinda, mocking; "but not by women. And it may be that my pride is so high that I must be worshipped by a woman too. You would always love me, sister Anne. If you saw me break the law--if you saw me stab the man I hated to the heart, you would think it must be pardoned to me."

She laughed, and yet her voice was such that Anne lost her breath and caught at it again.

"Ay, I should love you, sister!" she cried. "Even then I could not but love you. I should know you could not strike so an innocent creature, and that to be so hated he must have been worthy of hate. You--are not like other women, sister Clorinda; but you could not be base--for you have a great heart."

Clorinda put her hand to her side and laughed again, but with less mocking in her laughter.

"What do you know of my heart, Anne?" she said. "Till late I did not know it beat, myself. My lord says 'tis a great one and noble, but I know 'tis his own that is so. Have I done honestly by him, Anne, as I told you I would? Have I been fair in my bargain--as fair as an honest man, and not a puling, slippery woman."

"You have been a great lady," Anne answered, her great dull, soft eyes filling with slow tears as she gazed at her. "He says that you have given to him a year of Heaven, and that you seem to him like some archangel--for the lower angels seem not high enough to set beside you."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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