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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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"'Tis as I said--'tis his heart that is noble," said Clorinda. "But I vowed it should be so. He paid--he paid!"

The country saw her lord's happiness as the town had done, and wondered at it no less. The manor was thrown open, and guests came down from town; great dinners and balls being given, at which all the country saw the mistress reign at her consort's side with such a grace as no lady ever had worn before. Sir Jeoffry, appearing at these assemblies, was so amazed that he forgot to muddle himself with drink, in gazing at his daughter and following her in all her movements.

"Look at her!" he said to his old boon companions and hers, who were as much awed as he. "Lord! who would think she was the strapping, handsome shrew that swore, and sang men's songs to us, and rode to the hunt in breeches."

He was awed at the thought of paying fatherly visits to her house, and would have kept away, but that she was kind to him in the way he was best able to understand.

"I am country-bred, and have not the manners of your town men, my lady," he said to her, as he sat with her alone on one of the first mornings he spent with her in her private apartment. "I am used to rap out an oath or an ill-mannered word when it comes to me. Dunstanwolde has weaned you of hearing such things--and I am too old a dog to change."

"Wouldst have thought I was too old to change," answered she, "but I was not. Did I not tell thee I would be a great lady. There is naught a man or woman cannot learn who hath the wit."

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"Thou hadst it, Clo," said Sir Jeoffry, gazing at her with a sort of slow wonder. "Thou hadst it. If thou hadst not -!" He paused, and shook his head, and there was a rough emotion in his coarse face. "I was not the man to have made aught but a baggage of thee, Clo. I taught thee naught decent, and thou never heard or saw aught to teach thee. Damn me!" almost with moisture in his eyes, "if I know what kept thee from going to ruin before thou wert fifteen."

She sat and watched him steadily.

"Nor I," quoth she, in answer. "Nor I--but here thou seest me, Dad- -an earl's lady, sitting before thee."

"'Twas thy wit," said he, still moved, and fairly maudlin. "'Twas thy wit and thy devil's will!"

"Ay," she answered, "'twas they--my wit and my devil's will!"

She rode to the hunt with him as she had been wont to do, but she wore the latest fashion in hunting habit and coat; and though 'twould not have been possible for her to sit her horse better than of old, or to take hedges and ditches with greater daring and spirit, yet in some way every man who rode with her felt that 'twas a great lady who led the field. The horse she rode was a fierce, beauteous devil of a beast which Sir Jeoffry himself would scarce have mounted even in his younger days; but she carried her loaded whip, and she sat upon the brute as if she scarcely felt its temper, and held it with a wrist of steel.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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