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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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My Lord Dunstanwolde did not hunt this season. He had never been greatly fond of the sport, and at this time was a little ailing, but he would not let his lady give up her pleasure because he could not join it.

"Nay," he said, "'tis not for the queen of the hunting-field to stay at home to nurse an old man's aches. My pride would not let it be so. Your father will attend you. Go--and lead them all, my dear."

In the field appeared Sir John Oxon, who for a brief visit was at Eldershawe. He rode close to my lady, though she had naught to say to him after her first greetings of civility. He looked not as fresh and glowing with youth as had been his wont only a year ago. His reckless wildness of life and his town debaucheries had at last touched his bloom, perhaps. He had a haggard look at moments when his countenance was not lighted by excitement. 'Twas whispered that he was deep enough in debt to be greatly straitened, and that his marriage having come to naught his creditors were besetting him without mercy. This and more than this, no one knew so well as my Lady Dunstanwolde; but of a certainty she had little pity for his evil case, if one might judge by her face, when in the course of the running he took a hedge behind her, and pressing his horse, came up by her side and spoke.

"Clorinda," he began breathlessly, through set teeth.

She could have left him and not answered, but she chose to restrain the pace of her wild beast for a moment and look at him.

"'Your ladyship!'" she corrected his audacity. "Or--'my Lady Dunstanwolde.'"

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"There was a time"--he said.

"This morning," she said, "I found a letter in a casket in my closet. I do not know the mad villain who wrote it. I never knew him."

"You did not," he cried, with an oath, and then laughed scornfully.

"The letter lies in ashes on the hearth," she said. "'Twas burned unopened. Do not ride so close, Sir John, and do not play the madman and the beast with the wife of my Lord Dunstanwolde."

"'The wife!'" he answered. "'My lord!' 'Tis a new game this, and well played, by God!"

She did not so much as waver in her look, and her wide eyes smiled.

"Quite new," she answered him--"quite new. And could I not have played it well and fairly, I would not have touched the cards. Keep your horse off, Sir John. Mine is restive, and likes not another beast near him;" and she touched the creature with her whip, and he was gone like a thunderbolt.

The next day, being in her room, Anne saw her come from her dressing-table with a sealed letter in her hand. She went to the bell and rang it.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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