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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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So it fell that Mistress Anne could go to London without pangs of conscience at leaving her sister in the country and alone. The stateliness of the town mansion, my Lady Dunstanwolde's retinue of lacqueys and serving-women, her little black page, who waited on her and took her pug dogs to walk, her wardrobe, and jewels, and equipages, were each and all marvels to her, but seemed to her mind so far befitting that she remembered, wondering, the days when she had darned the tattered tapestry in her chamber, and changed the ribbands and fashions of her gowns. Being now attired fittingly, though soberly as became her, she was not in these days--at least, as far as outward seeming went--an awkward blot upon the scene when she appeared among her sister's company; but at heart she was as timid and shrinking as ever, and never mingled with the guests in the great rooms when she could avoid so doing. Once or twice she went forth with Clorinda in her coach and six, and saw the glittering world, while she drew back into her corner of the equipage and gazed with all a country-bred woman's timorous admiration.

"'Twas grand and like a beautiful show!" she said, when she came home the first time. "But do not take me often, sister; I am too plain and shy, and feel that I am naught in it."

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But though she kept as much apart from the great World of Fashion as she could, she contrived to know of all her sister's triumphs; to see her when she went forth in her bravery, though 'twere but to drive in the Mall; to be in her closet with her on great nights when her tirewomen were decking her in brocades and jewels, that she might show her highest beauty at some assembly or ball of State. And at all these times, as also at all others, she knew that she but shared her own love and dazzled admiration with my Lord Dunstanwolde, whose tenderness, being so fed by his lady's unfailing graciousness of bearing and kindly looks and words, grew with every hour that passed.

They held one night a splendid assembly at which a member of the Royal House was present. That night Clorinda bade her sister appear.

"Sometimes--I do not command it always--but sometimes you must show yourself to our guests. My lord will not be pleased else. He says it is not fitting that his wife's sister should remain unseen as if we hid her away through ungraciousness. Your woman will prepare for you all things needful. I myself will see that your dress becomes you. I have commanded it already, and given much thought to its shape and colour. I would have you very comely, Anne." And she kissed her lightly on her cheek--almost as gently as she sometimes kissed her lord's grey hair. In truth, though she was still a proud lady and stately in her ways, there had come upon her some strange subtle change Anne could not understand.

On the day on which the assembly was held, Mistress Anne's woman brought to her a beautiful robe. 'Twas flowered satin of the sheen and softness of a dove's breast, and the lace adorning it was like a spider's web for gossamer fineness. The robe was sweetly fashioned, fitting her shape wondrously; and when she was attired in it at night a little colour came into her cheeks to see herself so far beyond all comeliness she had ever known before. When she found herself in the midst of the dazzling scene in the rooms of entertainment, she was glad when at last she could feel herself lost among the crowd of guests. Her only pleasure in such scenes was to withdraw to some hidden corner and look on as at a pageant or a play. To-night she placed herself in the shadow of a screen, from which retreat she could see Clorinda and Dunstanwolde as they received their guests. Thus she found enjoyment enough; for, in truth, her love and almost abject passion of adoration for her sister had grown as his lordship's had, with every hour. For a season there had rested upon her a black shadow beneath which she wept and trembled, bewildered and lost; though even at its darkest the object of her humble love had been a star whose brightness was not dimmed, because it could not be so whatsoever passed before it. This cloud, however, being it seemed dispelled, the star had shone but more brilliant in its high place, and she the more passionately worshipped it. To sit apart and see her idol's radiance, to mark her as she reigned and seemed the more royal when she bent the knee to royalty itself, to see the shimmer of her jewels crowning her midnight hair and crashing the warm whiteness of her noble neck, to observe the admiration in all eyes as they dwelt upon her--this was, indeed, enough of happiness.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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