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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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"She is, as ever," she murmured, "not so much a woman as a proud lovely goddess who has deigned to descend to earth. But my lord does not look like himself. He seems shrunk in the face and old, and his eyes have rings about them. I like not that. He is so kind a gentleman and so happy that his body should not fail him. I have marked that he has looked colourless for days, and Clorinda questioned him kindly on it, but he said he suffered naught."

'Twas but a little later than she had thought this, that she remarked a gentleman step aside and stand quite near without observing her. Feeling that she had no testimony to her fancifulness, she found herself thinking in a vague fashion that he, too, had come there because he chose to be unobserved. 'Twould not have been so easy for him to retire as it had been for her smallness and insignificance to do so; and, indeed, she did not fancy that he meant to conceal himself, but merely to stand for a quiet moment a little apart from the crowd.

And as she looked up at him, wondering why this should be, she saw he was the noblest and most stately gentleman she had ever beheld.

She had never seen him before; he must either be a stranger or a rare visitor. As Clorinda was beyond a woman's height, he was beyond a man's.

He carried himself as kingly as she did nobly; he had a countenance of strong, manly beauty, and a deep tawny eye, thick-fringed and full of fire; orders glittered upon his breast, and he wore a fair periwig, which became him wondrously, and seemed to make his eye more deep and burning by its contrast.

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Beside his strength and majesty of bearing the stripling beauty of John Oxon would have seemed slight and paltry, a thing for flippant women to trifle with.

Mistress Anne looked at him with an admiration somewhat like reverence, and as she did so a sudden thought rose to her mind, and even as it rose, she marked what his gaze rested on, and how it dwelt upon it, and knew that he had stepped apart to stand and gaze as she did--only with a man's hid fervour--at her sister's self.

'Twas as if suddenly a strange secret had been told her. She read it in his face, because he thought himself unobserved, and for a space had cast his mask aside. He stood and gazed as a man who, starving at soul, fed himself through his eyes, having no hope of other sustenance, or as a man weary with long carrying of a burden, for a space laid it down for rest and to gather power to go on. She heard him draw a deep sigh almost stifled in its birth, and there was that in his face which she felt it was unseemly that a stranger like herself should behold, himself unknowing of her near presence.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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