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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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She gently rose from her corner, wondering if she could retire from her retreat without attracting his observation; but as she did so, chance caused him to withdraw himself a little farther within the shadow of the screen, and doing so, he beheld her.

Then his face changed; the mask of noble calmness, for a moment fallen, resumed itself, and he bowed before her with the reverence of a courtly gentleman, undisturbed by the unexpectedness of his recognition of her neighbourhood.

"Madam," he said, "pardon my unconsciousness that you were near me. You would pass?" And he made way for her.

She curtseyed, asking his pardon with her dull, soft eyes.

"Sir," she answered, "I but retired here for a moment's rest from the throng and gaiety, to which I am unaccustomed. But chiefly I sat in retirement that I might watch--my sister."

"Your sister, madam?" he said, as if the questioning echo were almost involuntary, and he bowed again in some apology.

"My Lady Dunstanwolde," she replied. "I take such pleasure in her loveliness and in all that pertains to her, it is a happiness to me to but look on."

Whatsoever the thing was in her loving mood which touched him and found echo in his own, he was so far moved that he answered to her with something less of ceremoniousness; remembering also, in truth, that she was a lady he had heard of, and recalling her relationship and name.

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"It is then Mistress Anne Wildairs I am honoured by having speech with," he said. "My Lady Dunstanwolde has spoken of you in my presence. I am my lord's kinsman the Duke of Osmonde;" again bowing, and Anne curtseyed low once more.

Despite his greatness, she felt a kindness and grace in him which was not condescension, and which almost dispelled the timidity which, being part of her nature, so unduly beset her at all times when she addressed or was addressed by a stranger. John Oxon, bowing his bright curls, and seeming ever to mock with his smiles, had caused her to be overcome with shy awkwardness and blushes; but this man, who seemed as far above him in person and rank and mind as a god is above a graceful painted puppet, even appeared to give of his own noble strength to her poor weakness. He bore himself towards her with a courtly respect such as no human being had ever shown to her before. He besought her again to be seated in her nook, and stood before her conversing with such delicate sympathy with her mood as seemed to raise her to the pedestal on which stood less humble women. All those who passed before them he knew and could speak easily of. The high deeds of those who were statesmen, or men honoured at Court or in the field, he was familiar with; and of those who were beauties or notable gentlewomen he had always something courtly to say.

Her own worship of her sister she knew full well he understood, though he spoke of her but little.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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