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|A Lady of Quality||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
Wherein a deadly war begins
|Page 6 of 7||
She rose and met his Grace, who had approached her. Always to his greatness and his noble heart she turned with that new feeling of dependence which her whole life had never brought to her before. His deep eyes, falling on her tenderly as she rose, were filled with protecting concern. Involuntarily he hastened his steps.
"Will your Grace take me to my coach?" she said. "I am not well. May I--go?" as gently as a tender, appealing girl.
And moved by this, as by her pallor, more than his man's words could have told, he gave her his arm and drew her quickly and supportingly away.
Mistress Anne did not sleep well that night, having much to distract her mind and keep her awake, as was often in these days the case. When at length she closed her eyes her slumber was fitful and broken by dreams, and in the mid hour of the darkness she wakened with a start as if some sound had aroused her. Perhaps there had been some sound, though all was still when she opened her eyes; but in the chair by her bedside sat Clorinda in her night-rail, her hands wrung hard together on her knee, her black eyes staring under a brow knit into straight deep lines.
"Sister!" cried Anne, starting up in bed. "Sister!"
Clorinda slowly turned her head towards her, whereupon Anne saw that in her face there was a look as if of horror which struggled with a grief, a woe, too monstrous to be borne.
"Lie down, Anne," she said. "Be not afraid--'tis only I," bitterly- -"who need fear?"
Anne cowered among the pillows and hid her face in her thin hands. She knew so well that this was true.
"I never thought the time would come," her sister said, "when I should seek you for protection. A thing has come upon me--perhaps I shall go mad--to-night, alone in my room, I wanted to sit near a woman--'twas not like me, was it?"
Mistress Anne crept near the bed's edge, and stretching forth a hand, touched hers, which were as cold as marble.
"Stay with me, sister," she prayed. "Sister, do not go! What--what can I say?"
"Naught," was the steady answer. "There is naught to be said. You were always a woman--I was never one--till now."
She rose up from her chair and threw up her arms, pacing to and fro.
"I am a desperate creature," she cried. "Why was I born?"
She walked the room almost like a thing mad and caged.
"Why was I thrown into the world?" striking her breast. "Why was I made so--and not one to watch or care through those mad years? To be given a body like this--and tossed to the wolves."
She turned to Anne, her arms outstretched, and so stood white and strange and beauteous as a statue, with drops like great pearls running down her lovely cheeks, and she caught her breath sobbingly, like a child.
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|A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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