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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

A piteous story is told, and the old cellars walled in

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"But he came not back that night--thank God!" my lady said--"he came not back."

The girl rose from her knees, trembling, her hands clasped on her breast.

"Why should your ladyship thank God?" she says, pure drops falling from her eyes. "I am so humble, and had naught else but that great happiness, and it was taken away--and you thank God."

Then drops fell from my lady's eyes also, and she came forward and caught the child's hand, and held it close and warm and strong, and yet with her full lip quivering.

"'Twas not that your joy was taken away that I thanked God," said she. "I am not cruel--God Himself knows that, and when He smites me 'twill not be for cruelty. I knew not what I said, and yet--tell me what did you then? Tell me?"

"I went to a poor house to lodge, having some little money he had given me," the simple young thing answered. "'Twas an honest house, though mean and comfortless. And the next day I went back to his lodgings to question, but he had not come, and I would not go in, though the woman tried to make me enter, saying, Sir John would surely return soon, as he had the day before rid with my Lady Dunstanwolde and been to her house; and 'twas plain he had meant to come to his lodgings, for her ladyship had sent her lacquey thrice with a message."

The hand with which Mistress Anne sate covering her eyes began to shake. My lady's own hand would have shaken had she not been so strong a creature.

"And he has not yet returned, then?" she asked. "You have not seen him?"

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The girl shook her fair locks, weeping with piteous little sobs.

"He has not," she cried, "and I know not what to do--and the great town seems full of evil men and wicked women. I know not which way to turn, for all plot wrong against me, and would drag me down to shamefulness--and back to my poor mother I cannot go."

"Wherefore not, poor child?" my lady asked her.

"I have not been made an honest, wedded woman, and none would believe my story, and--and he might come back."

"And if he came back?" said her ladyship.

At this question the girl slipped from her grasp and down upon her knees again, catching at her rich petticoat and holding it, her eyes searching the great lady's in imploring piteousness, her own streaming.

"I love him," she wept--"I love him so--I cannot leave the place where he might be. He was so beautiful and grand a gentleman, and, sure, he loved me better than all else--and I cannot thrust away from me that last night when he held me to his breast near our cottage door, and the nightingale sang in the roses, and he spake such words to me. I lie and sob all night on my hard pillow--I so long to see him and to hear his voice--and hearing he had been with you that last morning, I dared to come, praying that you might have heard him let drop some word that would tell me where he may be, for I cannot go away thinking he may come back longing for me--and I lose him and never see his face again. Oh! my lady, my lady, this place is so full of wickedness and fierce people--and dark kennels where crimes are done. I am affrighted for him, thinking he may have been struck some blow, and murdered, and hid away; and none will look for him but one who loves him--who loves him. Could it be so?--could it be? You know the town's ways so well. I pray you, tell me--in God's name I pray you!"

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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