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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Dealing with that which was done in the Panelled Parlour

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Her breast leaped up and down in her panting as she pressed her hand upon it; her breath came in sharp puffs through her nostrils.

"And once," she breathed--"and once--I LOVED thee--cur!"

He was mad with exultant villainy and passion, and he broke into a laugh.

"Loved me!" he said. "Thou! As thou lovedst me--and as thou lovest him--so will Moll Easy love any man--for a crown."

Her whip lay upon the table, she caught and whirled it in the air. She was blind with the surging of her blood, and saw not how she caught or held it, or what she did--only that she struck!

And 'twas his temple that the loaded weapon met, and 'twas wielded by a wrist whose sinews were of steel, and even as it struck he gasped, casting up his hands, and thereupon fell, and lay stretched at her feet!

But the awful tempest which swept over her had her so under its dominion that she was like a branch whirled on the wings of the storm. She scarce noted that he fell, or noting it, gave it not one thought as she dashed from one end of the apartment to the other with the fierce striding of a mad woman.

"Devil!" she cried, "and cur! and for thee I blasted all the years to come! To a beast so base I gave all that an empress' self could give--all life--all love--for ever. And he comes back--shameless-- to barter like a cheating huckster, because his trade goes ill, and I--I could stock his counters once again."

She strode towards him, raving.

"Think you I do not know, woman's bully and poltroon, that you plot to sell yourself, because your day has come, and no woman will bid for such an outcast, saving one that you may threaten. Rise, vermin--rise, lest I kill thee!"

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In her blind madness she lashed him once across the face again. And he stirred not--and something in the resistless feeling of the flesh beneath the whip, and in the quiet of his lying, caused her to pause and stand panting and staring at the thing which lay before her. For it was a Thing, and as she stood staring, with wild heaving breast, this she saw. 'Twas but a thing--a thing lying inert, its fair locks outspread, its eyes rolled upward till the blue was almost lost; a purple indentation on the right temple from which there oozed a tiny thread of blood.

* * *

"There will be a way," she had said, and yet in her most mad despair, of this way she had never thought; though strange it had been, considering her lawless past, that she had not--never of this way--never! Notwithstanding which, in one frenzied moment in which she had known naught but her delirium, her loaded whip had found it for her--the way!

And yet it being so found, and she stood staring, seeing what she had done--seeing what had befallen--'twas as if the blow had been struck not at her own temple but at her heart--a great and heavy shock, which left her bloodless, and choked, and gasping.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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