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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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"What! what!" she panted. "Nay! nay! nay!" and her eyes grew wide and wild.

She sank upon her knees, so shuddering that her teeth began to chatter. She pushed him and shook him by the shoulder.

"Stir!" she cried in a loud whisper. "Move thee! Why dost thou lie so? Stir!"

Yet he stirred not, but lay inert, only with his lips drawn back, showing his white teeth a little, as if her horrid agony made him begin to laugh. Shuddering, she drew slowly nearer, her eyes more awful than his own. Her hand crept shaking to his wrist and clutched it. There was naught astir--naught! It stole to his breast, and baring it, pressed close. That was still and moveless as his pulse; for life was ended, and a hundred mouldering years would not bring more of death.

"I have KILLED thee," she breathed. "I have KILLED thee--though I meant it not--even hell itself doth know. Thou art a dead man--and this is the worst of all!"

His hand fell heavily from hers, and she still knelt staring, such a look coming into her face as throughout her life had never been there before--for 'twas the look of a creature who, being tortured, the worst at last being reached, begins to smile at Fate.

"I have killed him!" she said, in a low, awful voice; "and he lies here--and outside people walk, and know not. But HE knows--and I-- and as he lies methinks he smiles--knowing what he has done!"

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She crouched even lower still, the closer to behold him, and indeed it seemed his still face sneered as if defying her now to rid herself of him! 'Twas as though he lay there mockingly content, saying, "Now that I lie here, 'tis for YOU--for YOU to move me."

She rose and stood up rigid, and all the muscles of her limbs were drawn as though she were a creature stretched upon a rack; for the horror of this which had befallen her seemed to fill the place about her, and leave her no air to breathe nor light to see.

"Now!" she cried, "if I would give way--and go mad, as I could but do, for there is naught else left--if I would but give way, that which is I--and has lived but a poor score of years--would be done with for all time. All whirls before me. 'Twas I who struck the blow--and I am a woman--and I could go raving--and cry out and call them in, and point to him, and tell them how 'twas done--all!--all!"

She choked, and clutched her bosom, holding its heaving down so fiercely that her nails bruised it through her habit's cloth; for she felt that she had begun to rave already, and that the waves of such a tempest were arising as, if not quelled at their first swell, would sweep her from her feet and engulf her for ever.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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