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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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"That--that!" she gasped--"nay--that I swear I will not do! There was always One who hated me--and doomed and hunted me from the hour I lay 'neath my dead mother's corpse, a new-born thing. I know not whom it was--or why--or how--but 'twas so! I was made evil, and cast helpless amid evil fates, and having done the things that were ordained, and there was no escape from, I was shown noble manhood and high honour, and taught to worship, as I worship now. An angel might so love and be made higher. And at the gate of heaven a devil grins at me and plucks me back, and taunts and mires me, and I fall- -on THIS!"

She stretched forth her arms in a great gesture, wherein it seemed that surely she defied earth and heaven.

"No hope--no mercy--naught but doom and hell," she cried, "unless the thing that is tortured be the stronger. Now--unless Fate bray me small--the stronger I will be!"

She looked down at the thing before her. How its stone face sneered, and even in its sneering seemed to disregard her. She knelt by it again, her blood surging through her body, which had been cold, speaking as if she would force her voice to pierce its deadened ear.

"Ay, mock!" she said, setting her teeth, "thinking that I am conquered--yet am I not! 'Twas an honest blow struck by a creature goaded past all thought! Ay, mock--and yet, but for one man's sake, would I call in those outside and stand before them, crying: 'Here is a villain whom I struck in madness--and he lies dead! I ask not mercy, but only justice.'"

She crouched still nearer, her breath and words coming hard and quick. 'Twas indeed as if she spoke to a living man who heard--as if she answered what he had said.

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"There would be men in England who would give it me," she raved, whispering. "That would there, I swear! But there would be dullards and dastards who would not. He would give it--he! Ay, mock as thou wilt! But between his high honour and love and me thy carrion SHALL not come!"

By her great divan the dead man had fallen, and so near to it he lay that one arm was hidden by the draperies; and at this moment this she saw--before having seemed to see nothing but the death in his face. A thought came to her like a flame lit on a sudden, and springing high the instant the match struck the fuel it leaped from. It was a thought so daring and so strange that even she gasped once, being appalled, and her hands, stealing to her brow, clutched at the hair that grew there, feeling it seem to rise and stand erect.

"Is it madness to so dare?" she said hoarsely, and for an instant, shuddering, hid her eyes, but then uncovered and showed them burning. "Nay! not as I will dare it," she said, "for it will make me steel. You fell well," she said to the stone-faced thing, "and as you lie there, seem to tell me what to do, in your own despite. You would not have so helped me had you known. Now 'tis 'twixt Fate and I--a human thing--who is but a hunted woman."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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