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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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She put her strong hand forth and thrust him--he was already stiffening--backward from the shoulder, there being no shrinking on her face as she felt his flesh yield beneath her touch, for she had passed the barrier lying between that which is mere life and that which is pitiless hell, and could feel naught that was human. A poor wild beast at bay, pressed on all sides by dogs, by huntsmen, by resistless weapons, by Nature's pitiless self -glaring with bloodshot eyes, panting, with fangs bared in the savagery of its unfriended agony--might feel thus. 'Tis but a hunted beast; but 'tis alone, and faces so the terror and anguish of death.

The thing gazing with its set sneer, and moving but stiffly, she put forth another hand upon its side and thrust it farther backward until it lay stretched beneath the great broad seat, its glazed and open eyes seeming to stare upward blankly at the low roof of its strange prison; she thrust it farther backward still, and letting the draperies fall, steadily and with care so rearranged them that all was safe and hid from sight.

"Until to-night," she said, "You will lie well there. And then--and then--"

She picked up the long silken lock of hair which lay like a serpent at her feet, and threw it into the fire, watching it burn, as all hair burns, with slow hissing, and she watched it till 'twas gone.

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Then she stood with her hands pressed upon her eyeballs and her brow, her thoughts moving in great leaps. Although it reeled, the brain which had worked for her ever, worked clear and strong, setting before her what was impending, arguing her case, showing her where dangers would arise, how she must provide against them, what she must defend and set at defiance. The power of will with which she had been endowed at birth, and which had but grown stronger by its exercise, was indeed to be compared to some great engine whose lever 'tis not nature should be placed in human hands; but on that lever her hand rested now, and to herself she vowed she would control it, since only thus might she be saved. The torture she had undergone for months, the warring of the evil past with the noble present, of that which was sweet and passionately loving woman with that which was all but devil, had strung her to a pitch so intense and high that on the falling of this unnatural and unforeseen blow she was left scarce a human thing. Looking back, she saw herself a creature doomed from birth; and here in one moment seemed to stand a force ranged in mad battle with the fate which had doomed her.

"'Twas ordained that the blow should fall so," she said, "and those who did it laugh--laugh at me."

'Twas but a moment, and her sharp breathing became even and regular as though at her command; her face composed itself, and she turned to the bell and rang it as with imperious haste.

When the lacquey entered, she was standing holding papers in her hand as if she had but just been consulting them.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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