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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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"Follow Sir John Oxon," she commanded. "Tell him I have forgot an important thing and beg him to return at once. Lose no time. He has but just left me and can scarce be out of sight."

The fellow saw there was no time to lose. They all feared that imperial eye of hers and fled to obey its glances. Bowing, he turned, and hastened to do her bidding, fearing to admit that he had not seen the guest leave, because to do so would be to confess that he had been absent from his post, which was indeed the truth.

She knew he would come back shortly, and thus he did, entering somewhat breathed by his haste.

"My lady," he said, "I went quickly to the street, and indeed to the corner of it, but Sir John was not within sight."

"Fool, you were not swift enough!" she said angrily. "Wait, you must go to his lodgings with a note. The matter is of importance."

She went to a table--'twas close to the divan, so close that if she had thrust forth her foot she could have touched what lay beneath it--and wrote hastily a few lines. They were to request That which was stiffening within three feet of her to return to her as quickly as possible that she might make inquiries of an important nature which she had forgotten at his departure.

"Take this to Sir John's lodgings," she said. "Let there be no loitering by the way. Deliver into his own hands, and bring back at once his answer."

Then she was left alone again, and being so left, paced the room slowly, her gaze upon the floor.

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"That was well done," she said. "When he returns and has not found him, I will be angered, and send him again to wait."

She stayed her pacing, and passed her hand across her face.

"'Tis like a nightmare," she said--"as if one dreamed, and choked, and panted, and would scream aloud, but could not. I cannot! I must not! Would that I might shriek, and dash myself upon the floor, and beat my head upon it until I lay--as HE does."

She stood a moment, breathing fast, her eyes widening, that part of her which was weak woman for the moment putting her in parlous danger, realising the which she pressed her sides with hands that were of steel.

"Wait! wait!" she said to herself. "This is going mad. This is loosening hold, and being beaten by that One who hates me and laughs to see what I have come to."

Naught but that unnatural engine of will could have held her within bounds and restrained the mounting female weakness that beset her; but this engine being stronger than all else, it beat her womanish and swooning terrors down.

"Through this one day I must live," she said, "and plan, and guard each moment that doth pass. My face must tell no tale, my voice must hint none. He will be still--God knows he will be still enough."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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