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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

In which Sir John Oxon finds again a trophy he had lost

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"'Tis my sister," she said, with a soft, sentimental smile. "Osmonde not being among the guests, she hath no pleasure in mingling with them."

She went below to the room her ladyship usually went to first on her return at night from any gathering, and there she found her sitting as though she had dropped there in the corner of a great divan, her hands hanging clasped before her on her knee, her head hanging forward on her fallen chest, her large eyes staring into space.

"Clorinda! Clorinda!" Anne cried, running to her and kneeling at her side. "Clorinda! God have mercy! What is't?"

Never before had her face worn such a look--'twas colourless, and so drawn and fallen in that 'twas indeed almost as if all her great beauty was gone; but the thing most awful to poor Anne was that all the new softness seemed as if it had been stamped out, and the fierce hardness had come back and was engraven in its place, mingled with a horrible despair.

"An hour ago," she said, "I swooned. That is why I look thus. 'Tis yet another sign that I am a woman--a woman!"

"You are ill--you swooned?" cried Anne. "I must send for your physician. Have you not ordered that he be sent for yourself? If Osmonde were here, how perturbed he would be!"

"Osmonde!" said my lady. "Gerald! Is there a Gerald, Anne?"

"Sister!" cried Anne, affrighted by her strange look--"oh, sister!"

"I have seen heaven," Clorinda said; "I have stood on the threshold and seen through the part-opened gate--and then have been dragged back to hell."

Anne clung to her, gazing upwards at her eyes, in sheer despair.

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"But back to hell I will not go," she went on saying. "Had I not seen Heaven, they might perhaps have dragged me; but now I will not go--I will not, that I swear! There is a thing which cannot be endured. Bear it no woman should. Even I, who was not born a woman, but a wolf's she-cub, I cannot. 'Twas not I, 'twas Fate," she said--"'twas not I, 'twas Fate--'twas the great wheel we are bound to, which goes round and round that we may be broken on it. 'Twas not I who bound myself there; and I will not be broken so."

She said the words through her clenched teeth, and with all the mad passion of her most lawless years; even at Anne she looked almost in the old ungentle fashion, as though half scorning all weaker than herself, and having small patience with them.

"There will be a way," she said--"there will be a way. I shall not swoon again."

She left her divan and stood upright, the colour having come back to her face; but the look Anne worshipped not having returned with it, 'twas as though Mistress Clorinda Wildairs had been born again.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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