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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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"To-morrow morning I go forth on Devil," she said; "and I shall be abroad if any visitors come."

What passed in her chamber that night no human being knew. Anne, who left her own apartment and crept into a chamber near hers to lie and watch, knew that she paced to and fro, but heard no other sound, and dared not intrude upon her.

When she came forth in the morning she wore the high look she had been wont to wear in the years gone by, when she ruled in her father's house, and rode to the hunt with a following of gay middle-aged and elderly rioters. Her eye was brilliant, and her colour matched it. She held her head with the old dauntless carriage, and there was that in her voice before which her women quaked, and her lacqueys hurried to do her bidding.

Devil himself felt this same thing in the touch of her hand upon his bridle when she mounted him at the door, and seemed to glance askance at her sideways.

She took no servant with her, and did not ride to the Park, but to the country. Once on the highroad, she rode fast and hard, only galloping straight before her as the way led, and having no intention. Where she was going she knew not; but why she rode on horseback she knew full well, it being because the wild, almost fierce motion was in keeping with the tempest in her soul. Thoughts rushed through her brain even as she rushed through the air on Devil's back, and each leaping after the other, seemed to tear more madly.

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"What shall I do?" she was saying to herself. "What thing is there for me to do? I am trapped like a hunted beast, and there is no way forth."

The blood went like a torrent through her veins, so that she seemed to hear it roaring in her ears; her heart thundered in her side, or 'twas so she thought of it as it bounded, while she recalled the past and looked upon the present.

"What else could have been?" she groaned. "Naught else--naught else. 'Twas a trick--a trick of Fate to ruin me for my punishment."

When she had gone forth it had been with no hope in her breast that her wit might devise a way to free herself from the thing which so beset her, for she had no weak fancies that there dwelt in this base soul any germ of honour which might lead it to relenting. As she had sat in her dark room at night, crouched upon the floor, and clenching her hands, as the mad thoughts went whirling through her brain, she had stared her Fate in the face and known all its awfulness. Before her lay the rapture of a great, sweet, honourable passion, a high and noble life lived in such bliss as rarely fell to lot of woman--on this one man she knew that she could lavish all the splendour of her nature, and make his life a heaven, as hers would be. Behind her lay the mad, uncared-for years, and one black memory blighting all to come, though 'twould have been but a black memory with no power to blight if the heaven of love had not so opened to her and with its light cast all else into shadow.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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