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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

My Lady Dunstanwolde sits late alone and writes

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Mistress Anne sat in a large chair, huddled into a small heap, and looking colourless and shrunken. As she heard bolts being shot and bars put up for the closing of the house, she knew that her own dismissal was at hand. Doors were shut below stairs, and when all was done the silence of night reigned as it does in all households when those who work have gone to rest. 'Twas a common thing enough, and yet this night there was one woman who felt the stillness so deep that it made her breathing seem a sound too loud.

"Go to bed, Anne," she said. "You have stayed up too long."

Anne arose from her chair and drew near to her.

"Sister," said she, as she had said before, "let me stay."

She was a poor weak creature, and so she looked with her pale insignificant face and dull eyes, a wisp of loose hair lying damp on her forehead. She seemed indeed too weak a thing to stand even for a moment in the way of what must be done this night, and 'twas almost irritating to be stopped by her.

"Nay," said my Lady Dunstanwolde, her beautiful brow knitting as she looked at her. "Go to your chamber, Anne, and to sleep. I must do my work, and finish to-night what I have begun."

"But--but--" Anne stammered, dominated again, and made afraid, as she ever was, by this strong nature, "in this work you must finish-- is there not something I could do to--aid you--even in some small and poor way. Is there--naught?"

"Naught," answered Clorinda, her form drawn to its great full height, her lustrous eyes darkening. "What should there be that you could understand?"

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"Not some small thing--not some poor thing?" Anne said, her fingers nervously twisting each other, so borne down was she by her awful timorousness, for awful it was indeed when she saw clouds gather on her sister's brow. "I have so loved you, sister--I have so loved you that my mind is quickened somehow at times, and I can understand more than would be thought--when I hope to serve you. Once you said--once you said--"

She knew not then nor ever afterwards how it came to pass that in that moment she found herself swept into her sister's white arms and strained against her breast, wherein she felt the wild heart bounding; nor could she, not being given to subtle reasoning, have comprehended the almost fierce kiss on her cheek nor the hot drops that wet it.

"I said that I believed that if you saw me commit murder," Clorinda cried, "you would love me still, and be my friend and comforter."

"I would, I would!" cried Anne.

"And I believe your word, poor, faithful soul--I do believe it," my lady said, and kissed her hard again, but the next instant set her free and laughed. "But you will not be put to the test," she said, "for I have done none. And in two days' time my Gerald will be here, and I shall be safe--saved and happy for evermore--for evermore. There, leave me! I would be alone and end my work."

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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