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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein his Grace of Osmonde's courier arrives from France

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And thus saying, she passed into her apartment. As there are blows and pain which end in insensibility or delirium, so there are catastrophes and perils which are so great as to produce something near akin to these. As she had stood before her mirror in her chamber watching her reflection, while her woman attired her in her crimson flowered satin and builded up her stately head-dress, this other woman had felt that the hour when she could have shrieked and raved and betrayed herself had passed by, and left a deadness like a calm behind, as though horror had stunned all pain and yet left her senses clear. She forgot not the thing which lay staring upward blankly at the under part of the couch which hid it--the look of its fixed eyes, its outspread locks, and the purple indentation on the temple she saw as clearly as she had seen them in that first mad moment when she had stood staring downward at the thing itself; but the coursing of her blood was stilled, the gallop of her pulses, and that wild hysteric leaping of her heart into her throat, choking her and forcing her to gasp and pant in that way which in women must ever end in shrieks and cries and sobbing beatings of the air. But for the feminine softness to which her nature had given way for the first time, since the power of love had mastered her, there was no thing of earth could have happened to her which would have brought this rolling ball to her throat, this tremor to her body--since the hour of her birth she had never been attacked by such a female folly, as she would indeed have regarded it once; but now 'twas different--for a while she had been a woman--a woman who had flung herself upon the bosom of him who was her soul's lord, and resting there, her old rigid strength had been relaxed.

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But 'twas not this woman who had known tender yielding who returned to take her place in the Panelled Parlour, knowing of the companion who waited near her unseen--for it was as her companion she thought of him, as she had thought of him when he followed her in the Mall, forced himself into her box at the play, or stood by her shoulder at assemblies; he had placed himself by her side again, and would stay there until she could rid herself of him.

"After to-night he will be gone, if I act well my part," she said, "and then may I live a freed woman."

'Twas always upon the divan she took her place when she received her visitors, who were accustomed to finding her enthroned there. This afternoon when she came into the room she paused for a space, and stood beside it, the parlour being yet empty. She felt her face grow a little cold, as if it paled, and her under-lip drew itself tight across her teeth.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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