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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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"In a graveyard," she said, "I have sat upon the stone ledge of a tomb, and beneath there was--worse than this, could I but have seen it. This is no more."

When the Sir Humphreys and Lord Charleses, Lady Bettys and Mistress Lovelys were announced in flocks, fluttering and chattering, she rose from her old place to meet them, and was brilliant graciousness itself. She hearkened to their gossipings, and though 'twas not her way to join in them, she was this day witty in such way as robbed them of the dulness in which sometimes gossip ends. It was a varied company which gathered about her; but to each she gave his or her moment, and in that moment said that which they would afterwards remember. With those of the Court she talked royalty, the humours of her Majesty, the severities of her Grace of Marlborough; with statesmen she spoke with such intellect and discretion that they went away pondering on the good fortune which had befallen one man when it seemed that it was of such proportions as might have satisfied a dozen, for it seemed not fair to them that his Grace of Osmonde, having already rank, wealth, and fame, should have added to them a gift of such magnificence as this beauteous woman would bring; with beaux and wits she made dazzling jests; and to the beauties who desired their flatteries she gave praise so adroit that they were stimulated to plume their feathers afresh and cease to fear the rivalry of her loveliness.

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And yet while she so bore herself, never once did she cease to feel the presence of that which, lying near, seemed to her racked soul as one who lay and listened with staring eyes which mocked; for there was a thought which would not leave her, which was, that it could hear, that it could see through the glazing on its blue orbs, and that knowing itself bound by the moveless irons of death and dumbness it impotently raged and cursed that it could not burst them and shriek out its vengeance, rolling forth among her worshippers at their feet and hers.

"But he CAN not," she said, within her clenched teeth, again and again--"THAT he cannot."

Once as she said this to herself she caught Anne's eyes fixed helplessly upon her, it seeming to be as the poor woman had said, that her weakness caused her to desire to abide near her sister's strength and draw support from it; for she had remained at my lady's side closely since she had descended to the room, and now seemed to implore some protection for which she was too timid to openly make request.

"You are too weak to stay, Anne," her ladyship said. "'Twould be better that you should retire."

"I am weak," the poor thing answered, in low tones--"but not too weak to stay. I am always weak. Would that I were of your strength and courage. Let me sit down--sister-- here." She touched the divan's cushions with a shaking hand, gazing upward wearily-- perchance remembering that this place seemed ever a sort of throne none other than the hostess queen herself presumed to encroach upon.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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