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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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"Not quite a woman," cried two wits at once. "A goddess rather--an Olympian goddess."

The languisher could not endure comparisons which so seemed to disparage her ethereal charms. She lifted the weapon with a great effort, which showed the slimness of her delicate fair wrist and the sweet tracery of blue veins upon it.

"Nay," she said lispingly, "it needs the muscle of a great man to lift it. I could not hold it--much less beat with it a horse." And to show how coarse a strength was needed and how far her femininity lacked such vigour, she dropped it upon the floor--and it rolled beneath the edge of the divan.

"Now," the thought shot through my lady's brain, as a bolt shoots from the sky--"now--he LAUGHS!"

She had no time to stir--there were upon their knees three beaux at once, and each would sure have thrust his arm below the seat and rummaged, had not God saved her! Yes, 'twas of God she thought in that terrible mad second--God!--and only a mind that is not human could have told why.

For Anne--poor Mistress Anne--white-faced and shaking, was before them all, and with a strange adroitness stooped,--and thrust her hand below, and drawing the thing forth, held it up to view.

"'Tis here," she said, "and in sooth, sister, I wonder not at its falling--its weight is so great."

Clorinda took it from her hand.

"I shall break no more beasts like Devil," she said, "and for quieter ones it weighs too much; I shall lay it by."

She crossed the room and laid it upon a shelf.

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"It was ever heavy--but for Devil. 'Tis done with," she said; and there came back to her face--which for a second had lost hue--a flood of crimson so glowing, and a smile so strange, that those who looked and heard, said to themselves that 'twas the thought of Osmonde who had so changed her, which made her blush. But a few moments later they beheld the same glow mount again. A lacquey entered, bearing a salver on which lay two letters. One was a large one, sealed with a ducal coronet, and this she saw first, and took in her hand even before the man had time to speak.

"His Grace's courier has arrived from France," he said; "the package was ordered to be delivered at once."

"It must be that his Grace returns earlier than we had hoped," she said, and then the other missive caught her eye.

"'Tis your ladyship's own," the lacquey explained somewhat anxiously. "'Twas brought back, Sir John not having yet come home, and Jenfry having waited three hours."

"'Twas long enough," quoth her ladyship. "'Twill do to-morrow."

She did not lay Osmonde's letter aside, but kept it in her hand, and seeing that she waited for their retirement to read it, her guests began to make their farewells. One by one or in groups of twos and threes they left her, the men bowing low, and going away fretted by the memory of the picture she made--a tall and regal figure in her flowered crimson, her stateliness seeming relaxed and softened by the mere holding of the sealed missive in her hand. But the women were vaguely envious, not of Osmonde, but of her before whom there lay outspread as far as life's horizon reached, a future of such perfect love and joy; for Gerald Mertoun had been marked by feminine eyes since his earliest youth, and had seemed to embody all that woman's dreams or woman's ambitions or her love could desire.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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