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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Wherein a noble life comes to an end

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"Well may you gaze at her," he said. "So does all the world, and honours and adores."

He proffered her at last his arm, and she, having strangely taken courage, let him lead her through the rooms and persuade her to some refreshment. Seeing her so wondrously emerge from her chrysalis, and under the protection of so distinguished a companion, all looked at her as she passed with curious amazement, and indeed Mistress Anne was all but overpowered by the reverence shown them as they made their way.

As they came again into the apartment wherein the host and hostess received their guests, Anne felt her escort pause, and looked up at him to see the meaning of his sudden hesitation. He was gazing intently, not at Clorinda, but at the Earl of Dunstanwolde.

"Madam," he said, "pardon me that I seem to detain you, but--but I look at my kinsman. Madam," with a sudden fear in his voice, "he is ailing--he sways as he stands. Let us go to him. Quickly! He falls!"

And, in sooth, at that very moment there arose a dismayed cry from the guests about them, and there was a surging movement; and as they pressed forward themselves through the throng, Anne saw Dunstanwolde no more above the people, for he had indeed fallen and lay outstretched and deathly on the floor.

'Twas but a few seconds before she and Osmonde were close enough to him to mark his fallen face and ghastly pallor, and a strange dew starting out upon his brow.

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But 'twas his wife who knelt beside his prostrate body, waving all else aside with a great majestic gesture of her arm.

"Back! back!" she cried. "Air! air! and water! My lord! My dear lord!"

But he did not answer, or even stir, though she bent close to him and thrust her hand within his breast. And then the frightened guests beheld a strange but beautiful and loving thing, such as might have moved any heart to tenderness and wonder. This great beauty, this worshipped creature, put her arms beneath and about the helpless, awful body--for so its pallor and stillness indeed made it--and lifted it in their powerful whiteness as if it had been the body of a child, and so bore it to a couch near and laid it down, kneeling beside it.

Anne and Osmonde were beside her. Osmonde pale himself, but gently calm and strong. He had despatched for a physician the instant he saw the fall.

"My lady," he said, bending over her, "permit me to approach. I have some knowledge of these seizures. Your pardon!"

He knelt also and took the moveless hand, feeling the pulse; he, too, thrust his hand within the breast and held it there, looking at the sunken face.

"My dear lord," her ladyship was saying, as if to the prostrate man's ear alone, knowing that her tender voice must reach him if aught would--as indeed was truth. "Edward! My dear--dear lord!"

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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