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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

Which treats of the obsequies of my Lord of Dunstanwolde, of his lady's widowhood, and of her return to town

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All that remained of my Lord Dunstanwolde was borne back to his ancestral home, and there laid to rest in the ancient tomb in which his fathers slept. Many came from town to pay him respect, and the Duke of Osmonde was, as was but fitting, among them. The countess kept her own apartments, and none but her sister, Mistress Anne, beheld her.

The night before the final ceremonies she spent sitting by her lord's coffin, and to Anne it seemed that her mood was a stranger one, than ever woman had before been ruled by. She did not weep or moan, and only once kneeled down. In her sweeping black robes she seemed more a majestic creature than she had ever been, and her beauty more that of a statue than of a mortal woman. She sent away all other watchers, keeping only her sister with her, and Anne observed in her a strange protecting gentleness when she spoke of the dead man.

"I do not know whether dead men can feel and hear," she said. "Sometimes there has come into my mind--and made me shudder--the thought that, though they lie so still, mayhap they know what we do- -and how they are spoken of as nothings whom live men and women but wait a moment to thrust away, that their own living may go on again in its accustomed way, or perchance more merrily. If my lord knows aught, he will be grateful that I watch by him to-night in this solemn room. He was ever grateful, and moved by any tenderness of mine."

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'Twas as she said, the room was solemn, and this almost to awfulness. It was a huge cold chamber at best, and draped with black, and hung with hatchments; a silent gloom filled it which made it like a tomb. Tall wax-candles burned in it dimly, but adding to its solemn shadows with their faint light; and in his rich coffin the dead man lay in his shroud, his hands like carvings of yellowed ivory clasped upon his breast.

Mistress Anne dared not have entered the place alone, and was so overcome at sight of the pinched nostrils and sunk eyes that she turned cold with fear. But Clorinda seemed to feel no dread or shrinking. She went and stood beside the great funeral-draped bed of state on which the coffin lay, and thus standing, looked down with a grave, protecting pity in her face. Then she stooped and kissed the dead man long upon the brow.

"I will sit by you to-night," she said. "That which lies here will be alone to-morrow. I will not leave you this last night. Had I been in your place you would not leave me."

She sat down beside him and laid her strong warm hand upon his cold waxen ones, closing it over them as if she would give them heat. Anne knelt and prayed--that all might be forgiven, that sins might be blotted out, that this kind poor soul might find love and peace in the kingdom of Heaven, and might not learn there what might make bitter the memory of his last year of rapture and love. She was so simple that she forgot that no knowledge of the past could embitter aught when a soul looked back from Paradise.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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