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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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Throughout the watches of the night her sister sat and held the dead man's hand; she saw her more than once smooth his grey hair almost as a mother might have touched a sick sleeping child's; again she kissed his forehead, speaking to him gently, as if to tell him he need not fear, for she was close at hand; just once she knelt, and Anne wondered if she prayed, and in what manner, knowing that prayer was not her habit.

'Twas just before dawn she knelt so, and when she rose and stood beside him, looking down again, she drew from the folds of her robe a little package.

"Anne," she said, as she untied the ribband that bound it, "when first I was his wife I found him one day at his desk looking at these things as they lay upon his hand. He thought at first it would offend me to find him so; but I told him that I was gentler than he thought--though not so gentle as the poor innocent girl who died in giving him his child. 'Twas her picture he was gazing at, and a little ring and two locks of hair--one a brown ringlet from her head, and one--such a tiny wisp of down--from the head of her infant. I told him to keep them always and look at them often, remembering how innocent she had been, and that she had died for him. There were tears on my hand when he kissed it in thanking me. He kept the little package in his desk, and I have brought it to him."

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The miniature was of a sweet-faced girl with large loving childish eyes, and cheeks that blushed like the early morning. Clorinda looked at her almost with tenderness.

"There is no marrying or giving in marriage, 'tis said," quoth she; "but were there, 'tis you who were his wife--not I. I was but a lighter thing, though I bore his name and he honoured me. When you and your child greet him he will forget me--and all will be well."

She held the miniature and the soft hair to his cold lips a moment, and Anne saw with wonder that her own mouth worked. She slipped the ring on his least finger, and hid the picture and the ringlets within the palms of his folded hands.

"He was a good man," she said; "he was the first good man that I had ever known." And she held out her hand to Anne and drew her from the room with her, and two crystal tears fell upon the bosom of her black robe and slipped away like jewels.

When the funeral obsequies were over, the next of kin who was heir came to take possession of the estate which had fallen to him, and the widow retired to her father's house for seclusion from the world. The town house had been left to her by her deceased lord, but she did not wish to return to it until the period of her mourning was over and she laid aside her weeds. The income the earl had been able to bestow upon her made her a rich woman, and when she chose to appear again in the world it would be with the power to mingle with it fittingly.

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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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