There was that in this corner of the splendid room which turned faces pale.
Osmonde slowly withdrew his hand, and turning to the kneeling woman—with a pallor like that of marble, but with a noble tenderness and pity in his eyes—
“My lady,” he said, “you are a brave woman. Your great courage must sustain you. The heart beats no more. A noble life is finished.”
* * * * *
The guests heard, and drew still farther back, a woman or two faintly whimpering; a hurrying lacquey parted the crowd, and so, way being made for him, the physician came quickly forward.
Anne put her shaking hands up to cover her gaze. Osmonde stood still, looking down. My Lady Dunstanwolde knelt by the couch and hid her beautiful face upon the dead man’s breast.
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.”
’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.