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Chapter 18 My Lady Dunstanwolde sits late alone and writes

  • That she must leave the Panelled Parlour at her usual hour, or attrac_ttention by doing that to which her household was unaccustomed, she wel_new, her manner of life being ever stately and ceremonious in its regularity.
  • When she dined at home she and Anne partook of their repast together in th_arge dining-room, the table loaded with silver dishes and massive glitterin_lass, their powdered, gold-laced lacqueys in attendance, as though a score o_uests had shared the meal with them.  Since her lord’s death there had bee_ights when her ladyship had sat late writing letters and reading document_ertaining to her estates, the management of which, though in a measur_ontrolled by stewards and attorneys, was not left to them, as the business o_ost great ladies is generally left to others.  All papers were examined b_er, all leases and agreements clearly understood before she signed them, an_f there were aught unsatisfactory, both stewards and lawyers were called t_er presence to explain.
  • “Never did I—or any other man—meet with such a head upon a woman’s shoulders,”
  • her attorney said.  And the head steward of Dunstanwolde and Helversly learne_o quake at the sight of her bold handwriting upon the outside of a letter.
  • “Such a lady!” he said—“such a lady!  Lie to her if you can; palter if yo_now how; try upon her the smallest honest shrewd trick, and see how it fare_ith you.  Were it not that she is generous as she is piercing of eye, no ma_ould serve her and make an honest living.”
  • She went to her chamber and was attired again sumptuously for dinner.  Befor_he descended she dismissed her woman for a space on some errand, and when sh_as alone, drawing near to her mirror, gazed steadfastly within it at he_ace.  When she had read Osmonde’s letter her cheeks had glowed; but when sh_ad come back to earth, and as she had sat under her woman’s hands at he_oilette, bit by bit the crimson had died out as she had thought of what wa_ehind her and of what lay before.  The thing was so stiffly rigid by thi_ime, and its eyes still stared so.  Never had she needed to put red upon he_heeks before, Nature having stained them with such richness of hue; but as n_ady of the day was unprovided with her crimson, there was a little pot amon_er toilette ornaments which contained all that any emergency might require.
  • She opened this small receptacle and took from it the red she for the firs_ime was in want of.
  • “I must not wear a pale face, God knows,” she said, and rubbed the colour o_er cheeks with boldness.
  • It would have seemed that she wore her finest crimson when she went forth ful_ressed from her apartment; little Nero grinned to see her, the lacquey_aying among themselves that his Grace’s courier had surely brought good news,
  • and that they might expect his master soon.  At the dinner-table ’twas Ann_ho was pale and ate but little, she having put no red upon her cheeks, an_aving no appetite for what was spread before her.  She looked strangely a_hough she were withered and shrunken, and her face seemed even wrinkled.  M_ady had small leaning towards food, but she sent no food away untouched,
  • forcing herself to eat, and letting not the talk flag—though it was indee_rue that ’twas she herself who talked, Mistress Anne speaking rarely; but a_t was always her way to be silent, and a listener rather than one wh_onversed, this was not greatly noticeable.
  • Her Ladyship of Dunstanwolde talked of her guests of the afternoon, and wa_harming and witty in her speech of them; she repeated the  _mots_  of th_its, and told some brilliant stories of certain modish ladies and gentleme_f fashion; she had things to say of statesmen and politics, and was sparklin_ndeed in speaking of the lovely languisher whose little wrist was to_elicate and slender to support the loaded whip.  While she talked, Mistres_nne’s soft, dull eyes were fixed upon her with a sort of wonder which ha_ome of the quality of bewilderment; but this was no new thing either, for t_he one woman the other was ever something to marvel at.
  • “It is because you are so quiet a mouse, Anne,” my lady said, with he_azzling smile, “that you seem never in the way; and yet I should miss you i_ knew you were not within the house.  When the duke takes me to Camylotte yo_ust be with me even then.  It is so great a house that in it I can find you _ower in which you can be happy even if you see us but little.  ’Tis _eavenly place I am told, and of great splendour and beauty.  The park an_lower-gardens are the envy of all England.”
  • “You—will be very happy, sister,” said Anne, “and—and like a queen.”
  • “Yes,” was her sister’s answer—“yes.”  And ’twas spoken with a deep in-draw_reath.
  • After the repast was ended she went back to the Panelled Parlour.
  • “You may sit with me till bedtime if you desire, Anne,” she said; “but ’twil_e but dull for you, as I go to sit at work.  I have some documents of impor_o examine and much writing to do.  I shall sit up late.”  And upon this sh_urned to the lacquey holding open the door for her passing through.  “I_efore half-past ten there comes a message from Sir John Oxon,” she gav_rder, “it must be brought to me at once; but later I must not be disturbed—i_ill keep until morning.”
  • Yet as she spoke there was before her as distinct a picture as ever of wha_ay waiting and gazing in the room to which she went.
  • Until twelve o’clock she sat at her table, a despatch box by her side, paper_utspread before her.  Within three feet of her was the divan, but she gave n_lance to it, sitting writing, reading, and comparing documents.  At twelv_’clock she rose and rang the bell.
  • “I shall be later than I thought,” she said.  “I need none of you who ar_elow stairs.  Go you all to bed.  Tell my woman that she also may lie down.
  • I will ring when I come to my chamber and have need of her.  There is yet n_essage from Sir John?”
  • “None, my lady,” the man answered.
  • He went away with a relieved countenance, as she made no comment.  He kne_hat his fellows as well as himself would be pleased enough to be release_rom duty for the night.  They were a pampered lot, and had no fancy for lat_ours when there were no great entertainments being held which pleased the_nd gave them chances to receive vails.
  • Mistress Anne sat in a large chair, huddled into a small heap, and lookin_olourless and shrunken.  As she heard bolts being shot and bars put up fo_he closing of the house, she knew that her own dismissal was at hand.  Door_ere shut below stairs, and when all was done the silence of night reigned a_t does in all households when those who work have gone to rest.  ’Twas _ommon thing enough, and yet this night there was one woman who felt th_tillness so deep that it made her breathing seem a sound too loud.
  • “Go to bed, Anne,” she said.  “You have stayed up too long.”
  • Anne arose from her chair and drew near to her.
  • “Sister,” said she, as she had said before, “let me stay.”
  • She was a poor weak creature, and so she looked with her pale insignifican_ace and dull eyes, a wisp of loose hair lying damp on her forehead.  Sh_eemed indeed too weak a thing to stand even for a moment in the way of wha_ust be done this night, and ’twas almost irritating to be stopped by her.
  • “Nay,” said my Lady Dunstanwolde, her beautiful brow knitting as she looked a_er.  “Go to your chamber, Anne, and to sleep.  I must do my work, and finis_o-night what I have begun.”
  • “But—but—” Anne stammered, dominated again, and made afraid, as she ever was,
  • by this strong nature, “in this work you must finish—is there not something _ould do to—aid you—even in some small and poor way.  Is there—naught?”
  • “Naught,” answered Clorinda, her form drawn to its great full height, he_ustrous eyes darkening.  “What should there be that you could understand?”
  • “Not some small thing—not some poor thing?” Anne said, her fingers nervousl_wisting each other, so borne down was she by her awful timorousness, fo_wful it was indeed when she saw clouds gather on her sister’s brow.  “I hav_o loved you, sister—I have so loved you that my mind is quickened somehow a_imes, and I can understand more than would be thought—when I hope to serv_ou.  Once you said—once you said—”
  • She knew not then nor ever afterwards how it came to pass that in that momen_he found herself swept into her sister’s white arms and strained against he_reast, wherein she felt the wild heart bounding; nor could she, not bein_iven to subtle reasoning, have comprehended the almost fierce kiss on he_heek nor the hot drops that wet it.
  • “I said that I believed that if you saw me commit murder,” Clorinda cried,
  • “you would love me still, and be my friend and comforter.”
  • “I would, I would!” cried Anne.
  • “And I believe your word, poor, faithful soul—I do believe it,” my lady said,
  • and kissed her hard again, but the next instant set her free and laughed.
  • “But you will not be put to the test,” she said, “for I have done none.  An_n two days’ time my Gerald will be here, and I shall be safe—saved and happ_or evermore—for evermore.  There, leave me!  I would be alone and end m_ork.”
  • And she went back to her table and sat beside it, taking her pen to write, an_nne knew that she dare say no more, and turning, went slowly from the room,
  • seeing for her last sight as she passed through the doorway, the erect an_plendid figure at its task, the light from the candelabras shining upon th_ubies round the snow-white neck and wreathed about the tower of raven hai_ike lines of crimson.