They sat for a moment, nibbling tartlets, the ship’s clock on the mantel marking time until someone could arrive at a subject as compelling as war. Finally, Lady Clementine said, ‘Never mind the fighting. The diseases are the real killers in wartime. It’s the battlefields, of course — breeding grounds for all manner of foreign plagues. You’ll see,’ she said dourly. ‘When the war comes, it’ll bring the poxes with it. ‘
‘If the war comes,’ said David.
‘But how will we know if it does?’ Emmeline said, blue eyes wide. ‘Will someone from the government come and tell us?’
Lord Ashbury swallowed a tartlet whole. ‘One of the chaps at my club said there’s to be an announcement any day.’
‘I feel just like a child on Christmas Eve,’ Fanny said, knotting her fingers. ‘Longing for the morning, anxious to wake up and open her presents.’
‘I shouldn’t get to excited,’ the Major said. “If Britain enters the war it’s likely to be over in a matter of months. Christmas at a stretch.’
‘Nonetheless,’ Lady Clementine said. ‘I’m writing to Lord Gifford tomorrow to advise him of my preferred funeral arrangements. I’d suggest the rest of you do likewise. Before it’s too late.’
Hannah’s eyes widened in mock offence. ‘You can’t mean you don’t trust us to make the best possible arrangements on your behalf, Lady Clementine? ‘ She smiled sweetly and took the old lady’s hand. ‘I for one would be honored to make sure you were given the sendoff you deserve.’
‘Indeed,’ Lady Clementine puffed. ‘If you don’t organize such things yourself, you never know into whose hand the task may fall.’ She looked pointedly at Fanny and sniffed so that her large nostrils flared. ‘Besides, I am very particular about such events. I have been planning mine for years.’
‘Have you?’ Lady Violet said, genuinely interested.
‘Oh, yes,’ Lady Clementine said. ‘It’s one of the most important public proceedings in a person’s life and mine will be nothing short of spectacular.’
‘I look forward to it,’ said Hannah drily.
‘’As well you might,’ Lady Clementine said. ‘One can’t afford to put on a bad show these days. People aren’t as forgiving as they once were and one doesn’t want a bad review.’
‘I didn’t think you approved of newspaper reviews,’ said Hannah, earning a warning glance from Pa.
‘Not as a rule, I don’t,’ Lady Clementine said. She pointed a jewel-laden finger at Hannah, then Emmeline, then Fanny. ‘Aside from her marriage, her obituary is the only time a lady’s name should appear in the newspaper.' She cast her eyes skyward. ‘And God help her if the funeral is savaged in the press, for she won’t get a second chance the following season.'
— from The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
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