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A Lady of Quality by Francis H. Burnett

Part 5 out of 5

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herself queenly to the very last, as if she could have carried her
burden for another year, and blenched not a bit as other women do.
Bless mother and child, say I."

"And 'tis an heir," said another. "She promised us that we should
know almost as quick as she did, and commanded old Rowe to ring a
peal, and then strike one bell loud between if 'twere a boy, and two
if 'twere a girl child. 'Tis a boy, heard you, and 'twas like her
wit to invent such a way to tell us."

In four other villages the chimes rang just as loud and merrily, and
the women talked, and blessed her Grace and her young child, and
casks of ale were broached, and oxen roasted, and work stopped, and
dancers footed it upon the green.

"Surely the new-born thing comes here to happiness," 'twas said
everywhere, "for never yet was woman loved as is his mother."

In her stately bed her Grace the duchess lay, with the face of the
Mother Mary, and her man-child drinking from her breast. The duke
walked softly up and down, so full of joy that he could not sit
still. When he had entered first, it was his wife's self who had
sate upright in her bed, and herself laid his son within his arms.

"None other shall lay him there," she said, "I have given him to
you. He is a great child, but he has not taken from me my
strength."

He was indeed a great child, even at his first hour, of limbs and
countenance so noble that nurses and physicians regarded him amazed.
He was the offspring of a great love, of noble bodies and great
souls. Did such powers alone create human beings, the earth would
be peopled with a race of giants.

Amid the veiled spring sunshine and the flower-scented silence,
broken only by the twittering of birds nesting in the ivy, her Grace
lay soft asleep, her son resting on her arm, when Anne stole to look
at her and her child. Through the night she had knelt praying in
her chamber, and now she knelt again. She kissed the new-born
thing's curled rose-leaf hand and the lace frill of his mother's
night-rail. She dared not further disturb them.

"Sure God forgives," she breathed--"for Christ's sake. He would not
give this little tender thing a punishment to bear."

CHAPTER XXII--Mother Anne

There was no punishment. The tender little creature grew as a
blossom grows from bud to fairest bloom. His mother flowered as he,
and spent her days in noble cherishing of him and tender care. Such
motherhood and wifehood as were hers were as fair statues raised to
Nature's self.

"Once I thought that I was under ban," she said to her lord in one
of their sweetest hours; "but I have been given love and a life, and
so I know it cannot be. Do I fill all your being, Gerald?"

"All, all!" he cried, "my sweet, sweet woman."

"Leave I no longing unfulfilled, no duty undone, to you, dear love,
to the world, to human suffering I might aid? I pray Christ with
all passionate humbleness that I may not."

"He grants your prayer," he answered, his eyes moist with
worshipping tenderness.

"And this white soul given to me from the outer bounds we know not--
it has no stain; and the little human body it wakened to life in--
think you that Christ will help me to fold them in love high and
pure enough, and teach the human body to do honour to its soul?
'Tis not monkish scorn of itself that I would teach the body; it is
so beautiful and noble a thing, and so full of the power of joy.
Surely That which made it--in His own image--would not that it
should despise itself and its own wonders, but do them reverence,
and rejoice in them nobly, knowing all their seasons and their
changes, counting not youth folly, and manhood sinful, or age aught
but gentle ripeness passing onward? I pray for a great soul, and
great wit, and greater power to help this fair human thing to grow,
and love, and live."

These had been born and had rested hid within her when she lay a
babe struggling 'neath her dead mother's corpse. Through the
darkness of untaught years they had grown but slowly, being so
unfitly and unfairly nourished; but Life's sun but falling on her,
they seemed to strive to fair fruition with her days.

'Twas not mere love she gave her offspring--for she bore others as
years passed, until she was the mother of four sons and two girls,
children of strength and beauty as noted as her own; she gave them
of her constant thought, and an honour of their humanity such as
taught them reverence of themselves as of all other human things.
Their love for her was such a passion as their father bore her. She
was the noblest creature that they knew; her beauty, her great
unswerving love, her truth, were things bearing to their child eyes
the unchangingness of God's stars in heaven.

"Why is she not the Queen?" a younger one asked his father once,
having been to London and seen the Court. "The Queen is not so
beautiful and grand as she, and she could so well reign over the
people. She is always just and honourable, and fears nothing."

From her side Mistress Anne was rarely parted. In her fair retreat
at Camylott she had lived a life all undisturbed by outward things.
When the children were born strange joy came to her.

"Be his mother also," the duchess had said when she had drawn the
clothes aside to show her first-born sleeping in her arm. "You were
made to be the mother of things, Anne."

"Nay, or they had been given to me," Anne had answered.

"Mine I will share with you," her Grace had said, lifting her
Madonna face. "Kiss me, sister--kiss him, too, and bless him. Your
life has been so innocent it must be good that you should love and
guard him."

'Twas sweet to see the wit she showed in giving to poor Anne the
feeling that she shared her motherhood. She shared her tenderest
cares and duties with her. Together they bathed and clad the child
in the morning, this being their high festival, in which the nurses
shared but in the performance of small duties. Each day they played
with him and laughed as women will at such dear times, kissing his
grand round limbs, crying out at their growth, worshipping his
little rosy feet, and smothering him with caresses. And then they
put him to sleep, Anne sitting close while his mother fed him from
her breast until his small red mouth parted and slowly released her.

When he could toddle about and was beginning to say words, there was
a morning when she bore him to Anne's tower that they might joy in
him together, as was their way. It was a beautiful thing to see her
walk carrying him in the strong and lovely curve of her arm as if
his sturdy babyhood were of no more weight than a rose, and he
cuddling against her, clinging and crowing, his wide brown eyes
shining with delight.

"He has come to pay thee court, Anne," she said. "He is a great
gallant, and knows how we are his loving slaves. He comes to say
his new word that I have taught him."

She set him down where he stood holding to Anne's knee and showing
his new pearl teeth, in a rosy grin; his mother knelt beside him,
beginning her coaxing.

"Who is she?" she said, pointing with her finger at Anne's face, her
own full of lovely fear lest the child should not speak rightly his
lesson. "What is her name? Mammy's man say--" and she mumbled
softly with her crimson mouth at his ear.

The child looked up at Anne, with baby wit and laughter in his face,
and stammered sweetly -

"Muz--Muzzer--Anne," he said, and then being pleased with his
cleverness, danced on his little feet and said it over and over.

Clorinda caught him up and set him on Anne's lap.

"Know you what he calls you?" she said. "'Tis but a mumble, his
little tongue is not nimble enough for clearness, but he says it his
pretty best. 'Tis Mother Anne, he says--'tis Mother Anne."

And then they were in each other's arms, the child between them, he
kissing both and clasping both, with little laughs of joy as if they
were but one creature.

Each child born they clasped and kissed so, and were so clasped and
kissed by; each one calling the tender unwed woman "Mother Anne,"
and having a special lovingness for her, she being the creature each
one seemed to hover about with innocent protection and
companionship.

The wonder of Anne's life grew deeper to her hour by hour, and where
she had before loved, she learned to worship, for 'twas indeed
worship that her soul was filled with. She could not look back and
believe that she had not dreamed a dream of all the fears gone by
and that they held. This--this was true--the beauty of these days,
the love of them, the generous deeds, the sweet courtesies, and
gentle words spoken. This beauteous woman dwelling in her husband's
heart, giving him all joy of life and love, ruling queenly and
gracious in his house, bearing him noble children, and tending them
with the very genius of tenderness and wisdom.

But in Mistress Anne herself life had never been strong; she was of
the fibre of her mother, who had died in youth, crushed by its cruel
weight, and to her, living had been so great and terrible a thing.
There had not been given to her the will to battle with the Fate
that fell to her, the brain to reason and disentangle problems, or
the power to set them aside. So while her Grace of Osmonde seemed
but to gain greater state and beauty in her ripening, her sister's
frail body grew more frail, and seemed to shrink and age. Yet her
face put on a strange worn sweetness, and her soft, dull eyes had a
look almost like a saint's who looks at heaven. She prayed much,
and did many charitable works both in town and country. She read
her books of devotion, and went much to church, sitting with a
reverend face through many a dull and lengthy sermon she would have
felt it sacrilegious to think of with aught but pious admiration.
In the middle of the night it was her custom to rise and offer up
prayers through the dark hours. She was an humble soul who greatly
feared and trembled before her God.

"I waken in the night sometimes," the fair, tall child Daphne said
once to her mother, "and Mother Anne is there--she kneels and prays
beside my bed. She kneels and prays so by each one of us many a
night."

"'Tis because she is so pious a woman and so loves us," said young
John, in his stately, generous way. The house of Osmonde had never
had so fine and handsome a creature for its heir. He o'ertopped
every boy of his age in height, and the bearing of his lovely
youthful body was masculine grace itself.

The town and the Court knew these children, and talked of their
beauty and growth as they had talked of their mother's.

"To be the mate of such a woman, the father of such heirs, is a fate
a man might pray God for," 'twas said. "Love has not grown stale
with them. Their children are the very blossoms of it. Her eyes
are deeper pools of love each year."

CHAPTER XXIII--"In One who will do justice, and demands that it
shall be done to each thing He has made, by each who bears His
image"

'Twas in these days Sir Jeoffry came to his end, it being in such
way as had been often prophesied; and when this final hour came,
there was but one who could give him comfort, and this was the
daughter whose youth he had led with such careless evilness to harm.

If he had wondered at her when she had been my Lady Dunstanwolde, as
her Grace of Osmonde he regarded her with heavy awe. Never had she
been able to lead him to visit her at her house in town or at any
other which was her home. "'Tis all too grand for me, your Grace,"
he would say; "I am a country yokel, and have hunted and drank, and
lived too hard to look well among town gentlemen. I must be drunk
at dinner, and when I am in liquor I am no ornament to a duchess's
drawing-room. But what a woman you have grown," he would say,
staring at her and shaking his head. "Each time I clap eyes on you
'tis to marvel at you, remembering what a baggage you were, and how
you kept from slipping by the way. There was Jack Oxon, now," he
added one day--"after you married Dunstanwolde, I heard a pretty
tale of Jack--that he had made a wager among his friends in town--he
was a braggart devil, Jack--that he would have you, though you were
so scornful; and knowing him to be a liar, his fellows said that
unless he could bring back a raven lock six feet long to show them,
he had lost his bet, for they would believe no other proof. And
finely they scoffed at him when he came back saying that he had had
one, but had hid it away for safety when he was drunk, and could not
find it again. They so flouted and jeered at him that swords were
drawn, and blood as well. But though he was a beauty and a crafty
rake-hell fellow, you were too sharp for him. Had you not had so
shrewd a wit and strong a will, you would not have been the greatest
duchess in England, Clo, as well as the finest woman."

"Nay," she answered--"in those days--nay, let us not speak of them!
I would blot them out--out."

As time went by, and the years spent in drink and debauchery began
to tell even on the big, strong body which should have served any
other man bravely long past his threescore and ten, Sir Jeoffry
drank harder and lived more wildly, sometimes being driven desperate
by dulness, his coarse pleasures having lost their potency.

"Liquor is not as strong as it once was," he used to grumble, "and
there are fewer things to stir a man to frolic. Lord, what roaring
days and nights a man could have thirty years ago."

So in his efforts to emulate such nights and days, he plunged deeper
and deeper into new orgies; and one night, after a heavy day's
hunting, sitting at the head of his table with his old companions,
he suddenly leaned forward, staring with starting eyes at an empty
chair in a dark corner. His face grew purple, and he gasped and
gurgled.

"What is't, Jeoff?" old Eldershawe cried, touching his shoulder with
a shaking hand. "What's the man staring at, as if he had gone mad?"

"Jack," cried Sir Jeoffry, his eyes still farther starting from
their sockets. "Jack! what say you? I cannot hear."

The next instant he sprang up, shrieking, and thrusting with his
hands as if warding something off.

"Keep back!" he yelled. "There is green mould on thee. Where hast
thou been to grow mouldy? Keep back! Where hast thou been?"

His friends at table started up, staring at him and losing colour;
he shrieked so loud and strangely, he clutched his hair with his
hands, and fell into his chair, raving, clutching, and staring, or
dashing his head down upon the table to hide his face, and then
raising it as if he could not resist being drawn in his affright to
gaze again. There was no soothing him. He shouted, and struggled
with those who would have held him. 'Twas Jack Oxon who was there,
he swore--Jack, who kept stealing slowly nearer to him, his face and
his fine clothes damp and green, he beat at the air with mad hands,
and at last fell upon the floor, and rolled, foaming at the mouth.

They contrived, after great strugglings, to bear him to his chamber,
but it took the united strength of all who would stay near him to
keep him from making an end of himself. By the dawn of day his boon
companions stood by him with their garments torn to tatters, their
faces drenched with sweat, and their own eyes almost starting from
their sockets; the doctor who had been sent for, coming in no hurry,
but scowled and shook his head when he beheld him.

"He is a dead man," he said, "and the wonder is that this has not
come before. He is sodden with drink and rotten with ill-living,
besides being past all the strength of youth. He dies of the life
he has lived."

'Twas little to be expected that his boon companions could desert
their homes and pleasures and tend his horrors longer than a night.
Such a sight as he presented did not inspire them to cheerful
spirits.

"Lord," said Sir Chris Crowell, "to see him clutch his flesh and
shriek and mouth, is enough to make a man live sober for his
remaining days," and he shook his big shoulders with a shudder.

"Ugh!" he said, "God grant I may make a better end. He writhes as
in hell-fire."

"There is but one on earth who will do aught for him," said
Eldershawe. "'Tis handsome Clo, who is a duchess; but she will come
and tend him, I could swear. Even when she was a lawless devil of a
child she had a way of standing by her friends and fearing naught."

So after taking counsel together they sent for her, and in as many
hours as it took to drive from London, her coach stood before the
door. By this time all the household was panic-stricken and in
hopeless disorder, the women-servants scattered and shuddering in
far corners of the house; such men as could get out of the way
having found work to do afield or in the kennels, for none had nerve
to stay where they could hear the madman's shrieks and howls.

Her Grace, entering the house, went with her woman straight to her
chamber, and shortly emerged therefrom, stripped of her rich
apparel, and clad in a gown of strong blue linen, her hair wound
close, her white hands bare of any ornament, save the band of gold
which was her wedding-ring. A serving-woman might have been clad
so; but the plainness of her garb but made her height, and strength,
so reveal themselves, that the mere sight of her woke somewhat that
was like to awe in the eyes of the servants who beheld her as she
passed.

She needed not to be led, but straightway followed the awful sounds,
until she reached the chamber behind whose door they were shut.
Upon the huge disordered bed, Sir Jeoffry writhed, and tried to tear
himself, his great sinewy and hairy body almost stark. Two of the
stable men were striving to hold him.

The duchess went to his bedside and stood there, laying her strong
white hand upon his shuddering shoulder.

"Father," she said, in a voice so clear, and with such a ring of
steady command, as, the men said later, might have reached a dead
man's ear. "Father, 'tis Clo!"

Sir Jeoffry writhed his head round and glared at her, with starting
eyes and foaming mouth.

"Who says 'tis Clo?" he shouted. "'Tis a lie! She was ever a
bigger devil than any other, though she was but a handsome wench.
Jack himself could not manage her. She beat him, and would beat him
now. 'Tis a lie!"

All through that day and night the power of her Grace's white arm
was the thing which saved him from dashing out his brains. The two
men could not have held him, and at his greatest frenzy they
observed that now and then his blood-shot eye would glance aside at
the beauteous face above him. The sound of the word "Clo" had
struck upon his brain and wakened an echo.

She sent away the men to rest, calling for others in their places;
but leave the bedside herself she would not. 'Twas a strange thing
to see her strength and bravery, which could not be beaten down.
When the doctor came again he found her there, and changed his surly
and reluctant manner in the presence of a duchess, and one who in
her close linen gown wore such a mien.

"You should not have left him," she said to him unbendingly, "even
though I myself can see there is little help that can be given.
Thought you his Grace and I would brook that he should die alone if
we could not have reached him?"

Those words "his Grace and I" put a new face upon the matter, and
all was done that lay within the man's skill; but most was he
disturbed concerning the lady, who would not be sent to rest, and
whose noble consort would be justly angered if she were allowed to
injure her superb health.

"His Grace knew what I came to do and how I should do it," the
duchess said, unbending still. "But for affairs of State which held
him, he would have been here at my side."

She held her place throughout the second night, and that was worse
than the first--the paroxysms growing more and more awful; for Jack
was within a yard, and stretched out a green and mouldy hand, the
finger-bones showing through the flesh, the while he smiled awfully.

At last one pealing scream rang out after another, until after
making his shuddering body into an arc resting on heels and head,
the madman fell exhausted, his flesh all quaking before the eye.
Then the duchess waved the men who helped, away. She sat upon the
bed's edge close--close to her father's body, putting her two firm
hands on either of his shoulders, holding him so, and bent down,
looking into his wild face, as if she fixed upon his very soul all
the power of her wondrous will.

"Father," she said, "look at my face. Thou canst if thou wilt.
Look at my face. Then wilt thou see 'tis Clo--and she will stand by
thee."

She kept her gaze upon his very pupils; and though 'twas at first as
if his eyes strove to break away from her look, their effort was
controlled by her steadfastness, and they wandered back at last, and
her great orbs held them. He heaved a long breath, half a big,
broken sob, and lay still, staring up at her.

"Ay," he said, "'tis Clo! 'tis Clo!"

The sweat began to roll from his forehead, and the tears down his
cheeks. He broke forth, wailing like a child.

"Clo--Clo," he said, "I am in hell."

She put her hand on his breast, keeping will and eyes set on him.

"Nay," she answered; "thou art on earth, and in thine own bed, and I
am here, and will not leave thee."

She made another sign to the men who stood and stared aghast in
wonder at her, but feeling in the very air about her the spell to
which the madness had given way.

"'Twas not mere human woman who sat there," they said afterwards in
the stables among their fellows. "'Twas somewhat more. Had such a
will been in an evil thing a man's hair would have risen on his
skull at the seeing of it."

"Go now," she said to them, "and send women to set the place in
order."

She had seen delirium and death enough in the doings of her deeds of
mercy, to know that his strength had gone and death was coming. His
bed and room were made orderly, and at last he lay in clean linen,
with all made straight. Soon his eyes seemed to sink into his head
and stare from hollows, and his skin grew grey, but ever he stared
only at his daughter's face.

"Clo," he said at last, "stay by me! Clo, go not away!"

"I shall not go," she answered.

She drew a seat close to his bed and took his hand. It lay knotted
and gnarled and swollen-veined upon her smooth palm, and with her
other hand she stroked it. His breath came weak and quick, and fear
grew in his eyes.

"What is it, Clo?" he said. "What is't?"

"'Tis weakness," replied she, soothing him. "Soon you will sleep."

"Ay," he said, with a breath like a sob. "'Tis over."

His big body seemed to collapse, he shrank so in the bed-clothes.

"What day o' the year is it?" he asked.

"The tenth of August," was her answer.

"Sixty-nine years from this day was I born," he said, "and now 'tis
done."

"Nay," said she--"nay--God grant--"

"Ay," he said, "done. Would there were nine and sixty more. What a
man I was at twenty. I want not to die, Clo. I want to live--to
live--live, and be young," gulping, "with strong muscle and moist
flesh. Sixty-nine years--and they are gone!"

He clung to her hand, and stared at her with awful eyes. Through
all his life he had been but a great, strong, human carcass; and he
was now but the same carcass worn out, and at death's door. Of not
one human thing but of himself had he ever thought, not one creature
but himself had he ever loved--and now he lay at the end, harking
back only to the wicked years gone by.

"None can bring them back," he shuddered. "Not even thou, Clo, who
art so strong. None--none! Canst pray, Clo?" with the gasp of a
craven.

"Not as chaplains do," she answered. "I believe not in a God who
clamours but for praise."

"What dost believe in, then?"

"In One who will do justice, and demands that it shall be done to
each thing He has made, by each who bears His image--ay, and mercy
too--but justice always, for justice is mercy's highest self."

Who knows the mysteries of the human soul--who knows the workings of
the human brain? The God who is just alone. In this man's mind,
which was so near a simple beast's in all its movings, some remote,
unborn consciousness was surely reached and vaguely set astir by the
clear words thus spoken.

"Clo, Clo!" he cried, "Clo, Clo!" in terror, clutching her the
closer, "what dost thou mean? In all my nine and sixty years--" and
rolled his head in agony.

In all his nine and sixty years he had shown justice to no man,
mercy to no woman, since he had thought of none but Jeoffry
Wildairs; and this truth somehow dimly reached his long-dulled brain
and wakened there.

"Down on thy knees, Clo!" he gasped--"down on thy knees!"

It was so horrible, the look struggling in his dying face, that she
went down upon her knees that moment, and so knelt, folding his
shaking hands within her own against her breast.

"Thou who didst make him as he was born into Thy world," she said,
"deal with that to which Thou didst give life--and death. Show him
in this hour, which Thou mad'st also, that Thou art not Man who
would have vengeance, but that justice which is God."

"Then--then," he gasped--"then will He damn me!"

"He will weigh thee," she said; "and that which His own hand created
will He separate from that which was thine own wilful wrong--and
this, sure, He will teach thee how to expiate."

"Clo," he cried again -"thy mother--she was but a girl, and died
alone--I did no justice to her!--Daphne! Daphne!" And he shook
beneath the bed-clothes, shuddering to his feet, his face growing
more grey and pinched.

"She loved thee once," Clorinda said. "She was a gentle soul, and
would not forget. She will show thee mercy."

"Birth she went through," he muttered, "and death--alone. Birth and
death! Daphne, my girl--" And his voice trailed off to
nothingness, and he lay staring at space, and panting.

The duchess sat by him and held his hand. She moved not, though at
last he seemed to fall asleep. Two hours later he began to stir.
He turned his head slowly upon his pillows until his gaze rested
upon her, as she sat fronting him. 'Twas as though he had awakened
to look at her.

"Clo!" he cried, and though his voice was but a whisper, there was
both wonder and wild question in it--"Clo!"

But she moved not, her great eyes meeting his with steady gaze; and
even as they so looked at each other his body stretched itself, his
lids fell--and he was a dead man.

CHAPTER XXIV--The doves sate upon the window-ledge and lowly cooed
and cooed

When they had had ten years of happiness, Anne died. 'Twas of no
violent illness, it seemed but that through these years of joy she
had been gradually losing life. She had grown thinner and whiter,
and her soft eyes bigger and more prayerful. 'Twas in the summer,
and they were at Camylott, when one sweet day she came from the
flower-garden with her hands full of roses, and sitting down by her
sister in her morning-room, swooned away, scattering her blossoms on
her lap and at her feet.

When she came back to consciousness she looked up at the duchess
with a strange, far look, as if her soul had wandered back from some
great distance.

"Let me be borne to bed, sister," she said. "I would lie still. I
shall not get up again."

The look in her face was so unearthly and a thing so full of
mystery, that her Grace's heart stood still, for in some strange way
she knew the end had come.

They bore her to her tower and laid her in her bed, when she looked
once round the room and then at her sister.

"'Tis a fair, peaceful room," she said. "And the prayers I have
prayed in it have been answered. To-day I saw my mother, and she
told me so."

"Anne! Anne!" cried her Grace, leaning over her and gazing
fearfully into her face; for though her words sounded like delirium,
her look had no wildness in it. And yet--"Anne, Anne! you wander,
love," the duchess cried.

Anne smiled a strange, sweet smile. "Perchance I do," she said. "I
know not truly, but I am very happy. She said that all was over,
and that I had not done wrong. She had a fair, young face, with
eyes that seemed to have looked always at the stars of heaven. She
said I had done no wrong."

The duchess's face laid itself down upon the pillow, a river of
clear tears running down her cheeks.

"Wrong!" she said--"you! dear one--woman of Christ's heart, if ever
lived one. You were so weak and I so strong, and yet as I look back
it seems that all of good that made me worthy to be wife and mother
I learned from your simplicity."

Through the tower window and the ivy closing round it, the blueness
of the summer sky was heavenly fair; soft, and light white clouds
floated across the clearness of its sapphire. On this Anne's eyes
were fixed with an uplifted tenderness until she broke her silence.

"Soon I shall be away," she said. "Soon all will be left behind.
And I would tell you that my prayers were answered--and so, sure,
yours will be."

No man could tell what made the duchess then fall on her knees, but
she herself knew. 'Twas that she saw in the exalted dying face that
turned to hers concealing nothing more.

"Anne! Anne!" she cried. "Sister Anne! Mother Anne of my children!
You have known--you have known all the years and kept it hid!"

She dropped her queenly head and shielded the whiteness of her face
in the coverlid's folds.

"Ay, sister," Anne said, coming a little back to earth, "and from
the first. I found a letter near the sun-dial--I guessed--I loved
you--and could do naught else but guard you. Many a day have I
watched within the rose-garden--many a day--and night--God pardon
me--and night. When I knew a letter was hid, 'twas my wont to
linger near, knowing that my presence would keep others away. And
when you approached--or he--I slipped aside and waited beyond the
rose hedge--that if I heard a step, I might make some sound of
warning. Sister, I was your sentinel, and being so, knelt while on
my guard, and prayed."

"My sentinel!" Clorinda cried. "And knowing all, you so guarded me
night and day, and prayed God's pity on my poor madness and girl's
frenzy!" And she gazed at her in amaze, and with humblest, burning
tears.

"For my own poor self as well as for you, sister, did I pray God's
pity as I knelt," said Anne. "For long I knew it not--being so
ignorant--but alas! I loved him too!--I loved him too! I have
loved no man other all my days. He was unworthy any woman's love--
and I was too lowly for him to cast a glance on; but I was a woman,
and God made us so."

Clorinda clutched her pallid hand.

"Dear God," she cried, "you loved him!"

Anne moved upon her pillow, drawing weakly, slowly near until her
white lips were close upon her sister's ear.

"The night," she panted--"the night you bore him--in your arms--"

Then did the other woman give a shuddering start and lift her head,
staring with a frozen face.

"What! what!" she cried.

"Down the dark stairway," the panting voice went on, "to the far
cellar--I kept watch again."

"You kept watch--you?" the duchess gasped.

"Upon the stair which led to the servants' place--that I might stop
them if--if aught disturbed them, and they oped their doors--that I
might send them back, telling them--it was I."

Then stooped the duchess nearer to her, her hands clutching the
coverlid, her eyes widening.

"Anne, Anne," she cried, "you knew the awful thing that I would
hide! That too? You knew that he was THERE!"

Anne lay upon her pillow, her own eyes gazing out through the ivy-
hung window of her tower at the blue sky and the fair, fleecy
clouds. A flock of snow-white doves were flying back and forth
across it, and one sate upon the window's deep ledge and cooed. All
was warm and perfumed with summer's sweetness. There seemed naught
between her and the uplifting blueness, and naught of the earth was
near but the dove's deep-throated cooing and the laughter of her
Grace's children floating upward from the garden of flowers below.

"I lie upon the brink," she said--"upon the brink, sister, and
methinks my soul is too near to God's pure justice to fear as human
things fear, and judge as earth does. She said I did no wrong.
Yes, I knew."

"And knowing," her sister cried, "you came to me THAT AFTERNOON!"

"To stand by that which lay hidden, that I might keep the rest away.
Being a poor creature and timorous and weak--"

"Weak! weak!" the duchess cried, amid a greater flood of streaming
tears--"ay, I have dared to call you so, who have the heart of a
great lioness. Oh, sweet Anne--weak!"

"'Twas love," Anne whispered. "Your love was strong, and so was
mine. That other love was not for me. I knew that my long woman's
life would pass without it--for woman's life is long, alas! if love
comes not. But you were love's self, and I worshipped you and it;
and to myself I said--praying forgiveness on my knees--that one
woman should know love if I did not. And being so poor and
imperfect a thing, what mattered if I gave my soul for you--and
love, which is so great, and rules the world. Look at the doves,
sister, look at them, flying past the heavenly blueness--and she
said I did no wrong."

Her hand was wet with tears fallen upon it, as her duchess sister
knelt, and held and kissed it, sobbing.

"You knew, poor love, you knew!" she cried.

"Ay, all of it I knew," Anne said--"his torture of you and the
madness of your horror. And when he forced himself within the
Panelled Parlour that day of fate, I knew he came to strike some
deadly blow; and in such anguish I waited in my chamber for the end,
that when it came not, I crept down, praying that somehow I might
come between--and I went in the room!"

"And there--what saw you?" quoth the duchess, shuddering. "Somewhat
you must have seen, or you could not have known."

"Ay," said Anne, "and heard!" and her chest heaved.

"Heard!" cried Clorinda. "Great God of mercy!"

"The room was empty, and I stood alone. It was so still I was
afraid; it seemed so like the silence of the grave; and then there
came a sound--a long and shuddering breath--but one--and then--"

The memory brought itself too keenly back, and she fell a-shivering.

"I heard a slipping sound, and a dead hand fell on the floor-lying
outstretched, its palm turned upwards, showing beneath the valance
of the couch."

She threw her frail arms round her sister's neck, and as Clorinda
clasped her own, breathing gaspingly, they swayed together.

"What did you then?" the duchess cried, in a wild whisper.

"I prayed God keep me sane--and knelt--and looked below. I thrust
it back--the dead hand, saying aloud, 'Swoon you must not, swoon you
must not, swoon you shall not--God help! God help!'--and I saw!--
the purple mark--his eyes upturned--his fair curls spread; and I
lost strength and fell upon my side, and for a minute lay there--
knowing that shudder of breath had been the very last expelling of
his being, and his hand had fallen by its own weight."

"O God! O God! O God!" Clorinda cried, and over and over said the
word, and over again.

"How was't--how was't?" Anne shuddered, clinging to her. "How was't
'twas done? I have so suffered, being weak--I have so prayed! God
will have mercy--but it has done me to death, this knowledge, and
before I die, I pray you tell me, that I may speak truly at God's
throne."

"O God! O God! O God!" Clorinda groaned--"O God!" and having cried
so, looking up, was blanched as a thing struck with death, her eyes
like a great stag's that stands at bay.

"Stay, stay!" she cried, with a sudden shock of horror, for a new
thought had come to her which, strangely, she had not had before.
"You thought I MURDERED him?"

Convulsive sobs heaved Anne's poor chest, tears sweeping her hollow
cheeks, her thin, soft hands clinging piteously to her sister's.

"Through all these years I have known nothing," she wept--"sister, I
have known nothing but that I found him hidden there, a dead man,
whom you so hated and so feared."

Her hands resting upon the bed's edge, Clorinda held her body
upright, such passion of wonder, love, and pitying adoring awe in
her large eyes as was a thing like to worship.

"You thought I MURDERED him, and loved me still," she said. "You
thought I murdered him, and still you shielded me, and gave me
chance to live, and to repent, and know love's highest sweetness.
You thought I murdered him, and yet your soul had mercy. Now do I
believe in God, for only a God could make a heart so noble."

"And you--did not--" cried out Anne, and raised upon her elbow, her
breast panting, but her eyes growing wide with light as from stars
from heaven. "Oh, sister love--thanks be to Christ who died!"

The duchess rose, and stood up tall and great, her arms out-thrown.

"I think 'twas God Himself who did it," she said, "though 'twas I
who struck the blow. He drove me mad and blind, he tortured me, and
thrust to my heart's core. He taunted me with that vile thing
Nature will not let women bear, and did it in my Gerald's name,
calling on him. And then I struck with my whip, knowing nothing,
not seeing, only striking, like a goaded dying thing. He fell--he
fell and lay there--and all was done!"

"But not with murderous thought--only through frenzy and a cruel
chance--a cruel, cruel chance. And of your own will blood is not
upon your hand," Anne panted, and sank back upon her pillow.

"With deepest oaths I swear," Clorinda said, and she spoke through
her clenched teeth, "if I had not loved, if Gerald had not been my
soul's life and I his, I would have stood upright and laughed in his
face at the devil's threats. Should I have feared? You know me.
Was there a thing on earth or in heaven or hell I feared until love
rent me. 'Twould but have fired my blood, and made me mad with fury
that dares all. 'Spread it abroad!' I would have cried to him.
'Tell it to all the world, craven and outcast, whose vileness all
men know, and see how I shall bear myself, and how I shall drive
through the town with head erect. As I bore myself when I set the
rose crown on my head, so shall I bear myself then. And you shall
see what comes!' This would I have said, and held to it, and
gloried. But I knew love, and there was an anguish that I could not
endure--that my Gerald should look at me with changed eyes, feeling
that somewhat of his rightful meed was gone. And I was all
distraught and conquered. Of ending his base life I never thought,
never at my wildest, though I had thought to end my own; but when
Fate struck the blow for me, then I swore that carrion should not
taint my whole life through. It should not--should not--for 'twas
Fate's self had doomed me to my ruin. And there it lay until the
night; for this I planned, that being of such great strength for a
woman, I could bear his body in my arms to the farthest of that
labyrinth of cellars I had commanded to be cut off from the rest and
closed; and so I did when all were sleeping--but you, poor Anne--but
you! And there I laid him, and there he lies to-day--an evil thing
turned to a handful of dust."

"It was not murder," whispered Anne--"no, it was not." She lifted
to her sister's gaze a quivering lip. "And yet once I had loved
him--years I had loved him," she said, whispering still. "And in a
woman there is ever somewhat that the mother creature feels"--the
hand which held her sister's shook as with an ague, and her poor lip
quivered--"Sister, I--saw him again!"

The duchess drew closer as she gasped, "Again!"

"I could not rest," the poor voice said. "He had been so base, he
was so beautiful, and so unworthy love--and he was dead,--none
knowing, untouched by any hand that even pitied him that he was so
base a thing, for that indeed is piteous when death comes and none
can be repentant. And he lay so hard, so hard upon the stones."

Her teeth were chattering, and with a breath drawn like a wild sob
of terror, the duchess threw her arm about her and drew her nearer.

"Sweet Anne," she shuddered--"sweet Anne--come back--you wander!"

"Nay, 'tis not wandering," Anne said. "'Tis true, sister. There is
no night these years gone by I have not remembered it again--and
seen. In the night after that you bore him there--I prayed until
the mid-hours, when all were sleeping fast--and then I stole down--
in my bare feet, that none could hear me--and at last I found my way
in the black dark--feeling the walls until I reached that farthest
door in the stone--and then I lighted my taper and oped it."

"Anne!" cried the duchess--"Anne, look through the tower window at
the blueness of the sky--at the blueness, Anne!" But drops of cold
water had started out and stood upon her brow.

"He lay there in his grave--it was a little black place with its
stone walls--his fair locks were tumbled," Anne went on, whispering.
"The spot was black upon his brow--and methought he had stopped
mocking, and surely looked upon some great and awful thing which
asked of him a question. I knelt, and laid his curls straight, and
his hands, and tried to shut his eyes, but close they would not, but
stared at that which questioned. And having loved him so, I kissed
his poor cheek as his mother might have done, that he might not
stand outside, having carried not one tender human thought with him.
And, oh, I prayed, sister--I prayed for his poor soul with all my
own. 'If there is one noble or gentle thing he has ever done
through all his life,' I prayed, 'Jesus remember it--Christ do not
forget.' We who are human do so few things that are noble--oh,
surely one must count."

The duchess's head lay near her sister's breast, and she had fallen
a-sobbing--a-sobbing and weeping like a young broken child.

"Oh, brave and noble, pitiful, strong, fair soul!" she cried. "As
Christ loved you have loved, and He would hear your praying. Since
you so pleaded, He would find one thing to hang His mercy on."

She lifted her fair, tear-streaming face, clasping her hands as one
praying.

"And I--and I," she cried--"have I not built a temple on his grave?
Have I not tried to live a fair life, and be as Christ bade me?
Have I not loved, and pitied, and succoured those in pain? Have I
not filled a great man's days with bliss, and love, and wifely
worship? Have I not given him noble children, bred in high
lovingness, and taught to love all things God made, even the very
beasts that perish, since they, too, suffer as all do? Have I left
aught undone? Oh, sister, I have so prayed that I left naught.
Even though I could not believe that there was One who, ruling all,
could yet be pitiless as He is to some, I have prayed That--which
sure it seems must be, though we comprehend it not--to teach me
faith in something greater than my poor self, and not of earth. Say
this to Christ's self when you are face to face--say this to Him, I
pray you! Anne, Anne, look not so strangely through the window at
the blueness of the sky, sweet soul, but look at me."

For Anne lay upon her pillow so smiling that 'twas a strange thing
to behold. It seemed as she were smiling at the whiteness of the
doves against the blue. A moment her sister stood up watching her,
and then she stirred, meaning to go to call one of the servants
waiting outside; but though she moved not her gaze from the tower
window, Mistress Anne faintly spoke.

"Nay--stay," she breathed. "I go--softly--stay."

Clorinda fell upon her knees again and bent her lips close to her
ear. This was death, and yet she feared it not--this was the
passing of a soul, and while it went it seemed so fair and loving a
thing that she could ask it her last question--her greatest--knowing
it was so near to God that its answer must be rest.

"Anne, Anne," she whispered, "must he know--my Gerald? Must I--must
I tell him all? If so I must, I will--upon my knees."

The doves came flying downward from the blue, and lighted on the
window stone and cooed--Anne's answer was as low as her soft breath
and her still eyes were filled with joy at that she saw but which
another could not.

"Nay," she breathed. "Tell him not. What need? Wait, and let God
tell him--who understands."

Then did her soft breath stop, and she lay still, her eyes yet open
and smiling at the blossoms, and the doves who sate upon the window-
ledge and lowly cooed and cooed.

* * *

'Twas her duchess sister who clad her for her last sleeping, and
made her chamber fair--the hand of no other touched her; and while
'twas done the tower chamber was full of the golden sunshine, and
the doves ceased not to flutter about the window, and coo as if they
spoke lovingly to each other of what lay within the room.

Then the children came to look, their arms full of blossoms and
flowering sprays. They had been told only fair things of death, and
knowing but these fair things, thought of it but as the opening of a
golden door. They entered softly, as entering the chamber of a
queen, and moving tenderly, with low and gentle speech, spread all
their flowers about the bed--laying them round her head, on her
breast, and in her hands, and strewing them thick everywhere.

"She lies in a bower and smiles at us," one said. "She hath grown
beautiful like you, mother, and her face seems like a white star in
the morning."

"She loves us as she ever did," the fair child Daphne said; "she
will never cease to love us, and will be our angel. Now have we an
angel of our own."

When the duke returned, who had been absent since the day before,
the duchess led him to the tower chamber, and they stood together
hand in hand and gazed at her peace.

"Gerald," the duchess said, in her tender voice, "she smiles, does
not she?"

"Yes," was Osmonde's answer--"yes, love, as if at God, who has
smiled at herself--faithful, tender woman heart!"

The hand which he held in his clasp clung closer. The other crept
to his shoulder and lay there tremblingly.

"How faithful and how tender, my Gerald," Clorinda said, "I only
know. She is my saint--sweet Anne, whom I dared treat so lightly in
my poor wayward days. Gerald, she knows all my sins, and to-day she
has carried them in her pure hands to God and asked His mercy on
them. She had none of her own."

"And so having done, dear heart, she lies amid her flowers, and
smiles," he said, and he drew her white hand to press it against his
breast.

* * *

While her body slept beneath soft turf and flowers, and that which
was her self was given in God's heaven, all joys for which her
earthly being had yearned, even when unknowing how to name its
longing, each year that passed made more complete and splendid the
lives of those she so had loved. Never, 'twas said, had woman done
such deeds of gentleness and shown so sweet and generous a wisdom as
the great duchess. None who were weak were in danger if she used
her strength to aid them; no man or woman was a lost thing whom she
tried to save: such tasks she set herself as no lady had ever given
herself before; but 'twas not her way to fail--her will being so
powerful, her brain so clear, her heart so purely noble. Pauper and
prince, noble and hind honoured her and her lord alike, and all felt
wonder at their happiness. It seemed that they had learned life's
meaning and the honouring of love, and this they taught to their
children, to the enriching of a long and noble line. In the
ripeness of years they passed from earth in as beauteous peace as
the sun sets, and upon a tablet above the resting-place of their
ancestors there are inscribed lines like these:-

"Here sleeps by her husband the purest and noblest lady God e'er
loved, yet the high and gentle deeds of her chaste sweet life sleep
not, but live and grow, and so will do so long as earth is earth."

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