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|A Lady of Quality||Frances Hodgson Burnett|
The doves sate upon the window-ledge and lowly cooed and cooed
|Page 2 of 7||
"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.
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|A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett
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