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A Lady of Quality Frances Hodgson Burnett

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

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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."

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"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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A Lady of Quality
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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