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.”