A Lady of Quality

第78章 An heir is born(4)

"Nay,'tis not his Grace who need be called on,"he said;"'tis her Grace they love and fear,and will obey;though 'tis the sweetest,womanish thing that you should call on me when you are power itself,and can so rule all creatures you come near.""Nay,"she said,with softly pleading face,"let me not rule.Rule for me,or but help me;I so long to say your name that they may know I speak but as your wife.""Who is myself,"he answered--"my very self.""Ay,"she said,with a little nod of her head,"that I know--that Iam yourself;and 'tis because of this that one of us cannot be proud with the other,for there is no other,there is only one.And I am wrong to say,'Let me not rule,'for 'tis as if I said,'You must not rule.'I meant surely,'God give me strength to be as noble in ruling as our love should make me.'But just as one tree is a beech and one an oak,just as the grass stirs when the summer wind blows over it,so a woman is a woman,and 'tis her nature to find her joy in saying such words to the man who loves her,when she loves as Ido.Her heart is so full that she must joy to say her husband's name as that of one she cannot think without--who is her life as is her blood and her pulses beating.'Tis a joy to say your name,Gerald,as it will be a joy"--and she looked far out across the sun-goldened valley and plains,with a strange,heavenly sweet smile --"as it will be a joy to say our child's--and put his little mouth to my full breast.""Sweet love,"he cried,drawing her by the hand that he might meet the radiance of her look--"heart's dearest!"She did not withhold her lovely eyes from him,but withdrew them from the sunset's mist of gold,and the clouds piled as it were at the gates of heaven,and they seemed to bring back some of the far-off glory with them.Indeed,neither her smile nor she seemed at that moment to be things of earth.She held out her fair,noble arms,and he sprang to her,and so they stood,side beating against side.

"Yes,love,"she said--"yes,love--and I have prayed,my Gerald,that I may give you sons who shall be men like you.But when I give you women children,I shall pray with all my soul for them--that they may be just and strong and noble,and life begin for them as it began not for me."***

In the morning of a spring day when the cuckoos cried in the woods,and May blossomed thick,white and pink,in all the hedges,the bells in the grey church-steeple at Camylott rang out a joyous,jangling peal,telling all the village that the heir had been born at the Tower.Children stopped in their play to listen,men at their work in field and barn;good gossips ran out of their cottage door,wiping their arms dry,from their tubs and scrubbing-buckets,their honest red faces broadening into maternal grins.

"Ay,'tis well over,that means surely,"one said to the other;"and a happy day has begun for the poor lady--though God knows she bore 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."

Frances Hodgson Burnett