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    Chapter 2

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    In which we learn what the white rose meant to the Countess of Blanchelande

    Having placed on her golden hair a little black hood embroidered with pearls and bound about her waist a widow's girdle, the Countess of Blanchelande entered the chapel where it was her daily custom to pray for the soul of her husband who had been killed in single-handed combat with a giant from Ireland.

    That day she saw a white rose lying on the cushion of her prie-Dieu; at sight of this she turned pale; her eyes grew dim; she bowed her head and wrung her hand. For she knew that when a Countess of Blanchelande is about to die she always finds a white rose on her prie-Dieu.

    Warned by this that her time had come to leave a world in which in so short a time she had been wife, mother and widow, she entered the chamber where her son George slept in the care of the nurses. He was three years old. His long eyelashes threw a lovely shadow on his cheeks, and his mouth looked like a flower. At sight of him, so helpless and so beautiful, she began to weep.

    "My little child," she cried in anguish, "my dear little child, you will never have known me and my image will fade for ever from your dear eyes. And yet, to be truly your mother, I nourished you with my own milk, and for love of you I refused the hand of the noblest cavaliers."

    So speaking she kissed a medallion in which was her own portrait and a lock of her hair, and this she hung about the neck of her son. A mothers tear fell on the little one's cheek as he stirred in his cradle and rubbed his eyes with his little hands. But the Countess turned her head away and fled out of the room. How could eyes about to be extinguished for ever bear the light of two dear eyes in which the soul was only beginning to dawn?

    She ordered a steed to be saddled and followed by her squire, Francoeur, she rode to the castle of Clarides.

    The Duchess of Clarides embraced the Countess of Blanchelande.

    "Loveliest! what good fortune brings you here?"

    "The fortune that brings me here is not good. Listen, my friend. We were married within a few years of each other, and similar fates have made us widows. For in these times of chivalry the best perish first, and in order to live long one must be a monk. When you became a mother I had already been one for two years. Your daughter Honey-Bee is lovely as the day, and my little George is good. I love you and you love me. Know then that I have found a white rose on the cushion of my prie-Dieu. I am about to die; I leave you my son."

    The Duchess knew what the white rose meant to the ladies of Blanchelande. She began to weep and in the midst of her tears she promised to bring up Honey-Bee and George as brother and sister, and to give nothing to one which the other did not share.

    Still in each other's arms the two women approached the cradle where little Honey-Bee slept under light curtains, blue as the sky, and without opening her eyes, she moved her little arms. And as she spread her fingers five little rosy rays came out of each sleeve.

    "He will defend her," said the mother of George.

    "And she will love him," the mother of Honey-Bee replied.

    "She will love him," a clear little voice repeated, which the Duchess recognised as that of a spirit which for a long time had lived under the hearth-stone.

    On her return to her manor the lady of Blanchelande divided her jewels among her women and having had herself anointed with perfumed ointments and robed in her richest raiment in order to honour the body destined to rise again at the Day of Judgment, she lay down on her bed and fell asleep never again to awaken.
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