“Had I known it sooner,” he thought, “known it before I met the peerless Maggie, I might have taken Rose to my bosom and loved her—it may be with a deeper love than that I feel for Maggie Miller, for Rose is everything to me. She has made and keeps me what I am, and how can I let her die when I have the power to save her?”
There was a movement upon the pillow. Rose was waking, and as her soft blue eyes unclosed and looked up in his face he wound his arms around her, kissing her lips as never before he had kissed her. She was not his sister now—the veil was torn away—a new feeling had been awakened, and as days and weeks went by there gradually crept in between him and Maggie Miller a new love—even a love for the fair-haired Rose, to whom he was kinder, if possible, than he had been before, though he seldom kissed her lips or caressed her in any way.
“It would be wrong,” he said, “a wrong to myself—a wrong to her—and a wrong to Maggie Miller, to whom my troth is plighted;” and he did not wish it otherwise, he thought; though insensibly there came over him a wish that Maggie herself might weary of the engagement and seek to break it. Not that he loved her the less, he reasoned, but that he pitied Rose the more.
In this manner time passed on, until at last there came to him Maggie’s letter, which had been a long time on the sea.
“I expected it,” he thought, as he finished reading it, and though conscious for a moment of a feeling of disappointment the letter brought him far more pleasure than pain.
Of Arthur Carrollton no mention had been made, but he readily guessed the truth; and thinking, “It is well,” he laid the letter aside and went back to Rose, deciding to say nothing to her then. He would wait until his own feelings were more perfectly defined. So a week went by, and again, as he had often done before, he sat with her alone in the quiet night, watching her as she slept, and thinking how beautiful she was, with her golden hair shading her childish face, her long eyelashes resting on her cheek, and her little hands folded meekly upon her bosom.
“She is too beautiful to die,” he murmured, pressing a kiss upon her lips.
This act awoke her, and, turning towards him she said, “Was I dreaming, Henry, or did you kiss me as you used to do?”
“Not dreaming, Rose,” he answered—then rather hurriedly he added: “I have a letter from Maggie Miller, and ere I answer it I would read it to you. Can you hear it now?”
“Yes, yes,” she whispered faintly; “read it to me, Henry;” and, turning her face away, she listened while he read that Maggie Miller, grown weary of her troth, asked a release from her engagement.
He finished reading, and then waited in silence to hear what Rose would say. But for a time she did not speak. All hope for herself had long since died away, and now she experienced only sorrow for Henry’s disappointment.