Once, when Ellen had sat all day, refusing either to speak or eat, Rosemary had flung herself on her knees by her sister’s side.
“Oh, Ellen, you have me yet,” she said imploringly. “Am I nothing to you? We have always loved each other so.”
“I won’t have you always,” Ellen had said, breaking her silence with harsh intensity. “You will marry and leave me. I shall be left all alone. I cannot bear the thought—I cannot. I would rather die.”
“I will never marry,” said Rosemary, “never, Ellen.”
Ellen bent forward and looked searchingly into Rosemary’s eyes.
“Will you promise me that solemnly?” she said. “Promise it on mother’s Bible.”
Rosemary assented at once, quite willing to humour Ellen. What did it matter? She knew quite well she would never want to marry any one. Her love had gone down with Martin Crawford to the deeps of the sea; and without love she could not marry any one. So she promised readily, though Ellen made rather a fearsome rite of it. They clasped hands over the Bible, in their mother’s vacant room, and both vowed to each other that they would never marry and would always live together.
Ellen’s condition improved from that hour. She soon regained her normal cheery poise. For ten years she and Rosemary lived in the old house happily, undisturbed by any thought of marrying or giving in marriage. Their promise sat very lightly on them. Ellen never failed to remind her sister of it whenever any eligible male creature crossed their paths, but she had never been really alarmed until John Meredith came home that night with Rosemary. As for Rosemary, Ellen’s obsession regarding that promise had always been a little matter of mirth to her—until lately. Now, it was a merciless fetter, self-imposed but never to be shaken off. Because of it to-night she must turn her face from happiness.
It was true that the shy, sweet, rosebud love she had given to her boy-lover she could never give to another. But she knew now that she could give to John Meredith a love richer and more womanly. She knew that he touched deeps in her nature that Martin had never touched—that had not, perhaps, been in the girl of seventeen to touch. And she must send him away to-night—send him back to his lonely hearth and his empty life and his heart-breaking problems, because she had promised Ellen, ten years before, on their mother’s Bible, that she would never marry.
John Meredith did not immediately grasp his opportunity. On the contrary, he talked for two good hours on the least lover-like of subjects. He even tried politics, though politics always bored Rosemary. The later began to think that she had been altogether mistaken, and her fears and expectations suddenly seemed to her grotesque. She felt flat and foolish. The glow went out of her face and the lustre out of her eyes. John Meredith had not the slightest intention of asking her to marry him.