or unwilling, but I didn't love you so well then; and now that there's
another man in the case, it's different, and I'm strong enough to do the
right thing. Follow your heart and be happy; in a year or two I shall be
glad I had the grit to tell you so. Good-by, Rose!"
Rose, pale with amazement, summoned all her pride, and drawing the
turquoise engagement ring from her finger, handed it silently to
Stephen, hiding her face as he flung it vehemently down the river-bank.
His dull eyes followed it and half uncomprehendingly saw it settle and
glisten in a nest of brown pine-needles. Then he put out his hand for a
last clasp and strode away without a word.
[Illustration: HIDING HER FACE AS HE FLUNG IT DOWN THE RIVER-BANK]
Presently Rose heard first the scrape of his boat on the sand, then the
soft sound of his paddles against the water, then nothing but the
squirrels and the woodpeckers and the thrushes, then not even
these,--nothing but the beating of her own heart.
She sat down heavily, feeling as if she were wide awake for the first
time in many weeks. How had things come to this pass with her?
Claude Merrill had flattered her vanity and given her some moments of
restlessness and dissatisfaction with her lot; but he had not until
to-day really touched her heart or tempted her, even momentarily, from
her allegiance to Stephen. His eyes had always looked unspeakable
things; his voice had seemed to breathe feelings that he had never dared
put in words; but to-day he had really stirred her, for although he had
still been vague, it was easy to see that his love for her had passed
all bounds of discretion. She remembered his impassioned farewells, his
despair, his doubt as to whether he could forget her by plunging into
the vortex of business, or whether he had better end it all in the
river, as so many other broken-hearted fellows had done. She had been
touched by his misery, even against her better judgment; and she had
intended to confess it all to Stephen sometime, telling him that she
should never again accept attentions from a stranger, lest a tragedy
like this should happen twice in a lifetime.
She had imagined that Stephen would be his large-minded, great-hearted,
magnanimous self, and beg her to forget this fascinating will-o'the-wisp
by resting in his deeper, serener love. She had meant to be contrite and
faithful, praying nightly that poor Claude might live down his present
anguish, of which she had been the innocent cause.
Instead, what had happened? She had been put altogether in the wrong.
Stephen had almost cast her off, and that, too, without argument. He had
given her her liberty before she had asked for it, taking it for
granted, without question, that she desired to be rid of him. Instead of
comforting her in her remorse, or sympathizing with her for so nobly
refusing to shine in Claude's larger world of Boston, Stephen had
assumed that she was disloyal in every particular.Download<<BackPagesMainNext>>