[Illustration: "DON'T SPEAK, STEPHEN, TILL YOU HEAR WHAT I HAVE TO SAY"]

"You don't know what you've done for me, Stephen," she whispered, with

her face hidden on his shoulder. "I was just a common little prickly

rosebush when you came along like a good gardener and 'grafted in'

something better; the something better was your love, Stephen dear, and

it's made everything different. The silly Rose you were engaged to long

ago has disappeared somewhere; I hope you won't be able to find her

under the new leaves."

"She was all I wanted," said Stephen.

"You thought she was," the girl answered, "because you didn't see the

prickles, but you'd have felt them sometime. The old Rose was a selfish

thing, not good enough for you; the new Rose is going to be your wife,

and Rufus's sister, and your mother's daughter, all in one."

Then such a breakfast was spread as Stephen, in his sorry years of

bachelor existence, had forgotten could exist; but before he broke his

fast he ran out to the wagon and served the astonished Alcestis with his

wedding refreshments then and there, bidding him drive back to the River

Farm and bring him a package that lay in the drawer of his

shaving-stand,--a package placed there when hot youth and love and longing

had inspired him to hurry on the marriage day.

"There's an envelope, Alcestis," he cried, "a long envelope way, way

back in the corner, and a small box on top of it. Bring them both, and

my wallet too, and if you find them all and get them to me safely you

shall be bridesmaid and groomsman and best man and usher and maid of

honor at a wedding, in less than an hour! Off with you! Drive straight

and use the whip on Dolly!"

When he reentered the kitchen, flushed with joy and excitement, Rose put

the various good things on the table and he almost tremblingly took his

seat, fearing that contact with the solid wood might wake him from this

entrancing vision.

"I'd like to put you in your chair like a queen and wait on you," he

said with a soft boyish stammer; "but I am too dazed with happiness to

be of any use."

"It's my turn to wait upon you, and I--Oh! how I love to have you

dazed," Rose answered. "I'll be at the table presently myself; but we

have been housekeeping only three minutes, and we have nothing but the

tin coffee-pot this morning, so I'll pour the coffee from the stove."

She filled a cup with housewifely care and brought it to Stephen's side.

As she set it down and was turning, she caught his look,--a look so full

of longing that no loving woman, however busy, could have resisted it;

then she stooped and kissed him fondly, fervently.

Stephen put his arm about her, and, drawing her down to his knee, rested

his head against her soft shoulder with a sigh of comfort, like that of

a tired child. He had waited for it ten years, and at last the

dream-room had come true.

End of Project Gutenberg's Rose O' the River, by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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