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"No; but I was-that is to say, I came very near to being so―once.”
"I see. You have had a bereavement, or a disappointment. No matter-grief yields to time-I can wait. Hereafter, when—”
I interrupted him. "There are cases when apparent
harshness is true tenderness. This is one of them. I tell you frankly, that there can be no hereafter in this matter. It must be ended, now and here.”
He looked at me quietly and shook his head. "I have no doubt you believe what you say. You are cruel upon principle. But I shall cherish hope, though you give none. Some day you will find your heart empty. Then, seeing my love so ready, so patient, so true, you will open the door and let it in."
"Hush, Rick! How can I make you understand without giving you needless pain? Our natures were never made nor meant to be joined together. In all that you have said to me, there is an intuitive, probably an unconscious, recognition of this fact. Such a union would have. no firm foundation in natural fitness. Doubtless, I might have loved you very tenderly as a sister, very faithfully as a friend, but as a wife, wifely-never! Say no morefurther words on this subject can only be painful to both of us."
He looked at me fixedly for some moments-then turned away his face. I heard a deep-drawn breath,-almost a sob. If he would only stand aside from the entrance and let me vanish quietly! As it was, I could do nothing but avert my gaze and wait. There was a long silence, which the birds filled up at their leisure.
By and by, he lifted his head.
At least, we can be friends," said he. "You will let me write to you. You will allow me to keep within the sphere of your good influence. Be what you just said you might have been-my tender sister, my faithful friend!"
I sent a prophetic glance down through the future. He would begin by sending me mournful outpourings of hopeless love; his letters would pass through the several gradations of tender melancholy, devoted attachment, easy friendliness, uneasy indifference (briefly struggled with), and finally cease. I had watched the course of two or three such friendships-if they deserve the name-among my acquaintance; there was no room for self-deception as to their way, their influence, or their end.
MALA. Well! what harm? The matter will thus be disposed of without giving him any sudden wrench, any severe, racking struggle. And his friendship will be very pleasant while it lasts. And he will never take deep hold enough of your life to be missed when he is gone.
BONA. And he will have lost all faith in himself, being proved so weak; all faith in any human love, having seen the slow fading out of his own. Far better for him to wrestle with it and conquer it nobly, as love, than to sit down supinely and wait for it to waste away, under other names, into nothingness! No man was ever harmed by conquering a misplaced or unrequited affection; but many a heart has been irretrievably vitiated by indulging one, harboring it long under divers disguises and through many transformations, growing tired of it, and finally losing it by the natural process of decay. Over the grave of such a love no fragrant memories blossom, no soul grows tender, no life grows pure and strong!
I turned to Rick. "Forgive me if I seem inappreciative, ungrateful. It is just because I am your true friend, at heart, that I beg to decline the outward relation;-at least, until you have come to feel only friendship for me. If I did otherwise, how could I look your future wife in the face?"
"My wife!" he repeated, bitterly, "I shall never have any."
"Allow me to hope and believe that you will; and all
the sooner that you are not encouraged to waste any of the best of your heart upon me, under the mask of friendship. The affection which we conquer, we keep intact for a better, brighter, holier occasion; that which we indulge unwisely, we are apt to fritter away piecemeal.”
Ah," returned Rick, "if you were only as wise for yourself as for me, you would-”
Carrie's voice cut the sentence short. She was coming along the path, singing a cheery snatch of song. Yielding to a sudden, foolish impulse, Rick dashed through the side of the bower,-a seemingly impervious mass of vines. I looked after him with a momentary fear; but the flexible branches had yielded and closed again, as if only a bird had passed. Almost immediately, Carrie appeared at the
"Where is Rick?" she asked, in wonder.
"Looking for the fauns and dryads," I responded, drily. "They will acknowledge him as of kin-when he finds. them! He went through that wall of vines, just now, in such a manner as to establish an indisputable claim to their relationship."
"Ah!" said Carrie, with a knowing look, "he has hidden, and means to surprise or to frighten me. It is an old freak. How could you betray him?
I was delighted with the plausible explanation. “Let us steal a march on him, and go home," said I.
Carrie would have preferred to wait. She had a mind for her brother's society, and did not suspect that, just then, he had no mind for hers. Nevertheless, as she is one of those gentle, self-sacrificing beings, whose chief use of their wills is to furnish pleasant parallels to other and stronger ones, she yielded. Quickly we left the wood shadow and seclusion behind us. I drew a breath of relief as we emerged from it into the open meadow and the sunshine.
HE worst part of our nature is seldom slow to revenge itself upon the best. After any strain of moral heroism, comes an inevitable reaction. The soul that has struggled up the Mount of Trial leaning on the arm of the Holy Spirit, is wofully apt to slide down the corresponding declivity in the grasp of Satan. Sometimes, I think, the devil even joins in the good work of pushing us up, that the impetus thus gained may enable him the more easily to thrust us down. He helps to build up our characters to some lofty height of virtue, in order that they may the more surely topple over into some small neighboring pit of vice. He does not scruple to aid us in girding up our loins to the battle, that the bivouac may fall more completely under his control.
I left Bona in "The Bower." On the way back, I took bitter counsel with Mala. She offered a possible solution of the problem that perplexed me; also a suggestion or two, upon which I acted in due time.
As we neared the house, I observed Mrs. Thorne seated at her window, sewing. It is a noteworthy circumstance that she is always sewing, in a characteristic fashion. She sets stitches with the ease and regularity of a machine, and with as little apparent interest in the process. She undertakes nothing that exacts close attention-thought of
brain as well as motion of hand; she chooses rather straight seams, bands, and hems,-work which keeps the fingers busy and leaves the mind free; which furnishes ready excuse for dropping her eyes, upon occasions, yet allows them full liberty to wander when there is anything to reward observation.
She regarded Carrie and me from her outlook with some surprise, some perplexity. Doubtless, Rick's nonappearance with us struck her as a somewhat singular circumstance. Possibly, too, she discerned something in my face or manner suggestive of unexpected complications; for, in matters affecting her own interests, her perceptions are as quick and subtle as the electric fluid. Nevertheless, by the time I had ascended to her room (leaving Carrie in the porch below, looking out for her brother), I might as well have tried to read thought or emotion in the immovable features of the Sphinx. Save for the bland smile that ever plays about her lips-affording as much real warmth to the heart as a phosphoric glimmer would to the finger-endsshe was absolutely statuesque,
"Mrs. Thorne," I began abruptly, "did you ever hap pen to hear of my cousin-Wilhelmina Frost ?
She searched her memory rapidly, "No, I believe not, Why do you ask?"
Because, madam, she is better worth your acquaintance than I am. She is young, beautiful, accomplished, and-chiefest grace of all!-rich. Perhaps you are not aware that there were three of the Frost brothers. The eldest left home early; he led a wandering, erratic life for years; he married late, in India. He died there, not long since, leaving a large fortune to his only surviving child-a daughter;—and both to the guardianship of her, and my, uncle John Frost. According to the terms of her father's will, she resides alternately with him and the relatives of her mother. She is now with the latter in a western