‚No. The people were poor and began to sicken–at least the man did–of their fine humanity; so she left it with them, giving them a small present of money which would not last long, and promised more, which she never meant to send. She didn’t quite rely, however, on their discontent and poverty for the child’s unhappiness, but told the history of the sister’s shame, with such alterations as suited her; bade them take good heed of the child, for she came of bad blood; and told them she was illegitimate, and sure to go wrong at one time or other. The circumstances countenanced all this; the people believed it; and there the child dragged on an existence, miserable enough even to satisfy us, until a widow lady, residing, then, at Chester, saw the girl by chance, pitied her, and took her home. There was some cursed spell, I think, against us; for in spite of all our efforts she remained there and was happy. I lost sight of her, two or three years ago, and saw her no more until a few months back.‘
‚Do you see her now?‘
‚Yes. Leaning on your arm.‘
‚But not the less my niece,‘ cried Mrs. Maylie, folding the fainting girl in her arms; ’not the less my dearest child. I would not lose her now, for all the treasures of the world. My sweet companion, my own dear girl!‘
‚The only friend I ever had,‘ cried Rose, clinging to her. ‚The kindest, best of friends. My heart will burst. I cannot bear all this.‘
‚You have borne more, and have been, through all, the best and gentlest creature that ever shed happiness on every one she knew,‘ said Mrs. Maylie, embracing her tenderly. ‚Come, come, my love, remember who this is who waits to clasp you in his arms, poor child! See here–look, look, my dear!‘
‚Not aunt,‘ cried Oliver, throwing his arms about her neck; ‚I’ll never call her aunt–sister, my own dear sister, that something taught my heart to love so dearly from the first! Rose, dear, darling Rose!‘
Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose so softened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became a solemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.
They were a long, long time alone. A soft tap at the door, at length announced that some one was without. Oliver opened it, glided away, and gave place to Harry Maylie.
‚I know it all,‘ he said, taking a seat beside the lovely girl. ‚Dear Rose, I know it all.‘
‚I am not here by accident,‘ he added after a lengthened silence; ’nor have I heard all this to-night, for I knew it yesterday–only yesterday. Do you guess that I have come to remind you of a promise?‘
‚Stay,‘ said Rose. ‚You _do_ know all.‘
‚All. You gave me leave, at any time within a year, to renew the subject of our last discourse.‘
‚Not to press you to alter your determination,‘ pursued the young man, ‚but to hear you repeat it, if you would. I was to lay whatever of station or fortune I might possess at your feet, and if you still adhered to your former determination, I pledged myself, by no word or act, to seek to change it.‘
‚The same reasons which influenced me then, will influence me now,‘ said Rose firmly. ‚If I ever owed a strict and rigid duty to her, whose goodness saved me from a life of indigence and suffering, when should I ever feel it, as I should to-night? It is a struggle,‘ said Rose, ‚but one I am proud to make; it is a pang, but one my heart shall bear.‘
‚The disclosure of to-night,‘–Harry began.
‚The disclosure of to-night,‘ replied Rose softly, ‚leaves me in the same position, with reference to you, as that in which I stood before.‘
‚You harden your heart against me, Rose,‘ urged her lover.
‚Oh Harry, Harry,‘ said the young lady, bursting into tears; ‚I wish I could, and spare myself this pain.‘
‚Then why inflict it on yourself?‘ said Harry, taking her hand. ‚Think, dear Rose, think what you have heard to-night.‘
‚And what have I heard! What have I heard!‘ cried Rose. ‚That a sense of his deep disgrace so worked upon my own father that he shunned all–there, we have said enough, Harry, we have said enough.‘
‚Not yet, not yet,‘ said the young man, detaining her as she rose. ‚My hopes, my wishes, prospects, feeling: every thought in life except my love for you: have undergone a change. I offer you, now, no distinction among a bustling crowd; no mingling with a world of malice and detraction, where the blood is called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and shame; but a home–a heart and home–yes, dearest Rose, and those, and those alone, are all I have to offer.‘
‚What do you mean!‘ she faltered.
‚I mean but this–that when I left you last, I left you with a firm determination to level all fancied barriers between yourself and me; resolved that if my world could not be yours, I would make yours mine; that no pride of birth should curl the lip at you, for I would turn from it. This I have done. Those who have shrunk from me because of this, have shrunk from you, and proved you so far right. Such power and patronage: such relatives of influence and rank: as smiled upon me then, look coldly now; but there are smiling fields and waving trees in England’s richest county; and by one village church–mine, Rose, my own!–there stands a rustic dwelling which you can make me prouder of, than all the hopes I have renounced, measured a thousandfold. This is my rank and station now, and here I lay it down!‘
* * * * *
‚It’s a trying thing waiting supper for lovers,‘ said Mr. Grimwig, waking up, and pulling his pocket-handkerchief from over his head.
Truth to tell, the supper had been waiting a most unreasonable time. Neither Mrs. Maylie, nor Harry, nor Rose (who all came in together), could offer a word in extenuation.
‚I had serious thoughts of eating my head to-night,‘ said Mr. Grimwig, ‚for I began to think I should get nothing else. I’ll take the liberty, if you’ll allow me, of saluting the bride that is to be.‘
Mr. Grimwig lost no time in carrying this notice into effect upon the blushing girl; and the example, being contagious, was followed both by the doctor and Mr. Brownlow: some people affirm that Harry Maylie had been observed to set it, originally, in a dark room adjoining; but the best authorities consider this downright scandal: he being young and a clergyman.