My mother found it, after a year of cunning search--ay, and found the child.'
'She took it, did she?'
'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 know,' 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.