10. The Turquoise Ring
Stephen stood absolutely still in front of the opening in the trees, and as Rose turned she
met him face to face. She had never dreamed his eyes could be so stern, his mouth so
hard, and she gave a sob like a child.
"You seem to be in trouble," Stephen said in a voice so cold she thought it could not be
"I am not in trouble, exactly," Rose stammered, concealing her discomfiture as well as
possible. "I am a little unhappy because I have made some one else unhappy; and now
that you know it, you will be unhappy too, and angry besides, I suppose, though you've
seen everything there was to see."
"There is no occasion for sorrow," Stephen said. "I did n't mean to break in on any
interview; I came over to give you back your freedom. If you ever cared enough for me to
marry me, the time has gone by. I am willing to own that I over-persuaded you, but I am
not the man to take a girl against her inclinations, so we will say good-bye and end the
thing here and now. I can only wish"--here his smothered rage at fate almost choked him-
"that, when you were selecting another husband, you had chosen a whole man!"
Rose quivered with the scorn of his tone. "Size is n't everything!" she blazed.
"Not in bodies, perhaps; but it counts for something in hearts and brains, and it is
convenient to have a sense of honor that's at least as big as a grain of mustard-seed."
"Claude Merrill is not dishonorable," Rose exclaimed impetuously; "or at least he is n't as
bad as you think: he has never asked me to marry him."
"Then he probably was not quite ready to speak, or perhaps you were not quite ready to
hear," retorted Stephen, bitterly; "but don't let us have words,- there'll be enough to regret
without adding those. I have seen, ever since New Year's, that you were not really happy
or contented; only I would n't allow it to myself; I kept hoping against hope that I was
mistaken. There have been times when I would have married you, willing or unwilling,
but I did n'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-bye, 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.