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Maruja Bret Harte

Chapter II

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He seized her hands passionately. "No, no! you shall hear me--you shall understand me. I love YOU, Maruja--you, and you alone. God knows I can not help it--God knows I would not help it if I could. Hear me. I will be calm. No one can hear us where we stand. I am not mad. I am not a traitor! I frankly admired your sister. I came here to see her. Beyond that, I swear to you, I am guiltless to her--to you. Even she knows no more of me than that. I saw you, Maruja. From that moment I have thought of nothing--dreamed of nothing else."

"That is--three, four, five days and one afternoon ago! You see, I remember. And now you want--what?"

"To let me love you, and you only. To let me be with you. To let me win you in time, as you should be won. I am not mad, though I am desperate. I know what is due to your station and mine--even while I dare to say I love you. Let me hope, Maruja, I only ask to hope."

She looked at him until she had absorbed all the burning fever of his eyes, until her ears tingled with his passionate voice, and then--she shook her head.

"It can not be, Carroll--no! never!"

He drew himself up under the blow with such simple and manly dignity that her eyes dropped for the moment. "There is another, then?" he said, sadly.

"There is no one I care for better than you. No! Do not be foolish. Let me go. I tell you that because you can be nothing to me--you understand, to ME. To my sister Amita, yes."

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The young soldier raised his head coldly. "I have pressed you hard, Miss Saltonstall--too hard, I know, for a man who has already had his answer; but I did not deserve this. Good-by."

"Stop," she said, gently. "I meant not to hurt you, Captain Carroll. If I had, it is not thus I would have done. I need not have met you here. Would you have loved me the less if I had avoided this meeting?"

He could not reply. In the depths of his miserable heart, he knew that he would have loved her the same.

"Come," she said, laying her hand softly on his arm, "do not be angry with me for putting you back only five days to where you were when you first entered our house. Five days is not much of happiness or sorrow to forget, is it, Carroll--Captain Carroll?" Her voice died away in a faint sigh. "Do not be angry with me, if-- knowing you could be nothing more--I wanted you to love my sister, and my sister to love you. We should have been good friends--such good friends."

"Why do you say, 'Knowing it could he nothing more'?" said Carroll, grasping her hand suddenly. "In the name of Heaven, tell me what you mean!"

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