`I came to tell you how glad I am to see you home again.'
`But I can't tell you how glad I am to see you, Kate.'
`We have been wearying so for your return,' said Kate, `mamma and I, and--and Madeline.'
`You said in your last letter that she was quite well,' said Nicholas, rather hastily, and colouring as he spoke. `Has nothing been said, since I have been away, about any future arrangements that the brothers have in contemplation for her?'
`Oh, not a word,' replied Kate. `I can't think of parting from her without sorrow; and surely, Nicholas, you don't wish it!'
Nicholas coloured again, and, sitting down beside his sister on a little couch near the window, said:
`No, Kate, no, I do not. I might strive to disguise my real feelings from anybody but you; but I will tell you that--briefly and plainly, Kate--that I love her.'
Kate's eyes brightened, and she was going to make some reply, when Nicholas laid his hand upon her arm, and went on:
`Nobody must know this but you. She, last of all.'
`Last of all--never, though never is a long day. Sometimes, I try to think that the time may come when I may honestly tell her this; but it is so far off; in such distant perspective, so many years must elapse before it comes, and when it does come (if ever) I shall be so unlike what I am now, and shall have so outlived my days of youth and romance--though not, I am sure, of love for her--that even I feel how visionary all such hopes must be, and try to crush them rudely myself, and have the pain over, rather than suffer time to wither them, and keep the disappointment in store. No, Kate! Since I have been absent, I have had, in that poor fellow who is gone, perpetually before my eyes, another instance of the munificent liberality of these noble brothers. As far as in me lies, I will deserve it, and if I have wavered in my bounden duty to them before, I am now determined to discharge it rigidly, and to put further delays and temptations beyond my reach.'
`Before you say another word, dear Nicholas,' said Kate, turning pale, `you must hear what I have to tell you. I came on purpose, but I had not the courage. What you say now, gives me new heart.' She faltered, and burst into tears.
There was that in her manner which prepared Nicholas for what was coming. Kate tried to speak, but her tears prevented her.
`Come, you foolish girl,' said Nicholas; `why, Kate, Kate, be a woman! I think I know what you would tell me. It concerns Mr Frank, does it not?'
Kate sunk her head upon his shoulder, and sobbed out `Yes.'
`And he has offered you his hand, perhaps, since I have been away,' said Nicholas; `is that it? Yes. Well, well; it is not so difficult, you see, to tell me, after all. He offered you his hand?'
`Which I refused,' said Kate.
`Yes; and why?'
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