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A Young Girl's Wooing by E. P. Roe

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The Works of E. P. Roe

Volume Sixteen

A YOUNG GIRL'S WOOING

Illustrated

1884

[Illustration: "ARE YOU SO BENT UPON WINNING HER, GRAYDON?"]

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I
A Crescent of a Girl

CHAPTER II
Graydon Muir

CHAPTER III
The Parting

CHAPTER IV
Effort

CHAPTER V
Achievement

CHAPTER VI
The Secret of Beauty

CHAPTER VII
Not a Miracle

CHAPTER VIII
Rival Girls

CHAPTER IX
The Meeting

CHAPTER X
Old Ties Broken

CHAPTER XI
"I Fear I Shall Fail"

CHAPTER XII
The Promptings of Miss Wildmere's Heart

CHAPTER XIII
"You Will Be Disappointed"

CHAPTER XIV
Miss Wildmere's Strategy

CHAPTER XV
Perplexed and Beguiled

CHAPTER XVI
Declaration of Independence

CHAPTER XVII
Not Strong in Vain

CHAPTER XVIII
Make Your Terms

CHAPTER XIX
An Object for Sympathy

CHAPTER XX
"Veiled Wooing"

CHAPTER XXI
Suggestive Tones

CHAPTER XXII
Disheartening Confidences

CHAPTER XXIII
The Filial Martyr

CHAPTER XXIV
"I'll See How You Behave"

CHAPTER XXV
Gossamer Threads

CHAPTER XXVI
Mrs. Muir's Account

CHAPTER XXVII
Madge's Story

CHAPTER XXVIII
Dispassionate Lovers

CHAPTER XXIX
The Enemies' Plans

CHAPTER XXX
The Strong Man Unmanned

CHAPTER XXXI
Checkmate

CHAPTER XXXII
Madge is Matter-of-Fact

CHAPTER XXXIII
The End of Diplomacy

CHAPTER XXXIV
Broken Lights and Shadows

CHAPTER XXXV
A New Experiment

CHAPTER XXXVI
Madge Alden's Ride

CHAPTER XXXVII
"You are Very Blind"

CHAPTER XXXVIII
"Certainly I Refuse You"

CHAPTER XXXIX
"My True Friend"

CHAPTER XL
The End of the Wooing

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"_Are you so bent upon winning her, Graydon?_"

_"There, now, be rational" cried the young girl_

_Her lips were parted, her pose, grace itself_

"_Promise me you will take a long rest_"

"_So you imagine I shall soon be making love to another girl?_"

CHAPTER I

A CRESCENT OF A GIRL

When Madge Alden was seventeen years of age an event occurred which
promised to be the misfortune of her life. At first she was almost
overwhelmed and knew not what to do. She was but a young and
inexperienced girl, and for a year or more had been regarded as an
invalid.

Madge Alden was an orphan. Four years prior to the opening of our
story she had lost her mother, her surviving parent, and since had
resided with her elder sister Mary, who was several years her
senior, and had married Henry Muir, a merchant of New York City. This
gentleman had cordially united with his wife in offering Madge a home,
and his manner toward the young girl, as far as his absorbed and busy
life permitted, had been almost paternal. He was a quiet, reticent
man, who had apparently concentrated every faculty of soul and body on
the problem of commercial success. Trained to business from boyhood,
he had allowed it to become his life, and he took it very seriously.
It was to him an absorbing game--his vocation, and not a means to some
ulterior end. He had already accumulated enough to maintain his family
in affluence, but he no more thought of retiring from trade than would
a veteran whist-player wish to throw up a handful of winning cards.
The events of the world, the fluctuations in prices, over which he had
no control, brought to his endeavor the elements of chance, and it was
his mission to pit against these uncertainties untiring industry and
such skill and foresight as he possessed.

His domestic life was favorable to his ruling passion. Mary Alden, at
the time of her marriage, was a quiet girl, whose early life had been
shadowed by sorrow. She had seen her father pass away in his prime,
and her mother become in consequence a sad and failing woman.
The young girl rallied from these early years of depression into
cheerfulness, and thoroughly enjoyed what some might regard as a
monotonous life; but she never developed any taste for the diversions
of society. Thus it may be surmised that Mr. Muir encountered no
distractions after business hours. He ever found a good dinner
awaiting him, and his wife held herself in readiness to do what
he wished during the evening, so far as the claims of the children
permitted. Therefore there were few more contented men in the city
than he, and the name of Henry Muir had become a synonym among his
acquaintances for methodical business habits.

In character and antecedents his younger brother, Graydon Muir, who
was also an inmate of his family, presented many marked contrasts to
the elder man. He had received a liberal education, and had graduated
at a city college. He had developed into one of the best products
of metropolitan life, and his defects were chiefly due to the
circumstances of his lot. During his academic course he had been known
as an athletic rather than a bookish man, and had left his Alma Mater
with an Apollo-like physique. At the same time he had developed fine
literary tastes, and was well informed, even if he had not gone very
deeply into the classics and the sciences that were remote from the
business career which he had chosen. After a brief interval of foreign
travel he had entered his brother's office, and was schooling his
buoyant, pleasure-loving temperament to the routine of trade. When
business hours were over, however, Graydon gave himself up to the
gratification of his social tastes. His vitality and flow of spirits
were so immense that wherever he went he always caused a breezy ripple
of excitement. Even veteran society girls found something exhilarating
in the mirthful flash of his blue eyes, and to be whirled through
a waltz on his strong arm was a pleasure not declined by reigning
belles. Many looks that to other men might have been the arrows of
Cupid were directed toward him, but they glanced harmlessly from
his polished armor. Society was to him what business was to his
brother,--an arena in which he easily manifested his power. At
the same time he was a manly fellow, and had no taste for corner
flirtations or the excitement of drawing perilously near to a
committal with those who would have responded to marked attentions.
The atmosphere he loved was that of general and social gayety. The
girls that he singled out for his especial regard were noted for their
vivacity and intelligence, as well as their beauty. Meanwhile he had
won a reputation for his good-natured attentions to "wall-flowers."
Such kindly efforts were rarely made at the promptings of conscience.
The truth was, he enjoyed life so fully himself that he disliked to
see any one having a dismal time. It gave him genuine pleasure to come
to a plain-featured, neglected damsel, and set all her blood tingling
by a brief whirl in a dance or a breezy chat that did her good, body
and soul, so devoid of satire or patronage was the attention. His
superb health and tireless strength, his perfect familiarity with the
usages of society, and his graceful decision of action made everything
he did appear as easy and natural as the beat of a bird's wing upon
the air, and in his large circle it was felt that no entertainment was
complete without his presence.

Graydon was still attending college when Madge Alden first became
associated with him in her home-life. She was then but thirteen, and
was small and slight for her age. The first evening when she came down
to dinner, shrinking in the shadow of her sister, lingered ever in her
memory. Even now it gave her pain to recall her embarrassment when she
was compelled to take her seat in the full blaze of the light and
meet the eyes of the one to whom she felt that she must appear so
very plain and unattractive. Clad in the deepest mourning, pallid
from grief and watching at her mother's bedside, coming from a life of
seclusion and sorrow, sensitive in the extreme, she had barely reached
that age when awkwardness is in the ascendant, and the quiet city
home seemed the centre of a new and strange world. One other thing she
remembered in that initial chapter of her life,--the kindly glances
that Graydon Muir bent on the pale crescent of a girl who sat opposite
to him. Even as a child she knew that the handsome young fellow was
not secretly laughing at or criticising her, and before dinner was
over she had ventured upon a shy, grateful glance, in reward for his
good-humored efforts to break the ice.

There had, in truth, been no ice to break. The child was merely like
a plant that had grown in the shade, and to her the strong, healthful
youth was sunshine. His smile warmed and vivified her chilled nature,
his hearty words and manner were bracing to her over-sensitive and
timid soul, and his unaffected, unforced kindness was so constant that
she gradually came to regard it as one of the best certainties of her
life. She soon learned, however, that behind his sunny good-nature
was a fiery and impatient spirit, ready to manifest itself if he was
chafed beyond a certain point, and so a slight element of fear was
mingled with her childlike affection.

He had sufficient tact to understand Madge's diffidence, and he knew
that their family life would soon banish it. He welcomed this pale
slip of a girl to their home circle because it gave him pleasure to
pet and rally such a wraith into something like genuine existence. He
also hoped that eventually she would become a source of amusement to
him. Nor was he disappointed. Madge's mind was not colorless, if her
face was, and she gradually began to respond to his mirthfulness, and
to take an interest, intelligent for a child, in what occupied his
thoughts. Kindness creates an atmosphere in which the most sensitive
and diffident natures develop and reveal themselves, and Madge Alden,
who might easily have been chilled into a reticent and dispirited
girl, eventually manifested an unusual versatility of fancy and
thought, acquiring also no slight power of expression.

Thus Graydon obtained his reward. His brother was a grave and silent
man, to whom few themes could be broached except those of business
and the events and politics of the day in their relation to trade. His
sister-in-law was absorbed in household and family cares, but Madge's
great black eyes responded with quick appreciation to all that he
said, and their merry nonsense often provoked a smile upon even the
face of Mr. Muir. The good-natured sympathy of the young man therefore
passed gradually into a genuine fraternal regard, and he rarely came
home of an evening without bringing flowers, bonbons, or some other
evidence that he had remembered her. Unconsciously to herself, he
became more to her than her sister, who was indulgent in the extreme,
but not very demonstrative. Her shyness disappeared, and his caresses
seemed as natural as those of an elder brother, in which light she
regarded him.

Thus time passed on, and the girl rapidly approached the stature of
womanhood. Apparently she grew too fast for her slight reserve of
physical strength. She nominally attended a fashionable school, but
was often absent from ill health, and for this reason her sister
permitted her to follow her own moods. Indolence and inanition
accounted largely for her lack of strength. Exercise brought
weariness, and she would not take it. Nothing pleased her more than to
curl up on a lounge with a book; and her sister, seeing that she was
reading most of the time, felt that she was getting an education. To
the busy lady a book was a book, a kind of general fertilizer of
the mind, and as Madge usually took cold when she went out, and was
assuredly acquiring from the multitude of volumes she devoured all
the knowledge a woman needed, she was safer in the evenly heated city
house. The sisters had independent fortunes of their own, and the
great point in Mrs. Muir's mind was that they should live and enjoy
them. If Madge was only sufficiently coddled now while she was
growing, she would get strong eventually; and so the good lady, who
had as much knowledge of hygiene as of Sanscrit, tempted the invalid
with delicacies, permitted her to eat the confectionery that Graydon
brought so often, and generally indulged a nature that needed wise and
firm development.

Thus Madge lived on, growing more pale and languid with each
succeeding year. The absence in the mountains and at the seashore
which Mr. Muir permitted to his family every summer brought changes
for the better, even though the young girl spent most of the time in a
hammock or reclining in the stern of a sail-boat. She could not escape
the invigoration caused by the mere breathing of pure air, but during
the winters in town she lost all and more than she had gained, and
sunk back into her old apathetic life.

This life, however, contained two elements which gave some color and
zest to her existence. All through the day she would look forward to
Graydon's return from business, and when she heard his latch-key the
faintest possible color would steal into her cheeks. Up-stairs, two
steps at a time, he would come, kiss her, waltz her about the room
with a strength which scarcely permitted her feet to touch the floor,
then toss her back on the lounge, where she would lie, laughing,
breathless, and happy. With a man's ignorant tolerance he accepted her
character as an invalid, and felt that the least he could do was
to brighten a life which seemed so dismal to him. When he came down
dressed for dinner or some evening engagement, she looked at him with
a frank, admiring pride that amused him immensely. When he returned
earlier than usual he often found her still upon the lounge with her
inevitable book, usually a novel, and then he would take her upon
his lap and call her his "dear little spook, the household ghost that
would soon cease to cast a shadow;" and she, with a languid curiosity,
would easily beguile from him a portrayal of the scenes through which
he had just passed. She cared little for them, but from his stores
of vitality and strength he imparted life to her, and without
understanding why, she simply knew she was happy.

Apart from her fondness for the unreal scenes presented by the
miscellaneous books she read--scenes all the more unreal because she
had no experience by which to correct them--she had one other taste
which promised well for the future--a sincere love of music. She was
taking lessons, but it was from a superficial teacher, who was content
to give her pretty and showy pieces; and she brought even to this
favorite study the desultory habits which characterized all her
efforts to obtain an education. When she sat down to her piano,
however, nature was her strong ally. Her ear was fine and correct, and
her sensitive, fanciful spirit gave delicacy and originality to her
touch. It scarcely seems possible for one to become a sympathetic
musician without a large degree of imagination and a nature easily
moved by thought and feeling. The young girl's thoughts and feelings
were as yet very vague, not concentrated on definite objects, and yet
so good a connoisseur as Graydon often acknowledged her power, and
would listen with pleased attention to her girlish rendering of music
made familiar to him by the great performers of the day. He enjoyed it
all the more because it was her own interpretation, often incorrect,
but never commonplace or slovenly; and when her fingers wandered among
the keys in obedience to her own impulses he was even more charmed,
although the melody was usually without much meaning. She was also
endowed with the rudiments of a fine voice, and would often strike
notes of surpassing sweetness and power; but her tones would soon
quaver and break, and she complained that it tired her to sing. That
ended the matter, for anything that wearied her was not to be thought
of.

Thus she had drifted on with time, unconscious of herself, unconscious
of the influences that would bring to pass the decisive events in
the future. She was like multitudes of others who are controlled by
circumstances of their lot until the time comes when a deep personal
experience applies the touchstone to character.

CHAPTER II

GRAYDON MUIR

Madge Alden was almost seventeen, and yet she was in many respects
a child. Scenes portrayed in books had passed before her mind like
pictures, having no definite significance. Mr. Muir was to her like
some of the forces in nature--quiet, unobtrusive, omnipotent--and she
accepted him without thought. Her sister was one whom she could
love easily as a matter of course. She was an indulgent household
providence, who cared for the young girl as she did for her own little
children. If anything was amiss in Madge's wardrobe the elder sister
made it right at once; if Madge had a real or imaginary ailment, Mary
was always ready to prescribe a soothing remedy; and if there was
a cloud in the sky or the wind blew chill she said, "Madge, do be
prudent; you know how easily you take cold." Thus was provided the
hot-house atmosphere in which the tender exotic existed. It could not
be said that she had thrived or bloomed.

Graydon Muir was the one positive element with which she had come in
contact, and thus far she had always accepted him in the spirit of a
child. He had begun petting her and treating her like a sister when
she was a child. His manner toward her had grown into a habit, which
had its source in his kindly disposition. To him she was but a weak,
sickly little girl, with a dismal present and a more dreary outlook.
Sometimes he mentally compared her with the brilliant girls he met in
society, and especially with one but a little older than Madge, who
appeared a natural queen in the drawing-room. His life abounded in
activity, interests, and pleasures, and if it was his impulse to throw
a little zest into the experiences of those in society who had no
claims upon him, he was still more disposed to cheer and amuse the
invalid in his own home. Moreover, he had become sincerely fond of
her. Madge was neither querulous nor stupid. Although not conceited,
he had the natural vanity of a handsome and successful man, and while
the evident fact that he was such a hero in her eyes amused him, it
also predisposed him to kindly and sympathetic feeling toward her.
He saw that she gave him not only a sisterly allegiance, but also a
richer and fuller tribute, and that in her meagre and shadowed life he
was the brightest element. She tried to do more for him than for any
one else, while she made him feel that as an invalid she could not do
very much, and that he should not expect it. She would often play
for him an hour at a time, and again she would be so languid that no
coaxing could lure her from the sofa. Occasionally she would even read
aloud a few pages with her musical and sympathetic voice, but would
soon throw down the book with an air of exhaustion, and plead that he
would read to her. In her weakness there was nothing repulsive, and
without calculation she made many artless appeals to his strength. He
generously responded, saying to himself, "Poor little thing! she has
a hard time of it. With her great black eyes she might be a beauty if
she only had health and was like other girls; but as it is, she is so
light and pale and limp that I sometimes feel as if I were petting a
wraith."

Of late she had begun to go out with him a little, he choosing
small and quiet companies among people well known to the Muirs, and
occasionally her sister also went. Her role of invalid was carefully
maintained and recognized. Graydon had always prided himself on his
loyalty as an escort; and as long as he was devoted, the neglect of
other young men was welcomed rather than regretted; for, except toward
him, all her old shyness still existed. With the consciousness that he
was caring for her she was well content with some half-secluded nook
of observation, from which she looked out upon scenes that were like
an animated story. She wove fanciful imaginings around those who
attracted her attention, and on her return laughingly discussed
the people who had passed, like players, before her eyes. Graydon
encouraged her to do this, for her ignorance of society made her
remarks original and amusing. He knew the conventional status of every
one they met as accurately as his brother recognized the commercial
value of the securities that passed under his eye, and Madge's
estimates often seemed absurd to the last degree.

Whenever she went out with Graydon his course was eminently
satisfactory; she never felt herself neglected, while at the same time
she saw that his attentions were welcomed everywhere. She never lost
her serene sense of proprietorship, and only grew more fond of him as
she noted how readily he left the side of beautiful and gifted women
to look after her. He had often laughingly asserted that he went into
society only for amusement, and his course under her own observation
confirmed his words.

Early in the winter during which our story opens, she had caught a
succession of colds, and one proved so severe and obstinate that her
friends were alarmed, fearing that she was going into a decline. She
slowly rallied, however, but was more frail than ever. Before the gay
season closed, just preceding Lent, Madge received an invitation to a
very large party. Graydon urged her to go, remarking that she had
not yet seen society. "Don't be afraid, I'll take care of you, little
ghost," he said, and with this assurance she accompanied him, contrary
to her sister's advice. It was indeed a brilliant occasion. The wide
rooms of a Madison Avenue palace were thronged, and she had never even
imagined such toilets as caught her eye on every side. There were
so many present that she could easily maintain her position of quiet
spectator, and her eyes dilated with pleasure as she saw that Graydon
was as much a leader as at other places where comparatively few were
present.

At last her attention was attracted by one who was evidently a late
comer, and whose presence appeared to fill the apartment. All the
others paled before her, as do the stars when the moon rises among
them. She was evidently young, and yet she did not suggest youth. One
would almost imagine that she had never had a childhood or a girlhood,
but was rather a direct creation of metropolitan society. Her
exquisitely turned shoulders and arms were bare, and the diamonds
about her neck were a circlet of fire. The complexion of her fair oval
face was singularly pure, and the color came and went so easily as to
prove that it owed nothing to art. The expression of her gray eyes was
rather cold and haughty when at rest, and gave an impression of pride
and the consciousness of power. The trait which to the observant
Madge seemed most marked at first, however, was her perfect ease. Her
slightest movement was grace itself. Her entire self-possession was
indicated by the manner in which she greeted the men who sought her
attention, and many there were. She could be perfectly polite, yet
as repellent as ice, or she could smile with a fascination that even
Madge felt would be hard to resist. This girl, who was such an immense
contrast to herself, wholly fixed her attention as she stood for a few
moments, like a queen, surrounded by her courtiers.

Graydon had gone for a glass of water, and meeting a friend had been
detained for a brief space. Madge saw him coming, saw his eye light up
with admiration as he caught sight of the beautiful stranger, but he
came directly to her, and asked, genially, if there was anything else
she would like.

"Yes. Who is that girl yonder?"

"Miss Wildmere. Isn't she lovely? She promised me, last week, her
first dance for this evening. Will you excuse me for a little while?"

"Certainly;" and yet she was conscious of a sudden and odd little
protest at heart.

He approached the beauty. Miss Wildmere's face flushed with pleasure
and softened into a welcoming smile, such as she had not yet bestowed
upon any who had sought her favor. Then, in swift alternation, she
bent upon Madge a brief, cold glance of scrutiny. So brief was it, and
so complacent was the expression of the belle as she turned away, that
the pallid, sensitive girl was told, as by words, "You are nothing."

That glance was like a sharp, deep wound, and pierced where she
was most vulnerable. It said to her, "You are not capable of being
anything to Graydon Muir. I am not in the least afraid of you."

What was she to him? What did she wish to be? To these questions Madge
had but one answer. Any and every girl, in her belief, would be only
too glad to win him. He had said that Miss Wildmere was lovely; his
eyes had expressed an admiration which he had never bestowed upon her;
he had led the beauty away with a glad content in his face, and the
crowded room was made empty by their absence.

She was no longer conscious of weakness, but, obeying her impulse,
sprang up and followed them to the ballroom. Concealed by a little
group she stood, unwearied, and watched them as they glided hither and
thither with a grace that attracted many eyes. The music appeared to
control and animate them, and their motion was harmony itself. Graydon
evidently thought only of his fair partner; but her swift glances were
everywhere, gathering the rich revenue of admiration which was freely
offered. For a second she encountered Madge's large black eyes, full
of trouble, and a satirical smile proved that she enjoyed the poor
girl's solicitude. To deepen it she looked up at Graydon and said
something that caused his face to flush with pleasure. His response
was more decisive, for the swift color came into her face, and her
eyes drooped. The by-play was momentary, and would not have been
seen by a less vigilant observer than Madge; but to her it gave the
undoubted impression that they were lovers. When Miss Wildmere looked
again to see the result of her unkindly strategy, Madge was gone.

In reaction she had grown almost faint, and reached her former retreat
with difficulty. But all her latent womanhood speedily rallied to
meet this strange and but half-comprehended emergency. The impulse now
uppermost was to retain her self-control and reach the seclusion of
her own room. How she was to endure the long hours she scarcely knew.
She did not dare to think. Indeed, the effort was scarcely possible,
for her mind was at first in tumult, with only one thing clear, a
poignant sense of loss and trouble.

Graydon was a long time away, longer than he had ever been before when
acting as her escort. While she felt this neglect, and interpreted it
naturally, she was not sorry. She dreaded meeting him again. In one
brief hour her old ease and freedom with him had gone. She wondered at
the change in herself, yet knew that it was as definite and decided as
if she had become another person. When be had brought her the glass
of water she could look into his face with the frank directness of a
child. Why could she not do so now? Why did she almost tremble at the
thought of his glance, his touch, his presence? She knew that he would
come back with his old genial, kindly manner--that he would be
the same. But a change had occurred in her which made the fabled
transmutations of magic wands seem superficial indeed. Would he note
this change? Could he guess the cause? Oh, what _was_ the cause? Even
her pale face grew crimson, for there are truths that come to the
consciousness like the lightning from heaven. She did not need to
think, to weigh and reason. A woman's heart is often above and beyond
her reason, and hers had been awakened at last by the all-powerful
touch of love.

The time passed, and still Graydon did not come. He was not absent
very long, and yet it began to seem terribly long to her. She had
overrated her powers, and found that even pride could not sustain her.
She had no reserve of strength to draw upon. The heat of the room grew
oppressive, and she was unaccustomed to throngs, confusion, and noise.
The consciousness of her weakness was forced upon her most painfully
at last by the appearance of Miss Wildmere on Graydon's arm. The
belle was smiling, radiant, her step elastic, her eyes shining with
excitement and pleasure. Her practiced scrutiny had assured her that
she was the queen of the hour; the handsomest and most courtly man
present was so devoted as to suggest that he might easily become a
lover; she had seen many glances of envy, and one, in the case of poor
Madge, of positive pain. What more could her heart desire? Graydon
conducted her to her chaperon, near whom half a dozen gentlemen were
waiting for a chance to be his successor; and, having obtained
her promise for another dance later in the evening, he turned
deprecatingly to Madge. His apologies ceased before they were half
spoken. She looked so white and ill that he was alarmed, and asked
permission to get her a glass of wine.

"No, Graydon," she said, then hesitated, for she felt the color coming
into her face, while a strange blur confused every object in the room.
"I'm very, very sorry," she added, hastily, after a moment. "I ought
not to have come. I'm not equal to this. It wouldn't take you very
long to drive home with me, and then you could return. Please,
Graydon."

Her tone was so urgent, and she appeared so weak, that he complied at
once, saying, with much compunction, "I should not have left you alone
so long, but supposed you were amusing yourself by looking at the
people."

She did not trust herself to reply. Her one thought was to reach the
refuge of her own apartment, and to this end she concentrated her
failing energies. The climb to the ladies' dressing-room was a
desperate effort; but when she was once outside the house the cold,
pure air revived her slightly.

"You can excuse me to our hostess--she will not care," she faltered,
and it seemed to her then that nobody would care. Miss Wildmere's
glance had conveyed the estimate of society. If she could believe
herself first in Graydon's thoughts she would not be cast down, but
now the truth was overwhelming.

She leaned away from him in the corner of the carriage, but he put his
strong arm round her and drew her to his breast. She tried to resist,
but was powerless. Then came the torturing thought, "If I repel
him--if I act differently--he will guess the reason," and she was
passive; but he felt her slight form tremble.

"My poor little ghost, you are ill in very truth! I'm indeed sorry
that I left you so long."

"Believe me, Graydon, I am ill. Please let that excuse me and explain.
Oh, that I--I were strong, like Miss Wildmere!"

"Isn't she a beauty?" exclaimed the unconscious Graydon. "The man who
wins her might well be proud, for he would have competitors by the
score."

"Your chances seem excellent," said Madge, in a low tone.

He laughed complacently, but added: "You don't know these society
belles. They can show a great deal of favor to more than one fellow,
yet never permit themselves to be pinned by a definite promise. They
are harder to catch and hold than a wild Bedouin; but such a girl as
Miss Wildmere is worth the effort. Yes, Madge, I do wish you were like
her. It would be grand sport to champion you in society and see you
run amuck among the fellows. It's a thousand pities that you are such
an invalid. I've thought more than once that you were designed to be a
beauty. With your eyes and Stella Wildmere's health you would be quite
as effective after your style as she is in hers. Never mind, little
sister, I shall stand by you, and as long as I live you shall always
have a luxurious sofa, with all the novels of the northern hemisphere
at your command. Who knows? You may grow strong one of these days.
When you do I'll pick out the nice fellows for you."

At every kindly word her heart grew heavier, and when the carriage
stopped at their door she could hardly mount the steps. In the hall
she faltered and caught the hat-rack for support. He lifted her in
his arms and bore her easily to her room, her sister following in much
solicitude. "It's nothing," said Madge; "the company was too large and
exciting for me. There was no need of Graydon's carrying me upstairs,
but he would do it."

"You poor dear!" began her sister, broodingly. "I feared it would be
so. Graydon is made of iron, and will never realize how delicate you
are."

"He's very kind, and more considerate than I deserve. As he says," she
added, bitterly, "I'm nothing but a ghost, and had better vanish."

"Nonsense, Madge," said the young man, with brusque kindness. "You
know I want you to haunt me always. Good-by now, little sister. I
shall be _de trop_ if I stay any longer. You'll be better in the
morning, and to-morrow evening I'll remain home and entertain you."

CHAPTER III

THE PARTING

At last Madge was alone. Her sister had suggested everything she could
think of, meanwhile bewailing the young girl's extreme imprudence.
Madge entreated for quiet and rest, and at last was left alone. Hour
after hour she lay with wide, fixed gaze. Her mind and imagination
did not partake of her physical weakness, and now they were abnormally
active. As the bewilderment from the shock of her abrupt awakening
passed, the truth hourly grew clearer. From the time she had first
come under her sister's roof Graydon Muir had begun to make himself
essential to her. His uniform kindness had created trust, freedom, and
a content akin to happiness. Now all was swept away. She understood
that his love was an affection resulting from pity and the strong,
genial forces of his nature. The girl who could kindle his spirit and
inspire the best and most enthusiastic efforts of his manhood must be
like Miss Wildmere--strong, beautiful, capable of keeping step with
him under society's critical eyes, and not a mere shadow of a woman
like herself. Her morbidly acute fancy recalled the ballroom. She saw
him again after his return, encircling the fair girl with his arm, and
looking down into her eyes with a meaning unmistakable. Oh, why had
she gone to that fatal party! The past, in contrast to the present and
the promise of the future, seemed happiness itself.

What could she do? What should she do? The more she thought of it
the more unendurable her position appeared. In her vivid
self-consciousness the old relations could not continue. Heretofore
his caresses had been a matter of course, of habit. They could be so
no longer. She shrank from them with inexpressible fear, knowing they
would bring what little blood she possessed to her face and very brow
in tell-tale floods. The one event from which her sensitive womanhood
drew back in deepest dread was his knowledge of her love. To prevent
this she would rather die, and she felt so weak and despairing that
she thought and almost hoped she would die. If she could only go away,
where she would not see him, and hide her wound! But how could she,
chained near his daily presence by weakness and helplessness?

Thus through the long night her despairing thoughts went to and fro,
and found no rest. Miss Wildmere's cold glance met her everywhere with
the assurance that such a creature as she could never be anything to
him, and, alas! his own words confirmed the verdict. Love that gives
all demands all, and such pitiful affection as he now gave was only a
mockery. The morning found her too weak to leave her room, and for
the few following days she made illness her excuse for remaining in
seclusion. As Graydon looked ruefully at her vacant chair the fourth
evening after the company, Mrs. Muir remarked, reproachfully, "I hope
you now realize how delicate Madge is. You never should have coaxed
her to go to that party."

He was filled with compunction, and brought her flowers, boxes of
candy, books, and everything which he imagined would amuse her. At the
same time he was growing a little impatient and provoked. He knew
that he had taken her from the kindest motives. Now that she gave up
utterly to her invalidism, he was inclined to question its necessity.
He found that he missed her more than he would have imagined, and his
brief hours at home were dreary by reason of her seclusion.

"Why don't you call in a first-class physician and put Madge under
a thorough course of treatment?" he asked, irritably. "She has no
disease now that I know anything about, and I don't believe it's
necessary that she should remain so weak and lackadaisical."

"We did have our doctor call often, and he said she would outgrow her
troubles if she would take plenty of fresh of fresh air and exercise.
And now she positively refuses to see a physician."

"I wouldn't humor a sick girl's fancies. She needs tonics and a
general building up. With your permission I'll stop on my way downtown
to-morrow and tell Dr. Anderson to call."

Mrs. Muir repeated the conversation to her sister, with the
literalness of which only unimaginative women are capable. Madge
turned her face to the wall, and said, coldly and decisively, "I
refuse to see a physician. I am no longer a child, and my wishes must
be respected." After a moment she added, apologetically: "A doctor
could do me no good. I shall soon be stronger. You understand me
better than Dr. Anderson can. You are the best and kindest nurse that
ever breathed, and I've had enough of doctors. I'll take anything you
give me."

These politic words appealed to Mrs. Muir's weak point. Nothing
pleased her better than to believe that she could act the part of
physician in the family, and prescribing for Madge was a source of
unflagging interest. When she informed Graydon of their decision in
the morning, he muttered something not very complimentary to either of
the ladies; but his good-nature prevailed, and instead of the doctor
he ordered a superb bouquet of Jacqueminot roses.

Meanwhile events were taking place of which Madge had no knowledge,
but which would favor the plan slowly maturing in her mind. Mr. Muir's
business affairs had been taking a turn which made it probable that
he would soon have to send his brother abroad. As long as there was
uncertainty the reticent man said nothing, but at last he received
advices which brought him to a prompt decision, and Graydon was told
that he must go at once. The young fellow submitted with fairly
good grace. A brief foreign residence had its attractions, but it
interfered with his incipient suit to Miss Wildmere. He felt that he
had not gone far enough for a definite proposal, but he showed, during
the brief call that his time permitted, an interest which the young
lady well understood. Since he was to be absent for an indefinite
period, and would have no chance to observe her other little affairs,
she permitted herself to be gracious and regretful up to the point of
inspiring much hope for the future. With a nicety of tact--the result
of experience--she confirmed his view that they had made favorable
impressions on each other, and that for the present they must be
content with this.

He had but a day in which to make his preparations in order to catch
a fast steamer that sailed at daylight the following morning. Madge's
first sensation when she learned of his near departure was one of
immense relief. The possibility which she had so dreaded could not
now be realized, and her plan could be carried out with far less
embarrassment. But as time passed, and she knew that their separation
was so near, her heart relented toward him with inexpressible
tenderness. The roses that perfumed the room were a type of his
unstinted kindness and consideration. She was just enough to
acknowledge that these were even more than she could naturally expect
from him--that the majority of young men would have treated her with
a half contemptuous pity which she was now beginning to admit would
be partially deserved. On the occasions when she had gone out with him
she had learned how unattractive in society her pale face and shy ways
were. Such attentions as she had received had been to her sensitive
spirit like charity. Graydon had been animated by unaffected good-will
and an affection that was, after its kind, genuine. While she
felt that it would be no longer possible to receive these mild
manifestations of regard while giving something so different, she
still knew, with a half despairing sinking of heart, how blank and
desolate her life would be without them. She must meet him once more,
and word was sent that she would receive his good-by after dinner.
Having safely passed this one interview, she hoped that she might be
able to control the future, and either cease to be, or bring about
changes upon which she had resolved.

Only a soft, dim light shone in her room when he came to say farewell.

"Why, Madge," he exclaimed, "you are better! You actually have color.
Perhaps it is fever, though," he added, dubiously. "At any rate, it's
very becoming."

"I think it must be the reflection from your roses there, you
extravagant fellow," she replied, laughing.

"That's famous, Madge. If you will laugh again like that I'll send
you a present from Paris. Dear Madge, do get well. Don't let us have
anything dismal in our parting. It's only for a little while, you
know. When I come back it will be summer, and I'll take you to the
seashore or mountains or somewhere, and help you get well."

"You are very kind, Graydon. You have been a true brother to me from
the time you tried to cheer and encourage the pale, frightened little
girl that sat opposite you at the dinner-table. Don't you remember?"

"Of course I do. It seemed so droll to me that you were afraid when
there was nothing to be afraid of."

"My fear was natural. Little as I know of the world, I know that--at
least for one like me. It may seem weak and silly to you, but, brought
up as I had been, I was morbidly sensitive. You might have meant to
be kind and sympathetic and all that, and yet have hurt me cruelly.
I have been out with you enough to know how I am regarded. I don't
complain. I suppose it is the way of the world, but it has not been
your way. You have brought sunshine from the first, not from a sense
of duty, not out of sheer humiliating pity, but because it was the
impulse of your strength to help and cheer one who was so weak, and
if--if--anything--Well, I want you to know before you go away that I
appreciate it all and shall never forget it."

"Oh, come, Madge, don't talk so dismally. What do you mean by
'if--if--anything'? You are going to get strong and well, and we will
open the campaign together next fall."

She shook her head, but asked, lightly, "How will Miss Wildmere endure
your absence?"

"Easier than you, I imagine. She knows how to console herself. Still,
as my little sister, I will tell you in confidence that she was very
kind in our parting interview. How much her kindness meant only she
herself knows, and I've been in society long enough to know that it
may mean very little."

"Are you so wholly bent upon winning her, Graydon?"

"Oh, you little Mother Eve! You are surely going to get well. There is
no sign of longevity in a woman so certain as curiosity. I've not yet
reached the point of breaking my heart about her, whatever she does.
Wouldn't you like so beautiful a creature for your sister?"

"The contrast would be too great. I should indeed seem a ghost
beside her. Still, if she would make you happy--" But she could go no
further.

"Well, well, that's a very uncertain problem of the future. Don't say
anything about it at home. My brother don't like her father. They do
not get on well in business. Let us talk about yourself. What are you
going to do while I am gone?"

"What can such a shadow as I do? Tell me rather what you are going
to do, and where you'll be. You are real, and what you do amounts to
something."

"There's one thing I'm going to do, and that is, write you some jolly
letters that will make you laugh in spite of yourself. They will be
part of the tonic treatment that I want you to promise me to begin at
once."

"I have already entered upon it, Graydon," she said, quietly, "and I
don't think any one will value your letters more than I, only I may
not get strong enough to write very much in reply. I've never had
occasion to write many letters, you know. Tell me where you will be
and what you are going to do," and she leaned back upon her lounge and
closed her eyes.

While he complied, he thought, "She has grown pale and thin even to
ghastliness, yet I was sure she had color when I first came in. Poor
little thing! perhaps her fears are well founded, and I may never
see her again;" and the good-hearted fellow was full of tender and
remorseful regret. He was quite as fond of her as if she had been his
own sister, perhaps even more so, for his affection was not merely the
result of a natural tie, but of something congenial to his nature in
the girl herself, and it cut him to the heart to see her so white and
frail. He stopped a moment, and she opened her eyes and looked at him
inquiringly.

"Oh, Madge," he broke out, "I'm so sorry I took you to that confounded
party. You seemed getting on hopefully until that blasted evening.
You must get well enough to haunt me after your old fashion. You don't
know what a dear little sister you have become, and I didn't know it
myself until you were secluded by illness, and all through my fault.
You have barricaded yourself long enough with that stand and its vase
of roses. I'm not going to say good-by at this distance." He removed
the stand, and seating himself by her side, he drew her head down
upon his shoulder and kissed her again and again. "There now," he
continued, "you look perfectly lovely. Kisses are a part of the tonic
treatment you need, and I wish I were going to be here to give them.
Why, you queer little woman! I did not know you had so much blood in
your body."

"It's--it's because I'm not strong," she said, struggling for release.
Suddenly she became still, her face took on almost the hue of death,
and he saw that she was unconscious.

In terrible alarm he laid her hastily on the lounge, and rushed for
Mrs. Muir.

"She has merely fainted," said that experienced woman, after a
moment's examination. "You never will learn, Graydon, that Madge is
not as strong as yourself. Call one of the maids, and leave her to
me."

That was the last time he saw Madge Alden for more than two years. She
soon rallied, but agreed with her sister that it would be best not
to see him again. She sent him one of his own roses, with the simple
message, "Good-by."

Late at night he went down to the steamer, depressed and anxious,
carrying with him the vivid memory of Madge lying white and death-like
where he had laid her apparently lifeless form.

"I shall never see her again," he muttered. "Such weakness must be
mortal."

CHAPTER IV

EFFORT

The deep experience, the touchstone of character, of latent power,
if such existed, had come to Madge Alden. For days she had drifted
helplessly on the rising tide of an apparently hopeless love. With
every hour she comprehended more fully what Graydon Muir had become
to her and all that he might have been. It seemed that she had been
carried forward by a strong, quiet current, only to be wrecked at
last. A sense of utter helplessness overwhelmed her. She could not
ignore her love; it had become interwoven with every interest and
fibre of her life. At first she contemplated it in wonder, in deeply
troubled and alarmed perplexity. It was a momentous truth, that had
suddenly been made known as some irretrievable misfortune might
have been revealed. She had read of love as children hear of mental
anxieties and conflicts of which they have no comprehension. As she
grew older it had been like poetry, music, romance--something that
kindled her imagination into vague, pleasant dreams. It had been as
remote from the present and her own experience as lives of adventure
in strange and foreign lands. She had awakened at last to find that
it was like her vital breath. By some law of her nature she had given,
not merely her thoughts and affection, but her very self to another.
To her dismay it made no difference that he had not sought the gift
and was not even aware of it. Circumstances over which she had no
control had brought her into close companionship with Graydon Muir.
She had seen him almost daily for years; she knew him with the
intimacy of a sister, yet without the safeguard of a natural tie; and
from his genial kindness she had drawn almost all the life she had
ever possessed. With an unconsciousness akin to that of a plant which
takes root and thrives upon finding a soil adapted to it, her love had
been developed by his strong, sunny nature. She soon recognized that
it was a love such as she had never known, unlike that for her mother
or sister or any one else, and it seemed to her that it could pass
away only with herself. It was not a vague sentiment, an indefinite
longing; it was the concentrated and imperious demand of her whole
being, which, denied, left little indeed, even were the whole world
hers. Yet such were the cruel conditions of her lot that she could
not speak of it even to one whose head had been pillowed on the same
mother's breast, and the thought that it might be discovered by
its object made her turn cold with dread. It was a holy thing--the
spontaneous product of an unperverted heart--and yet she must hide it
as if it were a crime.

Above all the trouble and turmoil of her thoughts, clear and definite
amid the chaos brought into her old quiet, languid life, was
the impulse--the necessity--to conceal that which had become the
mainspring of her existence. She had not the experience of one versed
in the ways of the world. How could others--how could he--be kept in
ignorance of that of which she was so painfully and vividly conscious?
Therefore, overwhelmed with dread and a sense of helplessness, she
yielded to her first impulse to hide, in order that what seemed
inseparable from herself might be concealed.

But she knew that this seclusion could not last--that she must meet
this first and great emergency of her life in some other way. From the
strong wish to obtain safety in separation, a plan to bring it about
gradually took form in her mind. She must escape, either to live or
to die, before her secret became known; and in casting about for the
means, she at last thought of a family who had been the kindest of
neighbors in the village where her mother had died. Mr. Wayland and
his wife had been the truest and most sympathetic of friends to the
widow and her orphan children, and Madge felt that she could be at
home with them. Mrs. Wayland's prolonged ill-health had induced her
husband to try, in her behalf, the remedy of an entire change of air
and climate. Therefore they had removed, some years before, to Santa
Barbara, on the Pacific coast. The signal success of the experiment
now kindled a glimmer of hope in poor Madge. That remote city
certainly secured the first requisites--separation and distance--and
the fact that her friend found health and vigor in the semi-tropical
resort promised a little for her frail young life. She had few fears
that her old friends would not welcome her, and she was in a position
to entail no burdens, even though she should remain an invalid.

The practical question was, How should she get there? But the more
she thought upon the plan the more attractive it grew. The situation
seemed so desperate that she was ready for a desperate remedy. To
remain weak, helpless, and in perpetual dread was impossible.

Her mind also was clear and strong enough for self-arraignment, and
in bitterness she partially condemned herself that she had lost her
chance for happiness. Her conscience had often troubled her that she
had given up so weakly to the habit of invalidism, but she had never
had sufficient motive for the vigorous and sustained effort essential
to overcome it. Indeed, her frailty had seemed a claim upon Graydon,
and made it more natural for him to pet her. Now that she was thinking
deeply, she was compelled to admit that her ill health was to some
extent her fault as well as her misfortune. Circumstances, natural
indolence, and her sister's extreme indulgence had brought about a
condition of life that propagated itself. One languid day was the
parent of another, it was so much easier to dawdle than to act. Thus
she had lost her opportunity. If he had won health, even Graydon
said it would have brought her beauty. She might have secured his
admiration, respect, and even love, instead of his pity. What could be
more absurd than to imagine that he could give aught else to one like
herself? "Oh, what a blind fool I have been!" she moaned--"blind
to the wants of my own heart, blind to the truth that a man needs a
strong, genial companion, and not a dependent shadow."

Graydon's sudden departure took from her project many obstacles and
embarrassments. She was not afraid of her sister or her remonstrances,
and felt that she could convince Mr. Muir that the change gave the
best promise for the future. Graydon's objections would have been hard
to meet. He might have been led to guess her motive or insist on
being her escort. Now it was merely a question of gaining sufficient
strength for the journey and of being resolute.

Mrs. Muir's opposition was not so great as Madge had feared, and Mr.
Muir even approved of the plan. The shrewd merchant's judgment was
usually correct on all practical matters, and he believed that Madge's
best chance was in a radical change. He saw that his wife's indulgence
tended to confirm her sister's lack of energy, and that it would be
best for Madge to spend the next few years with one who had regained
her health by wise endeavor. Mrs. Muir soon saw everything as her
husband viewed it, and the young girl prepared for a new world and a
new life.

It was indeed a wise decision. There could be no more aimless drifting
and brooding. A telegram to Mr. Wayland brought immediate acquiescence
in the project, which was arranged more in detail by letters. Madge
strove in every possible way to fit herself for the journey, and was
surprised at her success. Better than all tonics was the diversion of
her thoughts, the prospect of change, the necessity for action. In her
thoughtful prudence she even satisfied Mrs. Muir's solicitude, for the
young girl realized more fully every day how much depended upon her
plan. It seemed to her that there could be no greater misfortune than
to become so ill again that in helplessness she must await Graydon's
return. Therefore, every faculty of mind, every power of body, was
exerted to accomplish her purpose; and, while her farewell to
her sister and Mr. Muir was tender and full of gratitude, the
consciousness of escape was uppermost in her mind. An elderly friend
of Mr. Muir would be her escort to San Francisco, and in that city Mr.
Wayland was to meet her.

She arrived safely at her far-distant home, greatly worn and exhausted
indeed, but calm in mind from a sense of security. Mrs. Wayland
greeted her with her old-time cordiality, and gave herself heartily to
the task of rallying the frail girl into health.

During the days of absolute rest which followed the journey, Madge's
thoughts were busy. The width of the continent would separate her
from the past and those associated with it. Both the breadth of the
continent and the ocean were between her and him from whom she had
fled; yet he was ever present to her imagination. In this respect the
intervening miles counted for nothing. She had not hoped that they
would. She could conceive of no plan of life that left him out, yet
she felt that she must have some object to look forward to, some
motive for action. The spirit she had recently shown in taking so
decisive a step proved her to possess a latent force of character of
which she herself had not been conscious. She would not sit down to
dream and brood away the future. She could never hope for Graydon
Muir's love. He would soon return to New York, and the idea that
Miss Wildmere or any other girl would remain cold to his suit was
preposterous. Yet if she lived she must meet Graydon again, and she
now felt that she would live. The decision she had manifested at the
crisis of her life was kindling her nature. She was conscious of a
growing inclination to prove to Graydon that she was neither "weak
nor lackadaisical." The reproach of these, his words, haunted her and
rankled in her memory. If she could only make him respect her--if she
could only win such a look of admiration as she had seen upon his face
when he first recognized Miss Wildmere at the party, it would be a
triumph indeed.

Thus a new plan, a new hope, was developed, and became the inspiration
of effort. She listened unweariedly as Mrs. Wayland related how she
had turned the tide of her ebbing vitality. Thus Madge gained the
benefit of another's experience. Little by little she sought to
increase her slender resources of strength. The superb climate enabled
her to live almost in the open air, and each day she exulted over an
increase of vigor. Almost everything favored her in her new home.
When she was well enough to go out much the strangers had gone, and
everything in the town was restful, yet not enervating. The Waylands,
while on the best terms with other permanent residents, were not
society people. Mrs. Wayland had become satisfied with that phase of
life in her youth. Her husband was a reader, a student, and something
of a naturalist. The domestic habits which had been formed while Mrs.
Wayland was an invalid still clung to them. While never ceasing to be
kind neighbors, they were more than content with books, nature, and
each other. Madge therefore had access to a very fine library, and the
companionship of intellectual people who had known from contact the
present world, and in whose cultivated minds dwelt the experiences of
the past. Her friends were in the habit of discussing what they
read, and the basis of much of their enjoyment--as of all true
companionship--was harmonious disagreement. Thus the young girl was
insensibly taught to think for herself and to form her own opinions.
They also proved admirable guides in directing her reading. She felt
that she had read enough for mere amusement, and now determined to
become familiar with the great master-minds, so far as she was capable
of following them, and to inform herself on those subjects which Mr.
Wayland declared essential to an education.

If circumstances within doors were conducive to mental growth, those
without were even more favorable to physical development. The salt air
and softly tempered sunshine were perpetual tonics. The place was full
of exquisite flowers. She felt that she had never seen roses until she
came to Santa Barbara. To a wounded, sensitive spirit there is even
a healing influence in the brightness and perfume of flowers. They
smiled so sweetly at her that she could not help smiling back. The
sunny days passed, one so like another that they begot serenity. The
even climate, with its sunny skies, tended to inspirit as well as to
invigorate. Almost every day she spent hours in driving and sailing,
and as the season advanced she began to take ocean baths, which on
that genial coast are suitable almost all the year round. Going thus
to nature for healing, she did not appeal in vain. Strength and
grace were bestowed imperceptibly, yet surely, as spring clothes the
leafless tree.

A love such as had grown unbidden and unconsciously in Madge's heart
could not be content with the meagre reward of a little admiration.
Such an affection was softening and ennobling in its character, and
the mere desire to compel Graydon to glance at her as she had seen him
look at Miss Wildmere grew into the higher ambition to become such a
woman as would approach in some degree his ideal. She knew his tastes,
and as she thought over the past she believed she could gauge his
character as could no other. She soon recognized that he was not an
exceptional man, that she was not worshipping a hero. He himself
would be the last one to claim pre-eminence among his fellows. But his
genial, open nature, his physical strength, and his generous, kindly
impulses made him an eminently lovable man, and--well, she loved him,
and believed she ever should. Frail and defective in almost every
respect herself, she would have thought it absurd to cherish some
lofty and impossible ideal. He was hearty, wholesome, honest, and
she soon began to see that it would be a better and a nobler thing--a
nearer approach to happiness--to become a woman whom he could trust
and respect than merely to win a little admiration as a tribute to
ephemeral beauty.

She would attain beauty if she could, but it should be the appendage,
the ornament of mind and character. She, who had seemed to him
weakness itself, would aim to suggest eventually that noblest phase of
strength--woman's patience and fortitude.

It must not be supposed that Madge reached these conclusions in days,
weeks, or even months. Her final purposes were the result of slow,
half-conscious growth. Right, brave action produced right feeling, and
there are few better moral tonics than developing health. With richer,
better blood came truer, higher, and more unselfish thoughts. She
found that she could not only live, but that vigorous, well-directed
life is in itself enjoyment. It was a pleasure to breathe the pure,
balmy air, even when reclining in a carriage or a sail-boat, and as
she gained strength sufficient for exercise, she soon became aware of
the rich physical rewards that wait upon it. Slowly at first, but with
an increasing impetus, she advanced toward health, the condition
of all genuine life. She at last exchanged her carriage for a
saddle-horse.

Mr. Wayland had one taste in which his wife did not share--a love
for horseback exercise, which, indeed, was one of the chief
characteristics of the community. Madge knew that Graydon was
extremely fond of a good horse, and that he rode superbly. To become
his equal therefore in this respect was one of the chief dreams of
her ambition. It was with almost a sense of terror that she mounted at
first, but Mr. Wayland was considerate. Her horse was only permitted
to walk, and she was taken off as soon as she was weary. Confidence
increased rapidly, and eventually she became fearless and almost
tireless. The beach was like a smooth, hard road-bed, and before the
summer was over she thought little of a gallop of ten miles, with the
breath of the Pacific fanning her cheek. When Mr. Wayland drove with
his wife up through Mission and Hot Springs canons, or eight miles
away to the exquisitely beautiful Bartlett Canon and the fine adjacent
ranches, she accompanied them on horseback. As she flashed along past
date-palms, and through lemon and orange groves, she began to appear
semi-tropical herself. She also became Mr. Wayland's companion on his
botanizing expeditions, and her steps among the rocks of the foothills
and on the slopes of the mountains grew surer, lighter, and more
unwearied. Color stole into her face, and a soft fire into her dark
eyes when animated. Mrs. Wayland looked on with increasing delight,
and thought, "She is growing very beautiful. I wonder if she knows
it?"

Indeed she knew it well. What young girl does not? But Madge had a
motive for knowledge of which Mrs. Wayland did not dream. In the main
the girl was her own physician, and observed her symptoms closely. She
knew well what beauty was. Her vivid fancy would at any time recall
Miss Wildmere as a living presence; therefore her standard was
exceedingly high, and she watched her approach to it as to a distant
and eagerly sought goal. Other eyes gave assurance that her own
were not deceiving her. The invalid on whom at first but brief and
commiserating glances had been bestowed was beginning to be followed
by admiring observation. Society recognized her claims, and she
was gaining even more attention than she desired. As her strength
increased she accepted invitations, and permitted the circle of her
acquaintance to widen. It was part of her plan to become as much
at home in the social world as Graydon himself. Nor was she long in
overcoming a diffidence that had been almost painful. In one sense
these people were to her simply a means to an end. She cared so little
for them that she was not afraid, and had merely to acquire the ease
which results from usage. Diffidence soon passed into a shy grace that
was indefinable and yet became a recognized trait. The least approach
to loudness and aggressiveness in manner was not only impossible to
her, but she also possessed the refinement and tact of which only
extremely sensitive natures are capable. A vain, selfish woman is so
preoccupied with herself that she does not see or care what others
are, or are thinking of, unless the facts are obtruded upon her;
another, with the kindest intentions, may not be able to see, and so
blunders lamentably; but Madge was so finely organized that each one
who approached her made a definite impression, and without conscious
effort she responded--not with a conventional and stereotyped
politeness, but with an appreciative courtesy which, as she gained
confidence and readiness of expression, gave an unfailing charm to her
society. With few preconceived and arbitrary notions of her own she
accepted people as they were, and made the most of them. Of course
there were some in whom even the broadest charity could find little to
approve; but it was her purpose to study and understand them and lose
forever the unsophisticated ignorance at which Graydon had used to
laugh.

Santa Barbara was a winter resort, and she had the advantage of
meeting many types. In Mrs. Wayland she had a useful mentor. This
lady in her younger days had been familiar with the best phases of
metropolitan society, and she counteracted in Madge all tendencies
toward provincialism. Thus it gradually became recognized that the
"shy, sickly little girl," as she had been characterized at first, was
growing into a very attractive young woman. Indeed, after an absence
of only a year her own sister would scarcely have recognized her.

CHAPTER V

ACHIEVEMENT

Mrs. Muir of course heard often from her sister, and was satisfied
with the general assurance that she was better and steadily improving.
Madge, however, was rather indefinite in her information. As time
passed, the idea of giving her friends in the East a surprise took
possession of her fancy. She instinctively felt that she needed every
incentive to pursue the course she had resolved upon, since she often
suffered from fits of depression hard to combat. The hope of appearing
like a new being to her relatives was another innocent motive for her
long-prolonged effort. Circumstances had never developed epistolary
tastes in the sisters, and they were content with brief missives
containing general assurances that all was well. Mrs. Muir was one of
those ladies who become engrossed with the actual and the present. Had
Madge been in her old room she would have been looked after with daily
solicitude; being absent, she was loved none the less, but was simply
crowded from thought and memory by swarms of little cares. She was
doing well, and her sister was satisfied. "'It's a wonderful climate,'
Madge writes," she would say, "so even and dry. Madge doesn't take
cold as she did here, and can go out nearly every day. Perhaps we
ought to become reconciled to the fact that she will have to live
there always, since here, with our sudden changes, she could scarcely
live at all."

With the kindliest intentions Graydon had sought to initiate a
vigorous correspondence. He had learned with immense relief of Madge's
improvement through change of residence, and he felt that a series of
jolly letters might bring aid and hopefulness. Her responses were not
very encouraging, however, and business cares, with the novelty
of foreign life, gradually absorbed his thoughts and time until
correspondence languished and died.

"It's the old story," he thought, with a shade of irritation. "Letters
cost effort, and she is not equal to effort, or thinks she is not."

If he could have seen Madge at that moment riding like the wind on a
spirited horse he would have been more astonished than by any of the
wonders of the old world.

To Madge his letters were a source of mingled pain and pleasure, but
the former predominated. In every line they breathed an affection
which could never satisfy. Coldness or indifference could not have
so assured her that her love was hopeless; and when she sat down to
reply, the language of her heart was so unlike that which she must
write as to make her feel almost guilty of deliberate deception.
Correspondence made him too vividly present, and she was learning that
she had the power, not of forgetting him, but of so occupying her
mind with tasks for his sake as to attain serenity. The days were
made short by efforts of which he deemed her incapable, and weariness
brought rest at night. But when she sat down with her pen, confronting
him and not what she sought to do for him, her heart sank. He was too
near and dear, yet too remote, even for hope.

This emotion is, however, the most hardy of plants, and although she
had often assured herself that she had never entertained it or had any
reason to do so, almost before she was aware she found it growing in
her heart. Business still kept Graydon abroad, although a year had
passed. There were no indications that he was pressing his suit with
Miss Wildmere, and our heroine's mirror and the eyes of others began
to tell her that the confident belle would not now bestow a glance so
cold and indifferent as to mean, "You can be nothing to him or to any
one." Moreover, Miss Wildmere's coveted beauty might prove an ally.
One so attractive would be sought, perhaps won, before Graydon
returned, and absence might have taught him that his regard had been
little more than admiration. Naturally Madge would not be inclined
to think well of one who had brought so cruel an experience into her
life; but, prejudice apart, the society girl had given evidence of a
type of womanhood not very high. Even Graydon, in his allusions, had
suggested a character repulsive to Madge. A woman "as hard to capture
and hold as a 'Bedouin'" was not at all her ideal. The words presented
to her one who was either calculating or capricious, either heartless
or fickle.

"Truly," she thought, "if there was ever a man who merited
whole-hearted, lifelong constancy, it is Graydon Muir; and if he even
imagines Miss Wildmere incapable of this, why should he think further
of her? Perhaps while beyond the spell of her beauty he has formed a
truer estimate of her character, and has abandoned all thought of her
as a mocking dream. Perhaps--"

Of what possibilities will not a young girl dream at the dictation
of her heart? And as she saw the sharp lines of her profile softening
into loveliness, the color fluctuating in her cheeks even at her
thoughts, her thin, feeble arms growing white and firm, and the
rounded grace of womanhood appearing in all her form, she began to
hope that she could endure comparison with Miss Wildmere, even on
her lower plane of material beauty. But Madge had too much mind to
be content with Miss Wildmere's standard. She coveted outward
attractiveness chiefly that the casket might secure attention to its
gems. The days of languid, desultory reading and study were over, and
she determined to know at least a few things well.

It was to music, however, that she gave her chief attention, since she
believed that for this art she had some positive talent A German in
the pursuit of health had drifted to the remote southern city. He was
past middle age, but had retained through numberless disappointments
and discouragements the one enthusiasm of his life; and in Madge he
found a pupil after his own heart. While his voice had lost much of
its freshness and power, his taste was pure and refined. He kindled
in the young girl's mind something of his own love and reverence for
music on its own account. To Madge, however, it would always remain
a method of expression rather than a science or an art, and the old
professor at last learned to recognize her limitations. She would be
excellent in only those phases of music which were in accord with her
own feeling and thought. She would not, perhaps could not, study it
as he had done, for her woman's nature and the growing purpose of her
life were ever in the ascendant; but under his guidance her taste grew
purer and her knowledge and power increased rapidly. What she did
she learned to do well. Even Herr Brachmann was often charmed by the
delicate originality of her touch, which proved that her own thought
and feeling were infused into the music before her.

But her voice delighted him most. With her increasing vigor was gained
the ability to use her vocal organs in sustained effort. He guarded
her carefully against over-exertion, and her advance was assured
and safe. Note after note, true, sweet, and strong, was added to the
compass of her voice, and this exercise reacted with increased benefit
on her general health. One can scarcely become a vocalist without
toning up the vital organs, and in learning to sing Madge provided
an antidote against consumptive tendencies. Her gift of song at
last began to attract attention. Strangers loitered near the Wayland
Cottage during warm, quiet evenings, and in society she was importuned
by those who had heard her before. She usually complied, for she was
training herself to sing before an audience of one who was familiar
with the best musical talent of the world. Not that she wished to
invite comparisons with this kind of talent, but merely to sing with
such simple sweetness and truth that Graydon would forget the trained
professional in the unaffected charm of the natural girl.

The manner of those who listened stimulated her hope. At the first
notes of her song all conversation ceased. Even the unappreciative
were impressed by a certain pathos, an appealing minor tone, which
touched the heart while pleasing the ear.

During the long summer that followed her first winter at Santa Barbara
the little town sank into a semi-torpid state. Strangers disappeared.
With many of the permanent residents to kill time was the main object
of languid effort. To Madge the season brought varied opportunity. The
old professor gave her much of his time. While others slept she read
and studied. The heat, tempered by the vast Pacific, was never
great, and the air had a vitality that proved a constant aid to her
controlling motive. In the morning she rode or took some form of
skilled exercise in which she knew Graydon to be proficient, and she
rarely missed her ocean bath. Such health was she acquiring that it
was becoming a joy in itself. As with all earnest, constant natures,
however, her supreme motive grew stronger with time.

In August she received tidings from the East that caused much
solicitude and depression. Graydon had returned for a brief visit,
and had joined Mr. and Mrs. Muir at a seaside inn. "A Miss Wildmere
is staying here also," her sister wrote, "and, somewhat to Mr. Muir's
disapproval, Graydon seems not only well acquainted with her, but
unusually friendly. Mr. Muir says that if she is like her father she
is a 'speculator'; and from the attention she receives and the way she
receives it one would think he was right. Graydon, however, seems to
be her favorite, and if he could remain long enough it is not hard to
see what might happen. But she is a great belle and a coquette too,
I should imagine, and she has a large enough following to turn any
girl's head. I don't wonder at it either, for she is the most lovely
creature I ever saw, and yet she doesn't make a pleasant impression
on me. The men are just wild about her. Mr. Muir looks askance at
Graydon's devotion, and mutters 'speculator' when Miss Wildmere's name
is mentioned. Graydon returns to Europe next week. He inquires often
after you, and his questions make me feel that I don't know as much
about you and what you are doing as I should. You write often, but
somehow you seem remote in more senses than one. I suppose, however,
you are reading as usual, and just floating along down stream with
time. Well, no matter, dear. You write that you are better and
stronger, and have no more of your old dreadful colds. You must spend
next summer with us, even if you have to go back to Santa Barbara in
the winter."

Neither the shortness of his visit nor the fascinations of Miss
Wildmere prevented Graydon from writing Madge a cordial note full
of regret that he should not see her. "You have indeed," he wrote,
"vanished like a ghost, and become but a haunting memory. It is a year
and a half since I have seen you, and I did not succeed in beguiling
you into a correspondence. Like the good Indians, you have followed
the setting sun into some region as vague and distant as the 'happy
hunting-ground.' Mary says that you will come East next summer. The
idea! Is there anything of you to come that is corporate and real? If
I had the time I would go to you and see. I find Miss Wildmere just
about where I left her, only more beautiful and fascinating, and
besieged by a host. Absence makes my chance slight indeed, but I do
not despair. She so evidently enjoys a defensive warfare, wherein it
is the besiegers who capitulate, that she may maintain it until
my exile abroad is over. This is to my mind a more rational
interpretation of her freedom than that she is waiting for me; and
thus I reveal to you that modesty is my most prominent trait. She may
be married before I see her again; and should this prove to be the
case I will show you what a model of heroic equanimity I can be."

Madge read this letter with a sigh of intense relief, and was not long
in resolving that when he came again she would enter the lists with
Miss Wildmere and do what her nature permitted before her chance
of happiness passed irrevocably. Graydon's letter kindled her hope
greatly. It seemed to her that she was to have a chance--that her
patient effort might receive the highest reward after all. She thanked
God for the hope. Her love was a sacred thing. It was the natural,
uncalculating outgrowth of her womanhood, and was inciting her toward
all womanly grace.

Madge did not believe her motive, her purpose, to be unwomanly. Should
the opportunity offer, she did not intend to win Graydon by angling
for him, by arts, blandishments, or one unmaidenly advance. She would
try to be so admirable that he would admire her, so true that he would
trust her, and so fascinating that he would woo her with a devotion
that would leave no chance for "equanimity" were it possible for
him to fail. If in her desperate weakness, in the chaos of her
first self-knowledge, she could hide her secret, she smiled at the
possibility of revealing it now that she had been schooled and trained
into strength and self-control.

In her brief letter of reply to Graydon she wrote:

"That I still exist and shall continue to live is proved by my one
trait which you regard as encouraging--curiosity. Please send me some
books that will tell me about Europe, or, rather, will present Europe
as nearly as possible in its real aspect. I may never travel, but am
foolish enough to imagine that I can see the world from the standpoint
of this sleepy old town."

"Poor little wraith!" said Graydon, as he read the words. "What
a queer, shadowy world her fancy will create, even from the most
realistic descriptions I can send her!" But he good-naturedly made
up a large bundle of books, in which fiction predominated, for he
believed that she would read nothing else.

The days gilded on, autumn merged into winter, and strangers came
again. Madge was acquiring an experience of which at one time she had
never dreamed. She found herself in Miss Wildmere's position. Every
day she was put more and more on the defensive. Gentlemen eagerly
sought her society, and her situation was often truly embarrassing,
for she had as little desire that the besiegers should capitulate
as she had intention of surrendering herself. In this respect Miss
Wildmere's tactics were easier to carry out. _She_ was not in the
least annoyed by any number of abject and committed slaves, and she
was approaching the period when she proposed to surrender with great
discretion, but to whom was not a settled point.

Madge was beginning to make victims also, but she made them by being
simply what she was, and those who suffered most had to admit to
themselves that she was almost as elusive as a spirit of the air.

In the spring visitors to the health resort, returning to the East,
brought to the Muirs rumors of Madge's beauty, fascination, and
accomplishments. They were a little puzzled, but concluded that
Madge had appeared well in a rendezvous of invalids, and were glad to
believe that she was much better. Prudent Mrs. Muir wrote, however,
"Do not think of returning till the last of May. Then we shall soon
go to the mountains. This will be another change, and change in your
case, you know, has proved so beneficial! We expect Graydon soon. He
is tired of residence abroad, and has so arranged the business that a
confidential clerk can take his place."

Madge smiled and sighed. The test of her patient endeavor was about to
come.

CHAPTER VI

THE SECRET OF BEAUTY

Mr. and Mrs. Wayland had become so attached to Madge that they
were the more ready to listen to her solicitation that they should
accompany her East and visit their old haunts. "Very likely I shall
return with you," said the young girl, "and make Santa Barbara my
home."

This indeed was her plan should defeat await her. She had become
attached to the seaside town, as we do to all places that witness
the soul's deepest experiences and best achievements. She had learned
there to hope for the highest of earth's gifts; she believed that she
could live there a serene, quiet, unselfish life, her secret still
unknown, should that be her fate.

The old German professor was almost heartbroken at her departure. "It
vas alvays so," he said; "ven mine heart vas settled on someding,
den I lose it;" but she reassured him by saying that there was no
certainty that she would not return.

Mary Muir was so overwhelmed with astonishment that at first she
scarcely returned Madge's warm embrace. She expected to find her
sister much stronger and better; but this radiant, beautiful girl,
half a head taller than herself--was she the shadowy creature who
had gone away with what seemed a forlorn hope? She held Madge off and
looked at her, she drew her to a mirror and looked at her again, then
exclaimed, "This is a miracle! Why did you not tell me?"

"I wished to surprise you. I did write that I was better."

"This is not better; it is best Oh, Madge, you have grown so pretty
you almost take away my breath--all travel-stained and weary, too,
from your journey! What will not Henry say? I should scarcely have
known you. Surely now you need not go back. You are the picture of
health."

"We shall see," said Madge, quietly. "It may be best if I find that
the East does not agree with me." She was fully determined to keep
open her line of retreat.

Mr. Muir, in his quiet way, enjoyed the transformation as greatly
as did his wife. He had foreseen changes for the better, but had not
hoped for anything like this, he declared.

"I just want to be near when Graydon first sees you!" exclaimed
voluble Mrs. Muir, at the dinner-table.

The remark was unexpected, and Madge, to her dismay, found the blood
rushing to her face. Quick as thought she put her handkerchief to
her mouth, and sought to escape notice under the ruse of a brief
strangulation. "This is not going to answer at all," she thought. "I
must acquire a better self-control." She at once began talking about
Graydon in the most simple and natural manner possible, asking many
questions. Mrs. Muir's intuition and powers of observation were not
very great, and she was without the faintest suspicion of what was
passing in Madge's mind. Keen-eyed, reticent Mr. Muir was not so
unheeding, however. When Graydon's name was mentioned he happened to
glance up from the dinner which usually absorbed his attention. In
dealing with men he had acquired the habit of keen observation. During
a business transaction his impassive face and quiet eyes gave no
evidence of his searching scrutiny. He not only heard and weighed
the words to which he listened, but ever sought to follow the mental
processes behind them; and often men had been perplexed by the fact
that the banker had apparently arrived at conclusions opposite to the
tenor of their statements. When, therefore, he saw the color flying
into Madge's face at the unexpected utterance of his brother's name,
his attention was arrested and an impression made to which his mind
would revert in the future. It might mean nothing; it might mean a
great deal. Business and home life were everything to Mr. Muir, and
Graydon's admiration of Miss Wildmere did not promise well for either.

The power that Mr. Muir had acquired mainly by practice Madge
possessed by nature. As we have seen, she was quite free from that
most unwomanly phase of stupidity which is often due to the heart
rather than the head. Some women know what is told them if it is told
plainly; others look into the eyes of those around them and see what
is sought to be concealed. The selfish woman is self-blinded. She
often has great powers of discernment, but will not take the trouble
to use them, unless prompted by her own interests. Selfishness is too
short-sighted, however, to secure lasting benefits. Usually, nothing is
more fatal than the success of mere self-seeking. While Madge pressed
unwaveringly toward the goal of her hopes, she did not do so in
thoughtless or callous indifference toward those who had true claims
upon her. With her sister she soon saw that all was well--that she
was, as before, absorbed and content with the routine of her life. She
was not so sure about her brother-in-law. During her absence lines
of care had appeared in his face, and there was an abstracted and
sometimes a troubled look in his eyes, as if he was pursued by
questions that were importunate and even threatening. The indications
of perturbation were slight indeed, but from his nature they would be
so in any case. Thus the young girl also received an impression which
awakened a faint solicitude. Mr. Muir, as her guardian and the manager
of her property, had been a true friend and loyal to his trust. She
entertained for him much respect and a strong, quiet affection. He
did not dwell in her thoughts merely as one who was useful to her, but
rather as one who had been true to her, and to whom she in her place
and way would be true and sympathetic were there occasion.

Madge was wearied indeed by her long journey, but not exhausted. In
sensations so different from those which had followed her journey to
the West she recognized her immeasurable gain. Then she had entered
Mrs. Wayland's cottage helpless, hopeless, a fugitive from her own
weakness. By wise endeavor she had transformed that very weakness into
her strength, and had returned to the scenes from which she had fled
earnest and resolute--one who had made her choice for life and would
abide by it. Womanly to her very finger-tips, she was acting with the
aggressive decision of a man. Sensitive and timid beyond most women,
she would not lose her happiness when it might be won in paths not
only hedged about by all the proprieties of her lot, but also by a
reserve and pride with which her own fine nature was pre-eminently
endowed. That she loved Graydon Muir was a truth for life. If he could
learn to love her from what she had sought to be, from what she simply
was, he should have the chance. Her own deep experience had taught her
much and given her the clew to many things. She had studied life, not
only in books, but in its actual manifestations. Mrs. Wayland was a
social mine in herself, and could recall from the past, volumes of
dispassionate gossip, free from malice. In two years Madge had learned
to know the world better than many who are in contact with it for long
periods, but who see all through the distorted medium of their own
prejudices or exceptional experiences. Although she was no longer
unsophisticated she was neither cynical nor optimistic. Before her
hope could be fulfilled she knew she must enter society, and she
studied it thoughtfully--its whims and meannesses as well as its laws
and refinements. If she ever reached Graydon's side she meant to stand
there with a knowledge and confidence as assured as his own. She soon
learned that it is common enough for women to seek to win men by every
alluring and coquettish device. She would employ no devices whatever.
She would merely reappear above his horizon among other luminaries,
and shine with her own pure, unborrowed light. Then it must depend
upon himself whether she ever became his own "bright particular star."

So much she felt she had a right to do, and no conventional hesitation
as to her course stood in her way. Her love had become the governing
impulse of her life, and its dictates were imperative until they
trenched upon her sensitive, womanly pride. Then they were met as the
rock meets the tide. She did not care what the world might think: it
should never have occasion to think at all. Her secret was between
herself and God. Graydon himself should never know it unless his name
became hers.

How vividly her old haunts recalled him! There was the lounge on which
he used to toss the "little wraith" after having carried her around
in the semblance of a waltz. The sofa on which had taken place their
strange parting still stood as of old in her room. There her head
had sunk in unconsciousness upon his breast, the result of her vain,
feeble struggle to escape from caresses so natural to him, but no
longer to be received by her.

What way-marks in life mute, commonplace things become in the light
of memory! To her vivid fancy Graydon was again present in all the
positions now made memorable by deep affection. The past unrolled
itself again as it had so often done before. She saw the pallid,
frightened child that scarcely dared to look deprecatingly at the
handsome young collegian. She saw again the kind yet mirthful eyes
that beamed encouragingly upon her. She remembered that in the
unworthy past they had ever looked upon her with a large, gentle,
affectionate tolerance, and she now took chiefly upon herself the
blame for those years of weakness. Her present radiant health and
beauty proved how unnecessary they had been, and her heart sometimes
sunk at the thought of what they might cost her.

Mary had accompanied her to her room, and was asked, in a careless
tone, what had become of Miss Wildmere.

"I was told incidentally the other day that she was as great a belle
as ever. I had hoped that she would be out of Graydon's way before
this time. I have heard, however, that great belles are often slower
in marrying than the homeliest girls. If all is true that is said,
this Miss Wildmere has made mischief enough; but I am not anxious that
our Graydon should cut short her career--that is, if marriage would
cut it short. I imagine she will always be a gay society woman. Well,
Madge, I suppose you must make up your mind to be a belle yourself.
Why don't you cut out this 'speculator,' as my husband calls her? If
Graydon had my eyes it wouldn't be a difficult task."

"Graydon hasn't your eyes or mine either," was the brusque reply. "I
propose to use my own. They may see some one that I have never met.
One thing at least is certain--I don't intend to cut out Miss Wildmere
or any one else. The man who wins me will have to do the seeking most
emphatically; and I warn you beforehand, sister mine, that you must
never let the idea of matchmaking enter your head. Since I have been
away I have developed more will of my own than muscle. There is no
necessity for me ever to marry, and if I do it will be because I wish
to, not because any one else wants me to. Nothing would set me
against a man more certainly than to see that he had allies who were
manoeuvring in his behalf;" and she concluded with a kiss that robbed
her words of a point too sharp, perhaps, for her sister's feelings.
She knew Mrs. Muir's peculiarities well enough, however, to believe
that such words were needed, and she had intended to speak them in
some form at the earliest opportunity. Therefore she was glad that she
could utter the warning so early and naturally in their new relations.
Nor was it uncalled for, since the thought of bringing Madge and
Graydon together had already entered Mrs. Muir's mind. A scheme of
this character would grow in fascination every hour. Poor Madge was
well aware that, with the best intentions, no one could more certainly
blast her hopes than her sister, whose efforts would be unaccompanied
by the nicest tact. Moreover, any such attempts might involve the
disclosure of her secret.

"Well, you have changed in every respect," said Mary, looking at her
wonderingly.

"For the better, I hope. My feeling in this respect, however, seems
to me perfectly natural. I don't see how a self-respecting girl could
endure anything except a straightforward, downright suit, with plenty
of time to make up her own mind. I can do without the man who does not
think me worthy of this, and could probably do without him any way.
Because a man wants to marry a girl is only one reason for assent, and
there may be a dozen reasons to the contrary."

"Why, Madge, how you talk! When you left us it seemed as if any one
might pick you up and marry you and you would not have spirit enough
to say yes or no. Have you had to refuse any one at Santa Barbara?
Perhaps you didn't refuse. You have told me so little of what was
going on!"

"That isn't fair to me, Mary. I explained to you that I wished to
give you a pleasant surprise. To plan a pleasure for you was
not unsisterly, was it? I haven't Miss Wildmere's ambition for
miscellaneous conquests. Why should I write about men for whom I cared
nothing and toward whom my manner should have made my spoken negative
unnecessary?"

"Other girls would. Well, it seems that their suit was downright
enough to satisfy you. Good gracious! How many were there?"

Madge laughed, yawned, and her sister saw that her dark eyes were full
of the languor of sleep, which added to their beauty.

"Oh, not many," she drawled. "I'll gossip about them some time when
not so tired. I'll indicate them by numerals. Why should I babble
their names in connection with what they called so sacred? I wonder
how many like sacred affairs had occurred before. If I tell you the
story of the wooing of Number One, Two, Three, and so on, that will
answer just as well, won't it?"

"No, indeed. I wish to know their names, family connection, and
whether they were well off or not."

Madge again laughed, and began to disrobe, in order to indicate that
their confidence must at least be adjourned for the present. Her
sister came and felt her perfect arms and rounded, gleaming shoulders.
"Why, Madge," she exclaimed, "your flesh is as white and smooth
as ivory, and almost as firm to the touch! It's a wonderful
transformation. I can scarcely believe, much less understand it. You
have grown so beautiful that you almost turn even my head."

"There is nothing so wonderful about it, Mary. Almost any girl may win
health, and therefore more or less beauty, if she has the sense and
will to make the effort. You know what I was when I left home. I
suggested doctors' bills more than anything else, and it was chiefly
my fault;" and she sighed deeply. "When I went to work in a rational
way to get strong, I succeeded. I believe this would be true with the
great majority. Good-night, dear. When I am rested I'm going to
help you in many ways, in return for all you did for that lazy,
lackadaisical, limp little nonentity that you used to dose and coddle
when you should have given her a good shaking."

"It's all a miracle," said Mrs. Muir to her husband, at the conclusion
of lengthy remarks about Madge.

"As much a miracle as my fortune," was the quiet reply. "Madge has had
sense enough to know what she wanted and how to get it."

CHAPTER VII

NOT A MIRACLE

Madge was simply fatigued from her long journey, and not oppressed
with want of sleep, for in passing through uninteresting portions of
the country she had given herself up to repose. The sense of weariness
passed with the hours of night, and she was among the earliest
stirring in the morning. Long before breakfast was ready she had
her trunks partially unpacked, her mind meantime busy with plans for
immediate action. At last her healthful appetite so asserted itself
that she went down to the dining-room. Mr. and Mrs. Muir had not yet
appeared, and she strolled into the parlor, opened her piano, and
played a few runs. She found it sadly out of tune from long disuse.
As this was not true of her voice, she began singing a favorite German
song.

In a moment the house was full of melody. Clear, sweet, and powerful,
her notes penetrated to the kitchen, where the maids were busy, and
they stopped in spellbound wonder, with dish or utensil in hand. Mrs.
Muir listened with her hair-brush suspended, while methodical Mr. Muir
laid down his razor, and, going to the door, set it ajar. The song
poured into the room like an harmonic flood. Before the first stanza
was completed Mrs. Muir had on her dressing-gown and was stealing
downstairs into the back parlor, and as Madge was beginning again she
rushed upon her.

"Why, why," she exclaimed, "I thought Nilsson or Patti had got lost
and taken refuge here! Can it be you? You are nothing but a surprise
from beginning to end. When will the wonders cease? Are you sure that
you are Madge?"

"Yes, and equally sure that I am hungry. When _will_ you be ready for
breakfast? I've been up these two hours."

"Well, well, well, what will Graydon say? He thinks you are still
little better than a ghost."

"He will say that I have been very sensible, and he will find me very
substantial and matter-of-fact. The question now uppermost is,
When will breakfast be ready?" cried the young girl, laughing, in
a childlike enjoyment of her sister's wonder, and a loving woman's
anticipation of triumph over the man who had once called her "weak and
lackadaisical."

She responded warmly to the embrace of Mrs. Muir, who added, "You have
come back to us a princess. Why, even Henry, whom nothing moves out of
the even tenor of his way, paused in his shaving, and with one side of
his face all lathered opened the door to listen."

"You tell him," cried Madge, in merry vein, "that he has given me
the greatest compliment I ever received. But compliments are not
breakfast."

Mrs. Muir returned to complete her toilet, and her husband soon
appeared.

"Madge," he said, greeting her kindly, "you have brought about great
changes. How have you accomplished them all in so brief a time?"

"The time has not been so very brief," she replied. "I have been away
over two years, remember. It's all very simple, Henry. I went to work
to get well and to learn something, as you give your mind and time to
business. In the Waylands, my old German professor, and especially
in the magnificent climate I had splendid allies. And you know I
had nothing else to do. One can do a great deal in two years with
sufficient motive and steady effort toward a few points."

"What was your motive, Madge?"

A slow, deep color stole into her face, but she looked unflinchingly
into his eyes as she asked, "Was not the hope of being what I am
to-day, compared with what I was, sufficient motive?"

"Yes," he replied, thoughtfully, "it was; but it appears strange to
me that more girls do not show your sense. Nine-tenths of the pallid
creatures that I see continue half alive through their own fault."

"If they knew the pleasure of being thoroughly alive," said Madge,
"they wouldn't dawdle another hour. I believe that I might have
regained health long before if I had set about it."

"Well, Madge, as your guardian I wish to tell you that I am deeply
gratified. You have done more for yourself than all the world could
do for you. I am a plain man, you know, and not given to many words.
There is only one thing that I detest more than a silly woman, and
that is a heartless, speculating one. Both are sure to make trouble
sooner or later. You certainly do not belong to the first type, and I
don't believe you will ever make a bad use of the beauty you have won
so honestly. Let me give you a bit of business experience, Madge. I
have seen men falter and fail by the score downtown, and usually it
was because women were playing the mischief with them--too often
women of their own households, who had no more idea of the worth of a
dollar, or how it is obtained, than a kitten. The one idea is to marry
for money, and then to spend it in parade. I believe you will be like
your sister Mary, who has given me a home, quiet, and peace." ("If I
ever give a man anything I'll give him a great deal more than that,"
Madge thought.) "And now," concluded Mr. Muir, "speaking of money,
I wish to go over your accounts with you soon, that you may know
everything and understand everything. It's absurd for women to be
helpless and dependent in this respect. You should know all about
your property, and the time has come when you should learn what
are regarded as safe investments, and what are not. My life is as
uncertain as any other man's, and I intend that you sisters shall not
be like two children, who must do blindly what some trustee tells you
to do;" and Mr. Muir complacently led the way to the breakfast-room,
feeling that as guardian he had done his duty both morally and
financially.

It was his way to speak plainly and promptly all he desired to say,
and then, according to his creed, if people had sense they would do
what was wise; if they had not, the less said the better.

Mrs. Muir was voluble during the morning meal. Now that Madge had come
again within the sphere of her domestic energy, she was fall of plans
and projects.

"Of course," she said, "you have nothing to wear. The outlandish
dresses that you had made at that jumping-off place in the West won't
answer. As soon as the Waylands have made their call we must go out
and begin ordering your summer outfit. Perhaps Mrs. Wayland will go
with us."

"Patience, Mary. We are not ready to order outfits yet."

"Why not?"

"Because we do not want to buy what interested shopmen and milliners
may choose to palm off on us. You live such a domestic life that you
are scarcely better informed than I as to the latest modes. We will
drive in the park, use our eyes on the avenue, and visit several
fashionable establishments first. Then I wish to find a dressmaker who
is not an idiotic slave of fashion, and who can modify the prevailing
styles by taste and appreciation of the person for whom she works. The
one whom I employ must make dresses for me and under my direction, and
not dresses in the abstract, as if they were for the iron-framed form
on which she exhibits her wares."

"Good!" cried Mr. Muir; "Madge's head is level. Let her have her own
way, Mary, and she will come out all right."

"Well," said Mrs. Muir, "I suppose it will take a little time for me
to get used to all these changes. Before she went away I used to
do everything for her. I'm going to have my own way in one thing,
however. You must not write to Graydon a word beyond the fact that
Madge is here. You have both laughed at me and my wonder, and
I'm going to have the compensation of seeing him transformed into
exclamation points."

Madge now turned toward Mr. Muir, and he could detect not the
slightest indication of embarrassment or overconsciousness, as
she said, "Certainly, Henry, you must not spoil this little bit of
prospective fun."

Madge did have her own way, and made her preparations with the quiet
decision and thoughtfulness which now characterized her actions.

The Waylands were frequent guests at Mr. Muir's home for a time, and
then departed to visit friends in the country.

Madge and her sister soon decided upon the Catskills as the place of
their summer sojourn. The choice of this region, so accessible from
the city, was pleasing to Mr. Muir.

"What are you reading?" he said, one evening, as he found Madge
surrounded by books and pamphlets.

"Reading up on the Catskills and their vicinity. A place is far more
interesting if you have associations with it, and I intend to be
versed in all the stories and legends of the region. In this I have a
little design upon you also. You look worn, Henry, and need rest and
change. You are too much devoted to business. I'm going to 'frivol,'
like the rest of the girls, in the evening--dance, and all that, you
know, but I shall try to keep you among the hills, and inveigle you
into long drives and walks by telling you exciting yarns that will
take the place of the dissipations of business. You needn't think you
will have to mope around the piazza, your body on a mountain and your
mind in Wall Street. You are getting old and rich, and you must begin
to take an interest in other things besides business."

"Now, that's thoughtful and kind of you," he said, and then he lapsed
into a revery that the contraction of his brow showed to be not
altogether agreeable.

At last he said, "Madge, I half believe you are right. I am and have
been too devoted to business. It's all very well as long as you can

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