Part 2 out of 7
drive it, but when it begins to drive you it is a hard task-master.
The times are bad. Instead of making anything, one has to use all his
faculties to keep from losing what he has made. It's getting to be a
grind. I sometimes wish I was out of it, but suppose I shouldn't know
what to do with myself."
"That's just it, Henry, you wouldn't. You must become interested in
other things, and that's a process which requires time, and I'll help
"Oh, you," he said, laughing--"you will soon have all you can do to
keep your beaux at bay."
"Beaux in this free and enlightened land have only certain rights
which a girl is bound to respect. Should there be any, and they
unreasonable, you'll see," she said, with a little decisive nod.
Then she added, gravely: "I don't believe you would be content out of
business, but I should think there was such a thing as trying to do
so much business that it would become a burden, and, perhaps, a heavy
one. You may think I'm a little goose, talking of what I know nothing
about; but I've read a great deal, and, of late, books worth reading.
I don't believe it is a good thing to change one's habits and pursuits
suddenly; and what's more, Henry, I believe that when the times are
better business will be as great a source of satisfaction to you as
ever. As I suggested before, you must gradually become interested in
other things which can take the place of business as you grow old."
"What a wise little woman we have become!" said Mr. Muir. "Here you
are giving your guardian sound advice--you who, I imagined once, would
take no more thought for the morrow than a lily of the field, and a
very pale one at that. This is a greater change than any that Mary
"Perhaps you think me very presuming," answered Madge, coloring.
"No, I do not. I think you very sensible, and I think myself very
fortunate in having such women in my household as you and Mary. I was
blue when I came home to-night, but it inspirits a man to talk to such
a girl. You have a power of good common-sense, Madge."
"Well, I have--I had--need of it."
"The majority would say you could afford to be silly. You have a
snug fortune of your own, of which not a penny can be lost unless the
bottom falls out of everything."
"I don't think any woman can afford to be silly. I know that's a
sweeping word with you, and covers all feminine folly. What I meant
is this: Money and every good thing in life was a mockery. I couldn't
enjoy anything, and wasn't anything but a burden. I saw it all, and
that I should have to throw nonsense overboard if I wished to be
different. You will find that I have plenty left, however, before the
summer's over. Now, let me read to you Irving's legend of poor old
Rip. What if you have read it often? A little infusion of the champion
sleeper's spirit is just what you need;" and with simple purity of
tone and naturalness of accent she made the old story new to him.
"Madge," he said, as he kissed her good-night, "that is even better
than your singing. I feel so freshened and heartened up that I'm
another man, and in good trim for the fight to-morrow; for that is
just what business has become--a regular defensive fight. You didn't
think two years ago that you would send me down to Wall Street with a
clearer head and better courage."
"No, indeed, I didn't dream of it, and I can scarcely believe it's
true now. You used to seem to me like gravitation, that would always
be the same to the end of time."
"Bah! A man is only a man, and he finds it out sooner or later.
There's Jack crying again, and Mary hasn't had a chance to come down.
I'll take the child, for his teeth make him so nervous that he won't
stay with the nurse."
"I'll try my hand at him to-morrow," said the young girl, and was
absorbed in her reading again.
The days passed quickly, and Madge filled them full, as before at
Santa Barbara. As the time approached for Graydon's return, she felt
a quiet rising excitement akin to that which inspires a soldier when
a campaign is about to open; but to her brother-in-law and sister
she gave only the impression of decision of character and youthful,
healthful buoyancy. She was good-cheer itself in the household, and
helpful in every little domestic emergency. The servants and the
children welcomed her like sunshine, and she made the evenings all
too short by music and reading aloud. She blossomed out in her summer
costumes like a flower, so becoming to her style had been her choice
of fabrics and the taste with which they had been fashioned. June was
passing. In a day or two more Graydon would arrive, and the fruition
or failure of her patient endeavor begin.
Instead of Graydon there came a letter saying that he would be
detained abroad another week. The heat was oppressive, and the family
physician said that little Jack should be taken to the country at
once. Therefore they packed in haste, and started for a hotel in the
Catskills at which rooms had been engaged. Graydon was to join them
there as soon after his return as possible.
Madge looked wistfully at the mountains, as with shadowy grandeur
they loomed in the distance. There is ever a solemnity about mountain
scenery, and she felt it as she passed under the lofty brows of wooded
heights. To her spirit it was grateful and appropriate, for, while she
would lead among them apparently the existence of a young girl bent
only on enjoyment, she believed she would leave them, either a happy
woman, or else facing the tragedy of a thwarted life. Their deepest
shadows might, even when her laugh was gayest, typify the despondency
she would hide from all.
It was Saturday, and Mr. Muir accompanied his family. He and his wife
looked worn and weary, for at this time circumstances were bringing
an excess of care to both. Mrs. Muir was a devoted mother, and little
Jack had taxed her patience and strength to the utmost. A defensive
warfare is ever the severest test of manhood, and Mr. Muir had found
the past week a trying one. He had been lured into an enterprise that
at the time had seemed certain of success, even to his conservative
mind, but unforeseen elements had entered into the problem, and it now
required all his nerve, all his resources, to meet the strain. Neither
Madge nor his wife knew anything of this. Indeed, it was not his habit
to speak of his affairs to any one, unless the exigencies of the case
required explanation. In this emergency he was obliged to maintain
among his associates an air of absolute confidence. Now that he was
out of the arena he gave evidence of the strain.
Madge saw this, and resolved that her large reserve of vitality should
be drawn upon. The tired mother should be relieved and the perplexed
and wearied man beguiled into forgetfulness of the sources of anxiety.
Jack would have indulged in a perpetual howl during the journey had
not his attention been diverted by Madge's unexpected expedients,
which often suspended an outcry with comical abruptness, while her
remarks and questions made it impossible for Mr. Muir to toil on
mentally in Wall Street. By reason of the heat the majority of the
passengers dozed or fretted. She heroically kept up the spirits of her
little band, oblivious of the admiring eyes that often turned toward
her flushed, animated face.
There are few stronger tests than unflagging good-humor during a
disagreeable journey with cross children. At last the ordeal came to
an end, and in the late afternoon shadows they alighted at the wide
piazza of the Under-Cliff House, and were shown to airy rooms, which
proved that the guests were not kept in pigeon-holes for the sole
benefit of the proprietor. Our heroine employed the best magic the
world has known--thoughtful helpfulness. Mr. Muir was banished. "You
would be as useful as a whale," she said to him, when he offered to
aid his wife in unpacking and getting settled. "Go down to the piazza
and smoke in peace. I shall be worth a dozen of you as soon as I take
off my travelling-dress."
She verified her words, and before they were aware of it Mrs. Muir,
who was prone to fall into hopeless confusion at such times, and the
nurse were acting under her direction. The elder little boy and girl
were coaxed, restrained, managed, and soon sent down to their father,
redressed and serene. Jack was lulled to sleep in Madge's room. The
trunks instead of disgorging chaos, were compelled to part with their
contents in an orderly way. In little more than an hour the two rooms
allotted to Mr. and Mrs. Muir, and the nurse with the children, took
on a cosey, inhabitable aspect, and by supper-time the ladies, in
evening costume and with unruffled brows, joined Mr. Muir.
"The idea of my ever permitting Madge to go back to Santa Barbara!"
exclaimed Mrs. Muir. "This day alone has proved that I can never get
on without her. Just go and look at your room, sir. One would think we
had been settled here a week. You ought to pay Madge's bills, and give
her a handsome surplus."
"If time is money," said Madge, "Henry will have to pay me well. He
must stay and help me explore these mountains in every direction.
But now let us eat, drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we shall go to
"I've half a mind to take you down to Wall Street with me next week,"
said Mr. Muir. "Perhaps you can straighten out things there."
"No, sir. I'm a woman's-rights girl, and one of her rights is to get
things out of the way as soon as possible, so that people can have a
good time. Thank heaven our affairs can be shut up in drawers and hung
up in closets, and there we can leave them--in this case for a good
supper first, and a long quiet rest on this piazza afterward. Don't
you think you could find a drawer somewhere in which to tuck away your
Wall Street matters, Henry? You won't need them till some time next
week, for you must certainly spend two or three days with us."
Mr. Muir laughed. "I've heard of managing women before, but you beat
them all. You have won, to-day, the right to manage for a while. I'll
join you soon; then supper; and, as you suggest, I'll put the Wall
Street matters somewhere and lock them up."
Thus their mountain sojourn began auspiciously. The supper was
excellent, and they were in a mood to enjoy it; they found the piazza
deliciously cool after the long hot day; and the faint initial pipings
of autumn insects only emphasized the peace and quiet of the evening.
The mountains brooded around them like great shadows, their outlines
gemmed with stars, and the very genius of repose seemed to settle down
upon the weary man and woman who were in the thick of their life's
They were among the earliest arrivals at the house, and had a wide
space to themselves. Indeed, they could have been scarcely more
secluded at their own summer residence. For those seeking rest, an
early flight to summer resorts brings a rich reward.
While her relatives dozed or merely revived sufficiently from time to
time to make some desultory remark, Madge thought deeply. At first she
had been disappointed at the postponement of Graydon's return, but
she grew reconciled as she dwelt upon it. While hope was deferred,
she enjoyed a longer lease of anticipation. When he did come she might
soon learn that all hope was vain. Besides, the delay gave her time to
familiarize herself with the region and its most beautiful walks and
drives. The mountains, woods, and rocks should all be pressed into
her service. They would not reveal her secret, and they might engender
thoughts and words with which Miss Wildmere would be out of harmony.
"I've been thinking," Mr. Muir at last remarked.
"Nonsense! you've been asleep," Madge replied.
"No; I've thought profoundly."
"Not even a penny for any thoughts of yours since supper."
"They would be worth fortunes, life, health, happiness, to half the
"Then keep still till you have a patent, copyright, or something,"
said his wife.
"No. I rise simply to remark--also to retire--that a little oil keeps
machinery from wearing out and going to pieces. Come now, old lady"
(pulling his wife to her feet), "you are the better to-night, as I
am, for the oil that Madge has slipped in here and there. I fear the
machinery to-day would have run badly without it."
The group that gathered at the breakfast-table next morning bore early
testimony to the tonic of the hills. Jack only was not so well, and
Mrs. Muir remained with him, while Madge and Mr. Muir wended their
way to a little chapel whose spire was the only summons to worship.
A short, genial, middle-aged man met them at the door, with such
hospitable cordiality as to suggest that he was receiving friends at
his own home, and conducted them to seats. A venerable clergyman sat
in the pulpit with a face full of quiet benignity. Every one who came
appeared to receive an almost personal welcome; and Madge and Mr. Muir
looked enviously at the self-appointed usher. It was as evident that
he was not a professional sexton as that the little congregation could
not afford such a luxury. No care clouded his brow. Evidently his
future did not depend on fluctuations in the maelstrom of commerce,
nor had he one hope so predominant over all others that his life was
one of masked suspense, as was the case with poor Madge. He was rather
like the rugged, sun-lighted mountains near, solid, stable, simple. No
matter what happened, he would remain and appear much the same.
Such was the tenor of Madge's thoughts as she waited for the opening
of service. Fanciful and imaginative to a great degree, she found a
certain mental enjoyment in observing the impressions made upon her by
The service was brief and simple; the good old clergyman preached the
gospel of hope, and his words calmed and strengthened the young girl's
mind. She was made to feel that there is something more and better
than present happiness--that there are remedies for earthly ills.
When she returned to the hotel she found that Mrs. Muir was worried
about Jack, who was worse, and that a Dr. Sommers had been sent for.
She could not help smiling when, a little later, the hospitable usher
of the chapel came briskly in. She eventually learned that the doctor
provoked smiles wherever he went, as a breeze raises ripples on the
surface of a stream. He smiled himself when he met people, and every
one took the contagion. He examined the baby, said the case would
require a little watching until certain teeth came through, and
then that there would be no further trouble. He spoke with the same
confidence with which he would announce that July was near.
"You watch the case, then," said Mr. Muir, decisively. "I must be in
town. If you can look after the child and save my wife from worry, my
mind will be easy as regards this end of the line at least."
"All right, sir. We'll manage it. Healthy boy. No trouble."
"Have you lived long among the mountains, doctor?" Madge ventured to
"I should think so. As long as I have lived. Was born and brought up
"It must be dreary here in the winter," Mrs. Muir remarked.
"Not a bit of it. It's never dreary."
"How far among the hills does your practice extend?" Madge pursued.
"As far as I'll go, and I'm usually going."
"Perhaps you can give us, then, some advice as to drives and walks."
"Oh, lots, free gratis. I can tell Mr. Muir of a trout-stream or two,
"Doctor," said Madge, laughing, "I am very ill. I shall need much
advice, and prescriptions of all the romantic walks and drives in the
"And like most of the advice from doctors, it won't be taken. A stroll
on the piaza is about all that most ladies are equal to. You look,
however, as if you should not fear a steep path or a rough road."
"You shall see," cried Madge.
"Yes, I will see," said the doctor, laughing, and bowing himself out.
"I've seen a great many ladies who could dance miles, but were as
afraid of a mountain as of a bear."
At the dinner-table Mrs. Muir said, laughingly, "In Dr. Sommers, Madge
has found a kindred spirit--another oiler of machinery. If between him
and Madge things don't go smoothly, the fates are indeed against us."
"When life does go smoothly, it is because of just such good, cheery
common-sense," Mr. Muir remarked, sententiously. "I'm in the financial
centre of this part of the world, and schemes involving millions and
the welfare of States--indeed of whole sections of the country--are
daily brought to my consideration, and I tell you again men are often
in no condition to act wisely or well because the wear and tear of
their life is greater after business hours than during them. Business
maniac as Madge thinks me to be, little Jack is of more consequence
than a transcontinental railway. I must face the music--the discord,
rather--of Wall Street to-morrow. There is no use in protesting or
coaxing; I must be there; but it's a great thing to be able to return
with my nerves soothed, rested, and quieted. Heaven help the men who,
after the strain of the day, must go home to be pricked half to death
with pin-and-needle-like worries, if not worse."
"Please imagine Madge and myself making a profound courtesy for the
implied compliment," said Mrs. Muir. "But can you not spend part of
the week with us?"
"No. Graydon will soon be here, and there is much to be seen to. He
writes that he has worked very hard to get things in shape so that
he can leave them, and that he wishes to take a vacation. As far as
possible I shall gratify him. He can be with you here, and come to
town occasionally as I need him. It's all turning out very well, and I
am better off than many in these troublous times."
The remainder of his stay passed quietly in absolute rest, and on the
following morning he was evidently strengthened for the renewal of the
* * * * *
Miss Wildmere remained absorbed in her novel.
"Stella!" repeated Mr. Wildmere, impatiently.
"What is it?" she asked, fretfully. "I'm in an exciting scene. Can't
you wait awhile?"
"Oh, throw down your confounded novel! You should be giving your mind
to real life and exciting scenes of your own. No, I can't wait and
don't propose to, for I must go out."
The words were spoken in a small but elegant house, furnished in an
ultra-fashionable style. Mr. Wildmere was a stout, florid man, who
looked as if he might be burning his candle at both ends. His daughter
was dressed to receive summer evening calls at her own home, for she
was rarely without them. If the door-bell had rung she would have
dismissed her exciting scene without hesitation, but it was only her
father who asked her attention.
"Very well," she said, absently, turning down a leaf.
Her father observed her listless air and averted face for a moment
with contracted brow, then quietly remarked, "Graydon Muir may return
at any time now."
Her apathy disappeared at once, and a faint color stole into her face.
"Haven't you had enough of general attention and flirtation? I know
that my wishes have little weight; you have refused not a few good
offers and one on which I had set my heart; but let the past go. The
immediate future may require careful and decisive action. I speak in
view of your own interests, and to such considerations I know you
will not be indifferent. If you were taking a natural and intelligent
interest in my affairs you would have some comprehension of my
difficulties and dangers. The next few months will decide whether I
can keep up or not. In the meantime you have your opportunity. Graydon
Muir will share in the fortunes of his brother, who has had the
reputation of being very wealthy and eminently conservative. I have
learned, however, that he has invested largely in one enterprise that
now appears to be very dubious--how largely no one but himself knows.
If this affair goes through all right you couldn't do better than
develop Graydon Muir into an impatient suitor; and you had better keep
him well in hand for a time, anyway. He is a good business man and far
more to be depended upon than rich young fellows who have inherited
wealth, with no ability except in spending it. If the Muirs pass
through these times they will become one of the strongest and safest
houses in the country. Remember that the _if_ is to be considered. Mr.
Arnault, too, is a member of a strong, wealthy house. I would advise
you to make your choice between these two men speedily. You are not
adapted to a life of poverty, and would not enjoy it. An alliance with
either of these men might also aid in sustaining me."
Miss Wildmere listened attentively, but made no comment, and her
father evidently did not require any, for he went out immediately.
He understood his daughter sufficiently to believe that she needed
no further advice. He was right. The exciting crisis in her novel
was forgotten, and her fair face took on an expression that did not
enhance its beauty. Calculation on the theme uppermost in her mind
produced a revery in which an artist would not have cared to paint
her. It was evident that the time had come when she must dispose of
herself, and the question was, how to do it to the best advantage.
To Graydon she gave her preference. He was remarkably fine looking,
and could easily be a leader in society if he so desired--"and
certainly shall be," she thought, "if I take his name." As far as her
heart spoke in the matter it declared for him, also. Other men had
wooed and pleaded, but she had ever mentally compared them with
Graydon, and they had appeared insignificant. She had felt sure for a
long time that he would eventually be at her feet, and she had never
decided to refuse him. Now she was ready to accept but for this
ominous "if," which her father had emphasized. She could not think of
marrying him should he become a poor man.
She neither liked nor disliked Mr. Arnault. He was a man of the world,
reported wealthy, established in a large but not very conservative
business. He had the name of being a little fast and speculative, but
she was accustomed to that style of man. He was an open suitor who
would take no rebuff, and had laughingly told her so. After his
refusal, instead of going away in despondency or in a half-tragic
mood, he had good-naturedly declared his intentions, and spent the
remainder of the evening in such lively chat that she had been pleased
and amused by his tactics. Since that time he had made himself useful,
was always ready to be an escort with a liberal purse, and never
annoyed her with sentiment. She understood him, and he was aware that
she did. He took his chances for the future, and was always on hand
to avail himself of any mood or emergency which he could turn to
his advantage. In various unimportant ways he was of service to Mr.
Wildmere, but hoped more from the broker's embarrassments than from
the girl's heart.
"I might do worse," muttered the beauty--"I might do worse. If it were
not for Graydon Muir, I'd decide the question at once."
The door-bell rang, and Graydon was announced. Even her experienced
nerves had a glad tingle of excitement, she was so genuinely pleased
to see him. And well she might be, for he was a man to light any
woman's eyes with admiration. If something of his youth had passed,
his face had gained a rich compensation in the strong lines of
manhood, and his manner a courtly dignity from long contact with the
best elements of life. One saw that he knew the world, but had not
been spoiled by it. That he had not become cynical was proved by his
greeting of Miss Wildmere. He was capable of hoping that her continued
freedom, in spite of her remarkable beauty, might be explained on the
ground of a latent regard for him, which had kept her ready for his
suit after an absence so unexpectedly prolonged. Through a friend he
had, from time to time, been informed about her; and there was no ring
on her hand to forbid his ardent glances.
Never before had she appeared so alluringly attractive. He was a
thorough American, and had not been fascinated by foreign types of
beauty. In his fair countrywoman he believed that he saw his ideal.
Her beauty was remarkable for a fullness, a perfection of outline,
combined with a fairness and delicacy which suggested that she was not
made of ordinary clay. Miss Wildmere prided herself upon giving the
impression that she was remote from all that was common or homely in
life. She cultivated the characteristic of daintiness. In her dress,
gloves, jewelry, and complexion she would be immaculate at any cost.
Graydon's fastidious taste could never find a flaw in her, as regarded
externals, and she knew the immense advantage of pleasing his eye with
a delicacy that even approached fragility in its exquisite fairness,
while at the same time her elastic step in the dance or promenade
proved that she had abundance of vitality.
Nothing could have been more auspicious than his coming to-night--the
very first evening after his arrival. It assured her of the place she
still held in his thoughts; it gave her the chance to renew, in the
glad hours of his return, the impression she had made; and she saw in
his admiring eyes how favorable that impression was. She exulted that
he found her so well prepared. Her clinging summer costume revealed
not a little of her beauty, and suggested more, while she permitted
her eyes to give a welcome more cordial even than her words.
He talked easily and vivaciously, complimented her openly, yet with
sincerity, and rallied her on the wonder of wonders that she was still
"Not so great a marvel as that you return a bachelor. Why did you not
marry a German princess or some reduced English countess?"
"I was not driven to that necessity, since there were American queens
at home. I am delighted that you are still in town. What are your
plans for the summer?"
"We have not fully decided as yet."
"Then go to the Catskills. Our ladies are there at the Under-Cliff
House, and I am told that it is a charming place."
"I will speak to mamma of it. She must come to some decision soon.
Papa says that he will be too busy to go out of town much."
"Why, then, the Catskills is just the place--accessible to the city,
you know. That is the reason we have chosen it. I propose to take
something of a vacation, but find that I must go back and forth a good
deal, and so shall escape the bore of a long journey."
"You have given two good reasons for our going there. The place cannot
be stupid, since we may see you occasionally, and papa could come
"Persuade Mrs. Wildmere into the plan by all means, and promise me
your first waltz after your arrival;" and there was eagerness in his
"Will you also promise me your first?"
"Yes, and last also, if you wish."
"Oh, no! I do not propose to be selfish; Miss Alden will have her
"What, Sister Madge? She must have changed greatly if she will dance
at all. She is an invalid, you know."
"I hear she has returned vastly improved in health--indeed, that she
is quite a beauty."
"I hope so," he said, cordially, "but fear that rumor has exaggerated.
My brother said she was better, and added but little more. Have you
"No. I only heard, a short time since, that she had returned."
Madge had not gone into society, and had she met Miss Wildmere face
to face she would not have been recognized, so greatly was she changed
from the pallid, troubled girl over whom the beauty had enjoyed her
petty triumph; but the report of Miss Alden's attractions had aroused
in Miss Wildmere's mind apprehensions of a possible rival.
Graydon's manner was completely reassuring. Whatever Miss Alden might
have become, she evidently had no place in his thoughts beyond
that natural to their relations. No closer ties had been formed by
correspondence during his long absence.
Further tete-a-tete was interrupted by the appearance of Mr. Arnault.
The young men were courteous and even cordial to each other, but
before half an hour had passed they recognized that they were rivals.
Graydon's lips grew firm, and his eyes sparkled with the spirit of one
who had not the faintest idea of yielding to another. Miss Wildmere
was delighted. The game was in her own hands. She could play these two
men off against each other, and take her choice. Mr. Arnault was made
to feel that he was not _de trop_, and, as usual, he was nonchalant,
serene, and evidently meant to stay. Therefore Graydon took his leave,
and was permitted to carry away the impression that his departure was
"Mr. Arnault," said Miss Wildmere, quietly, "we have decided to spend
some time at the Under-Cliff House in the Catskills. So you perceive
that I shall be deprived of the pleasure of your calls for a while."
"Not at all. I shall take part of my summering there also. When do you
"In a few days--sometime before the fourth. How fortunately it all
happens!" she added, laughing. "When did you decide on the Catskills?"
"That's immaterial. When did you?"
"That also is immaterial. Perhaps you would like to ask mamma?"
"I'd rather ask papa--both, I should say," he replied, with a
"Do so by all means. Meanwhile I would suggest that a great many
people go to the Catskills--thirty thousand, more or less, it is
"I had another question in mind. Is Graydon Muir going there in order
to follow the crowd?"
"If he is going I suppose he will follow his inclinations."
"Were that possible, I could not prevent it. Indeed, women rarely
resent such things."
"No indeed. It is well you do not, for you would become the embodiment
of resentment. How large is your train now, Stella?"
"You can dimmish it by one if you choose," she replied, smiling
"I should be little missed, no doubt."
"I didn't say that."
"I'm more afraid of Muir than of all the train together."
"That's natural. The train has little chance collectively."
"Don't pretend to misunderstand me. There was unmistakable meaning in
"I should hope so. He means to help me have a good time. So do you, I
"Certainly. You may judge of the future from the past," he added,
significantly, as he rose to take his leave.
"Then the future promises well for me," she said, giving him her hand
cordially; "for you have been one of the best of friends."
"And a good deal more. Good-night."
"Mamma," said Miss Wildmere, stopping at the nursery on her way to her
room, "we must get ready to go to the Catskills at once."
"Why, Stella! This is the first I've heard of this plan. Your father
has said that he doesn't see how we can go out of town at all this
"Nonsense! I'll insure that papa agrees."
"I don't see how I can get ready soon. The baby is fretful, and I'm
all worn out between broken rest and worry. Won't you take Effie for a
"Where's the nurse?"
"She's out. Of course she has to have some time to herself."
"You just spoil the servants. It's her business to take care of the
child. What else is she paid for? Why can't one of the other maids
"Effie is too nervous to go to strangers to-night."
"Oh, well, give her to me, then."
The sensitive little organization knew at once that it was in the
hands not only of a comparative stranger, but also of one whose touch
revealed little sympathy, and its protest was so great that the tired
mother took it again, while the beautiful daughter, the cynosure of
all eyes in public, went to her room to finish the "exciting scene" at
But the scene had grown unreal. Its hero was but a shadow, and a
distorted one at that. The book fell from her hand; she again saw
Graydon Muir coming forward to greet her with an easy grace which no
prince in story could surpass, and with an expression in his dark blue
eyes which no woman fails to understand. It assured her that neither
in the old world nor in the new had he seen her equal.
"I wish it could be," she murmured; "I hope it can be; were it not for
that 'if' it should be soon."
Thus, after her own fashion, another girl had designs upon Graydon.
Graydon had completed his final transactions abroad with more
expedition than he had anticipated, and, having been favored by a
quick passage, had arrived several days sooner than he was expected.
Therefore he decided to accompany his brother to the Catskills
on Saturday, spending the intervening time in business and such
arrangements as would leave him free to remain in the country for a
week or two. The second evening after his arrival again found him in
Miss Wildmere's parlor, and before he left he was given to understand
that Mrs. Wildmere had decided upon the Under-Cliff House also, and
that they would depart on Saturday.
"Then you will be _compagnon de voyage_," said Graydon, with
Somewhat to Mrs. Wildmere's surprise, her husband quietly acquiesced
in his daughter's wishes, telegraphed for rooms, and desired his wife
to be ready.
She was a quiet, meek little woman, whose life had somehow become
entangled in a sphere which was not in harmony with her nature. Her
beauty had faded early, and she had little force of character with
which to maintain her influence over her husband. His life was amid the
fierce excitements of Wall Street; hers, as far as she had a life,
was a weary effort to keep up appearances and meet the expenses of a
fashionable daughter, on an uncertain and greatly fluctuating income.
Mr. Wildmere informed her that his affairs would keep him in town
until late in the following week, but that, as the house to which she
was going was a quiet family hotel, she would have no trouble.
Mr. Muir had telegraphed the arrival of his brother, and the latter
had written a few cordial but hasty lines to both his sister-in-law
and Madge. Where he spent his evenings was unknown to Mr. Muir, but
that gentleman had little trouble in guessing when he saw his brother
greet the Wildmeres as if he understood their plans, and laughingly
promise Mr. Wildmere that he would see the ladies and their belongings
safely established in the Under-Cliff House. Graydon observed the
slight cloud on his brother's face, but ignored it, feeling that
his preference was an affair of his own. He believed that the
long-wished-for opportunity to press his suit with vigor had come,
and had no hesitation as to his purpose. He did not intend to act
precipitately, however. He would first learn just how Mr. Arnault
stood, and become reasonably assured by Miss Wildmere's manner toward
himself that her preference was not a hope, but a reality.
The enterprise in which Mr. Muir had engaged, and which now so taxed
his financial strength, was outside of his regular business, and
Graydon knew nothing of it. The young man believed that his own means
and exceptionally good prospects were sufficient to warrant the step
he proposed to take. He assuredly had the right to please himself in
his choice, and he felt that he would be fortunate indeed could he win
one whom so many had sought in vain.
It never entered Mr. Muir's mind to interpose any authority or undue
influence. He merely felt in regard to the matter a repugnance natural
to one so alien in disposition to Mr. Wildmere and his daughter,
and it was a source of bitter mortification to him that he now found
himself in a position not unlike that of the broker, in what
would appear, in the present aspect of affairs, to be an outside
speculation. During the ride to the mountains he mentally compared
Miss Wildmere's behavior with that of Madge a week before. Witnessing
Graydon's evident infatuation, he would have been glad to recognize
any manifestation of traits that promised well for his future; but the
young lady was evidently altogether occupied with the attentions
she received, her own beauty, and the furtive admiration of
fellow-passengers. Poor Mrs. Wildmere and the nurse were left to
manage the cross baby as best they could. Graydon once or twice tried
to do something, but his strange face and voice only frightened the
To Madge it had seemed an age since the telegram announcing Graydon's
arrival had thrilled every nerve with hope and fear. Then had come his
hasty note, proving conclusively his affectionate indifference. She
was simply Madge to him, as of old. He was the one man of all the
world to her, and no calculating "if" would be the source of her
True to her old tactics, however, she had spent no time in idle
dreaming. She had cultivated Dr. Sommers's acquaintance, and he had
already accompanied her and her sister through a wild valley, on the
occasion of a visit to one of his patients. Little Jack had improved
under his care, and Mrs. Muir was growing serene, rested, and eager
for Saturday. Madge shared her impatience, and yet dreaded the hour
during which she felt that a glimpse of the future would be revealed.
She had driven out daily with her sister, and familiarized herself
with the topography of the region. Having formed the acquaintance of
some pleasant and comparatively active people in the house, she had
joined such walking expeditions as they would venture upon. In rowing
the children upon a small lake she also disposed of some of her
superabundant vitality and the nervous excitement which anticipation
could not fail to produce. In the evening there was more or less
dancing, and her hand was eagerly sought by such of the young men as
could obtain the right to ask it. Mrs. Muir's remark that she would
become a belle in spite of herself proved true; but while she affected
no exclusive or distant airs, the most callow and forward youth
felt at once the restraint of her fine reserve. Her sensitive nature
enabled her, in a place of public resort, to know instinctively whom
to keep at a distance, and who, like Dr. Sommers, not only invited but
justified a frank and friendly manner.
As the time for the gentlemen to arrive approached, Mrs. Muir showed
more restless interest than Madge. The one anticipated a bit of
amusement over Graydon's surprise; the other looked forward to meeting
her fate. Mrs. Muir was garrulous; Madge was comparatively silent, and
maintained the semblance of interest in a book so naturally that her
sister exclaimed, "I expect you will die with a book in your hand! I
could no more read now than preach a sermon. Come, it's time to
make your toilet. Let me help you, and I want you to get yourself up
'perfectly regardless.' You must outshine them all at the hop this
"Nonsense, Mary! They won't be here for an hour and a half. I'm
going to lie down;" and she went to her room. When her sister sought
admittance half an hour later the door was locked and all was quiet.
At last, in her impatience, she knocked and cried, "Wake up. They will
be here soon."
"I'm not asleep, and it will not take me long to dress."
"Well, you are the coolest young woman I ever knew," Mrs. Muir called
out, finding that admittance was denied her.
Madge had determined to spend the final hour of her long separation
alone. Her nature had become too deep and strong to seek trivial
diversion from the suspense that weighed upon her spirit. As she
thought of the possibility of failure, and its results, her courage
faltered a little, and a few tears would come. At last, with a glance
heavenward which proved that there was nothing in her heart to keep
her from looking thither for sanction, she left her room, serene and
resolute. She had taken her woman's destiny into her own hand, to mold
it in her own way, but in no arrogant and unbelieving spirit.
Mrs. Muir uttered a disappointed protest. "Oh, Madge, how plainly you
"I knew you wouldn't like it at first," was the quiet reply. By the
time they had reached the parlor door opposite the office, near which
they proposed to wait for the travellers, now momentarily expected,
Mrs. Muir was compelled to acknowledge the correctness of Madge's
taste. Her costume no more distracted attention from herself than
would the infolding calyx of a rosebud. In its exquisite proportions
her fine figure was outlined by close white drapery, which made her
appear taller than she really was. A single half-open Jacqueminot
rose, like the one she had sent to Graydon at their parting over two
years since, was fastened on her bosom. Her dark eyes burned with a
suppressed excitement. Her complexion, if not so white as that of Miss
Wildmere, was pure, and had a richer hue of health. But she was
pale now. Her red lips half destroyed their exquisite curves in firm
compression. The moment had not quite come for action, when those lips
must be true to herself, true to her purpose, even while they spoke
words which might be misleading to others.
Mrs. Muir, with triumph, saw the glances of strong admiration turned
toward her sister from every side. Madge saw them also, but only to
read in them the verdict she hoped to obtain from the kind blue eyes
for whose coming she waited.
Standing with Mrs. Muir, facing the long hall down which Graydon must
advance, she knew she would see him before he could recognize her.
How much of longing, of breathless interest, would be concentrated
in those moments of waiting, she herself had never imagined till they
The stages began to arrive, with consequent bustle, and the hasty
advance toward the office of men seeking to register their names
early, in order to secure a choice of rooms. At last she saw Graydon's
tall form and laughing face, and for a second something approaching
to faintness caused her to close her eyes. When she opened them again
they rested upon Miss Wildmere.
This young lady understood the art of making an impressive and almost
triumphal entry on new scenes. Therefore she had been in no haste.
Indeed, haste had no place among her attributes: it was ungraceful and
usually not effective. When, therefore, the crowd had passed on, and
there was a comparatively clear space in the hall, she advanced down
it at Graydon's side as if her mind was wholly engrossed with their
lively chat. Never for a second was she unconscious of the attention
they attracted. Graydon was one at whom even men would turn and look
as he passed, and she believed that there was none other who could
keep step with him like herself. So thought the self-appointed
committee of reception who always regard curiously the new-comers at a
summer resort, and there were whispered notes of admiration as the two
paused for a moment before the register and looked back. Then it
was seen that a meek-looking little lady and a nurse and child were
straggling after them, while Mr. Muir brought up the rear. Graydon
had some light wraps thrown gracefully over his arm, but the merchant
carried the less ornamental _impedimenta_ of the party, for the
earlier guests had already overladened the office-boys. He now handed
the valise--a sort of tender upon the baby--to a porter, and rather
grimly acknowledged Mrs. Wildmere's mingled thanks and feeble
"Please register for us," said Miss Wildmere, glancing carelessly yet
observantly around. An intervening group had partially hidden Madge
and her sister. It was also evident that Graydon was too much occupied
with his fair companion to look far away. He complied, thinking,
meantime, "Some day I may register for her again, and then my name
will suffice for us both." The smile which followed the thought
brought out the best lines of his handsome profile to poor Madge, who
permitted no phase of expression on that face to escape her scrutiny.
So true was the clairvoyance of her intense interest that she guessed
the thought which was so agreeable to him, and she grew paler still.
Mr. Muir hastened to greet his wife, and then Graydon recognized her.
He came at once and kissed her in his accustomed hearty way. Madge
stood near, unnoted, unrecognized.
"Where's Madge? Isn't she well enough to come down?" he asked, his
eyes following Miss Wildmere, who had entered the parlor, which
she must cross to reach her room beyond. Mrs. Muir began to laugh
immoderately, and Mr. Muir followed his brother's eyes with vexation.
Graydon was on the _qui vive_ instantly, and Madge drew a step nearer
and began to smile. For once the punctilious and elegant Graydon
forgot his courtesy, and looked at Madge in utter astonishment--an
expression, however, which passed swiftly into admiration and delight.
"Madge!" he exclaimed, seizing both her hands. "I couldn't have
believed it. I wouldn't believe it now but for your eyes;" and before
she could prevent him he had placed a kiss upon her lips.
Miss Wildmere had seen the unknown beauty as she passed, had
inventoried her with woman's instantaneous perception, had paused on
the distant threshold and seen the greeting, then had vanished with a
vindictive flash in her gray eyes.
Graydon's impetuous words and salute had produced smiles and envious
glances, and the family party withdrew into a retired corner of the
apartment, Madge's cheeks, meanwhile, vying, in spite of herself, with
the rose on her breast. Graydon would not relinquish her hand, and,
as Mrs. Muir had predicted, indulged in little more than exclamation
"There now, be rational," cried the young girl, laughing, her heart
for the moment full of gladness and triumph. He was indeed bending
upon her looks of admiration, delight, and affection.
"Why have I been kept in the dark about all this?" he at last asked,
"For the same reason that we were. Madge meant to give us a surprise,
and succeeded. I couldn't get over it, and they were always laughing
at me, so I determined that I should have my laugh at you. Oh, wasn't
it rich? To think of the elegant and travelled society man standing
there staring with his eyes and mouth wide open!"
"I don't think it was quite so bad as that, but if it was there's good
reason for it. Tell me, Madge, how this miracle was wrought!"
"There, that's just what I called it," cried Mrs. Muir, "and it's
nothing less than one, in spite of all that Madge and Henry can say."
"When you are ready for supper I will show you one phase of the
miracle," said Madge, laughing, with glad music in her voice. "Come,
I'm not an escaped member of a menagerie, and there's no occasion for
you to stare any longer."
"Yes, come along," added Mr. Muir; "I've had no roast beef to-day and
a surfeit of sentiment."
The young fellow colored slightly, but said brusquely: "Men's tastes
change with age. I suppose you did not find a little sentiment amiss
once upon a time. Well, Madge, you are not a bit of a ghost now, yet I
fear you are an illusion."
"Illusions will vanish when you come to help me at supper. We will
wait for you on the piazza."
As she paced its wide extent, her illusions also vanished. Graydon had
greeted, her as a brother, and a brother only. When the tumult at
her heart subsided, this truth stood out most clearly. His kiss still
tingled upon her lips. It must be the last, unless followed by a kiss
of love. Their brotherly and sisterly relations must be shattered at
once. No such relations existed for her, and only as she destroyed
such regard on his part could a tenderer affection take its place.
With her as his sister he would be content; he might not readily think
of her in another light, and meantime might drift swiftly into an
engagement with Miss Wildmere.
OLD TIES BROKEN
"Madge," said Graydon, rejoining her on the piazza, and giving her
his arm, while Mrs. Muir sat down to wait for her husband, "you wear
a rose like the one you sent me when we parted so long ago. Oh, but my
heart was heavy then! Did you make this choice to-night by chance?"
"You have a good memory."
"You have not answered me."
"I shall admit nothing that will increase your vanity."
"You will now of necessity make my pride overweening."
"How is that? I hope to have a better influence over you."
"As I look at you I regard my pride as most pardonable and natural. My
old thoughts and hopes are realized beyond even imagination, although,
looking at your eyes, in old times, I always had a high ideal of your
capabilities. I should be a clod indeed if I were not proud of such a
sister to champion in society."
Madge's hearty laugh was a little forced as she said, "You have a
delightfully cool way of taking things for granted. I'm no longer a
little sick girl, but, to vary Peggotty's exultant statement, a young
lady 'growed.' You forgot yourself, sir, in your greeting; but that
was pardonable in your paroxysm of surprise.
"What, Madge! Will you not permit me to be your brother?"
"What an absurd question!" she answered, still laughing. "You are
not my brother. Can I permit water to run up hill? You were like
a brother, though, when I was a sick child in the queer old
times--kinder than most brothers, I think. But, Graydon, I am grown
up. See, my head comes above your shoulder."
"Well, you are changed."
"For the better, in some respects, I hope you will find."
"I don't at all like the change you suggest in our relations, and am
not sure I will submit to it. It seems absurd to me."
"It will not seem so when you come to think of it," she replied,
gravely and gently. "You think of me still as little Madge; I am no
longer little Madge, even to myself. A woman's instincts are usually
"Oh, thank you! I am glad I am still 'Graydon.' Why do you not call me
"Because I am perfectly rational. Because I regard you as almost the
best friend I have."
"Break up that confabulation," cried Mr. Muir to the young people, who
had paused and were confronting each other at the further end of the
piazza. "If you think Madge can explain herself in a moment or a week
you are mistaken. Come to supper."
"My brother is right--you are indeed an enigma," he said,
"An enigma, am I?" she responded, smiling. "Please remember that most
of the world's enigmas were slowly found out because so simple."
As they passed from the dusky piazza to the large, brilliantly lighted
supper-room, with nearly all its tables occupied, he was curious to
observe how she would meet the many critical eyes turned toward her.
Again he was puzzled as well as surprised. She walked at his side as
though the room were empty. There was no affectation of indifference,
no trace of embarrassed or of pleased self-consciousness. From the
friendly glances and smiles that she received it was also apparent
that she had already made acquaintances. She moved with the easy,
graceful step of perfect good breeding and assured confidence, and was
as self-possessed as himself. Was this the little ghost who had once
been afraid of her own shadow, which was scarcely less substantial
They had been seated but a moment when Miss Wildmere entered alone. To
Graydon this appeared pathetic. He did not know that her mother was
so worn out from the journey, and so embarrassed by unaided efforts to
get settled while still caring for her half-sick child, that she
had decided to make a slight and hasty repast in her own room. Miss
Wildmere cared little for what took place behind the scenes, but was
usually superb before the footlights. Nothing could have been more
charming or better calculated to win general good-will than her
advance down the long room. In external beauty she was more striking
at first than Madge. She did not in the least regret that she must
enter alone, for she was not proud of her mother, and nothing drew
attention from herself. She assumed, however, a slight and charming
trace of embarrassment and perplexity, which to Graydon was perfectly
irresistible, and he mentally resolved that she should not much longer
want a devoted escort. Madge saw his glance of sympathy and strong
admiration, his smile and low bow as she passed, ushered forward by
the obsequious headwaiter, and her heart sank. In spite of all she
had attempted and achieved, the old cynical assurance came back to
her--"You are nothing to Graydon, and never can be anything to him."
She was pale enough now, but her eyes burned with the resolution not
to yield until all hope was slain. She talked freely, and was most
friendly toward Graydon, but there was a slight constraint in his
manner. The beautiful and self-possessed girl who sat opposite him was
not little Madge whom it had been his pleasure to pet and humor. She
evidently no longer regarded herself as his sister, but rather as a
charming young woman abundantly able to take care of herself. She had
indeed changed marvellously in more respects than one, and he felt
aggrieved that he had been kept in ignorance of her progress. He
believed that she had grown away from him and the past, as well as
grown up, according to her declaration. He recalled her apparent
disinclination for correspondence, and now thought it due to
indifference, rather than an indolent shrinking from effort. The
surprise she had given him seemed a little thing--an act due possibly
to vanity--compared with the sisterly accounts she might have written
of her improvement. She had achieved the wonder without aid from him,
and so of course had not felt the need of his help in any way. In
remembrance of the past he felt that he had not deserved to be so
ignored. Her profession of friendship was all well enough--there could
scarcely be less than that--but the Madge he had looked forward to
meeting again as of old no longer existed. Oh, yes, she should have
admiration and exclamation points to her heart's content, but he had
come from his long exile hungry for something more and better
than young lady friends. He had long since had a surfeit of these
semi-Platonic affinities. The girl who apparently had been refusing
scores of men for his sake was more to his taste. His brother's
repugnance only irritated and incited him, and he thought, "I'll carry
out his business policy to the utmost, but away from the office I am
my own man."
As these thoughts passed through his mind, they began to impart to his
manner a tinge of gallantry, the beginning of a departure from his old
fraternal and affectionate ways. He was too well-bred to show pique
openly, or to reveal a sense of injury during the first hours of
reunion, but he already felt absolved from being very attentive to
a girl who not only had proved so conclusively that she could manage
admirably for herself, but who also had been so indifferent that she
had not needed his sympathy in her efforts or thought it worth while
to gladden him with a knowledge of her progress. He had loved her as
a sister, and had given ample proof of this. He had maintained his
affection for the Madge that he remembered. "But I have been told," he
thought, bitterly, "that the young lady before me is a 'friend.' She
has been a rather distant friend, if the logic of events counts for
anything. Not satisfied with the thousands of miles that separated us,
she has also withheld her confidence in regard to changes that would
have interested even a casual acquaintance."
Madge soon detected the changing expression of his eyes, the lessening
of simple, loving truth in his words, and while she was pained she
feared that all this and more would necessarily result from the
breaking up of their old relations. Her task was a difficult one
at best--perhaps it was impossible--nor had she set about it in
calculating policy. Their old relations could not be maintained on her
part. Even the touch of his hand had the mysterious power to send a
thrill to her very heart. Therefore she must surround herself at once
with the viewless yet impassable barriers which a woman can interpose
even by a glance.
As they rose, Graydon remarked, "I have helped you at supper, and yet
one of my illusions has not vanished. The air at Santa Barbara must
have been very nourishing if your appetite was no better there
than here. Your strange 'sea-change' on that distant coast is still
marvellous to me."
"Mary can tell you how ravenous I usually am. I do not meet friends
every day from whom I have been separated so long."
"It is a very ordinary thing for me to meet 'friends,'" he replied,
_sotto voce_, "for I have many. I had hopes that I should meet one who
would be far more than a friend. I'm half inclined to go out to Santa
Barbara and see if my little sister Madge is not still there."
"Do you think me a fraud?"
"Oh, no, only so changed that I scarcely know how to get acquainted
"Even if I granted so much, which I do not, I might suggest that
one must be uninteresting indeed if she inspires no desire for
acquaintance. But such talk is absurd between us, Graydon."
"Of course it is. You are so changed for the better that I can
scarcely believe my eyes or ears, and my heart not at all. Of course
your wishes shall be my law, and my wishes will lead me to seek your
acquaintance with deep and undisguised interest. You see the trouble
with me is that I have not changed, and it will require a little time
for me to adapt myself to the new order of things. I am now somewhat
stunned and paralyzed. In this imbecile state I am both stupid
and selfish. I ought to congratulate you, and so I do with all the
shattered forces of my mind and reason. You have improved amazingly.
You are destined to become a belle _par excellence_, and probably are
one now--I know so little of what has occurred since we parted."
"You are changed also, Graydon. You used to be kind in the old days;"
and she spoke sadly.
"In some respects I am changed," he said, earnestly; "and my affection
for you is of such long standing and so deep that it prompts me to
make another protest." (They had strolled out upon the grounds and
were now alone.) "I have changed in this respect; I am no longer so
young as I was, and am losing my zest for general society. I was weary
of residence abroad, where I could have scarcely the semblance of
a home, and, while I had many acquaintances and friends, I had no
kindred. I'm sorry to say that the word 'friend,' in its reference
to young ladies, does not mean very much to me; or, rather, I have
learned from experience just what it does mean. A few years since I
was proud of my host of young lady friends, and some I thought would
continue to be such through life. Bah! They are nearly all married or
engaged; their lives have drifted completely away from mine, as it was
natural and inevitable that they should. We are good friends still,
but what does it amount to? I rarely think of them; they never of
me, I imagine. We exert no influence on each other's lives, and add
nothing to them. I never had a sister, but I had learned to love you
as if you were one, and when I heard that you were to be of our family
again, the resumption of our old relations was one of my dearest
expectations. It hurt me cruelly, Madge, when you laughed at the
idea as preposterous, and told me that I had forgotten myself when
following the most natural impulse of my heart. It seemed to me the
result of prudishness, rather than womanly delicacy, unless you have
changed in heart as greatly as in externals. You could be so much
to me as a sister. It is a relationship that I have always craved--a
sister not far removed from me in age; and such a tie, it appears to
me, might form the basis of a sympathy and confidence that would be
as frank as unselfish and helpful. That is what I looked forward to in
you, Madge. Why on earth can it not be?"
She was painfully embarrassed, and was glad that his words were spoken
under the cover of night. She trembled, for his question probed deep.
How could she explain that what was so natural for him was impossible
for her? He mistook her hesitation for a sign of acquiescence, and
continued: "Wherein have I failed to act like a brother? During the
years we were together was I not reasonably kind and considerate? You
did not think of yourself then as one of my young lady friends.
Why should you now? I have not changed, and, as I have said, I have
returned hungry for kindred and the quieter pleasures of home. It is
time that I was considering the more serious questions of life, and of
course the supreme question with a man of my years is that of a home
of his own. I have never been able to think of such a home and not
associate you with it. I can invite my sister to it and make her a
part of it, but I cannot invite young lady friends. A sister can be
such a help to a fellow; and it seems to me that I could be of no
little aid to you. I know the world and the men you will meet in
society. Unless you seclude yourself, you will be as great a belle as
Miss Wildmere. You also have a fine property of your own. Will it be
nothing to have a brother at your side to whom you can speak frankly
of those who seek your favor? Come, Madge, be simple and rational. I
have not changed; my frank words and pleadings prove that I have
not. If we do not go back to the hotel brother and sister it will be
because you have changed;" and he attempted to put his arm around her
and draw her to him.
She sprang aloof. "Well, then, I have changed," she said, in a low,
concentrated voice. "Think me a prude if you will. I know I am not.
You are unjust to me, for you give me, in effect, no alternative.
You say, 'Think of me as a brother; feel and act as if you were my
sister,' when I am not your sister. It's like declaring that there
is nothing in blood--that such relations are questions of choice and
will. I said in downright sincerity that I regarded you as almost the
best friend I had, and I have not so many friends that the word means
nothing to me. I do remember all your kindness in the past--when have
I forgotten it for an hour?--but that does not change the essential
instincts of my womanhood, and since we parted I've grown to
womanhood. You in one sense have not changed, and I still am in your
mind the invalid child you used to indulge and fondle. It is not just
to me now to ask that I act and feel as if there were a natural tie
between us. The fact ever remains that there is not. Why should I
deceive you by pretending to what is impossible? Nature is stronger
than even your wishes, Graydon, and cannot be ignored."
She spoke hesitatingly, feeling her way across most difficult and
dangerous ground, but her decision was unmistakable, and he said,
quietly, "I am answered. See, we have wandered far from the house. Had
we not better return?"
After a few moments of silence she asked, "Are you so rich in friends
that you have no place for me?"
"Why, certainly, Madge," he replied, in cordial, offhand tones, "we
are friends. There's nothing else for us to be. I don't pretend to
understand your scruples. Even if a woman refused to be my wife I
should be none the less friendly, unless she had trifled with me. To
my man's reason a natural tie does not count for so much as the years
we spent together. I remember what you were to me then, and what I
seemed to you. I tried to keep up the old feeling by correspondence.
The West is a world of wonders, and you have come from it the greatest
wonder of all."
"I hope I shall not prove to you a monstrosity, Graydon. I will try
not to be one if you will give me a chance."
"Oh, no, indeed; you promise to be one of the most charming young
ladies I ever met."
"I don't promise anything of the kind," she replied, with a laugh that
was chiefly the expression of her intense nervous tension. It jarred
upon his feelings, and confirmed him in the belief that their long
separation had broken up their old relations completely, and that she,
in the new career which her beauty opened before her, wished for no
embarrassing relations of any kind.
"Well," he said, with an answering laugh, "I suppose I must take you
for what you are and propose to be--that is, if I ever find out."
In a few moments more, after some light badinage, he left her with
Mr. and Mrs. Muir on the piazza, and went to claim his waltz with Miss
"I FEAR I SHALL FAIL"
The band had been discoursing lively strains for some time, and Miss
Wildmere had at last dragged her mother down for a chaperon--the only
available one as yet. The anxious mother was eager to return to her
fretting child, and her daughter was much inclined to resent Graydon's
prolonged absence. "If it were politic, and I had other acquaintances,
I would punish him," she thought. It was a new experience for her to
sit in a corner of the parlor, apparently neglected, while others were
dancing. There were plenty who looked wistfully toward her; but
there was no one to introduce her, and Graydon's absence left the ice
She ignored the inevitable isolation of a new-comer, however, and when
he appeared shook her finger at him as she said, "Here I am, constancy
itself, waiting to give you my first dance, as I promised."
"I shall try to prove worthy," he said, earnestly. "You must remember,
in extenuation, that I have not seen the ladies of our family for a
"You use the plural, and are Dot at all singular in your prolonged
absence with the charming Miss Alden. You certainly cannot look upon
her as an invalid any longer, however else you may regard her," she
added, with an arch look.
"You shall now have my entire regard as long as you will permit it."
"That will depend a little upon yourself. Mamma is tired, and I'm of
no account compared with that infant upstairs; therefore I can't keep
her as a chaperon this evening, and I will go to my room as soon as
you are tired of me."
"Not till then?"
"Not unless I go before."
"At some time in the indefinite future, Mrs. Wildmere, you may hope to
see your daughter again."
The poor lady smiled encouragingly and gratefully. She would be most
happy to have Graydon take the brilliant creature for better or worse
as soon as possible. She liked him, as did all women, for she saw that
he had a large, kindly nature. She now stole meekly away, while he
with his fair partner glided out upon the floor. All eyes followed
them, and even the veterans of society remarked that they had never
seen more graceful dancing.
From her seat on the piazza Madge also watched the couple. The
struggle to which she had looked forward so long had indeed begun, and
most inauspiciously. Her rival had every advantage. The mood in which
Graydon had returned predisposed him to prompt action, while she had
lost her influence for the present by a course that seemed to him
so unnatural as to be prudish. Miss Wildmere's manner gave all the
encouragement that a man could wish for, and it was hard to view with
charity the smiling, triumphant belle. Madge suddenly became conscious
that Mr. Muir was observing her, and she remarked, quietly: "I never
saw better dancing than that. It's grace itself. Miss Wildmere waltzes
"Not better than you, Miss Alden," said Mr. Henderson, a young man who
prided himself on his skill in the accomplishment under consideration,
and with whom she had danced several times. "I've been looking for
you, in the hope that you would favor me this evening."
She rose and passed with him through the open window. The waltz was
drawing to a close; the majority had grown weary and sat down; and
soon Madge and Miss Wildmere were the only ladies on the floor.
Opinion was divided, some declaring that the former was the more
graceful and lovely, while perhaps a larger number gave their verdict
for the latter.
The strains ceased, and left the couples near each other. Graydon
immediately introduced Miss Wildmere. The girls bowed a little too
profoundly to indicate cordiality. Madge also presented Mr. Henderson,
hoping that he might become a partner for Miss Wildmere, and give
Graydon an opportunity to dance with her. He resolved to break the ice
at once so far as his relatives were concerned, and he conducted Miss
Wildmere to Mrs. Muir, and gave her a seat beside that lady. The girl
of his choice should have not only a gallant for the evening, but also
a chaperon. He was not one to enter on timid, half-way measures; and
he determined that his brother's prejudice should count for nothing
in this case. His preference was entitled to respect, and must be
respected. Of course the group chatted courteously, as well-bred
people do in public, but Miss Wildmere felt that the atmosphere was
chilly. She was much too politic to permit the slightest tinge of
coldness in her manner toward those with whom she meditated such close
relations should the barring "if" melt out of the way.
The people were forming for the lancers, and Mr. Henderson asked Madge
to help make up a set. She complied without hesitation. Nor was she
unmindful of the fact that Graydon sat in a position which commanded a
view of the floor. He had seen her glide out in the waltz with a grace
second only to that of Miss Wildmere, even in his prejudiced eyes. Now
he again observed her curiously, and his disappointment and bitterness
at heart increased, even while she compelled his wondering admiration.
He saw that, though she lacked Miss Wildmere's conventional finish,
she had a natural grace of her own. He admitted that he had never seen
so perfect a physical embodiment of womanhood. She was slightly taller
than her rival in his thoughts, and her costume gave an impression of
additional height. Apparently she was in the best of spirits, laughing
often with her partner and an elderly gentleman who danced opposite
to her, and who was full of old-time flourishes and jollity. At last
Graydon thought, resentfully, "She is indeed changed. That's the style
of life she is looking forward to, and she wishes no embarrassment or
advice from me. That dancing-jack, Henderson, and others of his sort
are to be her 'friends' also, no doubt. Very well, I know how to
console myself;" and he turned his eyes resolutely to Miss Wildmere.
In the galop that followed he naturally danced with his quondam
sister, and Mr. Henderson with Miss Wildmere. Graydon was the last
one to show feeling in public or do anything to cause remark. Now that
Madge possessed in her partner the same advantage that Miss Wildmere
had enjoyed, the admiring lookers-on were at a loss to decide which of
the two girls bore the palm; and Graydon acknowledged that the former
invalid's step had a lightness and an elasticity which he had never
known to be surpassed, and that she kept time with him as if his
volition were hers. She showed no sign of weariness, even after he
began to grow fatigued. As he danced he remembered how he had carried
"the little ghost" on his arm, then tossed her, breathless from
scarce an effort, on the lounge, whence she looked at him in laughing
affection. This strong, superb creature was indeed another and an
alien being, and needed no aid from him. Before he was conscious
of flagging in his step, she said, quietly, "You are growing tired,
Graydon. Suppose we return to the piazza."
"Yes," he said, a trifle bitterly, "you are the stronger now. The
'little ghost' has vanished utterly."
"A woman is better than a ghost," was her reply.
He and Miss Wildmere strolled away down the same path on which Madge
had told him that she could not be his sister. Mr. Muir was tired,
and went to his room in no very amiable humor. Mrs. Muir waited for
Graydon's return, feeling that, although the office of chaperon had in
a sense been forced upon her, she could not depart without seeing Miss
Wildmere again. The young lady at last appeared, and, believing that
she had made all the points she cared for that night, did not tax Mrs.
Muir's patience beyond a few moments. While she lingered she looked
curiously at Madge, who was going through a Virginia reel as if she
fully shared in the decided and almost romping spirit with which it
was danced. She was uncertain whether or not she saw a possible
rival in Graydon's thoughts, but she knew well that she had found
a competitor for sovereignty in all social circles where they might
appear together. This fact in itself was sufficient to secure the
arrogant girl's ill-will and jealousy. A scarcely perceptible smile,
that boded no good for poor Madge, passed over her face, and then she
took a cordial leave of Graydon, and retired with Mrs. Muir.
He remained at the window watching, with a satirical smile, the scene
within. People of almost every age, from elderly men and matrons down
to boys and girls, were participating in the old-fashioned dance. The
air was resonant with laughter and music. In the rollicking fun Madge
appeared to have found her element. No step was lighter or quicker
than hers, and merriment rippled away before her as if she were the
genius of mirth. Her dark eyes were singularly brilliant, and burned
as with a suppressed excitement.
"She is bound to have her fling like the rest, I suppose," he
muttered; "and that romp is more to her than the offer of a brother's
love and help--an offer half forgotten already, no doubt. Yet she
puzzles one. She never was a weak girl mentally. She was always a
little odd, and now she is decidedly so. Well, I will let her gang her
ain gate, and I shall go mine."
He little dreamed that she was seeking weariness, action that would
exhaust, and that the expression of her eyes, so far from being caused
by excitement, was produced by feelings deeper than he had ever known.
When the music ceased he sauntered up and told her that her sister had
"I had better follow her example," she said.
"Would you not like a brief stroll on the piazza? After exertions
that, in you, seem almost superhuman, you must be warm."
"Why more superhuman in me than in others?"
"Simply because of my old and preconceived notions."
"I fear I am disappointing you in every respect. I had hoped to give
"Oh, well, Madge, I see we must let the past go and begin again."
"Begin fairly, then, and not in prejudice."
"Does it matter very much to you how I begin?"
"I shall not answer such questions."
"I am glad to see that you can enjoy yourself so thoroughly. You can
now look forward to a long career of happiness, Madge, since you can
obtain so much from a reel."
"You do not know what I am looking forward to."
"Because you are not acquainted with me."
"I thought I was at one time."
"I became discontented with that time, and have tried to be
"And you must have succeeded beyond your wildest dreams."
"Oh, no, I've only made a beginning. I should be conceit embodied if I
thought myself finished."
"What is your supreme ambition, then?"
"I am trying to be a woman, Graydon. There, I'm cool now. Good-night."
"Very cool, Madge."
He lighted a cigar and continued his walk, more perturbed than he
cared to admit even to himself. Indeed, he found that he was decidedly
annoyed, and there seemed no earthly reason why there should have been
any occasion for such vexation. Of course he was glad that Madge had
become strong and beautiful. This would have added a complete charm to
their old relations. Why must she also become a mystery, or, rather,
seek to appear one? Well, there was no necessity for solving the
mystery, granting its existence. "Possibly she would prefer a
flirtation to fraternal regard; possibly--Oh, confound it! I don't
know what to think, and don't much care. She is trying to become a
woman! Who can fathom some women's whims and fancies? She thinks her
immature ideas, imbibed in an out-of-the-way corner of the world,
the immutable laws of nature. Of one thing at least she is absolutely
certain--she can get on without me. I must be kept at too great a
distance to be officious."
This point settled, his own course became clear. He would be courtesy
itself and mind his own business.
"I fear I shall fail," murmured poor Madge, hiding her face in her
pillow, while suppressed sobs shook her frame.
THE PROMPTINGS OF MISS WILDMERE'S HEART
Graydon slept very late the following morning. He found out that he
was tired, and resolved to indulge his craving for rest so far as
his suit to Miss Wildmere would permit. When he could do nothing to
promote his advantage he proposed to be indolence itself. He found
that his vexation had quite vanished, and, in cynical good-nature, he
was inclined to laugh at the state of affairs. "Let Madge indulge her
whims," he thought; "I may be the more free to pursue my purposes. Her
sister, of course, shares in Henry's prejudices against the Wildmeres,
and they would influence Madge adversely. All handsome girls are
jealous of each other, and, perhaps, if what I had so naturally hoped
and expected had proved true, I should have had more sisterly counsel
and opposition than would have been agreeable. Objections now would be
in poor taste, to say the least. If I'm not much mistaken I can speak
my mind to Stella Wildmere before many days pass; and, woman-nature
being such as it is, it may be just as well that I am not too intimate
with a sister who, after all, is not my sister. Stella might not see
it in the light that I should;" and so he came down at last, prepared
to adapt himself very philosophically to the new order of things.
"The world moves and changes," he soliloquized, smilingly, "and we
must move on and change with it."
He found Mr. and Mrs. Muir, with Madge and the children, ready for
church, and told them, laughingly, to "remember him if they did not
think him past praying for." During his breakfast he recalled the fact
that Madge was uncommonly well dressed. "She hasn't in externals," he
thought, "the provincial air that one might expect, although her
ideas are not only provincial, but prim, obtained, no doubt, from some
goody-good books that she has read in the remote region wherein she
has developed so remarkably. She has some stilted ideal of womanhood
which she is seeking to attain, and the more unnatural the ideal, the
more attractive, no doubt, it appears to her."
It did not occur to him that he was explaining Madge on more theories
than one, and that they were not exactly harmonious. Having finished
his meal, he sought for Miss Wildmere, and soon found her in a shady
corner, reading a light, semi-philosophical work, thus distinguishing
and honoring the day in her choice of literature. He proposed to read
to her, but the book was soon forgotten in animated talk on his part.
She could skilfully play the role of a good listener when she chose,
and could, therefore, be a delightful companion. Her color came and
went under words and compliments that at times were rather ardent and
pronounced. He soon observed, however, that she led the way promptly
from delicate ground. This might result from maidenly reserve or from
the fact that she was not quite ready for decisive words. He still
believed that he had all needed encouragement--that the expression of
her eyes often answered his, and he knew well what his meant. When,
in response to his invitation, she promised to drive with him in the
afternoon, all seemed to be going as he wished.
Graydon felt that during dinner and thereafter for a time he should be
devoted to his party, to preclude criticism on his course in the late
afternoon and in the evening, when he proposed to seek society which
promised more than theirs. He began to discover that, except as her
intelligence was larger, in one respect Madge had not changed from her
old self. She responded appreciatively to his thought and fancy, and
gave him back in kind with interest. She began to question him about
a place in Europe with which he was familiar, and showed such unusual
knowledge of the locality that he asked, "You haven't slipped over
there unknown to me, I trust?"
"You might think of an easier explanation than that. You kindly sent
me books, some of which were rather realistic."
"Did you read them all?"
"Certainly. It would have been a poor return if I had not."
"What an inordinate sense of duty you must have had!"
"I did not read them from a sense of duty. You have perhaps forgotten
that I am fond of books."
"Not all of the books were novels."
"Many that were not proved the most interesting."
"Oh, indeed; another evidence of change," he said, laughing.
"And of sense, too, I think. Mr. Wayland, who is a student, had a
splendid library, and he gave me some ideas as to reading."
"Can you part with any of them?"
"That depends," she replied, with a manner as brusque as his own.
"The inducements and natural opportunities. I'm not going to recite a
lesson like a schoolgirl."
"One would think you had been to school."
"I have, where much is taught and learned thoroughly."
"Now, that is enigmatical again."
"The best of the books you sent me left some room for the
"Ha, ha, ha, Madge! you are scoring points right along. I told you,
Graydon, that you couldn't understand her in a moment or in a week."
"I never regarded your imagination as rampant, Henry. Have you
fathomed all her mystery?"
"Far from it; nor do I expect to, and yet you will grant to me some
degree of penetration."
"Well, to think that I should have come home to find a sphinx instead
of little Madge!"
"Thank you. A sphinx is usually portrayed with at least the head of a
"In this case she has one that would inspire a Greek sculptor. Perhaps
in time I may discover a heart also."
"What far-fetched nonsense!" said Mrs. Muir, sententiously. "Madge has
come back one of the best and most sensible girls in the world. Men
and poets are always imagining that women are mysteries. The fact is,
they are as transparent as glass when they know their own minds; when
they don't, who else should know them?"
"Who indeed?" said Graydon, laughing. "Your saving clause, Mary, is as
boundless as space."
"How absurd! I understand Madge perfectly, and so does Henry."
"You said last evening that the change in her was a miracle. Once in
the realm of the supernatural, what may not one expect?"
"You knew what I meant. I referred to Madge's health and appearance
and accomplishments and all that. She has not changed in heart and
feeling any more than I have, and I'm sure I'm not a sphinx."
"No, Mary; you are a sensible and excellent wife and my very dear
sister. You suggest no mystery. Madge certainly does, for you have,
in addition to all the rest, announced an indefinite list of
"If I remain the subject of conversation I shall complain that your
remarks are personal," said Madge, her brows contracting with a little
"That is what makes our talk so interesting. Personals are always read
first. In drawing Mary and Henry out, I am getting acquainted with
"It's not a good way. You like it merely because it teases me and
saves trouble. If you must gossip and surmise about me, wait till I'm
"There, Madge, you know I'm nine-tenths in fun," said he, laughing.
"That leaves a small margin for kindly interest in an old
acquaintance," was her reply as they rose from the table, and he saw
that her feelings were hurt.
"Confound it!" he thought, with irritation, "it's all so uncalled-for
and unnatural! Nothing is as it used to be. Well, then, I'll talk
about books and matters as impersonal as if we were disembodied
They had scarcely seated themselves on the piazza before Miss Wildmere
came forward and introduced her mother. The young lady was determined
to prepare the way for a family party. Graydon had a confident,
opulent air, which led to the belief that her father's fears were
groundless, and that before many weeks should elapse the Muirs would
have to acknowledge her openly. It would save embarrassment if this
came about naturally and gradually, and she believed that she could be
so charming as to make them covet the alliance. Miss Alden might not
like it, and the more she disliked it the better.
Mrs. Muir's thoughts were somewhat akin. "If Graydon will marry this
girl, it's wise that we should begin on good terms. This is a matter
that Henry can't control, and there's no use in our yielding to
Therefore she was talkative, courteous, and rapidly softened toward
the people whom her husband found so distasteful. Graydon employed all
his skill and tact to make the conversation general and agreeable, but
the cloud did not wholly pass from Madge's brow. From the moment
of her first cold, curious stare, years since, Miss Wildmere had
antagonized every fibre of the young girl's soul and body, and she had
resolved never to be more than polite to her. She did not look forward
to future relationship, as was the case with Mrs. Muir, but rather
to entire separation, should Graydon become Miss Wildmere's accepted
suitor. Now, with the instinct of self-defence, she was more cordial
to her rival than to Graydon, until, at the solicitation of the
children, she stole away. Mr. Muir remarked that he was going to take
a nap, and soon followed her.
Their departure was a relief to Graydon, for it rendered the carrying
out of his plan less embarrassing. In his eagerness to be alone with
the object of his hopes, he soon obtained a carriage, and with Miss
Wildmere drove away. Mrs. Muir and Mrs. Wildmere compared maternal and
domestic notes sometime longer, and then the former went to her room
quite reconciled to what now appeared inevitable.
"I think you are prejudiced, Henry," she remarked to her husband, who
was tossing restlessly on the bed.
"Least said soonest mended," was his only response, and then he
changed the subject.
Graydon came back with the hope--nay, almost the certainty--of
happiness glowing in his eyes. He had spoken confidently of his
business plans and prospects, and had touched upon the weariness of
his exile and his longing for more satisfactory pleasures than those
of general society. His companion had listened with an attention and
interest that promised more than sympathy. The wild, rugged scenes
through which they had passed had made her delicate beauty more
exquisite from contrast. It was as if a rare tropical bird had
followed the wake of summer and graced for a time a region from which
it must fly with the first breath of autumn. In distinction from all
they saw and met she appeared so fragile, such a charming exotic, that
he felt an overpowering impulse to cherish and shelter her from
every rude thing in the world. With a nice blending of reserve and
complaisance she appeared to yield to his mood and yet to withhold
herself. To a man of Graydon's poise and knowledge of society such
skilful tactics served their purpose perfectly. They gave her an
additional charm in his eyes, and furnished another proof of the
fineness of her nature. She could not only feel, but manifest the
nicest shades of preference. If not fully satisfied as to her own
heart, what could be more refined and graceful than the slight
restraint she imposed upon him? and how fine the compliment she
paid him in acting on the belief that he was too well bred and
self-controlled to precipitate matters!
"She has the tact and intuition to see," he thought, "that she can
show me all the regard she feels and yet incur no danger of premature
and incoherent words. She will one day yield with all the quiet grace
that she shows when rising to accept my invitation to waltz."
Therefore, as he approached the hotel he was complacency itself until
he saw Mr. Arnault on the piazza, and then his face darkened with the
heaviest of frowns.
"Why, what is the matter?" Miss Wildmere asked.
"I had hoped that this perfect afternoon might be followed by a more
delightful evening, but from the manner in which that gentleman is
approaching you, it is evident that he expects to claim you."
"Claim me? I do not think any one has that right just yet. Mr. Arnault
certainly has not."
"Then I may still hope for your society this evening?"
"Have I not permitted you to be with me nearly all day? You must be
more reasonable. Good-evening, Mr. Arnault. Did you drop from the
"There are none, and were there I should forget them in this pleasure.
Mr. Muir, I congratulate you. We have both been on the road this
afternoon, but you have had the advantage of me."
"And mean to keep it, confound you!" thought Graydon. "Ah,
good-evening, Mr. Arnault. You are right; I have found rough roads
preferable to smooth rails and a palace car."
"How well you are looking, Miss Stella! but that's chronic with you.
This is perfectly heavenly" (looking directly into her eyes) "after
the heat of the city and my dusty journey."
"You are a fine one to talk about things heavenly after fracturing the
Sabbath-day. What would have happened to you in Connecticut a hundred
"I should have been ridden on one rail instead of two, probably. I'm
more concerned about what will happen to me to-day, and that depends
not on blue laws, but blue blood. I saw your father this morning, and
he intrusted me with a letter for you."
Mr. Arnault manifested not a particle of jealousy or apprehension, and
Graydon felt himself shouldered out of the way by a courtesy to which
he could take no exception. He saw that only Miss Wildmere herself
could check his rival's resolute and easy assurance. This he now felt
sure she would do if it passed a certain point, and he went to his
room, annoyed merely, and without solicitude. "She must let the fellow
down easily, I suppose," he thought; "and after to-day I need have few
fears. If she had wanted _him_ she could have taken him long ago."
Miss Wildmere also went to her room and read her father's letter. It
contained these few and significant words: "In speaking of possible
relations with Mr. M. I emphasized a small but important word--'if.'
I now commend it to you still more emphatically. You know I prefer
Mr. M. Therefore you will do well to heed my caution. Mr. M. may lose
everything within a brief time."
Miss Wildmere frowned and bit her lip with vexation. Then her white
face took on hard, resolute lines. "I came near making a fool of
myself this afternoon," she muttered. "I was more than once tempted to
let Graydon speak. Heavens! I'd like to be engaged to him for awhile.
Mr. Arnault plays a bold, steady hand, but he's the kind of man that
might throw up the game if one put tricks on him. My original policy
is the best. I must pit one against the other in a fair and open suit
till I can take my choice. Now that it is clear that Graydon cares
little for that hideous thing he calls his sister, my plan is safe."
"What a lovely color you have, Madge!" Graydon remarked, as they met
at supper. "You are unequalled in your choice of cosmetics."
"Not to be surpassed, at any rate."
"Where did you get it?"
"Up at Grand View."
"What, have you climbed that mountain?"
"It's not much of a mountain."
"It's a tremendous mountain," cried little Harry. "Aunt Madge's been
teaching us to climb, and she lifted us up and down the steep places
as if we were feathers, and she told us stories about the squirrels
and birds we saw up there. Oh, didn't we have a lovely time, Jennie?"
"Now I understand," said Graydon. "The glow in your face comes from
the consciousness of good deeds."
"It comes from exertion. Are you not making too much effort to be
"Therefore my face should be suffused with the hue of shame. You see
I have changed also, and have become a cynic and a heathen from long
residence in Europe."
"Please be a noble savage, then."
"That's not the style of heathen they develop abroad."
"Madge told us about the savages that used to live in these mountains,
and how bad they were treated," piped Jennie.
"Poor Lo! No wonder he went to the bad," said Graydon, significantly.
"He was never recognized as a man and a brother."
"And he was unsurpassed in retaliation," Madge added.
"Considering his total depravity and general innocence, that was to be
"It turned out to be bad policy."
"In so far as he was a man he hadn't any policy."
"I shall not depreciate the Indians for the sake of argument. They
rarely followed the wrong trail, however."
"What on earth are you and Madge driving at?" exclaimed Mrs. Muir.
"It matters little at what, but Madge appears to be the better
driver," chuckled Mr. Muir.
"You have a stanch champion in Henry," said Graydon.
"You wouldn't have him take sides against a woman?"
"Oh, no, but you have become so abundantly able to take care of
yourself that he might remain neutral."
"When you all begin to talk English again I'll join in, and now
merely remark that I am grateful to you, Madge, for taking care of the
children. Jack was good with the nurse, too, and I've had a splendid
"I'm evidently the delinquent," laughed Graydon, "and have led the way
in a conversation that has been as bad as whispering in company. What
will become of me? You are not going to church to-night, Madge?"
"I did not expect to. If your conscience needs soothing--"
"Oh, no, no. My conscience has been seared with a hot iron--a cold
one, I mean. The effects are just the same."
At the supper-room door they were met by Dr. Sommers, with a world of
comical trouble in his face, and he drew Madge aside.
"What's a man to do?" he began. "Here's our choir-leader sick, and the
rest won't chirp without him. I can't sing any more than I can dance.
You can--sing, I mean--both, for that matter. I'd give the best
cast of a fly I ever had to take you out in a reel. Well, here's the
trouble. It's nearly meeting-time, and what's a meeting without music?
You can sing--I'm sure you can. I've heard you twice in the chapel.
Now, it isn't imposing on good-nature, is it, to ask you to come over
and start the tunes for us to-night? Come now, go with me. It will be a
great favor, and I'll get even with you before the summer is over."
Madge hesitated a moment. She had hoped for a chat with Graydon that
evening, which might lead to a better understanding, and end their
tendency to rather thorny badinage. But she heard him chatting gayly
with Miss Wildmere and Mr. Arnault in the distance; therefore she
said, quietly, "It is time for me to get even with you first. To
refuse would not be nice after the lovely drive you took us the other
"Oh, you made that square as you went along. Well, now, this is
famous. What a meeting we'll have!"
"You explain to Mrs. Muir, and I'll get my hat."
"I'm in luck," the doctor began, joining the Muirs on the piazza.
"Of course you are. You are always in luck," said Mrs. Muir.
"Oh, no, oh, no. Draw it milder than that. I've fished many a bad day.
I'm in luck to-night. What do you think? You can't guess."
"You and Madge had your heads together, and so something will happen.
Are you going to capture a mountain?"
"Yes, a brace of 'em before long. Well, as good luck would have it,
our choir-leader is sick. I thought it was bad luck at first, and
meant to give him an awful dose for being so inopportune. It has
turned out famously. 'All-things work together for good,' you know.
That text required faith once when I had hooked a three-pound trout,
and in my eagerness tumbled in where the fish was. Oh, here you are,
Miss Alden. We'll go right along, for it's about time."
"But you haven't explained," cried Mrs. Muir.
"We will when we come back," said the doctor.
"Oh, I'm merely going over to the chapel to help the doctor out with
the singing," said Madge, carelessly. "Good-by."
"Well," remarked Mr. Muir, _sotto voce_, "if I were a young fellow,
there's a trail I'd follow, and not that will-o'-the-wisp yonder."
"What did you say, Henry?" asked his wife.
"It will be hot in town to-morrow, Mary. It's growing confoundedly hot
in Wall Street."
"Nothing serious, Henry?"
"It's always serious there."
"Oh, well, you'll come out all right. It's a way you have."
Mr. Muir looked grim and troubled, but the piazza was dusky. "She
can't help me," he thought, "and if she was worrying she might hinder
me. Things are no worse, and they may soon be better. If I had fifty
thousand for a month, though, the strain would be over. She'd be
nagging me to take a lot of her money, and I'd see Wall Street sunk
first. Well, well, Wildmere and I may land together in the same
For a few moments Graydon and Mr. Arnault sat on either side of the
broker's daughter, each seeking the advantage. The young lady enjoyed
the situation immensely, and for a time had the art to entertain
both. Arnault at last boldly and frankly took the initiative, saying,
"Please take a walk with me, Miss Wildmere. I have come all the way
from New York for the pleasure of an evening in your society. You will
excuse us, Mr. Muir. You have had to-day and will have to-morrow, for
I must take an early train."
Miss Wildmere laughed, and said: "I must go with you surely, or you
will think you have made a bad 'put' in railroad tickets, as well
as shares, for you are like the rest, I suppose;" and with a smiling
glance backward at Graydon she disappeared.
"You are mistaken," he said; "we foresaw this 'squeeze' in the market,
and have money to lend if the security is ample. We were never doing
"Poor papa!" she sighed, "his securities are lacking, I suppose. He
does not write very cheerfully."
"His security is the best in the city, in my estimation. I'd take this
little hand in preference to government bonds."
"Oh, don't lend papa anything on that basis, for you would surely
manage to claim the collateral, or whatever you call it in your Wall
"You are infinitely better off than the majority in these hard times."