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

Part 3 out of 7

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"By one word you can make three rich, yourself included. Your father
only needs to be tided over a few months."

"Come, come, Mr. Arnault, this is Sunday, and you must not talk
business."

"My fault leans to virtue's side for once."

"I'm not just sure to which side it leans," was her laughing reply.

"Are you going to accept Muir?"

"I'm not going to accept any one at present--certainly not Mr. Muir
before he asks me."

"He will ask you."

"Has he taken you into his confidence?"

"Oh, he's as patent as a country borrower."

"Mr. Arnault, we must change the subject; such questions and remarks
are not in good taste, to say the least. I appreciate your friendship,
but it does not give you the right to forget that I am a free girl, or
to ignore my assurance that I propose to remain free for the present."

"That is all the assurance that I require just now," he answered.
"I have been a frank, devoted suitor, Stella. If you do not act
precipitately you will act wisely in the end. I shall not be guilty of
the folly of depreciating Muir--he's a good fellow in his way--but you
will soon be convinced that you cannot afford to marry him."

"I think I can afford not to marry any one until my heart prompts me
to the act," she replied, with well-assumed dignity. Her swift thought
was, "He also knows that the Muirs are embarrassed. How is it that
Graydon speaks and acts in the assured confidence of continued wealth?
Is he deceiving me?"

Mr. Arnault changed the subject, and none could do this with more
adroitness than he, or be a more entertaining gallant if he so chose.
At the same time he maintained a subtle observance, in spite of his
vaunted frankness, and he soon believed he had reason to hope that
Miss Wildmere had been influenced by his words. Almost imperceptibly
she permitted additional favor to come into her manner, and when she
said good-night and good-by also, in view of his early start for the
city, it was at the foot of the stairway, she casually remarking that
she would not come down again.

"My brief visit has not been in vain," he thought. "I have delayed
matters, and that now means a great deal. She will marry the survivor
of this financial gale, and in every man's philosophy the survival
of the fittest is always the survival of the _ego_."

[Illustration: "THERE NOW, BE RATIONAL," CRIED THE YOUNG GIRL]

CHAPTER XIII

"YOU WILL BE DISAPPOINTED"

Graydon felt that it was scarcely possible to resent Mr. Arnault's
tactics or to blame Miss Wildmere. The former certainly had as good
a right to be a suitor as himself, and even to his prejudiced mind it
would have been ungracious in the lady had she not given some reward
for his rival's long journey. It was natural that Mr. Arnault, an old
friend of the Wildmeres, should sit at their table and receive the
consideration that he enjoyed. Graydon had little cause for complaint
or vexation, since his rival would depart in the morning, and, judging
from to-day, his own suit was approaching a successful termination.
The coast would be clear on the morrow, and he determined to make
the most of opportunities. He now even regretted that Madge and his
relatives were at the house, for in some degree they trammelled his
movements by a watchful attention, which he believed was not very
friendly. It would not be well to ignore them beyond a certain point,
for it was his wish to carry out his purposes with the least possible
friction. Madge's course had compelled a revision of his plans and
expectations, but his intimate relations with his brother in business
made harmony and peace very essential. He felt keenly, however, the
spur of Mr. Arnault's open and aggressive rivalry, and determined to
enter upon an equally vigorous campaign.

Having reached this definite conclusion, he joined Mr. and Mrs. Muir
on the piazza, and after some desultory talk asked, "Where is Madge?"

Mrs. Muir explained, adding, "I think you might go over to the chapel
and accompany her home."

"I'll be there by the time service is over," he replied.

There was sacred music in the hotel parlor, but it seemed to him
neither very sacred nor very attractive. Then he strolled toward the
chapel. As the service was not over, he stood and watched the great
moonlit mountains, with their light and shade. The scene and hour
fostered the feelings to which he had given himself up. In revery he
went over the hours he had spent with Miss Wildmere since his return,
and hope grew strong. In view of it all--and vividly his memory
retained everything, even to the droop of her eyelids or the tone in
which some ordinary words had been spoken--there could scarcely be a
doubtful conclusion. Thoughts of him had kept her free, and now that
they had met again she was seeking to discover if her old impressions
had been true, and in their confirmation was surely yielding to his
suit.

He started. Through the open windows of the adjacent chapel came the
opening notes of a hymn, sung with a sweetness and power that in the
still summer night seemed almost divine. Then other voices joined, and
partially obscured the melody; but above all floated a voice that to
his trained ear had some of the rarest qualities of music.

"That's Madge," he muttered, and strode rapidly to the door. Again,
in the second stanza, the rich, pure voice thrilled his every nerve,
gaining rather than losing in its effect by his approach.

Unconsciously the poor girl had yielded to the old habit of
self-expression in music. Her heart had been heavy, and now was sad
indeed. Earthly hope had been growing dim, but the words of faith she
had heard had not been without sustaining influence. With the deep
longing of her woman's nature for love--divine love, if earthly love
must be denied--her voice in its pathos was unconsciously an appeal,
full of entreaty. She half forgot her surroundings; they were nothing
in her present mood. The little audience of strangers gave a sense of
solitude.

The quaint old tune was rich in plaintive harmony. It had survived
the winnowing process of time, and had endeared itself to the
popular heart because expressive of the heart's unrest and desire for
something unpossessed. Along this old, well-worn musical channel Madge
poured the full tide of her feeling, which had both the solemnity and
the pathos inseparable from all deep and sacred emotion. Graydon was
now sure that he must dismiss one of his impressions of Madge, and
finally. No one could sing like that and be trivial at heart. "I don't
understand her," he muttered, gloomily, "but I appreciate one thing.
She has withheld from me her confidence, she does not wish to keep
her old place in my affection, and has deposed herself from it.
She appears to be under the influence of a brood of sentimental
aspirations. I shall remain my old self, nor shall I gratify her by
admiring wonder. The one thing that would make life a burden to me is
an intense, aesthetical, rapturously devotional woman, with her mental
eye fixed on a vague ideal. In such society I should feel much like a
man compelled to walk on stilts all the time. The idea of going back
to the hotel, smoking a cigar, and talking of the ordinary affairs of
life, after such music as that!"

"It was very kind of you to come over for me," said Madge, as she came
out. "Thank you, doctor; no, there is no need of your going back with
me. Good-night."

"Thanks to you, Miss Alden, thanks, thanks. The sermon was good, but
that last hymn rounded up Sunday for me. I was going up to the house,
but I'll go home and keep that music in my ears. If they had known,
they wouldn't have spared you from the hotel music to-night."

"Please say nothing about it--that is all I ask," she said, as she
took Graydon's arm.

"Yes, Madge," he began, quietly, "you sung well. You had the rudiments
of a fine voice years ago. In gaining strength you have also won the
power to sing."

"Yes," she said, simply.

"Do you sing much?"

"I do not wish to sing at all in the hotel. I did not study music in
order to be conspicuous."

"Have you studied it very carefully?"

"Please leave out the word 'very.' I studied it as a young girl
studies, not scientifically. I had a good master, and he did his
best for me. Poor Herr Brachmann! he was sorry to have me come away.
Perhaps in time I can make progress that will satisfy him better. I
could see that he was often dissatisfied."

"You don't mean to suggest that you are going back to Santa Barbara?"

"Why not?"

"True enough, 'why not?' It was a foolish question. You doubtless have
strong attachments there."

"I have, indeed."

"And it's natural to go where our attachments are strongest."

"Yes; you have proved that to-day."

"You evidently share in my brother's disapproval. Mary would soon
become quite reconciled."

"I? I have no right to feel either approval or disapproval, while you
have an undoubted right to please yourself."

"Indeed! are you so indifferent? If you think Miss Wildmere
objectionable you should disapprove."

"If you find her altogether charming, if she realizes your ideal, is
not that sufficient? Everything is very much what it seems to us. If
I as a girl would please myself, you, surely, as a man have a right to
do so."

"Do you propose to please yourself?"

"Indeed I do."

"You will be disappointed. You have formed a passion for ideals. I
imagine, though, that you are somewhat different from other girls
whose future husbands must be ideal men, but who are content
themselves to remain very much what their milliners, dressmakers, and
fashion make them."

"I can at least say that I am not content; and I am also guilty of the
enormity of cherishing ideals."

"Oh, I've found that out, if nothing else. Ideals among men are as
thick as blackberries, you know. Jack Henderson dances superbly."

"Yes; he quite meets my ideal in that respect."

"Perhaps you left some one in Santa Barbara who meets your ideal in
all respects?"

"There was one gentleman there who approached it nearly."

"How could you leave him?"

"He came on with me--Mr. Wayland."

"Pshaw! He's old enough to be your father."

"And very like a father he was to me. I owe him an immense deal, for
he helped me so much!"

"You did not let me help you?"

"Yes; I did. I wrote to you for books, and read all you sent me; some
parts of them several times."

"You know that is not what I meant. I am learning to understand you
somewhat, Madge. I hope you may realize all your ideals, and find some
young fellow who is the embodiment of the higher life, aspirations,
and all that, you know."

Her laugh rang out musically. Mrs. Muir heard it, and remarked to her
husband: "Madge and Graydon are getting on better. They have seemed to
me to clash a little to-day."

Mr. Muir made no reply, and Graydon, as he mounted the steps,
whispered, hurriedly, "What you said about Miss Wildmere was at least
just and fair. I wish you liked her, and would influence Henry to like
her, for I see that you have influence with him."

She made no response by word or sign.

The ladies soon retired, and Graydon waited in vain for another
interview with Miss Wildmere. While he was looking for her on the
piazza she passed in and disappeared. He at last discovered Mr.
Arnault, who was smoking and making some memoranda, and, turning on
his heel, he strode away. "She might have said good-night, at least,"
he thought, discontentedly, "and that fellow Arnault did not look like
a man who had received his _conge."_

That this gentleman did not regard himself as out of the race was
proved by his tactics the next morning. Before reaching the city he
joined Mr. Muir in the smoking section of a parlor car, and easily
directed their talk to the peculiar condition of business. Mr. Muir
knew little in favor of his companion, and not much against him, but
devoutly hoped that he would be the winning man in the contest
for Miss Wildmere. He also knew that the firm to which Mr. Arnault
belonged had held their heads well up in the fluctuations of the
street. Both gentlemen deplored the present state of affairs, and
hoped that there might soon be more confidence. "By the way, Mr.
Muir," Mr. Arnault remarked, casually, "if you need accommodation we
have some money lying idle for a short time, which we would like
to put out as a call loan, and would be glad to place it in good
conservative hands, like yours."

"Thank you," said Mr. Muir, with some cordiality.

He went to his office and looked matters over carefully. He was
convinced that a crisis was approaching. More money was required
immediately, since the securities in which he had invested had
declined still further. He had not lost his faith in them at all,
knowing that they had a solid basis, and would be among the first to
rise in value with returning confidence. He had gone so far and held
on so long that it was a terrible thing to give up now. Comparatively
little money would probably carry him over to perfect safety, but his
means were tied up, the banks stringent, and he had already strained
his credit somewhat. Mr. Arnault's proffer occurred to him again, and
at last, much as he disliked the expedient, he called upon the broker,
who was affable, off-hand, and business-like.

"Yes, Mr. Muir," he said, "I can let you have thirty thousand just as
well as not; as the times are, I would like some security, however."

"Certainly, here are bonds marketable to-day, although depressed
unnaturally. You are aware that they will be among the first to
appreciate."

"In ordinary times one would think so."

"How soon do you think you may call in this loan?"

"Well, the probabilities are, that you may keep it as long as you
wish, at the rates named. They are stiff, I know, but not above the
market."

Mr. Muir had thought it over. If he failed he was satisfied that his
assets would eventually make good every dollar he owed, with interest,
while, on the other hand, even the small sum named promised to
preserve his fortune and add very largely to his wealth. The
transaction was soon completed.

Mr. Arnault was equally satisfied that he also took but slight risk.
The loan, however, was made from his own means, and was not wholly a
business affair. He had made up his mind to win Stella Wildmere,
and would not swerve from the purpose unless she engaged herself
to another. Then, even though she might be willing to break the tie
through stress of circumstances, he would stand aloof. There was only
one thing greater than his persistency--his pride. She was the belle
who, in his set, had been admired most generally, and his god was
success--success in everything on which he placed his heart, or,
rather, mind. For her to become engaged to Graydon, and then, because
of his poverty, to be willing to renounce him for a more fortunate
man, would not answer at all. He must appear to the world to have
won her in fair competition with all others, and the girl had an
instinctive knowledge of this fact. The events of the previous day,
with her father's note, therefore confirmed her purpose to keep both
men in abeyance until the scale should turn.

CHAPTER XIV

MISS WILDMERE'S STRATEGY

As we have seen, Madge could not resume her old relations with Graydon
Muir. Indeed, the turning-point in her life had been the impulse and
decision to escape them by going away. She was also right in thinking
that this inability would rather help than hinder her cause. If he
had come back and realized his expectations, he would have bestowed
unstintedly the placid affection of a brother, given her his
confidence, his aid, anything she wished, except his thoughts. While
she lost much else, she retained these in a way that puzzled and even
provoked him, in view of his devotion to Miss Wildmere. The very fact
that he resented the way in which he had been treated by Madge made
him think of her, although admitting to himself that it might all turn
out for the best. He would have soon accepted changes in externals,
and her added accomplishments, but there were other and more subtle
changes which he could not grasp. It began to pique him that he had
already been forced to abandon more than one impression in regard to
her character. It was somewhat humiliating that he, who had seen the
world, especially in its social aspects, should be perplexed by a
young girl scarcely twenty, and that this girl of all others should
be little Madge. He had intimated that she had become imbued with
sentimentality and aspirations after ideals, and was hoping to meet
a male embodiment of these traits, which he regarded as prominently
lackadaisical. Her merry and half ironical laugh was not the natural
response of a woman of the intense and aesthetic type.

"I don't understand her yet," he admitted; and he again assured
himself that it was not necessary that he should. She had not merely
drifted away from him, but had deliberately chosen that others should
guide and help in the new development. The thing for him to do now was
to secure the girl of his heart, who was not shrouded in mystery. It
was evident that Mr. Arnault had been an urgent suitor, and that she
was not already engaged to him proved, as he believed, that she had
been under the influence of a restraint readily explained by her more
than manner toward himself. "She will have to choose between us soon,"
he thought. "She understands us both, and her heart will soon give its
final verdict, if it has not already done so."

Miss Wildmere's heart would have slight voice in the verdict. Indeed,
it never had been permitted to say very much, and was approaching the
condition of a mute. She had her preference, however, and still hoped
to be able to follow it. She smiled upon Graydon almost as sweetly
as ever during the next two days, but he felt that she had grown
more elusive. She lured him on unmistakably, but permitted no
near approach. With consummate art, she increased the spell of her
fascinations, and added to the glamour which dazzled him. He might
look his admiration, and, more, he might compliment indefinitely;
but when he spoke too plainly, or sought stronger indications of her
regard, she was on the wing instantly, and he was too fine in his
perceptions to push matters against her will. One thing appeared
hopeful to him--she seemed possessed by a carefully veiled jealousy
of Madge. In his downright earnestness, he determined to give her no
cause for this, and treated Madge much as he did Mrs. Muir, allowing
for difference in age and relation. He determined that Miss Wildmere
should discover no ambiguity in his course or intentions. If thoughts
of him had kept her waiting through years, he would justify those
thoughts by all the means in his power. Casting about with a lover's
ingenuity for an explanation of her tantalizing allurement, yet
elusiveness, it occurred to him that she was unwilling to yield
readily and easily, from very fear that he might surmise the cause of
her freedom--that she had given him her love before it had been asked.
Therefore, it was not impossible that she now proposed for him a
somewhat thorny probation as an open suitor. She would not appear to
be easily won, and perhaps she thought that, since this was to be the
last wooing she could enjoy, she would make the most of it. He also
resolved to make the most of this phase of life, and to enjoy to the
utmost all of her shy witchery, her airy, hovering nearness to the
thought uppermost in his mind, as if she were both fascinated by it
and afraid. He little dreamed that her feminine grace and _finesse_
were but the practical carrying out of her father's suggestion, to
"keep him well in hand."

Madge felt herself neglected and partially forgotten. She saw that
Miss Wildmere's spell grew stronger upon Graydon every day. It was
not in her nature to seek to attract his attention or in the slightest
degree to enter the lists openly against her rival. During the first
three days of the week, her chief effort was to be so active and
cheerful that her deep despondency should be hidden from all. She was
the life of every little group of which she formed a part. Wherever
she appeared, mirth and laughter soon followed. The young girls in the
house began to acknowledge her as a natural leader, the boyish young
fellows to adore her, and the maturer men to discover that she could
hold her own with them in conversation, while another class learned,
to their chagrin, that she would not flirt. For every walking
expedition started she was ready with her alpenstock, and the experts
in the bowling alley found a strong, supple competitor, with eye and
hand equally true. Graydon, as far as his preoccupation permitted,
saw all this with renewed perplexity. She now appeared to him as
a beautiful, vigorous girl, with healthful instincts and a large
appetite for enjoyment.

Wednesday morning was cool and cloudy, and a large party was forming
to climb to Spy Rock. Graydon was longing for more activity, and since
the day was so propitious, Miss Wildmere consented to go. Of course
Madge was in readiness, and in charming costume for a walk. The moment
they were on the steep path he had to admit that she appeared the
superior of Miss Wildmere. The one owed her bloom to artificial and
metropolitan life; the other had gone to nature, and now acted as
if her foot were on her native heath. Her step was light, yet never
uncertain. Her progress was easy, and, although different, was quite
as graceful as if she were promenading the piazza, proving that she
was an adept in mountain-climbing. It was evident, however, that
to Miss Wildmere a mountain was a _terra incognita_. She trod
uncertainly, her feet turned on loose stones that hurt her, and before
the first steep ascent was passed, she panted and was glad to sit down
with others, more or less exhausted.

Madge's breathing was only slightly quickened, and color was beginning
to come in her usually pale face, yet she had lent a helping hand more
than once.

"How easily you climb, Miss Alden!" gasped Miss Wildmere. "Have you
taken lessons?"

"Yes," she replied, smiling sweetly, "and from a master."

Miss Wildmere also was beginning to discover a problem in Madge; she
could not patronize, snub, or apparently touch her with shafts of
satire. The young girl treated her with cordial indifference, as
one-of the guests of the house. She appeared to be capable of enjoying
herself thoroughly, with scarcely a consciousness of the belle's
existence, unless, as in the present case, she was addressed. Then she
would reply with perfect courtesy, but in some such ambiguous way. It
soon became evident to Graydon that the two girls were hostile, and
this both amused and vexed him. He was beginning to learn that Madge
was the more skilful opponent. She was never aggressive, yet seemed
clad in polished armor when attacked, and her quick replies flashed
back under the light of her smile. By acting, however, as if Miss
Wildmere were never in her thoughts, except when in some way obtruded
upon them, she gave the keenest wound. The flattered girl enjoyed
being envied, hated, and even detested by her own sex, but to be
politely ignored was a new and unwelcome experience, and she chafed
under it, not so secretly but that Graydon observed her annoyance.

After a rest they started on again, he with Miss Wildmere falling to
the rear. Before Madge passed around a curve in the path she saw a
lily on a bank above her, and with the aid of her alpenstock sprang
upon the mossy shelf, plucked the flower, and leaped down with an
effort so quick and agile that it seemed like the impulse of a bird
to get something and pass on. She put the flower in her belt, and a
moment later was hidden from view.

"I hope you observed that feat," Miss Wildmere remarked. "Indeed, Miss
Alden appears inclined to call attention to her feet this morning."

"I hope the ladies will observe them," he replied; "the gentlemen
will, for they are pretty. Did you not note that her boots are adapted
to walking? You could climb with twice the ease if your heels were not
so high. For mountain scrambling a lady needs short skirts, and boots
like those that Miss Alden wears. You should see the English girls
walking in the Alps. It's my good-fortune, however, that you are
partially disabled this morning. Here's a steep place. Take my arm and
put all the weight upon it you can--the more the better. Lean on me as
if you trusted me."

There was a slight frown on her brow, as he began his speech, but it
soon passed, and she said, softly, as she still lingered, "Well, I'm
not an athlete. I should value more a man's strong arm than strength
of my own."

"You know that the arm of one man is ever at your service."

"'Ever' implies more patience than any man possesses."

"I should think so; yet you will find me reasonably patient."

"Everything is a matter of reason with men."

"Our reason assures us that certain things are a matter of the heart
with women. Therefore we hope."

"Men are much too exacting. They reason a thing out and make up their
minds. If they base any hopes on women's hearts, they should remember
what unreasoning organs they are--full of hesitations, doubts, absurd
fears, and more absurd confidence at times. Have you ever seen a bird
hovering in the air, not knowing where to alight? Give it time, and
it makes its selection and swiftly follows its choice. No good
hunter rushes at it in the hope of capturing it during the moment of
indecision."

"Indeed, Miss Wildmere, if I understand your little parable, I think
Mr. Arnault errs egregiously, yet he does not frighten the bird into a
very distant flight."

"You do not know how distant it is."

"No; I only see that he goes straight for the bird the moment he sees
her."

"He might have found a more considerate policy wiser." Then she added,
gravely, with a little reproach in her voice: "Mr. Arnault is an old
friend and a friend of papa's, whom he often favors in business. I
think my manner toward you should prove that I am not inclined to be
disloyal toward old friends. You have just defended Miss Alden against
a little feminine spite on my part. That was nice. In the same way
I defend Mr. Arnault, whom, for reasons equally absurd, you do not
altogether like. I'm only a woman, you know, and a little spite is one
of our prerogatives. After all, it doesn't amount to anything. I would
do as much for Miss Alden as for any one in the house." (Quite true,
which was nothing.) "You know how girls are."

"Certainly, especially when both are reigning belles."

"The men are always the rulers sooner or later; and I shall give
my allegiance to those gentlemen friends who are the least like
myself--tolerant, patient, you know. Mr. Arnault is coming to-night to
spend the Fourth. I must give him more or less of my time--I should be
ungrateful if I did not--but I don't wish you to feel toward me or him
as I should toward you and Miss Alden if I saw that you were together
a great deal. How you see how frank I am, and what a compliment I pay
to your masculine superiority."

"Miss Wildmere, I think I understand you; I hope I do. Your manner of
greeting me on my return from long absence proved that you were not
disloyal to one old friend. If you could keep me in mind for years, I
can hope I am not forgotten during the hours when others have claims
upon you. I have ever kept you in mind, and I might say more. If women
have a little natural spite, men in some situations are endowed with
enormous selfishness, and the bump of appropriation grows almost into
a deformity."

"I never expect to see deformities of any kind in Graydon Muir," she
said, laughing. "Now that we understand each other so well, give me
your hand and pull me up this steep place before which we have stood
so long, while getting over another little steep place that lay in our
path. I'm glad the others have all gone on, for now you can help me
all you choose, and I shan't care."

He did help her, with a touch and freedom that grew into something
like caresses. He felt that he had revealed himself almost as
completely as if he had spoken his love, and that he had received and
was receiving more than encouragement. She did not rebuke his manner,
which was that of a lover. There was no committal in that, nothing
that could bind her. She permitted the avowal of his hope, that he
had been in her thoughts during his long absence, and the natural
inference that her hand was still free because of his hold upon her
heart. This belief filled him with gratitude, and inspired him, as she
intended it should, with generous thoughts and impulses toward her.
What if she did prefer to maintain a little longer the delicate half
reserve that precedes a positive engagement? It only insured that the
cup of happiness should be sipped and enjoyed more leisurely. She had
seen too much of life, and enjoyed too many of its pleasures, to act
with precipitation now. She understood him, and yet loved him well
enough to be jealous of one whom she believed that he regarded as a
sister. With amusement he thought: "She is not even that to me now.
Hanged if I know what she is to me beyond a pretty, vexatious puzzle!"

Miss Wildmere's strategy had accomplished one thing, however.
Believing that he was absolved by Madge's course from everything
beyond cordial politeness, he had resolved to carry out her rival's
wishes. It was no great cross to forego Madge's society, and if Miss
Wildmere saw that he was not consoling himself during the hours she
spent with Arnault, she would shorten them in his behalf.

After reaching a certain point he suggested: "Instead of scaling
that rocky height after the rest of the party, suppose we follow this
grassy wood-road to parts unknown. It will be easier for you than
climbing, and you are better society than a crowd."

She assented smilingly, and Madge did not see Graydon again until they
met at dinner.

She was pale, and looked weary. "Oh," she thought, "perhaps my hopes
are already vain! They have been alone all the morning. He may have
spoken; he looks so happy and content that he must have spoken and
received the answer he craved. If so, I shall soon join the Waylands
in my native village, for I can't keep up much longer without a little
hope."

"You are tired, Madge," he said, not unkindly.

"A little," she replied, carelessly. "A short nap this afternoon will
insure my being ready for the hop to-night."

CHAPTER XV

PERPLEXED AND BEGUILED

Madge was so discouraged that she contented herself with a manner of
listless apathy during dinner, and then retired to her room. Graydon
was giving her so little thought that there was slight occasion for
disguise, and less incentive for effort to interest him.

"The struggle promises to be short and decisive," she moaned. "Perhaps
it has been already decided. I had no chance after all. He came here
fully committed in his own thoughts to Miss Wildmere. I have merely
lost my old place in his affection, and have had and shall have no
opportunity to win his love. If this is to be my fate it is well to
discover it so speedily, and not after weeks of torturing hope
and fear. I'll learn the truth with absolute certainty as soon as
possible, and then find a pretext to join the Waylands."

At last the fatigue of the morning brought the respite of sleep, and
when she waked she found late evening shadows in her room, and learned
that Mr. Muir had arrived, it being his purpose to spend the Fourth
and the remainder of the week with his family.

Weariness and despondency are near akin, and in banishing one Madge
found herself better able to cope with the other. At any rate, she
determined to show no weakness. If Graydon would never love her he
should at least be compelled to respect and admire her, and he should
never have cause to surmise the heart-poverty to which she was doomed.
Still less would she give her proud rival a chance to wound her again.
Miss Wildmere might make Graydon's devotion as ostentatious as she
pleased, but should never again detect on Madge's face a look of
pained surprise and solicitude.

She made a careful toilet for the evening, telling Mr. Muir and her
sister not to wait for her, as she had overslept herself.

"Where is Madge?" Graydon asked, at the supper-table.

"She did not wake up in time to come down with us," Mrs. Muir replied.
"What does it matter? Miss Wildmere so fills your eyes that you see no
one else. When is it to be, Graydon?"

"Madge evidently sees quite as much of me as she cares to," he
replied, somewhat irritably. "I have not asked when it's to be or
whether it's to be at all. I suppose," he added, satirically, "that in
consideration of my extreme youth I should obtain permission from my
family before venturing to ask anything."

"That remark is absurd and uncalled for," Mr. Muir replied, gravely.
"Of course you will please yourself, as I did, and we shall make the
best of it. But you have no right to expect that we shall see the lady
with your eyes. I cannot help seeing her as she is. I do not like her,
but if you choose to marry her, rest assured I shall give neither of
you cause for complaint. Now, according to my custom, I've had my say.
You could not expect me, as your brother, to be indifferent; still
less could I pretend an approval that I don't feel; but I recognize
that you are as free as I was when Mary's suitor, and I do not think
you can reasonably ask more. Our relations are too intimate for
misunderstanding. You know that, in my present plans and hopes, I
looked forward to receiving you as a partner at no distant time, if
such purposes are carried out our interests must always be identical."

"Pardon me, Henry," said Graydon, warmly, "and do not misunderstand my
hasty words. I know you have my best welfare at heart--you have ever
proved that--but you misjudge my choice. Even Mary begins to see that
you do, and woman's insight is keener than man's. You attribute to the
daughter the qualities you dislike in the father. Is it nothing that
she has waited for me during my long absence, when she could pick and
choose from so many?"

"I'm not sure she has been waiting for you; her manner toward Mr.
Arnault yonder suggests that she may still pick and choose."

"Bah! I'm not afraid of him. She could have taken him long since had
she so wished."

Others who had seats at the table now approached, and prevented
further interchange of words on so delicate a subject. Nevertheless
Mr. Muir's arrow had not flown wide of the mark, and Graydon thought
that Miss Wildmere was unnecessarily cordial toward his rival, and
that Mr. Wildmere, who had also come from the city, was decidedly
complacent over the fact.

Graydon's furtive observation was now cut short by the entrance of
Madge, and even he was dazzled by a beauty that attracted many eyes.
It was not merely a lovely woman who was advancing toward him, but a
woman whose nature was profoundly excited. What though she moved in
quiet, well-bred grace, and greeted Mr. Muir with natural cordiality?
The aroused spiritual element was not wanting in the expression of her
face or in the dignity of her carriage. Her deep, suppressed feeling,
which bordered on despair; her womanly pride, which would disguise
all suffering at every cost, gave to her presence a subtle power, felt
none the less because intangible. It was evident that she neither
saw nor cared for the strangers who were looking their curiosity and
admiration; and Graydon understood her barely well enough to think,
"Something, whatever it may be, makes her unlike other girls. She was
languidly indifferent at dinner; now she is superbly indifferent. This
morning and yesterday she was a gay young girl, eager for a mountain
scramble or a frolic of any kind. How many more phases will she
exhibit before the week is over?"

Poor Madge could not have answered that question herself. She was
under the control of one of the chief inspirations of feeling and
action. Moods of which she had never dreamed would become inevitable;
thoughts which nothing external could suggest would arise in her own
heart and determine her manner.

In ceasing to hope one also ceases to fear, and Graydon admitted to
himself that he had never before felt the change in Madge so deeply.
The weak, timid little girl he had once known now looked as if she
could quietly face anything. The crowded room, the stare of strangers,
were simply as if they were not; the approach of a thunder-gust in the
sultry evening was unheeded; when a loud peal drowned her voice, she
simply waited till she could be heard again, and then went on without
a tremor in her tones, while all around her people were nervous,
starting, and exclaiming. There was not the faintest suggestion of
high tragedy in her manner. To a casual observer it was merely the
somewhat proud and cold reserve of a lady in a public place, while
under the eyes of a strange and miscellaneous assemblage. Graydon
imagined that it might veil some resentment because he had been
so remiss in his attentions. He could scarcely maintain this view,
however, for she was as cordial to him as to any one, while at the
same time giving the impression that he was scarcely in her thoughts
at all.

Mr. Muir was perplexed also, and watched her with furtive admiration.
"If she cares for Graydon's neglect she's a superb actress," he
thought. "Great Scott! what an idiot he is, that he cannot see the
difference between this grand woman and yonder white-faced speculator!
She actually quickens the blood in my veins to-night when she fixes
her great black eyes on me."

Graydon felt her power, but believed that there was nothing in it
gentle or conciliatory toward himself. Probably her mood resulted from
a proud consciousness of her beauty and the triumphs that awaited her.
She had been young and gay heretofore with the other young people, but
now that a number of mature men, like Arnault, had appeared upon the
scene, she proposed to make a different impression. The embodiment of
her ideal might be among them. "At any rate," he concluded, "she
has the skill to make me feel that I have little place in either her
imaginings or hopes, and that for all she cares I may capture Miss
Wildmere as soon as I can. Both of us probably are so far beneath her
ideals of womanhood and manhood that she can never be friendly to
one and is fast losing her interest in the other. She has already
virtually said, 'Our relations are accidental, and if you marry Stella
Wildmere you need not hope that I shall accept her with open arms as
inseparable from one of my best friends.' 'Best friend,' indeed! Even
that amount of regard was a lingering sentiment of the past. Now that
we have met again she realizes that we have grown to be comparative
strangers, and that our tastes and interests lie apart."

Thus day after day he had some new and perturbed theory as to
Madge, in which pique, infused with cynical philosophy and utter
misapprehension, led to widely varying conclusions. Ardent and
impatient lover of another woman as he was, one thing remained
true--he could neither forget nor placidly ignore the girl who had
ceased to be his sister, and who yet was not very successful in
playing the part of a young lady friend.

When the dancing began, the storm was approaching its culmination.
More vivid than the light from the chandeliers, the electric flashes
dazzled startled eyes with increasing frequency. Miss Wildmere at
first tried to show cool indifference in the spirit of bravado, and
maintained her place upon the floor with Mr. Arnault and a few others.
She soon succumbed, with visible agitation, as a thunderous peal
echoed along the sky. Madge danced on with Graydon as if nothing had
occurred. He only felt that her form grew a little more tense, and saw
that her eyes glowed with suppressed excitement.

"Are you not afraid?" he asked, as soon as his voice could be heard.
"See, the ladies are scattering or huddling together, while many look
as if the world were coming to an end."

"The world is coming to an end to some every day," she replied.

"That remark is as tragic as it is trite, Madge. What could have
suggested it?"

"Trite remarks cannot have serious causes."

"Account for the tragic phase, then."

"I'm in no mood for tragedy, and commonplace does not need
explanation."

"What kind of mood are you in to-night, Madge? You puzzle me;" and he
looked directly into her eyes. At the moment she was facing a window,
and a flash of strange brilliancy made every feature luminous. It
seemed to him that he saw her very soul, the spirit she might become,
for it is hard to imagine existence without form--form that is in
harmony with character. The crash that followed was so terrific that
they paused and stood confronting each other. The music ceased; cries
of terror resounded; but the momentary transfiguration of the girl
before him had been so strange and so impressive that Graydon forgot
all else, and still gazed at her with something like awe in his face.
Her lip trembled, for the nervous tension was growing too severe.
"Why do you look at me so?" she faltered. "What has happened? Is there
danger?"

"What _has_ happened, Madge, that I cannot understand you? The
electric gleam made you look like an angel of light. Your face
seemed light itself. Are you so true and good, Madge, that such vivid
radiance brings out no stain or fear? What is it that makes you unlike
others?" Instinctively he looked toward Miss Wildmere. Her face
was buried in her hands, and Mr. Arnault was bending over her with
reassuring words.

Madge felt her self-control departing. "Mary is afraid in a
thunderstorm," she said, in a low tone. "I'll go to her. She does not
find me so puzzling;" and she hastened away, yet not so swiftly but
that he saw her quivering lip and look of trouble.

He took a few impulsive steps in pursuit, then hesitated and walked
irresolutely down a hallway, that he might have a chance for further
thought. The alarm and confusion were so great that the little episode
had been unnoted. It had made an impression on Graydon, however, that
he could not shake off readily.

Emotion, if forced, has little power except to repel, but even a
glimpse of deep, suppressed feeling haunts the memory, especially if
its cause is half in mystery.

Madge had set her heart on one thing, had worked long and patiently
for its attainment, had hoped and prayed for it, and within the last
few hours was feeling the bitterness of defeat. The event she so
dreaded seemed inevitable, even if it had not already occurred. The
expression on Graydon's face when she had first met him after his long
ramble with Miss Wildmere had been that of a tranquilly happy lover,
whose heart was at rest in glad certainty. Why should he not have
spoken? what greater encouragement could he ask than the favor she
herself had seen? During his long absence another girl had apparently
been waiting for him also, "But not working for him," she sighed, "and
keeping herself aloof from all and everything that would render her
less worthy. While I sought to train heart, body, and soul to be a fit
bride, she has dallied with every admirer she met, and now wins him
without one hour of self-denial or effort. It is more bitter than
death to me. It is cruelty to him, for that selfish girl will never
make him happy. Even after he marries her he will be only one among
many, and the ballroom glare will be more to her than the light of her
own hearth."

Such thoughts had been in Madge's mind, and self-control had been no
easy matter. When to all had been added the excitement of the storm
and his unexpected words, her overstrained nerves gave way. She
was too desperately unhappy for the common fear which temporarily
overwhelmed many--the greater swallows up the less--but the storm had
led to words that both wounded and alarmed her. Why did she so perplex
him? What had the lightning's gleam revealed, to be understood when
he should think it all over? Could the truth of her love, of which she
was so conscious, be detected in spite of her efforts and disguises?
Was she doomed, not only to failure and an impoverished life, but also
to the humiliation of receiving a lifelong, yet somewhat complacent
pity from Graydon, and possibly the triumphant scorn of her rival?

With these thoughts surging in her mind she locked herself in her room
and sobbed like the broken-hearted girl she felt herself to be. The
passing storm was nothing to her. A heavier storm was raging in her
soul, nor had it ceased when the skies without grew cloudless and
serene. She at last felt that she must do something to maintain her
disguise. Hearing little Jack crying and Mrs. Muir trying to hush him,
she washed her eyes and went to the partially darkened room where the
child was, and said, "Let me take him, Mary, and you go down and see
Henry."

"It's awfully good of you, Madge. The children have been so frightened
that I've been up here all the evening. You seem to have better luck
in quieting Jack than any of us."

"He'll be good with me. Go down at once, and don't worry. You have
hardly had a chance to see Henry."

"You will come down again after Jack goes to sleep?"

"Yes, if I feel like it."

Graydon soon discovered Mrs. Muir after she had joined her husband,
and asked, "Where is Madge?"

"She has kindly taken the baby so that I can spend a little time with
Henry. The children have been frightened, and Jack is very fretful.
I'm tired out, and don't know what I should do if it wasn't for
Madge."

"Why can't the nurse take him?"

"He won't go to her in these bad moods. Madge can quiet him even
better than I. What's the matter that you are so anxious to see Madge?
You have seemed abundantly able to amuse yourself without her the last
few days. Is Mr. Arnault in the way to-night?"

"As if I cared a rap for him!" said Graydon, turning irritably away.

He did care, however, and felt that Miss Wildmere was making too much
use of the liberty she had provided for. She, like many others, could
be half hysterical while the violence of the storm lasted, and yet,
when quiet was restored, was capable of making a jest of her fears
and the most of a delightful conjunction of affairs, which placed two
eligible men at her beck, to either of whom she could become engaged
before she slept. The arrival of her father had turned the scale
decidedly in favor of Mr. Arnault, for the latter, without revealing
his transaction with Mr. Muir, had whispered to Mr. Wildmere his
conviction that Henry Muir was borrowing at ruinous interest. This
information accorded with the broker's previous knowledge, and he was
eager that his daughter should decide for Arnault at once.

This, however, the wilful girl would not do. She enjoyed the present
condition of affairs too well, and was not without hope, also, that
her father was mistaken; for she felt sure, from Graydon's manner,
that he was not aware of his brother's financial peril, and this fact
inclined her to doubt its existence. She was actuated by the feeling
that she had given much time and encouragement to Graydon, and that
now Arnault should have his turn. Madge had been invisible since the
storm, and there was nothing to indicate that Graydon was disposed to
give her much thought. Miss Wildmere's natural supposition was that he
and Madge had been like brother and sister once, and that the form of
the relation still existed, but that in their long separation they had
grown somewhat indifferent toward each other. She believed that the
solicitude she had seen in Madge's face, on the evening so memorable
in the latter's experience, was due to the jealousy of an immature,
sickly girl, who had been so humored as to feel that Graydon belonged
to her. She naturally believed that if there had been anything
beyond this, it would have been developed by correspondence, or else
indifference on both sides would not now be so palpable. She disliked
Madge chiefly as a rival in beauty and admiration. Nothing could be
more clear than that Graydon was completely under the spell of her own
fascination, and that Madge was receiving even scant fraternal regard.
All she feared was, that during the process of keep him "well in
hand" he might become more conscious of Madge's attractions, which she
recognized, however much she decried them openly. Even if compelled by
circumstances to accept Arnault, she proposed to herself the triumph
of rejecting Graydon, and thought she could do this so skilfully as to
give the idea that he had made a deep impression on her heart, and
so eventually win him again as one of her devoted followers in the
future. This product of fashionable society had not the slightest
intention of giving up her career as a belle for the sake of Mr.
Arnault or any one else. She had more liking and less fear for Graydon
than for Arnault. The latter was an open, resolute suitor, but she
knew that he was controlled more by ambition than by affection--that
he would yield everything and submit to anything up to a certain
point. The moment she jeopardized his prestige before the world,
or interfered with his scheme of success, she would meet rock-like
obduracy, both before and after marriage. She knew that Graydon had
a sincere affection for her, and a faith in her which, even in her
egotism, she was aware was unmerited--that he had a larger, gentler,
and more tolerant nature, and would be easier to manage than Arnault.

Her fear of the latter proved his best ally. There was a resolution in
his eye since his return this evening that, even while it angered her
somewhat, convinced her that he would not be trifled with. His suit
was that of a man who had an advantage which she dared not ignore, and
her father's manner increased this impression. She felt that her game
was becoming delicate and hazardous, but she would not forego its
delicious excitement, or abandon the hope that Graydon might still
be in a position to warrant her preference. Therefore she proposed to
yield to Arnault as far as she could without alienating Muir, hoping
that the former would soon return to town again, and thus more time be
secured for her final decision.

Before the first evening of his rivals advent had passed, Graydon felt
that he must appear to the people in the house as supplanted, and his
pride was beginning to be touched. Mrs. Muir's words had added to his
irritation. The episode with Madge had left a decidedly unpleasant
impression. He felt not only that he had failed to understand her, but
that he might be treating her with a neglect which she had a right to
resent. Her appearance and manner during the storm had almost startled
him; her abrupt departure had caused sudden and strong compunction;
and he had wished that they might come to a better understanding;
but thoughts of her had soon given place to anxiety in regard to Miss
Wildmere. It began to seem strange that the girl who had apparently
waited for him so long, and who had permitted such unequivocal words
and manner on his part that day, should now, before his very eyes, be
accepting attentions even more unmistakable from another man. She had
tried to explain and prepare him for all this, but there was more than
he was prepared for. She not only danced oftener with Arnault than
with any one else, but also strolled with him on the dusky piazza,
which, by reason of the dampness due to the storm, was almost
deserted. Graydon had permitted his brow to become clouded, and was so
perturbed by the events of the evening that he had not disguised his
vexation by gallantries to others. At last he detected smiles and
whispered surmises on the part of some who had seen his devotion
before the arrival of Mr. Arnault. This almost angered him, and he
felt that Miss Wildmere had imposed a role that would be difficult to
maintain.

He had lingered conspicuously near, intent on proving his loyalty, and
had hoped every moment that his opportunity would come. He felt that
she should at least divide her time evenly with him and Mr. Arnault,
but the evening was drawing to a close, and the latter had received
the lion's share. After noting that others were observing his
desolation, he went resolutely out on the piazza, with the intention
of asking Miss Wildmere to give him the last waltz. Its wide space
was deserted. He waited a few moments, thinking that the object of his
thoughts would turn the corner in her promenade with his rival. Time
passed, and she did not come. He looked through a parlor window,
thinking that she might have entered by some other means of ingress;
and while he was standing there steps slowly approached from a part of
the piazza which was usually in utter darkness, and which was known
as the "lovers' retreat." As the figures passed a lighted window he
recognized them, and was also observed. He was too angry and jealous
now to carry out his purpose, and returned to the general hallway.

Here he was joined a moment later by Miss Wildmere and Mr. Arnault,
and the former began to chat with him in imperturbable ease, while
the gentleman bowed and sought another partner for the waltz that was
about to be danced. Graydon would not show his chagrin under the many
eyes directed toward them, but she nevertheless saw his anger in the
cold expression of his eyes, and realized her danger. She ignored
everything with inimitable skill and sweetness, and there was nothing
for him to do but take her out with the others. Indeed, it almost
instantly became his policy to convince observers that their surmises
were without foundation. He determined that the girl should show him
all the favor his rival had enjoyed, or else--A sudden flash of his
eyes indicated to his observant companion that all her skill would
be required. She was graciousness itself, and when Arnault could
not observe her, stole swift and almost pleading glances into her
partner's eyes.

Another observed her, however. Madge did come down at last, for she
had concluded that the memorable day should not close until she
had had one more glimpse of the problem which had grown so dark and
hopeless. Graydon soon observed her standing in the doorway, but then
she was talking and laughing with a lady friend. A moment later she
glided out on the floor with one of a half dozen who had been waiting
for the favor. Graydon sought to catch her eye, but did not succeed.
Again she made upon his mind the impression of troubled perplexity,
but his purpose was uppermost, and he was bent on carrying it out.

"Come," he said to Miss Wildmere, in quiet tones, "I should enjoy a
stroll on the piazza, the room has grown so warm and close."

Feeling that she must yield, she did so with ready grace and apparent
willingness, and Graydon led her out through the main entrance, that
it might be observed that he received no less favor than had been
given to another.

"She is playing them both pretty strong," whispered one of the
committee, before referred to, that sits perpetually on the phases of
life at such resorts.

"I feared you would not be very patient," said Miss Wildmere, in a low
tone.

"I said I would be reasonably patient," was the reply.

"Reason again."

"Yes, Miss Wildmere; I think I can justly say that I am endowed with
both heart and reason. There are some questions in life that demand
both."

"Please do not speak so coldly. You do not understand."

"I wish I did."

"Be patient and you will. After maintaining friendship true and strong
for years, it hurts me to be misjudged now."

"But, Miss Wildmere--" he began, impetuously.

"Hush," she said, hastily; then added, a little coldly, "if I am not
worthy of a little trust I am not worthy of anything."

Graydon was touched to the quick. Honorable himself, he felt that he
was acting meanly and suspiciously--that his jealousy and irritation
were leading him to unmanly conduct. There was some reason for her
course, which would be explained eventually, and he ought not to ask
a woman to be his wife at all unless he could trust her. Therefore he
said, humbly. "I beg your pardon. In my heart I believe you worthy of
all trust. I will wait and be as patient as you desire, since I know
that you cannot have failed to understand me." Then he added, with
a deprecating laugh, "There are times, I suppose, when all men are a
little blind and unreasonable."

"Heaven keep him blind!" she thought, yet she winced under his honest
words in their contrast with herself.

"I hope some day to prove worthy of your trust," she breathed, softly,
and looked in dread into the darkness lest in some way her words
should reach Arnault. "Come, please," she added, with a gentle
pressure on his arm, "let us return, or the hotel may be closed upon
us."

"Please give me all the time you can," pleaded Graydon, as they paused
at the door.

Looking within, she saw Arnault with his back toward them, and said,
hastily, and as if impulsively, "I will--all that I can. Possibly my
regret will be deeper than yours that I cannot give you more."

"You should know that that is not possible," he said, in low, earnest
tones. Then he added, in a whisper, as she was entering, "I can trust
you now and wait."

"My good fortune is still in the ascendant," was her thought; "I can
still keep him in hand, in spite of papa and Mr. Arnault."

"Her father's relations with Mr. Arnault must give him some hold upon
her," he thought, "and for her father's sake she cannot yield to me at
once, but she will eventually."

Mr. Arnault came forward with smiling lips, light words, yet resolute
eyes. Graydon felt that he had received all the assurance that he
needed--that she was under some necessity of keeping his rival in
good-humor--so he smiled significantly into her eyes, and bowed
himself away.

"Muir looked as if he had received all the comfort that he required,"
Arnault said, as they strolled across the parlor, now deserted.

"Did he? Well, he did not require very much."

"How much?"

"You had better ask him."

"Stella," he said, and there was a suggestion of menace in his tone,
"I'm in earnest now. You will soon have to choose between us."

"Shall I?" she replied, bending upon him an arch, bewildering smile.
"Then please don't speak as if I had no choice at all;" and she was
going.

"Wait," he said. "Will you drive with me to-morrow?"

"Yes. Is there anything else your lordship would like?"

He seized her hand, and held it in both his. "This," he said.

"Is that all?" was her laughing reply, as she withdrew it. "I wish you
had more of Mr. Muir's diffidence;" and she vanished before he could
speak again.

Graydon found that Madge had retired, so that there was no chance for
him to speak to her that night; but his mind was in too happy a tumult
to give her much thought.

CHAPTER XVI

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Mrs. Muir came into Madge's room for a bit of the gossip that she
dearly loved, but, as usual, obtained little information or surmise
from the young girl. "I'm glad you came down," she said, "if only to
prove to Graydon that you were not moping upstairs."

"Why should I mope upstairs?" Madge asked, with a keen look at her
sister.

"No reason that I know of, only Graydon has been slightly spoiled by
his success among ladies, and society men are always imagining that
girls are languishing for them."

"Have I given him or anyone such an impression?" Madge again inquired,
indignantly.

"Oh, no, indeed! On the contrary, you seem so indifferent as not to be
quite natural. Even Graydon feels it, and is perplexed and troubled.
He was inquiring for you during the evening, and I told him you were
kindly caring for Jack, so that I might have a little fresh air with
Henry on the piazza."

"There it is again--perplexed and troubled. I'm sick of being
misunderstood so ridiculously. The scraps of time that he gives me
when Miss Wildmere does not fill his eyes and thoughts are employed
in criticism. Why should I perplex and trouble him? I have told him
to please himself with Miss Wildmere--that I should certainly please
myself in my choice of friends, and that he as a man assuredly had a
right to do the same. He will soon be engaged to her, and probably is
already, but he has no right to demand that I should receive this girl
with open arms. She already detests me, and I do not admire her.
It's none of my business, but if I were a man I wouldn't stand
her flirtation with Mr. Arnault. Even the people in the house are
observing it with significant smiles. He must get over the impression
that I'm the weak, limp child in mind or body that he left. I'm an
independent woman, and have as much right to my thoughts and ways
as he to his. If he wants my society, let him treat me with natural
friendliness. If he's afraid to do it--if Miss Wildmere won't let
him--rest assured I won't receive any furtive, deprecatory attentions.
I am abundantly able to take care of myself in my own way."

"Oh, Madge, you have so changed! Before you went away the sun seemed
to rise and set in Graydon."

"Well, the sun now rises in the west and sets in the east--What am
I saying? Well, perhaps, it's true for me, after all. In the West I
gained the power to live a strong, resolute life of my own choosing,
and he may as well recognize the truth first as last. Let him give all
his thoughts to Miss Wildmere. From what I see and have heard she will
keep them busy before and after marriage."

"He's not engaged to her yet; he said so positively."

"Oh, well," Madge replied, with well-assumed indifference, although
her heart bounded at the tidings, "it's only a question of time.
There, we've talked enough about _her_. Of course I remember Graydon's
old kindness, and all that; and if he would treat me with frank and
sensible friendliness, I should enjoy his society. Why not?"

"I thought he regarded you as his sister."

"Sister, indeed! I'm Henry's sister, not his. I'm only an object of
criticism, of perplexity, a sphinx, and all that kind of nonsense. He
was bent on seeing a 'little ghost,' as he used to call me. I'm not a
bit of a ghost, and have as much proud blood in my veins as he has."

"Well, Madge, I'm glad you feel that you are Henry's sister. He likes
and admires you so much that I'm half jealous."

"Henry and I understand each other. He thinks I'm sensible, and I
certainly think he is. Good-night, now, dear. It's after twelve, and I
wish you a merry Fourth of July; I mean to have one."

Graydon had not found himself in a sleeping mood until the shadows of
night were almost ready to depart, and so came down very late. Mrs.
Wildmere, who was on the piazza with her child, informed him, with a
deprecatory smile, that Stella had gone to drive with Mr. Arnault. He
bit his lip, and went to make a leisurely breakfast. By the time he
had finished, Madge came in with a party of young people who had been
on a ramble. Her greeting was friendly, but nothing more, and having
received a long letter from Mrs. Wayland, she took it to a small
summer-house. Graydon soon strayed after her in a listless way, and in
no very amiable humor. The greater anxiety had swallowed up the less,
and his perturbed thoughts about Madge were now following a light
carriage on some wild mountain road. His generous glow of feeling of
the night before had passed somewhat, and he was inclined to think
that Miss Wildmere's relations to Arnault, whatever they were, placed
him, a committed lover, in a rather anomalous position. Since she was
absent, however, he would while away an hour with Madge, and try to
solve the riddle she had become.

She greeted him with a slight smile, and went on with her letter. He
watched her curiously and with contracting brow.

"Will you ever finish?" he soon asked.

"I can read it some other time," she said, laying it down.

"Oh, that is asking far too much!"

"Is it?"

"Confound it, Madge! Why is it that we are drifting further and
further apart every day?"

"I am not drifting," she said, quietly, "nor do you give that
impression. I am just where you found me on your return. Since we are
so far apart you must be doing the journeying."

"Well, Heaven knows I found you distant enough!"

"I beg your pardon; Heaven knows nothing of the kind! It's not my
fault that you value friendship so lightly."

"You know I wished for so much more."

"You thought you did at first, Graydon," she replied, with a quiet
smile, "but I imagine that you soon became quite reconciled to my
view of the case. The relation would surely prove embarrassing to
you. Haven't you since thought that it might?" she asked, with sweet
directness.

He colored visibly, and was provoked with himself that he did. "If
you persist in being at swords' points with Miss Wildmere--" he began,
hesitatingly.

"I persist in being simply myself, and true to my own perceptions.
Wherein have I failed in courtesy toward Miss Wildmere?"

"But you dislike her most cordially."

"And you like her most cordially and more. Have I not granted your
perfect right to do so?"

"If you were even the friend you claim to be, you would not be so
indifferent."

"I have not said I was indifferent. Miss Wildmere is far from
indifferent to me. What have I done to gain her ill-will?"

"Much, as human nature goes. You have made yourself her rival in
beauty and attractiveness."

"Is that human nature? If that is the cause of her hostility I should
say it is Miss Wildmere's nature."

"Let us change the subject," said Graydon, a little irritably.
"We shall not agree on this point, I fear; you share in Henry's
prejudices."

"I did not introduce the subject, Graydon, and I think for myself."

"Hang it all, Madge! you are so changed I scarcely know you. Every
time we meet I find you more of a conundrum. Friend, indeed! You
certainly have been a distant one in every sense. If I had been the
friend you say I was, you would have written me about the marvellous
transformation you were accomplishing."

She sprang up, and her dark eyes flashed indignantly. "I am beginning
to think that you are changed more than I," she said, impetuously.
"You know, or might, if you took the trouble, that I did not tell
Mary, my own sister, of my progress toward health and strength. My
wish to give you all a pleasant surprise may seem a little thing to
you, or you may give some sinister, unnatural meaning to the act. It
was not a little thing to go away 'a ghost, a wraith,' as you were
wont to call me--it was not a little thing to go away alone, perhaps
to die, as I then felt. Nor was it a little thing to battle for weary
months with weakness of mind and body, morbid timidity, indolence,
ignorance, and everything that was contrary to my ideal of womanhood.
I can say thus much in self-defence. Was there harm in my adding some
incentive to a hard sense of duty? I felt that if I could change for
the better and keep my secret I could give you all a glad surprise. I
had almost a child's pleasure in the thought. Mary and Henry rewarded
me, but you are spoiling it all. You at once make an impossible
demand, and discover, within twenty-four hours, how awkward my
compliance would have been. I did not know you so long without gaining
the power of guessing your thoughts. I suggested a simple, natural
relation, and as the result I have become a 'conundrum.' A charming
title, truly! I shall remain a simple, natural girl, and when you are
through with your riddle theories perhaps you will treat me as I think
you might in view of old times;" and she started swiftly toward the
house.

"Madge!" cried Graydon, springing up and following her.

At that moment Miss Wildmere approached, and Madge gained the piazza
and disappeared, leaving Graydon ill disposed toward himself and all
the world, even including Miss Wildmere; for she had a charming color,
and appeared not in the least a victim to _ennui_ because of forced
association with an objectionable party. She came smilingly toward
him, saying, "It's too bad to interrupt your hot pursuit of another
lady, but girls have not much conscience in such matters."

"As long as you have conscience in other matters, it does not
signify," he answered, meaningly.

"Not conscience, but another organ, controls our action chiefly, I
imagine," she replied, with a glance that gave emphasis to her words
of the previous evening, and she passed smilingly on.

Arnault soon followed her, spoke pleasantly to Graydon, and, having
obtained a morning paper, was at once absorbed in its contents.

"He does not appear like a baffled suitor who has enjoyed only a
veiled tolerance," was Graydon's thought. "Things will come out all
right in the end, I suppose, but they certainly are not proceeding as
I expected. Stella will be mine eventually--it were treason to think
otherwise--but she is carrying it off rather boldly to keep Arnault so
complacent at the same time. As far as Madge is concerned, I've been
a fool and made a mess of it. How in the mischief has she been able to
divine my very thoughts! She is wrong in one respect, however. If she
had felt and acted toward me like a sister I would have been loyal
to her, and would have compelled even Miss Wildmere to recognize her
rights. I am not so far gone but that I can act in a straightforward,
honorable way. My acceptance of her action was an afterthought, a
philosophical way I have of making the best of everything. I now
believe that it has turned out for the best, but I have been guilty
of no coldblooded calculation. Very well, I'll treat her as a simple,
natural girl and my very good friend, and see how this course works.
Not that she is a simple girl. I've met too many of that kind, and
of those also who enshroud themselves in a cloud of little feminine
mysteries, all transparent enough to one of experience; but Madge
does puzzle me. She has not explained herself with her fine burst of
indignation. Jove! how handsome she was! She ever gives the impression
that there is something back of all she says and does. Even Henry
feels it in his dim way, but that lightning flash made it clear
that it is something of which she need not be ashamed. Since she
has learned to read me so understandingly, I will try to fathom her
thoughts. Perhaps friendship does mean more to her than to others. If
so, I'll be as true a friend to her as she to me. If I grant Stella
such broad privileges with Arnault, she must admit mine with one of
whom it would be absurd to be jealous;" and, with cogitations like the
above, he also pretended to read his paper, and finished his cigar.

CHAPTER XVII

NOT STRONG IN VAIN

Graydon dreaded embarrassment when meeting Madge at dinner, but was
agreeably disappointed. There was nothing in the young girl's manner
which suggested a vexed consciousness of their recent interview,
neither were there covert overtures, even in tones, toward more
friendly relations. He saw that if any were made he must make them.
Madge was merely too well bred to show anger in public, or occasion
surmises that would require explanations. During the meal she spoke
of missing her horseback exercise, and said that she meant to ask Dr.
Sommers if he did not know of a good animal that might be hired for a
few weeks. Graydon at once resolved to make a propitiatory offering,
and to go out with Madge when Miss Wildmere was unattainable. For the
time he was content to imitate Madge's tactics, and acted as if he
intended to follow the course that she had suggested. The fact that
Arnault was so evidently enjoying his dinner and the Wildmere smiles
did not detract from his purpose to prove that he also was not without
resources. Moreover, he felt that he had not treated Madge fairly;
he had been truly fond of her, and now was conscious of a growing
respect. As she had said, it was not a little thing that she had
attempted and accomplished, and there had been small ground for his
discontent. After dinner, however, he found a chance to ensconce
himself by Miss Wildmere on the piazza, and he was fully resolved to
lose no such opportunities.

Madge, with the Muir children, passed him on the way to a small lake
on which she had promised to give the little people a row. He took
off his hat in cordial courtesy, and she recognized him with a brief
smile, in which Miss Wildmere could detect no apprehension.

"I hope that 'sister Madge,' as you call her, does not resent my
enjoyment of your society."

"Not in the least. I feel, however, that I have been neglecting her
shamefully, and propose to make amends."

"Indeed; has she brought you to a sense of your shortcomings? This
scarcely bears out your first remark."

"It is nothing against its truth. Miss Aldeu makes it very clear that
she is not dependent on me or any one for enjoyment; but in view of
the past I have been scarcely courteous. Therefore," he added, with
a laugh, "when Arnault monopolizes you I shall console myself with
Madge."

"And therefore I shall feel the less compunction. Thank you."

"I am glad to take the least thorn from the roses of your life," was
his smiling answer.

She veiled close scrutiny under her reply: "I fear the brilliant Miss
Alden will cause my society to appear commonplace in contrast."

"I do not see how you can fear anything of the kind," was his prompt
answer; "I trust you, and you must trust me."

"I do trust you, Mr. Muir," she said, softly.

Before he could speak again nurses and children came streaming and
screaming from the lake toward the house. "Nellie Wilder is drowned,"
was the burden of their dire message.

Graydon sprang down the steps, and rushed with the fleetness of the
wind toward the lake.

As Madge, with Jennie and Harry Muir, approached the water, they saw
a party of children playing carelessly in a boat, and a moment later
a little girl fell overboard. The boat was in motion toward the shore,
and when she rose it had passed beyond her reach. Her companions gave
way to wild panic, and, instead of trying to save her, screamed and
pulled for land. No one was present except nurses and other children,
and they all joined in the wild, helpless chorus of alarm, and began a
stampede toward the hotel.

Madge saw that if the child was saved she must act promptly and
wisely. To the Muir children she said, authoritatively, "Sit down
where you are and don't move." Then she rushed forward and unfastened
a skiff. As she did so the child rose for the last time and sunk again
with a gurgling cry. Keeping her eyes fixed on the spot, and with an
oar in her hand, Madge pushed away from the shore vigorously with her
feet, and with the impetus sprang upon the narrow stern-sheets, then
crept forward toward the bow, at the same time ever keeping her eyes
fixed unwaveringly on the spot where the child had sunk, from which
widening circles were eddying. The nurses and children who had not
started for the house, seeing that a rescue was attempted, looked on
with breathless dread and suspense.

When the impetus that Madge had first given to the skiff ceased, she
kept the little craft in motion by paddling, first on one side, then
on the other, her eyes still fixed on one point in the dark water.
At last this point seemed almost beneath her; she dropped the oar,
stooped, and peered over the side of the boat. After a moment's
hesitation she appeared to those on shore to have lost her balance,
fallen overboard, and sunk. Renewed screams of terror resounded,
and the Muir children fled toward the hotel, crying, "Aunt Madge is
drowned."

"What do you mean?" Graydon gasped, seizing Harry by the arm.

"Oh, Uncle Graydon! run quick. Aunt Madge fell out of a boat under
water."

A moment later he saw the young girl rise to the surface with a child
in her grasp. With one headlong plunge, and a few strong strokes, he
was at her side, exclaiming, "Great God, Madge! what does this mean?"

"Take her to the shore, quick; no matter about me;" and she pushed the
limp and apparently lifeless form into his arms.

"But, Madge--" he began.

"Haste! haste! and the child may be saved. Don't think of me; I can
swim as well as you;" and she struck out toward the shore.

Wondering and thrilled with admiration, in spite of the confusion of
his thoughts, he did as directed, and took the child to land at once.

Madge was there as soon as he, crying, even before she left the water,
"Run for Dr. Sommers, and if not at home ride after him."

Meanwhile gentlemen and employes of the house were arriving, and some
turned back in search of the physician.

The awful tidings had come upon poor Mrs. Wilder, the mother of the
child, like a bolt out of a clear sky, and she had run screaming and
moaning toward the scene of disaster. Mother love had given her almost
superhuman strength; but when she saw the pale little face on the
ground, with the hue of death upon it, she crouched beside it in
speechless agony, and watched the efforts that were made to bring back
consciousness.

Madge led and directed these efforts. In truth, she did as much to
save the child on land as when it had lain submerged on the muddy
bottom of the pond. Graydon, seeing that she was coming up the bank,
had paused a moment irresolutely, and then was about to start for the
hotel with his burden. Madge caught his arm, and took the child from
him.

"Graydon, take off your coat and give it to me," she said,
imperatively, as she laid the child down on its back; "your
handkerchief, also," she added.

She forced open the pale lips, and wiped out the mouth with marvellous
celerity, paying no heed to the clamorous voices around her. "Some one
give me a sharp knife," she cried, "and don't crowd so near."

Lifting the child's clothing at the throat, she cut it down ward to
the waist, then down each arm, leaving the lovely little form exposed
and free. Dropping the knife, she next rolled the coat into a bundle,
turned the child over so that her abdomen should rest upon it; then
with hands pressed rather strongly on each side of the little back,
Madge sought to expel the water that might have been swallowed.
Turning the child over on her back again, the bundle made by the coat
was placed under the small of her back, so as to raise the chest.
Then, catching the little tongue that had awakened merry echoes but
a few moments before, she drew it out of the mouth to one side by the
aid of the handkerchief, and said to Graydon, "Hold it, so."

All now saw that they were witnessing skilled efforts. Discordant
advice ceased, and they looked on with breathless interest.

"Has any one smelling salts?" Madge asked. There was no response. She
snatched a bit of grass and tickled the child's nose, saying, at the
same time, "Bring water." This, after a few seconds, she dashed over
the face and exposed chest, waited an instant, then gave her patient a
slap over the pit of the stomach.

Graydon, kneeling before her, looked on with silent amazement. Her
glorious eyes shone with an absorbed and merciful purpose; she was
oblivious of her own strange appearance, the masses of her loosening
hair falling over and veiling the lovely form outlined clearly by
the wet and clinging drapery of her summer dress. Others looked on
in wonder, too, and with a respect akin to awe. Among them were her
sister and Henry Muir, Mr. Arnault, and Miss Wildmere--her feelings
divided between envy and commiseration for the child and its stricken
mother.

These first simple efforts having no apparent effect, Madge said,
quietly, "We must try artificial respiration. Move a little more to
one side, Graydon."

Kneeling behind the child, she lifted the little arms quickly but
steadily up, over and down, until they lay upon the ground behind the
wet golden curls. This motion drew the ribs up, expanded the chest and
permitted air to enter it. After two or three seconds Madge reversed
the motion and pressed the arms firmly against the chest, to expel the
air. This alternate motion was kept up regularly at about the rate
of sixteen times a minute, until the sound of a galloping horse was
heard, and the crowd parted for Dr. Sommers. He took in the situation
with his quick eye, and said, "Miss Alden, let me take your place."

"Oh, thank God, you are here!" she exclaimed. "Let me hold her tongue,
Graydon; I must do something."

"Yes, Mr. Muir," added the physician; "let her help me; she knows just
what to do. How long was the child under water?"

"I don't know exactly; not long."

"Not more than four or five minutes?"

"I think not."

"There should be hope, then."

"We must save her!" cried Madge. "I once saw people work over an hour
before there were signs of life."

"Oh, God bless your brave heart!" murmured the poor mother. "You won't
leave my child--you won't let them give her up, will you?"

"No, Mrs. Wilder, not for one hour or two. I believe that your little
girl will be saved."

"Have some brandy ready," said Dr. Sommers.

A flask was produced, and Graydon again knelt near, to have it in
readiness, while the doctor kept up his monotonous effort, pressing
the arms against the lungs, then lifting them above the head and back
to the ground, with regular and mechanical iteration.

The child's eyelids began to tremble. "Ah!" exclaimed the doctor; a
moment later there was a slight choking cough, and a glad cry went up
from the throng.

"The brandy," said the doctor.

Madge now gave up the case to him and Graydon, and slipped down beside
the mother, who was swaying from side to side. "Don't faint," she
said; "your child will need you as soon as she is conscious."

"Oh, Heaven bless you! Heaven bless you!" cried the mother; "you have
saved my only, my darling."

"Yes, madam, you are right. It's all plain sailing now," the doctor
added.

Then Madge became guilty of her first useless act. In strong revulsion
she fainted dead away. In a moment her head was on Mrs. Muir's lap,
and Henry Muir was at her side.

"Poor girl! no wonder. There's not a woman in a hundred thousand who
could do what she has done. There, don't worry about her. Put her in
my carriage with Mrs. Muir, and take her to her room; I'll be there
soon. She'll come out all right; such girls always do."

Meanwhile Mr. Muir and Graydon were carrying out the doctor's
directions, and the unconscious girl was borne rapidly to her
apartment, where, under her sister's ministrations, she soon revived.

Almost her first conscious words, after being assured that the child
was safe, were, "Oh, Mary! what a guy I must have appeared! What will
Graydon--I mean all who saw me--think?"

"They'll think things that might well turn any girl's head. As for
Graydon, he is waiting outside now, half crazy with anxiety to receive
a message from you."

"Tell him I made a fool of myself, and he must not speak about it
again on the pain of my displeasure."

"Well, you have come to," said Mrs. Muir, and then she went and
laughingly delivered the message verbatim, adding, "Go and put on dry
clothes. You'll catch your death with those wet things on, and you
look like a scarecrow."

He departed, more puzzled over Madge Alden than ever, but admitting to
himself that she had earned the right to be anything she pleased.

Dr. Sommers continued his efforts in behalf of the little girl,
chafing her wrists and body with the brandy, and occasionally giving
a few drops until circulation was well restored; and then, at her
mother's side, carried the child to her room, and gave directions to
those who were waiting to assist.

When he entered Madge's apartment, she greeted him with the words,
"What a silly thing I did!"

"Not at all, not at all. You made your exit gracefully, and escaped
the plaudits which a brave girl like you wouldn't enjoy. I take off
my hat to you, as we country-folks say. You are a heroine--as good
a doctor as I on shore and a better one in the water. Where did you
learn it all?"

"Nonsense!" said Madge, "nothing would vex me more than to have a
time made over the affair. It's all as simple as a, b, c. What's that
little pond to one who has been used to swimming in the Pacific! As I
said, I saw a girl restored once, and Mr. Wayland has explained to me
again and again just what to do."

"Oh, yes, it's all simple enough if you know how, but that's just the
trouble. In all that crowd I don't believe there was one who would not
have done the wrong thing. Well, well, I can manage now if I'm obeyed.
You've had a good deal of a shock, and you must keep quiet till
to-morrow. Then I'll see."

Madge laughingly protested that nothing would please her better than
a good supper and a good book. "Please give out also," she said, "that
any reference to the affair will have a very injurious influence on
me."

In spite of the doctor, messages and flowers poured in. At last Mrs.
Wilder came and said to Mrs. Muir, "I must see her, if it is safe."

"It's safe enough," Mrs. Muir began, "only Madge doesn't like so much
made of it."

"I won't say much," pleaded the mother. She did not say anything, but
put her arms around Madge and pressed her tear-stained face upon the
young girl's bosom in long, passionate embrace, the hastened back to
her restored treasure, who was sleeping quietly. Madge's eyes were
wet also, and she turned her face to the wall and breathed softly
to herself, "Whatever happens now--and it's plain enough what will
happen--I did not get strong in vain. Graydon can never think me
altogether weak and lackadaisical again, and I have saved one woman's
heart from anguish, however my own may ache."

CHAPTER XVIII

MAKE YOUR TERMS

Graydon's uppermost thought now was to make his peace with Madge. He
dismissed all his former theories about her as absurd, and felt that,
whether he understood her or not, she had become a splendid woman, of
whose friendship he might well be proud, and accept it on any terms
that pleased her. He also was sure that Miss Wildmere's prejudices
would be banished at once and forever by Madge's heroism, believing
that the girl's hostile feeling was due only to the natural jealousy
of social rivals. "If Stella does not regard Madge's action with
generous enthusiasm, I shall think the worse of her," was his
masculine conclusion.

The wily girl was not so obtuse as to be unaware of this, and when
he came down she said all he could wish in praise of Madge, but
took pains to enlarge upon his own courage. At this he pooh-poohed
emphatically. "What was that duck-pond of a lake to a man!" he said.
"Madge herself has become an expert ocean-swimmer, I am told. She
wasn't afraid of the water. It was her skill in finding the child
beneath it, and in resuscitation afterward, that chiefly commands my
admiration."

"Oh, dear!" cried the girl, "what can I do to command your
admiration?"

"You know well, Miss Wildmere, that you command much more."

She blushed, smiled, and looked around a little apprehensively.

"Don't be alarmed," he added; "I have such confidence in you that I
will bide your time."

"Thank you, Graydon," she whispered, and hastened away, leaving him
supremely happy. It was the first time she had called him "Graydon."

Seeing Dr. Sommers emerging from the hotel, he hastened after him,
bent on procuring a peace-offering for Madge--the finest horse that
could be had in the region.

"I know of one a few miles from here," said the doctor. "He's a
splendid animal, but a high and mighty stepper. I don't believe that
even she could manage him."

"I'll break him in for her, never fear. Of course I won't let her take
any risks."

"Well, leave it to me, then. I can manage it. He's awfully headstrong,
though. I give you fair warning."

"Take me to see him as soon as you can; the horse, I mean, or, rather,
both man and horse."

"To-morrow morning, then. I have patients out that way."

At supper and during the evening Madge and her exploit were the themes
of conversation. Some tried to give Graydon a part of the credit, but
he laughed so contemptuously at the idea that he was let alone. Henry
Muir did not say much, but looked a great deal, and with Graydon
listened attentively as his wife explained how it was that Madge had
proved equal to the emergency.

"Why don't more people follow her example?" said the practical man,
"and learn how to do something definite? As she explains the rescue,
there was nothing remarkable in it. If she could swim and dive in the
ocean for sport, she would not be much afraid to do the same in that
so-called lake, to save life. As to her action on shore, the knowledge
she used is given in books and manuals. What's more, she had seen it
done. But most people are so pointless and shiftless that they
never know just what to do in an emergency, no matter what their
opportunities for information may have been."

"Now you hit me," Graydon remarked, ruefully, "Left to myself I should
have finished the young one, for I was about to run to the hotel with
her, a course that I now see would have been as fatal as idiotic."

"Madge says," Mrs. Muir continued, "that they used to bathe a great
deal, and that Mr. Wayland explained just what should be done in all
the possible emergencies of their outdoor life at Santa Barbara."

"Wayland in a level-headed man. If he is bookish, he's not a dreamer
with his head in the clouds. Madge was in good hands with them, and
proves it every day."

"I think she shows the influence of Mrs. Wayland even more than that
of her husband. Fanny is a very accomplished woman, and saw a great
deal of society in her younger days."

"Confound it all! Why didn't you tell me that Madge had been living
with two paragons?" said Graydon.

"Oh, you have been so occupied with another paragon that there has
not been much chance to tell you anything," was Mrs. Muir's consoling
reply.

"Madge has not been made what she is by paragons," Mr. Muir remarked,
dryly. "She made herself. They only helped her, and couldn't have
helped a silly woman."

"It's time you were jealous, Mary," said Graydon, laughing.

"Mary isn't a silly woman. I should hope that no Muir would marry
one."

"I see no prospect of it," was the rather cold reply.

"I fear I see a worse prospect," was his brother's thought. "Of what
use are his eyes or senses after what he has seen to-day?"

Mrs. Muir had explained to some lady friends about Madge, and the
information was passing into general circulation--the ladies rapidly
coming to the conclusion that the young girl's action was not so
remarkable after all, which was true enough. The men, however,
retained their enthusiastic admiration, although it must be admitted
that its inspiration was due largely to Madge's beauty.

"Of course women have done braver things," said one man, with sporting
tendencies, "but it was the neat, gamy way in which she did it that
took my eye. Her method was as complete and rounded out as herself.
Jove! as she bent over that child she was a nymph that would turn the
head of a Greek."

"She has evidently turned the head of a Cyprian," laughed one of his
friends.

"Come, that's putting it too strong," said the man, with a frown.
"I'll affect no airs, though. I'm not a saint, as you all know, but
the aspect of that girl, in her self-forgetful effort, might well make
me wish I were one. She is as good and pure-hearted as the child she
saved. If there had been a flaw in the white marble of her nature she
would have been self-conscious. An angel from heaven couldn't have
been more absorbed in the one impulse to save."

Graydon had approached the group unobserved, and heard these words.
He walked away, smiling, with the thought, "My sentiments, clearly
expressed."

The night was warm, and he saw Miss Wildmere and Arnault going out
for a stroll. Following a half-defined inclination, he bent his steps
toward the lake. The moon was mirrored in its glassy surface, the
place silent and deserted. With slight effort of fancy he called up
the scene again. He saw in the moonlight the fairy form of the
child, and what even others had regarded as the embodiment of human
loveliness and truth bending over it.

"And she was the little ghost that once haunted me," he thought, "and
seemed all eyes and affection. How those eyes used to welcome and turn
to me, as if in some subtle way she drew from me the power to exist at
all. I wish I could follow the processes of her change from the hour
of our parting, and see how I passed from what I was to her to what
I am now. She does not seem to forget or ignore the past. She is not
conventional, and never was; hence, friendship may not mean what it
does to so many of her sex and age--a little moony sentiment blended
with calculation as to a fellow's usefulness. If we could enjoy
something of the good-comradeship that obtains between man and
man, she is the one woman of the world with whom I should covet the
relation. Stella, in herself, is all that I could ask for a wife,
but I don't like her family much better than Henry does. Confound the
father! Why should he so mix his daughter up in his speculation that
she dare not dismiss Arnault at once and follow her heart? If I were
not a good-natured man I wouldn't submit to it. As it is, since I am
sure of the girl, I suppose I should give _paterfamilias_ a chance to
turn himself. She has appealed to me as delicately, yet as openly,
as she can, and has given me to understand by everything except
plain words that she is mine. Probably that is all she can do without
bringing black ruin upon them all. Well, I suppose I should imitate
her self-sacrificing spirit; but I hate this jumbling of Wall Street
with affairs of the heart. It angers me that she must play with that
fellow for financial reasons, and that he, conscious of power, may use
language which she would not dare to resent. I can't imagine Madge
in such a position. Yet, who knows? As the French say, 'It is the
unexpected that happens,' and this has proved true enough in my
experience. I'll go and see how Madge is now, and be as penitent as
she requires. I don't mind being tyrannized over a little by such a
girl;" and he returned.

As he approached Mrs. Muir's door he heard the sound of voices and
laughter, and plainly those of his brother and Madge. In response
to his knock Mrs. Muir opened the door a little way, and he caught a
glimpse of Henry.

"Well?" said Mrs. Muir.

"It's not well at all," he began, in an aggrieved tone. "Here's a
family party, and I'm shut out in outer darkness. What have I done to
be banished from Rome?"

"'What's banished but set free?'" trilled out Madge. "Oh, Graydon, I'm
not fit to be seen!"

"How can I know that unless I see you?"

"Nonsense, Madge!" expostulated her sister, "you look charming. Why
put on airs? As he says, it's a family party. Let him join in our
fun;" and, without waiting for further objections, she brought him in
and gave him a chair.

"Now this warms an exile's heart," he began. "If you had shut the
door on me I should have asked Henry to send me back to Europe. Mary's
right, Madge; you do look charming."

And so she did, blushing and laughing in her dainty wrapper, with her
long hair falling over her shoulders and fastened by a ribbon.

"How comes it that you are in such a deserted and disconsolate
condition?" cried Mary.

"I am not in such a condition. Since crossing your threshold I have
become contentment itself. Indeed, I regard myself as the most favored
man in the house, for I, first of all, am able to lay my homage at
Madge's feet."

"Let me warn you from the start that it will prove a stumbling-block
in both our paths," said the girl. "Did you not receive my message?
But, then, it's stupid to think you will ever consider me."

"I have been considering you a great deal more than you think,
especially since you metaphorically boxed my ears this morning, and
took away my breath generally this afternoon."

"You seem to have plenty left."

"Oh, I'm recovering. Reason is trying to scramble back on her throne.
I've been out to the lake alone in the moonlight, and have had the
whole scene over again, to assure myself that it was real."

"What! You have not been in the water?"

"No; I was content to moon it out on the shore; but it seemed to me
that I saw you as clearly there as here."

"Little wonder! I must have been the most extraordinary looking
creature that ever prowled in these wilds."

"You were; only lookers-on did all the devouring. I wouldn't dare tell
you the compliments I have heard."

"You had better not, if your reason is even within sight of her
throne. When the danger was all over I caught a mental glimpse of
myself, and fell over as if shot;" and a slow, deep crimson stole into
her face.

"Madge," said Graydon, gravely and almost rebukingly, "do you think
there was a man present who did not reverence you? I was proud even of
your acquaintance."

Her face softened under his words, but she did not look at him. "We
were partners in misery," she said, laughing softly; "I have a vague
remembrance that you were as great a guy as I was."

"I shall be glad to be a guy with you in any circumstances you can
imagine, if you will let me make my peace, and will forgive my general
stupidity. Be reasonable also, as well as merciful. If it took you
over two years to make such changes, you should give me a few days to
rub my eyes and get them focused on the result."

Madge was now laughing heartily. "I don't believe a man could ever eat
the whole of a humble pie," she said. "He ever insists that the donor,
especially if she be a woman, should have a piece also."

"There, now," cried Graydon, ruefully; "give me all of it, and make
your terms."

"Solomon himself couldn't have advised you better," said Madge, while
Henry leaned back in his chair and laughed as if immensely amused,
while Mary improved the occasion by remarking, "When will men ever
learn that that is the way to get the best terms possible from a
woman?"

"Indeed!" said Graydon. "How you enlighten me! Well, Madge, I'm the
more eager now to learn your terms."

She felt that it was a critical moment--that there was, under their
badinage, a substratum of truth and feeling--and that she had now a
chance to establish relations that would favor her hope, if it had
a right to exist at all, and render future companionship free from
surmise on the part of her family.

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