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

Part 4 out of 7

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"Come, Graydon," she said, "we have jested long enough, and there is
no occasion for misunderstanding. I have not forgotten the past any
more than you have, nor all your unstinted kindness for years. As Mary
says, this is a family party. I'm not your sister, and embarrassment
always accompanies an unnatural relation. The common-sense thing to do
is to recognize the relation that does exist. As I intimated at first,
I see no reason why we should not be the best of friends, and then,
imitating the stiff-necked Hebrews, do what seemeth good in our eyes."

"And these are your terms, Madge?"

"As far as I have any, yes. I don't insist on anything, but warn you
that I shall follow my eyes, and consult a very wilful little will of
my own."

"Will your wilful will permit you to accept of a horse that I am
going after in the morning? Dr. Sommers told me about him, and I had
proposed to make him a peace-offering."

Madge clapped her hands with the delight of a child.

"Oh, Graydon, that's splendid of you! I've been sighing, 'My kingdom
for a horse,' ever since I came here. But he's no peace-offering. I
forgave you when I saw your headlong plunge into the lake. You went
into it like a man, while I flopped in so awkwardly that all said I
had fallen overboard."

"Shake hands, then."

She sprang up and joined hands with him in frank and cordial grasp,
saying, "It's all right now, and Mary and Henry will understand us as
well as we do ourselves."

"One condition: you will let me ride with you?"

"When you are disengaged, yes," was her arch reply, "and I'll prove
that on horseback I can be as good a comrade as a man."

"Well, if something I've dreamt of is true I never saw such acting,"
thought Henry Muir. Then he said, quietly, "Madge, how did you find
the child so surely and quickly?"

"That accounts for my awkwardness somewhat," she replied, laughing.
("How happy she looks!" he thought.) "I never took my eyes from the
spot where I had last seen the child sink, and I had to do everything
as if my head was in a vise. Don't let us talk about it any more."

"No, nor about anything else," said Mary, rising. "I'm proving a fine
nurse, and am likely to be lectured by the doctor to-morrow. You men
must walk. Here is Madge flushed, feverish, and excited about a horse.
Brain-fever will be the next symptom."

An hour later Madge was sleeping quietly, but the happy flush and
smile had not left her face. She felt that she had at last scored one
point. Oh, that she could have more time!

"Jupiter!" muttered Graydon, as he descended the stairs, "her talk
makes a fellow's blood tingle."

Miss Wildmere had just entered with Arnault, and Graydon asked, "Are
you not going to give me one dance this evening?"

"Yes, two, if you wish," she replied, sweetly.

He took her at her word, and was as devoted as ever. He had no thought
of being anything else. Arnault secured the last word, however,
and Graydon made no effort to prevent this. He had accepted the
disagreeable situation, and proposed, although with increasing
reluctance and discontent, to let the girl have a clear field and
manage the affair as she thought wise under the circumstances. He was
too proud to have maintained a jostling and open pursuit with Arnault
in any event, and now, believing that he understood the lady better,
felt that there was no occasion for it He had indicated to her just
where he stood, and just where she could ever find him. When her
diplomacy with Arnault should cease to be essential to her father's
safety, the final words could be spoken.

He acted on this policy so quietly that she was somewhat troubled, and
feared that Madge might be taking too large a place in his thoughts.
Therefore, when Arnault ventured to make a somewhat humorous reference
to the young girl's appearance, her spite found utterance. "I never
saw such a looking creature in my life. She had the appearance of a
crazy woman, with her hair dishevelled, and her wet, muddy clothes
sticking to her as if glued. She ought at least to have slipped away
when the doctor came. But instead of that she fainted--all put on, I
believe, to attract attention."

"She perhaps felt that she must put on something," chuckled Arnault.
"The two Muirs looked as if she were too precious and sacred for
mortal gaze."

"Well," concluded Miss Wildmere, "I like to see a lady who never
forgets herself;" and she was an example of the type.

"I like to see one lady, whom, having seen, no one can forget," was
his gallant reply.

CHAPTER XIX

AN OBJECT FOR SYMPATHY

Miss Wildmere's indignant virtue was not soothed on the following
morning, when, as she returned from a drive with Arnault, Graydon
galloped up on a superb bay horse, and Madge so far forgot herself
again as to rush to meet him with unaffected pleasure. The champion
of propriety paused in the distance to take an observation, for she
thought she saw a cloud in the sky.

"What a beauty! what a grand arch of the neck he has! Oh, I'm just
wild to be on him! Don't bribe me with horses, Graydon; I can resist
anything else."

"I am glad of the information. A volume of thanks would not be worth
half so much."

"I thought the thanks were in my tone and manner."

"So I thought, and am more than content; but, Madge, I am troubled
about your riding him. I fear he is a very Satan of a horse."

"Nonsense! Wait till you see me mounted, and your fears will vanish.
People don't walk at Santa Barbara; they ride; every one rides. If the
horse don't tumble, there'll be no tumbling on my part. Oh, he is such
a splendid fellow! What shall I call him?"

"Better call him 'Go.' There is more go in him than in any horse I
ever bestrode."

"All the better. I shall give him another name, however. It will
come to me sometime;" and she patted the proud neck, and fondled
the tossing head, in a way to excite the envy of observers from the
piazza. "Oh, Graydon, what shall I do for a saddle? Do you think there
is one to be had in this region? I'm impatient for a gallop."

"I telegraphed, early this morning, for equipments; and they should be
here this afternoon."

"That was considerate kindness itself. You must let me pay for all
this. You know I can."

"So can I."

"But there's reason in all things."

"Therefore, a little in me. Please, Madge, don't make me feel that
I am almost a stranger to you. If we had remained together, I should
have paid out more than this for candy, flowers, and nonsense. I have
yielded everything, haven't I? and, as Mary says, I do wish to feel a
little like one of the family."

"Well, then," she said, laughing and blushing, "as from one of the
family--"

"And from your deceased brother," he interrupted.

She put her finger to her lips. "That's past," she said. "No more
allusions. We began sensibly last night, and I certainly am very
lenient now in taking gifts that I should protest against even from
Henry. I wish to prove to you that I am the Madge of old times as far
as I can be."

"Rest assured I'm the same fellow, and ever shall be."

He had dismounted, and they were walking slowly toward the stable.
"Bless me!" cried Madge, "where am I going with no better protection
than a sunshade? I'm always a little off when a horse like that is at
hand. I say, Graydon," she added, in a wheedling tone, "mount and
put him through his paces. I can't resist the fun, no matter what the
dowagers say."

He vaulted lightly into the saddle, and the horse reared and dashed
toward the stable, but was soon pulled up. Then Graydon made him
prance, curvet, and trot, Madge looking on with parted lips, and eyes
glowing with delicious anticipation. If a close observer had been
present he might have seen that the rider, with his fine easy grace
and mastery, was, after all, the chief attraction.

She walked back to the house, thinking, "I'll have some bright hours
before the skies grow gray. Oh, kindly fate! prosper Mr. Arnault here
and in Wall Street, too, for all I care."

"Oh, Mr. Muir, teach me to ride," said Miss Wildmere, when he joined
her in the deserted parlor. "You have such a superb horse! and you sat
on him as if you were a part of him."

"I will teach you with pleasure," said Graydon. "Nothing would give me
more enjoyment, for I am very fond of riding, and we could explore the
mountain roads far and near."

"Can I ride your horse?"

"That was not my horse. He belongs to Miss Alden."

"Oh, indeed," began Miss Wildmere, hastily, yet coldly; "I wouldn't
think of it, then."

"She would lend him to you readily, if it were safe; but only an
expert should ride that horse. As it is, I shall run him four or five
miles before I let her mount him. He is awfully high-strung and a
little vicious. I'll get you a quiet, safe lady's horse, suitable for
a beginner. You will soon acquire confidence and skill. I wouldn't
have you incur any risks for all the world."

"Wouldn't you?" she asked, with a fascinating and incredulous smile.

"You know well that I would not."

"I shall scarcely know what I know when I see you galloping away with
Miss Alden."

"Come, Miss Stella, we may as well get through with that phase of the
question at once. Madge Alden came into our family when I was scarcely
more than a boy, and she but a child. She is still one of the family.
The idea of your being concerned about her makes me smile audibly. I
only wish you girls would be good friends. It would save awkwardness
and embarrassment. Madge is a sister to me in everything but name, and
ever will be. I'm proud of her, as I ought to be, and a distant manner
would be absurd toward a member of our household. Why should I affect
it when I'm truly fond of her jolly good company? Don't you think I am
setting you a good example? I'm patient over your good times with Mr.
Arnault, who is an open suitor."

"I have not said they were good times."

"Nor have you said they were not. He evidently enjoys them, and little
wonder. You can make any fellow have a good time without trying. I
don't pretend to understand the necessity of your being so friendly,
or tolerant, or what you will, with him; neither do I pry or question.
My regard for you makes trust imperative. I do trust you as readily as
you should trust me. What else can we do till times are better?"

"What do you mean by saying, 'till times are better?'" she asked,
in gentle solicitude. "Are you having a hard time in town, like poor
papa?"

"Oh, bless you! no. I don't suppose Henry is making much. He's the
kind of man to take in sail in times like these. I'm not in the
firm yet, you know, but shall be soon. My foreign department of the
business is all right. I left it snug and safe. Of course, I don't
know much about things on this side of the water yet. Mr. Muir is not
the kind of man to speak to any one about his affairs unless it is
essential, but if anything were amiss he would have told me. I know
the times are dismal, and I am better off on my assured salary than if
in the firm now. No one but 'bears' are making anything."

"I hope your brother isn't in anxiety, like papa," she said, warmly.

His quick commercial instinct took alarm, and he asked, "What, have
you heard anything?"

"Oh, no indeed. Papa says that Mr. Muir is one of the most
conservative of men; but he also says that there is scarcely a chance
now for any honest man, and that investments which once seemed as
solid as these mountains are sinking out of sight. If it wasn't so we
shouldn't be so worried. He wouldn't like it if he knew I was talking
to you in this way; but then I know it will go no further, and
naturally my mind dwells on the subject of his anxieties. What
wouldn't I do to help him!" she concluded, with a fine enthusiasm.

"I think you are doing a great deal to help him, Stella," he said,
gravely and gently; "and, believe me, it involves no little sacrifice
on my part also."

"But you have promised to be patient, Graydon."

"I have, but you cannot think that I like it or approve of the
diplomacy you are compelled to practice, even though your motive be
unselfish and filial. I don't think you ought to be placed in such a
position, and would that it were in my power to relieve you from it!"

Tears of self-commiseration came into her eyes, and they appeared to
him exceedingly pathetic. She made as if she would speak but could
not, then retreated hastily to her room. Once in seclusion she dashed
the drops away, her eyes glittered with anger, and she stamped her
foot on the floor and muttered: "It is indeed an abominable position.
I might accept Graydon any day, any hour, now, and dare not. Yet if
he gets an inkling of my real attitude he'll be off forever. He is as
proud as Lucifer about some things, and would be quick as a flash
if his suspicions were aroused. Even the belief that I am humoring
Arnault for papa's sake tests his loyalty greatly. If I have to refuse
him at last I shall be placed in an odious light. The idiots! why
can't they find out whether Henry Muir is going to fail or not! That
horrid Madge Alden is not his sister, and knows it, and she is gaining
time to make impressions. I know how she felt years ago, when she was
a perfect spook. I don't believe she's changed. With all her impulsive
ways she's as deep as perdition, and she'd flirt with him to spite
me, if nothing more. Papa said last night that I had better accept
Arnault. I won't accept him till I must, and he'll rue his success if
he wins it." Then the mirror reflected a lovely creature dissolved in
tears.

Again she soliloquized: "I can't accept a horse from Graydon; Arnault
would never submit to it. The receiving of such a present would
compromise me at once. It does not matter so much what I say or look
in private; this proves nothing to the world, and I see more and more
clearly that Arnault will not permit his pride to be humiliated. He
will endure what he calls a fair, open suit philosophically, but the
expression of his eyes makes me shiver sometimes. Was ever a girl
placed in such a mean and horrible position! I won't endure this
shilly-shally much longer. If they can't prove something more definite
against the Muirs, I'll accept Graydon. Papa is just horrid! Why can't
he make more in Wall Street? There must be ways, and any way is as
respectable as the one I may be compelled to take. Well, if I do have
to accept Arnault I'll make Graydon think that I had to do so for
papa's sake, and we'll become good friends again before long. Perhaps
this would be the best way in the end, for papa looked wildly, and
spoke of a tenement-house last night. Tenement! Great heavens! I'd
sooner die."

CHAPTER XX

"VEILED WOOING"

"Graydon, when do you think I can have my first ride?" Madge asked at
dinner, with sparkling eyes.

"At about five this afternoon. I have found a saddle that I can borrow
in case yours does not come till the late train."

"Oh, I'm so glad that I've lost my appetite! You can't know how much
a horse means to me. It was after I began to ride that I grew strong
enough to hope."

"Why, Madge, were you so discouraged as that?" he asked, feelingly.

"I had reason to be discouraged," she replied, in a low tone. Then she
threw back her head, proudly. "You men little know," she continued,
half defiantly. "You think weakness one of our prerogatives, and like
us almost the better for it. We are meekly to accept our fate, and
from soft couches lift our languid eyes in pious resignation. I won't
do it; and when a powerful horse is beneath me, carrying me like the
wind, I feel that his strength is mine, and that I need not succumb to
feminine imbecility or helplessness in any form."

"Brava, Madge!" cried Henry Muir.

"You were born a knight," added Graydon, "and have already made more
and better conquests than many celebrated in prose and poetry."

"Oh, no," cried Madge, lifting her eyebrows in comic distress. "I was
born a woman to my finger-tips, and never could conquer even myself. I
have an awful temper. Graydon, you have already found that out."

"I have found that I had better accept just what you please to be,
and fully admit your right to be just what you please," he answered,
ruefully.

"What a lovely and reasonable frame of mind!" Mrs. Muir remarked.
"Truly, Miss Wildmere is to be congratulated. You have only to stick
to such a disposition, and peace will last longer than the moon."

"Oh, Miss Wildmere will prove a rose without a thorn," Madge added,
laughing, while under Mr. Muir's eye her face paled perceptibly.
"There will never be anything problematical in her single-minded
devotion. She has been well and discreetly brought up, and finished
by the best society, while poor me!--I had to fly in the face of fate
like a virago, and scramble up the best I could in Western wilds. Oh,
well, Graydon, don't be alarmed. I'll be a good fellow if you'll take
me out riding occasionally."

He began to laugh, and she continued: "I saw you frown when I began
my wicked speech. We'll tick off tabooed subjects, and make an _index
expurgatorius_, and then we'll get on famously."

"No need of that," he said. "As far as _I_ am concerned, please
consider _me_ fair game."

"Consider you fair game?" she said, with her head archly on one side.
"That would be arrant poaching. Don't fear, Graydon, I shall never
regard any man as game, not even if I should become a fat dowager with
a bevy of plain daughters and a dull market."

Grave and silent Mr. Muir leaned back in his chair and laughed so
heartily that he attracted attention at the Wildmere table across the
room.

"That man doesn't act as if on the brink of failure," thought Miss
Wildmere. "It's all a conspiracy of Arnault with papa."

"You are making game of me in one sense very successfully," Graydon
admitted, laughing a little uneasily.

"Oh, in that sense, all men are legitimate game, and I shall chaff as
many as possible, out of spite that I was not a man."

"You would make a good one--you are so devoid of sentiment and so
independent."

"And yet within a week I think a certain gentleman was inclined to
think me sentimental, aesthetic, intense, a victim of ideals and
devotional rhapsodies."

"Oh, ye gods! Here, waiter, bring me my dessert, and let me escape,"
cried Graydon.

"Did you say I was to be ready at five?" she asked, sweetly.

"Yes, and bring down articles of a truce, and we'll sign them in red
ink."

An hour later she heard the gallop of a horse, and saw him riding
away. "She shan't mount the animal," he had thought, "till I learn
more about him and give him all the running he wants to-day. She has
a heavy enough score against me as it is, and I'll not employ another
brute to make things worse."

He learned more fully what he had discovered before, that she would
have her hands full in managing the horse, and he gave him a run that
covered him with foam and tested his breathing. At four he galloped
back to the station to see if the saddle had arrived, but found that
even his skill and strength were not sufficient to make the animal
approach the engine. Shouting to the baggage-man to bring the expected
articles to the stable, he was soon there and made another experiment.
A hostler brought him a blanket, which he strapped around his waist,
and mounted again in a lady's style. It was at once evident that the
horse had never been ridden by a woman. He reared, kicked, and plunged
around frightfully, and Graydon had to clutch the mane often to keep
his seat. Madge had speedily joined him, and looked with absorbed
interest, at times laughing, and again imploring Graydon to dismount.
This he at last he did, the perspiration pouring from his face.
Resigning the trembling and wearied horse to a stable-boy, he came
toward the young girl, mopping his brow and exclaiming: "It will never
do at all. He is ugly as sin. No woman should ride him, not even a
squaw."

"Bah, Graydon! he did not throw you, although he had you at every
disadvantage. I'm not in the least afraid. Has the saddle come?"

"Yes; but I protest, Madge. Here, Dr. Sommers" (who was approaching),
"lay your commands on this rash girl."

"If Dr. Sommers says I'm rash he doesn't understand my case, and I
refuse to employ him," cried Madge. Then she added, sweetly: "If
I break any bones, doctor, I'll be your very humble and obedient
servant. It's half-past four, and I'll be ready as soon as you are,
Graydon. No backing out. You might as well warn me against the peril
of a rocking-chair;" and she went to put on her habit.

"Heaven help us!" said Graydon to the doctor. "We're in a scrape.
She's so resolute that I believe she would go alone. What would you
do? Hang it all! the people of the house have got an inkling of what's
up; some are gathering near, and the windows are full of heads."

"Put the saddle on one of the quiet livery horses, and you ride this
brute," said the doctor.

"You don't know her. She wouldn't stand that at all."

"Then give her her head. After yesterday I believe she can do what
she undertakes. You have tired the horse out pretty thoroughly, and I
guess she'll manage him."

Leaving orders to have Madge's horse sponged off and dried, and the
best animal in the stable prepared for himself, he said, "Well then,
doctor, be on hand to repair damages," and went to his room to change
his dress.

The doctor did more. He saw that Madge's horse was saddled carefully,
meanwhile admiring the beautiful equipment that Graydon had ordered.
He also insured that Graydon had a good mount.

When at last the young man tapped at Madge's door she came out looking
most beautiful in her close-fitting habit and low beaver, with its
drooping feather. Mary followed her, protesting and half crying, and
Mr. Muir looked very grave.

"Madge," said Graydon, earnestly, "I should never forgive myself if
any harm came to you. That horse is not fit for you to ride."

"Good people, see here," said Madge, turning upon them; "I am not a
reckless child, nor am I making a rash experiment. Even if I did not
fear broken bones, do you think I would give you needless anxiety?
Graydon has kindly obtained for me a fine horse, and I must make a
beginning to show you and him that I can ride. If Mr. and Mrs. Wayland
were here they would laugh at you. Don't come out to see me off, Mary.
Others would follow, and I don't want to be conspicuous. I do wish
people would mind their own business."

"No danger of my coming out. I don't want to see you break your neck,"
cried Mary, re-entering her room.

"You must let me go, Madge," said Mr. Muir, firmly. "I may have to
interpose my authority."

"Yes, do come, for Heaven's sake!" said Graydon.

"Very well," laughed Madge. "If I once get on, you and the horse may
both find it hard to get me off. Where are the horses?" she asked,
upon reaching the door.

"You must yield one point and mount near the stable," said Graydon,
resolutely.

"Oh, certainly, I'll yield everything except my ride."

Madge's horse stood pawing the ground, showing how obdurate and
untamable was his spirit. She exclaimed at the beauty of the saddle
and its housings, and said, "Thank you, Graydon," so charmingly that
he anathematized himself for giving her a brute instead of a horse. "I
should have satisfied myself better about him," he thought, "and have
looked further."

In a moment she had the animal by the head, and was patting his neck,
while he turned an eye of fire down upon her, and showed no relenting
in his chafed and excited mood. Graydon meanwhile examined everything
carefully, and saw that the bridle had a powerful curb.

"Well," said he, ruefully, "if you will, you will."

"Yes; in no other way can I satisfy you," was her quiet reply.

"Let us get away, then; spectators are gathering. You should be able
to hold him with this rein. Come."

She put her foot in his hand, and was mounted in a second, the reins
well in hand. The horse reared, but a sharp downward pull to the right
brought him to his feet again. Then he plunged and kicked, but she sat
as if a part of him, meanwhile speaking to him in firm, gentle tones.
His next unexpected freak was to run backward in a way that sent the
neighboring group flying. Instantly Madge gave him a stinging blow
over the hind quarters, and he fairly sprang into the air.

"Get off, Madge," cried Mr. Muir, authoritatively, but the horse was
speeding down the road toward the house, and Graydon, who had looked
on breathlessly, followed. Before they reached the hotel she had
brought him up with the powerful curb, and prancing, curvetting,
straining side-wise first in one direction, then in the other,
meanwhile trembling half with anger, half with terror, the mastered
brute passed the piazza with its admiring groups. Graydon was at her
side. He did not see Miss Wildmere frowning with vexation and envy,
or Arnault's complacent observance. With sternly compressed lips and
steady eye he watched Madge, that, whatever emergency occurred, he
might do all that was possible. The young girl herself was a presence
not soon to be forgotten. Her lips were slightly parted, her eye
glowing with a joyous sense of power, and her pose, flexible to the
eccentric motions of the horse, grace itself. They passed on down the
winding carriage-drive, out upon the main street, and then she turned,
waved her handkerchief to Mr. Muir, and with her companion galloped
away.

Several of Mr. Muir's acquaintances came forward, offering
congratulations, which he accepted with his quiet smile, and then went
up to reassure his wife, who, in spite of her words to the contrary,
had kept her eyes fastened upon Madge as long as she was in sight.

"Well," she exclaimed, "did you ever see anything equal to that?"

"No," said her husband, "but I have seen nothing wonderful or
unnatural; she did not do a thing that she had not been trained and
taught to do, and all her acts were familiar by much usage."

"I think she's a prodigy," exclaimed Mrs. Muir.

"Nothing of the kind. She is a handsome girl, with good abilities,
who has had the sense to make the most and best of herself instead of
dawdling."

After an easy gallop of a mile, in which Madge showed complete power
to keep her horse from breaking into a mad run, she drew rein and
looked at Graydon with a smile. He took off his hat and bowed,
laughingly.

"Oh, Graydon," she said, "it was nice of you to let me have my own
way!"

"I didn't do it very graciously. I have seldom been more worried in my
life."

"I'm glad you were a little worried," she said. "It recalls your look
and tone at the time of our parting, when you said, 'Oh, Madge, do get
well and strong!' Haven't I complied with your wish?"

"Had my wish anything to do with your compliance?"

"Why not?"

"What an idiot I've been! I fear I have been misjudging you absurdly.
I've had no end of ridiculous thoughts and theories about you."

"Indeed! Apparently I had slight place in your thoughts at all, but I
made great allowances for a man in your condition."

"That was kind, but you were mistaken. Why, Madge, we were almost
brought up together, and I couldn't reconcile the past and the
present. The years you spent in the far West, and their result, are
more wonderful than a fairytale. I wish you would tell me about them."

"I will. Friends should be reasonably frank. What's more, I wish to
show you how natural and probable the result, as you call it, has
been. Your wondering perplexity vexes me. You know what I was when we
parted."

"No, I don't believe I do, or you couldn't be what you are now."

"Well, I can tell you: I had weak lungs, a weak body, and a weak,
uncultured mind. I was weak in all respects, but I discovered that I
had a will, and I had sense enough, as Henry says, to know that if I
was ever going to be more than a ghost it was time I set about it. I
knew of Mrs. Wayland's restoration to health in the climate of Santa
Barbara, and I determined to try it myself. I couldn't have had better
friends or advantages than the place afforded. But oh, Graydon, I was
so weak and used up when I reached there that I could scarcely do more
than breathe. But I had made up my mind either to get well or to die.
I rested for days, until I could make a beginning, and then, one step
at a time, as it were, I went forward. Take two things that you have
seen me do, for example. One can bathe in the sea at Santa Barbara
almost throughout the year. At first I was as timid as a child,
and scarcely dared to wet my feet; but Mr. Wayland was a sensible
instructor, and led me step by step. The water was usually still, and
I gradually acquired the absolute confidence of one who can swim, and
swims almost every day. So with a horse. I could hardly sit on one
that was standing still, I was so weak and frightened; but with muscle
and health came stronger nerves and higher courage. After a few months
I thought nothing of a ten-mile gallop on the beach or out to the
canons. I took up music in the same way, and had a thoroughly good
teacher. He did the best he could for me, which wasn't so very much. I
never could become a scientist in anything, but I was determined to be
no sham within my limitations. I have tried to do some things as well
as I could and let the rest go. Now you see how easily I can explain
myself, and I only seem wonderful because of contrast with what I
was."

"But where do I come in?" he asked, eagerly.

"Did you not say, 'Please get well and strong?' I thought it would
gratify you and Mary and Henry. You used to call me a ghost, and I
did not want to be a ghost any longer. I saw that you enjoyed your
vigorous life fully, and felt that I might enjoy life also; and as I
grew strong I did enjoy everything more and more. Two things besides,
and I can say, 'All present or accounted for.' Mr. Wayland is a
student, and has a splendid library. He coached me--that was your old
college jargon--on books, and Mrs. Wayland coached me on society. So
here I am, weighing a hundred and twenty pounds, more or less, and
ready for another gallop;" and away she went, the embodiment of
beautiful life.

"One more question, Madge," he said, as they slackened pace again.
"Why wouldn't you write to me oftener?"

"I don't like to write letters. Mine to Mary were scarcely more than
notes. Ask her. Are you satisfied now? Am I a sphinx--a conundrum--any
longer?"

"No; and at last I am more than content that you are not little
Madge."

"Why, this is famous, as Dr. Sommers says. When was a man ever known
to change his mind before?"

"I've changed mine so often of late that I'm fairly dizzy. You are
setting me straight at last."

Madge laughed outright, and after a moment said, "Now account for
yourself. What places did you visit abroad?"

He began to tell her, and she to ask questions that surprised him,
showing that she had some idea of even the topography and color of
the region, and a better knowledge of the history and antiquities
than himself. At last he expressed his wonder. "What nonsense!" she
exclaimed. "You don't remember the little I did write you. As I said
before, did you not at my request--very kindly and liberally, too,
Graydon--send me books about the places you expected to see? A child
could have read them and so have gained the information that surprises
you."

They talked on, one thing leading to another, until he had a conscious
glow of mental excitement. She knew so much that he knew, only in
a different way, and her thoughts came rippling forth in piquant,
musical words. Her eyes were so often full of laughter that he saw
that she was happy, and he remembered after their return that she had
not said an ill-natured word about any one. It was another of their
old-time, breezy talks, only larger, fuller, complete with her rich
womanhood. He found himself alive in every fibre of his body and
faculty of his mind.

As they turned homeward the evening shadows were gathering, and at
last the dusky twilight passed into a soft radiance under the rays of
the full-orbed moon.

"Oh, don't let us hasten home," pleaded poor Madge, who felt that this
might be her only chance to throw about him the gossamer threads which
would draw the cord and cable that could bind him to her. "What is
supper to the witchery of such a night as this?"

"What would anything be to the witchery of such a girl as this, if
one were not fortified?" he thought. "This is not the comradeship of
a good fellow, as she promised. It is the society of a charming woman,
who is feminine in even her thoughts and modes of expression--who is
often strangely, bewilderingly beautiful in this changing light. When
we pass under the shadow of a tree her eyes shine like stars; when the
rays of the moon are full upon her face it is almost as pure and white
as when it was illumined by the electric flash. Did I not love another
woman, I could easily imagine myself learning to love her. Confound
it! I wish Stella had more of Madge's simple loftiness of character.
She would compel different business methods in her father. She would
work for him, suffer for him, but would not play diplomat. I like that
Arnault business to-night less than ever."

Mr. and Mrs. Muir were anxiously awaiting them on the piazza as they
trotted smartly up the avenue. "It's all right," cried Graydon.
"The horse has learned to know his mistress, and will give no more
trouble."

"I wish you had as much sense," growled Muir, in his mustache; then
added, aloud, "Come to supper. Mary could not eat anything till
assured of your safety."

"Yes, Henry, I won't keep you waiting a moment, but go in with my
habit on. I suppose the rest are all through, and I'm as ravenous as a
wolf."

They were soon having the merriest little supper, full of laughing
reminiscence, and Henry rubbed his hands under the table as he
thought, "Arnault is off mooning with the speculator, and Graydon
doesn't look as if the green-eyed monster had much of a grip upon
him."

Miss Wildmere's solicitude would not permit her to prolong her walk
with Arnault, and she returned to the parlor comparatively early in
the evening. She found Graydon awaiting her, and he was as quietly
devoted as ever. She looked at him a little questioningly, but he met
her eyes with his quiet and assured look. When she danced with Arnault
and other gentlemen he sought a partner in Madge or some other lady;
and once, while they were walking on the piazza, and Miss Wildmere
said, "You must have enjoyed yourself immensely with Miss Alden to
have been out so long," he replied, "I did. I hope you passed your
time as agreeably."

She saw that her relations with Arnault gave him an advantage and a
freedom which he proposed to use--that she had no ground on which to
find fault--and that he was too proud to permit censure for a course
less open to criticism than her own.

Before she slept she thought long and deeply, at last concluding that
perhaps affairs were taking the right turn for her purpose. Graydon
was tolerating as a disagreeable necessity what he regarded as her
filial diplomacy with Arnault. He was loyally and quietly waiting
until this necessity should cease, and was so doing because he
supposed it to be her wish. If she could keep him in just this
attitude it would leave her less embarrassed, give her more time, than
if he were an ardent and jealous suitor. She was scarcely capable of
love, but she admired him more than ever each day. She saw that he was
the superior of Arnault in every way, and was so recognized by all in
the house; therefore one of her strongest traits--vanity--was enlisted
in his behalf. She saw, also, that he represented a higher type of
manhood than she had been accustomed to, and she was beginning to
stand in awe of him also, but for reasons differing widely from those
which caused her fear of Arnault. She dreaded the latter's pride, the
resolute selfishness of his scheme of life, which would lead him to
drop her should she interfere with it. She was learning to dread
even more Graydon's high-toned sense of honor, the final decisions he
reached from motives which had slight influence with her. What if she
should permit both men to slip from her grasp, while she hesitated?
She fairly turned cold with horror at the thought of this and of the
poverty which might result.

Thus, from widely differing motives, two girls were sighing for time;
and Graydon Muir, strong, confident, proud of his knowledge of society
and ability to take care of himself, was walking blindly on, the
victim of one woman's guile, the object of another woman's pure,
unselfish love, and liable at any hour to be blasted for life by the
fulfilment of his hope and the consummation of his happiness.

Sweet Madge Alden, hiding your infinite treasure, deceiving all and
yet so true, may you have time!

CHAPTER XXI

SUGGESTIVE TONES

Miss Wildmere had promised to drive with Graydon on the following
morning, but Madge felt as if heaven had interfered in her behalf, for
the skies were clouded, and the rain fell unceasingly. People were at
a loss to beguile the hours. Graydon, Miss Wildmere, and Mr. Arnault
played pool together, while Mr. Muir, his wife, and Madge bowled for
an hour, the last winning most of the games. Mr. Arnault had a certain
rude sense of fair play, and it appeared to him that Graydon's course
had become all that he could ask--more than he could naturally expect.
The lady was apparently left wholly free to make her choice between
them, and all protest, even by manner, against her companionship with
him had ceased. He could drive, walk, or dance with her at his will;
then Graydon would quietly put in an appearance and make the most of
his opportunity. Arnault was not deceived, however. He knew that
his present rival was the most dangerous one that he had ever
encountered--that Stella might accept him at any time and was much
inclined to do so speedily. Indeed, he was about driven to the belief
that she would do so at once but for the fear that the Muirs were
in financial peril. He hoped that this fear and the pressure of her
father's need might lead her to decide in his favor, without the
necessity of his being the immediate and active agent in breaking down
the Muirs. As a business man, he shrunk from this course, and all the
more because Graydon was acting so fairly. Nevertheless, he would play
his principal card if he must. It was his nature to win in every game
of life, and it had become a passion with him to secure the beautiful
girl that he had sought so long and vainly. If it could appear to the
world that he had fairly won her, he would not scruple at anything in
the accomplishment of his purpose, and would feel that he had scored
the most brilliant success in his life. If he could do this without
ruining them, he would be glad, and his good-will was enhanced by
Graydon's course this morning. The former had sauntered into the
billiard-room, but, seeing Graydon with Miss Wildmere, had been about
to depart, when Muir had said, cordially, "Come, Arnault, take a cue
with us," and had quite disarmed him by frank courtesy.

At last the sound of music and laughter lured them to the main hall,
and there they found Madge surrounded by children and young people,
little Nellie Wilder clinging to her side the most closely, with Mr.
and Mrs. Wilder looking at the young girl with a world of grateful
good-will in their eyes.

"Oh, Miss Alden, sing us another song," clamored a dozen voices.

"Yes," cried Jennie Muir; "the funny one you sang for us in the
woods."

Madge smilingly complied, and the children fairly danced in their
delight at the comical strains, abrupt pauses, droll sentiment,
and interlarded words of explanation. The more elderly guests were
attracted, and the audience grew apace. Having finished her little
musical comedy, Madge arose, and Mr. Arnault, aware of Stella
Wildmere's ability to sing selections from opera, said, "Since the
children have been so well entertained, I suggest that we who have the
misfortune to be grown have our turn, and that Miss Wildmere give us
some grown-up music."

Madge flushed slightly, and Miss Wildmere, after a little charming
hesitation, seated herself at the piano, and sang almost faultlessly
a selection from an opera. It was evident that she had been well
and carefully trained, and that within her limitations, which she
thoughtfully remembered, she gave little occasion for criticism. Both
her suitors were delighted. They applauded so heartily, and urged
so earnestly with others, that she sang again and again, to the
unaffected pleasure of the throng who had now gathered. At last she
pleaded fatigue, and rose from the instrument, flushing proudly amid
vociferous encores. Graydon was about to ask Madge to sing again, when
an old gentleman who had listened to the children's ditties, and had
detected unusual sweetness and power in Madge's tones, said, promptly,
"I may be mistaken, but I have an impression that Miss Alden can give
us some grown-up music, if she will."

Instantly his suggestion was seconded by general entreaty, in which
not only Graydon joined from sincere good-will, but also Mr. Arnault,
in the hope of giving Stella a triumph, for he believed that the best
her social rival could do would be to render some ballad fairly well.

Madge's brow contracted, as though she were irresolute and troubled.

"Truly, Miss Alden," said Stella, who was standing near, "I have done
my part to beguile the dismal day; I think you might favor us, also.
There are no critics here, I hope. We should enjoy a simple song if
you cannot now recall anything else."

"Very well, then, I will give you a little German song that my old
teacher loved well;" but Graydon saw the same slight flush and a
resolute expression take the place of her hesitancy.

After a brief prelude, which, to his trained ear, revealed her perfect
touch, her voice rose with a sweet, resonant power that held those
near spellbound, and swelled in volume until people in distant parts
of the house paused and listened as if held by a viewless hand.
Connoisseurs felt that they were listening to an artist and not an
amateur; plain men and women, and the children, knew simply that
they were enjoying music that entranced them, that set their nerves
thrilling and vibrating. Madge hoped only that her voice might
penetrate the barriers between herself and one man's heart. She did
not desire to sing on the present occasion. She did not wish to annoy
him by the contrast between her song and Miss Wildmere's performance,
feeling that he would naturally take sides in his thoughts with the
woman outvied; nor had she any desire to inflict upon her rival the
disparagement that must follow; but something in Miss Wildmere's
self-satisfied and patronizing tone had touched her quick spirit, and
the arrogant girl should receive the lesson she had invited. But, as
Madge sang, the noble art soon lifted her above all lower thoughts,
and she forgot everything but Graydon and the hope of her heart. She
sang for him alone, as she had learned to sing for him alone.

In spite of her explanations he looked at her with the same old wonder
and perplexity of which he had been conscious from the first. If she
had merely sung with correctness and taste, like Miss Wildmere, there
would have been nothing to disturb his complacent admiration; but now
he almost felt like springing to her side with the words, "What is it,
Madge? Tell me all."

As the last lovely notes ceased, only the unthinking children
applauded. From the others there was entreaty.

"Please sing again, Miss Alden," said the gentleman who had first
asked her. "I am an old man, and can't hope for many more such rich
pleasures. I am not an amateur, and know only the music that reaches
my heart."

"Sing something from 'Lohengrin,' Madge," said Henry Muir, quietly.
She glanced at him, and there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes.

Herr Brachmann had trained her thoroughly in some of Wagner's
difficult music, and she gave them a selection which so far surpassed
the easy melodies of Verdi, which Miss Wildmere had sung, that the
latter sat pale and incensed, yet not daring to show her chagrin. This
music was received with unbounded applause, and then a little voice
piped, "The big folks have had more'n their turn; now give us a
reg'lar Mother Goose."

This request was received with acclamations, and soon ripples of
laughter broke over the crowd in all directions, and then one of the
adoring boys who were usually worshipping near cried out, "A reel,
Miss Alden, a reel, and let us finish up with a high old dance before
dinner."

Graydon seized Miss Wildmere's hand, boys made profound bows to their
mothers, husbands dragged their protesting wives out upon the floor.
Soon nearly all ages and heights were in the two long lines, many feet
already keeping time to Madge's rollicking strains. Never had such
a dance been known before in the house, for the very genius and
inspiration of mirth seemed to be in the piano. The people were
laughing half the time at the odd medley of tunes and improvisations
that Madge invoked, and gray-bearded men indulged in some of the
antics that they had thought forgotten a quarter of a century before.
As the last couple at the head of the lines was glancing down the
archway of raised and clasped hands, the lively strains ceased, and
the dancers swarmed out, with thanks and congratulations upon their
lips, only to see Madge flying up the stairway.

"Madge," said Graydon, at dinner, "I suppose you will tell me you have
practiced over and over again every note you sang this morning."

"Certainly; some of the more difficult ones hours and hours and
months and months. Herr Brachmann was an amiable dragon in music, and
insisted on your knowing what you did know."

"I thought you would say all this, but it doesn't account for your
singing."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know exactly. There is something you did not get from
Herr Brachmann--scarcely from nature. It suggests what artists call
feeling, and more."

"Oh, every one has his own method," said Madge, carelessly, and yet
with a visible increase of color.

"'Method,' do you call it? I'm half inclined to think that it might
be akin to madness were you very unhappy. The human voice often has
a strange power over me, and I have a theory that it may reveal
character more than people imagine. Why shouldn't it? It is the
chief medium of our expression, and we may even unconsciously reveal
ourselves in our tones."

"When were you so fanciful before? What does a professional reveal?"

"Chiefly that she is a trained professional, and yet even the most
blase among them give hints as to the compass of their woman-nature.
I think their characters are often suggested quite definitely by their
tones. Indeed, I even find myself judging people by their voices.
Henry's tones indicate many of his chief traits accurately--as, for
instance, self-reliance, reserve, quiet and unswerving purpose."

"Well," asked Mrs. Muir, who was a little obtuse on delicate points,
"what did Miss Wildmere's tones indicate?"

Graydon was slightly taken aback, and suddenly found that he did not
like his theory so well as he had thought. "Miss Wildmere's tones," he
began, hesitatingly, "suggested this morning little more than a
desire to render well the music she sang, and to give pleasure to her
listeners."

"I thought they suggested some self-complacency, which was lost before
the morning was over," added Mr. Muir, dryly.

"Miss Wildmere sang admirably," exclaimed Madge, warmly, "and could
sing much better if she had been trained in a better method and gave
more time to the art. I sang hours every day for nearly two years.
Nothing will take the place of practice, Graydon. One must develop
voice like muscle."

"You are a generous, sensible critic, Madge," he said, quietly,
although there was a flush of resentment on his face at his brother's
words. "In the main you are right, but I still hold to my theory.
At least, I believe that in all great music there is a subtle
individuality and _motif_. Love may be blind, but it is not deaf. Miss
Wildmere gave us good music, not great music."

Mr. Muir began talking about the weather as if it were the only
subject in his mind, and soon afterward Madge went to her room with
bowed head and downcast heart.

"I have no chance," she sighed. "He loves her, and that ends all. He
is loyal to her, and will be loyal, even though she breaks his heart
eventually, as I fear. It's his nature."

CHAPTER XXII

DISHEARTENING CONFIDENCES

Under a renewed impulse of loyalty Graydon intercepted Miss Wildmere
as she was going to her room, and said: "The clouds in the west are
all breaking away--they ever do, you know, if one has patience. We can
still have our drive and enjoy it all the more from hope deferred."

"I'm so sorry," she began, in some embarrassment. "Of course I
couldn't know last night that it would rain in the morning, and so
promised Mr. Arnault this afternoon."

"It seems as if it would ever be hope deferred to me, Miss Wildmere,"
he said, gravely.

"But, Graydon, you must see how it is--"

"No, I don't see, but I yield, as usual."

"I promise you Sunday afternoon or the first clear day," she
exclaimed, eagerly.

"Very well," he replied, brightening. "Remember I shall be a Shylock
with this bond." But he was irritated, nevertheless, and went out on
the piazza to try the soothing influence of a cigar.

The skies cleared rapidly. So did his brow; and before long he
muttered: "I'll console myself by another gallop with Madge. There
goes my inamorata, smiling upon another fellow. How long is this going
to last? Not all summer, by Jupiter! Her father must not insist on her
playing that game too long, even though she does play it so well."

Madge was sitting in her room in dreary apathy and spiritless reaction
from the strain of the morning, when she was aroused by a knock on her
door. "Madge," called a voice that sent the blood to her face, "what
say you to another ride? I know the roads are muddy, but--"

"But I'll go with you," she cried. "Why use adversatives in the same
breath with 'ride'? The mud's nothing. What won't rub off can stay on.
How soon shall I be ready?"

"That's a good live girl. In half an hour."

When they were a mile or two away Madge asked, as if with sudden
compunction, "Graydon, are you sure you were disengaged?"

He laughed outright. "That question comes much too late," he said.

She braced herself as if to receive a deadly blow, and was pale and
rigid with the effort as she asked, with an air of curiosity merely,
"Are you truly engaged to Miss Wildmere, Graydon?"

"In one sense I am, Madge," he replied, gravely. "I have given her my
loyalty, and, to a certain extent, my word; but I have not bound her.
Since you have proved so true and generous a friend to me I do not
hesitate to let you know the truth. I am sorry you do not like her
altogether, and that you have some cause for your feeling; but you are
both right at heart. She spoke most enthusiastically of your rescue
of the child. You ladies amuse me with your emphasis of little piques;
but when it comes to anything large or fine you do justice to one
another. Henry had no right to say what he did at dinner, for Stella
applauded you as you had her; but Henry's prejudices are inveterate.
Why should I not be loyal to her, Madge? I believe she remained free
for my sake during the years of my absence."

"I think your feelings are very natural. They are what I should expect
of you. You have always seemed to me the soul of honor when once you
obtain your bearings," she added, with a wan smile.

"How pale you are, Madge!" he said, anxiously.

"I am not feeling very well to-day, and then I am suffering from the
reaction of this morning. I never can get over my old timidity and
dislike to do anything in public. I can do what I will, but it
often costs me dear. I was led on unexpectedly this morning. I only
anticipated singing a ditty for the children when I first went to the
piano at their request."

"I saw that, Madge. Any other woman with your power of song would have
made it known long before this."

"And, believe me, Graydon, I did not want to sing in rivalry with Miss
Wildmere. I'm sorry I did."

"I saw that too," he replied, laughing. "Stella drew that little
experience down upon herself."

"I'm sorry now that I sang," she said, in a low tone. "I didn't want
to do anything to hurt the feelings of so good a friend as you are."

"You didn't hurt my feelings in the least. Just the contrary. You
gave much pleasure, and made me all the more proud of you. It will do
Stella no harm to have her self-complacency jostled a little. Slight
wonder that her head is somewhat giddy from the immense amount of
attention she has received. I'm not perfect, Madge; why should I
demand perfection? It's delightful to be talking in this way--like
old times. I used to talk to you about Stella years ago. If I have the
substance I can forego the shadow, and I do feel that I can say to you
all that I could to a sensible and loving sister. Believe me, Madge,
I can never get over my old feeling for you, and I'm just as proud
of you as if your name was Madge Muir. I think your brave effort and
achievement at Santa Barbara simply magnificent. You have long had
the affection that I would give to a sister, and now that I understand
you, I feel for you all the respect that I could give to any woman."

"Those are kind, generous words, Graydon. I knew that you
misunderstood me, and I was only provoked at you, not angry."

"You had good reason to be provoked and much more. If you and Stella
understood each other in the same way, and--well--if she were only
out of that atmosphere in which she has been brought up, I could ask
nothing more."

"What atmosphere?"

"Wall Street atmosphere transferred to the domestic and social circle.
You have too much delicacy, Madge, to refer to what I know puzzles
you, and I admit that I do not fully understand it all, though I
know Stella's motive clearly enough. Her motive is worthy of all
commendation, but not her method. She is not so much to blame for this
as her father, and perhaps her mother, who appears a weak, spiritless
woman, a faint echo of her husband. It is here that the infernal Wall
Street atmosphere comes in that she has breathed all her life. Does it
not puzzle you, in view of my relations to her, that she should be out
driving with Arnault?"

"Yes, Graydon, it does."

"Well, Arnault is a money-lender, and I am satisfied that in some way
he has her father in his power. Many of these brokers are like cats.
They will hold on to anything by one nail, and the first thing you
know they are on their feet again all right. As soon as Wildmere makes
a lucky strike in the stock-market he will extricate himself and his
daughter at the same time. Of course these things are not formulated
in words, in a cold-blooded way, I suppose. Arnault has long been a
suitor that would take no rebuff. I am satisfied that she has
refused him more than once, but he simply persists, and gives her
to understand that he will take his chances. This was the state of
affairs when I came home, and she, no doubt, feels that if she can
save her father, and keep a home for her mother and the little one,
she ought to retain her hold on Arnault. After all, it is not so bad.
Many women marry for money outright, and all poor Stella proposes is
to be complaisant toward a man who would not continue his business
support to one whose daughter had just refused him."

Madge was silent.

"You wouldn't do such a thing, I suppose."

"I couldn't, Graydon," she said, simply. "If I should ever love a man
I think I could suffer a great deal for his sake, but there are some
things I couldn't do."

"I thought you would feel so."

"Why don't you help her father out?" Madge faltered.

"I don't think I have sufficient means. I have never been over-thrifty
in saving, and have not laid by many thousands. I have merely a
good salary and very good prospects. You can't imagine how slow and
conservative Henry is. In business matters he treats me just as if
I were a stranger, and I must prove myself worthy of trust at every
point, and by long apprenticeship, before he will give me a voice in
affairs. He says coming forward too fast is the ruination of young
men in our day. Nothing would tempt him to have dealings with Mr.
Wildmere, and I couldn't damage myself more than by any transactions
on my own account. But even if I were rich I wouldn't interfere. I
don't like her father any better than Henry does, and if I began in
this way it would make a bad precedent. What's more, I won't introduce
money influences into an affair of this kind. If it comes to the
point, Stella must decide for me, ignoring all other considerations.
If she does, I won't permit her family to suffer, but I propose to
know that she chooses me absolutely in spite of everything. I am also
resolved that she shall be separated from her family as far as is
right, for there is a tone about them that I don't like."

"I thank you for your confidence, Graydon," said Madge, quietly. "You
are acting just as I should suppose you would. No one in the world
wishes you happiness more earnestly than I do. Come, let us take this
level place like the wind."

She was unusually gay during the remainder of their ride, but seemed
bent almost on running her horse to death. "To-morrow is Sunday," she
explained, "and I must crowd two rides into one."

"Wouldn't you ride to-morrow?"

"No; I have some old-fashioned notions about Sunday. You have been
abroad too long, perhaps, to appreciate them."

"I appreciate fidelity to conscience, Madge."

They had their supper together again as on the evening before, but
Madge was carelessly languid and fitful in her mirthful sallies, and
complained of over-fatigue. "I won't come down again to-night," she
said to Graydon as they passed out of the supper-room. "Good-night."

"Good-night, Madge," he replied, taking her hand in both his own.
"I understand you now, and know that you have gone beyond even your
superb strength to-day. Sleep the sleep of the justest and truest
little woman that ever breathed. I can't tell you how much you have
added to my happiness during the past two days."

"He understands me!" she muttered, as she closed the door of her room.
"I am almost tempted to doubt whether a merciful God understands me.
Why was this immeasurable love put into my heart to be so cruelly
thwarted? Why must he go blindly on to so cruel a fate? Of course
she'll renounce everything for him. Whatever else she may be, she is
not an idiot."

Henry Muir's quiet eyes had observed Madge closely, and from a little
distance he had seen the parting between her and his brother. Then
he saw Graydon seek Miss Wildmere and resume a manner which he had
learned to detest, and the self-contained man went out upon the
grounds, and said, through clinched teeth: "To think that there should
have been such a fool bearing the name of Muir! He's been gushing to
Madge about that speculator, and we shall yet have to take her as we
would an infection."

CHAPTER XXIII

THE FILIAL MARTYR

Miss Wildmere appeared in one of her most brilliant moods that
evening. There was a dash of excitement, almost recklessness, in her
gray eyes. She and Mr. Arnault had been deputed to lead the German,
but she took Graydon out so often as to produce in Mr. Arnault's eyes
an expression which the observant Mr. Wildmere did not like at all. He
had just returned from dreary, half-deserted Wall Street, which was
as dead and hopeless as only that region of galvanic life can be at
times. He had neither sold nor bought stock, but had moused around,
with the skill of an old _habitue_, for information concerning the
eligibility of the two men who were seeking his daughter's hand. In
the midsummer dullness and holiday stagnation the impending operation
in the Catskills was the only one that promised anything whatever. He
became more fully satisfied that Arnault's firm was prospering. They
had been persistent "bears" on a market that had long been declining,
and had reaped a golden harvest from the miseries of others. On the
other hand, he learned that Henry Muir was barely holding his own, and
that he had strained his credit dangerously to do this. He knew about
the enterprise which had absorbed the banker's capital, and while
he believed it would respond promptly to the returning flow of the
financial tide, it now seemed stranded among more hopeless ventures.
There was no escaping the conviction that Muir was in a perilous
position, and that a little thing might push him over the brink.
Therefore, he had returned fully beat upon using all his influence in
behalf of Arnault, and was spurred to this effort by the fact that his
finances, but not his expenses, were running low. His wife could give
but a dubious account of Stella's conduct.

"In short," said Mr. Wildmere, irritably, "she is dallying with both,
and may lose both by her hesitating folly."

His daughter's greeting was brief and formal. A sort of
matter-of-course kiss had been given, and then he had been left to eat
his supper alone, since his wife could not just then be absent from
her child. At last he lounged out on the piazza, sat down before one
of the parlor windows, glanced at the gay scene within, and smoked in
silence. Before the German began, Graydon passed him several times,
regarding him curiously and with a growing sense of repulsion. He
disliked to think that the relation between this man and the girl he
would marry was so close.

Before the evening was over, Mr. Wildmere saw that his daughter was in
truth pursuing a difficult policy. The angry light in Arnault's eyes
and the grave expression on Graydon's face proved how fraught with
peril it was to his hopes. Neither of her suitors liked Stella's
manner that evening, for it suggested traits which promised ill for
the future. Graydon, who understood her the less, was the more lenient
judge.

"Not only Arnault," he thought, "but her father also, has been
pressing her toward a course from which she revolts, and she is half
reckless in consequence."

He endeavored by his quiet and observant attention, by the grave and
gentle expression of his eyes, to assure her once more that she could
find a refuge in him the moment that she would decide absolutely in
his favor. She understood him well, and was enraged that she could not
that night go out with him into the moonlight, put her hand in his,
and end her suspense.

Her father had whispered, significantly, when they met, "Stella, I
must see you before you give Mr. Muir further encouragement;" and she,
feeling that it might be among her last chances, for the present, of
showing Graydon favor, was lavish of it. But it was not the preference
of strong, true, womanly choice; it was rather the half-defiant aspect
with which forbidden fruit might be regarded.

As the great clock was about to chime the hour of midnight the dancing
ceased. Arnault seemed determined to have the last word, and Graydon
interposed no obstacle. The former walked on the piazza by Stella's
side for a few turns in moody silence. Her father still sat at his
post of observation. Mrs. Wildmere had been with him part of the time,
but he had not had much to say to her.

"Mr. Arnault," said Stella, satirically, at last, "I will not tax your
remarkable power for entertainment any longer. I will now join papa,
and retire."

"Very well, Stella," was the quiet reply; "but before we part I shall
speak more to the point than if I had talked hours. By this time
another week the question must be decided."

She bowed, and made no other answer.

"Stella," said her father when they were alone and he had regarded for
some moments her averted and half-sullen face, "what do you propose to
do?" There was no answer.

After another pause he continued: "In settling the question, represent
your mother and myself by a cipher. That is all we are, if the logic
of your past action counts for anything. Again I ask, What do you
propose to do? No matter how pretty and flattered a girl may be, she
cannot alter gravitation. There are other facts just as inexorable.
Shutting your eyes to them, or any other phase of folly, will not make
the slightest difference."

"I think it's a horrid fact that I must marry a man that I don't
love."

"That is not one of the facts at all. Stock-gambler as I am, and in
almost desperate straits, I require nothing of the kind. Knowing you
as I do, I advise you to accept Arnault at once; but I do not demand
it; I do not even urge it. If you loved me, if you would say, 'Give
up this feverish life of risk; I will help you and suffer with you
in your poverty; I will marry Graydon Muir and share his poverty,' I
would leave Wall Street at once and forever. It's a maelstrom in
which men of my calibre and means are sucked down sooner or later. The
prospects now are that it will be sooner, unless I am helped through
this crisis."

"I believe you are mistaken about the Muirs being in financial
danger."

"I am not mistaken. They may have to suspend daring the coming week."

"I know that Graydon Muir has no suspicion of trouble."

"He is but a clerk in his brother's employ, and has just returned from
a long absence. Mr. Muir is one of the most reticent of men. I have
invested in the same dead stock that is swamping him, and so know
whereof I speak. Should this stock decline further--should it even
remain where it is much longer--he can't maintain himself. I know, for
I have taken pains to obtain information since I last went to town."

"But if the stock rises," she said, with the natural hope of a
speculator's daughter, "he is safe."

"Yes, _if_."

"How much time will you give me?" she asked, the lines of her face
growing hard and resolute.

"This is to be your choice, not mine," said her father, coldly. "You
shall not be able to say that I sold you or tried to sell you. Of
course it would be terribly hard for me to lose my footing and fall,
and I feel that I should not rise again. Arnault worships success
and worldly prestige. You are a part of his ambitious scheme. If you
helped him parry it out he would do almost anything you wished, and he
could throw business enough in my way to put me speedily on my feet.
You must make your choice in view of the following facts: You can go
on living here, just as you are, two or three weeks longer, dallying
with opportunity. By that time, unless I get relief and help, I shall
reach the end of my resources, and creditors will take everything. The
Muirs cannot help me, and I don't believe they would in any event. I
am not on good terms with Henry Muir. If they go down now they will be
thoroughly cleaned out. Arnault has long been devoted to you, and you
could have unbounded influence over him if you acted in the line of
his ruling passion. It would gratify his pride and add to the world's
good opinion of him if I prospered also. In plain English, we may all
be in a tenement house in a month, or I on safe ground and you the
affianced wife of a rich man."

"Well," said Stella, coldly, "you have given me facts enough. It's a
pity you couldn't have brought me something better from Wall Street
after all these years."

"What have you brought to me during these past years," he demanded,
sternly, "but constant requests for money, and the necessity for
incessant effort to meet new phases of extravagance? You have not
asked what was kind, merciful, and true, but what was the latest
style. Few days pass but that I am reminded of you by a bill for
some frippery or other; but how often am I reminded of you by acts of
filial thoughtfulness, by words of sympathy in my hard battle of life
when I am present, or by genial letters when absent? I have spent
three hot days in the city seeking chiefly your interest, and a more
mechanical, perfunctory thing never existed than your kiss of greeting
to-night. There was as much feeling in it as in the quarter that I
handed to the stage-driver. I have spent thousands on your education,
but you don't sing for me, you don't read to me, you never think of
soothing my overtaxed nerves by cheerful, hopeful talk. Were I a steel
automaton, supplying your wants, I should answer just as well, and in
that case you might remember the laws of matter and apply a little oil
occasionally. What are the motives of your life but dress, admiration,
excitement, a rapid succession of men to pass under your baleful
fascination, and then to pass on crippled in soul for having known
you? Unless you can give Graydon Muir a loving woman's heart, and mean
to cling to him for worse as well as better, you will commit a crime
before God and man if you accept him. With Arnault it is different. In
mind you are near enough of kin to marry. As long as you complied with
fashionable and worldly proprieties, he would be content; but a man
with a heart and soul in his body would perish in the desert of a home
that your selfishness would create."

"It's awful for you to talk to me in this way!" she whined, wincing
and crying under his arraignment.

"It's awful that I have to speak to you in this way, either to make
you realize what deformities your beauty hides, so that you may apply
the remedy, or else, if you will not, to promote your union with a man
content to take for a wife a belle, and not a woman.

"I suppose I am chiefly to blame, though, or you would be different,"
he added, with a dark, introspective look. "I was proud of you as
a beautiful child, and tried to win your love by indulgence. Heaven
knows, I would like to be a different man, but it's all a breathless
hurry after bubbles that vanish when grasped! Well, what do you
propose to do? You see that you can't hesitate much longer."

"I will decide soon," she answered, sullenly. Although her conscience
echoed his words, and she felt their justice, her pride prevailed, and
she permitted him to depart without another word.

CHAPTER XXIV

"I'LL SEE HOW YOU BEHAVE"

The dawn of the following sacred day was bright, beautiful, and
serene, bringing to the world a new wealth of opportunity. Miss
Wildmere began its hours depressed and undecided. Her conscience and
better angel were pleading; she felt vaguely that her life and its
motives were wrong, and was uncomfortable over the consciousness. Her
phase of character, however, was one of the most hopeless. It was true
that her vanity had grown to the proportions of a disease, but even
this might be overcome. Her father's stern words had wounded it
terribly, and she had experienced twinges of self-disgust. But another
trait had become inwrought, by long habit, with every fibre of her
soul--selfishness. It was almost impossible to give up her own way and
wishes. Graydon Muir pleased her fancy, and she was bent on marrying
him. Her father's assurance that she would bring him disappointment,
not happiness, weighed little. Too many men had told her that she
was essential to their happiness to permit qualms on this score. Her
conscience did shrink, to some extent, from a loveless, business-like
marriage, and her preference for Graydon made such a union all the
more repugnant; but she was incapable of feeling that she would do him
a wrong by giving him the pretty jewelled hand for which so many had
asked. Indeed, the question now was, Could she be so self-sacrificing
as to think of it under the circumstances? If that stock would only
rise, if in some way she could be assured that the Muirs would be
sustained, and so pass on to the wealth sure to flow in upon them in
prosperous times, she would decide the question at once, whether they
would do anything for her father or not. He could scramble on in
some way, as he had done in the past. What she desired most was the
assurance that there should be no long and doubtful interregnum
of poverty and privation--that she might continue to be a queen in
society during the period of youth and beauty.

This remained the chief consideration amid the chaos of her
conflicting feelings and interests, for she had lived this life so
long that she could imagine no other as endurable. She had, moreover,
the persistence of a small nature, and longed to humiliate the Muir
pride, and to spite Madge Alden, who she half believed cherished more
than a sisterly regard for Graydon. As for her father, she did little
more than resent his words and the humiliating disquietude they had
caused. They had sorely wounded her vanity, and presented a painful
alternative.

As the day passed, and old habits of mind resumed sway, she began to
concentrate her thoughts on three questions: Should she accept Graydon
and take her chances with him? Should she accept Mr. Arnault, with his
wealth, and be safe? or should she hesitate a little longer, in the
hope that she could secure Graydon and wealth also? The persistence
of a will that had always had its own way decided finally in favor of
the last course of action. She would not give Graydon up unless she
must, and not until she must. Accustomed to consult self-interest,
she believed that her father was doing the same, that he was favoring
Arnault because the latter would be more useful to him, and that for
this reason he was exaggerating the Muirs' peril, if not inventing
it. She dismissed his words about leaving Wall Street with scarcely a
thought; he always talked in this way when the times were bad or his
ventures unlucky. They had been on the eve of ruin so many times, that
the cry of "wolf" was not so alarming as formerly.

"I suppose I must decide before this week is over," she thought.
"Arnault has practically given me this length of time, and I shall
take him at his word." Therefore, she was very sweet to him during the
morning hours, and prepared him to submit to her drive with Graydon in
the afternoon.

Arnault felt that he had given his ultimatum, and was resolved to
abide by it. At the same time he knew that it would be a terrible
wrench to give up the girl. The very difficulty of winning her had
stimulated to the utmost his passion for attainment. She was the best
that existed in his superficial world, and fulfilled his ideal. Her
delicate yet somewhat voluptuous beauty completely intoxicated him.

He too thought, and made his decision during the day. If he won her at
all it must be speedily, and it should be done by promises of devotion
and wealth if possible, and by breaking the Muirs down if this should
become necessary. The time had come for decisive action. It was
evident that her father was in sore straits; the man's appearance
confirmed this belief. Arnault was almost certain that Henry Muir was
in his power. He would not play the latter card unless he must, but he
would watch so vigilantly as to be promptly aware of the necessity. He
decided to spend several days of the present week in the mountains and
so keep himself informed how the game went here, and while in the city
he would not only be observant, but would also drop a few words
to weaken Mr. Muir's credit. One thing, however, was settled--the
problematical issue of his matrimonial scheme must soon be made
known, and he rather relished its congenial elements of speculative
uncertainty, being conscious that so much depended upon his skill and
power to pull unseen wires.

Seeing that Arnault was at Miss Wildmere's side, Graydon accompanied
his relatives to church, and soon found himself looking over the
same hymn-book with Madge. The choir were present, and she now merely
delighted Graydon with her rich alto; and so rich and true was it that
he often felt his nerves thrilling at her tones. He did not become
absorbed in the service or sermon, but thought a little wonderingly:
"Here is a faith ever finding expression all over the world, while I
ignore it. How much truth does it represent? It's evidently a reality
to Madge, although she makes so little parade of the fact. I don't
believe she would do anything contrary to its teachings as she
understands them. We men may think what we please, but we have
confidence in a woman who looks as she does now. She is not in
the least inclined to devotional rhapsodies or to subserviency
to priestcraft, like so many women abroad. She merely appears to
recognize a divine power as she accepts nature, only more reverently
and consciously. I suppose I am an agnostic as much as anything, yet
I should only be too glad to have Stella at my side with such
an expression on her face. I wonder if she will go with me this
afternoon. I will submit to this diplomacy a few days longer, and
shall then end the matter. There is an increasing revulsion of my
whole being from such tactics in my future wife. Beyond a certain
point she shall not be a partner in her father's gambling operations,
and I would have brought the affair to an end at once, were it not for
that limp little woman, his wife, and her child. But I can't sacrifice
my self-respect and Stella's character for them. I must get her out
of that atmosphere, so that her true nature may develop. Sweet Madge
Alden, with your eyes so serious and true, and again so full of mirth
and spirit, what a treasure you will prove some day if there is a man
worthy of you!"

In his deep preoccupation, he forgot his intent regard, until reminded
of it by the slow deepening of her color, which so enhanced her beauty
that he could not at once withdraw his gaze. Suddenly she turned on
him with a half-angry, half-mirthful flash in her eyes, and whispered,
"Looking at girls in church is not good form; but, if you will do it,
look at some other girl."

He was delighted at this little unexpected prick, and replied, "St.
Paul never would have complained of such a thorn." Then he saw Dr.
Sommers looking ominously at him. This factotum of the chapel sat
where he could oversee the miscellaneous little assemblage, and
his eyes instantly pounced upon any offender. Graydon pushed his
insubordination no further than making an irreverent face at the
doctor, and then addressed himself to the minister during the
remainder of the hour.

"We'll arrange it differently next Sunday, Miss Alden," said the
doctor, as Madge passed out; "I'll have Mr. Muir sit with me."

"Try it," whispered Graydon, "and if you don't fall from grace before
meeting is over I'll give you a new trout-pole. Miss Alden can manage
me better than you can."

"No doubt, no doubt. A man must be in a bad way if she couldn't make a
saint of him if she undertook it," was the doctor's laughing reply.

Greatly amused, Graydon repeated the words to Madge. "She won't
undertake it in this case," was her brusque comment. "I have no
ambition to enlighten continental heathen, with their superior
tolerance of a faith good enough for women and children."

"My charming rose has not only a thorn but a theological stiletto in
her belt."

"It is evident you have never had trouble, Graydon."

"Why is it evident?"

"Because you are content with the surface-tide of life."

"And you are not?"

"One rarely is when fearing to sink."

"What has that to do with faith?"

"Faith can sustain; that's all."

"And your faith sustained you?"

"What else was there to sustain when day after day brought, not a
choice of pleasures, but the question, Shall I live or die?"

"Poor Madge! Dear Madge! And you didn't let me know. I don't suppose I
could have helped you, though."

"No; not then."

"Madge," he said, earnestly, "won't you promise me one thing? If you
ever should have trouble of any kind again, won't you let me help you,
or at least try to?"

"I'll see how you behave," she said, laughing. "Besides, it's not
women's place to make trouble for men. The idea! Our mission is to
soothe and console you superior beings."

"Women do make a power of trouble for men. Mother Eve began wrong,
and--"

"And Adam laid all his misdeeds on her weak shoulders."

"The upshot of all this talk is, I suppose, that your shoulders are
so strong, and your spirit so high, that you can at least take care of
your own troubles."

"I hope so," she again laughed, "and be ready also to give you a lift.
When you successful men do get a tumble in life, you are the most
helpless of mortals."

"Well, well, well, to think that I am talking to little Madge, who
could not say good-by to me without fainting away!"

"Good-by meant more to me than to you. You were going away to new and
pleasant activity. I doubted whether I should see you again--or indeed
any one long," she added, hastily.

"Don't imagine that I did not feel awfully that night, dear Madge.
Tears do not come into my eyes easily, but I added a little salt
water to the ocean as I leaned over the taffrail and saw the city that
contained you fade from view."

"Did you truly, Graydon?" she asked, turning away.

"I did, indeed."

In her averted face and quickened respiration he thought he saw traces
of more than passing feeling, but she turned on him in sudden gayety,
and said: "Whenever I see the ocean I'll remember how its tides have
been increased. Graydon, I've a secret to tell you, which, for
an intense, aesthetic, and vaguely devotional woman, is a most
humiliating confession: I'm awfully hungry. When will dinner be
ready?"

"I have a secret to tell you also," he replied, with a half-vexed
flash in his eyes: "There is a girl in this house who explains
herself more or less every day, and who yet remains the most charming
conundrum that ever kept a man awake from perplexity."

"Oh, dear!" cried Madge, "is Miss Wildmere so bad as that? Poor, pale
victim of insomnia! By the way, do you and Mr. Arnault keep a ledger
account of the time you receive? or do you roughly go on the principle
of 'share and share alike'?" and with eyes flashing back laughter at
his reddening face, she ran up the steps and disappeared.

"That was a Parthian arrow," he muttered. "If we go smoothly on the
sharing principle at present, we shall soon go roughly enough, or
cease to go at all."

But the lady in question was putting forth all her resources, which
were not slight when enlisted in her own behalf, to keep the two men
_in statu quo_ until more time, with its chances, should pass.

Arnault smiled grimly when he saw her departing with Graydon. She had
been evasive, but very friendly, during the day thus far, and after
what he had said the preceding night he felt that he was committed to
her moods for a week if he could not bring her to a decision before.
Seeing Mr. Wildmere walking restlessly up and down the piazza, he
joined him, and offering a superb cigar, said, "Suppose we go out to
the lake and see where the little kid was so nearly drowned."

Soon after they were smoking in the shade, the thoughts of both
reverting to kindred anxieties. Arnault decided to make one move
before the final one. Perhaps only this would be required; perhaps
it might prepare the way for more serious action. They talked over
business. Arnault, permitting the other to see through a veiled
distinctness of language that he was prospering, remarked, "By the
way, I have a little transaction which I wish you would carry out for
us," and mentioned an affair of ordinary brokerage, concluding, in
off-hand tones, "from what you said some days since I infer that you
may find a little money handy at present. I can let you have a check
for five hundred or a thousand just as well as not. I know how dull
times are now, and you will soon make it up by commissions."

The hard-pressed man could scarcely disguise the relief which these
words brought. He began a grateful acknowledgment of the kindness,
when Arnault interrupted him by saying, "Oh, that's nothing--mere
matter of business. I will write you a check to-night for a thousand.
It's only an advance, you know," and then changed the subject.

"Will you go to town to-morrow?" Mr. Wildmere asked.

"No, not to-morrow. I'll run down Tuesday or Wednesday. In spite of
the times business doesn't give us much leeway this summer, but I've
arranged to be away more or less at present." Then he added, with what
was meant to be a frank, deprecatory laugh, "I suppose you see how
it is. It's some time since I asked permission to pay my addresses to
your daughter. I don't think I've been neglectful of opportunities,
but I don't get on as fast as I would like, and now feel that if I
would keep any chance at all I must be on hand. Muir is a formidable
rival."

"You know that you have my consent and more, Mr. Arnault."

"It's the lady's consent that I must obtain," was the reply. "Muir is
a fine fellow, and I cannot wonder that she hesitates--that is, if
she does hesitate. I may be wasting my time here and adding to the
bitterness of my disappointment, for of course it must become greater
if I see Miss Wildmere every day and still fail."

There was a covert question in this remark, and after a moment or two
Mr. Wildmere said, hesitatingly: "I do not think you are wasting your
time. I think Stella is in honest doubt as to her choice. At least,
that is my impression. You know that young ladies in our free land
do not take much counsel of parents, and Stella has ever been very
independent in her views. When once she makes up her mind you will
find her very decided and loyal. Of course I have my strong preference
in this case, and have a right also to make it known to her, as
I shall. I should be very sorry to see her engaged to a man whose
fortunes are dependent on a brother in such financial straits as Mr.
Muir is undoubtedly in."

"Do you think Henry Muir is in very great danger?"

"I do indeed."

"Hum!" ejaculated Arnault, looking serious.

"What! would he involve you?"

"Oh, no, a mere trifle; but then--Well, please make some inquiries
to-morrow, and I'll see you during the week."

"I'll do anything I can to oblige you, Mr. Arnault. I wouldn't like my
questions, however, to hurt Muir's credit, you understand."

"Of course not, nor would I wish this; but as one of our brokers you
can pick up some information, like enough. I knew, as did others, that
Muir was having a rather hard time of it, but if there is pressing
danger I may have to take some action."

"In that case of course you can command me."

"I only wish to do what is fair and considerate among business men.
We'll lunch together when I come to town, and perhaps the case will be
clearer then."

During his drive with Miss Wildmere, Graydon simply adhered to the
tactics which he had adopted, and she saw that he was waiting until
the Arnault phase of the problem should be eliminated. When, however,
she took occasion to bewail the dismal prospects of her "poor papa,"
and to open the way for him to speak naturally of his own and his
brother's affairs, he was gravely silent. She didn't like this, for
it tended to confirm her father's belief that they were in trouble,
or else it looked like suspicion of her motive. The trait of reticence
which Graydon at times shared with his brother was not agreeable, for
it suggested hidden processes of thought which might develop into
very decisive action. She came back satisfied that Graydon was still
thoroughly "in hand," and that she must obtain information in some
other way, if possible.

There was sacred music in the parlor during the evening, but neither
Miss Wildmere nor Madge would sing in solo. Graydon good-naturedly
tried to arrange a duet between the two girls. The former declined
instantly, yet took off the edge of her refusal by saying, "I would
gladly sing for you if I could, but do not care to permit all these
strangers to institute comparisons."

Therefore, the guests sang in chorus as usual, a professional playing
the accompaniments. There were few, however, who did not recognize
the strong, sweet alto which ran through each melody like a minor key.
Graydon's acute ear for music heard little else, and he said to Madge
"I shall be glad when this hotel life is over. What delicious evenings
I shall have this fall! By the way, I'm going to have your piano tuned
when I go to town."

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps what? Perhaps I shall remember about the tuner? You'll see."

"I may go back with the Waylands. I'm not at all sure that I shall not
spend my winter on the Pacific."

"Why, Madge! With your health you could spend it in Greenland."

"That's what I may do. We always have a lovely green land in that
climate."

"I must investigate Santa Barbara. You have left some one or something
there which has powerful attractions."

"Yes, memories; as well as skies so bright that you can't help smiling
back at them."

"I supposed you were going to enter society this fall and create a
_furore_."

"Oh, bah!" Then she began to laugh, and said, "A certain gentleman in
this house thought I was so bent on having my fling in society that I
didn't wish to be embarrassed by even a little fraternal counsel."

"A certain fellow in this house finds himself embarrassed by a
black-eyed clairvoyant, who reads his thoughts as if they were
sign-boards, but remains inscrutable herself."

"Such an objectionable and inconvenient creature should certainly be
banished to wilds of the West"

"As one of the Muir family I'll never consent."

"You'll soon be engrossed by cares of your own," she concluded,
laughing. "Good-night."

"Stay," said Graydon, eagerly; "one so gifted with second-sight should
be able to read the thoughts of others."

"Whose?" Madge asked, demurely.

"Whose indeed? As if you did not know! Miss Wildmere's."

"What! Reveal a woman's thoughts? I won't speak to you again
to-night;" and she left him with his tranquillity not a little
disturbed.

CHAPTER XXV

GOSSAMER THREADS

Mr. Muir was to depart on the early train the following morning, and
was pleased when Madge opened her door at the same time and said, "I'm
going to see that you have a good breakfast and a good send-off."

She chattered merrily with him during the meal, ignoring his somewhat
wistful and questioning glances. "When shall we see you again, Henry?"
she asked.

"Friday evening, I hope."

"Don't work and worry too much."

"I defy fate now. You've given me your luck."

"Heaven forbid! Well, good-by."

A little later she and two of her boys, as she called them, were off
on the hills. Mrs. Muir and Graydon breakfasted long after, and the
latter observed with a frown that Arnault was still at the Wildmere
table, with all the serenity of one _en famille_.

"Doctor," he said, a little later, "how much will you take--the money
to be given to your chapel--to go trouting with me for a day?"

"A good round sum," Dr. Sommers replied.

"All right. When can you go?"

"Wednesday, I guess, if I can leave my patients."

"Oh, come now; go and give your patients a chance to get well."

"Wait till I catch you sick, and I'll pay you up for that."

"You'll stand a better chance of catching trout."

The day passed much as usual, only Arnault appeared in the ascendant.

"He is going to town in a day or two," pleaded the diplomat, after
dinner.

"And I'm going trouting," Graydon replied.

"When?"

"Soon."

"Only for a day, I suppose."

"It depends on my luck. You will get on better when I'm away."

"It's cruel for you to speak like that," she replied, her eyes
moistening.

"I suppose it is," was his rueful reply; "but I can be more patient, I
imagine, back in the mountains than here."

"But how about poor me?"

"That is a question that I often ask myself, Miss Wildmere, but you
alone can answer it. As far as I am able to judge, you can meet the
problem in your mind, whatever it is, as well, if not better, in my
absence. You must understand me, and I have promised to be reasonably
patient."

"Very well, Mr. Muir," she replied, in apparent sadness, "I will try
not to tax your patience beyond what you well term reason."

"Something far beyond reason, and--I may add--pride also, permits you
to tax it all. I would rather not revert to this topic again. It is
embarrassing to us both. I cannot help saying, however, that it is
essential to my happiness that the present state of affairs should
soon cease."

"If it were only present happiness that one had to consider--" she
began, and then hastened away.

Thus she played upon his sympathy, and held him by the generous side
of his nature.

But he determined not to give Arnault the pleasure of seeing him wait
for the crumbs of time that fell from his table, and he delighted
Madge, having sought her out on the piazza, by remarking: "It is so
cool to-day I do not see why we cannot start at once. I shall not find
the time too long, for you can talk as well as ride."

She made good his words, and gave wings to the hours. Among the scenes
through which they passed, she reminded him, not of an exotic or a
stray tropical bird, but rather of the ideal mountain nymph humanized,
developed into modern life, the strong original forces of nature
harmonized into perfect womanhood, yet unimpaired. Her smiles, her
piquant words, and, above all, the changing expression of her
lovely eyes, affected him subtilely, and again imparted a rising
exhilaration. Her thoughts came not like the emptying of a cup, but
rippled forth like a sparkling rill from some deep and exhaustless
supply. And what reservoir is more inexhaustible than the love of a
heart like hers?--a love born as naturally and unconsciously as
life itself--that, when discovered, changes existence by a sudden
kaleidoscopic turn, compelling all within and without to pass at once
into new arrangement and combination--that inspires heroic, patient
effort, self-denial, and even self-sacrifice.

She had prepared herself for this opportunity by years of training and
thought, but his presence brought her an inspiration beyond all
that she had gained from books or study. He was the magician who
unconsciously had the power to waken and kindle her whole nature, to
set the blood flowing in her veins like wine, and to arouse a rapidity
and versatility of thought that was surprising even to herself. With
the pure genius of love she threw about his mind gossamer threads,
drew the filaments together, and held them in her heart. The pulses
of life grew stronger within him, his fancy kindled, the lore of books
long since forgotten, as he supposed, flashed into memory, and out
into happy allusion and suggestion. Still his wonder increased that
her knowledge coincided so fully with his own, and that their lines
of reading had been so closely parallel. It was hard for him to find
a terra incognita of thought into which she had not made some slight
explorations. In his own natural domains she skilfully appeared to
know enough to follow, but not to lead with mortifying superiority.
She also had her own preserves of thought and fancy, of which she gave
him tantalizing glimpses, then let fall the screening boughs; and he,
who fain would see more, was content to pass on, assured that another
vista would soon be revealed. It was the reserve of this frank girl
that most charmed and incited him, the feeling, more or less defined,
that while she appeared to manifest herself by every word and smile,
something richer and rarer still was hidden.

"No one will ever have a chance to understand her fully but the man
she loves," he thought. "To him she would give the clew to all her
treasures, or else show them with sweet abandon, and it would require
a lifetime for the task. She has a beauty and a character that would
never pall, for the reason that she draws her life so directly from
nature. I have never met a woman that affected me as she does."

He sighed again. In spite of the loyalty to which he believed himself
fully committed, Stella Wildmere, with her Wall Street complications,
her variegated experience as to adorers, and her present questionable
diplomacy, seemed rather faded beside this girl, upon whose heart the
dew still rested.

For the first time the thought passed consciously through his mind,
"Stella has never made me so happy as I have been the last few hours.
More than that, she never gave life an aspect so rich, sweet, and full
of noble possibility. Madge makes blase, shallow cynicism impossible
in a fellow."

As he danced with Miss Wildmere that evening, or sauntered with her on
the piazza or through secluded paths, the same tendency to comparisons
tormented him. He could not make himself believe that Miss Wildmere's
words were like the flow of a clear, bubbling spring, pure and sweet.

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