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

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There was in them a sediment, the product of a life which had passed
through channels more and more distasteful to contemplate.

The next day he went to town to look after some business matters, and
returned by the latest train. To his surprise he found Madge absent,
and was immediately conscious of a vague sense of disappointment.

CHAPTER XXVI

MRS. MUIR'S ACCOUNT

After a light supper Graydon went in search of Stella, but she was
nowhere to be found, nor had the warm evening lured Mrs. Wildmere from
her room. He had learned that Arnault was still at the house, and he
inferred, from the surpassing beauty of the moonlit evening, that his
rival would not let such witching hours pass without an effort to turn
them to account. With a frown he retreated from the music, dancing,
and gayety of a full house, and went up to Mrs. Muir's room.

That lady was found writing to her husband, but she welcomed Graydon,
and began volubly: "I'm very glad you have come; I'm so full and
overflowing about Madge that I had to write to Henry."

"It certainly does seem an odd proceeding on her part--this remaining
all night at a farmhouse among strangers," was his discontented reply.

"It would be odd in any one but Madge. I do not think there
are many girls in this house who would be guilty of such
eccentricities--certainly not Miss Wildmere," she added, with a rather
malicious twinkle in her eyes. "If I were a man, I wouldn't stand it.
I've been on the alert somewhat to-day, for I don't wish to see you
made a fool of. That Mr. Arnault has been at her side the livelong
time, and he's out driving with her now."

"I understand all about that," said Graydon, impatiently; "tell me
about Madge."

"Perhaps you do, and perhaps you don't. It's certainly beyond my
comprehension," continued Mrs. Muir, determined to free her mind.
"If she is anything to you, or wishes to be, her performances are
as unique as those of Madge, although in a different style. We Alden
girls were not brought up in that way. Pardon me; I know it's your
affair, but you are my brother, and have been a good one, too. I can't
wonder that Henry dislikes her. Well, well, I see you are getting
nettled, and I won't say anything more, but tell you about Madge. It
has been an awfully hot day, you know, and I did not order a carriage
till five. Madge was restless, and had sighed for a gallop more
than once, so I proposed to do the best for her I could. As we were
starting for our drive Dr. Sommers appeared, and I asked him to go
with us.

"'I will,' he said, 'if you will take me to see one of my
patients--one that will make Miss Alden contented till she has some
imaginary trouble of her own. My horse is nearly used up from the long
drive I've had in the heat.'

"'Oh, do take me to see some one in trouble!' exclaimed Madge.

"'Yes,' replied the doctor, laughing, 'that will be a novelty. To
see you young ladies dancing and promenading, one would think you had
never heard of trouble.'

"After a lovely drive through a wild valley we came to a little gray
farmhouse, innocent of paint since the memory of man. The mountain
rose steeply behind it with overhanging rocks, cropping out through
the forest here and there. An orchard shaded the dwelling, and beyond
the narrow roadway in front brawled a trout-stream. To the eastward
were rough, stony fields, that sloped up, at what seemed an angle of
forty-five degrees, to other wooded mountains. It was the roughest,
wildest-looking place I ever saw. How strange and lonely it must look
now in the moonlight, with not another dwelling in sight!"

"Too lonely for Madge to be there," exclaimed Graydon. "I don't like
it, and I should not have expected such imprudence from you, Mary."

"Oh, Madge is safe enough! Wait till you know all. Well, the farmer
and his wife were at their early supper when we arrived. I went in
with Madge and the doctor, for I wanted to see how such people lived,
and also thought I could do something for them. I hadn't been in the
room five minutes, however, before I gave up all thought of offering
assistance. The people were plainly and even poorly dressed. The man
was in his shirt-sleeves, but he put on his coat immediately. He had a
kind of natural, quiet dignity and a subdued manner--the result of his
trouble, no doubt. We were in their little sitting-room or parlor, but
the door into the kitchen, where they had been taking their meal, was
open. The room we were in was very plainly furnished, but perfectly
neat, and I was at once struck by the number of books that it
contained. Would you believe it? one of the leading magazines lay on
the table. The mother, a pale, gaunt woman, who looked utterly
worn out, went with the doctor to the adjoining sick-room, and the
husband's eyes followed them anxiously.

"'Your place seems rather lonely,' I said to him, 'but you evidently
know how to find society in books.'

"'Yes,' he answered, 'I s'pose this region seems lonesome to you, but
not to us who were brought up here. It all depends on what you're
used to, especially when you're a-growin' up. I'm not much of a reader
myself, but Tilly was'; and he heaved a great sigh. 'She took to
readin' almost as soon as to walkin',' he continued, 'and used to read
aloud to us. I s'pose I soon dozed off, but her mother took it all in,
and durin' the long winter evenin's they kinder roamed all over the
world together. I suspicion Tilly had more books than was good for
her, but she was our only child, and I couldn't say no to her. She
edicated herself to be a teacher, and stood high, and we was proud of
her, sure enough, but I'm afeared all that study and readin' wasn't
good for her;' and then came another of his deep sighs.

"Madge's great eyes meanwhile were more and more full of trouble,
and there was a deal of pathos suggested by the man's simple story.
Indeed, I felt my own throat swelling at the poor man's last sigh,
it was so deep and natural, and seemed to express a great sorrow, for
which there were no words in his homely vernacular."

"What selfish egotists we are over our picayune vexations!" Graydon
muttered.

"Well, the mother and the doctor now appeared. The latter looked
grave; and when he looks grave things are serious indeed.

"'Ain't she no better?' the father asked, with entreaty in his tone.

"'I wish she was,' said the doctor, in his blunt way, which
nevertheless expressed more sympathy than a lot of fine phrases. Then
he said to the mother: 'You're all worn out, and yet she'll need close
watching to-night. Isn't there some neighbor--'

"'Oh, please let me stay!' began Madge, in a low, eager tone, speaking
for the first time. 'I'm strong, and I'll follow your directions in
everything. Do, please. I've been ill myself, and think I know how to
nurse.'

"The woman hesitated, and looked doubtfully, wonderingly, at the
doctor. Madge sprang up, and taking the mother's hand, continued:
'Indeed, madam, you do look worn out; you will be ill yourself. For
your daughter's sake, as well as mine, let me stay.'

"'For your sake, miss?'

"'Yes, for my sake. Why should I not bear a little of this heavy
burden? It will do me good. Doctor, say I can stay. My strength should
not be wasted in amusement only.'

"'Well,' he replied, 'if Mrs. Muir consents, there's no one I'd trust
sooner.'

"'Then it's settled, Mary,' she said, in her decisive way. 'It's
perfectly proper for me to stay under the protection of these good
people.'

"'But you haven't had your supper,' I began.

"A little color came into the woman's face at my foolish speech, and
she said, 'If the young lady will take what we can offer--'

"'Of course I will,' interrupted Madge, with a smile that would have
propitiated a dragon; 'a little bread and milk would suit me best.'

"'She shall have a chicken broiled as nice as she ever tasted at the
hotel,' said the man, impulsively. 'Heaven bless your kind heart, and
perhaps you can coax Tilly to take a bit!'

"'The young lady's name is Miss Alden,' said the doctor, 'and this is
Mrs. Muir, Mr. and Mrs. Wendall, ladies; I should have introduced you
before, but my mind was on my patient. Well, well, well, what a world
it is! Some very good streaks run through it, though.'

"'I'll come for you in the morning,' I said to Madge, who had thrown
off her hat, looking so resolute and absorbed in her purpose that I
knew there was nothing more to be said. So I shook hands with the poor
people, and came away with the doctor."

"I'm going for Madge in the morning," said Graydon, decisively.

"I thought you were going trouting with the doctor."

"Not till I've told Madge what I think of her," he said, gravely.

"I'm sure her impulse and motives were good."

"They were more than good--they were divine, and just like Madge Alden
as she now is. She keeps one's blood tingling with surprises; but I've
not become such a cynic that I do not understand her. When you come to
think of it, what is more natural than that one girl with her superb
health should lend her strength to another who, perhaps, is dying; but
you may well ask, Who in the house would think of doing this?"

"Yes; the doctor said she was dying--that she couldn't last much
longer."

"Well, I never had a sister, but I'm just as proud of Madge, and just
as fond of her, as if she were my own flesh and blood. She shall never
lack what a brother can do for her while I live."

"I'm glad you feel so," said Mrs. Muir. Then she sighed, and
thought, "A plague upon him! Why will he keep following up the other
white-faced thing, when he might win Madge if he tried hard enough.
It's plain that she don't care for him now except as she used to. And
she does care for him just as she did before she went away, in spite
of all her prudishness about the words brother and sister. I'm not
blind. She has grown so pretty, however, that I suppose Graydon would
wish to kiss her too often. She is just as fond of him as he is of
her, and in just the same way; but if I had his chance I'd soon have
it a different way;" and the good lady was complacency itself over
her penetration, as she bade Graydon good-night. No one could see and
report the surface of affairs more accurately than she.

As he descended to the hall, Arnault and Miss Wildmere entered. The
latter hastened forward and gave him her hand most cordially, saying,
"Why, Mr. Muir, I'm ever so glad to see you; you have been away an
age."

"A day, Miss Wildmere. Your appearance indicates that you have
survived admirably."

"The moon is so bright that we could drive fast, and I'm always happy
when in rapid motion."

"You have had the advantage of me then; yet I've been in rapid motion
a good part of the day on express trains."

"I feared you were not going to return to-day," she said, as she
strolled out with him on the piazza.

"Feared?"

"Yes, why not?"

"It strikes me that I might ask, Why?"

"Surely you would not have me lose such an evening as this, Mr. Muir?"
she said, a little reproachfully.

"I would have you follow your own heart."

"I shall follow it as soon as possible," she replied, so earnestly
that he was disarmed--especially as the glance which accompanied the
words was full of soft allurement and appeal. Of her own accord she
put her hand on his arm, and spoke in low, contented tones, as if she
had at last found rest and refuge. The moon poured around her a flood
of radiance, which gave her an ethereal aspect. Her white drapery
enhanced and spiritualized her remarkable beauty, making her appear
all that lover or poet could ask. His own words grew kinder and
gentler; his heart went out to her as never before; she seemed so
fair, delicate, and pure in that witching light that he longed to
rescue her at once from her surroundings. Why should he not? She had
never manifested a more gentle and yielding mood. He directed her
steps from the piazza to a somewhat distant summer-house, and her
reluctance was a shy half revolt, which only emphasized the natural
meaning of her unspoken consent.

Mrs. Muir was still keeping her eyes open, and from her window saw
them pass under the shadow of the trees.

At last they were sitting alone in the summer night. Graydon felt that
words were scarcely needed--that his manner had spoken unequivocally,
and that hers had granted all; but he took her hand and looked
earnestly into her downcast face. "Oh, Stella--" he began.

A twig snapped in the adjacent grove. She sprang up. "Hush, Graydon,"
she whispered; "not yet. Please trust me. Oh, what am I thinking of to
be out so late!--but could not resist. Come;" and she started for the
house.

As they passed in at the door he said, in a low, deep tone, "You
cannot put me off much longer, Stella."

"No, Graydon," she whispered, hurriedly, and hastened to her room.

In his deep feeling he had not heard the suspicious sound in the
grove, and Miss Wildmere's manner was only another expression of the
strong constraint which he believed to be imposed upon her by her
father's financial peril. He felt bitterly disappointed, however.
Although irritated, he was yet rendered more than forgiving by the
apparent truth that she had almost yielded to the impulses of her
heart, in spite of grave considerations--and promises perhaps--to the
contrary.

He was at a loss what to do, yet felt that the present condition of
affairs was becoming intolerable. Almost immediately upon his return
from Europe he had written to Mr. Wildmere for permission to pay his
addresses, and had received a brief and courteous reply. The thought
of again appealing to the father occurred to him, but was speedily
dismissed with unconquerable repugnance. The very fact that this man
compelled his daughter to take such a course made Graydon wish never
to speak to him again. "No," he muttered; "the girl must yield to me,
and cut loose from all her father's shifty ways and associations."

The night was so beautiful, and his thoughts kept him so wakeful, that
he sat in a shadow and watched the moonlight transfiguring the world
into beauty. Before long he heard a step, and a man came from that
end of the piazza which was nearest the summer-house. As he passed
in, Graydon saw that it was Arnault. The quick suspicion came into
his mind, "Could he have been watching?" Then flashed another thought,
"Could she have become aware of his presence, and was this the cause
of her abrupt flight?"

The latter supposition was dismissed indignantly and at once. The
affair was taking on an aspect, however, so intensely disagreeable
that he resolved to write to Miss Wildmere that he would absent
himself until Arnault should disappear below the horizon. He would
then go trouting or take a trip to some other resort. This course
he believed would bring her to a decision, and after their recent
interview he could scarcely doubt its nature.

Before he was aware of it, his thoughts returned to Madge. In fancy he
saw the gray farmhouse on the lonely mountain-side, with a sweet
face at the window, the dark, sympathetic eyes now looking out on
the silent, moonlit landscape, and again at the thin, white face of a
dying girl. "Poor, poor child!" he thought, reverting to the patient.
"Well, for once, at least, she has had a good angel watching over her.
I would like to see Madge's face framed by the open window in this
witching light. Would to Heaven that Stella was more like her! Yet
Stella was beautiful as a dream to-night, and it seemed that my vision
of happiness was on the very eve of fulfilment."

CHAPTER XXVII

MADGE'S STORY

Early in the beautiful morning of the following day Graydon was out
securing a light carriage, for he reasoned that after watching all
night Madge would be too weary to enjoy horseback exercise. He first
called on the doctor, and obtained careful directions as to the
locality of Madge's sojourn. "The best I can do is to go with you
as guide this afternoon to the trout-stream, and then drive back by
moonlight," the doctor added.

Within an hour Graydon reached the cottage, and Madge ran out to
welcome him. "Now, this is kind and thoughtful of you," she said, and
there was unmistakable gladness in her face.

"Dear Madge, you have had a long, dismal night, I fear. I can see it
from the lines under your eyes."

"It has been a sad night, Graydon, yet I am very glad I came, and you
have now rewarded me. The poor girl is sleeping, and I can slip away."

Mr. and Mrs. Wendall parted from her feelingly and gratefully. Madge
promised to come again soon.

For a few moments they drove in silence, and then Madge sighed: "How
young, fresh, and full of beautiful life the world seems this morning!
The contrast with that poor, suffering, dying girl is too great.
Nature often appears strangely indifferent."

"I am not indifferent, Madge. I kept a sort of watch with you for an
hour or two last night in the wee, sma' hours, and tried to imagine
you sitting in just such an open window as I saw there, with the
moonlight on your face; and I thought that the poor girl had one good
angel watching over her. You know I am a man of the world, but an act
of ministry like this touches me closely."

"No, Graydon; not a good angel, but a very human creature was the
watcher."

"Tell me about it--that is, continue the story from the point where
Mary left off;" and he explained about Mrs. Muir's account of the
previous evening.

"Well, you know what a wilful creature I am?" she began, with the
glimmer of a smile.

"Oh, yes; I've learned to understand that feature of your royal
womanhood. You are trying to be a woman, Madge. Well, you are one--the
kind I believe in. See how much faith I have--I believe, yet don't
understand."

"No jesting or compliments this morning, please; I'm too heavy-hearted
for them now."

"You ought to be serene and happy after so kind and good a deed."

"No," she said, decisively; "that sympathy must be superficial which
can pass almost immediately into self-complacency. Oh, Graydon, it is
all so sad, yet not sad; so passing strange, yet as natural and true
as life and death! I did sit for hours just as you imagined, looking
out on the great, still mountains. Never did they seem so vast
and stable, and our life so vapor-like, as when I heard that poor
fluttering breath come and go at my side. There was a time when this
truth grew oppressive; but later on that feeble life, which seemed
but a breath, came to mean something greater and more real than the
mountains themselves. But I am anticipating. As soon as Mary departed
I became as imperious as I dared to be. I saw that the poor mother had
reached about the limit of her endurance, and I arranged the lounge in
the sitting-room, so that she could lie down at once, saying: 'I am a
stranger, and young, and it's not natural that you should be willing
to give up to me too much, nor do I wish you to be far away; yet I
can see just how sorely in need of rest you are. You must finish your
supper, give me your directions, and then lie down and get every bit
of rest you can. I can easily keep awake, and promise to call you
whenever you are needed.'

"'Nancy,' her husband added, 'Miss Alden is right. I see by the way
she takes hold that she'll do everything, and you're jest beat out.'
So between us we had our way.

"'Bless you, miss,' said the man, trying to smile in a way that almost
made me cry, 'I'm as handy as a woman 'bout a kitchen;' and he soon
proved that he was handier than I could have been, for in a few
minutes he pulled up from the well a pail, took out a dressed chicken,
and broiled it to perfection. I made his wife eat some of it, and
saved a little of the breast for poor Tilly, as they call her."

"Did you take any yourself?" interrupted Graydon.

"Oh, yes, indeed! I'm one of those prosaic creatures whose appetite
never fails. If the world were coming to an end to-day I should insist
on having my breakfast."

"Madge," said Graydon, ruefully, "I might as well tell you, for I'm
sure to be found out: I once called you 'lackadaisical.'"

"Oh, I knew that over two years ago! What's more, you were right."

"No; I was not right," he answered, positively. "I should have
recognized the possibilities of your nature then. I did in regard to
your beauty, but not those higher qualities which bid fair to make you
my patron saint."

"Oh, hush, Graydon. Such words only pain me. I don't want your
compliments, and if any man made a patron saint of me I should be so
exasperated that I should probably box his ears. Let us stick to what
is simple, natural, and true, in all our talk."

"You may say what you please, Madge, I see it more clearly every day,
and reproach myself that I did not understand you. I was content to
amuse and pet you, and you naturally did not think me capable of doing
anything more. You went away alone to make as brave a fight as was
ever battled out in this world, and I had no part in helping you.
Mr. and Mrs. Wayland were worth a wilderness of superficial
society-fellows like me. I now know why you did not care to correspond
with me while making your noble effort."

[Illustration: HER LIPS WERE SLIGHTLY PARTED; HER POSE, GRACE ITSELF.]

"Truly, Graydon, your memory and penetration are phenomenal."

"You may disclaim out of kindness now, but I know I am right. You make
my life appear shallow and trivial. What have I done in the last two
years but attend carefully, from habit, to the details of business,
and then amuse myself? And when I wrote I merely sought to amuse you.
What were my flippant letters worth to one who was in earnest?"

"Graydon," said Madge, looking into his eyes with gentle dignity, "you
may do yourself injustice if you will, but you shall not misjudge me.
I have acquired a little of the art of taking care of myself, and you
are doing me a wrong which I cannot permit. I remember everything,
from the time that your kind eyes rested on the pallid, shrinking
child that crept down to the dining-room when we first met, and from
that day to this you have been kind and helpful to me. I said that
I regarded you as one of the best friends I had in the world. Do
you think me insincere? Do you think I forget how kind you were when
society would not have tolerated the ghost I was? I am not one who
forgets and ignores the past--who can go on to new friends with a
frigid shoulder for old ones. Let us end these misunderstandings.
Before the year is out you will probably be engaged, perhaps married.
Our lives will be widely separated. That is inevitable from the nature
of things. But distance and absence can cause no such separation as
results from misunderstanding. If we should not meet again in twenty
years I should be the same loyal friend. Now I've said it, and don't
vex me again by speaking as if I had not said and meant it."

"I can scarcely tell whether your words make me more glad or sad. Each
feeling is deeper than you will ever believe. You certainly give
me the impression that if I marry Stella Wildmere our lives will be
separated."

"You don't take nature, especially woman-nature, into consideration at
all. I am not congenial to Miss Wildmere; she does not like me. It
is nothing against her, but some people are antagonistic. This is
especially true among women, and in this case it is not strange. Our
experiences have been very different. She has ever been a beautiful,
brilliant society-girl. With her at your side you would always be
an object of envy in circles congenial to you, for admiration would
follow her as the light follows day. In the past, you know, I have
not been influenced by society considerations, and in the future they
shall be very secondary. Therefore we of necessity are unlike, and
could never be much company for each other. There is never any use
in trying to ignore the old law of 'like unto like.' I say this in
explanation of what you know is true all the world over. Even
the close ties of kindred often count for little where tastes,
occupations, and habits of thought are diverse. All this is nothing
against your perfect right to please yourself. In this land, thank
Heaven! families and friends cannot yoke people together to pull
forward general and miscellaneous interests."

"You speak as if it were a slight thing when the woman whom a man
marries is merely accepted, tolerated, by his kindred."

"I have not said that, Graydon; I have only said again what I said
before--that a man has a right to please himself. The truth is trite
enough; why recur to it?"

"Gravitation is trite enough, but it often has an acute bearing on
one's experience. You do not like Stella--"

"And she does not like me."

"Very well; but you try to be just to her, and when she has lived a
while in different associations you will find her greatly changed.
I think you can be her close friend in the future. But Henry detests
her, and he is so quietly and obstinately tenacious in his views that
the fact annoys me exceedingly."

"Very well; you can't help that. You will live in different houses,
and your domestic life will be quite removed from business interests."

"Oh, confound Henry! He married to suit himself, so shall I. But,
Madge, dear Madge, you will try to love her--to help her to be more
like you, for my sake?"

At last Madge's laugh rang out merrily. "For mercy's sake, Graydon,
don't ask me to be a missionary to your wife," she cried. "If I
escaped with my eyes I should be lucky. You must think your wife
perfection, and make her think you do. Woe be unto you if you
introduce a female friend and suggest that she should be imitated,
even to the arch of an eyebrow. Oh, no, I thank you! That's a sphere
in which I shouldn't shine at all, and I wouldn't dare attempt it with
any feminine saint in the calendar. Oh, Graydon, what a dear old goose
you are!" and she laughed till the tears came into her eyes. He joined
her in a half vexed way, protesting that she was still as uncanny as a
ghost, although she had lost the aspect of one.

Suddenly she stopped, and tears of sorrow filled her eyes. "Here I
am, laughing at our absurd talk," she said, "when I have just left the
side of a poor girl, no older than myself, who is ghostly indeed in
her flickering life. Is it heartless to seem to forget so soon? Oh,
Graydon, you don't know what trouble is! You have only had vexations
thus far. Let me tell you what happened last night, if only to make
you grateful for your strong, prosperous life."

"Tell me anything you wish. I always have better thoughts and impulses
after being with you."

"Please don't regard me as egotistical, or offend me by thinking I am
trying to be better than others. Why shouldn't I help that poor girl?
We often dance all night for fun; why can't we watch occasionally for
pity? And in simple truth it will be a long time before the ache for
that poor creature will go out of my heart. It came very close home,
Graydon--very close. It brought to mind another girl, who was once
scarcely stronger or better than Tilly Wendall is to-day, but God was
kind. Tilly also has great black eyes, and they do look so large and
pathetic in the wan little face! At first they did not notice me much.
I was only another of the watchers who had come to aid her mother.
It's astonishing how kind these plain country people are to one
another in trouble, and many a housewife in this region has toiled all
day and then sat up with the poor child the livelong night.

"For the first few hours I could do little more than help her move
in her weak restlessness, and give remedies to relieve her incessant
cough. The poor thing seemed neither more nor less than a victim of
disease, that with a cruelty almost malign had tortured her. I can't
explain how this awful impression grew upon me. It was as if viewless,
brutal hands had racked the emaciated form until intelligence was
gone, and then, not content, would continue their vindictive work
while breath remained in the body. As my watch was prolonged this
impression grew into a nightmare of horror. The still house, the
silent, white, beautiful world without, and that frail young girl
tortured hour after hour under my eyes by fever and a convulsive,
incessant, remorseless cough."

She buried her face in her hands, and for a moment or two her voice
was choked with sobs.

"Oh, Madge," cried Graydon, almost fiercely, "you anger me! I would
strangle a man who harmed a hair of such a child's head. How can I
worship a God who sends or permits such a thing? You are braver than
I. I could see a man shot, but I couldn't look upon what you have
described. Yet the picture brings back the moment when we parted--when
you struggled feebly in my arms with a premonition of your almost
mortal weakness, and then sank back white and deathlike. If you had
not made so wise and brave an effort you might have lingered on in
torture like this poor girl. You stood in just that peril, did you
not?"

"I suppose I did."

"Oh, what a clod I was! I used to hear you cough night after night,
and I would mutter, 'Poor Madge!' and go to sleep. To think that you
might have suffered as this girl is suffering! I never realized it
before, yet I thought I did. I can't tell you how my whole nature
rebels at it all, and pious talk about resignation in the presence of
such scenes fairly makes me grind my teeth;" and his brow blackened
like night in his mental revolt, and his eyes were sternly fixed in
honest, indignant arraignment of the Power he did not scruple to defy,
though so impotent to resist.

Madge brushed away her tears, and watched him earnestly for a moment.
In that confused instant she exulted in the strong, generous, kindly
manhood that would not cringe even to omnipotence when apparently
cruel. She said, gently, "Graydon, you are condemning God."

"I can't help it," he began, impetuously, "that is, such a God--"

She put her hand over his mouth.

"I like you better for your words," she continued, "but please don't
talk so any more. Let what you have said apply to 'such a God--' I
know what you mean, but there is no such being in existence. Let me
finish my story. We have had too many interruptions, and this secluded
road has an end. I won't try to explain my faith. What happened may
make it clearer to you. Well, Tilly gradually grew quieter, and at
last slept. The tired mother was sleeping also, and I sat at the
window just as you imagined, my thoughts sad and questioning, to say
the least At last I saw that Tilly was awake, and looking at me with
something like interest and curiosity. I went to her and asked if I
could do anything.

"She said, in her slow, feeble way, 'I thought I knew every one about
here, but I don't remember to have seen you before.'

"Then I told her who I was, and that her mother was in the next room.

"'You are very kind,' she said. 'And you are from the hotel. Isn't it
a little strange?'

"'It should not be,' I replied, and explained how I came to stay,
adding, 'Don't talk any more. You are not strong enough.'

"With a quiet smile that astonished me, she said, 'It won't make any
difference, Miss Alden; I shall never be any better, or, rather, I
shall soon be well. My mind seems growing clearer, and I'd like to
talk a little. It is strange to see a young girl here. Are you strong
and well?'

"'Yes, very strong, and very glad to help your mother take care of
you. I was once almost as ill as you are, yet I got well. Cheer up,
and let us nurse you back to health.'

"She shook her head. 'No, that's now impossible. You come and cheer
poor mother and father, Miss Alden. I am more than cheerful, I am
happy.'

"I made her call me Madge, and said: 'Tell me then in a few words how
you can be happy. My heart has just been aching for you ever since I
came.'

"Perhaps she saw tears in my eyes, for she said, 'Sit down by me.'
Then she took my hand, leaned her cheek upon it, and looked at me with
such a lovely sympathy in her beautiful dark eyes!

"'Yes,' she said, 'I see you are young and strong, and you probably
have wealth and many friends; still I think I am better off than you
are. I am almost home, and you may have long, weary journeying before
you yet. You ask me why I am happy. I'll just give you the negative
reasons: think how much they mean to me--"And there shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more
pain." All these may be taken from my life any hour. Think of what
will be added to it. You believe all this, Madge?'

"'Yes.'

"'Then you must know why I am happy, and why I may be better off than
you are. It will be very hard for father and mother--there will be
more pain for them here in consequence--but soon it will all end
forever; in a little while we shall be together again. So you know
nearly all about poor little me,' she said, with another of her
smiles, which were the sweetest, yet most unearthly things I ever saw.
'And now tell me about yourself. I'm not able to talk much more for
the present. I'd like to know something about the friend who helped
me through the last few steps of my journey. I can think about you in
heaven, you know,' she said, with the sweetest little laugh. 'Don't
look so sad, Madge. They'll tell you I'm gone soon. "Gone where?" ask
yourself, and never grieve a moment.'

"Oh, Graydon, she made it all seem so real, talking there alone in the
night! And it is just as she says or it isn't anything. When you
said, 'Such a God,' you had in mind a theological phantom, and I don't
wonder you felt as you did; but this girl believes in a God who 'so
loved the world'--who so loved her--and I do also. Her pain, her
thwarted young life, I don't understand any more than I do other
phases of evil, but I can give my allegiance to One who came to take
away the evil of the world. That's about all the religion I have, and
you mustn't ever say a word against it.

"Well, there is but little more to tell. Tilly spoke in quiet, broken
sentences as her cough permitted, and I told her a little about myself
and sang to her some hymns that mother sang to me when I was a child.
With the dawn her mother came in, and was frightened at having slept
so long, but Tilly laughed and said it was just splendid.

"She was evidently a very intelligent girl, and must have been a
pretty one, too. She certainly has read a great deal, and has taught
in public schools. There didn't seem to be a trace of morbidness
in her mind or feeling. She was simply trying to make the best of
everything, and her best certainly is _the_ best. She has helped and
comforted me more than I could her."

"Comforted you, Madge?"

"Oh, well," was the somewhat confused reply. "I've had trouble, and
shall have again. Who is without it long in this world?"

"It's almost hard to see how serious trouble can reach you hereafter,
you are so strong, so fortified. No, Madge; I'll never say a word
against your faith or that of your new friend. Would to Heaven I had
it myself! I wouldn't have missed this talk with you for the world,
and you can't know how I appreciate the friendship which has led
you to speak to me frankly of what is so sacred. All the whirl and
pressure of coming life and business shall never blot from my memory
the words you have spoken this morning or the scenes you have made so
real."

If this were true, how infinitely deeper would have been his
impression if he could have seen the beautiful girl, now smiling into
his eyes, bowed in agony at that sick-bed, while she acknowledged with
stifled sobs that the dying girl _was_ better off--far happier than
she who had to face almost the certainty of lifelong disappointment.
Poor Madge had not told Graydon all her story. She would have died
rather than have her secret known on earth, but she had not feared to
breathe it to one on the threshold of heaven.

CHAPTER XXVIII

DISPASSIONATE LOVERS

During the last moments of their drive Madge and Graydon were
comparatively silent. They were passing dwellings, meeting strangers,
and they could not, with the readiness of natures less finely
organized, descend to commonplaces. Each had abundant food for
thought, while even Graydon now believed that he so truly understood
Madge, and had so much in common with her, that words were no longer
needed for companionship.

As they approached the piazza, they saw that Arnault was still Miss
Wildmere's devoted attendant. His presence meant hope for Madge, and
Graydon was slightly surprised at his own indifference. He felt that
the girl to whom he regarded himself as bound belonged to a different
world, a lower plane of life than that of which he had been given a
glimpse. The best elements of his nature had been profoundly moved,
and brought to the surface, and he found them alien to the pair on
the piazza. He was even self-reproachful that he saw with so little
resentment Stella's present companionship.

"While I don't like her course at all," he thought, "I must believe
that she is acting from the most self-sacrificing motives. What
troubles me most now is that I have a growing sense of the narrowness
of her nature."

He had never come from her presence with his manhood aroused to its
depths. It was her beauty that he dwelt upon; her piquant, alluring
tones and gestures. Madge was not an ill-natured critic of the girl
who threatened to destroy her future, but, by being simply what she
was, she made the other shrink and grow common by contrast.

To Graydon such comparisons were odious indeed, and he would not
willingly permit them; but, in conformity to mental laws and the force
of circumstances, they would present themselves. Each day had found
him in the society of the two girls, and even an hour like one of
those just passed compelled him to feel the superiority of Madge. His
best hope already for Stella was that she would change when surrounded
by better influences--that her faultless taste in externals would
eventually create repugnance to modes of thought and action unsuitable
in a higher plane of life. He did not question his love for her,
but he felt this morning that it was a love which was becoming
disenchanted early, and into which the elements of patience and
tolerance might have to enter largely. Should he marry her to-day he
could not, as Madge had said, and with the first glow of affection,
believe her perfect. He even sighed as he thought of the future.

His heart was very tender toward Madge, but it was with an affection
that seemed to him partly fraternal, and partly a regard for one
different, better, purer than himself. He proved the essential
fineness, the capabilities of his nature, by his appreciation of some
of her higher traits. Her ministry to the dying girl had given her
a sacredness in his eyes. For the time she was becoming a sort of
religion to him. He revealed this attitude of mind to her by a gentle
manner, and a tone of respect and consideration in the least thing he
said.

"Oh," thought the poor girl, "he could be so much to me and I to him!
His touch, even in thought, would never be coarse and unfeeling; and
I have seen again and again that I can inspire him, move him, and make
him happy. Why must a wretched blunder thwart and blight two lives?"

Before they had finished their breakfast the beautiful languor of
sleep was again in his companion's eyes, and he said: "Dear Madge,
promise me you will take a long rest. Before we part I want to tell
you what an illumined page you have put in my memory this morning.
Some of the shadows in the picture are very dark, but there is also a
light in it that 'never was on sea or land.' When you wake I shall be
on my way to the trout-stream to which Dr. Sommers will guide me; and,
do you know? I feel as if my memories will be in accord with the scene
of my camping-ground. As I sit in my tent-door to-night I shall think
over all you have said and described."

Her only answer was a smile, that for some reason quickened his pulse.

Much occurred before they met again.

He went to his room, wrote some letters, and made other preparations.
Then, feeling that he should give the remaining time before his
departure to Miss Wildmere, he sought her. She appeared to be waiting
for him on the piazza, and there was reproach in her tone, as she
said, "I half feared you were going without bidding me good-by."

"Such fears were scarcely just to me."

"I did not know but that you had so greatly enjoyed your morning drive
as to go away in a fit of absent-mindedness. I have been sitting here
alone an hour."

"I could not know that. When I drove up I saw that I should be _de
trop_," he replied, as they sauntered to an adjacent grove.

"Now, Graydon, you know that is never true, so far as I am concerned."

"The trouble is, Miss Wildmere, others are concerned in such a way
that the only resource left me is to keep my distance."

"Mr. Arnault has returned to the city," she said, with what appeared a
great sigh of relief. "I am perfectly free now."

"Till Mr. Arnault returns."

"I cannot help his return."

"Oh, no. I do not question his right to come back, or even to buy this
hotel and turn us all out."

"Please don't talk about him any more. I'm doing the best I can."

"I believe you think so, but I cannot think it will prove the best for
any one. It is not what I expected or even imagined. You are acting
from a mistaken sense of duty, and I am more sorry every day that
you can commit such an error. Look at it in its true light, Stella. I
cannot believe you are deceiving me: you must be leading Mr. Arnault
to entertain a false hope."

"Graydon, I have refused Mr. Arnault, and he will take no refusal."

"You can refuse him in such a way that he must take it at once and
forever."

"You don't know--" she began, tears coming into her eyes.

"No; you have only led me to surmise a great deal by implication."

"What would become of mamma and my little sister if papa should fail
utterly?" and tears came faster. No one could be more pathetic than
Miss Wildmere when she chose.

"Can you not trust me for them as well as for yourself?"

"Oh, Mr. Muir, I know you mean most generously and kindly, but papa is
so anxious and fearful! He tries to keep up before others, but I know
how he feels, and it's terrible. He is past middle age, and business
success means very much to him. How can I do anything to harm him? I
know so little about business and its perils, while papa thinks
there may be terrible dangers ahead for every one. You might have the
good-will to help us and yet soon be scarcely able to help yourself.
I have been made to feel that the best I could do through these
troublous times was to try to aid papa as far as possible, and then I
shouldn't have anything with which to reproach myself."

Graydon was perplexed. Apparently she was doing wrong in the most
self-sacrificing spirit, and believed that doing right, which would
end her abnegation, was wrong and selfish.

While he hesitated, she resumed: "You see, Graydon, papa has the same
as said that Mr. Arnault was tiding him over until he could realize
on securities now of little value. Of course there has been no
compromising understanding in words--do not think us capable of that.
It would cut me to the heart to have you misjudge me or condemn me. I
will give you the highest proof I can of my--my--esteem by being frank
on a delicate subject, so that you can see how I am placed. I don't
think many young ladies would do as much. Of course what I say is
sacred between us. Mr. Arnault offered himself long since, and I
promptly declined the honor, but he laughingly told me he would take
no refusal, and chatted through the rest of the evening as pleasantly
as if nothing had happened. I have virtually refused him several times
since, but he persists, declaring that he will remain an agreeable
friend until I change my mind. Surely, I am not misleading him. I
do like him as a friend, and he knows that I have for him no other
regard, and never had. Before you came he had begun to help papa, and
to throw business in his way, and just now he is rendering him very
great service. He may do this in the hope of influencing me, but he
gives his aid without conditions. Yet I know him well enough to be
sure that he would withdraw this business help should I now harshly
dismiss him or engage myself to another. While I do show him that I
appreciate his kindness, I do nothing to indicate that my feeling is
changed. He must know that I regard him in the same light as in the
past. If he is content with this, I have asked myself why I should
be precipitate--why alienate him now in the very crisis of papa's
affairs. Of course if I had only myself to think of--I've been foolish
enough to think that I might help papa and still be happy in the end.
Am I so very naughty, Graydon?"

He was at a loss how to answer her, but felt that he must at once
disabuse her mind of one expectation.

"I admit, Stella," he said, thoughtfully, "that you are peculiarly
placed, and I thank you for making clearer what I had partially
surmised. While I admire and respect the motive, I must still repeat
that I regret beyond all words such action in one who is so much
to me. It is right also that I should define my own position more
clearly. I will imitate your generous frankness. You know how greatly
I admired you before I first went abroad; and while I felt that there
was little chance for me, you being sought by so many, I did not give
up hope. This hope was strengthened by my visit last summer, and when
I returned and found you free a few weeks since I determined to win
you if I could. You know I would have spoken before had you permitted.
I have for some little time felt myself irrevocably bound by what has
passed between us. I also believed that you would eventually give me
a full explanation in regard to Mr. Arnault, and that his attentions
would cease. As to my not being able to take care of you, that is
absurd. I am not wealthy yet, but few young men in the city have
better prospects. My brother's business is large and profitable, and I
am soon to share in it. I could not, from the nature of things, enter
into business relations with your father--I should not be at the head
of the firm--but neither you nor yours should ever want. As to
my brother, he is in no financial danger whatever. He has a large
fortune, and is conservatism itself. If you are placed in an
embarrassing position, I am also. Arnault's manner is not that of a
friend. Others misjudge you and me also. It looks to the people here,
and to my own family, as if you were playing with us both.

"Moreover," he continued, after a moment's thought, "you are drifting
into a false relation with Arnault, although you may not be conscious
of it. Before these troubles began you simply tolerated his attentions
good-naturedly, and without any special motive. Now you have a
definite motive and purpose, and--pardon me, Stella--they are
misleading him. He would not continue his attentions an hour, did
he believe they were utterly hopeless. To Arnault and all others you
appear undecided between him and myself. Such an experiment as you are
trying cannot work well. If he has any other power beyond that of your
maidenly preference, he will not hesitate to increase it, and may make
your father more utterly dependent upon him while appearing helpful."

"Yes; I have thought of that," she said, musingly.

"There seems to me but one straightforward, high-toned thing for you
to do, Stella, and that is to follow your heart."

He was almost frightened at himself that he spoke with so little
eagerness and longing. His words seemed but the honorable and logical
sequence of what had gone before. For some reason this girl in the
broad light of day did not appear to be the same as when she had
fascinated him in the witching moonlight the evening before. It was
not that her beauty had gone with the glamour of the night, but he
had been breathing a different and a purer atmosphere. Madge had been
revealing what to him seemed ideal womanhood.

In regard to Stella his illusion had so far passed that he thought,
consciously, "Even at her best she is presenting Wildmere traits; her
very self-sacrifice takes on a Wildmere form, and there is a flavor of
Wall Street in it all."

But he still believed that he loved her, and that, if she was equal to
such great though mistaken self-sacrifice for her father, she would,
under his influence, throw off certain imperfections and gain a better
tone.

That such thoughts were passing through his mind was a bad omen for
the continuance of Miss Wildmere's power, and yet the opportunity of
her life was still hers. She had simply to put her hand into his with
a look of trust, and abide by the act, to secure a loyalty that would
always have tried to promote her best interests. That she was strongly
tempted to do this was proved by her manner, in spite of the fact that
she had promised Arnault not to decide against him before Saturday.

It was a moment of indecision. His strong assurance that he was
abundantly able to take care of her, that Mr. Muir was wealthy and
free from financial embarrassment, almost turned the scale. She felt
that both Arnault and her father were deceiving her for their own
purposes, and she had little hesitation in acting for herself
without regard to them. Graydon's suggestion that her action was not
high-toned, although delicately made, touched her pride to the quick,
and she was compelled to feel during this interview, as never before,
the superiority of the man who addressed her. She longed to force
Henry Muir to acknowledge the daughter of the man he shunned in
business; and not the least among her incentives was the thought of
triumphing over Madge as a possible rival.

"At any rate," she had thought, "if I become engaged to Graydon he
will have to be very much less fraternal. As to his not aiding papa,"
she concluded, "I can't help that. When once married I could make him
do all he could afford, and papa and mamma have no right to expect
anything more."

To the potency of all these considerations was added a sentiment for
the man who awaited her answer, and who chafed inwardly that it was so
long in coming.

"Truly," he thought, "this is a strange wooing. Henry himself
could not more carefully weigh the _pros_ and _cons_ than does she
apparently, nor am I in feverish suspense. I had hoped for something
different in my mating."

A glimmering perception that her manner was not calculated to inspire
a lover at last dawned on Miss Wildmere, and with it came a faltering
purpose to decide in favor of Graydon at once; but as she turned
toward him, to speak with what was meant to be a bewildering smile of
joy, a messenger from the office said, "A telegram, miss."

Graydon frowned, and then laughed outright. She stopped in the very
act of tearing open the envelope, and looked at him inquiringly.

"Oh, nothing," he said, lightly. "The opportuneness of that fellow's
coming was phenomenal. How much longer am I to wait for your decision,
Stella? Were the world in our secret, I should be known as St. Graydon
the patient."

She flushed, but adopted his apparently light mood as the least
embarrassing. "My memory is good, and I shall know how to reward you,"
she smilingly replied. "Please let me satisfy my mind about papa, for
I'm sure it's from him."

"Oh, satisfy your _mind_ fully about everything, Miss Wildmere."

She tore open the envelope with a strong gesture of impatience, and
read, with a suddenly paling cheek, "Unless you choose the immediate
certainty of absolute loss, wait till I see you. Will come soon.
Wildmere."

She crushed the telegram in her hand, and turned away with a
half-tragic air which at the moment struck Graydon as a little
"stagy," and then he condemned himself for the thought. As she did not
speak for a moment, he said, sympathetically, "Your tidings are bad?"

She tried to think, but was confused, and felt that she was in a cruel
dilemma. Could Graydon be deceiving her? or was he as ignorant as he
seemed of his brother's peril? Was her father in league with Arnault
after all? and were they uniting to separate her from Graydon? She
could not tell. She must gain more time. She would see her father,
charge him with duplicity, and wring the truth from him.

When she turned to Graydon her eyes were full of tears again, and she
faltered: "You may despise me if you will, but my father has made an
appeal to me, and is coming to see me. I must hear what he has to say.
I must tell him that I can't endure--that I can't go on this way any
longer. I would gladly help him, save him, but after what you have
said it's impossible to--Oh, was ever a girl placed in such wretched
straits! Graydon, can you be patient a little longer?"

"There is nothing else for me to do, Stella. I only stipulate
that your decision be made speedily, and that Arnault be given to
understand what my rights are. I shall have no difficulty in enforcing
them."

"I shall decide speedily. It is not right that I should be placed in
such a torturing, humiliating position."

"Now I agree with you perfectly. When does your father come?"

"He says 'soon.'"

"Very well; I will return on Saturday."

"I wish you wouldn't go away now," she entreated.

"I think it is best," replied Graydon, decisively, yet kindly. "I
have said all that is possible to an honorable man. By remaining I am
placed in an anomalous position which my self-respect does not permit
any longer."

"I suppose," she sighed, "that I should not ask too much. Well, so be
it, then."

They walked back to the house in silence. At the door of a side
entrance she turned to him, her face flushing at the admission, and
said, hastily, "I waited a long time for you, Graydon," and then fled
to her room.

"Oh, confound it!" he muttered, as he walked away. "What a muddle it
all is! I ought to feel like strangling myself for permitting this
doubting, cynical spirit to creep over me. Curse it all! her words and
manner haven't the ring of absolute truth. It seems as if I heard a
voice in the very depths of my soul, saying, 'Beware!' Am I becoming
an imbecile? I doubted and misjudged Madge. Thank Heaven that is past
forever! Now I am doubting and misjudging the woman I have asked to
be my wife. I must be misjudging her--the alternative is horrible.
I can't escape one conviction, however. It is turning out just as I
expected and told her it would. Arnault's aid to her father has been
delusive, and Wildmere is deeper in the mire than ever. This is a fine
ending of my social career! The girl of my choice puts me off until
she can end this Wall Street business more satisfactorily. She must
wait and hear her father's reasons for further diplomacy before she
can answer me. If Henry knew all this--But Madge, crystal Madge, won't
repeat what I said. I must risk the loss of her society also. Has
her keen insight into character enabled her to detect these Wildmere
traits, and is this the cause of her antipathy? How simply she said 'I
couldn't do'--what Stella has accomplished with so much skill that the
gossips in the house are in honest doubt as to her choice, or whether,
indeed, she proposes to accept either Arnault or myself. Well, well,
I'll wait till she has had this interview with her father, and then
she must either decide for me and against such tactics forever,
or else she can wear my scalp in her belt with those of the other
unfortunates."

In an hour he was on the road with Dr. Sommers to a wild and secluded
valley.

CHAPTER XXIX

THE ENEMIES' PLANS

It has been shown that Arnault believed the decisive period to have
come that would see the success or failure of his "operation" in
the Catskills. Keen, penetrating, he had comprehended the situation
clearly. He knew that Stella wished to accept Graydon, and was held in
check by financial considerations only. He had seen her manner during
the preceding moonlight evening, and with intense anger had observed
from a neighboring grove the episode in the summer-house. The twig had
not casually parted under his step, but had been snapped between his
fingers. Stella's quick alarm and flight had revealed the continuance
of his hold upon her fears, if not her heart. From that moment he
dismissed all indecision. In bitterness he realized that his prolonged
stay in the mountains had not advanced his interests. He had hoped
to win the girl by devotion, keeping financial pressure in the
background; she had been only suave, agreeable, and elusive. He had
told her that he expected her decision by Saturday evening; she had
merely bowed in a non-committal way. Meanwhile it was evident that if
the Muirs kept up, apparently retaining the power to pass unscathed to
better times, she would prolong her hesitancy, and in the end accept
Graydon. He determined, therefore, to see her first, then her father,
and to call in his loan immediately.

While Graydon and Madge were returning next morning from the lonely
farmhouse Arnault was breakfasting at the hotel. He appeared in
excellent spirits. Miss Wildmere's alert observation could not detect
from his manner his knowledge of the fact that she had been on the
point of yielding to Graydon the evening before. He was full of
gallant courtesy toward her, and every glance and word expressed
admiration. This was always the breath of life to her, and while
it had ceased to give positive pleasure, its absence was like
uncomfortable weather.

After the meal was over he led her to the same summer-house in which
Graydon had almost spoken words endowed with a lover's warmth and
eagerness.

"Stella," he said, "I shall go to town on the ten-o'clock train."

"I supposed you had concluded to remain all the week," she replied.

"No; very important interests call me to the city, much to my regret.
You only bowed when I requested that I should receive a final answer
before the close of this week. I shall return Saturday. Will you end
my suspense within this time?"

She was silent.

"Will you make me another promise, then? Will you remain free this
week? If you will not bind yourself to me, will you promise that
no one else shall have a claim upon you until the time specified
expires?"

After some hesitation she said, "Yes, I will promise that."

"Please do so, and you will not regret it," was his quiet response.

"I am not so eager to be bound that I cannot promise so much."

"Very well then, I am content for the present;" and he changed the
subject.

They soon returned to the piazza, and Arnault employed his utmost
effort to be agreeable during the brief time remaining.

Earlier in the week he had written Mr. Wildmere a letter, in
consequence of which the momentous telegram had restrained the
daughter at the critical moment already mentioned.

When Madge came down to a late dinner she saw that Arnault had
disappeared from the Wildmere table, and that the belle was already
a victim of _ennui_ in the absence of both gentlemen. During the
afternoon Mrs. Muir was eager to gossip a little over the aspect of
affairs, but soon found that Madge would do scarcely more than listen.

"I don't understand that Miss Wildmere at all," said the elder
sister; "late last evening she went to yonder summer-house, hanging on
Graydon's arm as if they were engaged or married, and now he's gone to
be absent several days. This morning she was there again with Arnault,
and he wasn't talking about the weather, either. Now he's gone also.
Before Graydon went she had another long interview with him while you
were asleep. Good gracious! what is she aiming at? Young men were not
so patient in my day or in our village; and quiet as Henry appears,
he wouldn't play second string to a bow as Graydon does. When Miss
Wildmere first came I thought it was about settled, and I tried to be
polite to one whom I thought we should soon have to receive. Now it's
a sort of neck-and-neck race between the two men. If Graydon wins, how
shall you treat Miss Wildmere?"

"Politely for Graydon's sake, of course."

"Whose chances are best?"

"Graydon's."

"Do you think she loves him?"

"Yes, as far as she can love any one.'

"Why, Madge, what do you mean?"

"She could not love as we should; she doesn't know what the word
means. If she did she wouldn't hesitate."

"You think Henry's opinion of her is correct, then?"

"I think he's right usually. Miss Wildmere is devoted to one
being--herself."

"Why, Madge, it would be dreadful to have Graydon marry such a girl!"

"Graydon is not Harry Muir. He attained his majority some years
since."

"He certainly is old enough to show more spirit. Well, I don't
understand her tactics, but such belles, I suppose, are a law unto
themselves."

"Don't let us gossip about her any more. If Graydon becomes engaged
there is only one thing for us to do. Miss Wildmere has made herself
disagreeable to me in many little nameless ways, and we never could be
friends, but I shall not give Graydon cause for just complaint. If he
asks me to see her with his eyes, I shall laugh at him and decline."

"They shall never live with us," said Mrs. Muir, emphatically. "I know
I'm not a brilliant and accomplished woman, but I have always made
home a place of rest and comfort for Henry, and I intend it always
shall be just such a refuge. He is nervous and uncomfortable whenever
that girl comes near him. Some people can't get on together at all.
I am so glad that he likes you! He says you are one that a man could
depend upon in all sorts of weather."

"We'll see; but I like Santa Barbara weather, which is usually
serene."

"Oh, Madge, you'll not go there again?"

"Yes, I shall probably make it my home. I should never keep my health
in the East, and I should dread a winter in New York more than I can
tell you."

"Well," said Mrs. Muir, discontentedly, "I suppose you will have your
own way in everything hereafter; but I think you might at least try to
spend a winter with us."

"If there were cause I would, Mary, but you are happy in your home,
and I am not greatly needed. In my Western home I feel I can get the
most out of life, just as you are getting the most out of yours. I
should suffer from my old troubles in New York." This statement was
true enough to both ladies, although a very prosaic impression was
conveyed to Mrs. Muir's mind.

To Madge, Graydon's absence contained a strong element of hope. He
would not have gone away if all had been settled between him and Miss
Wildmere, and, as Mary had said, there appeared stronger evidence of
uncertainty now than at first. Graydon had seen Miss Wildmere, and she
evidently had not finally dismissed Arnault.

Madge indulged in no idle brooding, however, and by activity every
hour in the day, passed the time bravely. One of her boy admirers had
a horse, and became her escort on long excursions; and with Mrs. Muir
she went to see Tilly Wendall again on Friday morning. The poor girl
was very weak indeed, and could do little more than smile her welcome.
Madge promised to spend Sunday night with her. She would have come
before, but Graydon had told her that he might return Friday evening,
and as a storm was threatening she thought it probable that he would
hasten back to avoid it. She believed that there was still hope for
her, and determined that she should never have cause in the future to
reproach herself with lost opportunities. There was no imperative call
of duty to her sick friend, for Mrs. Wendall said that two or three
neighbors had lately offered their services.

Mrs. Muir was gladdened on her return to the hotel by a telegram from
her husband, saying that he would arrive on the late train and spend
Saturday with her. She and Madge sat down to dinner in a cheerful
mood, which evidently was not shared by Miss Wildmere.

That brilliant young woman, although she made herself the centre of
all things as far as possible, was a victim of poverty when thrown
upon her own resources. Madge detected her in suppressed yawns, and
had noted that she had apparently done little else than read novels
since parting with the two men who were metaphorically at her feet.
Since the telegram she had not received a word from her father or any
one, and was inwardly chafing at the dead calm that had followed her
exciting experiences. She did not misinterpret the deceptive peace,
however, and knew that on the morrow she must decide what even she
regarded as the most momentous question of life. Persons under the
dominion of pure selfishness escape many perplexities, however, and
she was prone to take short cuts to desired ends. Ready to practice
deceit herself, she became more strongly impressed that her father
and Arnault were misleading her. Therefore she impatiently awaited the
former's appearance, that she might tax him with duplicity. Unless he
had something stronger than vague surmises to offer, she intended on
the morrow to promise Graydon Muir to be his wife.

As has been seen, Wildmere had too much conscience to try to sell his
daughter outright, but since she was in a mood for a bargain he had
insured the possibility of one remarkably good in his estimation, and
was now on his way with very definite offers and statements indeed.

In the late afternoon Madge was speaking about a book to an
acquaintance who said, "Go up to my room and get it."

Madge was not sure whether she cared to read the book or not, and sat
down to examine it. Suddenly she heard distinctly the words, "I don't
believe Henry Muir is in danger of failure. Graydon scouted the idea.
You and Arnault are seeking to mislead me."

Madge then remembered that the next room was occupied by Miss
Wildmere, and her first impulse was to make a noise, that the
proximity of some one might be known, but like a flash came the
thought, "Chance may have put me in the way of getting information of
vital importance to Henry;" and the next sentence spoken assured her
that this was true, for she heard a voice which she recognized as Mr.
Wildmere's say:

"In all human probability Muir will be compelled to suspend to-morrow.
Mr. Arnault has placed in his hands a call loan. You know what that
is. Arnault is so alarmed about Muir's condition that he will demand
the money in the morning, and I am perfectly satisfied that Muir can't
raise it. You know enough about business to be aware of what will
happen if he cannot. Such is the market now that if Muir goes down
he will be cleaned out utterly, and Graydon will have to begin at the
bottom like any other young man without resources. Of course, Arnault
cannot afford to lose the money, and must act like any other business
man.

"But he did not send me here to tell you this. As his broker I know
about it, and tell you of my own accord. This is what he did authorize
me to say to you. Had not business interests, which have already
suffered from his devotion to you, prevented, he would be here now
to make the offer in person. He says that he will settle upon you one
hundred thousand dollars in your own right the day you marry him, and
also give you an elegant home in the city. Now what is your answer?"

"When Henry Muir fails I'll believe all this," was the sullen reply.

"Be careful, Stella. Devoted as Arnault is he is not a man to be
trifled with. He has made you a munificent offer, but if you show this
kind of spirit he is just the one to withdraw at once and forever.
If you love Graydon Muir well enough to share his poverty, I have
not another word to say, although I shall be homeless myself in
consequence."

"Nonsense, papa! You have been on the eve of ruin more times than I
can remember. Graydon assured me that he was abundantly able to take
care of me, and that his brother was in no danger. I can have all the
elegance I want and still follow my own inclination. If Henry Muir
fails, of course that ends the matter; and if he is to fail to-morrow
it will be time enough to give Mr. Arnault my answer to-morrow night,
as he asked that I would. If I give him a favorable one I prefer to do
it in person, for I don't wish to appear mercenary. You, I hope, have
the sense to keep this phase out of view."

"Oh, certainly. Such high-minded people as we are should not be
misjudged," was the bitter reply.

"One has to take the world as it is, and one soon learns that all are
looking after their own interests," was the cynical reply.

"A beautiful sentiment for one so young! Well, I must return to the
city to-night, and I cannot take your acceptance of Mr. Arnault's
offer?"

"No. I will give my answer in person to-morrow night. I can either
accede in a way that will please him, or decline in a manner that
will keep his friendship. I suppose you believe what you say about
Mr. Muir, but I am sure you are mistaken, and I have set my heart on
marrying Graydon."

"Your heart?" satirically.

She made no answer.

"You are taking no slight risk," he resumed, after a moment.

"Either Arnault is misleading you, or Graydon is deceiving me, and I
would believe him in preference to Arnault any day. I won't be duped."

"But I tell you, Stella, that under the circumstances Graydon's
ignorance is not at all strange. He has been absent; he is not in
the firm; and what is swamping Muir is an investment outside of his
regular business."

"You yourself said within a month that if Henry Muir went through this
business crisis he would represent one of the strongest and wealthiest
houses in the country. If he is in the danger you assert, the fact
will soon be manifested. Mr. Arnault has requested my answer to-morrow
night. I have not promised to give it; I have only promised him not to
accept Graydon in the meantime."

"The fact that Mr. Arnault is helping me so greatly counts for
nothing, I suppose."

"Oh, yes; I appreciate it very much, but not enough to marry him
unless I must. I am literally following your advice--to choose between
these two men. I shall convey to Mr. Arnault the impression that I
am deeply moved by the generosity of his offer. I am. Girls don't
get such offers every day. You can show him that the very fact of my
hesitation proves that I am not mercenary; or I can, when I see him.
At the same time I am not at all satisfied that Graydon Muir's offer
is not a better one, and it is certainly more to my mind--if you
don't like the word heart. This fact, however, may as well not be
mentioned."

After some moments' hesitation he said, slowly: "Very well, then. You
are my daughter, although a strange one, and I shall do as well for
you as I can."

"Yes, please. I parted with sentiment long ago, but I can do well by
those who do well by me. I shall soon be off your hands, and then you
won't have me to worry about."

He made no response, and Madge heard his step pass into his wife's
room. A moment later Miss Wildmere also departed, and her voice was
soon heard on the piazza. The conversation had been carried on in a
comparatively low tone, and some words had been lost, but those heard
made the sense given above. Circumstances had favored Madge. The
open window at which she was sitting was near the next window in Miss
Wildmere's room, and within two or three feet there was the customary
thin-panelled door which enables the proprietor to throw rooms
together, as required, for the accommodation of families. Therefore,
without moving or volition on her part information vital to her
relatives had been brought to her knowledge. She was perfectly
overwhelmed at first, and sat as if stunned, her cheeks scarlet with
shame for the act of listening, even while she felt that for the sake
of the innocent and unsuspecting, to whom she owed loyalty and love,
it was right. Soon, however, came the impulse to seek the refuge of
her own room and think of what must be done. She stepped lightly to
the outer door; there was no sound in the corridor, and with all the
composure she could assume she passed quietly out and gained her own
apartment unobserved.

CHAPTER XXX

THE STRONG MAN UNMANNED

Madge locked her doors, bathed her hot face, then paced her room in
great agitation, feeling that not only her own happiness was in peril,
but Graydon's also. Her mental distress was greatly enhanced by a
feeling that in order to save her relatives she herself had been
guilty of what to her sensitive nature appeared almost like a crime.
"Was it right?" she asked herself again and again, and at last reached
the conclusion that the fealty she owed to her relatives and to the
man she loved justified her course--that she should shield them even
at such cost to herself. "It was not curiosity that kept me passive,"
she thought, "but the hope, the chance to save Henry from financial
ruin and Graydon from far worse disaster." It would indeed be
"horrible" for any true man to marry such a girl; and to permit the
man she loved to make such a fatal blunder was simply monstrous. Yet
how could she prevent it without doing violence to every maidenly
principle of her nature?

Should she tell her sister? This impulse passed almost instantly. Mary
had not the tact, nerve, or reticence to meet such an emergency. It
seemed, however, that if something was not done almost immediately
this callous, selfish girl would cause lifelong wretchedness to
Graydon as certainly as to Madge herself. Such a nature could not long
maintain its disguise, and probably would not be at pains to do so
after marriage. The self-sacrifice that she had led Graydon to believe
in was all deceit. It was self with her, first and last; it would be
self always. Madge knew Graydon well enough to be sure that to him,
when his illusions were dissipated, the marriage vow would become a
chain growing heavier with time.

This absolutely certain phase of the danger was so terrible that at
first it almost completely dominated her thoughts. "Oh," she moaned,
"I could see him marry a woman who would make him happy, and yet
survive, but this would be worse than death!"

As she became more calm and could think connectedly, her mind reverted
to what had been said about Henry's financial peril; and while she was
inclined to take the same view as Miss Wildmere, she soon began to see
that her brother-in-law should be informed of all references to him.
Then the impression grew upon her that it would be wisest to tell him
all, and let him save his brother, if possible, from a fate infinitely
worse than lifelong poverty. Would this involve the disclosure to Mr.
Muir of her secret? Sometimes she thought that he half suspected her
already, and she feared that she could scarcely speak of a subject
that touched her heart's interests so closely without revealing to
those keen gray eyes more than she would have them see. But the risk
must be taken to save Graydon.

"Can it be?" she said, after musing awhile, "that Henry is in any
such danger as that man asserted, or was it a trumped-up scheme to
influence the girl? Still, he did say that if she would choose Graydon
and poverty he would not interpose. Poverty! I would welcome bondage
and chains with Graydon. I would almost welcome Henry's failure, that
I might prove to them my devotion. Every penny of my fortune should
be theirs. Henry has looked very anxious and troubled sometimes when
thinking himself unobserved. He keeps everything to himself so--"

Suddenly she sprang up with a flash of joy in her face, and whispered
to herself, excitedly: "Suppose there is truth in what was said by
those speculators. I have a fortune, and it's my own. Henry said it
was so left to me that I could control it after I was eighteen. I can
lend Henry the money to pay Arnault. I will give him every penny I
possess to carry him safely through. Oh, I am so glad he is coming
to-night!"

"Come down to supper," called Mrs. Muir.

"Why, Madge," exclaimed the lady, as they sat down under the light of
the chandelier, "how flushed you are! And your eyes fairly beam with
excitement. I half believe you are feverish."

"Nonsense! No doses for me now; milk and beefsteak are my remedies.
I've been dwelling on some scenes partly imaginary, and you know how
wrought-up I get."

"Oh, yes; now I remember, you asked Miss Thompson for a book, and went
for it to her room. Of course that was the last seen of you. I never
could get so carried away by a story."

"I haven't your even disposition, Mary."

"Miss Wildmere looks brilliant to-night, also. And if there isn't her
father! This is the first time I've seen him up during the week. Well,
I'm glad to see that his daughter can wake up a little for his sake, a
well as for some other man."

Madge looked at her with mingled curiosity and repugnance. "Horrid
little monster!" she thought. "Now she is performing her filial act.
As her father said, 'such high-toned people should not be misjudged.'"

"I think you dislike her worse than Henry does," said Mrs. Muir, with
a low laugh. "You look at her as if she were a snake."

"She is not a girl after my heart," Madge replied, carelessly; then
added, under her breath, "She's a vampire, but she shan't drain
Graydon's life-blood."

Miss Wildmere was certainly in a genial mood. The munificent offer
received from Mr. Arnault had enhanced her self-appreciation, and she
felt that she had met it with rare nerve and sagacity. She had not
shown herself dazzled like a village girl, and eager to grasp the
prize. Moreover, she had thought, with proud complacency: "The man who
can offer so much is not going to give me up, even should I keep him
waiting months longer. I still believe that Graydon can give me all
I want at present, and at the same time a position in society which
Arnault could never attain, though worth millions. Arnault is on top
of the wave now, but he is a speculator, like papa, and I'm sick
of these Wall Street ups and downs. I believe in Henry Muir's
conservatism. Because he is keeping quiet now they think he is going
to fail. He is just the kind of man to be five times as rich as people
think. Graydon will succeed to his business and business methods, and
will not only make an immense fortune, but keep it. Papa has given
me the test of all these gloomy warnings. If Henry Muir does not fail
to-morrow, I won't believe a word of all that's been said. If he does,
I'll do the next best thing, and take Arnault. No tenement-house for
me, thank you. I've not been in society so long as not to make the
most of my chances;" and under the inspiration of thoughts like these
Miss Wildmere condescended to be affable to her parents, and to smile
upon the world in general.

Madge Alden was an exception, however, and for her she had only a
frown as she looked across the room at the young girl and saw the
admiration and friendly regard that were so freely bestowed upon her.
As was inevitable, the selfish spirit of one girl had repelled and the
kindly nature of the other had attracted good-will. Human instinct is
quick to recognize the tax-gatherers of society--the people who are
ever exacting, yet give little except slights, wounds, and criticism.

"Oh," thought Miss Wildmere, "if I can only marry Graydon and snub
that girl unmercifully I shall be perfectly happy!"

The late train would not arrive before nine o'clock, and Madge
determined to go down in the stage to meet Mr. Muir. In the meantime
her quick mind was coping with the emergency. She had often heard
it said that in times of financial uncertainty an air of the utmost
confidence should be maintained. Therefore she drew her sister into
the parlor, and managed to place her in a lively and congenial group
of ladies. Mrs. Muir herself was happy in the thought of soon seeing
her husband, and appeared cheerfulness embodied.

Miss Wildmere saw her laughing and chatting with such unforced
geniality that she muttered: "It's perfectly absurd to imagine that
her husband is on the eve of bankruptcy. Even if he tried he couldn't
keep such trouble utterly from his wife, and I've seen enough of
people to be sure she does not dream of danger. The best people of the
house are ever around her and that Madge Alden. Unless papa returns
to-morrow night with predictions confirmed, the Muirs will have to
admit me hereafter into their charmed circle. 'Sister Madge' looks
also as if something keyed her up tremendously. Perhaps she is
thinking that Graydon will return to-morrow to be her escort on long
rides again. I'll soon put a spoke in that wheel, my proud minx. In a
few hours you may wear a very different expression."

When the two girls met, however, they were scrupulously polite; but
Madge took such pains to make these occasions rare that Miss Wildmere
perceived the avoidance, and her vindictive feeling was intensified.
Madge saw one or two of her dark looks, but only thought, "I shall now
take a part in your cruel game, and it may not end as you imagine."
She danced and laughed as if not a care weighed upon her mind.

When the hour arrived for the stage to meet the train she slipped
away, wrapped herself in a cloak, and said to the driver that she was
going to meet a relative. The train, was on time, and Mr. Muir, with
others who were strangers, entered the stage.

"Why, Madge!" he exclaimed; "you here? This certainly is very kind."

They sat a little apart, and she whispered: "Don't show any surprise
at this or anything else to-night. I have something to tell you, and
you must manage to give me a private interview without any one knowing
it--not even Mary at present."

"It's about Graydon," he said, anxiously.

"It's chiefly about yourself. I've heard something." She took his hand
in the darkness, and felt it tremble. "You know how to keep cool and
disguise your feelings," she resumed. "We can beat them yet. I left
Mary in the parlor, the merriest of a merry group. She is happy in the
thought that you are coming, and doesn't suspect anything. I am sure
you will know just what to do when I tell you all, and you can avert
all danger. Greet Mary as usual, and make the people in the house
think you have no trouble on your mind."

"All right, Madge. As soon as I've had a little supper, you come to my
room."

"No, you must take a walk with me outside. I want no walls with ears
around."

"Is it so very serious?"

"You will know best when I have told you everything."

A few moments later Mr. Muir walked into the parlor the picture of
serene confidence, and smiling pleasure at meeting his wife, who
sprang up, exclaiming: "I declare, I was so enjoying myself that I
did not realize it was time for you to be here. Come, I've ordered a
splendid supper for you."

"I shall reward your thoughtfulness abundantly," he replied, "for I
am ravenous." He then greeted Mrs. Muir's friends cordially, said some
pleasant words, and even bowed, when retiring, very politely to Mrs.
Wildmere, who in her meek, deprecating way sat near the door.

Two or three gentlemen sought Madge's hand for the next dance, and she
was out upon the floor again, her absence not having been commented
upon.

Not a feature of this by-play had been lost on Miss Wildmere, and she
smiled satirically. "They thought to dupe me with delusions about Mr.
Muir. He has no more idea of failing than I have, and before very long
he shall be Brother Henry to me as well as to Madge Alden."

After a little while Madge excused herself and joined her relatives in
the dining-room. She found her sister happy in giving all the details
of what had occurred in her husband's absence, and he was listening
with his usual quiet interest, while deliberately prolonging his meal
to give the impression that his appetite made good his words. But
Madge saw that he was pale and at times preoccupied.

At last he rose from the table, and Mrs. Muir said, "I will go and
have a look at the children, and then join you on the piazza."

"Very well, Mary, I'll be there soon. I've sat so long in the cars
that I want to walk a little for a change, so don't hasten or worry if
I'm gone a little longer than usual. After such a splendid supper as
you have secured for me I need a little exercise, and will smoke
my cigar on my feet. The fact is, I don't get exercise enough. Come,
Madge, you'd walk all day if you had a chance."

Mrs. Muir thought the idea very sensible. Mr. Muir and Madge passed
out through a side door. The former lighted his cigar leisurely, and
they strolled away as if for no other purpose than to enjoy the warm
evening. The storm had not come, but clouds were flying wildly across
the disk of the moon, and the hurry-skurry in the sky was akin to the
thoughts of the quiet saunterers.

"Where shall we go?" he asked.

"Not far away. There is an open walk near, where we could see any one
approach us."

"Now, Madge," Mr. Muir began, after reaching the spot, "I have
followed your suggestions, for I have great confidence in your good
sense. Your words have worried me exceedingly."

"There is reason for it, Henry, even though there is probably no truth
in what has been said about your financial peril."

"Great God!" he exclaimed, starting, "is that subject talked about?"

"Do you owe money to Mr. Arnault?"

"Yes," with a groan.

"Would it hurt you should he demand it to-morrow?"

"Oh, Madge, this is dreadful!" and she saw that he was trembling.

"Now, Henry, take heart, and be your cool, brave self."

"Give me a little time, Madge. I've been carrying a heavy load, but
thought the worst was over. I believe things have touched bottom, and
I was beginning to see my way to safety in a short time. Even now the
tide is turning, and I can realize on some things in a few days. But
if this money is demanded to-morrow--Saturday, too, when nearly all
my friends are out of town--it is very doubtful whether I could raise
it."

"Would it cause your failure?"

"Yes, yes, indeed. A man may be worth a million but if he can't get
hold of ready money at the moment it is needed, everything may be
swept away. Oh, Madge, this is cruel I With just a little more time I
could be safe and rich."

"Why have you not told us this?"

"Because I wouldn't touch your money and Mary's under any
circumstances, and I know that you both would have given me no peace,
through trying to persuade me to borrow from you."

"That's just like you, Henry. How much do you owe Mr. Arnault?"

"Madge, I'm not going to borrow your money."

"Of course not, Henry. Please tell me."

"You will take no action without my consent?"

"Certainly not."

"Well, the paltry sum of thirty thousand, if demanded to-morrow, may
involve the loss of my fortune. Of course if I could not pay this at
once all the rest would be down on me. How in the world did you gain
any knowledge of this affair?"

"Thank God, and take courage. I believe good is going to come out of
this evil, and I believe you will think so too when you have heard my
story;" and she told him everything.

"And Graydon has, to all intents and purposes, engaged himself to
this--speculator," said Mr. Muir, grinding his teeth. "He's no brother
of mine if he does not break with her; and, as it is, I feel as if I
could never trust him with my affairs again."

Henry Muir was a man not easily moved, but now his concentrated
passion was terrible to witness. His hands worked convulsively; his
respiration was quick and irregular. His business and his commercial
standing were his idols, and to think that a selfish, scheming girl
had caused the jeopardy of both to further her own petty ambition,
and that his brother should be one of her tools, enraged him beyond
measure.

"Now," he hissed, "I understand why that plausible scamp offered to
lend me money. He and his confederate Wildmere have been watching
and biding their time. I had to be ruined in order to bring that
speculator's daughter to a decision, and Graydon has been doing his
level best to further these schemes."

"Henry, Henry, do be calm. You are not ruined, and shall not be."

"It's no use, Madge; I'm foully caught in their devilish toils."

Madge grasped his arm with a force that compelled his attention.

"Henry Muir," she said, in low and almost stern tones, "you shall
listen to me. Ignorant girl as I am, I know better, and I demand that
you meet this emergency, not in impotent anger, but with your whole
manhood. I demand it for the sake of my sister and your children, for
your own sake and Graydon's. You explained to me before we left
town that I had sixty thousand dollars in United States bonds, first
mortgage, and other good securities. You also explained that by the
provisions of my father's will I had control of this money after I was
eighteen. You have been so scrupulous that you have not even thought
of asking for the use of it, but I demand of you, as an honest man,
what right have you to prevent me from doing what I please with it?"

"You cannot make me take it, Madge."

"I can and will. I shall go to the city with you by the earliest
train, and when Arnault asks for his money you shall quietly give it
to him, and no one but ourselves shall know anything about the matter.
If you pay this money promptly, will it not help your credit at once?"

"Certainly, Madge, but--"

"Oh, Henry," she cried, "why will you cloud all our lives by scruples
that are now not only absurd but almost criminal? Think of the loss
you will inflict on Graydon, your children, and your wife, by such
senseless refusal. Have you not said that a little time will insure
safety and fortune? And there is my money lying idle, when with
to-morrow's sun it could buy me more happiness than could millions at
another time. I trust to your business judgment fully. Suppose the
money was lost--suppose my whole fortune was lost--do you think I
would care a jot compared with being denied at this critical moment? I
should hate the money you saved for me in this way, and I should never
forgive you for saving it." She stood aloof and faced him proudly, as
she continued: "Do you imagine I fear poverty? Believe me, Henry Muir,
I have brain and muscle to take care of myself and others too if
need be." Then, in swift alternation of mood, she clasped her hands
caressingly upon his arm, and added: "But I have a woman's heart, and
there are troubles worse than poverty. To see you lose the results of
your lifework, and to see Graydon's prospects blighted, would be more
than I could bear. You can give me all the security you wish, if
that will satisfy you better; but if you deny me now, I shall lose
confidence in you, and feel that you have failed me in the most
desperate emergency of my life."

"The most desperate emergency of _your_ life, Madge?"

"Yes; of _my_ life," she replied, her voice choking with sobs, for the
strain was growing too great for her nerve-force to resist. "You give
way to senseless anger; you inveigh against Graydon, when he has
only acted honorably, and has been deceived; you refuse to do the one
simple, rational thing that will avert this trouble and bring safety
to us all."

"Why, Madge, if I fail, this speculator will drop Graydon at once.
Scott! this fact alone would be large compensation."

"If you were cool--if you were yourself--you could save Graydon in
every way. I want to see him go on in life, prosperous and happy, not
thwarted and disheartened almost at its beginning. Oh, why won't you?
Why _won't_ you?" and she wrung her hands in distress.

"Is Graydon so very much to you, Madge?" he asked, in a wondering
tone.

"Hush!" she said, imperiously; "there are things which no man or woman
shall know or appear to know unless I reveal them. It's enough that
I am trying to save you all, and my own peace of mind. Henry Muir, I
will not be denied. There are moments when a woman feels and _knows_
what is right, while a man, with his narrow, cast-iron rules, would
ruin everything. You _must_ carry out my wish, and Graydon must know
_nothing_ about it. Oh, God! that I were a man!"

"Thank God, you are a woman! Child as you are, compared with my years
and experience, you shall have your own way. I will this once put my
lifelong principle under my feet, and if the future house of Muir &
Brother is saved, you shall save it."

"Oh, thank you, thank you, Henry! Now see how happy I am. I have but
one stipulation--the 'brother' must not know it. We shall go on the
first train, shall we not?"

"Yes. You can say you want to do some shopping. Come, we have been
away from Mary too long already. Oh, Madge, Madge, would that there
were more girls like you!"

CHAPTER XXXI

CHECKMATE

"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Muir, when they appeared at last; "I thought
you and Madge had eloped!"

"We are going to to-morrow by first train," said the young girl.
"Henry says he must return to town for the day, and I shall accompany
him to do some shopping."

"Now, Henry, this is too bad, and I've scarcely seen you this
evening."

"I'm truly sorry, Mary; I did look forward to a good quiet day with
you, but there is an important matter which I neglected to see to
to-day, and which must be attended to. Graydon will soon be ready to
relieve me a great deal."

"Well, I shall be glad when he can do something besides waiting on Mr.
Arnault's convenience for the privilege of seeing Miss Wildmere. It
will be a terribly long, fatiguing day for you, Madge--for you both,
indeed!"

"Oh, I shan't mind it in the least! It won't be half so fatiguing as
one of my long rides. You spoke of wanting some things, and I can shop
for you, too."

Mrs. Muir had long since given up the idea of objecting seriously to
anything for which business was the alleged reason. The chance to do
some shopping by proxy soon occupied her mind, and when Miss Wildmere
took occasion to pass and repass, the only apparent topic of interest
in the Muir group was the prospect of purchasing some expensive goods.

Madge retired early to prepare for her journey. Mrs. Muir soon
followed, and her husband remarked that he would merely remain down
long enough to write a note to Graydon. This missive was brief, but
was charged with dynamite.

On the morrow, long before Miss Wildmere waked from the golden dreams
which that day should realize, Madge and Mr. Muir were on their way
to the city. The young girl had said: "Don't let us do anything by
halves. I have read that in the crisis of a battle timid measures
are often fatal. Let me give you everything that you can use as
collateral. How much is there?"

"Sixty thousand available at once. As I have said, you shall have your
own way."

"Well, for once a woman is wiser than Solomon."

They went immediately to the trust company which had her property in
keeping, and, having complied with the forms, obtained the entire sum,
then parted on Broadway, to rendezvous at the train. Mr. Muir gave the
radiant girl a look which she valued more than the money. He then went
to his bank. The official whom he accosted had been rather cold and
shy of late, but when he received the securities he grew perceptibly
urbane.

On reaching his office Mr. Muir found that a transaction which
had been greatly delayed was now consummated, and that another ten
thousand in cash was available. This also was sent to the bank at
once. Several business men were present when a confidential clerk from
Arnault appeared, and asked for a private interview.

"Well, really you must excuse me to-day. I'm very busy, and expect to
leave town in an hour or two. Please state what you have to say in few
words, or else I will see you next week."

"Mr. Arnault," began the clerk, in a metallic tone, "says that he is
compelled to call in the loan he recently made you."

"Oh, certainly, certainly! Have you the securities I gave him as
collateral?"

"No, sir, but I can get them," said the man.

"Do so, and I will give you my check. Thank Mr. Arnault for the
accommodation, and say I have thirty or forty thousand to spare should
he be hard pressed. Be quick."

The Wall Street men present looked at one another significantly, and
one of them remarked, "You are forehanded for these times, Muir."

"If this absurd lack of confidence would only pass," was the
careless reply, "I should have more money on hand than I could invest
profitably;" and then he appeared absorbed in other matters.

Arnault received the message from his clerk with something like
dismay, and turning on Mr. Wildmere, who was present, he said, almost
savagely, "You have been misleading me."

"Indeed I have not, sir--not intentionally. I can't understand it."

"Well, I can. Muir is an old fox in business. I was a fool to think
that a paltry thirty thousand would trouble him. Well, there is
nothing to do but to close the matter up."

"What, in regard to my daughter?" said Mr. Wildmere, inadvertently.

"Oh, no; confound it! What has she got to do with this affair?"
replied Arnault, with an irritation that he could not disguise. "I
certainly have made Miss Wildmere a fair offer; some would regard it
as more. I shall go up to-night and receive her answer, as I promised.
I am one who never fails in a promise to man or woman, and I am ready
to make good all that I have authorized you to say to your daughter,
and more."

"Let me add," said Mr. Wildmere, with some assumption of dignity,
"that as far as I have influence it is absolutely yours. I have ever
prided myself on my fidelity to those who trust me."

"Thanks," replied Arnault, with a little menacing coldness in his
tone. "I hope I shall have proof of the fact this evening. If so, all
shall go swimmingly."

Poor Wildmere bowed himself out with trepidation at heart, and Arnault
followed him with a dark look, muttering, "Let them both beware."

Mr. Muir met Madge at the depot, and was quietly jubilant. Both
laughed heartily over the experiences of the day.

"You are a blessed little woman, Madge. I was never so off my balance
before in my life as I was last night. When confused and upset, it is
one of my impulses to stick to some principle of right, like a mule.
Bless you, I think I have secured you twice over! I have given you a
lien on property worth two hundred thousand in ordinary times."

"You have taught me to lean on you once more, Henry, and that is worth
more than all your other liens."

Mr. Arnault now appeared, and came affably forward, saying, "I am glad
my enforced action did not incommode you to-day."

"Thank you. I trust you are not in trouble, Mr. Arnault;" and there

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