Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

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

Part 6 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

was a world of quiet satire in the remark.

"Oh, no--only a temporary need, I assure you," was the hasty reply.

"So I supposed;" and as Arnault turned away, the speaker gave Madge a
humorous glance, which made her look of demure innocence difficult to
maintain.

* * * * *

Graydon had enjoyed fair success in fishing, and yet had not been
supremely happy. He found, with the venerated Izaak Walton, that the
"gentle art" was conducive to contemplation; but there were certain
phases in his situation that were not agreeable to contemplate. As he
followed the trout-stream amid the solitudes of nature, the artificial
and conventional in life grew less attractive. In spite of his efforts
to the contrary, Miss Wildmere seemed to represent just these phases.
He recalled critically and dispassionately all the details of their
past acquaintance, and found, with something like dismay, that she had
exhibited only the traits of a society belle--that he could recall
no new ideas or inspiring thoughts received from her. The apparent
self-sacrifice for her father, which he had so unequivocally
condemned, was, after all, about the best thing he knew of her. The
glamour of her beauty had been upon his eyes, and he had credited her
with corresponding graces of heart and mind. What evidence had he of
their existence?

The more he thought of it, the more his pride, also, rebelled at the
ignominious position in the background that he was compelled to take
while the Wall Street diplomacy was prolonged. At last, in anger and
disgust, he resolved that, if he found Arnault in his old position by
Stella's side, he would withdraw at once and forever.

After all, although he was as yet unconscious of it, the secret of his
clarified vision was the influence of Madge upon his mind. She seemed
in harmony with every beautiful aspect of nature--true and satisfying,
while ever changing. Madge was right: the mountains, streams, rocks,
and trees became her allies, suggesting her and not Miss Wildmere.
He would have returned, for the pleasure of her society, but for his
purpose not to appear again until Arnault should have time to arrive
from the city and resume his attentions. If they were received as in
the past, he would write to Miss Wildmere his withdrawal of further
claims upon her thoughts.

It was with something like bitter cynicism that he saw his illusions
in regard to Miss Wildmere fade, and when he drove up to the hotel
after nightfall on Saturday, he was not sure that he cared much what
her answer might be, so apathetic had he become. The force of his old
regard was not wholly spent; but in his thoughts of her, much that was
repugnant to his feelings and ideals had presented itself to his mind,
and he felt that the giving up of his dream of lifelong companionship
with her would almost bring a sense of relief. Without pausing to
analyze the reason of his eagerness to see Madge and hear of her
welfare, he ran up at once to Mrs. Muir's room.

"Madge went to New York!" he echoed, in surprise at Mrs. Muir's
information.

"Yes; why not? She went to do some shopping for herself and me. Miss
Wildmere's here, and, for a wonder, Mr. Arnault is not. What more
could you ask?"

"Hang Mr. Arnault--" He had come near mentioning both in his
irritation.

"When will Madge and Henry arrive?"

"Soon now--on the nine-o'clock train. Oh, by the way, Henry left a
note for you!"

"Very well. I'll go to my room, dress, and meet them."

"He is asking after Madge rather often, it seems to me. She doesn't
compare so very unfavorably with the speculator, after all, even in
his eyes."

On reaching his room he threw himself wearily into a chair, and
carelessly tore open his brother's note. Instantly he bounded to his
feet, approached the light more closely, and saw in his brother's
unmistakable hand the following significant words:

"Read this letter carefully and thoughtfully; then destroy it. Show
your knowledge of its contents by neither word nor sign. Be on your
guard, and permit no one to suspect financial anxieties. Arnault and
Wildmere have struck me a heavy blow. The former has lent me money.
I must raise a large sum in town, but think I can do it, even in the
brief time permitted. If I cannot we lose everything. If I don't have
to suspend to-morrow Miss Wildmere will accept you in the evening. She
has been waiting till those two precious confederates, her father and
Arnault, did their worst, so that she could go over to the winning
side. You are of course your own master, but permit me, as your
brother, affectionately and solemnly to warn you. Stella Wildmere
will never bring you a day's happiness or peace. She loves herself
infinitely more than you, her father, or any one else. Be true to me,
and you shall share my fortunes. If you follow some insane notion of
being true to her, you will soon find you have been false to yourself.
Again I warn you. Speak to no one of all this, and give no sign of
your knowledge. HENRY."

Graydon read this twice, then crushed the paper in his hand as he
muttered, "Fool, dupe, idiot! Now at last I understand her game and
allusions. She was made to fear that Henry was about to fail, and
she would not accept me until satisfied on this point. Great God! my
infatuation for her has been inciting Arnault in these critical times
to break my brother down, and her father has been aiding and abetting,
in order that I might be removed out of the way. She was so false
herself that she suspected her own father, also Arnault, of deceiving
her, and so kept putting me off, that she might learn the truth of
their predictions or the result of their efforts. How clear it all
becomes, now that I have the key! Well, I should be worse than a
heathen if I did not thank God for such an escape."

CHAPTER XXXII

MADGE IS MATTER-OF-FACT

"Well, I have come back to civilization and all its miseries," thought
Graydon. "I was among scenes that know not Wildmeres or Arnaults. 'Oh,
my prophetic soul!' I felt that there was something wrong, in spite of
her superb acting. Sweet Madge, dear sister Madge, as you ever will be
to me, the more I think of it the more clearly I see that you are the
one who first began to shatter my delusion. Since that morning when
I brought you home from your long vigil, and you revealed to me your
true, brave heart Stella Wildmere has never seemed the same, and the
revolt of my nature has been growing ever since."

His wish now was to avoid seeing every one until he had met his
brother. While the thought of his escape was uppermost in his mind,
he was consumed with anxiety to learn the result of Henry's efforts in
town. His commercial instincts were also very strong, and the thought
of what might happen fairly made him tremble.

He slipped down a back stairway and out into the darkness, then bent
his rapid steps to the depot, at which he arrived half an hour before
the train was due. Remembering that excited pacing up and down there
would not be very intelligent obedience to his brother's injunctions,
he started down a country road in the direction from which the train
would come, and paced to and fro in his strong excitement. At last the
train arrived, and his first glimpse of Henry's face and Madge's
was reassuring. The moment the former saw him he called out, "Hello,
Graydon! Have you a trout supper for us?"

"Yes," was the hearty response; and he hastened forward and shook
hands cordially, saying, in an aside, "Oh, Madge! I am so glad to see
you again!"

"You are! Tell that to the marines. The length of your stay proves it
to be a fish story."

"Here, Madge, we'll put you in the stage. I'll rest myself by walking
to the house with Graydon."

"Henry, you are all right?" said Graydon, eagerly, as soon as they
were out of earshot.

"Yes," was the quiet reply; "I raised the money, paid Arnault in full,
and have a good surplus in the bank."

"Thank Heaven! How did you raise it? How has all this knowledge
reached--"

"Patience, Graydon, patience. As soon as you are in the firm I shall
have no secrets from you. Until you are, you must let me manage in my
old way."

"I have indeed little claim on your confidence. I have been deceived,
and have acted like a fool. But it's all over now. Henry, you may
not believe me, but my nonsense would have ended to-night if I hadn't
received your letter, and all this had not occurred. I had been
disgusted with this Arnault business for some time, and had let Miss
Wildmere know my views. As I thought it over while away it all grew
so detestable to me that I resolved, if Arnault appeared again and
renewed his attentions, I would never renew mine. He's here again, as
you may have seen."

"Oh, yes; and I have talked with him. Please show no resentment. I
obtained my information in a way unknown to him, and there is nothing
unusual in our transaction on its face. How was it that you began to
grow critical toward Miss Wildmere?"

"Well, I don't mind telling you. There was not a ring of truth or
a stamp of nobility about her words and manner, and I have been
associating with a girl who is truth itself and twice as clever and
accomplished. Miss Wildmere was growing commonplace in contrast. I
learned to love Madge as a sister before she went away, and now no man
ever admired and loved a sister more."

Mr. Muir smiled broadly to himself in the darkness, and said: "Truly,
Graydon, you are giving satisfactory proofs of returning sanity.
We may as well conclude with the old saying, 'All's well that ends
well.'"

"I think I had better go to town Monday and resume business. It's time
I did something to retrieve myself."

"No, Graydon, not yet. I have everything in hand now, and believe the
tide has turned. I realized ten thousand to-day on a transaction that
I will tell you about. I am not doing much business now, only watching
things and waiting. It was the suddenness of Arnault's demand that
worried me--on Saturday, too, you know. He had about the same as said
that I might have the money as long as I wanted it, and I should not
have needed it much longer. In ordinary times I wouldn't have given it
a thought.

"You can help me more up here. It's growing warm, and Jack isn't
improving as I would like. After what has occurred I don't wish Mary
and Madge to meet these Wildmeres any longer, so I propose that you
and Madge go to the Kaaterskill Hotel on Monday and explore. If you
like the place, then you can take Mary and the children there. I've
had a little scare in town, and propose to realize on some more
property and make myself perfectly safe. By going to a higher-priced
hotel we increase our credit also, and add to the impression I made
to-day, that we are in no danger."

As the stage drew near the piazza Graydon hastened forward to
help Madge out. In doing so he saw Miss Wildmere greeting Arnault
cordially. As he passed up the steps with Madge, he caught Stella's
swift, appealing look at him. He only bowed politely and passed on. It
was Madge's triumphal entry now by the same door at which she had seen
him enter with Miss Wildmere but a few weeks before. How complete her
triumph was, even Madge did not yet know. While she went to her room
he sought the office and ordered some of the trout he had caught to
be prepared for supper. As he stood there Miss Wildmere left Arnault's
side, and said, "Mr. Muir, are you not going to shake hands with me?"

"Why, certainly, Miss Wildmere;" but there was little more than
politeness in his tone and manner. As there were many coming and
going, she drew away with a reproachful glance. "So long as Arnault is
with me, he will not be cordial," was her thought.

She looked around for her father, but he, nervous and apprehensive,
had disappeared. He felt that if he should be compelled to disclose
the failure of his predictions, she would pass into one of her sullen,
unmanageable moods. He feared that things were beyond his control,
and decided to let the young men manage for themselves. He was not,
however, exceedingly solicitous. He hoped that Arnault, aided by the
influence of his munificent offer, would have the skill to push his
suit to a prompt conclusion; but he believed that, if this suitor
should be dismissed, Graydon would not fail his daughter, and that all
might yet end well for her, and perhaps for himself.

The supper-room was again occupied by the late comers, many of whom
were accompanied by their families and friends. Mr. Muir's quiet eyes
fairly beamed over the group gathered at his table, and he felt that
but few moments of his life compared with those now passing. Twenty
four hours before he had seen himself drifting helplessly on a
lee shore, but a little hand had taken the helm when he had been
paralyzed, and now he saw clear sea-room stretching away indefinitely,
with a turning tide and favoring gales. The terrible evils threatening
him and his had been averted. The results of his lifework would not be
swept away, his idolized commercial standing could now be maintained,
his wife's brow remain unclouded by care, his children be amply
provided for, Graydon saved from a worse fate than financial disaster,
and, last but not least, the young fellow would be cured by Madge of
all future tendencies toward the Wildmere type. He never could think
of this hope without smiling to himself. He had at last obtained the
explanation of Madge's effort and success. By the superb result
he measured the strength of the love which had led to it. "Great
Scott!"--his favorite expletive--he had thought; "what a compass there
is in her nature! I had long suspected her secret, but when I touched
upon it last night she made my blood tingle by her magnificent
resentment. I would sooner have trifled with an enraged empress. Look
at her now, smiling, serene, and, although not in the least artful,
keeping all her secrets with consummate art. Who would imagine that
she was capable of such a volcanic outburst? If Graydon does not lay
siege to her now, the name of the future firm should be Henry Muir and
idiot."

That sagacious young man did not appear at all blighted by the wreck
of the hope he had cherished. He turned no wistful glances toward the
girl who had so long satisfied his eyes, and, as he had believed,
his heart. He felt much the same as if he had been imposed upon by a
cunning disguise. Unknown to her, he had caught a glimpse of what
the mask concealed, and his soul was shuddering at the deformities to
which he had so nearly allied himself. Her very beauty, with its false
promise, had become hateful to him.

"She is indeed a speculator," he thought, "and I'm a little curious
to see how she will continue her game." It afforded him vindictive
amusement that she often, yet furtively, turned her eyes toward him as
if he were still a factor in it.

She never looked once in Graydon's direction but that Arnault was
aware of the act. There was no longer any menace in his deportment
toward her--he was as devoted as the place and time would permit--but
in his eyes dwelt a vigilance and a resolution which should have given
her warning.

After supper Mr. and Mrs. Muir found a comfortable nook on the piazza,
and the banker smoked his cigar with ineffable content.

"Do you feel too tired for a waltz, Madge?" Graydon asked.

"The idea! when I've rested in the cars half a day."

"Oh, Madge!" he whispered; "dear, sweet little friend--you know I mean
sister, only I dare not say it--I'm so glad to be with you again! What
makes you look so radiant to-night? You look as though you had a world
of happy thoughts behind those sparkling eyes."

"Nonsense, Graydon! You are always imagining things. I have youth,
good health, have had my supper--a trout supper, too--and I like to
dance, just as a bird enjoys flying."

"You seem a bird-of-paradise. Happy the man who coaxes you into his
cage! Brother or not, when your beaux become too attentive they will
find me a perfect dragon of a critic."

"When I meet my ideal, you shall have nothing to say."

"I suppose not. I am at a loss to know where you will find him."

"I shan't find him; he must find me."

"He will be an idiot if he doesn't. Pardon me if I don't dance any
more to-night. I have had a long tramp over mountain paths, followed
by a long, rough ride in a farmer's wagon, and now have a very
important act to perform before I sleep. As a proof of my fraternal--I
mean friendly--confidence, I will tell you what it is, if you wish."

"I don't propose to fail in any friendly obligations, Graydon,"
she replied, laughing, as they strolled out into the summer night,
followed by Miss Wildmere's half-desperate eyes.

As they walked down a path, Graydon said, "Take my arm; the pavement
is a little rough. Dear Madge, you look divine to night. Every time
I see you my wonder increases at what you accomplished out on the
Pacific coast. That great, boundless, sparkling ocean has given you
something of its own nature."

"Graydon, you must be more sensible. When a fellow takes your arm you
don't squeeze it against your side and say, 'Dear Tom,' 'Sweet Dick,'
or 'Divine Harry,' no matter how good friends they may be. Friends
don't indulge in sentimental, far-fetched compliments."

"I certainly never did with any friends of mine. On this very walk you
told me that you were not my sister, and added, 'There is no use in
trying to ignore nature.' See how true this last assertion is proving,
now that I am again under your influence, and so enjoy your society
that I cannot ignore nature. During all those years when you were
growing from childhood to womanhood I treated you as a sister, thought
of you as such. It was nature, or rather the accord of two natures,
that formed and cemented the tie, and not an accident of birth.
Even when you were an invalid, and I was stupid enough to call you
'lackadaisical,' your presence always gave me pleasure. Often when I
had been out all the evening I would say, with vexation, 'I wish I had
stayed at home with the little ghost.' How you used to order me about
and tyrannize over me from your sofa when you were half child and half
woman! I can say honestly, Madge, it was never a bore to me, for you
had an odd, piquant way of saying and doing things that always amused
me; your very weakness was an appeal to my strength, and a claim upon
it. You always appeared to have a sister's affection for me, and your
words and manner proved that I brought some degree of brightness into
your shadowed life. In learning to love you as a sister in all those
years, wherein did I ignore nature? During my absence my feelings did
not change in the least, as I proved by my attempts at correspondence,
by my greeting when we met. Then you perplexed and worried me more
than you would believe, and I imagined all sorts of ridiculous things
about you; but on that drive, after your vigil with that poor, dying
girl, I felt that I understood you fully at last. Indeed, ever since
your rescue of the little Wilder child from drowning my old feelings
have been coming back with tenfold force. I can't help thinking of
you, of being proud of you. I give you my confidence to-night just
as naturally and unhesitatingly as if we had been rocked in the
same cradle. I am not wearying you with this long explanation and
preamble?"

"No, Graydon," she replied, in a low tone.

"I am very glad. I don't think well of myself to-night at all, and I
have a very humiliating confession to make--one that I could make only
to such a sister as you are, or rather would have been, were there
a natural tie between us. I would not tell any Tom, Dick, and Harry
friends in the world what I shall now make known to you. If I didn't
trust you so, I wouldn't speak of it, for what I shall say involves
Henry as well as myself. Madge, I've been duped, I've been made both
a fool and a tool, and the consequences might have been grave indeed.
Henry, who has so much quiet sagacity, has in some way obtained
information that proved of immense importance to him, and absolutely
vital to me. I shudder when I think of what might have happened, and
I am overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of my escape. I told
you that Miss Wildmere was humoring that fellow Arnault to save her
father, and consequently her mother and the child. This impression,
which was given me so skilfully, and at last confirmed by plain words,
was utterly false. Henry has been in financial danger; Wildmere knew
it, and he also knew that Arnault had lent Henry money, which to-day
was called in with the hope of breaking him down. They would have
succeeded, too, had he not had resources of which they knew nothing.
You, of course, can't realize how essential a little ready money
sometimes is in a period of financial depression; but Henry left a
note which gave me an awful shock, while, at the same time, it made
clear Miss Wildmere's scheme. She had simply put me off, that she
might hear from Wall Street. If Henry had failed she would have
decided for Arnault, and I believe my attentions led to his tricky
transaction--that he loaned the money and called it in when he
believed that Henry could not meet his demand. I must be put out
of his way, for he reasoned justly that the girl would drop me if
impoverished. Thus indirectly I might have caused Henry's failure--a
blow from which I should never have recovered. Henry is safe now, he
assures me; and, oh, Madge, thank God, I have found her out before
it was too late! I had fully resolved while oft trouting that I would
break with her finally if I found Arnault at her side again. Now he
may marry her, for all I care, and I wish him no worse punishment.
I shall go to my room now and write to her that everything is over
between us. The fact is, Madge, you spoiled Miss Wildmere for me on
that morning drive the other day. After leaving your society and going
into hers I felt the difference keenly, and while I should then have
fulfilled the obligations which I had so stupidly incurred, I had
little heart in the affair. Her acting was consummate, but a true
woman's nature had been revealed to me, and the glamour was gone from
the false one. Now you see what absolute confidence I repose in you,
and how heavily this strange story bears against myself. Could I have
given it to any one for whom I had not a brother's love, and in whom I
did not hope to find a sister's gentle charity? I show you how unspent
is the force of all those years when we had scarcely a thought which
we could not tell each other. I have little claim, though, to be a
protecting brother, when I have been making such an egregious fool of
myself. You have grown wiser and stronger than I. You won't think very
harshly of me, will you, Madge?"

"No, Graydon."

"And you won't condemn my fraternal affection as contrary to nature?"

She was sorely at a loss. She had listened with quickened breath, a
fluttering pulse, and in a growing tumult of hope and fear, to this
undisguised revelation of his attitude toward her. She almost thought
that she detected between the lines, as it were, the beginning of a
different regard. He believed that he had been frankness itself,
and his words proved that he looked upon his fraternal affection and
confidence as the natural, the almost inevitable, sequence of the
past. She could not meet him on the fraternal ground that he was
taking again, nor did she wish him to occupy it in his own mind. To
maintain the attitude which she had adopted would require as much
delicacy as firmness of action, or he would begin to query why she
could not go back to their old relations as readily as he could. She
had listened to the twice-told tale of the events of the past few
days with almost breathless interest, because his words revealed
the workings of his own mind, and she had not the least intention
of permitting him to settle down into the tranquil affection of a
brother.

While she hesitated, he asked, gently, "Don't you feel a little of
your old sisterly love for me?"

"No, Graydon, I do not," she replied, boldly. "I suppose you will
think me awfully matter-of-fact. I love Mary as my sister, I have the
strongest esteem and affection for Henry as my brother-in-law, and I
like you for just what you are to me, neither more nor less. The truth
is, Graydon, when I woke up from my old limp, shadowy life I had to
look at everything just as it was, and I have formed the habit of so
doing. I think it is the best way. You did not see Miss Wildmere as
she was, but as you imagined her to be, and you blame yourself too
severely because you acted as you naturally would toward a girl for
whom you had so high a regard. When we stick to the actual, we escape
mistakes and embarrassment. Every one knows that we are not brother
and sister; every one would admit our right to be very good friends.
I have listened to you with the deep and honest sympathy that is
perfectly natural to our relations. I think the better of you for
what you have told me, but I'm too dreadfully matter-of-fact," she
concluded beginning to laugh, "to do anything more."

He sighed deeply.

"Now, there is no occasion for that sigh, Graydon. Recall that morning
drive to which you have alluded. What franker, truer friendship could
you ask than I gave evidence of then? Come now, be sensible. You
live too much in the present moment, and yield to your impulses. Miss
Wildmere was a delusion and a snare, but there are plenty of true
women in the world. Some day you will meet the right one. She won't
object to your friends, but she probably would to sisters who are not
sisters."

Graydon laughed a little bitterly as he said, "So you imagine that
after my recent experience I shall soon be making love to another
girl?"

"Why not? Because Miss Wildmere is a fraud do you intend to spite
yourself by letting some fair, true girl pass by unheeded? That might
be to permit the fraud to injure you almost as much as if she had
married you."

He burst out laughing, as he exclaimed, "Well, your head is level."

"Certainly it is. My head is all right, even though I have not much
heart, as you believe. I told you I could be a good fellow, and I
don't propose to indulge you in sentiment about what is past and
gone--natural and true as it was at the time--or in cynicism for the
future. I shall dance at your wedding, and you won't be gray, either.
Come; the music has ceased, and it must be almost Sunday morning."

"Very well. On the day when you rightly boxed my ears, and I asked you
to make your own terms of peace, I resolved to submit to everything
and anything."

"You don't 'stay put,' is the trouble. Did I look and act so very
cross that morning?"

"You looked magnificent, and you spoke with such just eloquent
indignation that you made my blood tingle. No, my brave, true
friend--I may say that, mayn't I?--it was not a little thing for
you to go away alone to fight so heroic a battle and achieve such a
victory; and, Madge, I honor you with the best homage of my heart. You
have taught me how to meet trouble when it comes."

As they went up the steps, Arnault, with a pale, stern face, and
looking neither to the right nor to the left, passed them and strode
away.

CHAPTER XXXIII

THE END OF DIPLOMACY

Mr. Arnault's manner as he passed struck both Graydon and Madge as
indicating strong feeling and stern purpose. In order to account for
his action, it is necessary to go back in our history for a short
period. While Madge was receiving such rich compensation for having
become simply what she was, Miss Wildmere had been gathering the
rewards of diplomacy. As we have seen, she had reached the final
conclusion that if Mr. Muir did not fail that day she would accept
Graydon at once; and, during its earlier hours, she had been
complacency itself, feeling that everything was now in her own hands.
Mr. Muir's appearance and manner the previous evening had nearly
convinced her that he was in no financial difficulties whatever--that
her father and Mr. Arnault were either mistaken or else were deceiving
her. "If the latter is the case," she had thought, "they have so
bungled as to enable me to test the truth of their words within
twenty-four hours.

"I am virtually certain," she said, with an exultant smile, "that I
shall be engaged to Graydon Muir before I sleep to-night."

In the afternoon it began to trouble her that Graydon had not
appeared. As the hours passed she grew anxious, and with the shadow of
night there fell a chill on her heart and hope. This passed into alarm
when at last Graydon arrived with his brother and Madge, and greeted
her with the cold recognition that has been described. She had met Mr.
Arnault cordially at first, because there were still possibilities in
his favor; but when her father promptly disappeared, with the evident
purpose to avoid questions, and Mr. Muir and his family at supper gave
evidence of superb spirits instead of trouble, she saw that she had
been duped, or, in any case, misled. Her anger and worry increased
momentarily, especially since Graydon, beyond a little furtive
observation, completely ignored her. She naturally ascribed his course
to resentment at her first greeting of Arnault, his continued presence
at her side, and the almost deferential manner with which he was
treated by her father, who had joined his family at supper, when no
queries could be made.

"I'll prove to Graydon by my manner that I am for him," was her
thought; but he either did not or would not see her increasing
coldness toward Arnault.

Her purpose and tactics were all observed and thoroughly understood by
the latter, however, but he gave few obvious signs of the fact. In his
words, tones, compliments he proved that he was making good all that
he had promised; but the changing expression in his eyes grew so
ominous that Mr. Wildmere saw his suppressed anger with alarm.

Miss Wildmere felt sure that before the evening was over she could
convey to Graydon her decision, and chafed every moment over the
leisurely supper that Mr. Arnault persisted in making, especially as
she saw that it was not his appetite that detained him. The Muir group
had passed out, and to leave him and her father would not only be an
act of rudeness, but also would appear like open pursuit of Graydon.
When at last she reached the parlor, to decline Arnault's invitation
to dance would be scarcely less than an insult; yet, with intensifying
anger and fear, she saw that circumstances were compelling her to
appear as if she had disregarded Graydon's warnings and expectations.
So far from being dismissed, Arnault was the one whom she had first
greeted and to whom she was now giving the evening.

While she was dancing with Arnault, Graydon, with Madge, appeared
upon the floor. She was almost reckless in her efforts to secure his
attention. In this endeavor she did not fail, but she failed signally
in winning any recognition, and the ill-concealed importunity of her
eyes hastened Graydon's departure with Madge, and gave time for the
long interview described in the previous chapter. She grew cold with
dread. It was the impulse of her self-pleasing nature to want that
most which seemed the most denied, and she reasoned, "He is angry
because Arnault is at my side as usual, in spite of all he said. He
is determined to bring me to a decision, and won't approach me at
Arnault's side. Yet I dare not openly shake Arnault off, and he's so
attentive that I must do it openly if at all. Graydon's manner was
so very strange and cold that I feel that I should do something to
conciliate him at once; and yet how can I when Arnault is bent upon
monopolizing the whole evening? He gives me no chance to leave him
unless I am guilty of the shameful rudeness of telling him to leave
me. Oh, if I could only see Graydon alone, even for a moment!"

Arnault was indeed a curious study, and yet he was acting
characteristically. He had virtually given up hope of ever winning
Stella Wildmere. He had wooed devotedly, offered wealth, and played
his final card, and in each had failed. When he left the city he
still had hope that his promise of immediate wealth and Mr. Wildmere's
necessity and influence might turn the scale in his favor; and he
believed that having secured her decision she, as a woman of the
world, would grow content and happy in the future that he could
provide for her. But, be his fate what it might, both his pride and
his peculiar sense of honor made it imperative that he should be her
suitor until the time stipulated for his answer should expire. Up to
twelve o'clock that night he would not give her the slightest cause
for resentment or even complaint. Then his obligation to her ceased
utterly, and she knew that it would.

He had been irritated and despondent ever since Mr. Muir, through
Madge's aid, had so signally checkmated him. But Stella's greeting
had reassured him, and Graydon's manner toward her gave the impression
that she had not been extending encouragement to him. This promising
aspect of affairs speedily began to pass away, however, when he saw
her step to Graydon's side and ask if he was not going to shake hands
with her. He knew how proud the girl was, and by this high standard
measured the strength of the regard which impelled to this advance.
He had since noted every effort that she had made to secure Graydon's
attention, and the truth became perfectly clear. She had utterly lost
faith in his and her father's predictions of financial disaster to
Henry Muir, and would accept Graydon at the earliest opportunity.
He saw that his defeat in Wall Street insured his defeat in the
Catskills, and feared that Graydon had guessed his strategy, and,
therefore, would not approach the girl while he was at her side. There
was no use in his playing lover any longer--he had no desire to do
so--for even he now so clearly recognized the mercenary spirit which
might have brought her to his arms, that such manhood as he had
revolted at it. If she had given him her hand it would have been
secured purely through a financial trick, and even his Wall Street
soul experienced a revulsion of disgust at the thought of a wife thus
obtained. If he could have detected a little sentiment toward him,
some kindly regret that she could not reward his long-continued and
unstinted devotion, he would have parted from her more in sorrow than
in anger; but now he knew that she was wild to escape from him, that
she would instantly break her promise not to accept Muir before the
close of the week, and, to his punctilious business mind, the week did
not end until twelve o'clock Saturday night.

With a sort of grim vindictiveness he had muttered, "She shall keep
her promise. Neither she nor Muir shall be happy till my time has
expired."

Later in the evening, Graydon not returning, the thought occurred
to Arnault, "Perhaps he too has recognized the sharp game she has
played--perhaps Henry Muir has said to him, 'She has been putting you
off to see the result of the sudden calling in of Arnault's loan,'
and now young Muir proposes to console himself with that handsome Miss
Alden;" and a gleam of pleasure at the prospect illumined his face
for a moment. Meanwhile he maintained his mask before the world so
admirably that even Miss Wildmere little guessed the depth of his
revolt. He was the last one to reveal his bitter disappointment and
humiliating defeat to the vigilant gossips of the house. Those who saw
his smiling face and gallantries, and heard his breezy, half-cynical
words, little guessed the storm within. He had been taught in the best
school in the world how to say and look one thing and mean another.

At last an acquaintance approached, and said, "Pardon me, Mr. Arnault,
but I don't propose to permit you to monopolize Miss Wildmere all the
evening;" and then asked for the next dance.

Stella complied instantly, thinking, "Graydon may return now at any
moment, and if he sees that I am not with Arnault will come to me, as
usual."

Arnault bowed politely, looked at his watch, and invited another lady
to dance. Stella had been on the floor but a few moments when not
Graydon, but her father came and said to her partner, "Excuse me, sir.
I wish to speak to my daughter."

Requesting her companion to wait, she followed Mr. Wildmere through an
open window, and when on the piazza he took her hand and put it within
his arm with a firmness that permitted no resistance. Arnault noted
the proceeding with a cynical smile.

"Stella," said her father, in a low, stern tone, "did you not promise
Mr. Arnault his answer this evening?"

"Answer my question first," she replied, bitterly. "Did Henry Muir
fail to-day? Of course he did not. You have been deceiving me."

"I did not deceive you--I was mistaken myself. But I warn you. Graydon
Muir is not at your side. He may not return. Arnault is waiting to
give you wealth and me safety, but he may not wait much longer. You
are taking worse risks than I ever incurred in the Street, and your
loss may be greater than any I have met with."

"Bah!" she replied, in anger. "I might have been engaged to Graydon
Muir this moment had I not listened to your croakings. I'll manage for
myself now;" and she broke away and joined her partner again.

After the dance was over she said, "Suppose we walk on the piazza; I'm
warm." She was cold and trembling. Arnault took his stand in the main
hall, where he and she could see the clock should she approach him
again. The last hour was rapidly passing. Miss Wildmere and her
attendant strolled leisurely the whole length of the piazza, but
Graydon was not to be seen. Then she led him through a hall whence
she could glance into the reception and reading rooms. The quest was
futile, and she passed Arnault unheedingly into the parlor, saying
that she was tired, and with her companion sat down where they could
be seen from the doorway and windows. But he thought her singularly
_distraite_ in her effort to maintain conversation.

"Oh," she thought, "he will come soon--he must come soon! I must--I
_must_ see him before I retire!"

Arnault meantime maintained his position in the hall, chatting and
laughing with an acquaintance. She could see him, and there was little
in his manner to excite apprehension. He occasionally looked toward
her, but she tried to appear absorbed in conversation with the man
whom she puzzled by her random words. Arnault also saw that her eyes
rested in swift, eager scrutiny on every one who entered from without,
and that the two hands of the clock were pointing closely toward
midnight.

The parlor was becoming deserted. Those whom the beauty of the night
had lured without were straggling in, the man at her side was growing
curious and interested, and he determined to maintain his position as
long as she would.

He was detained but little longer. The clock soon chimed midnight.
Arnault gave her a brief, cold look, turned on his heel and went
out, passing Graydon and Madge, who were at that moment ascending the
steps.

"Oh, pardon me," said Miss Wildmere, fairly trembling with dread;
"I had no idea it was so late!" and she bowed her companion away
instantly. At that moment she saw Graydon entering, and she went to
the parlor door; but he passed her without apparent notice, and
bade Madge a cordial good-night at the foot of the stairs. As he was
turning away Miss Wildmere was at his side.

"Mr. Muir--Graydon," she said, in an eager tone, "I wish to speak with
you."

He bowed very politely, and answered, in a voice that she alone could
hear, "You will receive a note from me at your room within half an
hour." Then, bowing again, he walked rapidly away.

She saw from his grave face and unsympathetic eyes that she had lost
him.

Half desperate, and with the instinct of self-preservation, she passed
out on the piazza to bid Arnault good-night, as she tried to assure
herself, with pallid lips, but ready then at last to take any terms
from him. Arnault was not to be seen. After a moment her father
stepped to her side and said:

"Stella, it is late. You had better retire."

"I wish to say good-night to Mr. Arnault," she faltered.

"Mr. Arnault has gone."

"Gone where?" she gasped.

"I don't know. As the clock struck twelve he came rapidly out and
walked away. He passed by me, but would not answer when I spoke to
him. Come, let me take you to your room."

With a chill at heart almost like that of death she went with him, and
sat down pale and speechless.

In a few moments a note was brought to Mr. Wildmere's door, and he
took it to his daughter. She could scarcely open it with her nerveless
fingers, and when she read the brief words--

"MISS WILDMERE--You must permit me to renounce all claims upon
you now and forever. Memory and your own thoughts will reveal
to you the obvious reasons for my action, GRAYDON MUIR,"

she found a brief respite from the results of her diplomacy in
unconsciousness.

CHAPTER XXXIV

BROKEN LIGHTS AND SHADOWS

Mr. Wildmere looked almost ten years older when he came down to what
he supposed would be a solitary breakfast; but something like hope
and gladness reappeared on his haggard face when he saw Arnault at his
table as usual. He scarcely knew how he would be received, but Arnault
was as affable and courteous as he would have been months previous,
and no one in the breakfast-room would have imagined that anything
had occurred to disturb the relations between the two gentlemen. He
inquired politely after the ladies, expressed regret that they were
indisposed, and changed the subject in a tone and manner natural to a
mere acquaintance.

Although his courtesy would appear faultless to observers, it made
Wildmere shiver.

"Mr. Arnault," Mr. Wildmere said, a little nervously, as they left the
breakfast-room, "may I speak with you?"

"Certainly," replied Arnault, with cool politeness, and he followed
Mr. Wildmere to a deserted part of the piazza.

"You made a very kind and liberal offer to my daughter," the latter
began.

"And received my final answer last night," was the cold, decisive
reply. "It would be impossible to imagine more definite assurance that
Miss Wildmere has no regard for me than was given within the time I
stipulated. I have accepted such assurance as final. Good-morning,
sir," and with a polite bow he turned on his heel and went to his
room.

Mr. Wildmere afterward learned that he took the first train to New
York.

"Arnault has a clear field now," Graydon had thought, cynically, while
at breakfast. "I can scarcely wish him anything worse than success;"
and then he looked complacently around the family group to which
he belonged, and felicitated himself that Wildmere traits were
conspicuously absent. His eyes dwelt oftenest on Madge. At this early
meal she always made him think of a flower with the morning dew upon
it. Even her evening costumes were characterized by quiet elegance;
but during the earlier hours of the day she dressed with a simplicity
that was almost severe, and yet with such good taste, such harmony
with herself, that the eye of the observer was always rested and
satisfied. Gentlemen who saw her would rarely fail to speak about her
afterward; few would ever mention her dress. Miss Wildmere affected
daintiness and style; Madge sought in the most quiet and modest way to
emphasize her own individuality. As far as possible she wished to be
valued for what she actually was. The very fact that there was so much
in her life that must be hidden led to a strong distaste for all that
was misleading in non-essentials.

"I am going to church with you to-day," said Graydon, "and I shall try
to behave."

"Try to! You cannot sit with me unless you promise to behave."

"That is the way to talk to men," said Mrs. Muir, who was completely
under her husband's thumb. "They like you all the better for showing
some spirit."

"I am not trying to make Graydon like me better, but only to insure
that he spends Sunday as should a good American."

"There is no longer any 'better' about my liking for Madge. It's all
best. I admit, however, that she has so much spirit that she inspires
unaffected awe."

"A roundabout way of calling me awful."

"Since you won't ride or drive with me to-day, are you too 'awfully
good,' as Harry says, to take a walk after dinner?"

"It depends on how you behave in church."

They spent the afternoon in a very different manner, however, for soon
after breakfast Dr. Sommers told them that Tilly Wendall was at rest,
and that the funeral would be that afternoon.

With Dr. Sommers's tidings Graydon saw that a shadow had fallen
on Madge's face, and his manner at once became gravely and gently
considerate. There were allusions to the dead girl in the service at
the chapel, where she had been an attendant, and Graydon saw half-shed
tears in Madge's eyes more than once.

She drove out with him in the lovely summer afternoon to the gray old
farmhouse. The thoughts of each were busy--they had not much to say
to each other--and Madge was grateful, for his quiet consideration
for her mood. It was another proof that the man she loved had not a
shallow, coarse-fibred nature. With all his strength he could be a
gentle, sympathetic presence--thinking of her first, thoughtfully
respecting her unspoken wishes, and not a garrulous egotist.

He in turn wondered at his own deep content and at the strange and
unexpected turn that his affairs had taken. He not only dwelt on what
had happened, but on what might have happened--what he had hoped for
and sought to attain. He remembered with shame that he had even
wished that Madge had not been at the resort, so that he might be less
embarrassed in his suit to Miss Wildmere. From his first waking moment
in the morning he had been conscious of an immeasurable sense of
relief at his escape. He felt now that he had never deeply loved Miss
Wildmere--that she had never touched the best feelings of his heart,
because not capable of doing so. But he had admired her. He had been a
devotee of society, and she had been to him the beautiful culmination
of that phase of life. He saw he had endowed her with the womanly
qualities which would make her the light of a home as well as of the
ballroom, but he had also seen that the woman which his fancy
had created did not exist. There is a love which is the result of
admiration and illusion, and this will often cling to its imperfect
object to the end. Such was not the case with Graydon, however. His
first motive had been little more than an ambition to seek the most
brilliant of social gems with which to crown a successful life; but he
was too much of a man to marry a belle as such and be content. He must
love her as a woman also, and he had loved what he imagined Stella
Wildmere to be. Now he felt, however, like a lapidary who, while
gloating over a precious stone, is suddenly shown that it is worthless
paste. He may have valued it highly an hour before; now he throws it
away in angry disgust. But this simile only in part explains Graydon's
feelings. He not only recognized Miss Wildmere's mercenary character
and selfish spirit, but also the power she would have had to thwart
his life and alienate him from his brother and Madge. While she was
not the pearl for which he might give all, she could easily have
become the active poison of his life.

"Oh," he thought, "how blessed is this content with sweet sister
Madge--sister in spite of all she says--compared with brief, feverish
pleasure in an engagement with such a sham of a woman, or the mad
chaos of financial disaster which my suit might have brought about!"
and he unconsciously gave a profound sigh of satisfaction.

"Oh, Graydon, what a sigh!" Madge exclaimed. "Is your regret so great?
You were indeed thinking very deeply."

"So were you, Madge--so you have been during the last half hour. My
sigh was one of boundless relief and gratitude. If you will permit
me, I will tell you the thoughts that occasioned it as a proof of my
friendly confidence. May I tell you?"

"Yes, if you think it right," she said, with slightly heightened
color.

"It seems to me both right and natural that I should tell you;" and he
put the thoughts which preceded his sigh into words.

"Yes," she replied, gravely; "I think you have escaped much that you
would regret. Please don't talk about it any more."

"What were you thinking about, Madge?" he asked, looking into her
flushed and lovely face.

"I have thought a great deal about Tilly and what passed between us.
That is the house there, and it will always remain in my mind as a
distinct memory."

Farm wagons and vehicles of all descriptions were gathering at
the dwelling. They were driven by men with faces as rugged and
weather-beaten as the mountains around them. By their sides were
plain-featured matrons, whose rustic beauty had early faded under the
stress of life's toil, and apple-cheeked boys and girls, with faces
composed into the most unnatural and portentous gravity. There was a
sprinkling of young men, with visages so burned by the sun that they
might pass for civilized Indians. They were accompanied by young women
who, in their remote rural homes, had obtained hints from the world of
fashion, and after the manner of American girls had arrayed themselves
with a neatness and taste that was surprising; and the fresh pink and
white of their complexions made a pleasing contrast with their swains.
Although the occasion was one of solemnity, it was not without its
pleasurable excitement. They all knew about poor Tilly, and to-day
was the culmination of the little drama of her illness, the details of
which had been discussed for weeks among the neighbors--not in callous
curiosity, but with that strange blending of gossip and sympathy which
is found in rural districts. The conclusion of all such talk had been
a sigh and the words, "She is prepared to go."

The people as yet were gathered without the door and in groups under
the trees. Tilly's remains were still in her own little room, Mrs.
Wendall taking her farewell look with hollow, tearless eyes. A few
favored ones, chiefly the watchers who had aided the stricken mother,
were admitted to this retreat of sorrow.

When Dr. Sommers saw Madge and Graydon he came to them and said, "Mrs.
Wendall requested that when you came you and whoever accompanied you
should be brought to her. Tilly, before she died, expressed the wish
that you should sit with her mother during the funeral. No, no, Mr.
Muir, Mrs. Wendall would have no objection to any of Miss Alden's
friends. I can give you a seat here by this window. The other rooms
will be very crowded with those who are strangers to you."

Graydon found himself by the same window at which Madge had sat in her
long vigil. The bed had been removed, and in its place was a plain
yet tasteful casket. Mr. Wendall, with his head bowed down, sat at its
foot, wiping away tears from time to time with a bandana handkerchief.
Two or three stanch friends and helpers sat also in the room, for it
would appear that the Wendalls had no relatives in the vicinity.

As Madge sat down by Mrs. Wendall, so intent was the mother's gaze
upon her dead child that she did not at first notice the young girl's
presence. Madge took a thin, toil-worn hand caressingly in both her
own, and then the tearless eyes were turned upon her, and the light
of recognition came slowly into them, as if she were recalling her
thoughts from an immense distance.

"I'm glad you've come," she said, in a loud, strange whisper. "She
wanted you to be with me. She said you had trouble, and would know how
to sustain me. She left a message for you. She said, 'Tell dear Madge
that the dying sometimes have clear vision--tell her I've prayed for
her ever since, and she'll be happy yet, even in this world. Tell her
that I only saw her a little while, but she belongs to those I shall
wait for to welcome.' You'll stay by me till it's all over, won't
you?"

Madge was deeply agitated, but she managed to say distinctly, "Tilly
also said something to me, and I want you to think of her words
through all that is to come. She said, 'Think where I have gone, and
don't grieve a moment.'"

"Yes, I'll come to that by and by; but now I can think of only one
thing--they are going to take away my baby;" and she laid her head
on the still bosom with a yearning in her face which only God, who
created the mother's heart, could understand.

What followed need not be dwelt upon. The mother and father took their
last farewell, the casket was carried to the outer room, the simple
service was soon over, the tearful tributes paid, and then the slow
procession took its way to a little graveyard on a hillside among the
mountains.

"I can't go and see Tilly buried," said Mrs. Wendall, in the same
unnatural whisper. "I will go to her grave some day, but not yet. I
am trying to keep up, but I don't feel that I could stand on my feet a
minute now."

"I'll stay with you till they come back," Madge answered, tenderly;
and at last she was left alone in the house, holding the tearless
mother's hand. She soon bowed her young head upon it, bedewing it with
her tears. The poor woman's deep absorption began to pass away. The
warm tears upon her hand, the head upon her lap, began to waken the
instincts of womanhood to help and console another. She stroked the
dark hair and murmured, "Poor child, poor child! Tilly was right.
Trouble makes us near of kin."

"You loved Tilly, Mrs. Wendall," Madge sobbed. "Think of where she's
gone. No more tears; no more pain; no more death."

Her touch of sympathy broke the stony paralysis; her hot tears melted
those which seemed to have congealed in the breaking heart, and the
mother took Madge in her arms and cried till her strength was gone.

When Mr. Wendall returned with some of the neighbors, Madge met him at
the door and held up a warning finger. The overwrought woman had been
soothed into the blessed oblivion of restoring sleep, the first she
had for many hours. A motherly-looking woman whispered her intention
of remaining with Mrs. Wendall all night. Mr. Wendall took Madge's
hand in both his own, and looked at her with eyes dim with tears.
Twice he essayed to speak, then turned away, faltering, "When I meet
you where Tilly is, perhaps I can tell you."

She went down the little path bordered by flowers which the dead girl
had loved and tended, and gathered a few of them. Then Graydon drove
her away, his only greeting being a warm pressure of her hand.

At last Madge breathed softly, "Think where I have gone. Where is
heaven? What is it?"

His eyes were moist as he turned toward her. "I don't know, Madge," he
said. "I know one thing, however, I shall never, as you asked, say a
word against your faith. I've seen its fruits to-day."

CHAPTER XXXV

A NEW EXPERIMENT

Stella Wildmere would not leave the seclusion of her room. As the
hours passed the more overwhelming grew her disappointment and
humiliation, and her chief impulse now was to get away from a place
that had grown hateful to her. She had bitterly reproached her father
as the cause of her desolation, but thus far he had made no reply
whatever. She had passed almost a sleepless night, and since had shut
herself up in her room, looking at the past with a fixed stare and
rigid face, over which at times would pass a crimson hue of shame.

Mrs. Wildmere went down to dinner with her husband, and then learned
that Mr. Arnault had breakfasted with him. This fact she told Stella
on her return, and the girl sent for her father immediately.

"Why did you not tell me that Mr. Arnault was here this morning?" she
asked, harshly.

He looked at her steadily, but made no reply.

"Why don't you answer me?" she resumed, springing up in her impatience
and taking a step toward him.

He still maintained the same steadfast, earnest look, which began to
grow embarrassing, for it emphasized the consciousness which she could
not stifle, that she alone was to blame.

She turned irritably away, and sat down on the opposite side of the
room.

"It's just part and parcel of your past folly," she began. "If I had
known he was here, and could have seen him or written to him--"

She still encountered the same searching eyes that appeared to be
looking into her very soul.

"Oh, well, if you have nothing to say--"

"I have a great deal to say," answered her father, quietly, "but you
are not ready to hear it yet."

"More lecturing and fault-finding," said Stella, sullenly.

"I have not lectured or found fault. I have warned you and tried to
make you see the truth and to help you."

"And with your usual success. When can we leave this house?"

"We _must_ leave it to-morrow. I will speak in kindness and truth when
you are ready to listen. I know the past; I have little left now but
memory."

He waited some moments, but there was no relenting on her part, and he
passed out.

All the afternoon conscience waged war with anger, shame, pride and
fear--fear for the future, fear of her father, for she had never
before seen him look as he had since he had met her on the piazza
the evening before. He had manifested none of his usual traits of
irritability alternating with a coldness corresponding to her own. He
seemed to have passed beyond these surface indications of trouble
to the condition of one who sees evils that he cannot avert and who
rallies sufficient manhood to meet them with a dignity that bordered
on despair.

As Stella grew calmer she had a growing perception of this truth. He
no longer indulged in vague, half-sincere predictions of disaster. His
aspect was that of a man who was looking at fate.

A cold dread began to creep over her. What was in prospect? Was he,
not Henry Muir, to lose everything? After all, he was her father, her
protector, her only hope for the future. As reason found chance to be
heard, she saw how senseless was her revolt at him. She could not go
on ignoring him any longer. Perhaps it would be best to hear what he
had to say.

This feeling was intensified by her mother, who at last came in and
said, in a weak, half-desperate way, "Stella, there is no use of your
going on in this style any longer. Distressed and worried as I am,
I can see that we can't help matters now by just wringing our hands.
Your father says we must leave as early as possible to-morrow. I can't
do everything to get ready. I'm so unnerved I can scarcely stand now.
Do come down to supper with us, or else let a good supper be brought
to you, and then let us act as if we had not lost our senses utterly.
Your father looks and is so strange that I scarcely know him."

"I'll not go down again. Nothing would tempt me to meet Graydon
Muir and the curious stare of the people. I suppose they are full of
surmises. If you will have a supper sent to me I will take it and do
all the packing myself. Please tell papa that I wish to see him after
supper."

She then made a toilet suitable for her task, and waited impatiently.
Her father soon appeared with a dainty and inviting supper. As soon as
they were alone Stella began:

"Now, papa, tell me the worst--not what you fear, but just what is
before us."

"Eat your supper first."

"No; I wish to learn the absolute truth. You said you had a great deal
to say to me. I'm calm now, and I suppose I've acted like a fool long
enough."

"I have much to say, but not many words. _I_ must begin again, Heaven
only knows how or where. I am about at the end of my resources. I
shall not do anything rash or silly. I shall do my best while I have
power to do anything. I do not propose to reproach you for the past.
It's gone now, and can't be helped. My proposal to you is that _you_
begin also. You have tried pleasing yourself and thinking of self
first pretty thoroughly. You know what it is to be a belle. Now, why
not try the experiment of being a true, earnest, unselfish woman,
whose first effort is to do right. Believe me, Stella, there is a God
in heaven who thwarts selfishness and punishes it in ways often
least expected. The people with whom we associate soon recognize
the self-seeking spirit, and resent it. You have had a terrible and
practical illustration of what I say. Are you not a girl of too much
mind to make the same blunder again? With your youth you need not
spoil your life, or that of others, unless you do it wilfully."

She leaned back in her chair, and bitter tears came into her eyes.

"Yes," she faltered, "my lesson has been a terrible one; but perhaps
I never should have become sane without it. I have been exacting and
receiving all my life, and yet to-night I feel that I have nothing.
Oh," she exclaimed, with passionate utterance, "I have been such a
_fool_. Nothing, nothing to show for all those gay, brilliant years,
not even a father's love and little claim upon it."

He came to her side and kissed her again and again.

"You don't know anything about a father's love," he said. "It survives
everything and anything, and your love would save me."

Never, even under the eyes of Graydon Muir, had she been so conscious
of her heart before. Had he seen her when she departed on the earliest
train in the morning he would have witnessed a new expression on her
face.

CHAPTER XXXVI

MADGE ALDEN'S RIDE

Methodical Henry Muir found that the events of the last few days had
resulted in a reaction and weariness which he could not readily shake
off, and he had expressed an intention of sleeping late on Monday and
taking the second train. When he and his family gathered at breakfast,
the removal to Hotel Kaaterskill was the uppermost theme, and it was
agreed that Madge and Graydon should ride thither on horseback, and
return by a train, if wearied. Mr. Muir then went to the city, well
prepared to establish himself on a safer footing. Graydon and Madge
soon after were on their way through the mountain valleys, the latter
with difficulty holding her horse down to the pace they desired to
maintain.

After riding rapidly for some distance, they reached long, lonely
stretches, favorable for conversation, and Graydon was too fond of
hearing Madge talk to lose the opportunity. He looked wonderingly
at her flushed face, with the freshness of the morning in it; her
brilliant eyes, from which flashed a spirit that nothing seemed
to daunt; the sudden compression of her lips, as with power and
inimitable grace she reined in her chafing steed. Never before had
she appeared so vital and beautiful, and he rode at her side with
something like exultation that they were so much to each other. He
was turning his back on a past fraught with peril, over which hung the
shadow of what must have been a lifelong disappointment.

"The girl who would have taken me, as Henry chooses among commercial
securities, cannot now make me an adjunct to her self-pleasing
career," he thought. "I am free--free to become to Madge what I was in
old times. No one now has the right to look askance at our affection
and companionship. What an idiot I was to endure Stella's criticism
while she was playing it so sharp between Arnault and myself! No
wonder crystal Madge said she and Stella were not congenial!

"I call Madge crystal, yet I don't understand her fully, and have not
since my return. She has had some deep, sad experience, which she is
hiding from all. From what Mrs. Wendall said at the funeral yesterday,
Madge must have revealed more of it to that dying girl than to any
one else. How my heart thrilled at those strange whispered words! How
dearly I would love to help her and bring unalloyed happiness into her
life! But whatever it was referred to I cannot touch upon till she
of her own accord gives me her confidence. Could she have formed what
promises to be a hopeless love in her Western home, and is she now
hiding a wound that will not heal, while bravely and cheerfully facing
life as it is? Perhaps her purpose to return to Santa Barbara proves
that she does not regard her love as utterly hopeless. Well, whatever
the truth may be, she hides her secret with consummate skill, and I
shall not pry into even her affairs. I only know that as I feel now I
should prize her friendship above any other woman's love."

"What are you thinking of so deeply?" she asked, meeting his eyes.

"My thought just then was that I should prize your friendship above
any other woman's love, and I had been felicitating myself that Stella
Wildmere would never have the right to criticise the fact."

"Oh, Graydon, what a man of moods and tenses you are!" Then she added,
laughing, "There has been indeed a kaleidoscopic turn in affairs. Mr.
Arnault disappeared yesterday, and Mary learned that the Wildmeres
left by the early train this morning."

"Yes, Miss Wildmere followed Arnault promptly. They are near of kin,
but not too near to marry. Their nuptials should be solemnized in Wall
Street, under flowers arranged into a dollar symbol."

"I feel sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Wildmere, though; especially the
former. I think he might have been quite different had the fates been
kinder."

"I would rather dismiss them all from my mind as far as possible.
Don't think me callous about Stella. If she had decided for me at once
and been true I would have been loyal to her in spite of everything;
but the revelation of her cold, mercenary soul makes me shudder when I
think how narrowly I escaped allying myself to it."

"You have indeed had an escape," Madge replied, gravely. "If she were
a young, thoughtless, undeveloped girl her womanhood might have come
to her afterward. I hope I am mistaken, but she has made a singular
impression on me."

"Please tell me it. You have insight into character that in one so
young is surprising."

"I have no special insight. I simply feel people. They create an
atmosphere and make some dominant impression with which I always
associate them."

"I am eager to know what impression Miss Wildmere has made."

"I fear this would be true of her, even after she becomes a mature
woman. A man might be almost perishing at her side from mental trouble
of some kind, and, so far from feeling for him and sympathizing, she
wouldn't even know it, and he couldn't make her know it. She would
look at him quietly with her gray eyes as she would at a problem in
the calculus, and with scarcely more desire to understand him, and
with perhaps less power to do so. She would turn from him to a new
dress, a new admirer, or a new phase of amusement, and forget him, and
the fact that he was her husband would not make much difference. Some
deep experience of her own may change her, but I don't know. I fear
another's experience would be like a tragedy without the walls while
she was safe within."

"Oh, Madge, think of a man with a strong, sensitive nature beating his
very heart to death against such pumice-stone callousness!"

"I don't like to think of it," she replied. "Come, I ask with you now
that we forget her as far as possible. She may not disappoint a
man like Arnault. Let them both become shadows in the background of
memory. Here's a level place. Now for a gallop."

When at last they pulled up, Graydon said, "Your horse is awfully
strong and restless to-day."

"Yes; he has not been used enough of late. He'll be quiet before
night, for I am enjoying this so much that I should like to return in
the same way."

"I am delighted to hear you say so. My spirits begin to rise the
moment I am with you, and you are the only woman I ever knew from
whose side I could not go with the feeling, 'Well, some other time
would suit me now.'"

Her laugh rang out so suddenly and merrily that her horse sprang into
a gallop, but she checked him speedily, and thought, with an exultant
thrill, "Graydon now has surely revealed an unmistakable symptom." To
him she said:

"You amuse me immensely. You are almost as outspoken as little Harry,
and, like him, you mistake the impression of the moment for the
immutable."

"Now, that's not fair to me. I've been constant to you. Own up, Madge,
haven't I?"

With a glance and smile which she never gave to others, and rarely to
him, she said:

"I own up. I don't believe a real brother would have been half so
nice.".

"Let the past guarantee the future, then. Shake hands against all
future misunderstandings."

She was scarcely ready to shake hands on such a basis, but of course
would have complied. In the slight confusion her hand relaxed its
grasp on the curb-rein, and at the same moment a locomotive, coming
along the side of the opposite mountain, blew a shrill whistle.
Instantly her horse had the bit in his teeth, and was off at a furious
pace.

At first she did not care, but soon found, with anxiety, that he
paid no attention to her efforts to check him, and that his pace was
passing into a mad run. The gorge was growing narrower, and the lofty
mountains stood, with their rocky feet, nearer and nearer together.
She could see through the intervening trees that the road and
rail-track were becoming closely parallel, and at last realized that
her horse was unmanageable.

When the engineer of the train saw Madge's desperate riding he
surmised that her horse was not under control, and put on extra steam
in order to take the exciting cause of the animal's terror out of the
way. He thought he could easily reach the summit of the clove where
the carriage-drive crossed the track before Madge, and then pass
swiftly over the down-grade beyond; but he had not calculated on the
terrific speed of the horse; and when at last the track and roadway
were almost side by side the frantic beast, with his pale rider, was
abreast of the train. For a moment the engineer was irresolute, and
then, too late, as he feared, "slowed up."

The narrow road, with a precipitous mountain on the left, was so near
to the flying train that the passengers in an open car could almost
touch Madge, and she was to them like a strange and beautiful
apparition, with her white face and large dark eyes filled with an
unspeakable dread.

"Oh, stop the train!" she cried, and her voice, with the whole power
of her lungs, rang out far above the clatter of the wheels, wakening
despairing echoes from the mountains impending on either side.

The speed of the cars was perceptibly checked; the passengers saw
the foam-flecked brute, with head stubbornly bent downward and eye of
fire, pass beyond them. An instant later, to their horrified gaze and
that of Graydon's, who was following as fast as a less swift horse
could carry him, Madge and the locomotive appeared to come together.
The young man gave a hoarse, inarticulate cry between a curse and a
shout, and whipped his horse forward furiously.

The speed of the train was renewed, and he saw through the open car
that Madge must have passed unharmed before the engine, just grazing
it. It also appeared that she was gaining the mastery, for her horse
was rearing; then cars of ordinary make intervened and hid her from
view a moment, and the train clattered noisily on.

When he crossed the track Madge was not where he had last seen her.
The road beyond ran at a greater distance from the railway, and was
lined with trees and bushes. Through an opening among these he saw
that the horse had resumed his old mad pace, that Madge was still
mounted, but that she was no longer erect, and sat with her head bowed
and her whip-hand clutching the mane. He also saw, with a sinking
heart, that the road curved a little further on, and evidently crossed
the track again.

A moment later--Oh, horror! An opening in the foliage revealed Madge
dashing headlong, apparently, into the train. He grew so faint that he
almost fell from his horse, and was scarcely conscious, until, with
a strong revulsion of hope, he found himself under the track which,
about an eighth of a mile from the previous crossing, passes just
above the roadway. Not aware of this fact, and with vision broken by
intervening trees, he could not have imagined anything else than a
collision, which must have been fatal in its consequences.

With hope his pulse quickened, his strength returned, and he again
urged his jaded horse forward, at the same time sending out his voice:

"Madge, Madge, keep up a little longer."

The road had left the car-track, the noise of the train was dying away
in the distance. At last, turning a curve, he saw that Madge's horse
had come down to a canter, and that she was pulling feebly at the
rein.

As he approached he shouted "Whoa!" with such a voice of command that
the horse stopped suddenly and she almost fell forward.

"Quick, Graydon, quick!" she gasped.

He sprang to the ground, and a second later she was an unconscious
burden in his arms.

He laid her gently on a mossy bank under an oak; then, with a
face fairly livid with passion, he drew a small revolver from his
hip-pocket, stepped back to the horse that now stood trembling and
exhausted in the road, and shot him dead.

He now saw that they had been observed at a neighboring farmhouse,
and that people were running toward them. Gathering Madge again in
his arms, he bore her toward the dwelling, in which effort he was soon
aided by a stout countryman.

The farmer's wife was all solicitude, and to her and her daughter's
ministrations Madge was left, while Graydon waited, with intense
anxiety, in the porch, explaining what had occurred, with a manner
much distraught, in answer to many questions.

"The cursed brute is done for now," he concluded.

Madge's faint proved obstinate, and at last Graydon began to urge the
farmer to go for a physician.

The daughter at last appeared with the glad tidings that the young
girl was "coming to nicely."

Graydon breathed a fervent "Thank God!" and sank weak and limp into
a seat on the porch. The farmer brought him a glass of cool milk from
the cellar, and then Graydon sent in word that he would like to see
the lady as soon as possible.

When he entered the "spare room" of the farmhouse Madge, with a smile
that was like a ray of sunshine, extended her hand from the lounge on
which she was reclining, and said:

"You didn't fail me, Graydon. I couldn't have kept up a moment longer.
I should have fainted before had I not heard your voice. How good God
has been!"

He held her hand in both his own, his mouth twitched nervously, but
his emotion was too strong for speech.

"Don't feel so badly, Graydon," she resumed, and her voice was
gentleness itself; "I am not hurt, nor are you to blame."

"I am to blame," he said, hoarsely. "I gave you that brute, but he's
dead. I shot him instantly. Oh, Madge, if--if--I feel that I would
have shot myself."

"Graydon, please be more calm," she faltered, tears coming into her
eyes. "There, see, you are making me cry. I can't bear to see you--I
can't bear to see a man--so moved. Please now, you look so pale that
I am frightened. I'm not strong, but shall get better at once if I see
you yourself."

"Forgive me, Madge, but it seems as if I had suffered the pangs of
death ten times over--there, I won't speak about it till we both have
recovered from the shock. Dear, brave little girl; how can I thank you
enough for keeping up till I could reach you!"

She began to laugh a little too nervously to be natural. Her heart was
glad over her escape, and in a gladder tumult at his words and manner.
He was no shadow of a man, nor did ice-water flow in his veins. His
feeling had been so strong that it had almost broken her self-control.

"Some day," she exulted, "some day God will turn his fraternal
affection into the wine of love."

"I'm so nervous," she said, "that I must either laugh or cry. What a
plight we are in! How shall we go forward or backward?"

"We shall not do either very soon. Mrs. Hobson is making you a cup of
tea, and then you must rest thoroughly, and sleep, if possible."

"What will you do?"

"Oh, I'll soothe my nerves with a cigar, and berate myself on the
porch! When you are thoroughly rested I'll have Mr. Hobson drive us on
to the nearest station. We are in no plight whatever, if you received
no harm."

"I haven't. Promise me one thing."

"Anything--everything."

"Do no berating. I'm sorry you killed the horse; but he did act
vilely, and I suppose you had to let off your anger in some way. I was
angry myself at first--he was so stupid. But when I found I couldn't
hold him at all I thought I must die--Oh, how it all comes back to
me! What thoughts I had, and how sweet life became! Oh, oh--" and she
began sobbing like a child.

"Madge, please--I can't endure this, indeed I can't."

But her overwrought nerves were not easily controlled, and he knelt
beside her, speaking soothingly and pleadingly. "Dear Madge, dear
sister Madge. Oh, I wish Mary was here!" and he kissed her again and
again.

"Graydon," she gasped, "stop! There--I'm better;" and she did seem to
recover almost instantly.

"Law bless you, sir," said Mrs. Hobson, who had entered with the tea,
"your sister'll be all right in an hour or so."

Graydon sprang to his feet, and there was a strong dash of color in
his face. As for the hitherto pallid Madge, her visage was like a
peony, and she was preternaturally quiet.

"Try to sleep, Madge," said Graydon, from the doorway, "and I won't
'worry or take on' a bit;" and he disappeared.

There was no sleep for her, and yet she felt herself wonderfully
restored. Was it the potency of Mrs. Hobson's tea? or that which he
had placed upon her lips?

CHAPTER XXXVII

"YOU ARE VERY BLIND"

As a general rule Graydon was not conscious of nerves, and had
received the fact of their existence largely on faith. But to-day they
asserted themselves in a manner which excited his surprise and some
rather curious speculation. He found his heart beating in a way
difficult to account for on a physiological basis, his pulses
fluttering, and his thoughts in a luminous haze, wherein nothing was
very distinct except Madge's flushing face, startled eyes, looking a
protest through their tears. It was not so much an indignant protest
as it was a frightened one, he half imagined. And why was he so
confused and disturbed that, instead of sitting quietly down in the
porch, as he had intended, he was impelled to walk restlessly to
a neighboring grove! For one so intensely fraternal he felt he was
continuing to "take on" in a very unnecessary style.

"Confound that woman!" he muttered. "Why did she have to come in just
then, and why should I blush like a schoolgirl because she caught me
kissing one that I regard as a sister? And why did the word sister
sound so unnatural when spoken by Mrs. Hobson? 'Great Scott!' as Henry
says, I hope I'm not growing to love Madge. She would overwhelm me
with ridicule, infused, perhaps, with a spice of contempt, if I gave
her the impression that I had fallen out of love one week and in the
next. Hang it! I'm all broken up from this day's experience. I had
better get on my feet mentally, and then I shall be able to find out
where I stand."

The demon of restlessness soon drove him back to the house again, and
he learned that there would be a train in about two hours. They would
still have time to dine at the Kaaterskill and return before night. He
therefore made arrangements to be driven to the station, also to have
the horse he had ridden and the saddles taken back to the Under-Cliff
House.

There was a faint after-glow on Madge's cheeks when she joined him at
the substantial repast which Mr. and Mrs. Hobson insisted upon their
partaking before departure; but in all other respects she appeared
and acted as usual. With a fineness of tact she was at home among her
plain entertainers, and put them at ease. Mrs. Hobson continued to
speak of her as Graydon's sister, and he had darted a humorous glance
at the girl; but it met such grave impassiveness of expression that he
feared she was angry.

When parting from her hostess Madge spoke words which left a genial
expression on the good dame's face for hours thereafter, and at the
station Graydon put in Mr. Hobson's hand more than he could have
gathered from his stony farm that day, although he had been called
from the harvest field.

During the first mile or two in the cars Madge was very quiet, and
seemed almost wholly engrossed with the scenery. At last Graydon
leaned toward her and asked, "Are you vexed with me, Madge?"

"I find that I must maintain my self-control when with you, Graydon,"
was the grave reply.

"Forgive me, Madge. I scarcely knew what I was doing. Let your
thoughts take my part a little. Remember that within the hour I had
believed I had lost you. I haven't had a chance to tell you yet, but
when you passed under the train you appeared from where I was to dash
into it, and I nearly fainted and fell off my horse. Think what a
horrible shock I had. I also was nervous and all broken up--the first
time in my life that I remember being so. I couldn't cry as you did,
and when off my balance kissing you was just as natural to me as--"
Madge's mouth had been twitching, and now, in spite of herself, her
laugh broke forth.

"Please forgive me, Madge;" and he held out his hand.

"On condition that you will never do so again, or speak of it again."

"Never?" he repeated, ruefully.

"Never!" she said, with severe emphasis.

"I won't make any such promise," he replied, stubbornly.

"Oh, very well!" and she turned to the window.

"Confound it!" he thought; "I'm not going to tie myself up by any such
pledge. I'm not sure of myself, or sure of anything, except that I'm a
free man, and that Madge won't be my sister. I shall remain free. She
herself once said in effect that I could take a straight course
when once I got my bearings, and I shall permit no more promises or
trammels till I do get them."

They passed speedily on to the end of their journey, and were the
perfection of quiet, well-bred travellers, he disguising a slightly
vexatious constraint and sense of unduly severe punishment, and she
secretly exulting over the fact that he would not make the promise.

When leaving the Kaaterskill station her eyes first rested on the
adjacent lake, and its wide extent suggested the opportunity to pull
an oar to some purpose. As the stage surmounted the last approach
to the hotel, and the valley of the Hudson, with the river winding
through it like a silver band, broke upon her vision, the apparent
cloud passed from her brow, and her pleasure was unaffected. A few
inquiries and the study of a map of the vicinity made it evident that
the region abounded in superb walks and drives, while from the
front piazza there was a panorama that would never lose its changing
interest and beauty. A suite of rooms was selected, with the
understanding that they should be occupied on Wednesday.

Madge soon found herself the object of no little curiosity and
interest. The story of her mad ride had reached the house, and she
was recognized by some who had been on the train; but Graydon met
inquiries in such a way that they were not pushed very far. To a
reporter he said, "Is this affair ours or the public's? We have not
trespassed on any one's rights."

He reassured Madge by saying, "Don't worry about it; such things are
only the talk of a day."

They returned during the afternoon. Graydon's manner was courtesy
itself, and but little more; but he was becoming a vigilant student of
his companion, and she soon was dimly aware of the fact.

"I will understand her," he had resolved. "I intend to get my
bearings, and then shape my course, for I cannot help feeling that the
destiny of the little girl who used to sit on my lap, with her head on
my shoulder, is in some way interwoven with mine. Even when I believed
myself in love with another woman she had more power over me than
Stella--more power to kindle thought and awaken my deeper nature. I
begin to think that all her talk about being a friend, good fellow,
etc., is greater nonsense than my fraternal proposals. No friend,
fellow, or sister could make my heart beat as it did to-day. No human
being in mortal peril could have awakened such desperate, reckless
despair as I felt at one time, and" (with a smile to himself) "I never
knew what a kiss was before. I'm not the fool to ignore all these
symptoms. I'll fathom the mystery of this sweet, peerless girl, if it
takes all summer and all my life."

But the fair enigma at his side grew more inscrutable. Neither by tone
nor glance did she indicate that he was more to her than she had said.

"Do you wish to recognize the scenes we passed over this morning?" he
asked, gently, as they approached them.

"No, not yet. I don't wish to think about it any more than I can
help."

"Your wishes are mine."

"Occasionally, perhaps."

"You shall see."

"I usually do," was her laughing answer.

But she began to appear very weary, and when they reached the
Under-Cliff House she went to her room, and did not reappear again
that day.

Graydon made even Dr. Sommers's ruddy cheek grow pale by his brief
narrative, adding, "Perhaps her nerves have received a severer shock
than she yet understands. I wish you would tell Mrs. Muir the story,
making as light of it as you can, and with her aid you can insure that
Miss Alden obtains the rest and tonics she needs. You can also meet
and quiet the rumors that may be flying about, and you know that Miss
Alden has a strong aversion to being talked to or of about personal
affairs."

In youth, health, and sleep Madge found the best restoratives, and the
morning saw her little the worse for the experiences of the previous
day. The hours passed quickly in preparations for departure and in
a call on Mr. and Mrs. Wendall, who gave evidence that they were
becoming more resigned.

"I am at work again," said the farmer, "and so is Nancy. There's
nothing else for us to do but plod toward home, where Tilly is."

Regret was more general and sincere than is usual when the transient
associations of a resort are broken. Dr. Sommers's visage could not
lengthen literally, and yet it approached as nearly to a funereal
aspect as was possible. He brightened up, however, when Madge slipped
something into his hand "for the chapel."

They were soon comfortably established in their new quarters, and in
the late afternoon Madge was so rested that she took a short walk
with Graydon to Sunset Rock, and saw the shadows deepen in the vast,
beautiful Kaaterskill Clove. Then they returned by the ledge path.
At last they entered the wonderful Palenvilie Road, a triumph of
practical engineering, and built by a plain mountaineer, who, from the
base of the mountain to the summit, made his surveys and sloped his
grades by the aid of his eye only. They had been comparatively silent,
and Graydon finally remarked: "It gives me unalloyed pleasure, Madge,
to look upon such scenes with you. There is no need of my pointing out
anything. I feel that you see more than I do, and I understand better
what I do see from the changing expression of your eyes. Don't you
think such unspoken appreciation of the same thing is the basis of
true companionship?"

"Oh, Graydon, what an original thought!"

He bit his lip, and remarked that the evening was growing cool.

At supper and during the evening his vigilance was not rewarded in
the slightest degree. Madge appeared in good spirits, and talked
charmingly, even brilliantly at times, but she was exceedingly
impersonal, and it was now his policy to follow her slightest lead in
everything. He would prove that her wish was his, as far as he knew
it.

"Some day," he thought, "I shall find a clew to her mystery."

The next morning Graydon went to the city, and would not return till
Friday evening of the following week, for it was now his purpose to
resume business. In the evening he and his brother discussed their
affairs, which were beginning to improve all along the line. Then
their talk converged more upon topics connected with this story, and
among them was Mr. Wildmere's suspension.

"His failure don't amount to very much," Henry remarked; "he has
always done business in a sort of hand-to-mouth way."

"I am surprised that Arnault permitted him to go down," Graydon said;
"it couldn't have taken very much to keep him up."

"It is said that Arnault will have nothing to do with him, and that
this fact has hastened his downfall."

"Well, so she played it too sharp on him, also. I was in hopes that
she would marry and punish him. I don't wonder at his course, though;
for if he has a spark of spirit he would not forgive her treatment
after she learned that you had not failed. Oh, how blind I was!"

"Yes, Graydon, you are very blind," said Mr. Muir, inadvertently.

"'Are?' Why do you use the present tense?"

"Did I?" replied Mr. Muir, a little confusedly. "Well, you see, Madge
and I understood Miss Wildmere from the first."

"Oh, hang Miss Wildmere! Do you think Madge--"

"Now stop right there, Graydon. I think Madge is the best and most
sensible girl I ever knew, and that's all you will ever get out of
me."

"Pardon me, Henry. I spoke from impulse, and not a worthy one, either.
I tell you point blank, however, that Madge Alden hasn't her equal in
the world. I would love her in a moment if I dared. Would to Heaven
I could have spent some time with her immediately after my return! In
that case there would have been no Wildmere folly. I declare, Henry,
when I thought she must be killed the other day I felt that the end
of my own life had come. I can't tell you what that girl is to me; but
with her knowledge of the past how can I approach her in decency?"

"Well," said Mr. Muir, shrugging his shoulders and rising to retire,
"you are out of the worst part of your scrape, and Madge is alive
and well. This is not a little to be thankful for. I shall confine my
advice to business matters. Still, were I in your shoes, I know what I
should do. 'Faint heart,' you know. Good-night."

Graydon did not move, or scarcely answer, but, with every faculty of
mind concentrated, he thought, "Henry's explanation of his use of the
present tense does not explain, and there is more meaning in what he
left unsaid in our recent interview than in what he said. Can it be
possible? Let me take this heavenly theory and, as we were taught at
college, see how much there is to support it. Was there any change in
her manner toward me before we parted years since? Why, she was taken
ill that night when she first met Miss Wildmere, and I stayed away
from her so long--idiot!"

From that hour he went forward, scanning everything that had occurred
between them, until he saw again her flushing face and startled eyes
when he kissed her, and his belief grew strong that it was his immense
good-fortune to fulfil the prediction that Madge should be happy.

The thought kept him sleepless most of that night, and made the time
which must intervene before he could see her again seem long indeed.
He did his utmost to get the details of his department well in hand
during business hours; but after they were over his mind returned at
once to Madge, and never did a scientist hunt for facts and hints in
support of a pet theory so eagerly as did Graydon scan the past for
confirmation of his hope, that long years of companionship had given
him a place in Madge's heart which no one else possessed, and that
his blindness or indifference to the truth was the sorrow of her life.
This view explained why she would not regard herself as his sister,
and could not permit the intimacy natural to the relation.

When he examined the attitude of his own heart toward her he was not
surprised that his affection was passing swiftly into a love deeper
and far more absorbing than Stella Wildmere had ever inspired.

"The old law of cause and effect," he said, smiling to himself, "and
I can imagine no effect in me adequate to the cause. Even when she
scarcely cast a shadow she was more companionable than Stella, but it
never occurred to me to think of her in any other light than that of
little sister Madge. Almost as soon as the thought occurred to me,
and I had a right to love her, love became as natural as it was
inevitable. Even in the height of my infatuation for Stella, Madge was
winning me from her unconsciously to myself."

Such thoughts and convictions imparted a gentle and almost caressing
tone to his words when Madge welcomed and accompanied him to his late
supper on his return to the mountains.

[Illustration: "PROMISE ME YOU WILL TAKE A LONG REST."]

This significant accent was more marked than ever when she promenaded
with him for a brief time on the piazza. Nor did a little brusqueness
on her part banish the tone and manner which were slight indeed, but
unmistakable to her quick intuition.

"Could Henry have given him a hint?" she queried; and her brow
contracted and her eyes flashed indignantly at the thought.

As a result of the suspicion, she left him speedily, and in the
morning was glad to hope, from his more natural bearing, that she had
been over-sensitive.

The sagacious Graydon, however, was maturing a plan which he hoped
would bring her the happiness which it would be his happiness to
confer.

"She is so proud and spirited," he thought, "that only when surprised
and off her guard will she reveal to me a glimpse of the truth. If I
consulted my own pride I wouldn't speak for a long time to come--not
till she had ceased to associate me with Stella Wildmere; but if she
is loving me as I believe she would love a man, she shall not doubt an
hour longer than I can help, that I and my life's devotion are hers.
Sweet Madge, you shall make your own terms again!"

CHAPTER XXXVIII

"CERTAINLY I REFUSE YOU"

Having heard that one of the finest views among the mountains was to
be had at Indian Head, a vast overhanging precipice facing toward the
entrance to the Kaaterskill Clove, Graydon easily induced Madge to
explore with him the tangled paths which led thither.

How his eyes exulted over her as she tripped on before him down the
steep, winding, rocky paths! As he followed he often wondered where
her feet had found their secure support, so rugged was the way. Yet on
she glanced before him, swaying, bending to avoid branches, or pushing
them aside, her motions instinct with vitality and natural grace.

Once, however, he had a fright. She was taking a deep descent swiftly,
when her skirt caught on a stubborn projecting stump of a sapling,
and it appeared that she would fall headlong; but by some surprising,
self-recovering power, which seemed exerted even in the act of
falling, she lay before him in the path, almost as if reclining easily
upon her elbow, and was nearly on her feet again before he could reach
her side.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, most solicitously, brushing off the dust
from her dress.

"Not in the least," she replied, laughing.

"Well," he exclaimed, "I don't believe you or any one else could do
that so handsomely again if you tried a thousand times! Don't try,
please. I carried you the other day some little distance, and found
that you were no longer a little ghost."

"You carried me, Graydon? I thought the people from the farmhouse
came."

"Oh, I didn't wait for them! I was half beside myself."

"Evidently," she replied, a little coolly.

Her tone made him falter in his purpose, and when at last they reached
Indian Head, she was so resolutely impersonal in her talk, and had so
much to say about the history and the legends of the region of
which she had read, that he felt that she was in no mood for what he
intended to say. As the time passed he grew nervously apprehensive
over his project, and at last they started on their return with his
plan unfulfilled. They agreed to try a path to their left, which was
scarcely distinguishable, and it soon appeared to end at a point that
sloped almost perpendicularly to a wild gorge that ran up between the
hills.

"That must be what is down on the map as Tamper Clove," said Madge;
"and do you know, some think that it was up that valley Irving made
poor Rip carry the heavy keg? Oh, I wish we could get down into it and
go back that way!"

"Let me explore;" and he began swinging himself down by the aid of
saplings and smaller growth. "Some one has passed here recently," he
called back, "for trees are freshly blazed and branches broken. Yes,"
he cried, a moment later; "here is a well-defined path leading up the
clove toward the hotel. Do you think you dare attempt it?"

"Certainly," she answered; and before he could reach her she was
half-way down the descent.

"Madge!" he cried, in alarm.

"Oh, don't worry," she said; "I was over worse places in the West."

"Well, what can't she do!" he exclaimed, as she stood beside him in
the path.

"I can't give up my own way very easily," she replied. "You have found
that out."

"That don't trouble me in the least. I don't wish you to give up your
own way. It's warm down here, and our walk won't be so breezy as if we
had followed the ridge."

"We will take it leisurely and have a rest by and by."

The gorge grew narrower and wilder. They passed an immense tree, under
which Indians may have bivouacked, and in some storm long past the
lightning had plowed its way from the topmost branch to its gnarled
roots.

At last the path crossed a little rill that tinkled with a faint
murmur among the stones, making a limpid pool here and there. Immense
bowlders, draped with varied-hued mosses and lichens, were scattered
about, where in ages past the melting glacier had left them. The trees
that densely shaded the place seemed primeval in their age, loftiness,
and shaggy girth.

"Oh, what a deliciously cool and lovely spot!" cried Madge, throwing
down her alpenstock. "Get me some oak leaves, Graydon, and I will make
you a cup and give you a drink."

In a moment she made a fairy chalice with the aid of little twigs, and
when she handed it to him, dripping with water, his hand trembled as
he took it.

"Why, Graydon," she exclaimed, "what on earth makes you so nervous?"

"I am not used to climbing, and I suppose my hand has a little tremor
from fatigue."

"You poor thing! Here is a mossy rock on which you can imitate Rip.
You have only to imagine that my leaf goblet is the goblin flagon of
Irving's legend."

"Where and what would you be after twenty years?"

"Probably a wrinkled spinster at Santa Barbara."

"You wouldn't go away and leave me?"

"Certainly I would, if I couldn't wake you up."

Book of the day: