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

Part 7 out of 7

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He looked into her mirthful eyes and lovely face. Oh, how lovely it
was, flushed from heat and climbing! "Madge," he said, impetuously,
"you have waked me--every faculty of my soul, every longing of my
heart. Will you be my wife?"

Her face grew scarlet. She sprang to her feet, and asked, with half
serious, half comic dismay, "Will I be your _what!_"

"I asked you to be my wife," he began, confusedly.

"Oh, Graydon, this is worse than asking me to be your sister!" she
replied, laughing. "Your alternations fairly make me dizzy."

"Truly, Madge," he stammered, "a man can scarcely pay a woman a
greater compliment--"

"Oh, it's a compliment!" she interrupted.

"No," he burst out, with more than his first impetuosity; "I'm
in earnest. You, who almost read my thoughts, know that I am in
earnest--that--"

By a strong yet simple gesture she checked him.

"You scarcely realize what you are asking, Graydon," she said,
gravely. "I have no doubt your present emotion is unforced and
sincere, but it requires time to prove earnestness. You were equally
sure you were in earnest a short time since, and I had little place,
comparatively, in your thoughts."

"But I did not know you then as I do now."

"You thought you did. You had vivid impressions then about me, and
more vivid about another woman. You are acting now under another
impression, and from impulse. If I ever give myself away it shall not
be in response to an impulse."

"Madge, you misjudge me--" he began, hotly.

"I think I know most of the facts, and you know how matter-of-fact
I am. You may think I do not know what love is, but I do. It is a
priceless thing. It is a woman's life, and all that makes a true
woman's life. It is something that one cannot always give at will, or
wisely; but if I had the power to give it at all, it should be to a
man who had earned the right to ask it, and not to one who, within a
few short days, had formed new impressions about me. Love is not the
affection of a friend, or even of a sister. There is no necessity for
me to marry."

"Then you refuse me?" he said, a little stiffly.

"Certainly I refuse you, Graydon. Has my manner led you to think that
I was eager for a chance to accept you?"

"Oh, no, indeed! You have checked my slightest tendencies toward
sentiment."

"Thank you for the assurance. I do not care in the least for
sentiment."

His airy fabric of hope, of almost certainty, had been shattered so
suddenly that he was overwhelmed. There seemed but one conclusion.

"Madge," he said, in a low, hoarse voice, "answer me, yes or no. You
loved some one at Santa Barbara who did not return your love? That is
your trouble of which Mrs. Wendall spoke--I could not help hearing her
words--that is the mystery about you which has been haunting me with
increasing perplexity; that was the sorrow I heard in your voice the
evening you sang in the chapel, and which has vaguely, yet strongly,
moved me since? Tell me, is it not so? Tell me, as a friend, that I
may be a truer friend."

She had turned away in a manner that confirmed his thought.

"You are suggesting a humiliating confession, Graydon."

"Yes, humiliating to the man who saw you, knew you, yet did not love
you. Tell me, Madge. It will make my own course clearer."

"Yes, then," she replied.

He sighed deeply, and was silent for a few moments.

"Madge," he at last resumed, "look at me. I wish to tell you
something."

She turned slowly toward him, and he saw that her lip was trembling,
and that tears were gathering in her eyes.

"You may think me cruel in wringing such a confession from you, but
perhaps you will forgive me when you hear all I have to say. You may
look upon me now as a creature of impulses and impressions. The memory
of my recent infatuation is fresh in your mind, but you yourself said
I could be straightforward when once I got my bearings. I have them
now, and I take my course. As a friend you have revealed to me much of
your woman's nature, and, having known the best, I shall not look for
anything less than yours. I shall be devoted to you through life. I
will be to you all that I can be--all that you will permit. It is said
that time heals all wounds. Perhaps some day--well, if it ever can be,
I should be content to take what you could give. You said I was kind
and patient with the little ghost. I should be far kinder, gentler--"

She had felt herself going fast, and had almost yielded to the impulse
to exclaim, "You, Graydon, are the one who did not return my love; and
although your love has been so brief and untested compared with mine,
I will trust you;" when voices were heard on the same path by
which they had come, and the figures of other ramblers were seen
indistinctly through the foliage.

She gave his hand a strong pressure, seized her alpenstock, and
hastened swiftly forward. The path soon afterward emerged on the
public road. The breeze cooled her hot cheeks, kissed away her tears,
and half an hour later they approached the hotel, chatting as quietly
as the strictest conventionality would require.

CHAPTER XXXIX

MY TRUE FRIEND

They found that Mr. Muir had arrived, and no family party in the long
supper-room appeared more free from disturbing thoughts and memories
than the one gathered at the banker's table. In Madge the keen-eyed
man could detect nothing that was unusual, and in Graydon only a trace
of the dignity and seriousness which would inevitably follow some
deep experience or earnest purpose. They all spent the evening and the
greater part of the following day together, and Madge was touched more
than once by observing that Graydon sought unobtrusively to comply
with even her imagined wishes and to enhance the point and interest of
her spoken thoughts.

In answer to his direct question she had acknowledged the absolute
truth, and yet it had proved more misleading than all the disguises
which her maidenly reserve had compelled her to adopt. It seemed now
that she would have no further trouble with him--that he had defined
his purpose, and would abide by it. She was glad that she had not
yielded to his appeal and rewarded him in the first consciousness
of his new regard for her. This feeling had seemed too recent,
tumultuous, and full of impulse, and did not accord with her earnest,
chastened spirit, that had attained the goal of its hope by such
patient endeavor. She preferred that the first strong outflow from
his heart should find wide, deep channels, and that his love for her
should take the same recognized place in his life that her love had
occupied so long in her own. She also had a genuine and feminine
reluctance that the suitor of Stella Wildmere should be known as her
lover so speedily, and something more and deeper than good taste was
the cause of her aversion.

Yet she was exceedingly happy. The hope that had sustained her so
long, that had been so nearly lost, now seemed certain of fulfilment,
and no one but she and God knew how much this truth meant. Only He had
been her confidant, and she felt that she had been sustained in her
struggle from weakness to strength by a Power that was not human, and
guided during the past weeks by a wisdom beyond her own.

"He has proved to me a good Father," was her simple belief. "He led
me to do the best I could for myself, and then did the rest. I also
am sure He would have sustained me had I failed utterly. That my life
would not have been vain and useless was shown when I saved little
Nellie Wilder."

Thus it may be seen that she was quite unlike many good people. In her
consciousness God was not a being to be worshipped decorously and then
counted out from that which made her real life and hope.

The future now stretched away full of rest and glad assurance.
Graydon's manner already began to fulfil his promise. He would quietly
accept the situation as he understood it, and she saw already the
steadying power of an unselfish, unfaltering purpose. He appeared by
years an older and a graver man, and when he sat by her during the
service in the wide parlor, there was not a trace of his old flippant
irreverence. Whatever he now believed, he had attained the higher
breeding which respects what is sacred to others.

She had but little compunction over his self-sacrificing mood. It
was perfectly clear that by quiet, manly devotion he proposed to help
"time heal the wound" made by that "idiot" at Santa Barbara, and
she that she could gradually reveal to him so much improvement that
equanimity and at last hope would find a place in his mind.

They parted Monday morning with a brief, strong pressure of
hands, which Graydon felt conveyed volumes of sympathy and mutual
understanding. She had said that he could write to her, and he found
he had so much to say that he had to put a strong constraint upon
himself.

Mr. Muir had watched them curiously during his stay in the mountains,
and felt that something had occurred which he could not fathom.
Graydon's manner at parting and since, during business hours, had
confirmed this impression. He was almost as grave and reticent as the
banker himself, and the latter began to chafe and grow irritable over
the problem which he was bent on seeing solved in but one way. He
looked askance and discontentedly at Graydon during dinner in the
evening. When they were alone he was fidgety and rather curt in his
remarks. At last he burst out, "Confound it! What has happened between
you and Madge?"

"She has refused me, that's all," was the quiet reply.

Mr. Muir gave a low whistle.

"Oh, I understood you the other evening," resumed Graydon. "The
phenomenal penetration on which you so pride yourself is at fault for
once."

The banker was so nonplused that he permitted his cigar to go out, but
he soon reached the conclusion, "He has bungled." "Well," he asked at
last, "what do you propose to do?"

"To be to her all that she will ever permit, and die a bachelor for
her sake if I must."

Mr. Muir lighted his Havana again and puffed in silence for a while,
then said, "I like that. Your purpose is clearly defined. In business
and everything else there is solid comfort in knowing what you can
depend upon."

Madge's replies to Graydon's letters were scarcely more than notes,
but they were breezy little affairs, fragrant with the breath of the
mountains, and had an excellent tonic effect in the hot city. They
usually contained a description of what she had seen or of some
locality visited. On one occasion she wrote:

"Late in the afternoon there had been a shower, not gentle and
pattering, but one of those frightful, passionate outbursts which are
not infrequent in these mountains. The wind appeared to drive black
masses of clouds from all directions save one, which, meeting over the
height occupied by the hotel, discharged torrents of rain. At last
the wind left the writhing trees in peace, and carried the deeply
shadowing cloud away beyond the hills. The sun broke forth, and
nature began some magic work. Calling the mist fairies to her aid,
she gathered from every ravine and clove delicate airy clouds, which
formed a large and rapidly increasing mass of vapor. Soon the plain
below--the wide Hudson valley--was entirely shut out, as though a
great white curtain had dropped from the sky to the mountain's base.
Just then the setting sun, which had been temporarily obscured, shone
forth in glorious brightness, casting on the beautiful cloud-curtain
the dark, clearly defined shadow of the mountain-top, with its crown
of buildings, even the towers and turrets showing with startling
distinctness. It was like a mammoth, well-cut cameo, or a gigantic
magic lantern effect, with the sun as a calcium light.

"The spectacle lasted only a few moments. Then the cloudy curtain
parted, and the valley of the Hudson was seen again, spanned by a
rainbow."

The days lengthened into weeks, Graydon coming every Friday afternoon,
and wondering slightly at the demurely radiant face that greeted
him. "Truly," he thought, "in the words of the old hymn she 'puts a
cheerful courage on.'"

At times, however, she would be a little pensive. Then his tones would
have a greater depth and gentleness, and his sympathy was very sweet,
although she felt a little guilty because she was in no need of it.
She could stifle her compunction by thinking:

"There was such a long, weary time when I did need it, and was
desolate because of its absence, that I must have a little now to
offset those gray, lonely days."

She had thought she loved him before, but as she saw him patiently and
unselfishly seeking to brighten her life in every possible way, with
no better hope than that at some time in the indefinite future she
might give him what was left of her heart after the old fire had
died out, her former affection seemed as pale and shadowy as she was
herself when first she learned that she had a woman's heart.

Late one Friday afternoon he startled her by asking abruptly, "Madge,
what has become of that fellow out West?"

"Please don't speak about that again," she faltered.

"Oh, well, certainly not, if you don't wish me to; but I thought if
there was any chance--"

"Chance for what, Graydon?"

"Confound him! I don't suppose I could do anything. I want to make you
happy, Madge. I feel just like taking the idiot by the ear, bringing
him to you, and saying, 'There, you unconscionable fool, look at
that girl--' You know what I mean. I'm suggesting the spirit, not the
letter of my action. But, Madge, believe me, if I could help you at
any cost to myself--"

"Is your regard for me, of which you spoke, so slight that you could
go to work deliberately to bring that man to me?"

"There is no regard about it. My _love_ for you is so great that I
would do anything to make you happy."

"Madge," called the voice of Mrs. Muir, who was following them with
her husband, "where are you and Graydon?"

"Here!" cried Madge, springing up. Then she gave her hand to him,
and he saw that there were tears in her eyes. "Graydon," she said,
"I couldn't ask a stronger test than that. I can't tell you how I
appreciate it. I shall never impose any such task upon you."

"Don't hesitate on my account. I admit that it would be harder than
one of the labors of Hercules, but you command me now and always.
Nothing is so bad as to know that you are unhappy."

"Do I seem very unhappy?"

"No, you brave little woman! but who could guess the truth if you
were? My knowledge is not derived from your usual manner."

"It is a pity if I cannot be patient when you set me so good an
example," she said, as Mr. and Mrs. Muir approached.

When they were alone again for a brief time during the ramble, Graydon
resumed: "I wish to make sure of your confidence, Madge; I wish you to
take me at my word. I don't think you have been quite just to me. I am
not a cold-blooded fellow, and, no doubt, am given to impressions and
impulses; but I think constancy is one of my traits. I never wavered
in my affection for you until I misunderstood you immediately after
my return, and then that very misapprehension kept me worried and
perplexed much of the time. I was true to Miss Wildmere as long
as there was anything to be constant to, and yet for years she was
scarcely anything more than a fancy, a preference. Since my return
you know just what she was to me. Nothing is more certain than that I
never loved her. I did not know what the word meant then. There is a
chapter in your history that I don't know much about, but I am sure
I could make good my word to do anything within my power to bring you
happiness. I have imagined that a little management, guided by tact
and absolute fidelity--"

"Don't say anything more about that, Graydon," she said, firmly. "Not
if my heart broke a thousand times would I seek a man or permit him to
be sought for me in any such way as you suggest."

"That's settled, then."

"That's settled forever."

"Well, in that case," he said, with a short, nervous laugh, "there may
be a chance for me within the next hundred years."

"Are you so willing to take a woman who had once given her heart to
another?"

"I don't know anything about '_a_ woman.' I would take _you_, Madge,
under any circumstances that I can imagine."

"Graydon," said Mrs. Muir, suddenly appearing around a turn in the
walk, "what is the matter with you? Why can't you and Madge keep with
us more? For some reason we are getting separated all the time. This
is a lovely spot. Let us sit down here like a family party and have a
little music. I just long to get back home, so that Madge may sing
for us as much as we wish. Here she would attract the attention of
strangers, and that ends the matter; and so I feel as if I had a rare
singing bird, but never a song. In this secluded place no others will
hear you, Madge."

"Very well. What do you wish? I feel like singing."

"Make your own choice."

"I'll give you an old song, then, about friendship;" and with notes
rivalling those of a hermit-thrush that had been chanting vespers in
the dense woods near by, she sang a quaint melody, her voice wakening
faint echoes from the adjacent rocks. When she came to the last lines
she gave Graydon a shy glance, which seemed to signify, "These words
are for you."

"Kinder than Love is my true friend.
He'd die for me if that would end
My sorrow. Yes, would live for me--
Suffer and live unselfishly,
And that for him would harder be
Than at my feet to die for me."

As she ceased she again encountered his steadfast gaze with a glance
which said, "Have I not done you justice?"

He was satisfied, and felt that the presence of his relatives had
secured a sweeter answer than might otherwise have been given--an
answer that contained all he could hope for then.

"Humph!" ejaculated Mr. Muir, very discontentedly.

"What an appreciative remark, Henry!" said Madge, laughing.

"It was; and it expressed my views," said the banker, dryly. "Come,
Mary, let us go home to supper."

"Now, I think the song very pretty," said Mary, "only there are no
such people nowadays."

As Madge followed with Graydon she continued laughing softly to
herself.

"You are not hiding vexation at Henry?" Graydon asked.

"Oh, no, I understand Henry. You think I am always hiding something.
You at least should have understood my song."

"Yes, Madge," he said, gravely, "and you also made it clear that you
understood me. I am content."

She laughed, imitating the ejaculation.

"Henry's 'humph!' was too rich for anything. It meant volumes. What
sentimental fools he thinks us to be!"

"Henry could no more understand such a song than sing it," was
Graydon's somewhat irritable response.

"No matter. Such men are invaluable in the world. My nature is very
much in accord with Henry's, and so far as he has had experience, he
is very sound."

"With your saving clause in mind, I agree with you perfectly about
Henry, but not about yourself. Your nature, Madge, like your voice,
has a wide compass."

With this one exception there was no other spoken reference during
the remainder of the summer to the attitude toward her which he now
maintained in thought and action. The season was drawing to a close,
and she had enjoyed the latter part of it beyond her fondest hopes and
expectations. She made a few congenial acquaintances at the hotel, and
with them never wearied in exploring the paths that converged at the
great caravansary, and in visiting the various outlooks from which
the same wide landscapes presented ever-changing aspects. Chief among
these friends was a middle-aged artist, who was deeply imbued with the
genius of the mountains, and who had no little skill in catching and
idealizing the lovely effects he saw. He proved her best guide, for he
had long haunted the region, and the majority of the paths were due to
his taste and explorations. In such congenial tasks he acted as agent
for the sagacious and liberal owner of the vast property, who was so
wise that in his dealings with nature he employed one that loved and
understood her. To Madge the artist showed his favorite nooks and
haunts, where the wild beauty of the hills dwelt like a living
presence, and the scenery not yet painted which, from certain
standpoints, almost composed itself on the canvas. Thus he taught
her to see the region somewhat as he did, and to find in the general
beauty definite, natural pictures that were like flowers in the
wilderness. She greatly enjoyed watching with him the wonderful
moonlight effects on the vast shaggy sides and summit of High Peak,
that reared its almost untrodden solitudes opposite the hotel. This
mountain was the favorite haunt of fantastic clouds. Sometimes in the
form of detached mists they would pass up rapidly like white spectres
from the vast chasm of the Kaaterskill. Again a heavy mass would
settle on the whole length of the mountain, the outlines of which
would be lost, and the whole take the semblance of one vast height
crowned with the moon's radiance. Nothing fascinated Madge more than
to observe how the artist caught the essential elements of beauty in
the changing cloud scenery and reproduced the effects on a few
inches of canvas, and in her better appreciation of similar scenery
thereafter, she saw how true it is that art may be the interpreter of
nature.

The fine music and varied entertainments at the house served also to
beguile her time. On one occasion the young people were arranging a
series of tableaux, and she was asked to personate Jephtha's daughter.
When the curtain rose on her lovely face and large, dark eyes, the
Hebrew maiden and her pathetic history grew into vivid reality against
the dim background of the past.

After all, the time that intervened between Monday and Friday
afternoon was spent in waiting, and even the hours toward the last
were counted. The expression in Graydon's dark blue eyes was always
the same when he greeted her, and recalled the line:

"Kinder than Love is my true friend."

On Saturdays they took long tramps, seeking objective points far
beyond the range of ordinary ramblers.

CHAPTER XL

THE END OF THE WOOING

Madge had often turned wistful eyes toward High Peak, and on the last
Saturday before their final return to the city she said to Graydon,
"Dare we attempt it? Perhaps if we gave the day to the climb, and took
it leisurely--"

"There's no 'perhaps' about it. We'll go if you wish. I should like
nothing better than to get lost with you."

"There is no danger of getting lost," she replied, hastily. "The hotel
must be visible from the whole line of its summit, and I am told that
there is a path to the top of the mountain."

"I will be ready in half an hour," he said.

It was a lovely day in early September. The air was soft, yet cool and
bracing enough to make climbing agreeable. Graydon had a lunch basket,
which he could sling over his shoulder, well filled, and ordered a
carriage. "There is no need of our tramping over the intervening miles
of dusty roads which must be passed before we begin our climb," he
said, "and the distance we ride will make a pleasant drive for Mary
and the children."

Madge and Graydon reached the summit without any great difficulty,
Mary having returned with the assurance that they would find their own
way back to the hotel.

As the hours passed, Graydon began to gather more hope than he had
dared to entertain since his shattered theory had so disheartened him.
In spite of his fancied knowledge about Madge, it was hard to believe
she was very unhappy that morning. There was an elasticity to her
step, a ring of genuine gladness in her tones and laugh, which did not
suggest that she was consciously carrying a heavy burden.

"She certainly is the bravest and most unselfish girl I ever
imagined," he thought, as they left the highest point after enjoying
the view. "With an art so inimitable as to be artless, she has tried
to give me enjoyment. Instead of regarding herself as one to be
entertained, she has been pouring forth words, fancies, snatches
of song like sparkling wine, and I am exhilarated instead of being
wearied."

When at last they found a spring at which to eat their lunch, he told
her so, concluding, "This mountain air does you good, Madge."

"So do you," she replied, with a piquant nod. "Don't be conceited when
I tell you that you are good company."

"No; but I can't help being happy."

"Oh, indeed! It doesn't seem to take much to make you happy."

"Not very much from you."

"Pass me a biscuit, Graydon; I want something more substantial than
fine speeches after our climb. Isn't all this truly Arcadian--this
mossy rug on which we have placed our lunch, the trees whispering
about us overhead, and the spring there bubbling over with something
concerning which it murmurs so contentedly?"

"I wonder what they think of us! I can imagine one thing."

"You are always imagining. The idea of your being a banker! Well,
there is a loud whisper from the trees. What was remarked?"

"That yonder little girl doesn't look so very unhappy."

"No, Graydon," she said, earnestly, "you make Saturdays and Sundays
very bright to me. No girl ever had a truer friend than you are
becoming."

"Have become, Madge."

"Graydon," she said, eagerly, as if hastening from dangerous ground,
"the hotel is there just opposite to us. Don't you think we could
scramble down the mountain here, and return by Kaaterskill Clove and
the Falls? It would be such fun, and save such a very long distance!"

"We'll try it," he said.

"Come," she resumed, brusquely, "you are spoiling me. You say yes to
everything. If you don't think it safe or best you must not humor me."

"We can soon learn whether it's safe and practicable, and there is no
danger of losing our way. We have only to return over the mountain in
order to strike the path somewhere at right angles."

"Let us hasten, then. I am in the mood to end our sojourn in the
Catskills by an hour or two of contact with nature absolutely
primitive. The scenes we shall pass through will be so pleasant to
think of by a winter fire."

"Winter fire? That's capital! You are not going back to Santa Barbara,
Madge?"

"I haven't promised that--I haven't promised anything."

"No; I have done all the promising."

"You did so of your own free will."

"And of my own free will shall keep my promises. No, don't let us
leave any remnants of our lunch. Should we get lost you will want
something more substantial than fine speeches."

"I shall indeed."

Graydon filled from the spring the bottle which had contained milk;
and then packing his little hamper he led the way downward, over
and through obstacles which often involved no little difficulty, and
sometimes almost danger.

"May I help you all I please?" he asked.

"Yes, when I can't help myself."

Then he began to rejoice over the ruggedness of the way, which made it
proper to take her hand so often, and at times even to lift her over a
fallen tree.

"What fun it is!" cried Madge.

"The best I ever had," he replied, promptly. But they had not realized
the difficulty of their attempt; for when little more than half-way
to the foot of the mountain they came to a ledge down which there
appeared no place for safe descent. As they were skirting this
precipice perilously near the edge, he holding Madge's hand, some
loose debris gave way beneath his feet.

Instead of instinctively clinging to Madge's hand, even in the act of
falling he threw it up and around a small tree, which she grasped, and
regained her footing, while he went down and disappeared.

At first she was so appalled that she could do no more than clutch the
tree convulsively and look with blank horror at the spot where she had
seen him last. Then came the thought, "His life may now depend upon
me."

The distance he had fallen would not be necessarily fatal, and below
the ledge there were low scrubby trees that might have broken the
impetus of his descent. She called in tones that might have evoked
an answer even from the lips of death; then, with a resolution in her
pallid face which nothing could daunt, she sought to reach her side.

At first Graydon was utterly unconscious. At last, like a dim light
entering a darkened room, thought and memory began to revive. He
remembered that he had been at Madge's side, and had fallen; he had
grasped at branches of trees as he passed through them, and then all
had become dark. He tried to speak, to call his companion, but found
be could not. He almost doubted whether he was alive in the flesh. If
he were he must have received some terrible injury that had caused a
strange paralysis.

His confused thoughts finally centred wholly on Madge. Had she fallen?
The thought of her, perhaps injured, possibly lying unconscious or
dead near him, and he helpless, caused a dull, vague dread, like a
cold tide, to overwhelm his very soul. He tried to move, to spring
up, but only his mind appeared free. Then he thought he recognized
her voice calling in the distance. Soon, with alternations of hope
and fear, he heard her steps and voice draw nearer. She had evidently
found a way down the ledge, and was coming along its base toward
him--coming swiftly, almost recklessly.

She was at his side. Her low, terror-stricken cry chilled his heart.
Was he dead? and was it his soul only, lingering in the body, that was
cognizant of all this?

Her hand was on his pulse, then inside his vest against his heart.

"Oh," she moaned, "can he be dying or dead? I can't find his pulse,
nor does his heart seem to beat. He is so pale, so deathly pale, even
to his lips."

He knew that she was lifting him into a different and easier position,
and wondered at the muscular power she exerted, even under excitement.

"Why, why," she exclaimed in horror, "he is cold, strangely cold! His
hands and brow are almost like ice, and wet with the dew of death."

She was not aware of the fact that extreme coldness and a clammy
perspiration would be among the results of such a severe shock.

"Graydon," she gasped, "Graydon!" Then after a moment: "O God, if he
should never know!"

She chafed his hands and wrists, opened the lunch basket, and found
that the bottle containing water was not broken, for he felt drops
dashed on his face, and his lips moistened; but the same stony
paralysis enchained him. Then she sent out her voice for help, and
there was agony, terror, and heart-break in her cry.

Realizing the futility of this on the lonely mountainside, she soon
ceased, and again sought, with almost desperate energy, to restore
him, crying and moaning meanwhile in a way that smote his heart. At
last she threw herself on his breast with the bitter cry:

"Oh, Graydon, Graydon, are you dying? Will you _never_ know? Oh, my
heart's true love, shall I never have a chance to tell you that it
was you I loved--you only! It was for you I went away alone to die, I
feared. For you I struggled back to life, and toiled and prayed that
I might be your fair ideal; and now you may never know. Graydon,
Graydon, I would give you the very blood out of my heart--O God, I
can't restore him!" she moaned, in a choking voice, and then he knew
from her dead weight upon his breast that she had fainted.

This mental anguish and the effort he put forth to respond to
these words caused great beads of sweat to start out upon his face.
Suddenly, as if a giant hand was lifted, the effects of the shock
resulting from his fall passed away. He opened his eyes, and there was
Madge, with her face buried upon his breast, in brief oblivion from
fears that threatened to crush at once hope and life.

To his great joy he found that he could move. Feebly, and with great
difficulty, he lifted her head and tried to regain his feet. He found
this impossible, and soon realized that his leg was broken. He now
saw that he must act wisely and carefully, or their plight would be
serious indeed; and yet his mind was in such a tumult of immeasurable
joy at his discovery that he would not in the least regret the
accident, if assured of her safety.

At last, in response to his efforts, she began to revive. The sense
of responsibility, the necessity for action on her part, had been
so great immediately before she had fainted under the stress of one
overwhelming fear, that her mind, even during unconsciousness, may
have put forth effort to regain its hold upon sense. She found herself
leaning against a prostrate tree, and Graydon sitting near, speaking
to her in soothing and encouraging tones.

In response to her bewildered, troubled look of inquiry, he said,
cheerfully, and in natural tones, "Don't worry, Madge, or be
frightened."

"What has happened, Graydon?"

"I'll tell you what I know, and you must supply the rest. We were
proceeding along that ledge above us, and trying to find a safe place
to climb down."

A slow deep color began to take the place of her pallor, showing that
her own memory was supplying all that had occurred.

"You know I fell, Madge. Thank God, I did not carry you down with me!"

"Any other man would," she said, almost brusquely. "You threw my hand
back around a tree."

"Did I?" exclaimed Graydon, very innocently and gladly. "Well,
everything became very confused after that. I must have been
unconscious. I do remember grasping at the branches as I passed
through these low trees above us--"

"You must have caught one of them, Graydon," she said, eagerly,
turning toward him again, "for a large limb had broken off and was
lying upon you."

"Was it so? Perhaps I owe it a good turn, for it may have so broken
my fall as to have saved my life. Well, in some way, you, true, brave
little girl, you must have reached me, and, finding that you could not
restore me, and imagining I was dead or dying, you fainted yourself
from the nervous shock of it all. When I recovered the use of my
senses I found evidence that you had been trying to revive me. Now,
Madge, we must both be brave and sensible. We must regain the full
possession of our wits as soon as possible. Can you be very brave and
sensible (to use your favorite word) if I tell you something?"

"Yes, Graydon," she said. "I can do anything, now that I know you are
going to live."

"I am very much alive, and shall be thoroughly conscious of the fact
for some time to come. You must keep perfectly cool and rational, for
what has happened is a very serious affair under the circumstances."
Her scarlet face was turned from him again. "Madge," he concluded, in
quiet tones, "I've broken my leg."

"Is that all?" she said, with a look of intense relief.

"Isn't that enough? I'm helpless."

"I'm not," and she sprang to her feet "Why, Graydon, it might have
been a hundred-fold worse. I thought it was immeasurably worse," she
said, suppressing a sob. "You might have been killed. See how far
you fell! I feared you might have received some terrible internal
injury--"

"I have; but that's a chronic affair, as you know," he interrupted,
laughing.

[Illustration: "SO YOU IMAGINE I SHALL SOON BE MAKING LOVE TO ANOTHER
GIRL."]

His mirth and allusion did more to restore her than all else, for he
appeared the same friend that she thought she had lost.

"Now that it is so evident that you will survive all your injuries,"
she resumed, with an answering laugh, "I am myself again. You direct
me what to do."

"I shall, indeed, have to depend on you almost wholly; and the fact
that another must look to you in such a strait will do more to
keep you up than all cordials and stimulants. I can do very little
myself--"

"Forgive me, Graydon. You know I am not indifferent. Are you in much
pain?" and her voice was very gentle.

"Not yet. You must act contrary to your instincts for once, and exert
all your ingenuity to attract attention. First, we must have a fire;
meanwhile I shall light a cigar, which will help me to think and
banish the impression that we are lost babes in the woods. The smoke,
you see, will draw eyes to this spot--the smoke of the fire, I mean."

"I'm following you correctly."

"You must have followed me very bravely, heroic little woman that you
are! You are indeed unlike other girls, who would never have reached
me except by tumbling after--"

"Come, no more reminiscences till you are safe at the hotel, and your
leg mended."

"Very well. I direct, but you command. As soon as we have a column
of smoke ascending from this point you must try to find an open space
near here, and wave something white as a signal of distress."

He had scarcely concluded before she was at work. The prostrate tree
against which he had managed to place her at such pain to his broken
limb served as a back-log, and soon a column of smoke was ascending.
At times she would turn a shy, half-doubting, half-questioning glance
at him, but he would smile so naturally and speak so frankly that the
suspicion that he had heard her words almost passed from her mind.

"Madge," he said, "in finding an outlook toward the hotel or valley,
don't go far away, if possible. It makes me awfully nervous to think
of you climbing alone."

She found a projecting rock beneath them within calling distance, and
on an extemporized pole she fastened the napkins. At his suggestion
she waved them only downward and upward, at the same time sending out
her powerful voice from time to time in a cry for help.

He, left alone, sometimes groaned from an unusually severe twinge of
pain, and again laughed softly to himself over the situation. He knew
that the question of their being sought and found was only one of
time, and he would have been willing to have had all his bones broken
should this have been needful to secure the knowledge which now
thrilled his very soul with gladness. The past grew perfectly clear,
and the pearl of a woman who had given herself to him so long ago
gained a more priceless value with every moment's thought, "Ah,
sweet Madge! I'm the blessed idiot you loved and toiled for at Santa
Barbara! I shouldn't have believed that such a thing could happen in
this humdrum world."

Nor would it seem that the attention of even a fraction of that great
world could be obtained. The shadows of evening began to gather, and
Madge, at Graydon's call, returned, wearied and somewhat discouraged.

"Cheer up," he said. "It is only a question of time. We shall soon be
missed, and our signals will be more effective when it is dark. See,
we shall not starve. I have been getting supper for you. Keeping the
remnants of our lunch wasn't a bad idea, was it?"

"Keeping up your courage and mine is a better one. Graydon, I fear you
are suffering very much."

"Oh, Madge, armies of men have broken their legs! That's nothing but a
little disagreeable prose, while this adventure with you is something
to talk and laugh over all our lives. I've cut my boot off and
bandaged my leg as well as I could, and am now hungry. That's a good
sign. I shall be positively hilarious if you make as good supper as
this meagre spread permits. Take a little water, for your throat must
be parched. You will have to drink it from the bottle, Pat's fashion,
for my rubber cup is broken."

"Indeed, a little water is all I want at present, and I must gather
wood for the fire before it is darker."

"Very well," he said, laughing; "supper shall wait for you."

The vicinity appeared as if never before visited, and there was an
abundance of dead and decaying wood lying about. When she had secured
a large quantity of this she came and sat down by the fire, and said,
"I will take a little supper now, and then it will be so dark that we
can signal in some other way."

"Madge," said Graydon, earnestly, "it has cut me to the heart to lie
helplessly here and see you doing work so unsuitable."

"Nothing could be more suitable under the circumstances. You do think
we shall be found soon? Oh, I'm so worried about you!"

"More, then, than I am about myself. I shall have to play invalid for
some time. Won't you be my nurse occasionally?"

"Yes, Graydon, all I can."

"Why, then, don't worry about me at all. The prospect makes me fairly
happy. Come, now, eat the whole of that sandwich."

She complied, looking thoughtfully into the fire meanwhile. By the
light of the flickering blaze he saw the trouble and worry pass from
her brow and the expression of her face grow as quiet and contented as
that of a child's. At last she said, "Well, this does seem cosey and
companionable, in spite of everything. There, forgive me, Graydon; I
forgot for the moment that you were in pain."

"Was I? I forgot it, too. Sitting there in the firelight, you
suggested the sweetest picture I ever hope to see."

"You can't be _in extremis_ when you begin to compliment."

"Don't you wish to know what the picture was?"

"Oh, yes, if it will help you pass the time!"

"I saw you sitting by a hearth, and I thought, 'If that hearth were
mine it would be the loveliest picture the world had known.' Now you
see what an egotist I am. You look so enchanting in that firelight
that I cannot resist--I would try so hard to be worthy of you, Madge.
Make your own terms again, as I said once to you before."

"My own terms?" she repeated, turning a sudden and searching glance
upon him. "Then tell me, did you hear what I said this afternoon when
I first found you?"

He hesitated a moment, and then said, firmly: "Yes, every word; but,
Madge, you must not punish me for what I could not help. It would not
be right."

"Could you hear me and yet--"

"I could hear you and yet could not move a muscle until you fainted,
and then my intense mental excitement and solicitude must have broken
the paralysis caused by the shock of my fall. Oh, Madge, look at me!
Only a false pride can come between us now. My love is not worthy to
be compared with yours, but it is genuine, and it will--it _will_ last
as long as I do. I shall bless this accident and all the pain I must
suffer if they bring you to me."

She sprang to his side, and putting her arm around his neck said,
"Graydon, on the evening after your return I told you I couldn't be
your sister. You know why now, and you uttered these words, 'I shall
have to take you as you are if I ever find out.' I meant to win you
if I could, but only by being such a girl as I thought you would love.
Now you know the mystery of the little ghost, and you can bring to me
that 'idiot' who didn't return my love, as often as you choose."

"Thank Heaven for what I escaped! Thank God for what I have won!" he
exclaimed.

"Won? Nonsense! _You_ have been won, not I. Oh, Graydon, wouldn't you
have been amazed and horrified if you had been told, years ago, that
the little ghost would go deliberately to work to woo a man and take
him from another girl? Think how dreadful it sounds! but you shall now
know the worst."

"It's music that will fill my life with gladness. How exquisitely fine
your nature is, that you could do this with such absolute maidenly
reserve! Suppose I had become Stella Wildmere's bondman?"

"I should have gone back to Santa Barbara, and kept my secret."

"Horrible!"

"I said you knew all, but I am mistaken. Now, don't be shocked back
into your kind of unconsciousness again. I did another horrid thing.
I listened and learned about the plot by which Arnault meant to
bring Miss Wildmere to a decision against you;" and she told him the
circumstances, and what had passed between herself and Henry.

His arm tightened around her almost convulsively. "Madge," he cried,
"you have not only brought me happiness--you have saved me from a
bitter, lifelong self-reproach far worse than poverty. How can I ever
show sufficient devotion in return for all this?"

"By being sensible, and telling me how to make signals, now that it is
as dark as it will be this moonlight night."

"Let me lean on you, as I ever shall figuratively hereafter. We will
go down to the outlook you found, build another fire, and wave burning
brands."

This was done. Henry Muir, who had grown very solicitous, saw their
signals, and promptly organized a rescuing party. A wood-road led well
up toward their position, and with the aid of some employes of the
house he at last rescued them. Graydon was weak and exhausted from
pain by the time he reached the hotel, yet felt that his happiness had
been purchased at very slight cost. The next day he was taken to his
city home, and Madge filled the days of his convalescence with such
varied entertainment that he threatened to break his leg again. She
had so trained her voice that she read or sang with almost tireless
ease. To furnish home music, to shine in the light of her own hearth,
had been the dream of her ambition; and to the man she had won she
made that hearth the centre of the gentle force which controlled and
blessed his life.

But little further remains to be said concerning the other characters
of this story. The severe lesson received by Stella Wildmere had a
permanent effect upon her character. It did not result in a very
high type of womanhood, for the limitations of her nature scarcely
permitted this; but it brought about decided changes for the better.
She was endowed with fair abilities and a certain hard, practical
sense, which enabled her to see the folly of her former scheme of
life. Blind, inconsiderate selfishness, which asked only, "What do I
wish the present moment?" had brought humiliation and disaster, and,
as her father had suggested, she possessed too much mind to repeat
that blunder. She recognized that she could not ignore natural
laws and duties and go very far in safety. Therefore, instead of
querulousness and repining, or showing useless resentment toward
her father for misfortunes which she had done nothing to avert, she
stepped bravely and helpfully to his side, and amid all the chaos of
the financial storm that was wrecking him he was happier than he had
been for years. Her beloved jewelry, and everything that could be
legally saved from their dismantled home, was disposed of to the best
advantage. Then very modest apartments were taken in a suburb, and
both she and her father began again. He obtained a clerkship at a
small salary, and she aided her mother in making every dollar go as
far as possible.

Arnault had thought, under the impulse of his pride, that he could
renounce her forever, but found himself mistaken. She would not depart
from such heart as he possessed, nor could he break the spell of
her fascination. His interest grew so absorbing that he kept himself
informed about the changes she was passing through, and her manner
of meeting them. As a result, his practical soul was filled with
admiration, and he felt that she of all others would be the wife for
a man embarked on the uncertain tides of Wall Street. At last he wrote
to her and renewed his offer. The reply was characteristic.

"Your offer comes too late. If, instead of being one of the principal
actors in that humiliating little drama of my life, you had stood by
me patiently and faithfully, I would have given you at once my deepest
gratitude and, eventually, my love. I did not deserve such constancy,
but I would have rewarded it to the extent of my ability. You thought
I was mercenary. I was, and have been punished; but you forget that
you made my mercenary spirit your ally, and kept me from becoming
engaged to the man whom you well knew that I preferred. My regard
for him is not so deep, however, but that I shall survive and face
my altered fortunes bravely. If you had been kind to me during those
bitter days--if you had kept my father from failure, instead of
deserting him after he had done his best for you--he did do his best
for you--I should have valued _you_ more than your wealth, and proved
it by my life. I have since learned that I am not afraid of poverty,
and that I must find truer friends."

Arnault, like so many others, turned from what "might have been" to
his pursuit of gold, but it had lost its brightness forever.

An old admirer of Stella's, a plain, sturdy business man, to whom she
had scarcely given a thought in her palmy days, eventually renewed his
attentions, and won as much love as the girl probably could have given
to any one. By his aid she restored her father's broken fortunes and
established them on a modest but secure basis, and she proved to her
husband a sensible wife, always recognizing that in promoting his best
interests and happiness she secured her own.

Dr. Sommers is still the genial physician and the Izaak Walton of
the Catskills. Mr. and Mrs. Wendall are "plodding toward home" with a
resignation that is almost cheerful.

Henry Muir continues devoted to business, and his wife is devoted
to him. He rarely permits a suitable opportunity to pass without
remarking that the two sisters are the "most sensible women in the
world."

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