Chapter XIII. "You Will Be Disappointed"
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," she said, simply.

"Do you sing much?"

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

"Have you studied it very carefully?"

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

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

"Why not?"

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

"I have, indeed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Do you propose to please yourself?"

"Indeed I do."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How could you leave him?"

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

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

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

"You did not let me help you?"

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

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

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

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

She made no response by word or sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"In ordinary times one would think so."

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

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

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

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