Chapter XVII. Not Strong in Vain
 

Graydon dreaded embarrassment when meeting Madge at dinner, but was agreeably disappointed. There was nothing in the young girl's manner which suggested a vexed consciousness of their recent interview, neither were there covert overtures, even in tones, toward more friendly relations. He saw that if any were made he must make them. Madge was merely too well bred to show anger in public, or occasion surmises that would require explanations. During the meal she spoke of missing her horseback exercise, and said that she meant to ask Dr. Sommers if he did not know of a good animal that might be hired for a few weeks. Graydon at once resolved to make a propitiatory offering, and to go out with Madge when Miss Wildmere was unattainable. For the time he was content to imitate Madge's tactics, and acted as if he intended to follow the course that she had suggested. The fact that Arnault was so evidently enjoying his dinner and the Wildmere smiles did not detract from his purpose to prove that he also was not without resources. Moreover, he felt that he had not treated Madge fairly; he had been truly fond of her, and now was conscious of a growing respect. As she had said, it was not a little thing that she had attempted and accomplished, and there had been small ground for his discontent. After dinner, however, he found a chance to ensconce himself by Miss Wildmere on the piazza, and he was fully resolved to lose no such opportunities.

Madge, with the Muir children, passed him on the way to a small lake on which she had promised to give the little people a row. He took off his hat in cordial courtesy, and she recognized him with a brief smile, in which Miss Wildmere could detect no apprehension.

"I hope that 'sister Madge,' as you call her, does not resent my enjoyment of your society."

"Not in the least. I feel, however, that I have been neglecting her shamefully, and propose to make amends."

"Indeed; has she brought you to a sense of your shortcomings? This scarcely bears out your first remark."

"It is nothing against its truth. Miss Aldeu makes it very clear that she is not dependent on me or any one for enjoyment; but in view of the past I have been scarcely courteous. Therefore," he added, with a laugh, "when Arnault monopolizes you I shall console myself with Madge."

"And therefore I shall feel the less compunction. Thank you."

"I am glad to take the least thorn from the roses of your life," was his smiling answer.

She veiled close scrutiny under her reply: "I fear the brilliant Miss Alden will cause my society to appear commonplace in contrast."

"I do not see how you can fear anything of the kind," was his prompt answer; "I trust you, and you must trust me."

"I do trust you, Mr. Muir," she said, softly.

Before he could speak again nurses and children came streaming and screaming from the lake toward the house. "Nellie Wilder is drowned," was the burden of their dire message.

Graydon sprang down the steps, and rushed with the fleetness of the wind toward the lake.

As Madge, with Jennie and Harry Muir, approached the water, they saw a party of children playing carelessly in a boat, and a moment later a little girl fell overboard. The boat was in motion toward the shore, and when she rose it had passed beyond her reach. Her companions gave way to wild panic, and, instead of trying to save her, screamed and pulled for land. No one was present except nurses and other children, and they all joined in the wild, helpless chorus of alarm, and began a stampede toward the hotel.

Madge saw that if the child was saved she must act promptly and wisely. To the Muir children she said, authoritatively, "Sit down where you are and don't move." Then she rushed forward and unfastened a skiff. As she did so the child rose for the last time and sunk again with a gurgling cry. Keeping her eyes fixed on the spot, and with an oar in her hand, Madge pushed away from the shore vigorously with her feet, and with the impetus sprang upon the narrow stern-sheets, then crept forward toward the bow, at the same time ever keeping her eyes fixed unwaveringly on the spot where the child had sunk, from which widening circles were eddying. The nurses and children who had not started for the house, seeing that a rescue was attempted, looked on with breathless dread and suspense.

When the impetus that Madge had first given to the skiff ceased, she kept the little craft in motion by paddling, first on one side, then on the other, her eyes still fixed on one point in the dark water. At last this point seemed almost beneath her; she dropped the oar, stooped, and peered over the side of the boat. After a moment's hesitation she appeared to those on shore to have lost her balance, fallen overboard, and sunk. Renewed screams of terror resounded, and the Muir children fled toward the hotel, crying, "Aunt Madge is drowned."

"What do you mean?" Graydon gasped, seizing Harry by the arm.

"Oh, Uncle Graydon! run quick. Aunt Madge fell out of a boat under water."

A moment later he saw the young girl rise to the surface with a child in her grasp. With one headlong plunge, and a few strong strokes, he was at her side, exclaiming, "Great God, Madge! what does this mean?"

"Take her to the shore, quick; no matter about me;" and she pushed the limp and apparently lifeless form into his arms.

"But, Madge--" he began.

"Haste! haste! and the child may be saved. Don't think of me; I can swim as well as you;" and she struck out toward the shore.

Wondering and thrilled with admiration, in spite of the confusion of his thoughts, he did as directed, and took the child to land at once.

Madge was there as soon as he, crying, even before she left the water, "Run for Dr. Sommers, and if not at home ride after him."

Meanwhile gentlemen and employes of the house were arriving, and some turned back in search of the physician.

The awful tidings had come upon poor Mrs. Wilder, the mother of the child, like a bolt out of a clear sky, and she had run screaming and moaning toward the scene of disaster. Mother love had given her almost superhuman strength; but when she saw the pale little face on the ground, with the hue of death upon it, she crouched beside it in speechless agony, and watched the efforts that were made to bring back consciousness.

Madge led and directed these efforts. In truth, she did as much to save the child on land as when it had lain submerged on the muddy bottom of the pond. Graydon, seeing that she was coming up the bank, had paused a moment irresolutely, and then was about to start for the hotel with his burden. Madge caught his arm, and took the child from him.

"Graydon, take off your coat and give it to me," she said, imperatively, as she laid the child down on its back; "your handkerchief, also," she added.

She forced open the pale lips, and wiped out the mouth with marvellous celerity, paying no heed to the clamorous voices around her. "Some one give me a sharp knife," she cried, "and don't crowd so near."

Lifting the child's clothing at the throat, she cut it down ward to the waist, then down each arm, leaving the lovely little form exposed and free. Dropping the knife, she next rolled the coat into a bundle, turned the child over so that her abdomen should rest upon it; then with hands pressed rather strongly on each side of the little back, Madge sought to expel the water that might have been swallowed. Turning the child over on her back again, the bundle made by the coat was placed under the small of her back, so as to raise the chest. Then, catching the little tongue that had awakened merry echoes but a few moments before, she drew it out of the mouth to one side by the aid of the handkerchief, and said to Graydon, "Hold it, so."

All now saw that they were witnessing skilled efforts. Discordant advice ceased, and they looked on with breathless interest.

"Has any one smelling salts?" Madge asked. There was no response. She snatched a bit of grass and tickled the child's nose, saying, at the same time, "Bring water." This, after a few seconds, she dashed over the face and exposed chest, waited an instant, then gave her patient a slap over the pit of the stomach.

Graydon, kneeling before her, looked on with silent amazement. Her glorious eyes shone with an absorbed and merciful purpose; she was oblivious of her own strange appearance, the masses of her loosening hair falling over and veiling the lovely form outlined clearly by the wet and clinging drapery of her summer dress. Others looked on in wonder, too, and with a respect akin to awe. Among them were her sister and Henry Muir, Mr. Arnault, and Miss Wildmere--her feelings divided between envy and commiseration for the child and its stricken mother.

These first simple efforts having no apparent effect, Madge said, quietly, "We must try artificial respiration. Move a little more to one side, Graydon."

Kneeling behind the child, she lifted the little arms quickly but steadily up, over and down, until they lay upon the ground behind the wet golden curls. This motion drew the ribs up, expanded the chest and permitted air to enter it. After two or three seconds Madge reversed the motion and pressed the arms firmly against the chest, to expel the air. This alternate motion was kept up regularly at about the rate of sixteen times a minute, until the sound of a galloping horse was heard, and the crowd parted for Dr. Sommers. He took in the situation with his quick eye, and said, "Miss Alden, let me take your place."

"Oh, thank God, you are here!" she exclaimed. "Let me hold her tongue, Graydon; I must do something."

"Yes, Mr. Muir," added the physician; "let her help me; she knows just what to do. How long was the child under water?"

"I don't know exactly; not long."

"Not more than four or five minutes?"

"I think not."

"There should be hope, then."

"We must save her!" cried Madge. "I once saw people work over an hour before there were signs of life."

"Oh, God bless your brave heart!" murmured the poor mother. "You won't leave my child--you won't let them give her up, will you?"

"No, Mrs. Wilder, not for one hour or two. I believe that your little girl will be saved."

"Have some brandy ready," said Dr. Sommers.

A flask was produced, and Graydon again knelt near, to have it in readiness, while the doctor kept up his monotonous effort, pressing the arms against the lungs, then lifting them above the head and back to the ground, with regular and mechanical iteration.

The child's eyelids began to tremble. "Ah!" exclaimed the doctor; a moment later there was a slight choking cough, and a glad cry went up from the throng.

"The brandy," said the doctor.

Madge now gave up the case to him and Graydon, and slipped down beside the mother, who was swaying from side to side. "Don't faint," she said; "your child will need you as soon as she is conscious."

"Oh, Heaven bless you! Heaven bless you!" cried the mother; "you have saved my only, my darling."

"Yes, madam, you are right. It's all plain sailing now," the doctor added.

Then Madge became guilty of her first useless act. In strong revulsion she fainted dead away. In a moment her head was on Mrs. Muir's lap, and Henry Muir was at her side.

"Poor girl! no wonder. There's not a woman in a hundred thousand who could do what she has done. There, don't worry about her. Put her in my carriage with Mrs. Muir, and take her to her room; I'll be there soon. She'll come out all right; such girls always do."

Meanwhile Mr. Muir and Graydon were carrying out the doctor's directions, and the unconscious girl was borne rapidly to her apartment, where, under her sister's ministrations, she soon revived.

Almost her first conscious words, after being assured that the child was safe, were, "Oh, Mary! what a guy I must have appeared! What will Graydon--I mean all who saw me--think?"

"They'll think things that might well turn any girl's head. As for Graydon, he is waiting outside now, half crazy with anxiety to receive a message from you."

"Tell him I made a fool of myself, and he must not speak about it again on the pain of my displeasure."

"Well, you have come to," said Mrs. Muir, and then she went and laughingly delivered the message verbatim, adding, "Go and put on dry clothes. You'll catch your death with those wet things on, and you look like a scarecrow."

He departed, more puzzled over Madge Alden than ever, but admitting to himself that she had earned the right to be anything she pleased.

Dr. Sommers continued his efforts in behalf of the little girl, chafing her wrists and body with the brandy, and occasionally giving a few drops until circulation was well restored; and then, at her mother's side, carried the child to her room, and gave directions to those who were waiting to assist.

When he entered Madge's apartment, she greeted him with the words, "What a silly thing I did!"

"Not at all, not at all. You made your exit gracefully, and escaped the plaudits which a brave girl like you wouldn't enjoy. I take off my hat to you, as we country-folks say. You are a heroine--as good a doctor as I on shore and a better one in the water. Where did you learn it all?"

"Nonsense!" said Madge, "nothing would vex me more than to have a time made over the affair. It's all as simple as a, b, c. What's that little pond to one who has been used to swimming in the Pacific! As I said, I saw a girl restored once, and Mr. Wayland has explained to me again and again just what to do."

"Oh, yes, it's all simple enough if you know how, but that's just the trouble. In all that crowd I don't believe there was one who would not have done the wrong thing. Well, well, I can manage now if I'm obeyed. You've had a good deal of a shock, and you must keep quiet till to-morrow. Then I'll see."

Madge laughingly protested that nothing would please her better than a good supper and a good book. "Please give out also," she said, "that any reference to the affair will have a very injurious influence on me."

In spite of the doctor, messages and flowers poured in. At last Mrs. Wilder came and said to Mrs. Muir, "I must see her, if it is safe."

"It's safe enough," Mrs. Muir began, "only Madge doesn't like so much made of it."

"I won't say much," pleaded the mother. She did not say anything, but put her arms around Madge and pressed her tear-stained face upon the young girl's bosom in long, passionate embrace, the hastened back to her restored treasure, who was sleeping quietly. Madge's eyes were wet also, and she turned her face to the wall and breathed softly to herself, "Whatever happens now--and it's plain enough what will happen--I did not get strong in vain. Graydon can never think me altogether weak and lackadaisical again, and I have saved one woman's heart from anguish, however my own may ache."