Chapter XXI. Suggestive Tones

Miss Wildmere had promised to drive with Graydon on the following morning, but Madge felt as if heaven had interfered in her behalf, for the skies were clouded, and the rain fell unceasingly. People were at a loss to beguile the hours. Graydon, Miss Wildmere, and Mr. Arnault played pool together, while Mr. Muir, his wife, and Madge bowled for an hour, the last winning most of the games. Mr. Arnault had a certain rude sense of fair play, and it appeared to him that Graydon's course had become all that he could ask--more than he could naturally expect. The lady was apparently left wholly free to make her choice between them, and all protest, even by manner, against her companionship with him had ceased. He could drive, walk, or dance with her at his will; then Graydon would quietly put in an appearance and make the most of his opportunity. Arnault was not deceived, however. He knew that his present rival was the most dangerous one that he had ever encountered--that Stella might accept him at any time and was much inclined to do so speedily. Indeed, he was about driven to the belief that she would do so at once but for the fear that the Muirs were in financial peril. He hoped that this fear and the pressure of her father's need might lead her to decide in his favor, without the necessity of his being the immediate and active agent in breaking down the Muirs. As a business man, he shrunk from this course, and all the more because Graydon was acting so fairly. Nevertheless, he would play his principal card if he must. It was his nature to win in every game of life, and it had become a passion with him to secure the beautiful girl that he had sought so long and vainly. If it could appear to the world that he had fairly won her, he would not scruple at anything in the accomplishment of his purpose, and would feel that he had scored the most brilliant success in his life. If he could do this without ruining them, he would be glad, and his good-will was enhanced by Graydon's course this morning. The former had sauntered into the billiard-room, but, seeing Graydon with Miss Wildmere, had been about to depart, when Muir had said, cordially, "Come, Arnault, take a cue with us," and had quite disarmed him by frank courtesy.

At last the sound of music and laughter lured them to the main hall, and there they found Madge surrounded by children and young people, little Nellie Wilder clinging to her side the most closely, with Mr. and Mrs. Wilder looking at the young girl with a world of grateful good-will in their eyes.

"Oh, Miss Alden, sing us another song," clamored a dozen voices.

"Yes," cried Jennie Muir; "the funny one you sang for us in the woods."

Madge smilingly complied, and the children fairly danced in their delight at the comical strains, abrupt pauses, droll sentiment, and interlarded words of explanation. The more elderly guests were attracted, and the audience grew apace. Having finished her little musical comedy, Madge arose, and Mr. Arnault, aware of Stella Wildmere's ability to sing selections from opera, said, "Since the children have been so well entertained, I suggest that we who have the misfortune to be grown have our turn, and that Miss Wildmere give us some grown-up music."

Madge flushed slightly, and Miss Wildmere, after a little charming hesitation, seated herself at the piano, and sang almost faultlessly a selection from an opera. It was evident that she had been well and carefully trained, and that within her limitations, which she thoughtfully remembered, she gave little occasion for criticism. Both her suitors were delighted. They applauded so heartily, and urged so earnestly with others, that she sang again and again, to the unaffected pleasure of the throng who had now gathered. At last she pleaded fatigue, and rose from the instrument, flushing proudly amid vociferous encores. Graydon was about to ask Madge to sing again, when an old gentleman who had listened to the children's ditties, and had detected unusual sweetness and power in Madge's tones, said, promptly, "I may be mistaken, but I have an impression that Miss Alden can give us some grown-up music, if she will."

Instantly his suggestion was seconded by general entreaty, in which not only Graydon joined from sincere good-will, but also Mr. Arnault, in the hope of giving Stella a triumph, for he believed that the best her social rival could do would be to render some ballad fairly well.

Madge's brow contracted, as though she were irresolute and troubled.

"Truly, Miss Alden," said Stella, who was standing near, "I have done my part to beguile the dismal day; I think you might favor us, also. There are no critics here, I hope. We should enjoy a simple song if you cannot now recall anything else."

"Very well, then, I will give you a little German song that my old teacher loved well;" but Graydon saw the same slight flush and a resolute expression take the place of her hesitancy.

After a brief prelude, which, to his trained ear, revealed her perfect touch, her voice rose with a sweet, resonant power that held those near spellbound, and swelled in volume until people in distant parts of the house paused and listened as if held by a viewless hand. Connoisseurs felt that they were listening to an artist and not an amateur; plain men and women, and the children, knew simply that they were enjoying music that entranced them, that set their nerves thrilling and vibrating. Madge hoped only that her voice might penetrate the barriers between herself and one man's heart. She did not desire to sing on the present occasion. She did not wish to annoy him by the contrast between her song and Miss Wildmere's performance, feeling that he would naturally take sides in his thoughts with the woman outvied; nor had she any desire to inflict upon her rival the disparagement that must follow; but something in Miss Wildmere's self-satisfied and patronizing tone had touched her quick spirit, and the arrogant girl should receive the lesson she had invited. But, as Madge sang, the noble art soon lifted her above all lower thoughts, and she forgot everything but Graydon and the hope of her heart. She sang for him alone, as she had learned to sing for him alone.

In spite of her explanations he looked at her with the same old wonder and perplexity of which he had been conscious from the first. If she had merely sung with correctness and taste, like Miss Wildmere, there would have been nothing to disturb his complacent admiration; but now he almost felt like springing to her side with the words, "What is it, Madge? Tell me all."

As the last lovely notes ceased, only the unthinking children applauded. From the others there was entreaty.

"Please sing again, Miss Alden," said the gentleman who had first asked her. "I am an old man, and can't hope for many more such rich pleasures. I am not an amateur, and know only the music that reaches my heart."

"Sing something from 'Lohengrin,' Madge," said Henry Muir, quietly. She glanced at him, and there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes.

Herr Brachmann had trained her thoroughly in some of Wagner's difficult music, and she gave them a selection which so far surpassed the easy melodies of Verdi, which Miss Wildmere had sung, that the latter sat pale and incensed, yet not daring to show her chagrin. This music was received with unbounded applause, and then a little voice piped, "The big folks have had more'n their turn; now give us a reg'lar Mother Goose."

This request was received with acclamations, and soon ripples of laughter broke over the crowd in all directions, and then one of the adoring boys who were usually worshipping near cried out, "A reel, Miss Alden, a reel, and let us finish up with a high old dance before dinner."

Graydon seized Miss Wildmere's hand, boys made profound bows to their mothers, husbands dragged their protesting wives out upon the floor. Soon nearly all ages and heights were in the two long lines, many feet already keeping time to Madge's rollicking strains. Never had such a dance been known before in the house, for the very genius and inspiration of mirth seemed to be in the piano. The people were laughing half the time at the odd medley of tunes and improvisations that Madge invoked, and gray-bearded men indulged in some of the antics that they had thought forgotten a quarter of a century before. As the last couple at the head of the lines was glancing down the archway of raised and clasped hands, the lively strains ceased, and the dancers swarmed out, with thanks and congratulations upon their lips, only to see Madge flying up the stairway.

"Madge," said Graydon, at dinner, "I suppose you will tell me you have practiced over and over again every note you sang this morning."

"Certainly; some of the more difficult ones hours and hours and months and months. Herr Brachmann was an amiable dragon in music, and insisted on your knowing what you did know."

"I thought you would say all this, but it doesn't account for your singing."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know exactly. There is something you did not get from Herr Brachmann--scarcely from nature. It suggests what artists call feeling, and more."

"Oh, every one has his own method," said Madge, carelessly, and yet with a visible increase of color.

"'Method,' do you call it? I'm half inclined to think that it might be akin to madness were you very unhappy. The human voice often has a strange power over me, and I have a theory that it may reveal character more than people imagine. Why shouldn't it? It is the chief medium of our expression, and we may even unconsciously reveal ourselves in our tones."

"When were you so fanciful before? What does a professional reveal?"

"Chiefly that she is a trained professional, and yet even the most blase among them give hints as to the compass of their woman-nature. I think their characters are often suggested quite definitely by their tones. Indeed, I even find myself judging people by their voices. Henry's tones indicate many of his chief traits accurately--as, for instance, self-reliance, reserve, quiet and unswerving purpose."

"Well," asked Mrs. Muir, who was a little obtuse on delicate points, "what did Miss Wildmere's tones indicate?"

Graydon was slightly taken aback, and suddenly found that he did not like his theory so well as he had thought. "Miss Wildmere's tones," he began, hesitatingly, "suggested this morning little more than a desire to render well the music she sang, and to give pleasure to her listeners."

"I thought they suggested some self-complacency, which was lost before the morning was over," added Mr. Muir, dryly.

"Miss Wildmere sang admirably," exclaimed Madge, warmly, "and could sing much better if she had been trained in a better method and gave more time to the art. I sang hours every day for nearly two years. Nothing will take the place of practice, Graydon. One must develop voice like muscle."

"You are a generous, sensible critic, Madge," he said, quietly, although there was a flush of resentment on his face at his brother's words. "In the main you are right, but I still hold to my theory. At least, I believe that in all great music there is a subtle individuality and motif. Love may be blind, but it is not deaf. Miss Wildmere gave us good music, not great music."

Mr. Muir began talking about the weather as if it were the only subject in his mind, and soon afterward Madge went to her room with bowed head and downcast heart.

"I have no chance," she sighed. "He loves her, and that ends all. He is loyal to her, and will be loyal, even though she breaks his heart eventually, as I fear. It's his nature."