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.

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!"