A Young Girl's Wooing by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter VII. Not a Miracle
Madge was simply fatigued from her long journey, and not oppressed with want of sleep, for in passing through uninteresting portions of the country she had given herself up to repose. The sense of weariness passed with the hours of night, and she was among the earliest stirring in the morning. Long before breakfast was ready she had her trunks partially unpacked, her mind meantime busy with plans for immediate action. At last her healthful appetite so asserted itself that she went down to the dining-room. Mr. and Mrs. Muir had not yet appeared, and she strolled into the parlor, opened her piano, and played a few runs. She found it sadly out of tune from long disuse. As this was not true of her voice, she began singing a favorite German song.
In a moment the house was full of melody. Clear, sweet, and powerful, her notes penetrated to the kitchen, where the maids were busy, and they stopped in spellbound wonder, with dish or utensil in hand. Mrs. Muir listened with her hair-brush suspended, while methodical Mr. Muir laid down his razor, and, going to the door, set it ajar. The song poured into the room like an harmonic flood. Before the first stanza was completed Mrs. Muir had on her dressing-gown and was stealing downstairs into the back parlor, and as Madge was beginning again she rushed upon her.
"Why, why," she exclaimed, "I thought Nilsson or Patti had got lost and taken refuge here! Can it be you? You are nothing but a surprise from beginning to end. When will the wonders cease? Are you sure that you are Madge?"
"Yes, and equally sure that I am hungry. When will you be ready for breakfast? I've been up these two hours."
"Well, well, well, what will Graydon say? He thinks you are still little better than a ghost."
"He will say that I have been very sensible, and he will find me very substantial and matter-of-fact. The question now uppermost is, When will breakfast be ready?" cried the young girl, laughing, in a childlike enjoyment of her sister's wonder, and a loving woman's anticipation of triumph over the man who had once called her "weak and lackadaisical."
She responded warmly to the embrace of Mrs. Muir, who added, "You have come back to us a princess. Why, even Henry, whom nothing moves out of the even tenor of his way, paused in his shaving, and with one side of his face all lathered opened the door to listen."
"You tell him," cried Madge, in merry vein, "that he has given me the greatest compliment I ever received. But compliments are not breakfast."
Mrs. Muir returned to complete her toilet, and her husband soon appeared.
"Madge," he said, greeting her kindly, "you have brought about great changes. How have you accomplished them all in so brief a time?"
"The time has not been so very brief," she replied. "I have been away over two years, remember. It's all very simple, Henry. I went to work to get well and to learn something, as you give your mind and time to business. In the Waylands, my old German professor, and especially in the magnificent climate I had splendid allies. And you know I had nothing else to do. One can do a great deal in two years with sufficient motive and steady effort toward a few points."
"What was your motive, Madge?"
A slow, deep color stole into her face, but she looked unflinchingly into his eyes as she asked, "Was not the hope of being what I am to-day, compared with what I was, sufficient motive?"
"Yes," he replied, thoughtfully, "it was; but it appears strange to me that more girls do not show your sense. Nine-tenths of the pallid creatures that I see continue half alive through their own fault."
"If they knew the pleasure of being thoroughly alive," said Madge, "they wouldn't dawdle another hour. I believe that I might have regained health long before if I had set about it."
"Well, Madge, as your guardian I wish to tell you that I am deeply gratified. You have done more for yourself than all the world could do for you. I am a plain man, you know, and not given to many words. There is only one thing that I detest more than a silly woman, and that is a heartless, speculating one. Both are sure to make trouble sooner or later. You certainly do not belong to the first type, and I don't believe you will ever make a bad use of the beauty you have won so honestly. Let me give you a bit of business experience, Madge. I have seen men falter and fail by the score downtown, and usually it was because women were playing the mischief with them--too often women of their own households, who had no more idea of the worth of a dollar, or how it is obtained, than a kitten. The one idea is to marry for money, and then to spend it in parade. I believe you will be like your sister Mary, who has given me a home, quiet, and peace." ("If I ever give a man anything I'll give him a great deal more than that," Madge thought.) "And now," concluded Mr. Muir, "speaking of money, I wish to go over your accounts with you soon, that you may know everything and understand everything. It's absurd for women to be helpless and dependent in this respect. You should know all about your property, and the time has come when you should learn what are regarded as safe investments, and what are not. My life is as uncertain as any other man's, and I intend that you sisters shall not be like two children, who must do blindly what some trustee tells you to do;" and Mr. Muir complacently led the way to the breakfast-room, feeling that as guardian he had done his duty both morally and financially.
It was his way to speak plainly and promptly all he desired to say, and then, according to his creed, if people had sense they would do what was wise; if they had not, the less said the better.
Mrs. Muir was voluble during the morning meal. Now that Madge had come again within the sphere of her domestic energy, she was fall of plans and projects.
"Of course," she said, "you have nothing to wear. The outlandish dresses that you had made at that jumping-off place in the West won't answer. As soon as the Waylands have made their call we must go out and begin ordering your summer outfit. Perhaps Mrs. Wayland will go with us."
"Patience, Mary. We are not ready to order outfits yet."
"Because we do not want to buy what interested shopmen and milliners may choose to palm off on us. You live such a domestic life that you are scarcely better informed than I as to the latest modes. We will drive in the park, use our eyes on the avenue, and visit several fashionable establishments first. Then I wish to find a dressmaker who is not an idiotic slave of fashion, and who can modify the prevailing styles by taste and appreciation of the person for whom she works. The one whom I employ must make dresses for me and under my direction, and not dresses in the abstract, as if they were for the iron-framed form on which she exhibits her wares."
"Good!" cried Mr. Muir; "Madge's head is level. Let her have her own way, Mary, and she will come out all right."
"Well," said Mrs. Muir, "I suppose it will take a little time for me to get used to all these changes. Before she went away I used to do everything for her. I'm going to have my own way in one thing, however. You must not write to Graydon a word beyond the fact that Madge is here. You have both laughed at me and my wonder, and I'm going to have the compensation of seeing him transformed into exclamation points."
Madge now turned toward Mr. Muir, and he could detect not the slightest indication of embarrassment or overconsciousness, as she said, "Certainly, Henry, you must not spoil this little bit of prospective fun."
Madge did have her own way, and made her preparations with the quiet decision and thoughtfulness which now characterized her actions.
The Waylands were frequent guests at Mr. Muir's home for a time, and then departed to visit friends in the country.
Madge and her sister soon decided upon the Catskills as the place of their summer sojourn. The choice of this region, so accessible from the city, was pleasing to Mr. Muir.
"What are you reading?" he said, one evening, as he found Madge surrounded by books and pamphlets.
"Reading up on the Catskills and their vicinity. A place is far more interesting if you have associations with it, and I intend to be versed in all the stories and legends of the region. In this I have a little design upon you also. You look worn, Henry, and need rest and change. You are too much devoted to business. I'm going to 'frivol,' like the rest of the girls, in the evening--dance, and all that, you know, but I shall try to keep you among the hills, and inveigle you into long drives and walks by telling you exciting yarns that will take the place of the dissipations of business. You needn't think you will have to mope around the piazza, your body on a mountain and your mind in Wall Street. You are getting old and rich, and you must begin to take an interest in other things besides business."
"Now, that's thoughtful and kind of you," he said, and then he lapsed into a revery that the contraction of his brow showed to be not altogether agreeable.
At last he said, "Madge, I half believe you are right. I am and have been too devoted to business. It's all very well as long as you can drive it, but when it begins to drive you it is a hard task-master. The times are bad. Instead of making anything, one has to use all his faculties to keep from losing what he has made. It's getting to be a grind. I sometimes wish I was out of it, but suppose I shouldn't know what to do with myself."
"That's just it, Henry, you wouldn't. You must become interested in other things, and that's a process which requires time, and I'll help you."
"Oh, you," he said, laughing--"you will soon have all you can do to keep your beaux at bay."
"Beaux in this free and enlightened land have only certain rights which a girl is bound to respect. Should there be any, and they unreasonable, you'll see," she said, with a little decisive nod. Then she added, gravely: "I don't believe you would be content out of business, but I should think there was such a thing as trying to do so much business that it would become a burden, and, perhaps, a heavy one. You may think I'm a little goose, talking of what I know nothing about; but I've read a great deal, and, of late, books worth reading. I don't believe it is a good thing to change one's habits and pursuits suddenly; and what's more, Henry, I believe that when the times are better business will be as great a source of satisfaction to you as ever. As I suggested before, you must gradually become interested in other things which can take the place of business as you grow old."
"What a wise little woman we have become!" said Mr. Muir. "Here you are giving your guardian sound advice--you who, I imagined once, would take no more thought for the morrow than a lily of the field, and a very pale one at that. This is a greater change than any that Mary exclaims about."
"Perhaps you think me very presuming," answered Madge, coloring.
"No, I do not. I think you very sensible, and I think myself very fortunate in having such women in my household as you and Mary. I was blue when I came home to-night, but it inspirits a man to talk to such a girl. You have a power of good common-sense, Madge."
"Well, I have--I had--need of it."
"The majority would say you could afford to be silly. You have a snug fortune of your own, of which not a penny can be lost unless the bottom falls out of everything."
"I don't think any woman can afford to be silly. I know that's a sweeping word with you, and covers all feminine folly. What I meant is this: Money and every good thing in life was a mockery. I couldn't enjoy anything, and wasn't anything but a burden. I saw it all, and that I should have to throw nonsense overboard if I wished to be different. You will find that I have plenty left, however, before the summer's over. Now, let me read to you Irving's legend of poor old Rip. What if you have read it often? A little infusion of the champion sleeper's spirit is just what you need;" and with simple purity of tone and naturalness of accent she made the old story new to him.
"Madge," he said, as he kissed her good-night, "that is even better than your singing. I feel so freshened and heartened up that I'm another man, and in good trim for the fight to-morrow; for that is just what business has become--a regular defensive fight. You didn't think two years ago that you would send me down to Wall Street with a clearer head and better courage."
"No, indeed, I didn't dream of it, and I can scarcely believe it's true now. You used to seem to me like gravitation, that would always be the same to the end of time."
"Bah! A man is only a man, and he finds it out sooner or later. There's Jack crying again, and Mary hasn't had a chance to come down. I'll take the child, for his teeth make him so nervous that he won't stay with the nurse."
"I'll try my hand at him to-morrow," said the young girl, and was absorbed in her reading again.
The days passed quickly, and Madge filled them full, as before at Santa Barbara. As the time approached for Graydon's return, she felt a quiet rising excitement akin to that which inspires a soldier when a campaign is about to open; but to her brother-in-law and sister she gave only the impression of decision of character and youthful, healthful buoyancy. She was good-cheer itself in the household, and helpful in every little domestic emergency. The servants and the children welcomed her like sunshine, and she made the evenings all too short by music and reading aloud. She blossomed out in her summer costumes like a flower, so becoming to her style had been her choice of fabrics and the taste with which they had been fashioned. June was passing. In a day or two more Graydon would arrive, and the fruition or failure of her patient endeavor begin.