Edward Payson Roe.

A Young Girl's Wooing online

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"Oh, I knew that over two years ago! What's more, you were right."

"No; I was not right," he answered, positively. "I should have
recognized the possibilities of your nature then. I did in regard to
your beauty, but not those higher qualities which bid fair to make you
my patron saint."

"Oh, hush, Graydon. Such words only pain me. I don't want your
compliments, and if any man made a patron saint of me I should be so
exasperated that I should probably box his ears. Let us stick to what
is simple, natural, and true, in all our talk."

"You may say what you please, Madge, I see it more clearly every day,
and reproach myself that I did not understand you. I was content to
amuse and pet you, and you naturally did not think me capable of doing
anything more. You went away alone to make as brave a fight as was
ever battled out in this world, and I had no part in helping you.
Mr. and Mrs. Wayland were worth a wilderness of superficial
society-fellows like me. I now know why you did not care to correspond
with me while making your noble effort."

[Illustration: HER LIPS WERE SLIGHTLY PARTED; HER POSE, GRACE ITSELF.]

"Truly, Graydon, your memory and penetration are phenomenal."

"You may disclaim out of kindness now, but I know I am right. You make
my life appear shallow and trivial. What have I done in the last two
years but attend carefully, from habit, to the details of business,
and then amuse myself? And when I wrote I merely sought to amuse you.
What were my flippant letters worth to one who was in earnest?"

"Graydon," said Madge, looking into his eyes with gentle dignity, "you
may do yourself injustice if you will, but you shall not misjudge me.
I have acquired a little of the art of taking care of myself, and you
are doing me a wrong which I cannot permit. I remember everything,
from the time that your kind eyes rested on the pallid, shrinking
child that crept down to the dining-room when we first met, and from
that day to this you have been kind and helpful to me. I said that
I regarded you as one of the best friends I had in the world. Do
you think me insincere? Do you think I forget how kind you were when
society would not have tolerated the ghost I was? I am not one who
forgets and ignores the past - who can go on to new friends with a
frigid shoulder for old ones. Let us end these misunderstandings.
Before the year is out you will probably be engaged, perhaps married.
Our lives will be widely separated. That is inevitable from the nature
of things. But distance and absence can cause no such separation as
results from misunderstanding. If we should not meet again in twenty
years I should be the same loyal friend. Now I've said it, and don't
vex me again by speaking as if I had not said and meant it."

"I can scarcely tell whether your words make me more glad or sad. Each
feeling is deeper than you will ever believe. You certainly give
me the impression that if I marry Stella Wildmere our lives will be
separated."

"You don't take nature, especially woman-nature, into consideration at
all. I am not congenial to Miss Wildmere; she does not like me. It
is nothing against her, but some people are antagonistic. This is
especially true among women, and in this case it is not strange. Our
experiences have been very different. She has ever been a beautiful,
brilliant society-girl. With her at your side you would always be
an object of envy in circles congenial to you, for admiration would
follow her as the light follows day. In the past, you know, I have
not been influenced by society considerations, and in the future they
shall be very secondary. Therefore we of necessity are unlike, and
could never be much company for each other. There is never any use
in trying to ignore the old law of 'like unto like.' I say this in
explanation of what you know is true all the world over. Even
the close ties of kindred often count for little where tastes,
occupations, and habits of thought are diverse. All this is nothing
against your perfect right to please yourself. In this land, thank
Heaven! families and friends cannot yoke people together to pull
forward general and miscellaneous interests."

"You speak as if it were a slight thing when the woman whom a man
marries is merely accepted, tolerated, by his kindred."

"I have not said that, Graydon; I have only said again what I said
before - that a man has a right to please himself. The truth is trite
enough; why recur to it?"

"Gravitation is trite enough, but it often has an acute bearing on
one's experience. You do not like Stella - "

"And she does not like me."

"Very well; but you try to be just to her, and when she has lived a
while in different associations you will find her greatly changed.
I think you can be her close friend in the future. But Henry detests
her, and he is so quietly and obstinately tenacious in his views that
the fact annoys me exceedingly."

"Very well; you can't help that. You will live in different houses,
and your domestic life will be quite removed from business interests."

"Oh, confound Henry! He married to suit himself, so shall I. But,
Madge, dear Madge, you will try to love her - to help her to be more
like you, for my sake?"

At last Madge's laugh rang out merrily. "For mercy's sake, Graydon,
don't ask me to be a missionary to your wife," she cried. "If I
escaped with my eyes I should be lucky. You must think your wife
perfection, and make her think you do. Woe be unto you if you
introduce a female friend and suggest that she should be imitated,
even to the arch of an eyebrow. Oh, no, I thank you! That's a sphere
in which I shouldn't shine at all, and I wouldn't dare attempt it with
any feminine saint in the calendar. Oh, Graydon, what a dear old goose
you are!" and she laughed till the tears came into her eyes. He joined
her in a half vexed way, protesting that she was still as uncanny as a
ghost, although she had lost the aspect of one.

Suddenly she stopped, and tears of sorrow filled her eyes. "Here I
am, laughing at our absurd talk," she said, "when I have just left the
side of a poor girl, no older than myself, who is ghostly indeed in
her flickering life. Is it heartless to seem to forget so soon? Oh,
Graydon, you don't know what trouble is! You have only had vexations
thus far. Let me tell you what happened last night, if only to make
you grateful for your strong, prosperous life."

"Tell me anything you wish. I always have better thoughts and impulses
after being with you."

"Please don't regard me as egotistical, or offend me by thinking I am
trying to be better than others. Why shouldn't I help that poor girl?
We often dance all night for fun; why can't we watch occasionally for
pity? And in simple truth it will be a long time before the ache for
that poor creature will go out of my heart. It came very close home,
Graydon - very close. It brought to mind another girl, who was once
scarcely stronger or better than Tilly Wendall is to-day, but God was
kind. Tilly also has great black eyes, and they do look so large and
pathetic in the wan little face! At first they did not notice me much.
I was only another of the watchers who had come to aid her mother.
It's astonishing how kind these plain country people are to one
another in trouble, and many a housewife in this region has toiled all
day and then sat up with the poor child the livelong night.

"For the first few hours I could do little more than help her move
in her weak restlessness, and give remedies to relieve her incessant
cough. The poor thing seemed neither more nor less than a victim of
disease, that with a cruelty almost malign had tortured her. I can't
explain how this awful impression grew upon me. It was as if viewless,
brutal hands had racked the emaciated form until intelligence was
gone, and then, not content, would continue their vindictive work
while breath remained in the body. As my watch was prolonged this
impression grew into a nightmare of horror. The still house, the
silent, white, beautiful world without, and that frail young girl
tortured hour after hour under my eyes by fever and a convulsive,
incessant, remorseless cough."

She buried her face in her hands, and for a moment or two her voice
was choked with sobs.

"Oh, Madge," cried Graydon, almost fiercely, "you anger me! I would
strangle a man who harmed a hair of such a child's head. How can I
worship a God who sends or permits such a thing? You are braver than
I. I could see a man shot, but I couldn't look upon what you have
described. Yet the picture brings back the moment when we parted - when
you struggled feebly in my arms with a premonition of your almost
mortal weakness, and then sank back white and deathlike. If you had
not made so wise and brave an effort you might have lingered on in
torture like this poor girl. You stood in just that peril, did you
not?"

"I suppose I did."

"Oh, what a clod I was! I used to hear you cough night after night,
and I would mutter, 'Poor Madge!' and go to sleep. To think that you
might have suffered as this girl is suffering! I never realized it
before, yet I thought I did. I can't tell you how my whole nature
rebels at it all, and pious talk about resignation in the presence of
such scenes fairly makes me grind my teeth;" and his brow blackened
like night in his mental revolt, and his eyes were sternly fixed in
honest, indignant arraignment of the Power he did not scruple to defy,
though so impotent to resist.

Madge brushed away her tears, and watched him earnestly for a moment.
In that confused instant she exulted in the strong, generous, kindly
manhood that would not cringe even to omnipotence when apparently
cruel. She said, gently, "Graydon, you are condemning God."

"I can't help it," he began, impetuously, "that is, such a God - "

She put her hand over his mouth.

"I like you better for your words," she continued, "but please don't
talk so any more. Let what you have said apply to 'such a God - ' I
know what you mean, but there is no such being in existence. Let me
finish my story. We have had too many interruptions, and this secluded
road has an end. I won't try to explain my faith. What happened may
make it clearer to you. Well, Tilly gradually grew quieter, and at
last slept. The tired mother was sleeping also, and I sat at the
window just as you imagined, my thoughts sad and questioning, to say
the least At last I saw that Tilly was awake, and looking at me with
something like interest and curiosity. I went to her and asked if I
could do anything.

"She said, in her slow, feeble way, 'I thought I knew every one about
here, but I don't remember to have seen you before.'

"Then I told her who I was, and that her mother was in the next room.

"'You are very kind,' she said. 'And you are from the hotel. Isn't it
a little strange?'

"'It should not be,' I replied, and explained how I came to stay,
adding, 'Don't talk any more. You are not strong enough.'

"With a quiet smile that astonished me, she said, 'It won't make any
difference, Miss Alden; I shall never be any better, or, rather, I
shall soon be well. My mind seems growing clearer, and I'd like to
talk a little. It is strange to see a young girl here. Are you strong
and well?'

"'Yes, very strong, and very glad to help your mother take care of
you. I was once almost as ill as you are, yet I got well. Cheer up,
and let us nurse you back to health.'

"She shook her head. 'No, that's now impossible. You come and cheer
poor mother and father, Miss Alden. I am more than cheerful, I am
happy.'

"I made her call me Madge, and said: 'Tell me then in a few words how
you can be happy. My heart has just been aching for you ever since I
came.'

"Perhaps she saw tears in my eyes, for she said, 'Sit down by me.'
Then she took my hand, leaned her cheek upon it, and looked at me with
such a lovely sympathy in her beautiful dark eyes!

"'Yes,' she said, 'I see you are young and strong, and you probably
have wealth and many friends; still I think I am better off than you
are. I am almost home, and you may have long, weary journeying before
you yet. You ask me why I am happy. I'll just give you the negative
reasons: think how much they mean to me - "And there shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more
pain." All these may be taken from my life any hour. Think of what
will be added to it. You believe all this, Madge?'

"'Yes.'

"'Then you must know why I am happy, and why I may be better off than
you are. It will be very hard for father and mother - there will be
more pain for them here in consequence - but soon it will all end
forever; in a little while we shall be together again. So you know
nearly all about poor little me,' she said, with another of her
smiles, which were the sweetest, yet most unearthly things I ever saw.
'And now tell me about yourself. I'm not able to talk much more for
the present. I'd like to know something about the friend who helped
me through the last few steps of my journey. I can think about you in
heaven, you know,' she said, with the sweetest little laugh. 'Don't
look so sad, Madge. They'll tell you I'm gone soon. "Gone where?" ask
yourself, and never grieve a moment.'

"Oh, Graydon, she made it all seem so real, talking there alone in the
night! And it is just as she says or it isn't anything. When you
said, 'Such a God,' you had in mind a theological phantom, and I don't
wonder you felt as you did; but this girl believes in a God who 'so
loved the world' - who so loved her - and I do also. Her pain, her
thwarted young life, I don't understand any more than I do other
phases of evil, but I can give my allegiance to One who came to take
away the evil of the world. That's about all the religion I have, and
you mustn't ever say a word against it.

"Well, there is but little more to tell. Tilly spoke in quiet, broken
sentences as her cough permitted, and I told her a little about myself
and sang to her some hymns that mother sang to me when I was a child.
With the dawn her mother came in, and was frightened at having slept
so long, but Tilly laughed and said it was just splendid.

"She was evidently a very intelligent girl, and must have been a
pretty one, too. She certainly has read a great deal, and has taught
in public schools. There didn't seem to be a trace of morbidness
in her mind or feeling. She was simply trying to make the best of
everything, and her best certainly is _the_ best. She has helped and
comforted me more than I could her."

"Comforted you, Madge?"

"Oh, well," was the somewhat confused reply. "I've had trouble, and
shall have again. Who is without it long in this world?"

"It's almost hard to see how serious trouble can reach you hereafter,
you are so strong, so fortified. No, Madge; I'll never say a word
against your faith or that of your new friend. Would to Heaven I had
it myself! I wouldn't have missed this talk with you for the world,
and you can't know how I appreciate the friendship which has led
you to speak to me frankly of what is so sacred. All the whirl and
pressure of coming life and business shall never blot from my memory
the words you have spoken this morning or the scenes you have made so
real."

If this were true, how infinitely deeper would have been his
impression if he could have seen the beautiful girl, now smiling into
his eyes, bowed in agony at that sick-bed, while she acknowledged with
stifled sobs that the dying girl _was_ better off - far happier than
she who had to face almost the certainty of lifelong disappointment.
Poor Madge had not told Graydon all her story. She would have died
rather than have her secret known on earth, but she had not feared to
breathe it to one on the threshold of heaven.




CHAPTER XXVIII

DISPASSIONATE LOVERS


During the last moments of their drive Madge and Graydon were
comparatively silent. They were passing dwellings, meeting strangers,
and they could not, with the readiness of natures less finely
organized, descend to commonplaces. Each had abundant food for
thought, while even Graydon now believed that he so truly understood
Madge, and had so much in common with her, that words were no longer
needed for companionship.

As they approached the piazza, they saw that Arnault was still Miss
Wildmere's devoted attendant. His presence meant hope for Madge, and
Graydon was slightly surprised at his own indifference. He felt that
the girl to whom he regarded himself as bound belonged to a different
world, a lower plane of life than that of which he had been given a
glimpse. The best elements of his nature had been profoundly moved,
and brought to the surface, and he found them alien to the pair on
the piazza. He was even self-reproachful that he saw with so little
resentment Stella's present companionship.

"While I don't like her course at all," he thought, "I must believe
that she is acting from the most self-sacrificing motives. What
troubles me most now is that I have a growing sense of the narrowness
of her nature."

He had never come from her presence with his manhood aroused to its
depths. It was her beauty that he dwelt upon; her piquant, alluring
tones and gestures. Madge was not an ill-natured critic of the girl
who threatened to destroy her future, but, by being simply what she
was, she made the other shrink and grow common by contrast.

To Graydon such comparisons were odious indeed, and he would not
willingly permit them; but, in conformity to mental laws and the force
of circumstances, they would present themselves. Each day had found
him in the society of the two girls, and even an hour like one of
those just passed compelled him to feel the superiority of Madge. His
best hope already for Stella was that she would change when surrounded
by better influences - that her faultless taste in externals would
eventually create repugnance to modes of thought and action unsuitable
in a higher plane of life. He did not question his love for her,
but he felt this morning that it was a love which was becoming
disenchanted early, and into which the elements of patience and
tolerance might have to enter largely. Should he marry her to-day he
could not, as Madge had said, and with the first glow of affection,
believe her perfect. He even sighed as he thought of the future.

His heart was very tender toward Madge, but it was with an affection
that seemed to him partly fraternal, and partly a regard for one
different, better, purer than himself. He proved the essential
fineness, the capabilities of his nature, by his appreciation of some
of her higher traits. Her ministry to the dying girl had given her
a sacredness in his eyes. For the time she was becoming a sort of
religion to him. He revealed this attitude of mind to her by a gentle
manner, and a tone of respect and consideration in the least thing he
said.

"Oh," thought the poor girl, "he could be so much to me and I to him!
His touch, even in thought, would never be coarse and unfeeling; and
I have seen again and again that I can inspire him, move him, and make
him happy. Why must a wretched blunder thwart and blight two lives?"

Before they had finished their breakfast the beautiful languor of
sleep was again in his companion's eyes, and he said: "Dear Madge,
promise me you will take a long rest. Before we part I want to tell
you what an illumined page you have put in my memory this morning.
Some of the shadows in the picture are very dark, but there is also a
light in it that 'never was on sea or land.' When you wake I shall be
on my way to the trout-stream to which Dr. Sommers will guide me; and,
do you know? I feel as if my memories will be in accord with the scene
of my camping-ground. As I sit in my tent-door to-night I shall think
over all you have said and described."

Her only answer was a smile, that for some reason quickened his pulse.

Much occurred before they met again.

He went to his room, wrote some letters, and made other preparations.
Then, feeling that he should give the remaining time before his
departure to Miss Wildmere, he sought her. She appeared to be waiting
for him on the piazza, and there was reproach in her tone, as she
said, "I half feared you were going without bidding me good-by."

"Such fears were scarcely just to me."

"I did not know but that you had so greatly enjoyed your morning drive
as to go away in a fit of absent-mindedness. I have been sitting here
alone an hour."

"I could not know that. When I drove up I saw that I should be _de
trop_," he replied, as they sauntered to an adjacent grove.

"Now, Graydon, you know that is never true, so far as I am concerned."

"The trouble is, Miss Wildmere, others are concerned in such a way
that the only resource left me is to keep my distance."

"Mr. Arnault has returned to the city," she said, with what appeared a
great sigh of relief. "I am perfectly free now."

"Till Mr. Arnault returns."

"I cannot help his return."

"Oh, no. I do not question his right to come back, or even to buy this
hotel and turn us all out."

"Please don't talk about him any more. I'm doing the best I can."

"I believe you think so, but I cannot think it will prove the best for
any one. It is not what I expected or even imagined. You are acting
from a mistaken sense of duty, and I am more sorry every day that
you can commit such an error. Look at it in its true light, Stella. I
cannot believe you are deceiving me: you must be leading Mr. Arnault
to entertain a false hope."

"Graydon, I have refused Mr. Arnault, and he will take no refusal."

"You can refuse him in such a way that he must take it at once and
forever."

"You don't know - " she began, tears coming into her eyes.

"No; you have only led me to surmise a great deal by implication."

"What would become of mamma and my little sister if papa should fail
utterly?" and tears came faster. No one could be more pathetic than
Miss Wildmere when she chose.

"Can you not trust me for them as well as for yourself?"

"Oh, Mr. Muir, I know you mean most generously and kindly, but papa is
so anxious and fearful! He tries to keep up before others, but I know
how he feels, and it's terrible. He is past middle age, and business
success means very much to him. How can I do anything to harm him? I
know so little about business and its perils, while papa thinks
there may be terrible dangers ahead for every one. You might have the
good-will to help us and yet soon be scarcely able to help yourself.
I have been made to feel that the best I could do through these
troublous times was to try to aid papa as far as possible, and then I
shouldn't have anything with which to reproach myself."

Graydon was perplexed. Apparently she was doing wrong in the most
self-sacrificing spirit, and believed that doing right, which would
end her abnegation, was wrong and selfish.

While he hesitated, she resumed: "You see, Graydon, papa has the same
as said that Mr. Arnault was tiding him over until he could realize
on securities now of little value. Of course there has been no
compromising understanding in words - do not think us capable of that.
It would cut me to the heart to have you misjudge me or condemn me. I
will give you the highest proof I can of my - my - esteem by being frank
on a delicate subject, so that you can see how I am placed. I don't
think many young ladies would do as much. Of course what I say is
sacred between us. Mr. Arnault offered himself long since, and I
promptly declined the honor, but he laughingly told me he would take
no refusal, and chatted through the rest of the evening as pleasantly
as if nothing had happened. I have virtually refused him several times
since, but he persists, declaring that he will remain an agreeable
friend until I change my mind. Surely, I am not misleading him. I
do like him as a friend, and he knows that I have for him no other
regard, and never had. Before you came he had begun to help papa, and
to throw business in his way, and just now he is rendering him very
great service. He may do this in the hope of influencing me, but he
gives his aid without conditions. Yet I know him well enough to be
sure that he would withdraw this business help should I now harshly
dismiss him or engage myself to another. While I do show him that I
appreciate his kindness, I do nothing to indicate that my feeling is
changed. He must know that I regard him in the same light as in the
past. If he is content with this, I have asked myself why I should
be precipitate - why alienate him now in the very crisis of papa's
affairs. Of course if I had only myself to think of - I've been foolish


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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeA Young Girl's Wooing → online text (page 18 of 27)