She did not trust herself to reply. Her one thought was to reach the refuge of her own apartment, and to this end she concentrated her failing energies. The climb to the ladies’ dressing-room was a desperate effort; but when she was once outside the house the cold, pure air revived her slightly.
“You can excuse me to our hostess—she will not care,” she faltered, and it seemed to her then that nobody would care. Miss Wildmere’s glance had conveyed the estimate of society. If she could believe herself first in Graydon’s thoughts she would not be cast down, but now the truth was overwhelming.
She leaned away from him in the corner of the carriage, but he put his strong arm round her and drew her to his breast. She tried to resist, but was powerless. Then came the torturing thought, “If I repel him—if I act differently—he will guess the reason,” and she was passive; but he felt her slight form tremble.
“My poor little ghost, you are ill in very truth! I’m indeed sorry that I left you so long.”
“Believe me, Graydon, I am ill. Please let that excuse me and explain. Oh, that I—I were strong, like Miss Wildmere!”
“Isn’t she a beauty?” exclaimed the unconscious Graydon. “The man who wins her might well be proud, for he would have competitors by the score.”
“Your chances seem excellent,” said Madge, in a low tone.
He laughed complacently, but added: “You don’t know these society belles. They can show a great deal of favor to more than one fellow, yet never permit themselves to be pinned by a definite promise. They are harder to catch and hold than a wild Bedouin; but such a girl as Miss Wildmere is worth the effort. Yes, Madge, I do wish you were like her. It would be grand sport to champion you in society and see you run amuck among the fellows. It’s a thousand pities that you are such an invalid. I’ve thought more than once that you were designed to be a beauty. With your eyes and Stella Wildmere’s health you would be quite as effective after your style as she is in hers. Never mind, little sister, I shall stand by you, and as long as I live you shall always have a luxurious sofa, with all the novels of the northern hemisphere at your command. Who knows? You may grow strong one of these days. When you do I’ll pick out the nice fellows for you.”
At every kindly word her heart grew heavier, and when the carriage stopped at their door she could hardly mount the steps. In the hall she faltered and caught the hat-rack for support. He lifted her in his arms and bore her easily to her room, her sister following in much solicitude. “It’s nothing,” said Madge; “the company was too large and exciting for me. There was no need of Graydon’s carrying me upstairs, but he would do it.”
“You poor dear!” began her sister, broodingly. “I feared it would be so. Graydon is made of iron, and will never realize how delicate you are.”