“He’s very kind, and more considerate than I deserve. As he says,” she added, bitterly, “I’m nothing but a ghost, and had better vanish.”
“Nonsense, Madge,” said the young man, with brusque kindness. “You know I want you to haunt me always. Good-by now, little sister. I shall be de trop if I stay any longer. You’ll be better in the morning, and to-morrow evening I’ll remain home and entertain you.”
At last Madge was alone. Her sister had suggested everything she could think of, meanwhile bewailing the young girl’s extreme imprudence. Madge entreated for quiet and rest, and at last was left alone. Hour after hour she lay with wide, fixed gaze. Her mind and imagination did not partake of her physical weakness, and now they were abnormally active. As the bewilderment from the shock of her abrupt awakening passed, the truth hourly grew clearer. From the time she had first come under her sister’s roof Graydon Muir had begun to make himself essential to her. His uniform kindness had created trust, freedom, and a content akin to happiness. Now all was swept away. She understood that his love was an affection resulting from pity and the strong, genial forces of his nature. The girl who could kindle his spirit and inspire the best and most enthusiastic efforts of his manhood must be like Miss Wildmere—strong, beautiful, capable of keeping step with him under society’s critical eyes, and not a mere shadow of a woman like herself. Her morbidly acute fancy recalled the ballroom. She saw him again after his return, encircling the fair girl with his arm, and looking down into her eyes with a meaning unmistakable. Oh, why had she gone to that fatal party! The past, in contrast to the present and the promise of the future, seemed happiness itself.
What could she do? What should she do? The more she thought of it the more unendurable her position appeared. In her vivid self-consciousness the old relations could not continue. Heretofore his caresses had been a matter of course, of habit. They could be so no longer. She shrank from them with inexpressible fear, knowing they would bring what little blood she possessed to her face and very brow in tell-tale floods. The one event from which her sensitive womanhood drew back in deepest dread was his knowledge of her love. To prevent this she would rather die, and she felt so weak and despairing that she thought and almost hoped she would die. If she could only go away, where she would not see him, and hide her wound! But how could she, chained near his daily presence by weakness and helplessness?