“Doctor,” he said, a little later, “how much will you take—the money to be given to your chapel—to go trouting with me for a day?”
“A good round sum,” Dr. Sommers replied.
“All right. When can you go?”
“Wednesday, I guess, if I can leave my patients.”
“Oh, come now; go and give your patients a chance to get well.”
“Wait till I catch you sick, and I’ll pay you up for that.”
“You’ll stand a better chance of catching trout.”
The day passed much as usual, only Arnault appeared in the ascendant.
“He is going to town in a day or two,” pleaded the diplomat, after dinner.
“And I’m going trouting,” Graydon replied.
“Only for a day, I suppose.”
“It depends on my luck. You will get on better when I’m away.”
“It’s cruel for you to speak like that,” she replied, her eyes moistening.
“I suppose it is,” was his rueful reply; “but I can be more patient, I imagine, back in the mountains than here.”
“But how about poor me?”
“That is a question that I often ask myself, Miss Wildmere, but you alone can answer it. As far as I am able to judge, you can meet the problem in your mind, whatever it is, as well, if not better, in my absence. You must understand me, and I have promised to be reasonably patient.”
“Very well, Mr. Muir,” she replied, in apparent sadness, “I will try not to tax your patience beyond what you well term reason.”
“Something far beyond reason, and—I may add—pride also, permits you to tax it all. I would rather not revert to this topic again. It is embarrassing to us both. I cannot help saying, however, that it is essential to my happiness that the present state of affairs should soon cease.”
“If it were only present happiness that one had to consider—” she began, and then hastened away.
Thus she played upon his sympathy, and held him by the generous side of his nature.
But he determined not to give Arnault the pleasure of seeing him wait for the crumbs of time that fell from his table, and he delighted Madge, having sought her out on the piazza, by remarking: “It is so cool to-day I do not see why we cannot start at once. I shall not find the time too long, for you can talk as well as ride.”
She made good his words, and gave wings to the hours. Among the scenes through which they passed, she reminded him, not of an exotic or a stray tropical bird, but rather of the ideal mountain nymph humanized, developed into modern life, the strong original forces of nature harmonized into perfect womanhood, yet unimpaired. Her smiles, her piquant words, and, above all, the changing expression of her lovely eyes, affected him subtilely, and again imparted a rising exhilaration. Her thoughts came not like the emptying of a cup, but rippled forth like a sparkling rill from some deep and exhaustless supply. And what reservoir is more inexhaustible than the love of a heart like hers?—a love born as naturally and unconsciously as life itself—that, when discovered, changes existence by a sudden kaleidoscopic turn, compelling all within and without to pass at once into new arrangement and combination—that inspires heroic, patient effort, self-denial, and even self-sacrifice.