She had prepared herself for this opportunity by years of training and thought, but his presence brought her an inspiration beyond all that she had gained from books or study. He was the magician who unconsciously had the power to waken and kindle her whole nature, to set the blood flowing in her veins like wine, and to arouse a rapidity and versatility of thought that was surprising even to herself. With the pure genius of love she threw about his mind gossamer threads, drew the filaments together, and held them in her heart. The pulses of life grew stronger within him, his fancy kindled, the lore of books long since forgotten, as he supposed, flashed into memory, and out into happy allusion and suggestion. Still his wonder increased that her knowledge coincided so fully with his own, and that their lines of reading had been so closely parallel. It was hard for him to find a terra incognita of thought into which she had not made some slight explorations. In his own natural domains she skilfully appeared to know enough to follow, but not to lead with mortifying superiority. She also had her own preserves of thought and fancy, of which she gave him tantalizing glimpses, then let fall the screening boughs; and he, who fain would see more, was content to pass on, assured that another vista would soon be revealed. It was the reserve of this frank girl that most charmed and incited him, the feeling, more or less defined, that while she appeared to manifest herself by every word and smile, something richer and rarer still was hidden.
“No one will ever have a chance to understand her fully but the man she loves,” he thought. “To him she would give the clew to all her treasures, or else show them with sweet abandon, and it would require a lifetime for the task. She has a beauty and a character that would never pall, for the reason that she draws her life so directly from nature. I have never met a woman that affected me as she does.”
He sighed again. In spite of the loyalty to which he believed himself fully committed, Stella Wildmere, with her Wall Street complications, her variegated experience as to adorers, and her present questionable diplomacy, seemed rather faded beside this girl, upon whose heart the dew still rested.
For the first time the thought passed consciously through his mind, “Stella has never made me so happy as I have been the last few hours. More than that, she never gave life an aspect so rich, sweet, and full of noble possibility. Madge makes blase, shallow cynicism impossible in a fellow.”
As he danced with Miss Wildmere that evening, or sauntered with her on the piazza or through secluded paths, the same tendency to comparisons tormented him. He could not make himself believe that Miss Wildmere’s words were like the flow of a clear, bubbling spring, pure and sweet. There was in them a sediment, the product of a life which had passed through channels more and more distasteful to contemplate.