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.
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.