“I think it is best,” replied Graydon, decisively, yet kindly. “I have said all that is possible to an honorable man. By remaining I am placed in an anomalous position which my self-respect does not permit any longer.”
“I suppose,” she sighed, “that I should not ask too much. Well, so be it, then.”
They walked back to the house in silence. At the door of a side entrance she turned to him, her face flushing at the admission, and said, hastily, “I waited a long time for you, Graydon,” and then fled to her room.
“Oh, confound it!” he muttered, as he walked away. “What a muddle it all is! I ought to feel like strangling myself for permitting this doubting, cynical spirit to creep over me. Curse it all! her words and manner haven’t the ring of absolute truth. It seems as if I heard a voice in the very depths of my soul, saying, ‘Beware!’ Am I becoming an imbecile? I doubted and misjudged Madge. Thank Heaven that is past forever! Now I am doubting and misjudging the woman I have asked to be my wife. I must be misjudging her—the alternative is horrible. I can’t escape one conviction, however. It is turning out just as I expected and told her it would. Arnault’s aid to her father has been delusive, and Wildmere is deeper in the mire than ever. This is a fine ending of my social career! The girl of my choice puts me off until she can end this Wall Street business more satisfactorily. She must wait and hear her father’s reasons for further diplomacy before she can answer me. If Henry knew all this—But Madge, crystal Madge, won’t repeat what I said. I must risk the loss of her society also. Has her keen insight into character enabled her to detect these Wildmere traits, and is this the cause of her antipathy? How simply she said ’I couldn’t do’—what Stella has accomplished with so much skill that the gossips in the house are in honest doubt as to her choice, or whether, indeed, she proposes to accept either Arnault or myself. Well, well, I’ll wait till she has had this interview with her father, and then she must either decide for me and against such tactics forever, or else she can wear my scalp in her belt with those of the other unfortunates.”
In an hour he was on the road with Dr. Sommers to a wild and secluded valley.
THE ENEMIES’ PLANS
It has been shown that Arnault believed the decisive period to have come that would see the success or failure of his “operation” in the Catskills. Keen, penetrating, he had comprehended the situation clearly. He knew that Stella wished to accept Graydon, and was held in check by financial considerations only. He had seen her manner during the preceding moonlight evening, and with intense anger had observed from a neighboring grove the episode in the summer-house. The twig had not casually parted under his step, but had been snapped between his fingers. Stella’s