He made no response, and Madge heard his step pass into his wife’s room. A moment later Miss Wildmere also departed, and her voice was soon heard on the piazza. The conversation had been carried on in a comparatively low tone, and some words had been lost, but those heard made the sense given above. Circumstances had favored Madge. The open window at which she was sitting was near the next window in Miss Wildmere’s room, and within two or three feet there was the customary thin-panelled door which enables the proprietor to throw rooms together, as required, for the accommodation of families. Therefore, without moving or volition on her part information vital to her relatives had been brought to her knowledge. She was perfectly overwhelmed at first, and sat as if stunned, her cheeks scarlet with shame for the act of listening, even while she felt that for the sake of the innocent and unsuspecting, to whom she owed loyalty and love, it was right. Soon, however, came the impulse to seek the refuge of her own room and think of what must be done. She stepped lightly to the outer door; there was no sound in the corridor, and with all the composure she could assume she passed quietly out and gained her own apartment unobserved.
THE STRONG MAN UNMANNED
Madge locked her doors, bathed her hot face, then paced her room in great agitation, feeling that not only her own happiness was in peril, but Graydon’s also. Her mental distress was greatly enhanced by a feeling that in order to save her relatives she herself had been guilty of what to her sensitive nature appeared almost like a crime. “Was it right?” she asked herself again and again, and at last reached the conclusion that the fealty she owed to her relatives and to the man she loved justified her course—that she should shield them even at such cost to herself. “It was not curiosity that kept me passive,” she thought, “but the hope, the chance to save Henry from financial ruin and Graydon from far worse disaster.” It would indeed be “horrible” for any true man to marry such a girl; and to permit the man she loved to make such a fatal blunder was simply monstrous. Yet how could she prevent it without doing violence to every maidenly principle of her nature?
Should she tell her sister? This impulse passed almost instantly. Mary had not the tact, nerve, or reticence to meet such an emergency. It seemed, however, that if something was not done almost immediately this callous, selfish girl would cause lifelong wretchedness to Graydon as certainly as to Madge herself. Such a nature could not long maintain its disguise, and probably would not be at pains to do so after marriage. The self-sacrifice that she had led Graydon to believe in was all deceit. It was self with her, first and last; it would be self always. Madge knew Graydon well enough to be sure that to him, when his illusions were dissipated, the marriage vow would become a chain growing heavier with time.