“I shall never see her again,” he muttered. “Such weakness must be mortal.”
The deep experience, the touchstone of character, of latent power, if such existed, had come to Madge Alden. For days she had drifted helplessly on the rising tide of an apparently hopeless love. With every hour she comprehended more fully what Graydon Muir had become to her and all that he might have been. It seemed that she had been carried forward by a strong, quiet current, only to be wrecked at last. A sense of utter helplessness overwhelmed her. She could not ignore her love; it had become interwoven with every interest and fibre of her life. At first she contemplated it in wonder, in deeply troubled and alarmed perplexity. It was a momentous truth, that had suddenly been made known as some irretrievable misfortune might have been revealed. She had read of love as children hear of mental anxieties and conflicts of which they have no comprehension. As she grew older it had been like poetry, music, romance—something that kindled her imagination into vague, pleasant dreams. It had been as remote from the present and her own experience as lives of adventure in strange and foreign lands. She had awakened at last to find that it was like her vital breath. By some law of her nature she had given, not merely her thoughts and affection, but her very self to another. To her dismay it made no difference that he had not sought the gift and was not even aware of it. Circumstances over which she had no control had brought her into close companionship with Graydon Muir. She had seen him almost daily for years; she knew him with the intimacy of a sister, yet without the safeguard of a natural tie; and from his genial kindness she had drawn almost all the life she had ever possessed. With an unconsciousness akin to that of a plant which takes root and thrives upon finding a soil adapted to it, her love had been developed by his strong, sunny nature. She soon recognized that it was a love such as she had never known, unlike that for her mother or sister or any one else, and it seemed to her that it could pass away only with herself. It was not a vague sentiment, an indefinite longing; it was the concentrated and imperious demand of her whole being, which, denied, left little indeed, even were the whole world hers. Yet such were the cruel conditions of her lot that she could not speak of it even to one whose head had been pillowed on the same mother’s breast, and the thought that it might be discovered by its object made her turn cold with dread. It was a holy thing—the spontaneous product of an unperverted heart—and yet she must hide it as if it were a crime.
Above all the trouble and turmoil of her thoughts, clear and definite amid the chaos brought into her old quiet, languid life, was the impulse—the necessity—to conceal that which had become the mainspring of her existence. She had not the experience of one versed in the ways of the world. How could others—how could he—be kept in ignorance of that of which she was so painfully and vividly conscious? Therefore, overwhelmed with dread and a sense of helplessness, she yielded to her first impulse to hide, in order that what seemed inseparable from herself might be concealed.