After riding rapidly for some distance, they reached long, lonely stretches, favorable for conversation, and Graydon was too fond of hearing Madge talk to lose the opportunity. He looked wonderingly at her flushed face, with the freshness of the morning in it; her brilliant eyes, from which flashed a spirit that nothing seemed to daunt; the sudden compression of her lips, as with power and inimitable grace she reined in her chafing steed. Never before had she appeared so vital and beautiful, and he rode at her side with something like exultation that they were so much to each other. He was turning his back on a past fraught with peril, over which hung the shadow of what must have been a lifelong disappointment.
“The girl who would have taken me, as Henry chooses among commercial securities, cannot now make me an adjunct to her self-pleasing career,” he thought. “I am free—free to become to Madge what I was in old times. No one now has the right to look askance at our affection and companionship. What an idiot I was to endure Stella’s criticism while she was playing it so sharp between Arnault and myself! No wonder crystal Madge said she and Stella were not congenial!
“I call Madge crystal, yet I don’t understand her fully, and have not since my return. She has had some deep, sad experience, which she is hiding from all. From what Mrs. Wendall said at the funeral yesterday, Madge must have revealed more of it to that dying girl than to any one else. How my heart thrilled at those strange whispered words! How dearly I would love to help her and bring unalloyed happiness into her life! But whatever it was referred to I cannot touch upon till she of her own accord gives me her confidence. Could she have formed what promises to be a hopeless love in her Western home, and is she now hiding a wound that will not heal, while bravely and cheerfully facing life as it is? Perhaps her purpose to return to Santa Barbara proves that she does not regard her love as utterly hopeless. Well, whatever the truth may be, she hides her secret with consummate skill, and I shall not pry into even her affairs. I only know that as I feel now I should prize her friendship above any other woman’s love.”
“What are you thinking of so deeply?” she asked, meeting his eyes.
“My thought just then was that I should prize your friendship above any other woman’s love, and I had been felicitating myself that Stella Wildmere would never have the right to criticise the fact.”
“Oh, Graydon, what a man of moods and tenses you are!” Then she added, laughing, “There has been indeed a kaleidoscopic turn in affairs. Mr. Arnault disappeared yesterday, and Mary learned that the Wildmeres left by the early train this morning.”
“Yes, Miss Wildmere followed Arnault promptly. They are near of kin, but not too near to marry. Their nuptials should be solemnized in Wall Street, under flowers arranged into a dollar symbol.”