“Yes, Graydon, you are very blind,” said Mr. Muir, inadvertently.
“‘Are?’ Why do you use the present tense?”
“Did I?” replied Mr. Muir, a little confusedly. “Well, you see, Madge and I understood Miss Wildmere from the first.”
“Oh, hang Miss Wildmere! Do you think Madge—”
“Now stop right there, Graydon. I think Madge is the best and most sensible girl I ever knew, and that’s all you will ever get out of me.”
“Pardon me, Henry. I spoke from impulse, and not a worthy one, either. I tell you point blank, however, that Madge Alden hasn’t her equal in the world. I would love her in a moment if I dared. Would to Heaven I could have spent some time with her immediately after my return! In that case there would have been no Wildmere folly. I declare, Henry, when I thought she must be killed the other day I felt that the end of my own life had come. I can’t tell you what that girl is to me; but with her knowledge of the past how can I approach her in decency?”
“Well,” said Mr. Muir, shrugging his shoulders and rising to retire, “you are out of the worst part of your scrape, and Madge is alive and well. This is not a little to be thankful for. I shall confine my advice to business matters. Still, were I in your shoes, I know what I should do. ‘Faint heart,’ you know. Good-night.”
Graydon did not move, or scarcely answer, but, with every faculty of mind concentrated, he thought, “Henry’s explanation of his use of the present tense does not explain, and there is more meaning in what he left unsaid in our recent interview than in what he said. Can it be possible? Let me take this heavenly theory and, as we were taught at college, see how much there is to support it. Was there any change in her manner toward me before we parted years since? Why, she was taken ill that night when she first met Miss Wildmere, and I stayed away from her so long—idiot!”
From that hour he went forward, scanning everything that had occurred between them, until he saw again her flushing face and startled eyes when he kissed her, and his belief grew strong that it was his immense good-fortune to fulfil the prediction that Madge should be happy.
The thought kept him sleepless most of that night, and made the time which must intervene before he could see her again seem long indeed. He did his utmost to get the details of his department well in hand during business hours; but after they were over his mind returned at once to Madge, and never did a scientist hunt for facts and hints in support of a pet theory so eagerly as did Graydon scan the past for confirmation of his hope, that long years of companionship had given him a place in Madge’s heart which no one else possessed, and that his blindness or indifference to the truth was the sorrow of her life. This view explained why she would not regard herself as his sister, and could not permit the intimacy natural to the relation.