When he examined the attitude of his own heart toward her he was not surprised that his affection was passing swiftly into a love deeper and far more absorbing than Stella Wildmere had ever inspired.
“The old law of cause and effect,” he said, smiling to himself, “and I can imagine no effect in me adequate to the cause. Even when she scarcely cast a shadow she was more companionable than Stella, but it never occurred to me to think of her in any other light than that of little sister Madge. Almost as soon as the thought occurred to me, and I had a right to love her, love became as natural as it was inevitable. Even in the height of my infatuation for Stella, Madge was winning me from her unconsciously to myself.”
Such thoughts and convictions imparted a gentle and almost caressing tone to his words when Madge welcomed and accompanied him to his late supper on his return to the mountains.
[Illustration: “PROMISE ME YOU WILL TAKE A LONG REST.”]
This significant accent was more marked than ever when she promenaded with him for a brief time on the piazza. Nor did a little brusqueness on her part banish the tone and manner which were slight indeed, but unmistakable to her quick intuition.
“Could Henry have given him a hint?” she queried; and her brow contracted and her eyes flashed indignantly at the thought.
As a result of the suspicion, she left him speedily, and in the morning was glad to hope, from his more natural bearing, that she had been over-sensitive.
The sagacious Graydon, however, was maturing a plan which he hoped would bring her the happiness which it would be his happiness to confer.
“She is so proud and spirited,” he thought, “that only when surprised and off her guard will she reveal to me a glimpse of the truth. If I consulted my own pride I wouldn’t speak for a long time to come—not till she had ceased to associate me with Stella Wildmere; but if she is loving me as I believe she would love a man, she shall not doubt an hour longer than I can help, that I and my life’s devotion are hers. Sweet Madge, you shall make your own terms again!”
“CERTAINLY I REFUSE YOU”
Having heard that one of the finest views among the mountains was to be had at Indian Head, a vast overhanging precipice facing toward the entrance to the Kaaterskill Clove, Graydon easily induced Madge to explore with him the tangled paths which led thither.
How his eyes exulted over her as she tripped on before him down the steep, winding, rocky paths! As he followed he often wondered where her feet had found their secure support, so rugged was the way. Yet on she glanced before him, swaying, bending to avoid branches, or pushing them aside, her motions instinct with vitality and natural grace.
Once, however, he had a fright. She was taking a deep descent swiftly, when her skirt caught on a stubborn projecting stump of a sapling, and it appeared that she would fall headlong; but by some surprising, self-recovering power, which seemed exerted even in the act of falling, she lay before him in the path, almost as if reclining easily upon her elbow, and was nearly on her feet again before he could reach her side.