The days gilded on, autumn merged into winter, and strangers came again. Madge was acquiring an experience of which at one time she had never dreamed. She found herself in Miss Wildmere’s position. Every day she was put more and more on the defensive. Gentlemen eagerly sought her society, and her situation was often truly embarrassing, for she had as little desire that the besiegers should capitulate as she had intention of surrendering herself. In this respect Miss Wildmere’s tactics were easier to carry out. She was not in the least annoyed by any number of abject and committed slaves, and she was approaching the period when she proposed to surrender with great discretion, but to whom was not a settled point.
Madge was beginning to make victims also, but she made them by being simply what she was, and those who suffered most had to admit to themselves that she was almost as elusive as a spirit of the air.
In the spring visitors to the health resort, returning to the East, brought to the Muirs rumors of Madge’s beauty, fascination, and accomplishments. They were a little puzzled, but concluded that Madge had appeared well in a rendezvous of invalids, and were glad to believe that she was much better. Prudent Mrs. Muir wrote, however, “Do not think of returning till the last of May. Then we shall soon go to the mountains. This will be another change, and change in your case, you know, has proved so beneficial! We expect Graydon soon. He is tired of residence abroad, and has so arranged the business that a confidential clerk can take his place.”
Madge smiled and sighed. The test of her patient endeavor was about to come.
THE SECRET OF BEAUTY
Mr. and Mrs. Wayland had become so attached to Madge that they were the more ready to listen to her solicitation that they should accompany her East and visit their old haunts. “Very likely I shall return with you,” said the young girl, “and make Santa Barbara my home.”
This indeed was her plan should defeat await her. She had become attached to the seaside town, as we do to all places that witness the soul’s deepest experiences and best achievements. She had learned there to hope for the highest of earth’s gifts; she believed that she could live there a serene, quiet, unselfish life, her secret still unknown, should that be her fate.
The old German professor was almost heartbroken at her departure. “It vas alvays so,” he said; “ven mine heart vas settled on someding, den I lose it;” but she reassured him by saying that there was no certainty that she would not return.
Mary Muir was so overwhelmed with astonishment that at first she scarcely returned Madge’s warm embrace. She expected to find her sister much stronger and better; but this radiant, beautiful girl, half a head taller than herself—was she the shadowy creature who had gone away with what seemed a forlorn hope? She held Madge off and looked at her, she drew her to a mirror and looked at her again, then exclaimed, “This is a miracle! Why did you not tell me?”