Thus time passed on, and the girl rapidly approached the stature of womanhood. Apparently she grew too fast for her slight reserve of physical strength. She nominally attended a fashionable school, but was often absent from ill health, and for this reason her sister permitted her to follow her own moods. Indolence and inanition accounted largely for her lack of strength. Exercise brought weariness, and she would not take it. Nothing pleased her more than to curl up on a lounge with a book; and her sister, seeing that she was reading most of the time, felt that she was getting an education. To the busy lady a book was a book, a kind of general fertilizer of the mind, and as Madge usually took cold when she went out, and was assuredly acquiring from the multitude of volumes she devoured all the knowledge a woman needed, she was safer in the evenly heated city house. The sisters had independent fortunes of their own, and the great point in Mrs. Muir’s mind was that they should live and enjoy them. If Madge was only sufficiently coddled now while she was growing, she would get strong eventually; and so the good lady, who had as much knowledge of hygiene as of Sanscrit, tempted the invalid with delicacies, permitted her to eat the confectionery that Graydon brought so often, and generally indulged a nature that needed wise and firm development.
Thus Madge lived on, growing more pale and languid with each succeeding year. The absence in the mountains and at the seashore which Mr. Muir permitted to his family every summer brought changes for the better, even though the young girl spent most of the time in a hammock or reclining in the stern of a sail-boat. She could not escape the invigoration caused by the mere breathing of pure air, but during the winters in town she lost all and more than she had gained, and sunk back into her old apathetic life.
This life, however, contained two elements which gave some color and zest to her existence. All through the day she would look forward to Graydon’s return from business, and when she heard his latch-key the faintest possible color would steal into her cheeks. Up-stairs, two steps at a time, he would come, kiss her, waltz her about the room with a strength which scarcely permitted her feet to touch the floor, then toss her back on the lounge, where she would lie, laughing, breathless, and happy. With a man’s ignorant tolerance he accepted her character as an invalid, and felt that the least he could do was to brighten a life which seemed so dismal to him. When he came down dressed for dinner or some evening engagement, she looked at him with a frank, admiring pride that amused him immensely. When he returned earlier than usual he often found her still upon the lounge with her inevitable book, usually a novel, and then he would take her upon his lap and call her his “dear little spook, the household ghost that would soon cease to cast a shadow;” and she, with a languid curiosity, would easily beguile from him a portrayal of the scenes through which he had just passed. She cared little for them, but from his stores of vitality and strength he imparted life to her, and without understanding why, she simply knew she was happy.