Apart from her fondness for the unreal scenes presented by the miscellaneous books she read—scenes all the more unreal because she had no experience by which to correct them—she had one other taste which promised well for the future—a sincere love of music. She was taking lessons, but it was from a superficial teacher, who was content to give her pretty and showy pieces; and she brought even to this favorite study the desultory habits which characterized all her efforts to obtain an education. When she sat down to her piano, however, nature was her strong ally. Her ear was fine and correct, and her sensitive, fanciful spirit gave delicacy and originality to her touch. It scarcely seems possible for one to become a sympathetic musician without a large degree of imagination and a nature easily moved by thought and feeling. The young girl’s thoughts and feelings were as yet very vague, not concentrated on definite objects, and yet so good a connoisseur as Graydon often acknowledged her power, and would listen with pleased attention to her girlish rendering of music made familiar to him by the great performers of the day. He enjoyed it all the more because it was her own interpretation, often incorrect, but never commonplace or slovenly; and when her fingers wandered among the keys in obedience to her own impulses he was even more charmed, although the melody was usually without much meaning. She was also endowed with the rudiments of a fine voice, and would often strike notes of surpassing sweetness and power; but her tones would soon quaver and break, and she complained that it tired her to sing. That ended the matter, for anything that wearied her was not to be thought of.
Thus she had drifted on with time, unconscious of herself, unconscious of the influences that would bring to pass the decisive events in the future. She was like multitudes of others who are controlled by circumstances of their lot until the time comes when a deep personal experience applies the touchstone to character.
Madge Alden was almost seventeen, and yet she was in many respects a child. Scenes portrayed in books had passed before her mind like pictures, having no definite significance. Mr. Muir was to her like some of the forces in nature—quiet, unobtrusive, omnipotent—and she accepted him without thought. Her sister was one whom she could love easily as a matter of course. She was an indulgent household providence, who cared for the young girl as she did for her own little children. If anything was amiss in Madge’s wardrobe the elder sister made it right at once; if Madge had a real or imaginary ailment, Mary was always ready to prescribe a soothing remedy; and if there was a cloud in the sky or the wind blew chill she said, “Madge, do be prudent; you know how easily you take cold.” Thus was provided the hot-house atmosphere in which the tender exotic existed. It could not be said that she had thrived or bloomed.