She was painfully embarrassed, and was glad that his words were spoken under the cover of night. She trembled, for his question probed deep. How could she explain that what was so natural for him was impossible for her? He mistook her hesitation for a sign of acquiescence, and continued: “Wherein have I failed to act like a brother? During the years we were together was I not reasonably kind and considerate? You did not think of yourself then as one of my young lady friends. Why should you now? I have not changed, and, as I have said, I have returned hungry for kindred and the quieter pleasures of home. It is time that I was considering the more serious questions of life, and of course the supreme question with a man of my years is that of a home of his own. I have never been able to think of such a home and not associate you with it. I can invite my sister to it and make her a part of it, but I cannot invite young lady friends. A sister can be such a help to a fellow; and it seems to me that I could be of no little aid to you. I know the world and the men you will meet in society. Unless you seclude yourself, you will be as great a belle as Miss Wildmere. You also have a fine property of your own. Will it be nothing to have a brother at your side to whom you can speak frankly of those who seek your favor? Come, Madge, be simple and rational. I have not changed; my frank words and pleadings prove that I have not. If we do not go back to the hotel brother and sister it will be because you have changed;” and he attempted to put his arm around her and draw her to him.
She sprang aloof. “Well, then, I have changed,” she said, in a low, concentrated voice. “Think me a prude if you will. I know I am not. You are unjust to me, for you give me, in effect, no alternative. You say, ’Think of me as a brother; feel and act as if you were my sister,’ when I am not your sister. It’s like declaring that there is nothing in blood—that such relations are questions of choice and will. I said in downright sincerity that I regarded you as almost the best friend I had, and I have not so many friends that the word means nothing to me. I do remember all your kindness in the past—when have I forgotten it for an hour?—but that does not change the essential instincts of my womanhood, and since we parted I’ve grown to womanhood. You in one sense have not changed, and I still am in your mind the invalid child you used to indulge and fondle. It is not just to me now to ask that I act and feel as if there were a natural tie between us. The fact ever remains that there is not. Why should I deceive you by pretending to what is impossible? Nature is stronger than even your wishes, Graydon, and cannot be ignored.”
She spoke hesitatingly, feeling her way across most difficult and dangerous ground, but her decision was unmistakable, and he said, quietly, “I am answered. See, we have wandered far from the house. Had we not better return?”