Graydon Muir was the one positive element with which she had come in contact, and thus far she had always accepted him in the spirit of a child. He had begun petting her and treating her like a sister when she was a child. His manner toward her had grown into a habit, which had its source in his kindly disposition. To him she was but a weak, sickly little girl, with a dismal present and a more dreary outlook. Sometimes he mentally compared her with the brilliant girls he met in society, and especially with one but a little older than Madge, who appeared a natural queen in the drawing-room. His life abounded in activity, interests, and pleasures, and if it was his impulse to throw a little zest into the experiences of those in society who had no claims upon him, he was still more disposed to cheer and amuse the invalid in his own home. Moreover, he had become sincerely fond of her. Madge was neither querulous nor stupid. Although not conceited, he had the natural vanity of a handsome and successful man, and while the evident fact that he was such a hero in her eyes amused him, it also predisposed him to kindly and sympathetic feeling toward her. He saw that she gave him not only a sisterly allegiance, but also a richer and fuller tribute, and that in her meagre and shadowed life he was the brightest element. She tried to do more for him than for any one else, while she made him feel that as an invalid she could not do very much, and that he should not expect it. She would often play for him an hour at a time, and again she would be so languid that no coaxing could lure her from the sofa. Occasionally she would even read aloud a few pages with her musical and sympathetic voice, but would soon throw down the book with an air of exhaustion, and plead that he would read to her. In her weakness there was nothing repulsive, and without calculation she made many artless appeals to his strength. He generously responded, saying to himself, “Poor little thing! she has a hard time of it. With her great black eyes she might be a beauty if she only had health and was like other girls; but as it is, she is so light and pale and limp that I sometimes feel as if I were petting a wraith.”
Of late she had begun to go out with him a little, he choosing small and quiet companies among people well known to the Muirs, and occasionally her sister also went. Her role of invalid was carefully maintained and recognized. Graydon had always prided himself on his loyalty as an escort; and as long as he was devoted, the neglect of other young men was welcomed rather than regretted; for, except toward him, all her old shyness still existed. With the consciousness that he was caring for her she was well content with some half-secluded nook of observation, from which she looked out upon scenes that were like an animated story. She wove fanciful imaginings around those who attracted her attention, and on her return laughingly discussed the people who had passed, like players, before her eyes. Graydon encouraged her to do this, for her ignorance of society made her remarks original and amusing. He knew the conventional status of every one they met as accurately as his brother recognized the commercial value of the securities that passed under his eye, and Madge’s estimates often seemed absurd to the last degree.