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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMadelon: A Novel - Chapter 14
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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 14 Post by :diethunter Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2632

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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 14

Chapter XIV

There was a gasp of astonishment from the company. Jonas Hapgood began to speak, but Madelon's soprano drowned out his thick bass.

"How dare you," she cried out, "swear to that lie? Liar! You are a liar, Lot Gordon!"

Then, before Lot could reply, David Hautville came forward with a mighty plunge, and grasped his daughter by the arm, and forced her to the door.

"Get ye out of this," growled David Hautville; but Madelon turned her face back in the doorway for one last word. "Don't you know," she shrieked back to Lot Gordon, in her pitiless despair--"don't you know that I would rather have seen the inside of my prison-cell to-night and the gallows to-morrow than this, Lot Gordon?"

"Quit your talk!" shouted David Hautville; and she followed his fierce leading out of the house into the yard.

"Get ye into this sleigh," ordered her father; and she obeyed. Suddenly the fire of passion and revolt seemed to die out in her; it was like a lull in a spiritual storm. She rode home with her father, and neither spoke. David Hautville now considered the matter as past any words of reasoning. He was convinced that his daughter's fair wits were shaken, and that nothing but summary dealing, as with a child, could avail anything. When they reached home he bade her, with a kind of stern forbearance, to get into the house at once and see to her work there, and she obeyed again.

All that day, and many days after that, poor Madelon Hautville, who had been striving like any warrior against the powers and principalities of human wills and passions, and had grounded her arms after a victory which had left her wounded almost to death, carried her bleeding heart and walked her woman's treadmill. She scoured faithfully the pewter dishes and the iron pots. She swept the hearth clean and baked and brewed and spun and sewed. Her lot would have been easier had her woe befallen her generations before, and she could, instead, have backed her heavy load of tenting through the snow on wild hunting-parties, and broken the ice on the river for fish, and perchance taken a hand at the defence when the males of her tribe were hard pressed. Civilization bowed cruelly this girl, who felt in greater measure than the gently staid female descendants of the Puritan stock around her the fire of savage or primitive passions; but she now submitted to it with the taciturnity of one of her ancestresses to the torture. Week after week she went about the house, and neither spoke nor smiled. Burr Gordon was set free, fully acquitted of the charge against him; Madelon's denial of Lot's false confession had gone for nothing. Half the village considered her hysterical and irresponsible, and Lot Gordon, it was agreed, was just the man to lay violent hands upon his own life, steal and use his cousin's knife, and keep mute to fasten the guilt upon him, as he had confessed.

A week after Burr's release Louis and Richard Hautville came home. They had been trapping on Green Mountain, they said, camping in the little lodge they had built there. When they came in laden with stark white rabbits and limp-necked birds, and one of them with a haunch of venison on his back, Madelon faced them with sudden fierceness, as if to speak. Then she turned away to her work, without a word of greeting. The boy Richard stared at her with a quiver, as of coming tears on his handsome face. He whispered to Eugene, when she went into the pantry.

"Best let her alone," said Eugene. "She's been so ever since."

Not one of them knew of her promise to marry Lot Gordon, and Lot had bound Margaret Bean over to secrecy. All the village was as yet ignorant of that, but there was enough besides to afford a choice bone of gossip to folk sunken in the monotony and isolation of a Vermont country winter. The women put their heads together over it at their quilting-bees, and the men in their lounging-places in the store and tavern. This mystery, which endured as well as their hard-packed snows, and kept their imaginations always upon the stretch, was a great acquisition to them. Plenty of mental activity was there in Ware Centre that winter, and the brains of many were smartly at work upon some of those problems whose conditions, being all unknown quantities of character and circumstance and fate, are beyond all rules of solution.

Would Burr Gordon marry Dorothy Fair, or would he, after all, turn again to his old love, who had shown such devotion to him that it had almost turned her brain? Unless, indeed--for there is room in gossip for all suspicion, and surmise can never be quite laid at rest--her brain had not been turned, and she had struck the blow, as she said. But, in that case, why had Lot taken her guilt upon himself? Why had he cleared Burr at his own expense, and saved her? If he had done it for love of Madelon, he had also set his rival free to woo her, and had established her innocence in his eyes.

Lot still lived. Would he die, finally, of his wound or of his disease? Would he recover and come out of his house alive again? Time went on, and the people knew no more than they knew at first; but they continued to watch, crossing the gleams of all the neighboring window-panes with sharp lines of attention, hushing conversation in the store if a Hautville or a Gordon entered, and rolling keen eyes over shoulders after meeting one of them upon the country roads. But especially they were alert in the meeting-house upon Sabbath days. Their eyes were slyly keen upon Dorothy Fair, softly wrapped in her blue wadded silk and swan's-down, holding up her head with gentle state in the parson's pew; upon Burr Gordon, somewhat pale and moody in his smart Sunday coat; and Madelon, up in the singing-seats. They never, in those days, saw Madelon elsewhere. She went to meeting every Sabbath day and sang as usual, but between the hymns she sat with her beautiful face as irresponsive to all around her as a painted portrait, and more so, for the eyes of a portrait will often seem to follow an ardent gazer. Madelon's father and brothers, except Richard and Louis, who kept their own counsel, were much bewildered among themselves at her strange mood, and were inclined to hold the opinion that her wits were a little shaken, and, moreover, to keep it quiet and secret from everybody until she should be quite restored. They said little to her, treating her with a kind of forbearing compassion; but the indignation of them all was fierce, although held well in check, against Burr Gordon. Him they held accountable for all.

Burr Gordon might well have been quit of any charge of cowardice had he shrunk from facing the male Hautvilles on those days. They passed him in the road with the looks of surly dogs in leash. None of them except Eugene gave him a nod of recognition. Eugene bowed always, with his unfailing grace of courtesy, but he hated him more than all the others, for he was jealous on his own account as well as his sister's. It was said that Burr Gordon, since his acquittal, was courting Dorothy Fair steadily, although they had not been seen out together.

Burr had been to the Hautville house twice since his return from New Salem, but had not been admitted. Once when he called Madelon had been alone in the house, and caught a glimpse of her old lover coming into the yard. She had sprung up, letting her needle-work slide to the floor, and fled with her face as white as death and her heart beating hard into the freezing best room, and stood back in a corner out of range of the windows, and listened to the taps of the knocker and finally to Burr's retreating steps. Then she crept across to a window and peered around the curtain, and watched him out of sight as if her soul would follow him; then she stole out the door and looked up and down to see if anybody was in sight; and then she flung herself down upon her knees and kissed her lover's cold footprint in the snow.

The second time Burr came was on an evening, when her father and all her brothers except Richard were at the singing-school. She knew Burr's step when he drew near the door, and bade Richard shortly to answer the knock, and say she was busy and could see nobody, which he did with all the emphasis which his fiery young blood could put into words of dismissal. The boy, of all the others, alone knew a reason why he should be more lenient with Burr; and yet this very reason seemed to swell his wrath and hold him more deeply responsible for a deeper disgrace. When he had shut the door hard upon Burr, he turned to his sister. "I would have killed him rather than let him in," said he.

Madelon took another stitch in her work. Her face looked as if it were carved in marble. Richard stood staring at her a second; then he flung out of the room, and the doors closing behind him shook the house. Richard's manner towards his sister was sometimes full of a fierce sympathy and partisanship, sometimes of wild anger and aversion. He looked ten years older in a few weeks. Both he and Louis appeared to avoid the other members of the family, and kept much together, and yet even in their close companionship they also seemed to have a curious avoidance of each other; one was seldom seen to look in his brother's face, or address him directly.

One morning, a month after Burr's release, Margaret Bean came to the Hautville door. She was well wrapped against the cold, her head especially being swathed about with lengths of knitted scarf over her silk hood; there was only a thin sharp gleam of face out of it, like a very lance of intelligence. Margaret held out the stiff white corner of a letter from the folds of her shawl. "He sent it," she said to Madelon, who came to the door.

Madelon opened the letter and read it. "I can't come," she said, shortly. "I'm busy. Tell him he must write what he wants to tell me."

Margaret Bean's eyes were sharp as steel points. She had not known what was in the letter. "Hey?" said she, pretending that she had not heard, in order to make Madelon repeat and perhaps reveal more.

"I can't come," said Madelon. "He can write what he wants to tell me."

Suddenly a great red flush spread over her pale face and her neck. She lowered her eyes before the other woman as if in utter degradation of shame, and shrank back into the house and closed the door in Margaret Bean's face.

Margaret Bean stood for a moment, a silent, shapeless figure in the cold air. "Pretty actions, I call it," said she then, quite loudly, and went out of the yard with a curious tilting motion on slender ankles, as of a balancing bale of wool.

Madelon slipped her letter into her pocket as she entered the kitchen. Her father and all her brothers were there. It was shortly after breakfast, and they had not yet gone out.

"Who was it at the door?" her father asked. He sat by the fire in his great boots.

"Margaret Bean."

"What did she want?"

"Lot Gordon sent for me to come over there."

"What for?"

"He wanted--to--tell me something."

"You ain't going a step. I can tell ye that."

"I--told her I couldn't go," said Madelon. Her voice was almost breathless, and still that red of shame was over her face. She bent her head and turned her back to them all, and went out of the room. The male Hautvilles looked at one another. "What's come over the girl now?" said Abner, in his surly bass growl.

"She's a woman," said his father, and he stamped his booted feet on the floor with a great clamp.

Madelon meantime fled up-stairs to her chamber, with her first love-letter from Lot Gordon in her pocket. Until this the reality of all that had happened had not fully come home to her. Without acknowledging it to herself she had entertained a half-hope that Lot might not have been entirely in earnest--that he might not hold her to her promise. And then there had been the uncertainty as to his recovery. But here was this letter, in which Lot Gordon called her--her, Madelon Hautville--his sweetheart, and begged her to come to him, as he had something of importance to say to her! He used, moreover, terms of endearment which thrilled her with the stinging shame of lashes upon her bare shoulders at the public whipping-post. She lit the candle on her table, snatched the letter out of her pocket, crumpled it fiercely as if it were some live thing that she would crush the life out of, and then held it to the candle-flame until it burned away, and the last flashes of it scorched her fingers. Then she caught a sight of her own miserable, shamed face in her looking-glass, and flushed redder and struck herself in her face angrily, and then fell to walking up and down her little room.

Her father and brothers down below heard her, and looked at each other.

"There was that Emmeline Littlefield that went mad, and fell to walking all the time," said Abner.

The others listened to the footsteps overhead with a gloomy assent of silence.

"They had to keep her in a room with an iron grate on the window," said Abner, further, with a pale scowl.

Then David Hautville took down his leather jacket from its peg with a jerk, and thrust his arm into it. "I tell ye, she's a _woman_," he said, in a shout, as if to drown out those hurrying steps; and then he went out of the room and the house, and disappeared with axe on shoulder across the snowy reach of fields; and presently all his sons except Eugene followed him. Eugene remained to keep watch over his sister.

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Chapter XVAfter his father and brothers were gone, Eugene got Louis's fiddle out of the chimney-cupboard and fell to playing with an imperfect touch, picking out a tune slowly, with halts between the strains, as if he spelled a word with stammering syllables. Eugene's musical expression was in his throat alone; his fingers were almost powerless to bring out the meaning of sweet sounds. A drunken crew on a rolling vessel might have danced to the tune that Eugene Hautville fingered on his brother's fiddle that morning while his sister walked back and forth overhead, running the gantlet, as it were,
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Chapter XIIIElvira Gordon had gone home hoping that Lot might yet speak. She had heard his rattling cough as she picked her way out of the icy yard, and Madelon also heard it when she entered it. She knocked at the side door, and Margaret Bean opened it. She had a gruel cup in her hand."I want to see him," said Madelon.Margaret Bean looked at her. Her starched calico apron flared out widely over her lank knees across the doorway."I'm afraid he ain't able to see nobody this morning," said she, and the asperity in her tone was less veiled than
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