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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMadelon: A Novel - Chapter 15
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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 15 Post by :snowleprd56 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :3253

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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 15

Chapter XV

After 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, of an agony which his masculine imagination could not compass, well tutored as it was by the lessons of his Shakespeare book.

When Margaret Bean came to the door the second time she heard the squeak of the fiddle, and clanged the knocker loud to overcome it. Madelon and Eugene reached the door at the same time, and Margaret Bean extended another letter. "Here's another," said she, shortly, to Madelon. She tucked the hand which had held the letter under her shawl and hugged herself with a shiver, ostentatiously. "I'm most froze, traipsin' back and forth, I know that much," she muttered.

Eugene stood aside with a flourish and a graceful, beckoning wave of his hand. "Won't you come in and warm yourself?" he said, and he smiled in her face as if she and no other were the love of his heart.

But Margaret Bean had a shrewd understanding which no grace of flattery could dazzle, and felt truly that nowadays her principal claim to masculine admiration lay in her fine starching specialty of housewifery; and of that she gave no show, bundled up against the cold in her shapeless wools. So she put aside the young man's smiling courtesy scornfully, as not belonging to her, and spoke in a voice as sharp as an edge of her own well-stiffened linens. "No, sir," said Margaret Bean; "I've got bread in the oven and I can't stop, and I ain't coming in for two or three minutes and set with my things on, and get all chilled through when I go out. I'll stand here while your sister reads that letter. He said the answer would be just 'yes' or 'no,' and I shouldn't have to wait long. 'She ain't one to teeter long on a decision,' says he; 'she finds her footin' one side or the other.' He talks queer, queerer'n ever sence he was hurt. I pity anybody that gets him."

"Tell him 'yes,'" said Madelon, abruptly; and then she wheeled about and went into the house.

"Well," said Margaret Bean, harshly. The door closed before her; Eugene had forgotten his courtesy, and followed his sister into the house without a good-day to the guest.

Margaret Bean stood for a minute looking at the house, with its yawn of blank windows in her face; then she went out of the yard, bearing her message to Lot Gordon.

Eugene Hautville was startled at the look on Madelon's face when she went into the house. "Madelon, what is it?" he said, softly. But she did not answer him a word; she ran across the room and thrust Lot Gordon's letter into the fire. Eugene followed her and turned her about gently, and looked keenly in her white face.

"What was in that latter?" said he.

Madelon shook her head dumbly.

"Madelon?"

"Wait. You will know soon. I can't tell you," she gasped out then.

"Was it from Lot Gordon?"

She nodded.

"What is he writing to you about? You are my sister, and I have a right to know."

"Wait," she gasped again. "Oh, Eugene, wait. I--can't--"

Suddenly Madelon hung heavy on her brother's arm. "Madelon," he cried out loudly to her, as if she were deaf--"Madelon, don't! You needn't tell me. Madelon!"

Eugene almost lifted his sister into the rocking-chair on the hearth, and hastened to get her a cup of water; but when he returned with it she motioned it away, and was sitting up, stern and straight and white, but quite conscious.

"Hadn't you better drink it, Madelon?" pleaded Eugene.

"No. What do I want it for? I am quite well," said she.

"You almost fainted away."

"I don't want it."

Eugene set the cup on the dresser; then he came back to Madelon, and stood over her, looking at her, his dark face as pitiful as a woman's. "Madelon, why can't you tell me what new thing is making you act like this?" he said. Madelon made an impatient motion and started up, and would have gone out of the room, but Eugene flung an arm around her and held her firmly. "What is it, poor girl?" he whispered in her ear.

Madelon had soft woman's blood in her veins, after all. Suddenly she shook convulsively, and would have kept her face firm, but she could not. She put her head on her brother's shoulder, and sobbed and wept as he had never seen her do, even when she was a child, for she had never been one to cry when she was hurt. Eugene sat down in the rocking-chair with his sister on his knee, and smoothed her dark hair as gently as her mother might have done. "Poor girl! poor girl!" he kept whispering; but, softly caressing as his voice was, his eyes, staring over his sister's head at the fire, got a fierce and fiercer look; for he was thinking of Burr Gordon and cursing him in his heart for all this. "Good Lord, Madelon, can't you put that fellow out of your head?" he cried out, sharply, all at once.

Then Madelon hushed her sobs, with a stern grip of her will upon her quivering nerves, and raised herself up and away from him. "That has nothing to do with this," she said, coldly. "Let me go now, Eugene."

But Eugene held her strongly with a hand on either arm, and scanned her keenly with his indignant eyes. "He is at the root of the whole matter," said he, "and you know it. I wish--"

"I tell you Burr Gordon has nothing to do with this last. He knows nothing of it. Let me go, Eugene."

But Eugene still held her and looked at her. "Madelon--"

"What? I can sit here no longer. I have work to do. There is nothing the matter with me. I have nothing to complain of. What I do I do of my own free will."

"Madelon," whispered Eugene, with a red flush stealing over his dark face, his eyes dropping a little before her, "you don't--think she will--marry him?"

"Who? Dorothy?"

Eugene nodded.

"Of course she will--marry him, Eugene Hautville."

Eugene set his sister down suddenly and got up. "All I've got to say is, then," he cried, with a movement of his right arm like a blow, "it's a damned shame that the child can't be taken care of among us all."

"What do you mean, Eugene Hautville?"

"I mean that she had better lie down in her grave than marry that--"

"Take care what you say, Eugene."

"I say she had--"

"Better lie down in her grave than marry him--than marry Burr Gordon? What do you mean? Who are you, that you talk in this way? He is better than you all; not one of you is fit to tie his shoe."

"Madelon, are you mad? He is a lying villain, and you know it, and--God knows it's only on her account I speak. Some one ought to tell her."

"Tell her, tell her! What do you think I would tell her if I were to speak? If she were to come to me and ask me if Burr ever courted me and played me false for her, I would tell her, no, no, no! If she were to ask me if Burr ever kissed me, or said a fond word to me, or gave me a fond look, I would tell her, and this last is the truth, that he never gave me more than a passing thought, and 'twas only my own short-sightedness and conceit that made me think 'twas more than that, shame to me! Isn't he a man, and shouldn't a man look well about him among us to be sure his heart is set? I'd tell her 'twas something for her to hold up her head for among other women all the days of her life, because he chose her. That's what I'd tell her."

"Madelon!"

"Dorothy Fair shall not cheat Burr now, when he has set his heart upon her. It would be worse than all that has gone before. I tell you I won't bear that. He shall have her if he wants her. He has suffered enough."

"But you--you," gasped Eugene. "I thought you--I thought you wanted him yourself, Madelon."

"I've gone past myself. All I think of now is what he wants," said she, shortly. She turned to go out of the room; then she stopped and spoke to him over her shoulder: "There's no need of talking any more about it." She added: "I know what I've set out to do, and I can go through with it." Then the door shut after her, and Eugene sat down with his Shakespeare book. But he could not read; he sat moodily puzzling over his sister, whose unfulfilled drama of life held his mind better than them all.

But puzzle as he might, he never once dreamed of the truth--that his sister Madelon had promised to marry Lot Gordon in a month's time, and sent her "yes" by word of mouth of Margaret Bean that morning. Somehow, even with the ashes of the letter of proposal before his eyes on the hearth, and his sister's "yes" ringing in his ears, knowing as he did that Lot as well as Burr had lost his heart to her, he could not conceive of such a possibility. He was too well acquainted with Madelon's attitude towards Lot, and she had never been one to walk whither she did not list for any man. He could not imagine the possibility, well versed as he was, through his Shakespeare lessons, in the feminine heart, of his sister's yielding her proud maiden will to any man. He would as soon have thought of a wild-cat which he had trailed in the woods, which knew him as his mortal enemy, whose eyes had followed him with stealthy fury out of a way-side bush, to unbend from the crouch of its spring and walk purring tamely into his house at call, and fall to lapping milk out of a saucer on the hearth. But no man can estimate the possibilities of character under the lever of circumstances, and there is power enough abroad to tame the savage in all nature. Madelon Hautville had yielded to a stress of which her brother knew nothing, and he therefore scouted the idea, if it crossed his mind like a wild fancy, of her yielding at all. He rather came to the conclusion that the letter had announced Burr's engagement to Dorothy Fair, and that Madelon's "yes" had signified proud approval of it. He leaned to this conclusion the sooner because of the miserable tendency which a jealous heart has to force all suspicions to open its own sore. "He's going to marry Dorothy Fair," Eugene told himself. "It was like Lot to tell Madelon, and ask her if she was pleased with it. And that was why she acted so. Her heart broke at first and she cried, and then she stood up and hid it. He's going to marry Dorothy Fair!"

Eugene had a strong imagination, whereby he could suffer a thousandfold, if he would, every woe of his life. Sitting now by his hearth fire, with his Shakespeare book, full of the joys and sorrows of immortal lovers, disregarded upon his knees, he let his fancy show him many a picture which tore his heart, although look upon it he would. He saw Dorothy Fair in her wedding-gown; he saw her blush like a rose through her bridal lace; he saw her following Burr up the meeting-house aisle the Sabbath after her marriage with a soft rustling of silken finery, and a toss of white bridal plumes over her fair locks. He saw those glances, which he swore to himself boldly enough then had first been his, turned upon his rival; he imagined sweet words and caresses which he had never tasted, and were perchance the sweeter for that, bestowed upon Burr.

Suddenly he started up and flung down his book upon the settle, and put on his fur cap and was out of the house. "The first turn of her heart was towards me, and I was the first man she coupled with love in her thoughts, and nothing can undo it," he said, aloud, fiercely to himself as he went up the lonely snowy road; and he believed it then. Those soft blue glances of Dorothy's came back to him so vividly that he seemed to see them anew whenever his eyes fell upon the way-side bushes, or the cloud-shadowed slopes of white fields, or the dark gaps of solitude between the forest pines.

For the first time a fierce insistence of his rights of love was upon him. Straight to the village he went, and to Parson Fair's house. But he did not enter; his madness was not great enough for that. He did not enter, but he went past with a bold, searching look at all the windows and no pretence of indifference, and up the road a little way. Then he returned and passed the house again, and looked again; and this time Dorothy's face showed between the dimity sweeps of her chamber curtains. He half stopped, and then came another glance of blue eyes which verified those that had gone before, straight into his, which replied with a dark flash of ardor, and then Dorothy's face went red all of a sudden, and there was a vanishing curve of blushing cheek and a flirt aside of fair curls, and the space between the dimity curtains was clear.

Eugene stood still beneath the window for a few minutes. There were watchful eyes in the neighboring windows. In the tavern-yard, farther down the street, Dexter Beers and old Luke Basset stood, also fixedly staring at Parson Fair's house.

"Wonder if he thinks there's any trouble--fire or anything," said Dexter Beers.

"Don't see no smoke," said old Luke.

Eugene Hautville, rapt in that abstraction of love which is the completest in the world, and makes indeed a world of its own across eternal spaces, knew nothing and thought nothing of outside observers. He was half minded for a minute to enter Parson Fair's house. Had Dorothy appeared outside, the impulse to seize her and bear her away with him and fight for her possession against all odds, like any male of his old savage tribe when love stirred his veins, would have been strong within him. But she did not come, nor appear again in the window. She stood well around the curtain and peeped; but he did not know that, and presently he went away.

When he passed the tavern Dexter Beers hailed him. "Say, anythin' wrong to the parson's?"

"No," returned Eugene, sharply, and strode on.

"Didn't know but you see smoke, you were lookin' up at the house so stiddy," called Beers, conciliatingly; but Eugene swung down the road without another look. All his grace of manner was forgot in the stir of passion within him. What had Dorothy Fair meant by that look? Was she betrothed to Burr Gordon? Was she playing with him for her own amusement? And what was he to do, what could he do, for the sake of his love, with honor?

Eugene left the road after he had cleared the village, and struck off across the fields for a long tramp through snowy solitudes as well known to him as, and better suited to him for perplexed thoughts than, any place in his home. In a way, out-doors was the truest home of all these Hautvilles, with the strain of wild nomadic blood in their veins.

The sight of the little fireless dwellings of woodland things, the empty nests revealed on the naked trees, the scattered berries on leafless bushes, the winter larders of birds, the tiny track of a wild hare or a partridge in the snow, disturbed less the current of their inmost life, as being more the wonted surroundings of their existence, than all the sounds and sights and savors within four domestic walls.

Eugene tramped on for miles over paths well known to him, which were hidden now beneath the snow, pondering upon himself and Dorothy Fair, and never gave his sister, whose guardian he had been, another thought.

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