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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMadelon: A Novel - Chapter 25
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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 25 Post by :Ntrouble Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1105

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Madelon: A Novel - Chapter 25

Chapter XXV

In the yard was drawn up in state, behind the five white horses, the grand old Gordon coach, which had not been used before since the death of Lot's father. Lot had insisted upon furnishing the coach and the horses for his cousin's wedding. The man who stood by the horses' heads looked up at Burr in a dazed way when he came out of the house and spoke to him.

"When my mother is ready you can take her home, Silas," said Burr. "Then drive over to my cousin's, and put up the coach and the horses."

The man gasped and looked at him. "Do you hear what I say?" said Burr, shortly.

The man gave an affirmative grunt, and strove to speak, but Burr cut him short. "Look out for that bad place in the road, before you get to the bridge," he said, and went on out of the yard. The road was suddenly full of departing wedding-guests, fluttering along with shrill clatter of persistently individual notes, like a flock of birds.

Burr, out of the yard, passed along through their midst with a hasty yet dignified pace. He said to himself that he would not seem to be running away. He looked neither to the right nor left, except to avoid collisions with silken and muslin petticoats, yet he was conscious of the hush of voices as he passed, and knew that they all recognized him in the broad moonlight.

When he reached the lane which led across-lots to the old place, he plunged into it by a sudden impulse. He went half-way down its leafy tunnel; then he stopped and sat down on a great stone which had fallen off the bordering wall.

Great spiritual as well as great physical catastrophes stun for a while, and there is after both a coming to one's self and an examining one's faculties, as well as one's bones, to see if they be still in working order. Burr Gordon, sitting there on his stone of meditation, in the moonlit dapple of the lane, came slowly to a full realization of himself in his change of state, and strove to make sure what power of action he had left under these new conditions.

His first thought was a cowardly one--that he would sell out, or rather give up his estate to his cousin, take his mother, and turn his back upon the village altogether. He knew what he had to expect. He tasted well in advance the miserable and half ludicrous shame of a man who has been openly jilted by a woman. He tasted, too, the covertly whispered suspicion which had perhaps never quite departed, and which now was surely raised to new life by Dorothy's loud cries of accusation. He knew that he was utterly defenceless under both shame and suspicion, being fettered fast by his own tardy but stern sense of duty and loyalty. It seemed to him at first that he would be crippled beyond cure in his whole life if he should stay where he was; and then he felt the spring of the fighting instinct within him, and said proudly to himself that he would turn his back upon nothing. He would brave it all.

There was a light wind, and now and then the young trees in the lane were driven into a soft tumult of whispering leaves. Burr did not notice when into this voice of the wind and this noise as of a crowd of softly scurrying ghosts there came a crisp rustle of muslin and a quick footstep up the lane. He only looked up when Madelon Hautville stopped before him and looked at him with incredulous alarm, as if she could not believe the evidence of her own eyes.

Dressed like a bride herself was Madelon Hautville, in a sheer white gown, which she had fashioned for herself out of an old crape shawl which had belonged to her mother, and cunningly wrought with great garlands of red flowers. She was going to Burr Gordon's wedding, not knowing the lateness of the hour; for her brother Richard had played a trick upon her, and set back the clock two hours, when to his great wrath she would not stay at home. The others were half in favor of her going, thinking that it showed her pride; but Richard was sorely set against it, and watched his chance, and slipped back the hands of the clock that she should be too late to see the wedding of the man who had forsaken her.

Madelon looked at Burr, and he at her, and neither spoke. Then, when she saw surely who it was, she cried out half in wonder and half chidingly, as if she had been his mother reproaching him for his tardiness: "What are you doing here, Burr Gordon? Do you know 'tis nearly eight o'clock, and time for your wedding?"

"'Tis nearly ten," said Burr, "and there is no wedding."

"Nearly ten?"

"Yes."

"But 'twas not eight by our clock."

Burr took out the great gold timepiece which had belonged to his father, and held it towards her, and she saw the face plainly in the moonlight.

"What does this mean?" she said; and then she cried, half shrinking away from him, "Are you married then? Where is she?"

"Dorothy Fair is at home in her chamber, and I am not married, and never shall be."

"Why--what does this mean, Burr Gordon?"

"She will not have me, and--no blame to her."

"Will not have you, and the people there, and the hour set! Will not have you? Burr, she shall have you! I promise you she shall. I will go talk to her. She is a child, and she does not know--I can make her listen. She shall have you, Burr. I will go this minute, and talk to her, and do you come after me."

Madelon gave a forward bound, like a deer, but Burr sprang up and caught her by the arm. "Why do you stop me, Burr Gordon?" she cried, trying to wrest her arm away.

"Do you think I have no manhood left, Madelon Hautville, that I will let you, _you beg a woman who does not love me to marry me?"

"She does love you, she shall love you!"

"I tell you she does not!" Burr spoke with a bitterness which might well have come from slighted love, and, indeed, so complex and contradictory are the workings of the mind of a man, and so strong is the bent when once set in one direction, that not loving Dorothy Fair, and loving this other woman with his whole heart, he yet felt for the moment that he would rather his marriage had taken place and he were not free. His freedom, which he knew was a shame to welcome, galled him for the time worse than a chain, and he felt more injured than if he had loved this girl who had jilted him; for something which was more precious to him than love had been slighted and made for naught.

"She does--you are mad, Burr Gordon! She was all ready to marry you. She came to me to help on her wedding-clothes. She was all smiling and pleased. How could she be pleased over her wedding-clothes if she did not love you? She does, Burr! She is a child--I can talk to her. I will make her. Let me go, Burr! You wait here, and not fret. Oh, how pale you look! I tell you, you shall have her, Burr!"

"I tell you, Madelon, she does not love me, and I will not have you go."

Madelon stood looking at him, her face all at once changing curiously as if from some revelation from within. She remembered suddenly that old scene with Eugene, and a suspicion seized her. "There's somebody else!" she cried out, fiercely. "There's no truth in her. If she thinks--she shall not--nor he--I will not have it so!"

"For God's sake, Madelon, don't!" said Burr, not fairly comprehending what she said. He sat down again upon the stone, and leaned his head upon his hands. In truth he felt dazed and helpless, as if he had reached suddenly the mouth of many roads and knew not which to take. The intricacy of the situation was fairly paralyzing to an order of mind like his, which was wont to grasp, though shrewdly enough, only the straight course of cause and effect. He revolved dizzily in his mind the fact that he could not tell Madelon the reason which Dorothy had given for her rejection of him, and the conviction was fast gaining upon him that it was not the true and only reason. He held fiercely to his loyalty to Madelon, and his shammed loyalty to Dorothy, and his slipping clutch of loyalty to himself, and knew not what to say nor what course to take.

Madelon, as he settled back upon the stone and bowed his head, made towards him one of those motions which the body has kept intact from the primitive order of things, when it was free to obey Love; then she stood back and looked at him a moment, while indignation and that compassion which is the very holiness of love swelled high within her. Then suddenly she leaned forward against him in her white robes, with the soft impetus of a white flowering tree driven by the wind, and put her arms around him, and drew his unhappy head against her bosom, and stroked his hair, and poured out in broken words her wrath against Dorothy Fair, and her pity for him. And all this she did in utter self-despite and forgetfulness, not caring if he should discover how great her love for him still was, believing fully that his whole heart had belonged to the other girl, and was breaking for her, and arguing thence no good for herself.

"She shall never marry him, that I swear to you, Burr," she cried, passionately, "and in time she may turn to you again; there is no faith in her."

Burr listened a while bewildered, not fully knowing nor asking what she meant, letting his head rest against her bosom, as if he were a child whom she comforted.

"Burr, you shall have her, you shall have her yet!" she said, over and over, as if Dorothy were a sweetmeat for which he longed, until at last a great shame and resolution seemed to go over him like a wave, and he put her away and rose up.

"Madelon," he said, "you don't know. Listen. You will scorn me after this--you will never look at me again, but listen: Dorothy must never know, for all the slight of this last must come from her and not from me, since she is a woman and I a man; but you shall know the whole truth. I never loved Dorothy Fair, Madelon, not as I love you, as God is my witness. She was pretty to look at, and I liked--but you cannot understand the weakness of a man that makes him ashamed of himself. I left you, and--I went--courting her because she was Parson Fair's only daughter, and I was poor, and that was not all the reason. I liked her pretty face and her pretty ways well enough, but all the time it was you and you alone in my heart; and, knowing that, I left you, though I was a man. I turned Judas to my own self, and denied and would have sold the best that was in me. Now you know the truth, Madelon Hautville."

Madelon looked at him. Her lips parted, as if her breath came hard.

Burr made as if to pass on without another word, but she held out her hand to stop him, though she did not touch him.

"Stop, Burr," she said, with a strange, almost oratorical manner, that he had never seen in her before. It was almost as if she mounted before his eyes a platform of her own love and higher purposes. "Listen to me," she said. "That night when I was in such terrible anger with you that for a second I would have killed you, I put it out of your power forever to do anything that could turn me against you again. I broke my own spirit that night, Burr. The wrong I would have done you outweighs all you ever have done or ever can do me. There is no wrong in this world that you can do me, if I will not take it so; and as for the wrong you may have done yourself--that only makes me more faithful to you, Burr."

Burr stood looking at her, speechless. It was to him as if he saw the true inner self of the girl, which he had dimly known by half-revealings but had never truly seen before. For a minute it was not Madelon Hautville in flesh and blood who stood before him, but the ghost of her, made evident by her love for him; and his very heart seemed to melt within him with shame and wonder and worship. "Oh, Madelon!" he gasped out, at length.

But Madelon turned away then. "You must go home now," said she, "and I must. Good-night, Burr."

"Good-night," said Burr, as if he repeated it at her bidding.

Then they passed without touching each other. Madelon went home down the lane, across the fields, and Burr went out in the silent street, whence all the wedding-guests had departed, and homeward also.

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